February 12, 2007

Self Portrait Challenge- Black and White Guitar

I‘ve always wanted to be the guy who can pull out a guitar at a party or a campfire and belt out a Cat Stevens song as people sway and hug as the night turns to morning. You know the type: calm, gifted, easy going, but a gaping lack of natural talent, the inability to sing in a key, and annoying levels of inhibition have rendered me a closet home musician and nothing more.

It sounds kind of sad when I say it out loud, but I have been playing the guitar for fourteen years now, and I don’t feel I am any better than when I started. Sure, I know the basic chords, and my fingers sometimes feel a bit more agile than they used to. But after fourteen years, you would think that I would be able sit in front of people and sing a few songs without fumbling through sheets of tablature.

Having admitted to my mediocrity, I want to state that I cannot put into words the pleasure I derive from sitting down for an hour and playing my guitar. Yes, I am awkward and clunky as I flip the pages of my tabs. Yes, when I record it seldom feels natural, like I know that it should. Yes, I go through ten takes. Yes, it comes hard to me. The verse is always a step ahead of the chords, and the chorus always two steps behind.

Even after fourteen years of of holding steady, I am certain of one thing- I was meant to play guitar and sing. Maybe not well, or in key, or in front of others, but I have to to sit in rooms and connect with the magic in the world that creates music. I simply cannot imagine life without that connection. Whenever I go out of town, the first thing I pick up when I get home is my guitar. The ruts that I had hit, and the repetitive chord progressions that frustrated me before leaving have all had time to dissolve, and I am left with a fresh canvas of notes. I allow my fingers to get comfortable and stumble over the strings, nestling up to the frets. There is no past or future when you create music. Suddenly, you discover a combination of chords that for some strange reason you had never assembled before, and you are alone with the universe in the present moment.

I am not sure if I will ever be the guy who can simply pull out the guitar and entertain a crowd, but at least now I have a new fan who loves to sit and watch daddy strum a few chords and sing, even if only he sings the words sha lala lala over a G F C chord progression.

Fourteen years of playing have gotten me this far. Which admittedly isn’t far at all. It has always been my dream to play in front of people, and last year, I played in front of about two hundred members of my school community. It was the most amazing feeling I have ever felt. It was a great first step. But even with that behind me, I can still barely play an open mic. (Although one is coming up and I am preparing to play.) I am not sure what it means to be a musician, but I do know that music is the most important thing in my life, and I want to be more than an observer. I want to participate in the magic. If I have learned anything on my journey so far, it is to simply do the things you love. Do them often and do them like you don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks. And so, I take my photographs, I write my poems and stories, I play my music, I paint my pictures. Simple as that. I am not looking to be famous anymore. I don’t want a record deal. I don’t need to be published. I simply want to create: For myself, for my daughter and for you: anyone out there who respects and appreciates people who live art because they have no choice. Art these days for me is simple honesty. It is vulnerability and self-exposure, and so I am in the process of reducing the things I have to hide. Who knows what is my most effective way of conveying what I mean. Is it these words? The image below? The vibrating of six strings? Or maybe it is the combination of all three. This all has to mean something, because it would be nice if it did. And if it doesn’t that’s okay too.


  1. i am so pleased to read this post :) i feel the same when i play the violin.. (difference is that in the music department, i am only three years old)
    and by the way great picture! :)

  2. I think it's living your art that's the most important thing. And by that I mean Your Personal Art.

    Excellent intense portrait and I loved hearing your voice. Rock on.

  3. .... and echoing both you and amida, I have to say I feel the same way about the piano -always have. I spent years going to piano and singing lessons with a certain Mrs. Hughes -a beautiful ancient concert pianist who taught my mother before me... I remember the moments before my lessons started each Tuesday and Thursday when I would listen to her star student finishing off the previous class... knowing that I would never play like here (and wondering why)...
    I don't know how but somehow Mrs. Hughes transmitted to me that you can enjoy making music without actually being *good* at it. thank goodness for that becuase, despite years of lessons, my fingers never really did learn to accompany the music in my mind... but I never did really care.
    and i may have been bad at piano but guitar is completely beyond me. it's just so hard. however, some simple strumming of the right chords can be so perfect.... I'm sure you sound much better than you think :)

  4. I want to celebrate with you that you played in front of people! Congratulations! And I'll be rooting for you as you get ready for the open mic.

    I deeply share your belief that you must do your art simply because you must. For creative people, there is something in the experience that is essential, like breathing. It is simple, necessary and wildly brave.

  5. By definition, pictures of people playing an acoustic guitar are cool and this is no exception. The high-contrast look really works, here.

  6. Beautiful, intense photo.

  7. Anonymous4:26 AM

    thank you..
    means more than you know.. to hear the words from your heart.

    Love the picture and your music.

  8. Cool shot. I'm worse off than you. 17 years of strumming and just plain awful.

  9. My dad is a musician, he could play banjo, guitar, drums, uke, mandolin, piano and his MAIN instrumnet was a fiddle! I was so lucky growing up around musicians! My cousins all play but I can't play anything! but I wish I could, I have a red guitar waiting! and I always wanted to be a songwriter! I LOVE music too! GLAD to hear you are playing before a crowd!

  10. wonderful photo, like the shadows...and really beautiful story!

  11. Wonderful post, beautiful photo & great rendition of a favorite Cat Steven's song!

  12. This post is so meaningful to me. Music is my religion and, although I play no instrument I sing, sing, sing as much as I can. Mostly when noone is around so your link to the recording gave me big smiles.

    Kudos to you for keeping your flow alive :)

  13. Anonymous11:38 AM

    I was thinking about you today after reading your comment on my SPC post. I think what impresses me the most about you is the passion you have for life. You aren't content to just be - you are doing, feeling, living, creating. It is what draws people to you.

    I read and watch but not always comment. I know, I'm breaking the "code" but I'm usually nursing or bouncing a baby on my knee while I read.

    Love the post, adore the song, and what a wonderful picture. The lighting is really great.


  14. amen. when i got to the last word of this post i felt my shoulders relax and i let out a sigh...there was a kind of freedom to just be in your words...so refreshing...