Last night. I'm sitting in the kitchen, working on notes for the Harridans gig tomorrow night. Unplugged Epiphone Sheraton rests on my thigh, fat Sharpie scribbles chord shapes & cues that can be read in the dark. Wonder Woman is in her lair nearby, surfing eBay for Beanie Babies.
Upstairs, Freddie practices his guitar lesson.
We've bought him a classical guitar, and he's taking classes at school. It's the ultra-beginner class, the kind where by the end of the year they'll be able to pick out a first-position D chord by straining and concentrating hard. If he likes the instrument (and I fervently hope he does), I'll be happy to fund private lessons that take him as far as he can go.
But upstairs for now, Freddie is playing the most rudimentary -- and excruciatingly boring -- exercises. Quarter-note E, quarter-note F-sharp, half-note G, and back down.
In college I discovered jazz, and wanted badly to play like Jelly Roll Morton or Professor Longhair. I didn't think that was too much to ask, just to be able to sit down at parties and crank out some nice, greasy stride or some barrelhouse. So in a fit of uncharacteristic ambition I signed up for piano lessons.
These lasted for about two sessions.
It dawned on me, somewhere about the twenty-third time the piano instructor rapped my knuckles for crossing my middle finger over my thumb incorrectly, that my time was far more profitably spent pursuing easy pleasures of the flesh than with this death by a thousand cuts. I dropped the class, and with it, any desire ever to emulate some Negro cathouse ivory-thumper.
(Look, don't bother yelling at the nineteen-year-old me, OK? I've yelled at him enough, and it doesn't do any good. He never listens. I feel sorry for his parents, frankly.)
Upstairs, the exercises seem to have gone astray. We're not getting those shapeless and pointless musical jumping-jacks and pushups any more, instead something with a bit more of a point seems to be trying to come out.
Nuh (part of an A chord) ...search... Nuh (part of a first-position C) ... hunt, hunt ... Nuh! (D)
Nuh (A again) ... search ... Nuh (C again) ... hunting, oh this is really difficult ... Nuh-Nuh! (Two short notes, D sharp to D; a more experienced guitarist would have slid down a fret to get the second note.)
To Wonder Woman, sotto voce: Honey?
Me: Is... that...
WW: I think so...
Me: "Smoke on the Water"?
It is very, very difficult to stifle this kind of laughter. The knowledge that my precious, beautiful, twelve-year-old boy was not only upstairs slagging off his oh-so-serious and deadly boring lessons by playing rock-and-roll, but was accomplishing said slagging off by playing exactly the same song as his father had at exactly his age under exactly the same circumstances, is more than the mind can handle.
Two things occur to me. First, where did he get it? I'm no heavy metal fan, and we don't have records like that in the house -- not because we've banned them or anything, but because they're, well, fucking awful. Curious, I asked Freddie and he said that a schoolmate had showed it to him. Ain't that just the way. He learned it in the gutter.
I immediately downloaded the Machine Head version from iTunes and put it on his iPod Shuffle. You know. To prevent his head getting stuffed up with guttersnipe trash like that ridiculously overwrought Live in Japan version.
Second, I suppose this presents me with what the self-improvement authors like to call a "teaching moment." Because, you see, although my credentials as a rock-n-roll patriot go unquestioned, it's still my fatherly duty to gently point out that "Smoke on the Water" is not actually part of the official curriculum, and that if he brings home a bad grade because he's been in his room playing 34-year-old heavy-metal riffs instead of the building blocks of eighteenth-century polyphony, some stiffish accounting will have to take place.
Then I'll show him "Stairway to Heaven."