Features, Yestalgia

(Not Just) Anyone Can Play Guitar

I’ve always wanted to issue a personal apology to the violin. When I was a teenager, I made the decision to leave my school’s orchestra after four years and pick up the electric guitar. I’d love to say that I wanted to rock out or meet girls like a normal person, but the truth is I could no longer get away with skipping classes because of non-existent “orchestra practice,” so I just gave up on it. I had priorities, you know?

My parents were enthusiastic (or simply stunned that I might actually have a hobby) and bought me a cheap amp and a nice blue guitar. They signed me up for lessons with a friendly teacher named Rick, who had long hair and played in a cover band called Pure Delight. Rick had no interest in things like technique or properly learning chords – he told me to bring in CDs and he’d teach me my favorite songs. I promptly came back to the second lesson with Harvey Danger’s difficult second album King James Version. This was a terrible record to start with, although I learned about odd time signatures and that Rick really respected what they were doing although it was “commercial suicide.” He was also a huge Radiohead fan and bought Kid A on the day of release, informing me that it was great headphone listening music. This was both briefer and more accurate than the Pitchfork review.

rickI quickly became frustrated with the guitar, largely because teenage me was too lazy to practice and clearly assumed I would one day put my fingers on the fret-board and magically launch into an epic solo. My lessons became a complete shambles – I’d bring in an extremely easy power-chord based album that I could attempt to play without too much embarrassment. Lying to your guitar teacher is like lying to your therapist; they know it’s happening and you’re just wasting their time.

One day, Rick pulled out a CD from his bag and told me that he thought I’d enjoy a song from it. He proceeded to play “Little Things” by Waldorf, MD-based band Good Charlotte, who had released a couple of EPs and just signed to Epic Records. He had taught their guitarist Billy Martin, who went on to thank him in their album’s liner notes (this was impressive to me in 2001 and is even more impressive to me in 2016). I remember saying that I liked the song, and that it sounded like “a hit.” Within weeks the video was airing in high rotation on MTV, so I guess I missed my calling as a label exec.

Eventually, I had to admit that I was wasting my money and gave up on the lessons. I said goodbye to Rick, who was most likely relieved that he wouldn’t have to watch me botch Green Day tunes on a weekly basis. I never picked up the guitar again, and if I did right now I’d likely remember nothing. I followed Good Charlotte’s success as the years went on, largely because I admired the fact that they not only admitted to being from the suburb of Waldorf but wrote a song about it. We take care of our own.

I’ve wondered if Rick could have turned me into a decent guitarist had I actually tried. I’ve since learned that I prefer to play the chords with my left hand despite being right-handed, which is so obnoxious that I don’t think there’s a word for it. Maybe I could have been in a band? It all worked out for Billy – he wrote a children’s book, had numerous hit singles, and is about to embark on a reunion tour. Rick continues to teach lessons in the same music store and is probably the closest thing to a hero we have these days. His profile photo on their website has him holding two guitars and wearing a “ONE LOVE” peace sign shirt, and if you live in the Severna Park area, you should learn from him.

As for me, the fact that a band whose promo single I heard before it was released is now reuniting makes me feel incredibly old. And yet, there’s this nagging urge to buy a violin and some rosin and see if I remember anything. It’s never too late for the kids who got picked last in gym class, and who never had a date to no school dance. 2000 eternal.


March 18, 2016

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Christopher Busch Writer, napper, obscure reference maker.

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