ODY: 21/365. Is It A Habit Yet?

It’s three weeks of daily practice, and my fingers are getting organized and a little tougher. I can now make chord changes, from E major to A minor to A major. They’re clumsy, but I’m sometimes surprised to find fingers almost where they’re supposed to be without lookin’ at ‘em! “The Blues Riff” is coming along; had a few short stretches tonight where the rhythm was consistent and I was just playing, not thinking. (Reminded me of the advice of a veteran teammate back when I was an over-earnest leadoff hitter for a hotshot fastball team: “Howdy, don’t think too much! You’ll hurt the ballclub.” Okay, Rip. Heard you then, hear you better now. Isn’t that always the way with advice to the young?)

And the last couple of nights, I’ve started to pick out an old standard rock ‘n’ roll bit. (Is it from “Blue Suede Shoes”? Could be.) What I’m hearing is Chicago’s Terry Kath winding up a wandering solo jam with something familiar in the Live at Carnegie Hall album, aka Chicago IV. It’s another cliché for my arsenal, and hey, it’s almost enough to make an aging canine believe in a renovated repertoire…

I’m starting to have a little more fun, and this may even be habit formation of the constructive kind.(Cool!) And the Old Dog Year has only 49 weeks left.

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.