Monday, January 31, 2011

BC2011: Guitar Man

When I was 17, I got a shiny red imported electric guitar. It was cheap, but that didn't matter much. I totally sucked. I never even tuned it properly in the year or so that I played. I didn't learn any chords, but I taught myself the riffs for "Smoke on the Water" (anyone can figure that out) and "Pictures of Matchstick Men". I wrote and recorded a bunch of songs, but I was clearly more of a lyricist than a musician. A few years ago, when I was listening to a lot of bootleg concert recordings of solo performers, I flirted with getting an acoustic guitar and taking classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music (four blocks from my home). Eventually I talked myself out of it.

Guitar Man is Englishman Will Hodgkinson's story of learning to play guitar in his thirties. The author is fortunate to have friends to teach and counsel him. He also manages to get lessons from famous players like Johnny Marr and Bert Jansch. Then he visits America and sits in Roger McGuinn's living room as the Byrds legend demonstrates the intro to "Eight Miles High". His guitar education culminates in performing a gig with two buddies. This book is a lot of fun. It's more inspirational than instructional, more about feel and spirit than how to play particular chords. Anyone who loves playing guitar or simply the idea of playing guitar should find this book worthwhile. It almost made me want to try it again myself, but then I remembered how my poor coordination had thwarted me decades ago. I'll stick to listening to and reading about music for now. Someday I might pick up Hodgkinson's follow-up, Song Man.

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