Today is my birthday, a birthday shared with the late Michael Hedges and the still living Andy Summers, two other guitarists. I hope to spend some of my day playing guitar, in hopes of improving my abilities just slightly. I’m forty-eight years old today, and feeling every bit that old, as my body creaks with age, and every day it is just a little harder to get out of bed. But, when I play guitar I still feel young. It is a beautiful thing.
Segovia played guitar into his ninth decade, not as well as he did as a younger man, but with the wisdom that only comes with age. Research supports the idea that music, particularly playing music, keeps the brain alive. There is no other activity that so completely engages the brain, requiring active understanding of the mathematical structure of the song, as well as the mercurial force that drives melody. I only wish I could find an activity that kept my aging body so engaged!
A roommate, Thong Nguyễn, gave me my first guitar lesson. I’ve lost touch with him, but always will remember his simple instructions. He taught me an A major chord, and a D major chord, and encouraged me to just learn those two chords. In his halting English, he said those two chords would serve me well, and either I would want to learn more, or I wouldn’t. There was nothing more that he could show me that I couldn’t learn myself. Twenty plus years later, I know he was right. Those two chords have served me well, although I’ve had to relearn them several times, with different fingerings and in different positions on the fretboard, yet still the same two chords. A to D to A to D, a staple of jam-band music; get those basics right, then move on. Which brings me to my short list of things I’ve learned in forty-eight years on this planet:
- Getting the basics down is always the right way to start.
- Music can keep you young, if not in body, then in heart and mind.
- Given a sufficiently large crowd, there is always someone who talks too much, too often about themselves, and who should be avoided if possible.
- Brownies always make a good gift. Really, any baked good makes a good gift.
- Alcohol can make even the most boring fools seem interesting, and it may not matter if you or the fool is doing the drinking.
- You can’t really read too many books, as long as you know when to put down the bad ones.
- Complete certainty of belief is highly overrated; better to know the depths of your ignorance than to be ignorant of the shallowness of faith.
- John Lennon was right, love is all you need.
- A good story will get you far in life, even if it isn’t true. It will be a lot easier to write a true story, though, as friends will be glad to help.
- Good friends are hard to find, and always worth keeping.