(Published in Business Standard on September 6, 2014)
Regular readers of this column, if you exist, may remember that a little over year ago I suddenly ran out into the summer sun and bought a guitar. I didn’t spend a lot on it, given the whimsicality of the moment, but contrary to expectations, I have sustained my interest in it.
My guitar is a cheapo black acoustic with a better sound than you would expect at the price, and I adore it. I thought about naming it, then felt that might be weird, then realised that it was already weird to buy a guitar with no clear idea of what to do with it or why, but anyway couldn’t think of a name that I would feel comfortable standing on the porch and calling out loud, which is the gold standard for a good name.
Physics says the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly, but nobody informed the bumblebee of that fact, so it flies on regardless. Thus was it with my guitar and me. Nobody said I couldn’t learn to play from the internet, so I did. (I’m going to write a song called ‘Fly By Wireless’.)
I therefore stared at a lot of websites, eyes crossed, tongue lolling, fingers twitching on the fretboard, and, barely a year later, I had learned six chords, give or take a few. It just goes to show that dedication can make a dilettante out of a no-hoper, and that there’s nothing you can’t do if you apply whatever’s left of your middle-aged brain. (I’m going to write a song called ‘Sixteen Synapses Standing’.) I wore my fingers down to stubs practicing those six chords, and am proud to say that while the strings still produce a tooth-hurting kind of buzz, I can now move fluidly between three of those six chords.
Armed with this technical virtuosity, I’ve taken to writing songs. It’s a lot like trying to build a house using nothing but a pack of chewing gum and a stork; and yet, nobody told me I couldn’t. I wrote four songs in the space of two weeks, which is more writing per day than I have voluntarily done in the last ten years. This tells me that either I missed my calling, or that, as Bob Dylan said about song writing in an interview, “Any idiot could do it.”
The great tragedy of my life, other than that my body seems averse to recreational drugs, is that I do not have a singing voice. I absolutely love to sing. I sing all the time—in the shower, in my head, in the car. Sadly, I emit only a kind of thin nasal wail that chokes and trembles and cracks, and occasionally lands foul of the note. Also, I have the lungpower of a smallish flea. (I’m going to write a song called 'Why, God, Why?')
I played and sang my first song in a great welter of nerves for the people I play with regularly, and at the end of it, though they clapped supportively, they confessed that while they thought the music was nice, they couldn’t actually hear a word that came out of my mouth. And that was when I was using a microphone. (I’m going to write a song called ‘What Is The Point Even, Stupid Microphone’.)
I’m trying to overcome my inner mouse and open up my voice. That may take a while, and may or may not yield results, but either way, I’ll keep writing songs, because it’s a ton of fun that any idiot can have.
Meanwhile, it has been suggested to me that I shouldn’t give up my day job. I won’t say who said so, but I’m not squeaking to them no more.