When I got my guitar, so many Christmases ago that I was a senior in high school, I sat in my room and pushed myself to work out the chords for my first song: "Beautiful Brown Eyed Girl". Not to be confused with Van Morrison's classic, this was about twenty measures of strumming with exactly two chords. I read and followed the instructions in my E-Z guitar book to be sure that I had the right combination and placement of fingers.
After a few hours, my fingers were sore and so was my ego. I had taken music lessons since I was in the third grade, starting with piano and moving up to brass instruments by the time I was in junior high. I was never a terrifically gifted musician, but I understood the mechanics very well. If I could plug away long enough, I was sure that I would eventually come to some primal mastery of the guitar as well. I never bothered to take lessons. I just assumed that if I practiced enough that I could become mildly proficient.
Eventually, my frustration level was reached, and the guitar went back in its case, where it stayed as I moved out to various dorm rooms and apartments in my college years. In my freshman year I met a guy with amazing spider-like fingers who played his electric guitar with an effortless grace that belied his pre-med major. I even remember on one particularly chemically enhanced evening that he attempted to play the spokes on a bike wheel, with some very tantalizing results. I never asked him for a lesson either.
My younger brother, who also enjoyed and endured a good deal of musical education picked up the guitar at about the same time he was getting ready to leave college. It was our first warning sign that he might be an artist. He learned to play some nice licks, and he liked to play them loud. I remember picking up his blue electric and thumping out the one-string version of "Smoke On The Water" with only passing satisfaction. I never asked him to show me how to play it for real.
One of my roommates in college was also digitally gifted, and even though he had given up his high school saxophone, he took an interest in my now dormant guitar. A friend of his back in high school had shown him how to play the opening of Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", and he had gotten good enough to make it look casual in front of girls at parties. Then he would abruptly put the guitar down and pretend to be humble and embarrassed. It really worked for him. I never asked him to show me how to play it.
My buddy in New York has elevated his passion for Bruce Springsteen to a passing ability to play many of his songs on a guitar. He has taken his act on the road to perform amusing songs at fortieth birthday parties across this great land of ours. He taught me how to play darts. I don't think I could ask him to show me how to play guitar.
I have spent the bulk of my life making crazy gestures with my hands whenever I hear a song on the radio that I love. I know that my right hand strums and I should hold down the frets with my left - unless I'm doing my pseudo-Eddie Van Halen hammer technique. It's taken my half a year to work up the courage, but I went out and bought Guitar Hero for our video game system. I sat down yesterday afternoon and went through the tutorials, and finally worked up to my first song: "Slow Ride" by Foghat. I followed the rush of red and green and yellow dots with my left hand and "strummed" with my right. There were moments of real enthusiasm and delight as I hit fifty-four notes in a row. Then my son took a turn. He rocked Alice Cooper's "School's Out" after just a couple tries.
I'm going to ask him how he did it.