A couple of years ago, I bought a guitar. Aside from the very few lessons I took as a teenager, I never played but I’ve listened to music forever so I thought why not? I knew it would be tough (and it is) but I hoped I’d get some enjoyment out of trying to play a few simple tunes.
I think my decision had something to do with the 50th anniversary of The Beatles playing Ed Sullivan. Better late than never, right?
At first, I tried to learn via Youtube and online lessons but it wasn’t really happening so I screwed up my courage to take some group guitar lessons. I say ‘screwed up my courage’ because I was picturing that episode of “Seinfeld” where Kramer takes up karate and he’s in a class of 12-year-olds. Luckily, my fellow students were above drinking age. A couple were even in their 30s.
The group classes are fun and don’t have the pressure of private lessons. I’m not going out on the road; I just want to perform a few songs in my room and someday in front of a campfire. These days, I’m able to play a handful of songs and I get great enjoyment out of singing along in the privacy of my home-office where even my wife can’t necessarily hear me.
But here’s something I did not anticipate when I started taking lessons….the magic of getting inside a song, of understanding how the original artists picked the perfect chords to make the emotion of the song come to life. Sometimes it’s just that perfect chord, sometimes it’s the words, sometimes it’s both.
I’m thinking today of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” a song I’ve probably heard 1,000 times or more. Of course, it’s a classic but I never thought much about it until I started playing it. I know it’s based upon another song but, as usual, Dylan brought his own style to it. As a writer, I can only imagine how pleased he was when he wrote the line, “I once loved a woman, a child I’m told/I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul,” or “I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind/you could have done better but I don’t mind/you just kinda wasted my precious time…”
There’s a chord in the song–C7–that is just so perfect for the phrase that it’s magic or genius or what makes Dylan Dylan. But I never would have understood that unless I took up the guitar. It’s an unintended benefit, a lightbulb that never would have been lit otherwise.