ODY: Week 8 (56/365). The Whole Fam-Damily.

I began the week with reflections on a family reunion. We’d booked a room in the seniors’ home where my sweetly declining Mum is glowing out her days. I made a grander-than-usual entrance because I was carrying a guitar case, which got the attention of the nieces and nephews. Lots of questions. (Mine: “What, you’re not reading my site?! You obviously need to get rid of your life – of course I’m playing the guitar!”) And yes, eventually, flushed of face and nervous as a 16-year-old knocking at the door with a corsage in hand, I played a little where people I know and love could actually hear me. I played clumsily and it didn’t matter a bit.

There was never live music at family gatherings when I was a kid. There wasn’t music, period. Neither our parents nor any of the five kids played at all. The next generation has done better. My children are the fathers of this man’s music-making. My sister married a quiet and stubborn man who taught himself to play guitar, and their girls play piano and more. Now there’s a son-in-law in the mix, a live-wire entrepreneur, guitarist and sometime recording engineer, and Jer was all over me. (He was like Dave the TVPI, my son and first teacher, except with Mediterranean hairiness and more manic energy.) He was very encouraging, and had WAY too much stuff he wanted to show me. (I hadn’t known how well he played.) This all let me off the hook of actually having to play for him, which was way too fine with me, but I did learn some interesting little twists on the G and D chords, as well as other stuff that may resurface sometime down the road. (I’ve already forgotten. Indigestion of the mental kind.) I have so much to learn, and it was fun to learn with a newly-minted nephew.

Quietly, in the background as he so often is, was Silent Paul, my brother-in-law. It has sometimes seemed that we didn’t have a lot in common. Our professional collars are of a different colour and our world-views sometimes far apart. If I am words and ideas, he is hands and things. But as the years pass, we find each other more and more when the clan gathers. (I admit that he annoys me mightily with that flat belly of his, but he has good qualities, too.) Later that day, he sidled up to me as we were about to hit the homeward road. “Keep pickin’ and grinnin’,” he said. A noble, quiet man says a lot with a little, and among all the reasons for enjoying playing the guitar, here’s another. It’s sweet to share a common cause with a brother. We sometimes run together when I’m down home, and now we have another avenue of DOING that we can share. Paul’s friendly and kind, but not much for sitting around and talking. He runs a huge crane in a steel mill. He works on his own car, restores antiques, installs his own hardwood floors. He envies my letter-writing, but I would like to have built a house and home like he has. Now we have a new thing that we can do together. It’ll be fun to learn with him, too, and I have another motivational deadline. I want to be a lot better by the next family gathering.

Back home, my next lesson was a slap in the head. I felt out of it. I couldn’t keep up with the chord changes that every one of my eight fellow bumblers seemed to be doing far better than me. Guru Kurt said the kindest thing: “Chord changes are the WORST. Nothing will bring out the I SUCK! in you better than them.” The whole week was a real plateau time where I couldn’t see much sign of progress. Some of this, my occasionally rational mind tells me, is because of Kurt’s method, or at least my response to it. I’m trying to learn many chords and techniques and note reading and rhythm reading all at the same time. He says that he wants to give us, in this eight-week group lesson, everything that we need to know to teach ourselves the guitar. He gives us a lot, assuming that we won’t be able to absorb it or quite keep up, but the plan is that we’ll have habits and a strong set of materials to keep on plucking after the course is done. Beyond that, though, I also have to hammer away at the repetitive strain of going from G to C, C to D, D to A (and on and on) over and over and over again. (“But play songs! Make up stuff! Have fun!” insists the TVPI by phone. There’s a balance.)

My final family lesson of the week came from the six-year-old. Sam has adopted the old broken-necked Dégas as his own. He keeps it simple. He started by holding it upside-down and playing left-handed; I might’ve left him that way, but he’s very clearly a right-dominant boy. I showed him how to hold a pick, and where his left hand might go (he didn’t care for much detail), and then he whaled (and wailed) away. I listened furtively while he composed his first song, strumming the same non-chord and singing the same flat and sweet little melody for every line, no matter how long it was. I’m a Dad. I found it brilliant:

I was alive since 2000 / I was alive since 2000 / Most of my friends weren’t even born / Thomas wasn’t born ‘til October / But I was born on April 6th / And I didn’t know them when I was a baby / But I didn’t even care if they were babies in their mommies’ tummies / ‘Cause I didn’t even have friends yet / But we lived next door to McDonald’s / And we were pretty close to a play structure…”

The next song in his repertoire involved more aggressive punching of the strings, while the lyrics came from the latest number-one-with-a-bullet grade 1 schoolyard song. (The part I don’t get is that he goes to a French school. As Ottawa’s francophone parents say, we have to promote and protect le français. In a city like ours, even kids who speak only French at home can pick up English like they do a cold.) And here’s how it goes. It starts off with an echo of Queen’s ever-present “We Will Rock You”, and then wanders into the ancient rhythms of nearly all the chants that every kid learns on every playground.

We will, we will, you know what? Kick your butt!
All the way to Pizza Hut!
I don’t care if you dare,
But don’t forget your underwear!


Words to live by, and an I can do it spirit to learn by, too. Thanks, little buddy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *