I Play Like a Girl

Jen asked me to come prepared to play a song at our first meeting so that she could assess my level of need, as it were. What she really needed to know is if I have two particular qualities: a good ear, and good feel. I don’t think either can be learned. And unless I throw my lot in with the anarchists, both are essential.

I taught myself a Sam Phillips song, “Don’t Do Anything,” something I didn’t mention when I interviewed Sam for this project several weeks later. It seemed a little creepy and stalkerish, but who knows. Maybe she would have been touched. The song met my strict criteria for a cover tune: chords I know. The online tabs also included a few fractiony-looking things (D/C#) that I ignored. It’s a really pretty song, but Sam plays it on a filthy-sounding electric guitar that makes a mild-mannered G sound like it just stumbled out of a bar in ripped pantyhose and smeared lipstick. I like the juxtaposition. And trashy aesthetics are so forgiving. It’s supposed to sound like crap. But Jen wouldn’t let me plug in. She later explained, “I needed to hear how you really play, what kind of feel you have for music, for the guitar. Unless one is quite adept at the electric, it’s very hard to tell those things.”

Instead she handed me a cheap acoustic that she used to play at Temple retreats in the 1970s. It’s her best guitar, she said. Jen doesn’t care what happens to it and nothing ever does, which seems like a metaphor for something. The scene was surreal: the musician sizing up the music critic. It felt like the first serious test drive of my resolve to be unselfconscious, which works wonders, when it works. I played the song. Jen was relieved to find that I can keep time and sing in tune. We talked about downstrokes and upstrokes, tuning off of the A string, whole steps and half steps, and I confessed to her that I wasn’t so much intent on becoming a serious guitar player as having a tool to write songs. She said she thinks I have what I need to write a song. I choose to believe her.

Then she said, “You play like a girl, and if you want to play like a girl nothing wrong with that.”

I said, “I don’t want to play like a girl,”  even though that sounds horribly anti-girl, but I knew what she meant: stereotypically girl. Timid. Gentle. She said, “I want you to play like you.” I said, “I don’t know how I play.” She said, “I’m gonna broaden your vocabulary. I’m gonna bring you to this other place.” I choose to believe her.


Filed under: I am trying to write some songs Tagged: , ,

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