Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Mid-Life Fan Letter

I encourage my daughters to write fan mail — have done so since they were little. “It doesn't matter if they're a Big Deal, or someone who's Almost That — if this person has brought some joy to your life, they deserve to know.”

They don't listen to the Old Man, of course. And, to be fair, why should they? I haven't written fan mail since I was their age, and shame on me. For instance, if Devin knows I'm crushing on him, it's through no fault of my own. In hindsight, instead of courting injury at the edge of the circle pit during this concert, I should have forked out for the Meet-n-Greet. The backstage pass cost several times the price of admission, but at my stage in life (and his tier of fame) it was perfectly affordable — even something of a deal, when contrasted to what I paid to see Steely Dan earlier that year. I've no idea what Townsend would have made of beholding a puffy 50-year-old in the same queue as a bunch of excited kids half that age — and there's the pity. It might have amused him, it might have thrown him off-kilter — we shall never know, alas.
"That's me in the middle,* finding my religion..."
*Not really.

Anyhow, earlier this week I broke out the digital pen-and-paper and wrote my first fan-letter in decades.
The deepest pleasures in life are often unanticipated. When I received notice of a new Anderton's/JustinGuitar “rut-buster” video I expected little more than another low-key musical revelation that might, or might not, be useful in my own attempts at self-improvement-via-guitar. By video's end I was laughing in delight.

I can't give any account of what happened that won't sound pedestrian. First off, it's all Music Theory 101. Mrs. K___, my piano teacher, tried to impart this basic understanding when I first began lessons with her as a seven-year-old. Forty-three years later my daughter explained it to me all over again, with pencil and paper and charts. I'd memorized it, and I could recite it at will. But I could memorize and recite a Japanese koan with greater understanding than I had for this basic, basic material.

I'd been a campfire guitarist for 30 years. I knew what “One, four, five” meant, kinda. The main thing was, if you gave me the key, I could play the three “magic chords” just fine.

By the end of episode 6, I understood how “One, four, five” related to the major scale, and how the major scale could be applied to any standard one- or two- or three (plus)-chord pop or blues song to make a pleasant-sounding solo.

That's it.

But it blew my head open.

I couldn't begin to count how many times I've had that simple, fundamental theory explained to me over the last five decades — it never, ever, sank in until this week.

There are two reasons for this revelation: 1) Justin Sandercoe is just about the Socratic Ideal of what an instructor should be; 2) this gentleman stood in as my Student Avatar, so that as the concepts became real to him, they became real to me.

So I wrote “Captain” Lee Anderton a fan-letter. Dude's 46 years old, runs a successful music shop in the UK, has a wife and kids of his own, but he's willing to go on-camera and learn the fundamentals of music theory so he can improve his guitar chops just a bit — in front of millions. That takes some sand. And now he's got a 53-year-old fan-boy.

Yes, well . . . let's not make any more of that than we need to. What I really want to stress is this: the world needs more fan mail.

I don't have to tell you what a downer it's become to turn on the computer and log in. We can't even pick up the bloody phone without getting minute-by-minute updates announcing the growing toxicity of global social expectations. Anything that counters that is a sprout of joy that needs protection and nourishment. “Likes” are nice — but fan-mail is better.

Go. Do.

Post-script: Hm, looks like the production people at Anderton's/JustinGuitar have removed Episode Six — temporarily, I'm sure. I think they mistakenly posted Six before Five, so you'll just have to wait — or start at the beginning and catch up. But the larger point is there is probably something/someone else who's bringing you joy — let's hear about it. And let them hear about it, won't you?

2 comments:

Rory A.A. Hinton said...

My recent fan mail was to Nicki Gonzalez in response to her rendition of Black Or White (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7BELE-3gMI). Any singer who can (almost) keep up with Vinnie Colaiuta has my admiration (he puts on a clinic at the end of the song). I don't expect to hear back from her, but that is not the point. Here is what I wrote:

Dear Nicki:

Ever since I discovered your stunning rendition of Black Or White on YouTube I have not stopped listening to it. You turn musical technique into an art form by combining, refining, and transcending Cassandra Wilson and Chaka Khan (whose Traveling Miles and I Feel For You are an ever present echo in this song, as well as all of your other songs that I have been listening to over the past week). All this, plus your uncanny ability to seamlessly combine pop sensibility with be-bop substance (no small feat) makes you one of the most unique singers I have heard in quite some time. As far as I am concerned, you cast a large shadow over all of the famous pop singers on the market today. For the sake of art, please keep singing.

Thank you, and take good care.

Rory Hinton

P.S. Your extemporaneous homage to Michael Jackson’s signature style at 2:07 on Black Or White is as touching as it is subtle. Lovely.

Darrell Reimer said...

That's great! And thanks for the introduction to Ms. Gonzalez. I'm off to get more music.