all you need is love, but some talent would be helpful

June 15, 2010 at 3:07 pm 3 comments

“You play the guitar!”

On his first visit to my house, my boyfriend (now husband), Michael, immediately locked his eyes on the black case propped up in the corner of the guest bedroom.

“You play the guitar!” He actually seemed to be glowing, he was so thrilled with this discovery.

GuitarMichael had attended the Atlanta Institute of Music. He had five guitars (“Seven, if you count the ones still at my parents’ house”) of various pedigrees, genres and styles. He had spent a year of his life practicing guitar eight hours a day while collecting unemployment and pissing off his at-the-time girlfriend. They were that couple who had conversations like:

Her: “You care about that guitar more than you care about me.”

Him: [Doesn’t hear her because he’s too busy concentrating on his chord progressions.]

So it’s no surprise his gaze would instantly fall on the guitar case in my house. Apparently, though, he didn’t notice the two-inch layer of dust covering the case. Or the fact that it was wedged behind piles of books and files and cat hair tumbleweeds.

“I uh…well, I own a guitar. ‘Play’ might be a bit of a stretch.”

On his second visit to my house, Michael proudly presented me with a laminated chord chart. All I needed to do, he assured me, was practice a few chords every day. I’d be playing in no time.

Oh, Michael. Poor, well-meaning, misguided Michael.

It all started years before when my at-the time roommate, Alicia, and I had finally escaped our 11 months of hell in a suburban Atlanta garden apartment and moved to the heart of the city. We rented a house one block from Piedmont Park and two blocks from the Cotton Club, our favorite live music hangout.

Our entertainment was all around us: the gay bar on the corner, the people across the street who painted their front door a different color every three months, the constant stream of festivals and people and activities at the park.

One Saturday we decided to make two major and symbolic purchases to reflect our hip new intown lifestyle.

First stop was the Skate Escape, a little store on the edge of Piedmont Park, where Alicia bought her first and only pair of roller blades. She got a quick lesson in how to put them on and balance herself and was ready to join the sporty, adventurous bladers in the park.

Old-fashioned roller skates

My skating experience is more on this level.

Next we headed up the street to a store called Clark’s that sold used musical instruments. It was legendary among small-club-touring bands, and I was at a time in my life when I knew quite a few people in such bands. They had all recommended Clark’s for my first guitar purchase.

I bought the only guitar I could get for a hundred bucks. Case included. (Although, they did offer to sell me a nylon soft case, which they told me I would need if I was planning to take my guitar “on the road.” These are called “gig bags.” I guess even then, I had enough sense of reality to understand that wasn’t likely to happen.)

Later that day, we went to the park, and as I checked out the various ads for guitar teachers in the back of the free weekly newspaper, Alicia took her brand new roller blades out for a spin. And promptly fell. And broke a rib.

I chose a teacher whose ad promised I could learn to play with “speed of thought.” I had taken piano lessons for most of my childhood, so I figured, how hard could this be?

At my first lesson, I realized that the fact that I knew how to read music had absolutely no bearing on whether or not I would be able to play guitar. Now that I think about it, of course, this makes sense. I mean, just look at a lot of the people who play guitar. They don’t exactly strike you as the type to study and learn the music staff.

And yet they can play, drunk and stoned while jumping in the air and doing the splits. So OK, my sight-reading ability isn’t going to help, but still, how hard could this be?

I left my first lesson (at my guitar teacher’s house in a leafy, upscale intown Atlanta neighborhood) with the ability to play a few open chords.

By my second lesson, I was playing a recognizable version of “All You Need is Love,” albeit one that would require extreme patience on the part of the listener since I had to stop after each chord, organize my fingers on the neck of the guitar, look back at the chord chart, look back at the neck, remind myself to press down hard, and then strum. And just to make sure it would be as unappealing as possible for the listener, my teacher made me sing as I played, so it went something like this:

“All…lllll…llll….yoouuuuuuu…ewwww…ewwww…neeeeeeeeed izzzzzzz…luhhh…uuuhve.”


snails are slow, too

At my third lesson, my teacher told me I needed to move on from open chords (“You know how to do that now”), so we started on the world’s slowest version of “Stairway to Heaven.” He also mentioned in passing that his roommate was moving out and he was wondering how he was going to be able to pay the rent on this house all by himself. Also, I seemed like a really cool girl.

Before my fourth lesson, my teacher called to see if I would be interested in moving in with him.

I never did make the fourth lesson, but I didn’t give up my guitar playing dreams entirely. I had those band friends, you see, and every once in a while, when one of those friends was in town, he’d come over and tune my guitar to C so that no matter what you played, it sounded great. That was fun.

Unfortunately, on one of those visits, just a few days before I moved out of that fabulous old 1920s house on Piedmont Park, we drank a little too much tequila, and as I was running with the guitar from one room to another (Why? Who knows – I was probably going to try a jump splits combo), I dropped it onto the hardwood floor.

It still looked OK, but the impact of the fall had moved the neck away from the strings. Pressing the strings against the neck hard enough to get a chord out had always been a challenge for me. Now I had succeeded in making it virtually impossible. My guitar playing days were finally behind me, once and for all.

The Guitar

The guitar today in its natural habitat (the guest bedroom closet).

I still have that guitar. Somewhere, I still even have that laminated chord chart. But Michael is the guitar player in our family, and as long as he doesn’t try to make me practice chords every day, he can play all he wants.


Entry filed under: Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop, Music.

Cats and Dogs of a Feather

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Wendy  |  June 17, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    Great story! I failed at guitar as well, too – piano, also not so good. Ah well . . . enjoyed your post!

  • 2. mommylebron  |  June 18, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    I love how you guys decided to purchase something that would reflect your perception of your new life style! You tried and that’s what counts!
    Dropped in from Mama Kat’s!

  • 3. inkontheside  |  June 19, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Thanks for stopping by, @Wendy and @mommylebron!

    I think the new maxim should be “If at first you don’t succeed, don’t worry – it’ll be great fodder for a blog post one day!”


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