Sunday, October 3, 2010

My First Guitar, Pt. 2

Grateful Dead--"Dark Hollow (live)" (mp3)

I have often been intrigued by how people's musical behaviors mutate as they age. Some abandon the rock that they listened to when they were young in favor of something that is safer and more sanitary, like country. Some move with a greater awareness of musical sophistication toward jazz or even classical. Or they do so with pretension.

Some never were rock 'n rollers, they were pop music listeners, so they continue to listen to whatever is the popular music of the day. Most alarming to me, some people simply stop listening to music, or only have it as something playing quietly in the background, as if the entire concept of music was a childish fancy that serves no adult purpose other than window dressing.

Me, I'm pretty much the way I've always been, and then some. I listen to what I did when I was sixteen; I listen to some of what sixteen-year-olds are listening to now, and quite a bit of what came in between.

I attribute that to playing the guitar. When you play, you don't abandon what you once did. You add to it. If you are a casual player like I am, you rarely pick up the guitar with the intention of playing a particular song. Instead, you just kind of start noodling around and see where it takes you, based on the chord you start or where your fingers settle on the frets.

So, you might end up playing "Willin'" or "Dark Hollow," songs you've been playing since college, or you might find yourself trying to figure out "Hey, Yeah" because you've been listening to Outkast in the car with your daughter. You might play the "Mexican Hat Dance," because three year olds at your house like to dance to it. You might get a music book that pushes you in a new or more complicated direction.

I've never really moved on; I've tried to take it all with me. If my sense of music was a house, I would be one of those hoarders who had been holding onto everything. You never really know what you might find among the dusty albums, the rows of CDs, and now the wealth of songs carelessly and haphazardly stored on an external hard drive. Or in my head.

Or, believe it or not, in my guitar. I think there is nothing surprising about the idea that Neil Young has Hank Williams' guitar and that the guitar has its own history and ghosts and that, when composing, certain kinds of songs will come out of it, but others will only develop on a different guitar. I have no doubt that even my own Yamaha guitar carries its years well, knows where it's been and what's been played on it.

I can tell you that, at least, it's been coast-to-coast twice, has been as far south as Florida, as far north as New Hampshire and Washington.

In case you can't tell, my first guitar is my current guitar and probably my last guitar.

And here's the funny thing: now, my cheap starter guitar is a "vintage"guitar, by virtue of its 35 (and counting) years, by virtue of it surviving all of those years, despite the knocks, scrapes, and scratches, intact. I've seen other 1975 Yamaha FG-160's listed on the Internet for upwards of $560. I've seen its now-mellow tone compared to a Martin in its depth and complexity. It is, for those who realized that a new guitar with no miles on it is inferior, desirable.

Yes, music remains extremely important to me, and the key to that is knowing that I can create, at least in some superficial fashion, much of that music on my first guitar.

1 comment:

jed said...

i still have the photo of the 2 of us playing at school circa 1985. i feel alot like you do only my daughter is not listening to Outcast. yet. my acoustic is the 1st guitar i bought and i will always have it.