Channeling My Inner 11-Year-Old

The Beatles had a resurgence when I was a kid–as they seem to every few years since they broke up–and they were the first, em, “serious” pop band I listened to. I never listened to the radio–the cacophonous incidental sounds of radio (from AM/FM noise artifacts to commercials to DJs breaking in) made (and makes) it something I cannot tolerate for very long. I picked up some “Donny and Marie” and “Captain and Tenille”, but that didn’t really ignite any interest. (Can’t imagine why.)

Most of the music I listened to was classical or noodling–whatever I could play. (I never have “gotten” piano, though, sadly.) I had a kind of culture shock when I went from piano to guitar because piano teachers generally tell you what to play and guitar teachers ask you what you want to play. So guitar lessons were not successful at that point. (What were they going to do? Teach me Bach and Beethoven? Not likely.)

Flash forward a few months or a year, and one of my classmates takes on a tour of Capitol Records (where her father worked) and they handed out promotional copies of the latest Beatles compilation album, Love Songs. (One of the advantages of going to school in L.A. Another student’s father worked at ABC studios, so we toured there as well.)

Flash forward again, and I’ve got a few more albums and I teach myself a few chords and score a copy–I’m still not sure how–of the “Beatles Complete”, a fairly comprehensive book of typographically convenient piano arrangements of all the Beatles’ tunes. With some help from Peter, Paul and Mary for basic fingerings, I taught myself to play “Polythene Pam”.

Why that song? Five chords, but four of them aren’t bar chords, and when you play it actually sounds like the song on the album. (Because the book had been set up as a sort of fake book for piano–what else?–the music was often transposed into good piano keys, where the Beatles naturally played in good guitar keys. There was a later two-volume work that preserved the scores far better.)

And so I learned to play guitar. Ultimately, I learned fifty or sixty of their tunes, possibly more, though I had more success (as a guy alone with his guitar) emulating Simon & Garfunkel (hold the Garfunkel), ultimately learning all the songs of that duo with the exact or nearly exact fingerings (and quite a few post-breakup songs, too). Then, in the early MTV years, I’d play whatever came on which, to this day, gives me an odd selection of music to recall from that period. (It could’ve been huge on the radio, but if it wasn’t on TV, I didn’t hear it. Sounds strange, but MTV let the songs play all the way through without interrupting back then.)

During my Beatles period, I studied the music and learned about the phenomenon and hung out with other Beatles fans (there were about 50 kids altogether in my middle school, divided between Beatles fans and KISS fans, and ne’er the twain shall meet, except in my house where my sister was, predictably, a KISS fan).

This period ended for me when John Lennon was shot; I found it hard to listen to The Beatles after that for some time, and started listening to their solo albums. (Listening to “the latest” music has never been my thing, as you can see.) I cast about for other things to listen to, but I wouldn’t get close to anything like my Beatles obsession (at least in “pop” music) for ten years (when I rediscovered Loudon Wainwright III).

My transition from the banging chords of the Beatles to Paul Simon-style fingerpickin’ started with this blues song (which before this very moment I had never heard anyone else play ‘cept for me and the guy who taught it to me), and ultimately led me back home to Bach and other Baroque and Renaissance music. (There is truly “Classical” music for the guitar but most of it is terribly boring. The late 18th century and the 19th century isn’t a font of great guitar music. 20th century music and the guitar go gloriously well together, however.)

Anyway a couple years ago when I splurged and got myself a new classical guitar–and the best one I found was actually pretty old–the shopkeeper (sensing an easy mark, no doubt) also showed me a vintage 12-string Framus which I promptly bought, rationalizing that both old guitars together were cheaper and better sounding than the new ones I had sampled. (Random youtube of this kind of guitar in action, but you can hear it on a ton of the Beatles middle period stuff.)

Plucking out a few Beatles tunes on that thing does send me back–to a time before I was born, even. Heh. The sound is evocative.

But evocative in an entirely different way from this.

Although I’ve never quite understood the Guitar Hero attraction, I have to admit, this variant awakened my inner 11-year-old.

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