Though I stand to run the risk of losing my post-punk-goth-wave credentials, I went through a phase (Went? When did you stop?) after migrating from the bass guitar to a standard 6-string electric to a not-so-standard 6 string acoustic (Jasmine, a “budget” line by the folks who made Takamine guitars; Who dat? Exactly). One of the things that stands out from that time period was some guy (Brent?) listening to my playing and decided he needed to give me some constructive criticism:
B: Hey, I like some of your chord progressions. They are… umm… atypical.
Me: Hey, thanks man!
B: But —
B: Well, how do I say this? Your strumming technique needs… a little… erm… sex….?
B: Yeah, that’s probably the word I’m looking for.
Me: What are you saying?
B: Your strumming technique is boring as shit.
To be fair, he was right. Keep in mind that I was a guitar-playing newb — and self-taught at that. My strumming was great for power-chords the natural progression from bass to 6-string electric. But stank to high heaven while strumming on an acoustic using the full complement of six strings on a strum. This shit was haaaarrrrddd.
But, I took his criticism to heart. I started listening to more music and started to mimic folks like Neil Young, Cat Stevens, David Bowie’s early albums, etc. I wasn’t as good as those folks by any means (I’m still average as a guitarist), but I started picking up different approaches to playing the guitar that were different than the post-punk sounds I grew up with.
One day, I was sitting in a cafe back when you could sit in cafes, drinking probably my sixth or seventh cup of drip-brewed java and having a conversation with a guy that I eventually started a duet with (which lead to the demise of some of my musical creativity). We were talking about politics or some other useless shit like we always did when The Diner by Ani DiFranco came on over the cafe’s stereo.
We got about a quarter of the way through the song and I raised my hand and said,” Shaddup for a few minutes”. Before the end of the song came around, I was up at the counter and asking, “Who the fuck is this playing?”
“Do you like it?”
“Fuck no!” I said, and the barista took a step back. “I don’t like it — I fucking love it.” And then the barista took a step forward again, all smiles and we were instantly the best friends in the world.
“It’s Ani DiFranco.” Then he gave me everything I needed to go buy my own CD (except the money). This other guy I was hanging with said “meh, it’s okay”.
While I never managed to master open tuning on my guitar (I know, loser), listening to Ani helped make my guitar technique migrate from “unusual” to “WTF are you doing to that guitar? Are you sure you are keeping time cos those strums are all over the place?” Count it. They would shake their head and admit that I was on beat (or off beat the right way, like reggae is off beat).
I was already heading that direction, but listening to Ani and similar musicians really influenced the idea of taking away some of the shine from the lead guitarists out there by playing complex and odd rhythms. I had more than a few rejections because some musicians couldn’t believe I was both in time and on tempo and, ultimately, I ended up quitting the music scene because I got tired of people wanting to copy other bands instead of trying to be the band that people copied. I’d never claim to be even good, let alone genius, but I always held the old adage in high esteem: fake it until you make it. And I was doing some serious mimicking, but I’d mashup Neil Young with Peter Murphy and Todd Snider with some Wonder Stuff — all in the same song. It’s not stealing if no one catches you…. 😉
As far as that friend who did his “meh” on this song? Pfft. How could you not love a song that has lyrics like:
I miss watching you
Drool on your pillow
I miss watching you
Pull on your clothes
I miss listening
To you in the bathroom
Flushing the toilet
Blowing your nose