Friday, October 28, 2005

We All Came Out to Montreux

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) 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?

WW: Yes?

Me: Is... that...

WW: I think so...

Me: "Smoke on the Water"?

WW: Yes...

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."


Linkmeister said...

You can then move to that wonderful string of notes the James Gang used on some song whose name I can't remember. (Ah! Probably Funk#49). You'd know it if you heard the opening riff. A bass-playing friend used to amuse himself by playing chords with it.

beyond passionate said...

Hey, back to the gig tomorrow night- what with the historical significance of this event I hope someone is going to videotape it. Spouse, son, someone's got to bring along the miniDVcam and record the show! Then we can talk about gaining access to such footage. This 50-something frustrated rocker is green with envy that he can't be there to get up and play his show-stopping, third set versions of "Nightime" or "Midnight Hour" with y'all.

Kevin Wolf said...

Beyond: How many envious rockers will be leaping onto that stage by the second set?

Wish to hell I could be there!

ejtavnt - as the French say!

Employee of the Month said...

I sure hope a taper will up the show to


helmut said...

Sorry I can't make it to the show tomorrow.

About your Deep Purple Son -- absolutely everyone I have ever known played Smoke on the Water as their first song. Then, when they got a bit better, it was that Led Zeppelin song (I forget the title) with the acoustic riff at the beginning and then the first lyrics are something like, "Hey lady, you got the love I need...."

But... Iggy Pop started his life as a musuician with some kind of contraption like pots and pans hooked up to a vacuum cleaner cord and tied to the tail of a cat.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm guessing he got the riff 'cos he saw "School Of Rock" - a seminal rock moment for so many of his young generation. Plus, now that his generations' radio has become a long string of audio ads for the artists performing them, he's got nothing left of his own to listen to.

BTW - thin ice there, Pops - ixnay on the "hey, I used to play that...", might come off like yer eatin' his lunch. Hard experience talkin'.

Anonymous said...

I really thought that all beginning geetarists had moved on to Smells Like Teen Spirit these days. Dead easy, and at least his friends, and any girls willing to remove their bras, will have heard it.

XTCfan said...

And besides, if you're going to dip into the Deep Purple canon, you should teach him "Highway Star" or "Woman from Toyko" or even "Rat Bat Blue."


Employee of the Month said...

BTW, what's contained in The Harridan's backstage rider?

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I think it's genetic, or something, like how we just "know" that light comes from up, Smoke on the Water is just The First Song To Be Played. I bought a bass for $6.00 from a friend in 1976, and upon removing it from its case at home, had the basic riff in a few minutes.

Fast-forward 29 years. (ouch!)

Last week, my 13 yo daughter wandered in OUT OF THE BLUE and said "Dad, can you teach me Smoke on the Water?" I had no idea she'd ever heard of the song, and this was the first time she'd ever expressed an interest in playing the bass, declaring herself to be a drummer 2 years ago. It took me about 10 minutes to get her fingers on the neck, show her how to pluck with her right hand, chide her for asking for a pick, and get her through the basic lick. She was veritably beaming with pride afterwards, as was her dad. We're so gonna rock one day.

Anonymous said...

^^^ Oops. Anonymous up there was me.

Anonymous said...

I would definitely pin it on The School Of Rock. My eight-year-old has been pounding out the riff on piano for some weeks now. He's even got a bit of a left-hand chord thing going.

I don't believe the riff has ever been played in this house, not on record or any instrument... although I've had to to start strumming along lately to show what a good (and tolerant) parent I am.

Anonymous said...

I'd be impressed by the 12-year-old who could play "Over the Hills and Far Away."