Thursday, December 31, 2009

Harmonic Happiness

I have always enjoyed music from as far back as I can remember. I enjoy many different styles of music: rock, southern gospel, country (especially the older stuff), classical, blues. With very few exceptions, the one thing that ties my love of the genres together is the role of the guitar. The guitar is not just a beautiful, expressive, and versatile instrument. For me, the guitar is the primary element that makes a musician look cool and makes a song sound cool. It doesn't matter whether it's Marty Robbins falling in love with a Mexican girl, Stevie Ray Vaughan walking a tightrope, or the Everly Brothers trying to wake a girl at 4 AM (some 25 or 6 minutes after Chicago was searching for something to say), there would be a serious void without those strummed strings in the mix.

I have had a guitar around the house since I was about 13. My Dad would hang with his friends and sing old country and western songs. My Dad has even written a few songs over the years. It amazed me to watch my Dad strum those chords and sing songs like "Long Black Veil" or "Because He Lives". I, on the other hand, would sit in my room and struggle with that open C chord. One day, I finally got that chord to ring clear with no thudded notes. I then learned G, F (that was a toughie), D, E, A, and even a couple of minor chords. Some time after, I was not only playing along with my Dad, I was learning songs by Paul Simon, Bob Seger, and the Everly Brothers. I would even, on occasion, plug in, crank my amplifier, and bang out some power chords. In my mind, I was the next Paul Stanley. In reality, it only resulted in the windows vibrating and the neighbor's dog contemplating suicide.

I am now into my forties. My 70 watt amp is gone as well as the Les Paul I got at 17 (it was stolen 2 years later). I still have a very beat up late 1930's Gibson L-00 acoustic that my father gave me. Unfortunately, due to a nasty case of tendinitis (especially in my left hand) and the guitar's very wide neck, it is very difficult to play for more than 10 minutes at a time before the pain gets too bad to play. As a result, I am very out of practice and my older son is a better player than I was at his age. Nonetheless, I still pick up that old guitar and I start playing the chords to "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground". I never get tired of that song or playing those chords. Still, it does get heartbreaking sometimes that I can't play it for hours as I did when I was younger. I am sure, at some point, I will invest in another guitar that is a bit friendlier to my wrists. In the meantime, I just grin and bear it as I struggle with that nasty B7 chord.

This past Christmas, I got some really nice gifts. I got some rubber ducks to add to my collection. I got some DVDs of "30 Rock" (I love that show). In addition to these, I got a really cool gift from my older daughter. She got me a set of harmonicas in 7 keys. She told me that this would allow me to play something that would not be so hard on my wrists. As a result, I have been scouring the Internet for online lessons and tabs. So far, I have been practicing songs like "Love Me Do" and "Amazing Grace". Maybe over time, I can learn the harmonica part for "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground". At this point, however, I could have sworn I saw one of my cats updating his will.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Building the Bubble

More often than not, when I write for my blog, the hardest part is putting myself in front of my laptop computer and opening the word processor. Usually once I get started, the words start to flow pretty well. I become incredibly focused and tune out the world around me. It is really a great place to be. It is just me and the work. As each word transfers from my mind to my fingers to the keyboard to the page, a wall begins to form around me. I become encased inside a great big bubble.

Sadly however, a bubble is not an impregnable fortress. A bubble is actually a very fragile barrier. It takes just the softest projectile and POOF; it is gone. Many a time, I have told my family that I am about to write. They allow me to get started. They are even kind enough to let me get my bubble formed. You can almost see the rainbow colors shimmering all around the bubble as I type. I am in the groove. I am in the zone. I am in the bubble. The words are flowing in a feverish frenzy (in spite of the fact that I have been advised to avoid alliterations altogether). The keyboard and I are one. We are a powerful locomotive — The Literary Limited.

Without warning, a voice emanates from outside the bubble: “Daddy, what is the formula to determine that two consecutive integers equal to eighty-seven?” POOF! My mighty bubble is gone. I take a deep, cleansing breath. I try not to weep in front of my daughter as I mourn the loss of my precious bubble. “Are you OK, Daddy?” Yes, Baby Girl, I’m fine. Try x+(x+1). “Thanks, Daddy.” She kisses my cheek and leaves the room with her ponytail swinging like a pendulum.

I take another deep, cleansing breath. I read over what I have typed thus far. I attempt to get back aboard that train of thought known as The Literary Limited. I slowly peck out more words. Tap. Tap. Tap. With each word the wonderful bubble begins to form again. I am back at the breathless, breakneck pace (while continuing with alluring, alliterative phrases). The bubble is not only back; but it is bigger and better than before (Oops, there goes another one).

There is another unfortunate fact about a bubble. As it becomes larger, it also becomes more easily penetrated from a greater distance to its center. “Honey, I lost another 4 pounds today!” POOF! The bubble is penetrated with such force that I can almost feel the liquid on back of my neck. I take some more deep cleansing breaths. I am actually trying to avoid hyperventilating at this point. I look her into her eyes and state: That’s good news, Baby. You look great. “AWWWWWW!” After all, she means no harm. I am writing for pleasure at this point in my life. This is not the time to turn into Jack Torrance. Besides, she really DOES look great.

I close my eyes for a moment. I gather my thoughts. I look over the words again. Tap. Tap. Tap. I do my best to build the bubble once again. I must remember, however, that a bubble is a very delicate container. Its use is only meant to be temporary. It is great to be inside the bubble. But, I must also be thankful for the elements outside of the bubble. Without them, there would be no reason to write in the first place. Now, where was I? Tap. Tap. Tap.