Friday, December 2, 2011

This One Is Long But At Least It Has Pictures

Most of you probably don't know this, but I used to truly believe I could not sing.

I would try to sing, but my voice didn't sound like the voices I heard on the radio. I think somewhere around the time of middle school someone verbally confirmed the fact that I could not sing. And that was that. It was all okay because I was good at playing the piano. I didn't have to be good at singing too.

Of course, I secretly wished I could sing. But I knew that I could not. I wrote songs with the idea that someone else would sing them. I went to college, teamed up with someone who played guitar, and made him be the lead singer in our little band. We called ourselves "Good Quail Hunting," which was funny until everyone forgot about the Dick Cheney incident.

Eventually, we booked a show in a coffee shop near campus. This wasn't a big deal - except it was. I had never really performed outside of a band concert or piano recital (there were a couple of hellish talent shows in there but I would prefer not to think about them). We spent hours practicing and perfecting our set list, which consisted mostly of awkward cover songs (I think we even opened with Coldplay and transitioned into "Birdhouse In Your Soul" by They Might Be Giants...yikes). I handed my bandmate a couple original songs in hopes that he would sing them.

I don't remember if he was getting the phrasing wrong or couldn't hit the notes or what, but I do know that I landed into the position of singing these songs.

"But I can't sing," I remember saying.

"You're not that bad. It's sort of like talking but try to do it on key," my bandmate said. His lame words of encouragement somehow worked. The night of the show came, the coffee shop filled up with kids from our dorms, and next thing I knew I was singing.

I don't want to give you the impression that I opened my mouth and was suddenly Mariah Carey. I was quiet, flustered, and so nervous that I felt the need to face the wall. I was embarrassed, so naturally my neck got really red and splotchy. So not rock and roll.

Unfortunately, a clip from that night is still kicking around the Internet. If I had any common sense, I would delete it. But I'll put it up here so you guys can cringe along with me.

Yes, I know - my voice has dropped about two octaves since that performance five years ago. I'm not really sure what's up with that. When people ask me about it, I usually just tell them I went through puberty. It's a really good way to weird people out.

But I digress. The point is that I got over myself and sang. It was strange and nerve-wracking, but people clapped and gave me compliments after the show.

Five years later, I am my own lead singer. I still have moments of feeling self-conscious about my voice, but I know that I am capable of getting on a stage and belting it out. When I was 19, I had no idea I would someday have the nerve to do that.

Why do I bring all of this up now?

Because I recently overcame another psychological block. This one has to do with that six-stringed beast known as the guitar.

When I was four years old, my dad gave me an acoustic guitar for Christmas in hopes that I would grow up learning to play it and become some awesome folk singer chick. And I had lots of fun laying it on it's side and getting picks stuck in it. But every time I tried to learn how to actually play the thing, I would get frustrated because it was difficult and hurt my fingers.

So I accepted the fact that I was not meant to play guitar and embraced the piano. It all made sense throughout college, when "Good Quail Hunting" evolved into "Original Sound Trash" and there was always somebody there to add guitar sounds to my keyboard melodies. When the band officially broke up in February, I found myself on a mission to find other guitar players. Whenever a new acquaintance even just briefly mentioned owning a guitar, I would go into interview mode until I knew whether or not I wanted to initiate a jam session.*

I felt musically naked without a guitar player.** The sound I've always envisioned for my songs is bigger than just a girl with a keyboard. As many of you know, I've been working with a few different guitarists on getting some recordings done. And though the songs are turning out (mostly) how I wanted them, the process has been an absolute nightmare.

I wrote a little bit about this in an earlier post. One guy has strung me along for months. Another one is just no good at sending emails. And the other guy has a history of being really creepy towards women (of course, I didn't find out about this until I was halfway through the recording process with him...yikes***).

There was a point where a weird little light bulb went off in my head. "I should just learn how to play the damn guitar so I don't have to deal with this crap," I thought.

A couple days later, I had retrieved my guitar from my parents' house and was learning the chords to an ancient punk song with The Poet. Keep in mind that this guitar is about 20 years old at this point. I've dubbed it Old Crusty. It goes out of tune every five minutes. I still managed to figure out how to play "Whole Wide World" by Wreckless Eric on it.

I have to admit, I felt bad ass.

I even borrowed The Poet's guitar (which is significantly less ancient and actually has a strap) and paraded around town with it in the name of my new music video.

Keepin it classy in front of this sketchy building

Naturally, this is a promo for my upcoming laundromat tour of 2012

I got some really good footage too, though I'm still a little bitter about that thing that happened at the laundromat that day.

Laundromat security was not a fan of #occupymusicvideo

But let's not get too political.

It quickly became apparent that if I was really going to learn to play the guitar, I needed one that would stay in tune. I also needed one that I was excited to play - maybe even one worthy of a name cooler than "Old Crusty."

So I went to pawn shops. I haunted music stores in Southeast Portland. I pretended that I knew more than the two chords involved in that Wreckless Eric song and I tested out fun electric guitars, trying very hard to ignore the dudes there that actually knew how to play. There was a hot pink guitar that caught my eye, but I decided to wait. Logically, I knew I shouldn't be buying a guitar when there's rent to pay, but that didn't stop me from doing my research.

I kept a close eye on Craigslist. Lots of cheap, Walmart-style black and white guitars that were probably Christmas presents for bratty teenage boys at some point in time. Lots of expensive, fancy guitars that people are now trying to trade for cash because the economy is terrible. I was about to abandon my Craigslist efforts when I saw it.

