This is a story about two guys drafted into the army who met at Fort Dix, New Jersey. These two guys had the same name, and the same Trinitron TV, same model even. They also both had new guitars they couldn’t yet play, BUT they had very nice guitars and felt really weird about having nice instruments. This did not look good, two guys with just a little bit of money in nice guitars from the army paying their way and not being able to play any music on them. However, both of these guys did play the piano.
Now, the big guy could really play the piano, but not the little guy. He hadn’t played all that much even though he started taking lessons when he was eight years old. He had quit playing piano by the time he turned thirteen. The big guy stayed with his lessons for a bit longer, or maybe he was more competent in this area. Anyway, neither of them could play by ear because they were trained to play the piano off of reading notes, only.
Well, the two guys sort of similarly, simultaneously, discovered their very mutual, duplicate dilemma, as it were; and, over the course of the next weeks, and months, and years; the big guy and the little guy taught themselves to play the guitar fulfilling their sacred oath of never, never, never, ever take a lesson again!!!! AND LEARN TO PLAY BY EAR !
Now let me tell you how this went. During the work week they each got a chord book and practiced the three basic chords for the blues. It went on from there but, not really all that much further, because… this very, very weird thing would happen when they would come together to play on the weekends.
In the evening they would sit down on the floor with a candle between them. They looked at each other’s grinning faces flushed in the candle light. They did well at first getting started on those three chords, considering neither one of them knew what the hell they were doing.
Now, here is the weirdest part. When they started to learn to play different songs that involved a few more chords other than the original three, they would sort of lose track of what cords they were supposed to play next. Since neither knew what to do they each would look to the chording hand of the other in order to pick up some clue as to where they were supposed to go. The little guy looked to the big guy’s left hand and the big guy copied the left hand of the little guy. At that point things sort of got really, really, lost and they would sort of just trickle off together, following each other into the oblivion of the moment. Then they would gradually realize that they had actually stopped playing! Then the big guy would grab for a cigarette, take a long drag, a sip of wine, and then they would do it all over again, and again, and again.
Okay, now back to real time. I bet I have told this story 200 times and every time I tell it, I sit back amazed at how at critical times in our lives we look to each other for a clue as to how to fix our problem or make a decision, not knowing what the hell this is all about, and take our course so utterly dependent on the other into oblivion.
And then we do it all over, again.
But, the story doesn’t quite end here.
One day, another guy showed up to play with the big guy and the little guy. He was a very soft spoken person and didn’t say much, but he let it be known that he would really like to play along. Of course he was welcomed by the hapless duo with the thought that maybe, just maybe he could be of some help in this situation. It certainly wouldn’t be any worse having one more lost soul with them. It was kind of a common experience for soldiers who were never really soldiers had it not been for the draft. Someone to help one get through a difficult time was always welcome.
Well, the three chords started up again and the new guy simply took over because he really, really, could play. Both the big guy and the little guy were transfixed by the way the new guy moved all over the finger board. He even was able to pick up the new songs that went beyond the three chords with absolute ease. The big guy and the little guy saw their salvation!
There was one more feature to the new guy. He was playing a base guitar. Now, both the big guy and the little guy could not make sense of what the new guy was doing because he wasn’t making chords. He was running all over the neck of the guitar playing singular notes; and, the music was coming out exactly right! He was so proficient that both the big guy and the little guy remained transfixed on the talent of the new guy and stopped looking at each other’s lost left hand. They started to LISTEN and play, by ear… each struggling on their own to strike the right chord at the right time. The new guy, just being himself, made it work and, as time went by, both the big guy and the little guy learned to play by ear.
The days in the Army went by, each of them maintaining their sanity, at least to one degree or another, thanks to those new guitars and new guy. They still have their guitars but no longer play them. Actually, they like the piano better.
I bet the Trinitrons are still running, too.