Shawn Persinger Shawn P.
Posted August 18th
I got my first guitar in September of 1984 for my thirteenth birthday. I wanted to be Angus Young of AC/DC. In fact, for the first ten months of guitar ownership all I did was jump around my room pretending to play songs from Let There Be Rock and Powerage. I didn't know a C chord from a seashell. But finally, during the summer before ninth grade, a friend of mine showed me the chords for “Rock You Like a Hurricane" by Scorpions and that was all it took. Here I am 30 years later…and I still want to be Angus Young.
Ironically, for all my love of Angus' playing, I've actually never tried to make a living performing music like that of AC/DC, what I consider “pure" rock and roll. Quite the opposite: I've managed to make a career out of composing and performing decidedly uncommercial, fringe, progressive, avant-garde, modern/primitive scientist (this is the best way to describe it) music. I've found that the muse can call you in one way, with “AC/DC," but direct you in another, “play weird." Yet I've never lost my love for AC/DC or Scorpions or Judas Priest or any of the early hard rock/metal that inspired me to play music in the first place. But I didn't always recognize the significance of this fact.
Like most musicians…artists…humans, I suffer from both delusions of grandeur and the certainty of inadequacy, while hoping that the truth lies somewhere in-between (hoping even more that the balance is slightly tipped in favor of grandeur). Accompanying these contradictory emotions are, respectively, the feeling that you can play anything, and thoughts of “why bother?" Thankfully, many years ago a friend of mine gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me and has proven to make the flow last considerably longer than the ebb. His wisdom is so self-evident and easy to implement as to make it almost preposterous, yet it works any time I feel listless. If you want to stay inspired and excited by your instrument, remember why you wanted to play music in the first place. That's it: Remember why you wanted to start playing music. It's like falling in love all over again.
Please note that the wording of my friend's advice is very important. He specifically said, “wanted" because if you start playing because someone (parents, teachers, etc.) makes you, then “wanted" is never even part of the equation. The word “music" is also vital because it connects us directly to the purity of music and not to some banal desire such as fame, fortune, or attention from others, that can possibly come from playing music. So whenever I'm feeling low about my playing, my career or my life, I make an effort to remember that I can pick up the guitar, strum some E power chords and be transported back to the 1980s, when anything was possible, and then bring that possibility back with me to the present day. This is why I continue to play music.
My suggestion to you, dear reader, is, the next time you pick up your instrument – whether inspired, uninspired, or indifferent – think about why you wanted to pick it up the first time. Did you also want to be Angus Young? Or maybe Neil Peart, Miles Davis, Sting, John Coltrane, Glenn Gould, Elvis Presley, Stevie Wonder, Kiss (I also wanted to be Gene Simmons), Ludwig Van Beethoven, or the musician next door? Perhaps you were struck by the sound of grandma's resonating, upright piano; or a static-filled Sunday afternoon radio broadcast; or a blue-plastic, novelty 45 rotating on a Fisher Price record player. Whatever the original impetus, I promise you, keeping this memory in the front of your mind and close to your heart will supply you with a constant source of energy that will fuel your practicing and playing for years to come. And someday, hopefully, your playing will inspire someone else.
Coda: This all reminds me of a story I once heard Leo Kottke tell, which I will try to transcribe from his monotone, yet highly engaging and animated, baritone.
When I started to play, I learned the E chord [strums an E chord]…and that was enough…[strums an E chord again, and again, and again]…it still is…[strums an E chord again, and again, and again]…[strums an A chord]…usually I go there next.
And there you have it. Now go forth. Your E chord is waiting for you.