Clamour

Transubstantiation

Posted in guitar, music, Uncategorized by clamour on September 2, 2009

Yesterday I traded my steel string acoustic for an ’80s nylon stringed Yamaha classical guitar.

I hardly played the acoustic anyway because even after having the action adjusted a couple of months ago it was like playing one of those as-seen-on-TV wire egg slicers.  It sounded muddy and totally unforgiving. It had a weird separation between the lacquer of the neck and the body that made me nervous about its body integrity but didn’t really affect the sound.

It was a present from my mom on my 16th birthday.  It was the guitar I spent twelve hours a day playing during high school summers.  Then in my twenties it was the heavy, delicate thing I resented dragging around from house to house when I moved because it represented a part of my life that I was still mourning a little.

I feel liberated that I was able to let go.  Fourteen years is long enough to own a guitar that I didn’t really like that much. I like it when I can be practical and not buy into the idea that guitars are a sacred extension of the body.  Or a woman’s body, the other metaphor I see floating around that grosses me out.  There are so many silly cliches about mystical connections with musical instruments.  I think the mystique contributes to the idea that there is a right type of person (male) to play the guitar and one right type of feeling about it (all-consuming, reverential.)  I like thinking about guitars as tools for making noise.  Everyone has the ability to use a tool.  This thinking is new to me because I used to buy into the mystique wholeheartedly.  It was a big part of thinking I couldn’t play music any more much less own the term “musician.”

I have never liked classical guitar music at all and am still a little surprised that I own one.  I’m taking a community college class to learn sight reading and fingerstyle playing and thought that the nylon strings would make it easier to practice playing fingerstyle without tearing the fingertips off my right hand, which were blistered and bleeding after one class on the steel string acoustic.  The nylon strings make it easy to play for as long as I want to, kind of like an electric guitar.  I practiced sight reading this morning and I can feel the new connections prickling in my brain.  I love that feeling.  I also like the way the guitar looks small and unthreatening and a little blank; I can’t tell just by looking what kind of sound will come out of it.  It’s full of possibilities.

The guitar shop dudeliness was more muted than last time around.  It sucked a little but not badly enough to get upset about.

Next week I’m going down to Santa Cruz to play with my friend who is an amazing keyboard player with a ridiculously cool homemade electric/acoustic church organ set up in his house.  I’m going to send him one of the songs I’ve written to play together.  I feel a little nervous, like I always do when I open up to someone.  I’m going to bring my electric guitar and play loud because he lives in the middle of nowhere with no neighbors to annoy.

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JAZZ KILLS

Posted in guitar, Uncategorized by clamour on August 29, 2009

So after less than a week in a band I’m not in a band any more.

Jazz got me again, just like in the 11th grade when my music friends, guys who I had known since elementary school, turned into jazz snobs and didn’t want to play fun stuff together any more.  Today (and Wednesday, when I was crying in the bathroom) I knew I was in trouble when the other guitarist wanted to play jazz standards and hear me improvise over a 12 chord blues that he was playing with the jazziest of jazzy altered chords.  I hate blues.  I haven’t soloed over a 12 chord blues since I was 16 or 17 because as far as I’m concerned there’s no reason to unless someone is making you do it.  I didn’t think that this band, which I have seen play live, was a straight up jazz band since out of the eight or nine songs I’ve heard them do only two sounded restless, dissonant, and hypercomplex.  The rest of the songs are pop/rock I can play easily.  It turns out they really are a jazz band, if not completely in music than in ideology.  That means that my competent rhythm guitar and bass and pretty good lyric writing skills aren’t enough.

I don’t swing.  I groove feebly.  I failed the virtuoso test I didn’t know I was taking.  I played a straight minor chord when I should have played a Ebm7+9.  I am innately not a jazzist.

It hurts like a breakup.  I feel humiliated even though the “this isn’t working” conversation happened in the calmest, most respectful way possible.  I took myself out for vegan Japanese food to cure my broken heart with miso soup.  I cried a little more in the restaurant bathroom.  The lucky cat watched me from the back of the toilet.  I hope it’s the last bathroom I cry in for a while.

But like a breakup this also means I’m free to do whatever I want.  Like not try to scramble songs I’ve already written to make them fit the band I’m not playing with any more or scramble my brain learning dissonant, 100% 16th note bass runs.   Like start my own band (East Bay music-making ladies, where are you?)  Also to crawl around Craigslist at 2 am fantasizing about finding women to make music with but finding dude after dude who RAWKS.

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Opening up

Posted in guitar, music by clamour on August 27, 2009

Every time the universe tased me today I took it personally.

Today was a good day because powerful, scary stuff happened and a bad day because powerful, scary stuff happened.  None of the bad things that happened to me personally seem very important now that I’m in bed with the lamp on, overhead light off, glass of water on the dresser next to the bed and an increasingly warm comforter around me.  My ego took some damage from an encounter with a guitar nerd, I dropped my keys six or seven times, I missed a train, I took the wrong way off the freeway and ended up in East Oakland when I wanted to be in Lake Merritt, I walked around San Francisco in a zombie fugue state because I only got four hours of sleep, I skipped lunch and crashed, my gums hurt for some reason, my head hurts from fatigue.  Except for the ego thing I can attribute all of those to inadequate self care and clumsiness.

Scary and powerful thing number one:

I feel silly thinking about the bad parts of my day when my partner’s mom had surgery for lung cancer today.  B is down there with her.  She’s recovering.  She has tubes sticking out of her.  I can’t imagine her without her glittery sunglasses and lipstick and puffed hair and matching tracksuits.  I am worried for her, obviously.

Scary and powerful thing number two:

I played for the first time with the really awesome and talented composer and guitarist in the band I’m joining and I could tell he was disappointed with my playing and even though he was very tactful it hurt.  I was nervous and playing stiffly and fucked up a few things I know well.  I was so nervous that when he asked me what song I wanted to play all I could think about was a silly four chord song that wasn’t even mine (I couldn’t think of a single lyric or melody line to a single one of my songs even though I’ve been working on them for hours every day.)  The song I finally played sounded so jangly next to the twenty chord multiple key jazz crazies we had been practicing that I knew it was wrong thing to have played half way through and wanted to disappear.  Even if I had been playing at my best I play on a much more basic level than he does.  He’s a ridiculously talented jazz player, so much so that I don’t know why they were looking for another guitarist when he is clearly more than enough for one band.  I’m not particularly competitive and I don’t feel crushed when I’m not the best at something but it’s really hard to work with someone far above my level who’s trying balance collaboration with teaching and being so nice about it but probably a little bored and judgmental. I did cry a little in the bathroom of his lovely Mission hallway-centric apartment with Crimethinc posters and hippie tablecloths and cast iron skillets hung on the wall, and a little more on the street walking home.

I felt a lot better once I switched to bass and learned some of those parts.  I love the bigness of the sound, the one-note-at-a-time zen of it, the lack of glamour.  I’m pretty certain I will play more bass than guitar in this band.

I have a friend a while back who, when we lived in the same place and I would call her on the phone fraught with some anxiety about some person judging me or hating me or being angry with me or choosing me (or not) for something, would tell me in a relaxed and peaceful voice, “your job is to be the person you are right now.”  There is so much truth in that.  It is also true that I am choosing to open myself to collaboration, to judgment, to creative energy and to criticism in playing with other people and that I can’t separate the parts of that openness I want from the parts I don’t.

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