I realized recently that I’ve been playing guitar for 50 years. Wow. Not wow like, oh man am I awesome or what?! More like, wow, I should be a whole lot better. That was my first reaction anyway. There is no denying that many of those fifty years were lost years in terms of progress on my instrument. Why was that? A lack of discipline certainly has something to do with it. Being stuck in one narrow musical focus was another huge factor. It’s so easy when we’re younger to make value judgements about what constitutes good music and therefor what we should be playing.
Sometimes when I play my regular weekend gig at the Daily Brew café I spot young guitar players watching me. How do I know they are guitar players? By the slight smirks on their faces. I know that smirk. I used to have it. Ha, old guy. You think you know how to play? What is that old moldy tune you’re playing? I bet you don’t know anything by (fill in the blank). Their girlfriends often stare blankly, either at me or their cell phones. So it goes.
Part of me wants to say, why not just celebrate live music, no matter what the style or ability might be? Now, I’m not saying that my playing is deficient overall. But no, I probably don’t know the latest obscure hip indie song. So please – inform me. Maybe I can learn it.
This never happens of course. I would never consider such a thing in my younger years when everything was so very clear and older players couldn’t possibly grasp what I was hearing and feeling.
Nowadays I do my best to remember that performing on whatever level is a challenge and try to find something I like or at least appreciate about performers I hear. For example (uh oh, Old Guy Alert!) I recently watched an episode of Austin City Limits featuring Radiohead. My son Matt who has great and varied taste in music has told me over and over that they are the real deal. I’ve tried to listen to them before but didn’t get too far. But I was determined this time. I ended up if not exactly liking their music, at least understanding their appeal and what they are about. So something was gained.
I also recently watched the excellent documentary called Jaco on Netflix about the great and troubled modern jazz electric bassist Jaco Pastorius. I was not a big fan of his music back in the day (again, stupid value judgements on my part) but after watching that movie I am now. Truly a genius and his playing brought a radical advancement to what a bass player can do in modern music.
There are so many greats out there. Just today I watched Vince Gill with one acoustic guitar sing the old gospel tune Go Rest High On That Mountain at the funeral of the golfer Arnold Palmer. It was beyond amazing. I doubt there has ever been such a pure and perfect voice in country music. That Martin sounded pretty amazing too!
And my hero, British jazz guitarist Martin Taylor turned 60 this week. His playing just gets better and better. I have no doubt he will continue to innovate while still paying tribute to what went before.
So my fifty years of playing have value beyond how much more I know now about the mysteries of the guitar than I knew in my younger days. Experience has taught me to not judge too harshly, not to dismiss too quickly, not to be disappointed in what I might have accomplished, if only…. And to keep my ears open.
Peace & good music,