Daily Archives: January 26, 2013

Guitar Days

A question from the gallery:

Aside from fake Dylan songs, how are you doing with your guitar?

My correspondent is asking about my tenor guitar, which I’ve had for about nine months now. As a partial answer, listen if you dare to the following musical clip, which features me both singing and playing guitar.

As the other part of the answer, I would say that I’m progressing along but I’m not there yet, “there” being the ability to play popular songs without messing them up too badly either by not knowing the basic chord forms or (in particular) screwing up the strumming pattern. The latter is a particular challenge for me and the thing I work on the most; it’s especially hard when you’re singing along as well, since your brain has to do two things at once. It helps that I strung my guitar the same as a ukulele, so I had a head start on the chords, but tenor guitar is less forgiving than the uke when you screw up, and I screw up frequently. So: A work in progress.

That’s okay with me. I really enjoy playing with my guitar and I’m happy about slowly but surely getting better; it’s fun to see and hear myself improve as I go along. I’m not pursuing the guitar with fervor, in the sense that I have to play every single day, or relentlessly pushing myself to get better and kicking myself if I don’t. I play a little most days and a lot on the days when I feel like it, and some days when I’m busy it sits in the corner. Naturally that means my improvement is going at a slower pace than it could be. But, eh. I’m playing to enjoy myself, not to become a professional musician.

And in fact that’s one of the things I like about it: It’s a creative thing that I do for the enjoyment of it and not anything else. I’m not planning to cut an album or start busking for change, and I have a pretty good idea that my level of talent on the guitar will stop somewhere short of “genuinely excellent.” My actual goal for the instrument is to play for myself songs that I enjoy. Once I get to that level, anything else will be a bonus. And getting to that goal is enjoyable in itself.

So: Coming along, not there yet but getting there, and enjoying myself as I go. Which is enough at the moment.

(P.S.: Yes, I still play my uke. It’s fun too, and easier to take around.)

All Right, Fine, Here’s What I Think About JJ Abrams Directing Star Wars Episode VII

It’ll be fine. Really. 

One, JJ Abrams is a perfectly decent director, who does a decent job with human beings, which is more than you can say about the last dude who directed a Star Wars film.

Two, as Super 8 made explicitly clear, Abrams thinks of himself as being in the Spielberg school of filmmaking, i.e., make it entertaining or go home. He’s not artistically conflicted, as Lucas so clearly was, about being a producer of mass entertainment.

Three, as again Super 8 made clear, Abrams understands at least on a productive surface level the visual and schematic ethos of 70s-era filmmakers, of which Lucas was one, so he has a better than fair chance in capturing the specific flavor of the first trilogy — well, the first two films of the trilogy, anyway — that the (older) fans love so well.

Four, his track record as director and producer shows he doesn’t condescend to genre entertainments. He may let his screenwriters (including himself) screw up the science, but only nerds like me give a crap about that; everyone else is there to shovel popcorn into their maws, and Abrams is steeped in the cinematic traditions of science fiction adventure and appears to geek out about them himself. Fair enough.

Five, he’s been here before, as in, he took a moribund franchise (Star Trek, which plowed into irrelevance with the appallingly forgettable Nemesis) and did exactly what was needed to get butts into seats, delighting both geeks (Yay! More Star Trek! Forever!) and Paramount’s executives (Yay! More Star Trek franchise income! Forever!). Does anyone think Disney, the most relentlessly commercial of all the movie studios, would settle for less? Come on, people.

Six, sure, there are other directors who could possibly do a better and/or more interesting job of it. I would be happy to see Star Wars films from Guillermo Del Toro, Alex Proyas, Alfonso Cuaron, Kathryn Bigelow or Paul Verhoeven (oh, God, Paul Verhoeven). But here’s the thing. At the end of it all, I suspect that most Star Wars fans don’t want interesting, i.e., novel new interpretations of Star Wars. They want their Star Wars to be Star Wars, which is to say, the thing with the light sabers and droids and screen wipes and Campbellian heroes and the Force and Manichaeism on the easiest possible setting. They want to sit down, get blasted by the John Williams fanfare and tear up with joy at the first text scroll followed by the downward pan to a spaceship over a planet followed by Star Wars Star Wars Star Wars Star Wars. 

The guy who is going to give them that? JJ Abrams.

So, yeah. It’ll be fine, folks.