Learning to play more with less: The deconstructed hands.
So this is what it's like when you start "getting into the numbers": Muscles don't respond like they used to. Dexterity lessens rather than increases. Hand eye coordination deteriorates. Arthritis of one sort or another creeps in. Even remembering all the chords and words to a song get to be a challenge.
So what do you do? Give it up? Sell off the guitars? Take up knitting? (Actually, taking up knitting could be therapeutic.) No, I say! Keep going. Did Rembrandt stop painting when his vision went to hell and his hands were a bit shaky? No, he painted some of his greatest words through a new vision, painting in a nearly impressionistic style.
I had this lesson taught to me years ago- twice, in fact. The first lesson came when a lawn mover blade turned the end of my left middle finger into a bloody four-leaf clover. I begged the doctors not to amputate the end of my finger and so it was sewed back together despite some serious doubts. Eventually, with many painful weeks of soaking in Epsom salts and enduring a long healing process, I began to play again. I still have trouble with certain chords , but I just figure those chords have a bit of "character".
The second lesson came on March 17th, 1989 at the Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa California. I went to see John Lee Hooker, knowing full well that Hooker was an old man and not likely to be as skilled a player as he once had been. Or was he? When John Lee came out and played, those first few or more numbers were very rough. Oh well, I thought, I'm seeing a legend. But as the evening progressed, his excellent band (including Carlos Santana sitting in on rhythm guitar) kept the beat strong and they knew instinctively that this stew was just going to take a little longer to start bubbling. By the middle of the set, the house started to swing a bit and by the last several numbers, the magic was in full bloom. Hooker had it going and everyone in the room was on their feet. This was Pentecostal Voodoo Boogie Blues at its finest. Everyone was moving. The sweat was pouring, both on and off stage. The spirit of the music triumphed over the flesh.
So, no, if you're a player- either playing seriously as a professional or, like me, playing seriously as a very earnest, eager and somewhat sloppy but enthusiastic avocation- I would never recommend throwing in the towel. I know most of you are not to the point of worrying about this yet, but I urge you not to despair or worry about the future that way. Find your inner Rembrandt.
"Love and only love will break it down"
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