Always have. Always will.
I've sucked serious ass, proudly, since my first band, since the Unus Marx (short for Unusual Marxist - I was 15) days, since I figured out that I really have no need for that bottom E string, gave up on trying to play glam rock, and learned to love the good ol' Power Chord.
* * * *I was 14 when I tore apart my old starter electric, one of those suckers with a cheap, flat tremolo bar and an amplified speaker built right into the body. My parents paid a whopping $50 for a guitar with one working pickup and rust on the tuning pins.
First, I pitched the goddamn whammy bar, gutted that three-inch speaker and replaced it with the severed head of a teddy bear.
Yes, a teddy bear head was my first guitar accessory. It seemed logical at the time, almost abstract art.
And then came the ritualistic mutilation, the tagging. I stripped off the shiny black finish with a belt sander, painted the thing primer gray. With a blank canvas, I used industrial spray paint and black lacquer to add texture.
A skull and crossbones carved here and there, with a dull chisel. BLACK FLAG and SOCIAL DISTORTION and NIRVANA and MELVINS written on with Sharpies, a huge anarchy symbol carved into the neck with a pocket knife.
That guitar even survived this one night in high school when my friends and I, in our infinite need to prove our machismo, decided to hang the damned thing from a tree, use it for target practice.
I played my first gig ever, in front of an audience of three girls and a Dead Head stoner, with that Chinese-made Silvertone, the .22 rounds still buried in the plywood body. The sound was horrible and self-loathing and implosive, a barbaric YAWP! for the waning years of my teens.
I realized, a while back, that I was never asked to join bands because some group of guys need a rhythm guitarist or bassist anyway. I was asked, usually, because, well, I used to be a big dude and I liked to drink, do all sorts of nasty drugs, and fight.
But how I loved that damned, piece o' shit guitar. Bullet holes and all.
* * * *
Some guitarists are all about the finesse, about the rhythm and meter and form. Even the best solos are, to some degree, nothing more than formulaic and repetitive exercises in scale. I've never bothered to learn a lead or solo part in my life - that's for musicians.
Me? I maul at the fretboard like a retarded orangutan, with just about as much charisma and skill as one would find in your average drive-by shooting. Strictly a chord strummer, a rhythm hunter in the darkness, tone-deaf and uncoordinated.
That original electric is long gone, the teddy bear head and neck and body and pickups carried to Heaven, as smoke from a burn barrel. And the drugs are gone, the unchecked juvenile rage subsided.
Despite my ass-sucking levels of musicianship, I still enjoy playing every once and a while.
* * * *
As the rain came down a few nights ago, as it poured off the roof and the box fans rattled in the window sills, I picked up my old acoustic, this shitty Korean 3/4 size I've owned for more than a decade.
When that old Silvertone died, the Korean acoustic became the eldest son, left the farm with me, transversed the United States. Given what the acoustic's been through, I'd have to say that Koreans make some pretty durable cheap guitars.
It's been spit on by two fiancees, puked on and threatened by numerous women, borrowed by skinhead drug dealers and black strippers and roommates and recovering addicts, fondled by poets and former prostitutes and soldiers and migrant laborers, dropped in the Pacific from a fishing trawler.
I like durable guitars. They live forever and, well, tell better stories than I do.
* * * *
I sat on a stool in my apartment, that folding two-foot ladder I call a stool, and I played classic punk songs, rebellious American folk songs, outlaw country - unplugged and barely in tune.
The Misfits' Bullet. Social D.'s Bad Luck and Story of My Life. John Anderson's Seminole Wind. Hank Williams' Angel of Death and Lefty Frizzell's Long Black Veil. Even Tom Waits' Jockey Full of Bourbon.
Not exactly covers. More like abstract, interpretive art. The kind of art one makes in spite of their humanity, when they're all alone and can get away with it.
Spontaneous and humorous and askew and downright perverse. Like taking a shit and seeing the face of the Virgin Mary in a turd.
And I played like I always have, like a retarded orangutan, with just about as much charisma and skill as one would find in your average drive-by shooting. I tried to sing, in that old gravelly baritone, the one I used to use when, well, I thought I could actually sing like a rock star.
And the neighbors above me stomped on the floor. And someone yelled from outside in the rain.
And I just wished I still had that old bullet-ridden carcass of a guitar, just to plug it in, to just bang away with blunt force, just to piss off the neighbors.
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