Thursday, September 21, 2006

Play Guitar



I got my first guitar when I was about eight. Cheap thing, but it got me through "Michael Row The Boat Ashore" and years later that same guitar got Ben through his first couple of years of playing; he used to stand out on the balcony when we lived in Florence and sing versions of other people's songs to the pigeons and helpless Florentines. Linda and I imagined that the neighborhood around San Felicita used to refer to him as the "Wounded American." He's on tour in England now and he's got all his own material, so . . . you know . . . if you missed his Florence gigs and you're in Bath . . . He's kind of wonderful now in a smoldering, talented sort of way.

I think Rob even had a brief period where he gave that guitar a few picks and strums. I seem to remember listening to him playing Stairway to Heaven and a Nirvana song on the other side of his bedroom door one summer up in Canada. He was really good; I never learned Stairway to Heaven . . .

I got my second guitar when I was about nineteen and I didn't play much between eight and nineteen. My Mom bought me both guitars. I'm still playing that second one.

From about the time I was eight to eleven, Mom managed rock bands and for much of that time our apartment at the corner of Oakdale and Racine in Chicago doubled as a rehearsal hall. The upstairs was large and loft-like. That's where my sister, Katherine and I had our bedrooms, off to the side of the large open-area. The door to my bedroom was an American flag (when it wasn't my blanket) and it was the only thing that separated me from the music. To this day, loud music makes me feel warm, like I'm safe.

If the babysitter didn't turn up (or Mom just couldn't afford one), Kath and I would have to go to the show with her. Mom used to tell stories about me sleeping through a Rolling Stones show, backstage under the coats of the band. When she was alive I heard that story so many times that it almost feels true. I do vividly remember falling asleep in the third row of a Jerry Lee Lewis show and Mom trying to wake me when The Killer lit his piano on fire. I would have none of it--I was safe, warm and dozing--If Jerry Lee wanted to burn the place down, I'd have slept through to the end, as long as the band kept playing.

Anyway, I recently began playing my guitar again, sitting out on the front steps of my Brooklyn home, strumming away for strangers who stop and listen while they wait for the bus. It's been a lot of fun. I go through these periods and I'm sure enough in one now.

On Monday, I went to hear Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche, the lead guitarist and drummer respectively for Wilco play a show with Jenny Lin and Elliot Sharp at a small church on 66th street as part of Lincoln Center's Wordless Music Festival. Well, first I drove through Manhattan at noon and picked Nisi up in the middle of a "George-Bush-is-in-town-let's-bring-traffic-to-a-virtual-standstill" day, weaved my way through Manhattan and delivered her to New Jersey before coming back and collapsing for a few minutes before heading to the show. They make beautiful noise those two and I felt the warmth and peace I feel with music, and on this particular night it arrived like a blessing.

And don't even get me started talking about that M Ward concert last week; my soul is still quivering from that one. And then, earlier tonight, I went to hear Jeff, Bekkah and Konrad play. And they rocked my world with sweet, mellow goodness--it sure is nice to be friends with such talented folks.

I'm rich with music and soaked soul-deep. And tomorrow morning, when I wake up and get back to work on this new play I'm writing, I'll be taking my breaks on the front steps, working out the chords to this new tune that's been playing in my head.

By the way, that's Nels up top and Jeff down below--thanks to you both; I needed that --and M Ward? I owe you one . . .

5 Comments:

Anonymous Christastrophe said...

To this day, loud music makes me feel warm, like I'm safe.

That's so beautiful, Michael. It kind of choked me up, for reasons I can't entirely grasp.

2:05 PM  
Blogger Michael Arthur said...

Strangely enough, I was sitting out front strumming, for some reason thinking about you, when that comment came through on my blackberry . . .

Thanks . . .

2:22 PM  
Blogger bodhisatta said...

lately i've been learning to play on my very first guitar and it has been such a gift. but dude, you don't know stairway to heaven? what's that about?

6:43 PM  
Blogger Michael Arthur said...

Uhm . . . I can play Puff The Magic Dragon . . . does that count for nothing in the new century?

2:36 AM  
Blogger Jonny said...

When Troy was little he had a guitar that he called his "good old tar" because that's what he thought everyone was calling it. He still sometimes refers to guitars that way and it's cute. And here in our little apartment somewhere is a tiny fancy red guitar that his uncle made him when he was little. As you can see, I have no relationship with guitars except through the people I love, so I have to write about them.

I did dream last night that you were in a HUGE band, Michael, and I was in some kind of play and you guys were going to do our "theme song" and you were all outside practicing it as we were entering the theatre and you gave me a big thumbs up as I passed. The best part of the dream is that you were playing the triangle.

9:06 AM  

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