Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

How I weep at the memories of our sweet music

Robert Johnson
Robert Johnson

My guitar gently weeps, but unlike George Harrison's, it's not because it plays a ballad to Eastern mysticism. No, it weeps through neglect.

It sits in the corner abandoned. As I enter the living-room, I imagine it perking up, still some semblance of hope that we will resume the love-affair of yesteryear.

And how we loved. All fingers and thumbs at first, soon it became caresses. Discord was replaced by occasional harmony.

Wonderwall became the odd bit of Tarrega, the Spanish maestro. We spent hours together working out the riffs until they sounded almost like the record.

Cynics (my sons) would mock and jest that we were compiling a set list of 100 golden intros, that the complicated middle sections were foreign lands to us.

But we didn't care. We had each other.

Now when I enter the room there is some hope emanating from the corner, but it's dwindling.

A beer in the fridge, which used to be a companion, is now more likely to be a sole partner.

Or, more likely, the remote, that terrible piece of plastic with its pathway to 153 channels of lethargy-inducing repeats, the easy option, will lure me to the couch like the Nick O'Teen of technology. And I feel so, so bad.

Even though my back is turned I can almost hear it strumming: what happened to your self-discipline, your drive to learn new things, surely the Craziest Car Chases IV on Living Channel hasn't replaced me?

My guilt gathers much like the dust on its fretboard and every day I declare tomorrow will be different.

The truth is I was never any good, but in middle age I wanted another challenge, having previously given up in my teens.

A distraction was needed from the long hours in the office. And a musical instrument is a marvellous thing for discipline.

There are no shortcuts. You drill and drill until you get it right. It is hugely therapeutic.

I still remember the first time I got a tune even approximate to the original out of my beautiful Washburn. It was REM's Man on the Moon and, as I played it, I almost fainted with the heady realisation that this could actually qualify as making music.

I had a few lessons and had to do homework. I learned to retune the strings for the blues and even played some Robert Johnson.

I'd like to think my scrapings inspired my sons, who now have their own indie band and seem to be able to pick up tunes and write others with ease.

They have left me in their rear-view mirror and, in some ways, that might be why, over the last years, it just hasn't been the same. It's hard to listen to crisp rock 'n' roll upstairs while I'm doing a passable musical impression of Edward Scissorhands downstairs.

Much has been forgotten. The REM and the Oasis remains, but the Johnson and Tarrega have faded, the fingers failing to retrace their old complicated paths.

If you play an instrument even passably well, I take my hat off to you. If your children play, do whatever you can to ensure they never give up.

Me? Tonight I am going to reignite my tempestuous love-affair. We will laugh, sing and make sweet music like all those years ago. Honest.

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