Friday, September 01, 2017

Just Beautiful

Many years ago when I was a teenager-and that really is a LONG time ago - my music teacher played a record to us by a young newbie on the scene called Bob Dylan. Some of you may have heard of him. The song he played was "With God on Our Side". The premise was that when countries go to war they often claim that they have God on their side to justify their going to war. But then comes the kick in that a country might be evil without God on it's side (from it's enemy's point of view), but then after the war they make friends with their former enemies, get forgiven and then they too have God on their side. "Though they murdered six million, in the ovens they fried, the Germans now too have God on their side." Well, from an objective point of view I do not accept this premise because I do not believe in the god of any religion, and if there is a force in nature you might loosely refer to as "God", then it certainly does not concern itself with human affairs, let alone taking sides in wars. Anyway, just to confuse things still further, none of the above is what I have sat down to write this blog post about. Its just that Bob Dylan plays the guitar and its really the guitar I want to write about.

Even so, this state of affairs raises an interesting question about consciousness. I got an invite from a Facebook friend (she's also a real friend) to attend a "Philosophy in the Pub" meeting in the pub. This was shortly after I had joined her Facebook group called "Philosophy in the Pub"; I guess that figures and hope that is clear. Anyway, the conversation over the beer glasses got around to the nature of consciousness, which if you spend too long trying to work out you go insane and then disappear up your own rectum, so contemplation in this regard is only recommended for short periods, with doses of "Game of Thrones" or "West World" or some such escapism in-between. The guy to my left made the comment that as we don't know what we are going to say next, do next or think next, then consciousness takes on a special quality we can never reproduce in a computer.....or some sort of argument like that. Lets just say it was deep man, deep. Anyway, going back to the former paragraph I really didn't know properly what I was going to write, things just pop into my head and stuff comes out, in this case getting printed onto my computer screen. This raises the question whether we are fully in control, whether we truly have free will, and is life purely random with us only steering things in a broad sort of way over time, but not having real control on a moment by moment basis (?) which is amply illustrated in the fact that a few seconds ago I never really knew I was going to write what I have just written in that sort of way. So let's get back to the guitar.

My friend Peter Shelley liked Bob Dylan, as I did. Being materially well endowed, he had an acoustic guitar, and we used to sit in his house playing on his guitar. Or rather- HE played on his guitar and I watched. My mum had a Marshall Ward catalogue (you have to be a certain age to remember those) and I noted that for a small monthly sum I could buy my own acoustic guitar, which my mum ordered for me. I then got myself some Bob Dylan sheet music and started to learn to strum certain chords, principally G, C, F and D. From this I learnt to 'sort of' play songs like Dylan's "Mr Tamborine Man" (not sure how you play a song on a tambourine) and Donovan's "Colours". Tambourine Man had a special resonance for me as I found the melody and the words particularly appealing. Lines like "Take more for a trip upon your magic swirlin' ship, My senses have been stripped, My hands can't feel to grip........." synced well with the elated feelings I experienced doing free fall parachuting (badly, but that's another story). Also, I loved, and still do, the Byrds jingly jangly version of the song which stayed at number one in the British charts for seven weeks. I also got a bit more adventurous with other songs like "The Times they Are A-Changin'" as a finger up to the establishment kind of song.

On and off, I continued to play sporadically over the decades since then, but not very well and making very little progress beyond my first rather very imperfect attempts. Eventually I bought a new guitar deciding to try and revive my by now dwindling interest. However,  having a shiny new guitar is one thing, but playing it any better than the previous one is a different matter, and the poor instrument spent most of its time in its bag.

My musical wife, on the other hand loves the piano and on and off (I guess we are a on and off kind of couple, musically that is), took lessons from a professional concert pianist while we were stationed with the RAF in West Germany (as was), and she made considerable progress. After owning a couple of "real" pianos she finally took the plunge  a couple of years ago splashing out on a new all singing all dancing and even making the coffee electronic digital (everything is digital these days!) piano which I have to say sounds wonderful. She has regular lessons, taken gradings, and it is always a pleasure to hear her practising on a daily basis. Anyway, to cut a long story shorter, while we were visiting the music shop for some sheet music she was after, I found myself lustfully eyeing up the guitars. There is something very sensual about the feel of a guitar. Even more sensual was the sound and tone of the model (a Yamaha) I chose to buy, booking myself guitar lessons at the same time. That was several months ago, and now that I have found some direction in my playing I am making progress. I have also got a new teacher who is an inspired player who I find great pleasure in just listening to, let alone playing myself. All this of course, gives you inspiration and makes you want to do more and improve, and there is massive satisfaction in learning to play something well. Also, our local Oxfam Books and Music shop where I currently work as a volunteer has started promoting Open Mic nights at the hotel across the road from the shop. Well, I love to perform, though I have never dared to perform on the guitar, so dire has been my  playing (I am also a singer and have taken part down the years in a number of amateur musical productions in front of paying audiences), so I have decided to "have a go" on the guitar in a few weeks time. Having been to the first of these evenings last month, I gauged that the performance standard to get some kind of applause or even whoops of approval might just about be coming into my orbit of capability - particularly if I play a lot later in the evening when the alcohol has taken greater affect! So there we are, I have something to aim for giving more reason than just personal satisfaction to my daily endeavours.

The guitar is a fascinating instrument. It was originally meant to be a cheap instrument bringing to the common masses a means of playing without the expense of a piano, the snobbery of a violin etc...etc... - it was an instrument for the common person. However, generations of incredibly talented instrumentalists have given the guitar a cult status not obtained by any other instrument. It comes in a number of forms like electric rock and base guitars, classical acoustic and folk and others.... Whilst I love folk singing, I am drawn very much to the likes of Jimmy Hendrix whose off the wall playing is legendary. Other players like Chet Atkins, Santana, Jimmy Page, Brian May and Eric Clapton to name but a few, have taken the guitar by storm and made it sound just beautiful. I know I can never be like them, but at least in my own very modest way through sore fingers and constant practise I might be able to achieve something which sounds  reasonably like good music.