How Long Will That Take in Old-Dog Years?

In the spirit of The Revolution Starts…Now, Steve Earle’s Grammy-winning 2004 album, I proposed, back in the spring, a more selfish and less significant transformation. I decided, well, I planned, um, hoped, okay, speculated idly about the possibility of maybe learning to play guitar. (You can read the whole messy rationale for this new project here. It’s in On Second Thought.) You know, the revolution starts…someday. And [gulp] today’s the day.

I’ve paid attention to guitar players closely for a long time, starting with Chicago’s Terry Kath, who was the gritty soul of their brilliant first two albums. (My rabid teenaged fandom, I have found in my (relative) maturity, was not as embarrassing as I’d feared. They turned to Peter Cetera pop pap, but they started out as a real rock band with horns. Lyrically, they were never a powerhouse, though Robert Lamm had his moments, and their early years were infused with the peaceful and transformational spirit of the anti-Vietnam age. We dedicate ourselves to the revolution in all its forms, unfortunately, had morphed into Sweet sixteen, mighty fine in your tight blue jeans before the seventies were out. Don’t get me started about Chicago, though.) Some Walsh, some early Santana, a little Clapton and Page, Byrne and Strummer, and any number of blues players headed up by the lamented and incomparable Roy Buchanan. (Kath and Buchanan: tawdry and ridiculous deaths. I love their picking, not their choices.)

I do go on, but here’s the thing. I’ve decided the revolution does start now, and it scares me to death. And you get to follow along, kiddies, if you have the taste for it. I’m going to get a guitar. I’m going to get some guidance. I’m going to play every day for a year. Tomorrow is the launch, and my pad is the pad. If music or learning interest you, if the midlife twists of an old dog trying to learn a new trick strike any chords, you may want to follow along. I’m going to post this pilgrim’s progress in On Second Thought daily. (It’s mostly for longer finished pieces, but they’ll be easily found in the archives, if you’ve become addicted to Howdenilia.) They’ll be short takes, and they’ll have some distinguishing mark so you can read it preferentially or avoid it like the bird flu. This should be fun, but I think it’ll be frustrating as hell. I expect all of you to hold me to this slightly ridiculous vow.

The ongoing account of my mid-life quest for guitar glory begins here.

A Little CRAZY?

I belong to an exclusive group: The Few, The Proud. Apologies to the U.S. Marine Corps, because this tiny assembly I belong to is about as far from American military prowess as can be. No, I’m not a Marine, but I AM one of the approximately 212 people outside of Quebec who’ve seen C.R.A.Z.Y. 

Now C.R.A.Z.Y., for those of you who haven’t been hiding under the same rock as me, was Canada’s selection for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. It didn’t make the short list there, but it ran roughshod over the competition at the Genie Awards, Canada’s feature film prizes. This Quebec film grossed $6.2 million domestically, a big number for CanFlicks, but almost all of that was within its home province. This didn’t stop it from winning 10 of the 11 categories, including four of the Big Five: best picture, best director (Jean-Marc Vallée), best actor (Michel Côté), and best screenplay (Vallée and François Boulay). Only the best actress nod, to Indian actor Seema Biswas for her role in Deepa Mehta’s Water, prevented the sweep.

(Now help me here, because I have a great piece of Oscar trivia and I’m hoping I am asking the right question. Q: What is the only film (or is it two?) ever to win the Big Five? A: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). Directed by Milos Forman, with Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher taking the acting honours, and a screenplay adapted from Ken Kesey’s superb novel. And a great film it is, too.)

(Oops, but NOT the only one. (Thanks, Google.) Cuckoo’s Nest was the second one, to Frank Capra’s 1931 film It Happened One Night. There you have it.)

Anyway, back to C.R.A.Z.Y.ness. I haven’t seen Water – or St. Ralph, for that matter, but then, neither have you – but based on my viewing and some of the buzz it’s gotten, it’s no surprise that there was a crazy tidal wave at the Genies. It really is a fine movie, with a compelling and timely coming-of-age story, a flawed but hugely charming blue-collar father (Côté), lots of boomer musical nostalgia (Quebeckers knew about Bowie, and they knew Patsy Cline, too) and a surprising number of laughs. There are even some mystical bits that somehow fit right in. (And as a special bonus for me, the soundtrack includes Roy Buchanan, the legendary American blues guitarist, and “The Messiah Will Come Again”. Quebeckers know Roy! I hadn’t been able to find Buchanan on CD until Guitar on Fire turned up on a rack in Chicoutimi, much to my surprise. You may be able to find the more recent Millennium Masters collection – awesome – more easily.) We return now to our movie review, already in progress.

And yes, C.R.A.Z.Y. is in FRENCH. It has subtitles. Get over it! You can read! And if seeing foreign-language films is a new experience for you, well, think of it as a, um, new experience. It’s really not as distracting as many of my Anglo acquaintances seem to think. You won’t miss a thing. And with this crowning at the Genies, and its international success, you never know – C.R.A.Z.Y. may even make it on to a few more Canadian screens. We should hope so.