By Jim Hagarty
I am not the world’s greatest guitar player.
I know this declaration will set off howls of objections from people who have seen me switch effortlessly from a G chord to a C – and back again. And throwing in a D with a floursh.
But the way I know the Eric Claptons and Vince Gills of the world have nothing to fear from me, is the fact that I have played my guitar over the years in the company of people who are great at playing guitar. And in those moments, the fact that I am a 1977 Chevy Chevette and they are 2016 Chevy Corvettes is pretty clear to me.
There have been moments, plunking away alone in my kitchen, when I have been heard to remark to myself, “Damn, boy. You are something else.” Then I go out in the world …
Lest you think I am being too hard on myself, I extend this disclaimer: I am totally comfortable making this critical and realistic self-assessment. I am fine with it because I have a perfectly good excuse.
I learned to play guitar 47 years ago when I was 18 and living in a university residence. A guy down the hall taught me. And by the time the school year ended, I was zipping right along. But I ran into a wall and I am, today, about as good on guitar as I was 46 years ago.
Here was the wall. There was no place to practise guitar in the residence. No place that wouldn’t result in my being pummeled half to death by my fellow students. But someone suggested the men’s shower room. So I tried it out. It was amazing. The acoustics were fantastic, although the atmosphere tended to the humid side. I could sit in a corner on the floor of that shower room till all hours and I did. Till 4 a.m. some days.
My friend down the hall, who played like Chet Atkins, Jimi Hendrix and Glen Campbell all at the same time, would show me a new chord, a new lick or two. And I would hustle off to the shower room to practise.
Unfortunately, my timing for the practice sessions was often not the best and I would sit there in the corner being all Chet Atkins-like, while naked men milled about the shower room. I am not a psychologist or any other kind of ologist, but I think what happened to me might be chalked up to “imprinting.” Like a duckling that thinks a friendly rabbit is its mother. It happened slowly, but by the end of the year, it seemed I could only learn new things on my guitar when I was in the company of naked men milling about.
The term ended and I went home. My residence days were over. As were my days sitting in showers with my guitar while naked men milled about.
In the 46 years since then, I have not been around that many naked men (and not nearly enough naked women), at least not when I have had my guitar at the ready. So, my ascent from guitar-less farm boy to the heights of Hendrixism screeched to a halt.
But if some day you come to see play and I am wearing a bandana and playing up a Mark Knopfler storm, you might rightly conclude that I have joined a nudist colony. There are not that many colonies located in the cold part of Canada where I reside, but you never know. I might find one.
This might sound desperate, but I think it is my last, best hope.