ODY: Weeks 20/21. The Song is the Thing.

There was a part of me that hoped that by this time, nearly 150 days into this crusade, I would be obsessed. By and large, my habits are pretty well established when I’m at home, and it’s no great inconvenience for me to get my work done. But knowing how I can get utterly locked in to patterns of thinking and concentrated (if brainless) activity, I had thought vaguely about how to manage a raging addiction to guitar playing. How will I handle it when I stop coming to meals? What’ll I do when my writing day begins to suffer because the boy just wants to play?

Well, safe at home, I guess. No worries about dependency yet. I recently read a piece on Tom Morello, the rocker with a brain (and a social conscience, and a lifelong love for the Cubs, I believe) from Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. He started on the guitar relatively late, as a Harvard freshman, but made his own fervent pact to play each day, no matter how many essays were due. Legend has it that those playing sessions could last as long as eight hours. (Show-off! Creep!) Mine have approached ONE hour, oh, maybe twice.

And unless I start heeding advice from the Sonshine Boys – Dad, you gotta play more SONGS! Find stuff you like on-line, or write your own! They can be as dumb as rocks, but they’ll get you pumped — that kind of momentum will never be able to sweep me along. DAMN, but I’m a slow learner!

Songs, songs, songs. So what are the great songs I’ve loved, the singable songs for the very middle-aged? Time for a list, in no particular order, and then I’ll see which ones are actually Playable By A Guy Like Me:

Lorelei (The Pogues): might be simple enough, and so much feeling.

Jungleland (Bruce Springsteen): wow, but maybe too complex? One of the greatest songwriterly things ever. And Blood on Blood, or almost anything from Nebraska.

Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles): is a cello required?

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Jimmy LaFave): I love the LaFave version of this old Jimmy Webb song. On a Bus to St. Cloud is another melancholy, lovelorn ballad that Lafave delivers well, a song by Gretchen Peters.

So many from Bruce Cockburn, but let’s say “Tie Me at the Crossroads” and “Great Big Love”. Maybe I should learn one of his sensual ones, though; odd that this introverted, rather intellectual master guitarist has written some of the sexiest stuff ever. “Sahara Gold”, par exemple.

Boots or Hearts (The Tragically Hip): some alt-country type should record this, I’ve always thought. Locked in the Trunk of a Car knocks me sideways, but I don’t know how campfire friendly it is. Son One wants me to learn Wheat Kings, but it doesn’t get me. Not yet, anyway, but it is a three-chorder.

Naïve Melody (Talking Heads): I wonder if these are too funky for simple guitar playing. Byrne does a guitar-only rendition of Psycho Killer on Stop Making Sense, which may be manageable.

Road Trippin’ (RHCP): I don’t like earlier stuff much, but Californication is a terrific album. Real melodies and harmonies.

And this is so much fun, I could go on and on and never actually learn any of ‘em!! Ah, resistance. I’ve been reading a lot about you in The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and here you are, Resistance, you old seducer. There is one song that I’ve been working on, though, and the satisfactions are strong. It’s a chord progression to play behind a prayer I’ve learned to sing: Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place, and the city, and the heart, and the mountain…where mention of God hath been made and His praise glorified… It’s a sweet and lovely invocation of the holiness of all places, when the spirit is given its due. And blessed is the spot where music is made, too, whether couch or bedside, but the chords are a bit tough for me: A, A7, E, E7, and D are more than manageable, but I still stumble over three bar chords. There’s a B minor, and A#7, and an F# minor.

But The Spot has begun to prove to me the wisdom of my young teachers. It’s nice to play something that sounds like a song. Keep at it, ol’ fella. 147 days down, and better days to come. Maybe even a little compulsion, for a change.

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