Return of the King

I just recently dusted off my guitar and began playing regularly again. Strumming my axe is more challenging than it used to be; I used to just pull it out of its case and rock 'n' roll. Then, when my kids figured out how to crawl, I could no longer just sit on the couch and work my musical magic; they'd scoot up to me, put their sticky fingers on my costly strings, and mute all my chords. 

So I bought a shoulder strap. Then, the theory went, I could just stand up and jam, and my shrimpy kids couldn't reach my silver strings. It worked for a couple years, but now Savannah and Halen are getting close to or have topped three feet tall, and that means my axe is back within their sinister reaches. Now I have to stand on a chair if I want to rock 'n' roll in peace. It works out well, I suppose, because if I really get worked up, I can leap off the chair and execute a Pete Townsend windmill in mid-air.

It's been awhile since I've played much. I wrote a couple posts about my musical exploits -- I'm too lazy to link to them. Also, and I hope I don't offend anyone with this confession, I think it's lame when people link to their own posts. If you really want to read them, I pity you, but you can look through my past posts.

I picked up guitar when I was 13 or 14. After a year or so of teaching myself the basics, my mom got me hooked up with lessons down at Portland Music Company. My teacher's name was Larry. I'm surprised my mom left me alone with him. 

He was always wearing one of two outfits. The first was a Cat in the Hat get up. Like, as in, he literally dressed up like the Cat in the Hat: top hat, a black shirt with a red bow tie printed near the neckline, and black pants. It was as freaky as it sounds. The other outfit was a jail inmate ensemble: black and white horizontal stripes on his top hat, shirt, and pants. The shirt included an inmate number above the breast pocket. 

I remember he taught me a song called "Freddie the Freeloader." I didn't know what a freeloader was until some girl in college labeled me as such after I had invited myself to dinner at her apartment for the third consecutive week. I still think that instead of complaining, her and her roommates should've felt honored that I liked their cooking (and their stock of contraband Coke) enough to frequent their abode. 

So, in honor of my reentry to the world of rocker-dom (and because I really got nothing going on to write about), a list of my most memorable concerts is in order. Please, please... no pushing... everyone will get a chance to read.

-- Once I played a talent show in college with two lady friends. We played the Indigo Girls' "Kid Fears," which features three-part counterpoint (by the Indigo Girls and a guest appearance by R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe), swirling melody lines, and call-and-answer vocals over the top of acoustic guitar. It sounds great on the album. That's because they used high-tech and expensive recording and mixing equipment. It's also because the three singers don't suck at singing. It turns out that the song sounds downright putrid with three K-Mart microphones, a poorly-miked acoustic guitar, and three crappy singers. I'm so glad we captured the performance on video. Now, as often as I want, I can suffer along with the audience as three freshmen wail three different melodies in three different keys at different volumes. The chorus's hook line is: "Are you on fire?" I think the whole audience wished there had been a fire so they would've had an excuse to evacuate and escape our on-stage shouting match.

-- Back when "No Rain" by Blind Melon was popular, my high school flame and I performed it to warm up the audience before her high school choir concert. I don't really know how we ended up with permission to play Blind Melon to open for a choir concert, but whatever. I can't explain everything. So my girlfriend played rhythm, and I played lead guitar, which I can't really play. Nevertheless, I had worked for weeks arranging my own guitar solo during the break after the second chorus, and I was stoked to bring the audience to its knees with my virtuoso skills. When the time for my solo arrived, my fingers danced over the strings like little flesh-colored butterflies (stop judging my metaphors). I heard a voice rise from the crowd "Rock on, bro!" It was a perfect rock star moment. I found out later though that nobody could hear my guitar at all, due a poor-miking job, so basically all the audience could hear was my girlfriend playing an E and a D chord over and over again while my fingers flew silently all over the fretboard.  The "rock on" guy was, in truth, mocking my wannabe solo. At least the choir's Bach interpretation was decent. 

-- At an EFY talent show, the same girl and I played a Counting Crows song called "Sullivan Street." It's a slower, melancholy tune, which is a pretty stupid idea for an EFY talent show, but I think I've illustrated thus far that I haven't always possessed the world's greatest capacity for good judgment. What was so awesome about this particular performance is that, although we started out playing at the right tempo, by the time we reached the the song's crescendoing climax, we were playing, literally, 4 or 5 times faster than we should've been. We, of course, had no idea, but filming the performance again proved valuable, as upon review we could hang our heads in shame at having turned "Sullivan Street" into a club beat dance mix. Truth be told, the audience probably preferred our hip remake to the sulky, syrupy original. 

-- There haven't been very many shows I've played where I haven't totally floated an awful, larger-than-life sour note while either trying to sing or play guitar, but there was one nearly flawless show I played that was memorable, not because I didn't hurt the audience's ears, but because I inexplicably wore what could very well be the ugliest shirt ever conceived by the twisted minds of men. I really don't know why I ever thought the shirt was worthy to be presented for public consumption, and I've no notion as to why my so-called "friends" never clued me in to the fact that this particular shirt could cause lingering ocular pain to unsuspecting passerby who unwittingly looked directly at it. I don't remember it very well -- probably because I have subconsciously tried to burn away its memory from all the caches in my brain -- but I recall it had blood red and navy blue horizontal stripes across a sickly gray base color. In between the red and blue lines were the outlines of figures that I think may have been some awful varieties of woodland creatures. Words truly cannot capture how hideous this shirt was. For some reason I can envision Roman centurions sporting it. Which should lead you to rightfully wonder why, in the name of all that is good and holy, I was wearing it in college in 1997. I was about 1990 years too late. I doubt the audience heard a note I played that night -- they were too busy holding one another, comforting each other, whispering that it would all be okay, that that grotesque apparition would soon leave the stage, and that they could then stumble home together and nurse their bleeding eyes.