Tuesday, 23 October 2012

In search of perfection

I'd love to be one of those people who can seemingly do anything. We all know people who can seemingly turn their hand to anything. Years ago I was asked to teach a friends sister the guitar. I can play OK, but I'm not Jimi Hendrix. She'd been a swimming champuion, captain of the school Netball team and top of the class. She had decided on a whim to learn guitar. Her dad said "If you teach her, I'll pay you a fiver an hour. Not bad money. First off I said, lets buy a guitar. As mum and dad had a few pennies, a trip was organised to Rose Morris,  a big music shop in Tottenham Court Road. All of my mates (me included) had third hand beaten up old guitars (that was all we could afford). We walked in, she took a liking to a very tasty, brand new Gibson Les Paul. I saw the price tag £700 (it was around 1981). I went to usher the family past it, to the third hand guitar section, but Daddy stopped and said "Whats that one like". I asked the assistant for a go, he handed it to me and it was beautiful. I said "It's one of the nicest guitars, I've ever played". Daddy announced "We'll take it". I then broke the bad news "You also need an amplifier". We trotted off to the amplifier department. Daddy asked me what I thought. I replied "Well I really like Fender Twin Reverbs, but for a rock and roll guitar like that, you should really have a Marshall stack". I was joking, as Marshall stacks are huge and pricey and she couldn't play a note. Daddy asked daughter. "Yes, I want a Marshall stack". So that was it. Another £600 for a girl who had never played a note.

When we got the guitar and amp home, I set it all up in her bedroom and tuned it up. I then turned it up to number 11 and strummed an E chord. The whole house shook. Daughter screamed "Wicked, I'm so happy that is what I want" or words to that effect. Mummy and Daddy looked chuffed (luckily the property was a large detached house so no neighbours to annoy).  She then says "Show me how to do that". So I show her where to put her fingers and how to hold a plectrum. She strummed it and sure enough it sounded great. "Wow!" she exclaimed. I said "That's an E chord". She said "Show me another one". So I showed her an A chord. She put her fingers on the strings and played a perfect A chord. I then said "Ok now strum the E twice then the A twice and then do it again. She did this quite effortlessly. Usually it takes ages to even get people to put their fingers on the chord. "Have you played before?" She replied "No, never even picked up a guitar". So I say "OK try this" and showed her a B chord. This is a bit harder to play for beginners, as it is a bar chord. She played it effortlessly. I was stunned. I said "well you now know your first song and showed her the verse to Wild Thing. The lessons hadn't even started.

Daddy was chuffed and gave me £20 for my troubles. I came back a few days later to give the first lesson. we adjourned to her bedroom and she said "I've been really practising. I can play a few songs now. She then played a selection of recent punk tunes. I felt like a fraud, it took me months to learn the same songs. So I say "Ok, what is your favourite song?" She said "You'll laugh but I really love "Live and Let Die by Wings".

So we put it on the record player and I say "If you want to learn a song, he best way is to record it on a cassette, because it is easy to listen to the bit you are stuck on". So we taped "Live and Let die". By the end of the hour, she could play most of the simpler bits of lead guitar to a basic level. I was shocked. I had brought a couple of books. One was a chord book and the other was a lead guitar tuition book, which came with a record. I advised to tape the record. It was easier. I then wrote down a list of songs from her record collection and said "learn to play two of these by next week". I collected my fiver and departed, rather shellshocked.

The following week, I turned up. She said "I've learned all of those songs, but there are a few things I can't get right". So I then had to explain tappings, hammer downs, pull offs and slides. She was rather cross. Ia said what's the matter. She replied "it was so obvious, I'm embarrassed". I said don't be, most people take months to get to this stage. By the end of lesson three, I had reached the point where there was nothing left to teach, my knowledge and skill set had been surpassed. That said the cash was handy, so we started doing theory (which I knew nothing of).and songwriting.

After about two months, she said "Do you think I'm ready to join a band?". I said "Yes". That was that she joined a band and never looked back. She then learned drums, bass and saxophone. I occasionally see her around. She is a superb musician but very down to earth. Last time I saw her, we had a quick conversation about how she learned. "If it wasn't for you I'd never have learned". I was shocked. Of course you would, you are a natural. Then a rather sad and strange story emerged.

"Do you know why my folks asked you to teach me?" I replied "No". She then explained that her brother had been being bullied and I'd intervened and the bullying had stopped. I couldn't even remember. The brother was a year or two younger than me, but a bit of an outcast. He was really into punk rock. so I'd chat about music to him. He had no musical talent, but was a nice bloke. She then went on "My parents thought that if you were teaching me guitar, then you'd feel obliged to keep an eye out for him". I was really surprised. She explained that the family had bought her the mega expensive guitar and amp as they knew I'd feel a commitment to teach her. They hadn't realised she was a musical genius.

The brother, although musically inept, was also super bright and is now a very wealthy man. She explained that, like me he's dyslexic and like me didn't know at the time. He had no confidence at all. For a short while, he was a dogsbody for our band. He used to help out by doing errands. She explained that until he hung around with us, he had no confidence. I couldn't remember why he "left the gang", but she explained that he got a girlfriend and never looked back. I've often pondered just what damage bullying does to people. In the case of the brother, he once told me that he hated every second of school. He said that if he hadn't discovered music, he'd probably have killed himself. As it is, when he had the threat lifted, he felt like his life started over. I felt embarrassed that I couldn't even remember the incident.

It is rather strange really. There where so many subtexts that completely passed me by. His dyslexia, the bullying, the family reaction. I'd just thought they wanted me to give their daughter a few lessons. I thought the parents were simply striving for perfection for their daughter. In actual fact all they were trying to do was save their son from misery. Odd really.

1 comment:

LBB said...


You shouldn't be baffled at your inability to read the situation.
Reading this from afar, so to speak, it's obvious: When we're young, we think the world revolves around us. You were focussed on your own attitude towards it - i.e rich parents, girl never played a note, grand's-worth of equipment, took me ages to learn these songs, need the tuition money, etc, etc.

Just because you didn't make the connection with the brother simply means that from your perspective you couldn't see the bigger picture that the parents could see. As a parent of teenagers myself I can see that by doing what they did, they not only helped their own kids out, they were helping you out too but by not trying to embarass you about it, they made everyone feel good about the situation.

You should be proud of yourself that you had no idea about the brother, as it shows that you would have stepped in for anyone regardless of whether you knew them or not.

You're a good bloke, simple as that. Keep up the good work.