Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Go Johnny go go go

Have I ever told you about the time I took guitar lessons?

I was seven. We were living in Jaipur at the time, in a small white house that stood facing what must, now that I think about it, have been just a very large undeveloped tract of urban land, but that I liked to think of as The Desert, if only because it made the front yard so much more fun to play in, knowing that mystery and adventure and brave expeditions were just across the street. The guitar lessons were in a house about three blocks from our place, on a sleepy side-street - not much of a walk, but the longest distance my parents had ever allowed me to walk unattended till then, so an important step in young Falstaff's march into the great unknown.

The reason I was having guitar lessons was that someone (I can't remember who now) had gifted me a guitar, and after several weeks of hearing me play what I desperately tried to convince myself were the opening chords to Here Comes the Sun, my parents figured I might as well learn how to play the damn thing properly. So there I was, trudging off to my guitar teacher every afternoon, burning with the desire to make music.

As it turned out, nothing ever really came of those lessons. The trouble, I think, was that the guitar teacher and I had very different ideas about how these lessons were supposed to go. My vision of the whole thing was that I would go sit with him for oh, say four days, at the end of which I would be able to play everything that George Harrison could, and then some. His idea was more that I would spend a month picking up what he called scales (what was I, a fishmonger's apprentice?) after which, over the period of a few decades, he would slowly but surely teach me to pluck my way through Zindagi ek safar hai suhaana. If I ever succeeded in mastering this little number (an eventuality clearly so far in the future that talking about it was little more than idle speculation) he would then proceed to teach me 'Western Guitar'. 'Western Guitar' it turned out (when he finally deigned to demonstrate it to me) was not the clear tripping notes of Anji, but something that sounded suspiciously like it may have come out of a Shammi Kapoor film.

The guitar teacher's appearance didn't help much. Okay, so I was only seven, and my exposure to the whole rock star thing was fairly limited. The 60's were a decade like any other and drugs were those things people took to turn into skeletons on Doordarshan. I'd never heard of Jimi Hendrix. I'm not even sure I'd heard of sex. But for all my relative innocence I had a more or less innate knowledge that musicians were supposed to be cool. Especially rock musicians. Okay, so cool was defined by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel wearing old sweaters and faded jeans with the Manhattan skyline behind them, but it wasn't, even then, about the clothes or the hairstyles. It was about the intensity that seemed to radiate from these people, a sort of quiet otherworldliness that was an intimation of poetry. So different from this skinny idiot wearing formal trousers and a too loose t-shirt. It's possible, even likely, that this teacher of mine was a competent guitar player. But some intuition inside told me he wasn't a musician.

Most of all, though, it was the song that did me in. This Zindagi ek safar hai suhaana thing. It was my guitar teacher's favorite song, god alone knows why (sentimental reasons, perhaps? A failed romance? he looked the type), and so he naturally assumed that everyone else would share his enthusiasm for it. I, unfortunately, had never heard the song before (it would be many years before I would have the dubious opportunity of actually watching it on Chitrahaar or some equivalent thereof [1]) and found it fairly annoying the first time I did. By the time I'd tried picking my way through it with my incredibly uncoordinated fingers (which, of course, are the other reason why I'm not out there right now, giving Eric Clapton a run for his money), I'd developed a hatred for it so overwhelming that to this day it makes Greensleeves sound sublime by comparison. The worst part was that while my teacher was completely unable to teach me how to play the damn thing, he did succeed in putting the tune so firmly in my head that for days afterwards I couldn't think of any other.

And it wasn't like I could just drown it out with something else. The only music player we had in the house was my dad's beloved record player, and precocious little seven year olds with their grimy hands and clumsy liable-to-drop-everything fingers weren't allowed to go near that. So there I'd be, trying desperately to remember how Day Tripper started, and coming up with nothing but the old dim-di-dum dim-di-dum dim-di-dum-dum. Aaarggghh!

Eventually we shifted to a different house and the difficulty of finding a new teacher, coupled with my (by this point) total disinterest in the whole guitar thing, meant that I never went back to having music lessons again. The guitar stayed with me for another ten years, gathering dust on top of the cupboard. Every six months or so, I would take it down, clean it carefully with a dry cloth (in the process managing to raise a minor sandstorm in my room), strike a pose, attempt to play something (on the theory that in the last six months my fingers may have magically discovered how to play a guitar, all by themselves, and hadn't bothered to tell me), remember that I never had learned to play, and put the guitar back on top of the cupboard. Eventually, as I recall, we gifted it to a neighbor, but by that point it was really just taking up space that I needed for other things (read: books).

I sometimes wonder how things would have turned out if I'd stuck with my lessons. Admittedly I used to wonder this a lot more in high school and college, when women all around me were going gah-gah about guys who could play guitar and misguidedly ignoring the fact that I could quote Eliot by the hour and had read all of F. Scott Fitzgerald's books. Still, it's sobering to think that if it hadn't been for an uninspiring teacher and a painfully cloying song, I could have been rich, famous and dead of a drug overdose by now. Ah, the sweet regrets of youth!

[1] For those of you who've never witnessed this horror, or may have forgotten, here's a reminder.


Anonymous said...

Love it when you relate these monstrous tales of childhood..this was very funny (though the Falstaff-in-gym-class-one was simply hilarious). This struck a Chord somewhere :)
- Anusha

Anonymous said...

Oh, and since I'm the first to comment, mgiht as well keep my lead.

>It's possible, even likely, that this teacher of mine was a competent guitar player. But some intuition inside told me he wasn't a musician.

bulls eye there! most music teachers, unfortunately, arent Musicians, just trained/skilled. All the ones I've had have only managed to put me OFF music, unfortunately.


Anonymous said...

The sweet regrets of youth?!! Hilariously put. :-D

My guitar has also spent more time lying around than being played and now it's got another to keep it company! But these two tracks are among the reasons that I continue to dream about learning to play it well someday.

Gypsy Kings: Pharaon

Canon in D major by Johann Pachelbel, performed by "Funtwo"


Twilight Fairy said...

How could he have chosen "zindagee ik safar" for teaching something! Even "chura liya hai" would have been better! (was it out by then? :p)

I fortunately had at least a musically inclined teacher who taught me piano, though learning the piano from a nun, aint too attractive a proposition either.
But at least I retain my interest towards playing music.

t.e.f said...

mother sophie who tried to teach me (and the operative word here is tried) the piano was musically inclined, all right.
i wasn't.
your posts bring back memories and that familiar sinking feeling of feeling perfectly idiotic.

rs said...

sounds like the story of my skates for which i spent many a nights sulking

km said...

But did you ever try setting the guitar on fire?

Ink said...

falstaff, try dave at www.nextlevelguitar.com he's quite amazing

krishna kumar said...

Amazing post dude...
(on the theory that in the last six months my fingers may have magically discovered how to play a guitar, all by themselves, and hadn't bothered to tell me)..very funny...cool..

dazedandconfused said...

it's never too late you know...even I went to guitar classes at 10 or something, gave up, tried again in college, gave up again. Been at it for the last nine months now- my longest stint and by myself this time-, its been a treat...