"When I grow up, I want to be a rock guitarist."
That is what I would've said if you asked me at age 15...or 18...or 21...or nowadays, for that matter. I love being a teacher, I love being a thinker/scholar (when I can find the time), but I would much rather be a guitarist any day. I'm reminded of this whenever I hear the crunch of Slobberbone, Green Day, Grand Champeen, or a slew of other bands.
This all started a long time ago. When I was in elementary school, there was a teacher who hated me. It worked, because I hated her. I refused to do any of the work or take her seriously. She reacted by sending me to the guidance counselor to be tested...to see if I needed to go into the "special" classes.
I did the IQ test and blew its doors off. The counselor suggested to my parents that (1) I enroll in the "gifted" program, and (2) I take up some kind of intellectual interest, such as learning how to play an instrument.
My dad had a violin...apparently, he was forced to learn some while a kid, and the violin belonged to his stepfather. So I learned violin. I played violin for 3 1/2 years, and technically, I got pretty good. I had a good ear (a must for an unfretted instrument) and could pick up new material pretty well. And it was a fun enough activity.
I never really got the music, however. While I could appreciate it, I couldn't really "feel" it. It showed in my playing, which was rather precise but sedate. It also showed in how little I played once we moved away from my teacher and a school system which funded music programs. Soon, the violin went into the closet.
While I never really "felt" most classical music, I grasped rock at an early age. The first real album I ever bought was AC/DC's live album If You Want Blood (You've Got It), which I bought while in fifth grade. "Let There Be Rock" clicked immediately, as did "War Pigs"...and I knew I wanted to play guitar.
I never really got the support with guitar that I did with violin. I wasn't given an instrument...rather, I had to save up money (which I did by largely skipping high school lunches) and buy my own. I chose a Chicago brand Les Paul copy, which I no longer have...my mother made me sell it when I got a better instrument. I had to buy my own accessories (strings & such). As only so much could be funded with lunch money, I eventually had to get a job.
(of course, parties and a car also played a role in my decision to find work, but that's another post)
When I started working, I got sucked in by the money. I worked a lot of hours...by my senior year, I was doing 35 hour weeks at Little Caesars. As a result, my guitar practice time went down from the pre-employment days of pretty much whenever I wasn't in school to maybe a few hours a week. Where I used to improve steadily (and rather rapidly), I moved to barely keeping from getting rusty. College cut into my playing time even more.
I also had problems getting in bands. I didn't practice enough, and whenever I would get a chance to play, it would often come after a week or two where I didn't touch my guitar...and as a result, I sucked, and everyone would just think I reeked as a player. Some friends still think I'm really mediocre because they always heard me when I was at my most out-of-practice.
When I did get auditions that I did well, the band would either be full of loonies (I will share some stories later), or the band would chug along until a key member quit, or the whole mess would disintegrate for reasons unknown. I had the worst time getting a drummer and a singer in a band at the same time. In short, I never played out, mostly because I couldn't keep a band together long enough to get a gig. This caused me to neglect the instrument even further, which kept me out of bands...it was a vicious cycle.
I moved to Ohio to do my doctoral school, and changing my environment was the biggest marker for me that drove home the fact I would never actually be a professional musician. Strangely enough, my playing got better (particularly on the acoustic) after I gave up on my dream to play professionally, which I still don't understand.
But over the last few years, I've been neglecting the guitar again. My adjuncting period kept me way too occupied to play on any normal basis. My wife, wonderful though she is, doesn't really care for my singing voice, and mindless noodling, plunking, and practice drives her batty...so I tend not to play much around her.
I have several friends who are both musicians and academics, but I can't seem to get them to play with me either. There was one or two times where I started playing with some friends, and we got a makeshift band together. We got about 15 songs down, including a really hip country version of "Shout at the Devil". I was elated, felt unbelievable, and I wanted it to continue. The singer got busy, and we couldn't schedule any more practices...and then he moved. The bass player we were trying to recruit wouldn't commit. The drummer, while still friendly to me, quit calling me and inviting me over, for reasons I've never fathomed. I have other friends who are musicians, but I've only been able to arrange one jam session...everyone claims they are too busy.
Meanwhile, my guitars sit either in their stands or in their cases. When I do actually play, I mostly use my acoustic, because I can accompany myself on vocals...plus the strings last longer...if I break out the Les Paul or Tele, I only get a few touches on the instrument before the strings die.
I've been neglecting my music again, and I don't like it...but picking up a guitar mostly just reminds me that creating music remains a solitary activity, and that's depressing...so I'm slipping back into the role of being a guy who still thinks of himself as a guitar player but no longer plays.
The times I've managed to have normal jam partners were among the happiest of my life. There's something about creating art, and doing that with other people...it's indescribable. I hope my friends who are either in bands or have been in bands in the past appreciate their connection to music. They have created art, performed it for a hungry public, and have felt the gratification of instant feedback to their artistry. People have clapped, tapped their feet, sang along, made some appreciative noise.
I have never experienced such things and probably never will. While I will always think of myself as a musician, I realize that actually being a musician will only ever be a fantasy...which is somehow unbelievably sad. It also makes me feel hollow inside, somewhat.
I think I'll make the effort to take the guitars to the shop, get them tuned up, and make an effort to play again...if only for myself, so I can be a musician again, at least a little.
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