ODY: Weeks 16/17. Sick. Of this. Acoustic Guitar.

In my twenties, I came across the Talking Heads album Fear of Music. I knew nothing of the band then, and I was vaguely dismayed by its mainly black cover and that stark green title. There may have been a hint of stiff-necked Baptist disapproval in there, though I was years removed from those hard and judgemental pews. It certainly did jangle my mental Intruder Alarm. Here there be monsters. It was a few years before I actually listened to it. By then, I’d been fascinated by the Heads album that had preceded it, More Songs About Buildings and Food. Its artfully geeky title and funky cover photos got me in the door, and what a different musical world it was. I was entranced by the relentless rhythm, and the lyrical combination of frantic energy and oddball repose. And I realized that I already knew Fear of Music’s “Life During Wartime”, which even an unhipster like me had wrapped his mainly uncomprehending ears around. 

I gradually became a fan. Well, stereo needle, we’re not on Chicago any more! This is a long way from “Wishin’ You Were Here”…It took me awhile to work my way back to Fear and the first album, Talking Heads ’77, but I loved Little Creatures through the years when my own wee critters were being born. Son Three, who turned out to be the TVPI, danced madly in his Osh Kosh overalls to “Blind”, the first track on Naked (“Talking Heads With Horns”, you might say; it was the last vinyl album I ever bought). Along the way there were True Stories, the brilliant concert/film Stop Making Sense, and of course the dark and astounding Remain in Light. Still, Fear of Music didn’t get absorbed into my collection until music-loving, punk-revering, vinyl-buying teens were living in my house around Millennium time. (Being ancient has the occasional perk: I still had a good turntable, and so Heads and Clash and even good ska like The Planet Smashers have spiced up my vinyl collection, from which the most embarrassing 1970s albums – but not all – have been purged. I guess the vinyl is worth the furniture and other gear that the lads have stored in my garage.) 

It’s not A-List Heads, but Fear of Music has some wonderful stuff, including a spooky meditation on the ultimate significance of six strings: This is the meaning of life / To tune this electric guitar … This is a crime against the state / Never listen to electric guitar … This is the verdict they reach / Someone controls electric guitar. It’s a weird and awkward song, and I’ve been playing the piss out of “Electric Guitar” and the compelling nonsense of “I Zimbra” and the rest of the album for days. It’s been the soundtrack to my own lingering fear of music this week, and it has some licks that I would probably be able to play. If. I had. An electric guitar. One of these days, I will. (One of these days, I may even allow myself to pick up the black axe and amp that the TVPI has left behind in my basement.) But the fear of music, the reluctance to stretch my boundaries or actually play with anybody – even somebody on CD or vinyl — still lingers.

Or maybe I’m just bored. It’s been a profoundly grungy cycle in the Old Dog Year. Sunday was the 119th consecutive day of playing. Occasionally, those practices have been pretty cursory fifteen-minute tours of the fretboard, but for the most part I have stumbled along the strings for at least half an hour each day. But this has been a lousy two weeks. I AM bored. Most days, when I allow myself to think of it, I have a tiny quiet dread of picking the thing up and doing the same stuff (badly) again. This is the anatomy of frustration. This is the melody of discouragement. This is the hour of lead.

Well, THAT’S a bit melodramatic, to be invoking the poetry of suffering. I’m just in a funk about my playing. I’ve been in a bit of a craphole about several things, and my guitar nook is not immune. This getting old is not for sissies, said some bard of the hair salon or barbershop. But I keep coming back to the hour of lead, and remembering the stunning Emily Dickinson poem that contains that line. (Lord, she was good!) (But hold on just a doggoned minute, guitar boy. You’re being ridiculous. The poem is known as “after great pain”, and that ain’t your story. You’re just doing things the hard way, as usual. Give your head a shake!) I know this is just a plateau in the learning curve. I know this is a rut in the road, no great suffering or mischief. But it still feels pretty shitty, and I hear Emily’s epic description of the dumps:

After great pain, a formal feeling comes–
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs–
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round–
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought–
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone–

This is the Hour of Lead–
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow–
First–Chill–then Stupor–then the letting go–

 “The letting go…” Is that to be avoided or embraced? Are you a good witch, or a bad witch? For now, I’m not letting go of the daily visit. Keep on keepin’ on. A year is not so long, but the half-hour sometimes seems endless. It may be a Wooden, a Leaden kind of progress, but I’ll assume for the moment that progress it is.

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