My guitar.

I emailed back and forth with the guy about pricing, then stared at the numbers in my bank account until I could justify making this investment. The price was right, so I came to the conclusion that buying a functional guitar was a very practical career move and was possibly more important than buying food. I conned The Poet into coming along with me (didn't take much conning - he's been a very enthusiastic supporter of my guitar hunt) and we rode off into the night to look at this guitar.

The place was a little bit hard to find, but when we finally found it and knocked on the door, a black guy with dreadlocks answered. He was wearing a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt, which I noted as significant because it was Jimi Hendrix's birthday. The whole interaction was normal enough - he told me the history of the guitar, I tried it out, The Poet assured me that it was indeed a bad ass guitar, the guy offered to throw in a lot of accessories, I announced I would take the guitar.

"I hope to see you play that live someday," Dreadlocks Guy said as he showed us the door.

The door closed and I felt excited, musically liberated, and a little bit rebellious.

You better believe I played Wreckless Eric until my fingers were sore.

Photo taken while jamming out to Wreckless Eric with other beginning guitar players
And then I learned another chord so I could play "Blitzkrieg Bop" by The Ramones.

And then I learned another chord so I could play "Sorrow" by David Bowie.

Soon, I was noodling around and coming up with my own little songs. And when my neighbors saw me in the kitchen later, they commented that I was sounding good. This blew me away. I was sure everyone in the building was sick of my guitar playing, or at least Wreckless Eric. They were probably just being polite - except that no one here is that polite.

I know that everyone and their dog plays the guitar and that in reality it's probably not very hard. I also know that I'm still at a very basic, embarrassingly elementary level on this instrument. But I still feel accomplished. I feel as though I can and will learn to play this thing. I'm not expecting to become some sort of guitar goddess, but I do feel as though I can get to the point where I can play my own songs if I keep practicing everyday.

Mostly I'm just determined to make this rock and roll dream happen. And I want to be done getting hung up on ideas like "I can't sing" or "I can't play guitar."

And with that, I shall end this extremely wordy post.

Except I think that I should mention that I named my guitar Jimi.

And now that I think about it, I can't think of any white girls that play black guitars...


Peace and love! Until next time, amigos.**** <3

* I usually did not want to initiate a jam session - way too many guitar players in Portland are into experimental noise rock.
**I was also just mad that my stupid band had to break up, but that's irrelevant.

***Don't worry, Mom, I had a body guard.
****I promise I won't be so long-winded next time!


  1. You can do anything if you try hard enough...except flying without some sort of mechanical device assisting you, but that's not the point. I haven't played my guitar for a while. I was being taught by my brother how to play until I left for college, but he wasn't the best teacher. He did teach me how to play a few chords: A, D, G, and E. I find that the most difficult part of the guitar is how difficult it is to translate to sheet music. I started learning how sheet music and the guitar get along quite a while ago, but it hurt my brain and I soon gave up. I really want to get Rocksmith because it's like Guitar Hero, but it actually teaches you how to play guitar. I can play guitar tabs, but as G so eloquently puts it "That's cheater sheet music".

    As far as guitar purchase stories go, I got my first, which I recently named Luke, for a birthday, probably my 16th. I don't remember exactly. It was a cheap acoustic-electric and at the time I wasn't interested in an acoustic sound but it was also too much of a hassle to plug it in every time and have my mom complain that it's too loud (she bought it for me). The summer before I left for college, I found a slightly beaten up electric guitar at a yard sale. I bought it with my own money, even though I didn't really need it, but the guy was really cool and threw in a gig bag, a strap, a stand, and an amp, all for $150 total, guitar included. So it was a pretty good deal. Sidenote: I wish I could still pay $100 for something I don't really need, instead of saving all of my money for rent. I named my electric Jack, after Jack Skellington, and we made beautiful music together. (And by beautiful music, I mean mostly classic rock.) Long story slightly shortened, one of my roommates inmy freshman year of college got me to appreciate folk music so now I play my electric-acoustic again. But not for a while. I've been neglecting my guitars for a few months now.

    /longest comment ever (I'll probably turn this comment into a post on my own blog, complete with pictures)

  2. Thanks for the long comment, girl. I love that you named your guitar after Jack Skellington. And classic rock is a good choice, especially for an electric guitar.

    Also, those are the same chords I know! I also know C and tonight I learned F (but can still barely play it). You can do a lot with just A, D, G, and E though.

    And I look forward to reading your long comment in the form of a blog post, complete with pictures.

  3. Yeah, I learned a few more chords after starting college. A minor, E minor, C. I have the most trouble with F. My fingers don't like barre chords at all.

  4. F is the worst. And of course it's in half of the songs I want to play. I was so bummed when I found out how difficult it is to wrap my fingers around. Haha.

  5. I can't believe you started singing so recently! Or recently compared to when I thought you started...Which even moreso convinces me that you WILL be a guitar goddess in a few months!
    As unbelieveable as this sounds, I used to know the first three chords of Back in Black - best moment of my life - so if musically-retarded me can do know where this is going :))

  6. I have a really crappy guitar at home... no matter how hard I tried to learn the guitar, I just couldn't do it. My fingers are far too short and because of my wrist problems I have issues bending it around.

    That, and I lack any musical talent whatsoever.

    Can't wait to hear how you sound on the guitar!


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