Letterpress List No. 83: Still on the Line

Shop Boy will never again underestimate the power of a love song.

(Has he ever done so? Fine, fine, not really. But we’ve got a new story to tell.)

Now, you know Shop Boy as a mostly (sort of) able letterpress printer who can be a fun guy to have around. Too fun by some people’s (meaning Mary’s) reckoning at times. So there I was, having had a little too much fun. And fun is a relative term. Relative as in: “I’m your wife. I do not approve. Knock it off.”

Oh, like you’ve never been there.

Well, the doghouse was getting a little claustrophobic. There wasn’t any room for my guitar. And this is how I introduce Shop Boy the mostly (sort of) able beginner musician, a metamorphosis (hah!) that’s been happening over the past year or so under the affable and able watch of Paul Hulleberg, a teacher Mary found for me. Paul generally works with young school kids, so he’s patient as heck. Really it’s as much concert as guitar lesson, as Paul plays his lilting folk riffs while Shop Boy hacks and plunks and plangs (!) through the latest menace to my fingers (honestly — who invented these chords?) that Paul has presented. Great musician, dragging around this guitar that he’s had since he was a little boy. It’s not the instrument, it’s the player, kids.

Shop Boy’s “ax” is a Breedlove, a used acoustic guitar we bought out at Bill’s Music. And here, a very strong recommendation from yours  truly:

You can’t imagine how intimidated Shop Boy was to even be in that place. Dudes were moving through the racks upon racks of guitars and sampling them by, you know, playing stuff. Shop Boy had nothing. Not even a basic handle on chords. Mary egged me on. Touch the guitars, she urged. Shop Boy faked his way for a few minutes. I could see a salesman eyeing me … but giving me room. He knew. But he did not judge, and for this I will always be grateful. Mikey is his name, and he’s probably seen thousands like me: guys who get a craze, buy a guitar and then never play. It’s hard, physically and mentally. Your fingers hurt like hell. The craze passes. A guitar goes out the door … and eventually to a musty attic somewhere.

Mikey talked to me guitar player to, um, guitar player — Shop Boy is apparently on a run of patient dudes. When I pointed out the Breedlove (which I’d never heard of but thought was beautiful), he told me I could do better price-wise but that I should listen to the sound. Honestly, the thing produces gorgeous sounds, especially in others’ hands.

I’d heard how hard it was to replace worn strings, a dumb thing to be worried about at this juncture. You need to actually touch them to wear them out. (Honestly, Mary will acquire a “new” machine and the first thing Shop Boy asks is, “What if it breaks?”)

Mikey “plays out,” as the expression goes for actual musicians, and he explained gently that strings tend to age and break down if you bleed on them a lot after a four-hour performance or whatever. (Haven’t had one of those yet.) But mostly they are an easy thing to deal with, especially on the Breedlove, which on this model doesn’t require you to pop out any pegs. Just knot a string, put it though the appropriate hole and it stays anchored. Mikey pointed out beginner picks, made sure I had a no-frills strap, got me a Bill’s “gig bag” to protect the guitar and reminded me that the store offers free lessons for beginners on Saturdays. (Do it. Just learning how to touch a guitar is an acquired skill. And it’s a very mellow process. Various volunteers show up to teach and — oh by the way — let you know what they’d charge to teach you one-on-one.)

From there it was typical Shop Boy: Half walking on air as we left the place with a guitar—my guitar (have I mentioned that I own a guitar?)—half already second-guessing my purchase. A couple of hundred bucks will buy a lot of ink. It would be that way until I started working with Paul.

He comes to the studio on alternate Wednesdays. The kickboxers in the studio below us at the Mill Centre provide the beat.

I’ll save you the Karate Kid montage, but we’ve very slowly worked up to playing songs. “Landslide” didn’t go so well. (There’s a chord change my fingers currently refuse to even consider. It’ll come.) “I’m a Believer” went better. That’s a fun love song, and long a favorite of mine. Admit it, yours too. But this wasn’t about Shop Boy, really. It was about proving to Mary, and I suppose myself too, that fear wasn’t going to stop me anymore. My brother had learned to play guitar as a teen in our very small and overpopulated house, embarrassment be darned. It was ghastly. He—all-hair and then not-so-much—has been in one thrash metal band or another mostly since that time. The latest one, called Held Hostage, is pretty fun. I was afraid to try and sound bad, covered it up by acting like I didn’t want to, and have been screaming jealous for years. That picture of a dude with a guitar and a dog and a cigarette (a Salem ad or something) in the back of a pickup truck parked on a sand dune made Shop Boy rage at his own lack of fortitude.

Of course I wouldn’t use such kind words for it.

This kind of makes me nuts too:

That’s Matt on the right. Dammit.

Different day, different me. A little different, anyway.

Mary was angry and Shop Boy needed a lifeline. I grabbed the guitar and launched into a very simple intro for “Wichita Lineman,” her favorite song—even sang as I played the whole thing. I’ll go on record (hah!) as saying it wasn’t the best rendition you’ll find. Mary (who owns every rendition but mine on iTunes) was surprised and charmed nonetheless.

Fight over. A big moment right there.

Oh, the fear and doubt? They still fight for position in the mosh pit that is my gut, getting a little loosey-goosey with the spiked wristbands for my taste. But life’s a marathon, not a sprint, folks. Some day Shop Boy will own his own space in a crowd, ask for what he deserves, take on a printing project without asking, “What if I screw it up?” And who knows what else?

Until then, Shop Boy will have his less proud moments. Maybe I’ll write a song about it.

The Letterpress List No. 83 (been a while sing Shop Boy did one of these—had to look up what number we were on):

“Summer of ’69” (Bryan Adams)—Played it till his fingers bled … and worried about string damage later.

“Landslide” (Dixie Chicks)—They know from this.

“Wichita Lineman” (Glen Campbell)—Need you more than want you, want you for all time. Post-fighting words.

“Faith” (George Michael)—Gotta come from within, people.

“Self-Esteem” (The Offspring)—Ditto.

“I Wanna Be Sedated” (Ramones)—How many chords do you need, really?

“If It Makes You Happy” (Sheryl Crow)—”It’s not getting what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.” Oops! That’s from another song—OK, I knew that—but this is the one Shop Boy is currently “mastering.”

“Teach Your Children” (Crosby, Stills & Nash)—I’ll always regret not having started playing guitar years ago. I hope I don’t ever have to stop. This one looks fairly straightforward, um, minus the angelic singing. There are many who wish I’d stopped THAT years ago.

“Last Child” (Aerosmith)—Matt, the fearless one. The rest of us were kinda set in our “oh my god, we might be embarrassed” ways by then. Shop Boy for real.

“Superman” (R.E.M.)—”I can do anything.” Really?

“I” (Kiss)—Affirmative.

“I’m a Believer” (the Monkees/Neil Diamond)—Life’s a fairy tale in the which the “ever after” ends too soon. Get up.

 

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