First of all I want to clarify that in this post I do not want to teach anything to anyone. I simply want to put in writing and share some things I have understood; by writing them I pin down the concepts, make them my own and clarify my ideas further. In addition, I gather these concepts in a single page for my future memory. Then if sharing can help someone else, so much the better.
As I often say, I’m just a strummer, not a musician. With the guitar I can do some things at a decent level, enough to perform them acceptably in public. Then all I have to do is look around a bit and there are plenty of guitarists better than me. I’m just not that bad, okay?
If one day I will learn to read and write music, know a little more about music theory, harmony, etc., and maybe make some money playing or teaching, maybe then I will shyly call myself a musician.
A photo of me in my early twenties, smiling in a way that I rarely appeared in photos of the time, happy in my element, pleased with myself. I really wasn’t (but would I ever be?). In fact I was often portrayed with a long face, like I was angry or had just been in trouble. But in this picture I’m in a break in a rehearsal room with the band I played in as a college student, with my sister on bass and two other friends on drums and keyboards. I am holding in my arms the most precious object of my life. Not because it was something expensive, on the contrary. It was my first electric guitar, a copy of the Fender Stratocaster I had always dreamed of. My parents gifted it to me on my 16th birthday. We’ve been inseparable ever since. That’s why I look so good in this photo, which is why it made me think.
Music has always been fundamental to me. It’s the only art form that grabs me from within and shakes my being. Or at least it’s the only one I’m really in deep contact with. I’ve never created music. Maybe I don’t think I’m up to it, maybe it’s because I always feel like what would come out of me would be less appealing than what I listen to anyway. I play guitar in a band that does covers of rock songs by various authors. Ever since I was a kid I used to sing by memorizing the lyrics from the radio. When I memorized my first tune I was not yet in school. From the first year of school I remember that I used to play the same single 45 rpm record over and over again on one of my uncle’s portable turntable. I kept learning Italian melodic tunes. This is what radio and TV were offering at the time. My parents weren’t very musical, they didn’t listen to anything in particular. I only had the Hit Parade on the radio and it was almost all melodic Italian music. That was what I had and that was what I sang. Immediately my sister, two years younger, followed in my footsteps.
Anyone can buy a guitar, get some practice (Youtube would be enough), take some lessons or advice from someone who already plays and then say “I play guitar”. That’s what I did. An uncle gave my sister and me his guitar when we were 9 and 11 respectively. We experimented based on the first chords our uncle gave us. And we moved on. I in particular focused on being a guitarist, learning solos as well. Then when I was 16 the electric guitar arrived and by the time I was 20 we had a small band playing the songs of our heroes in the rehearsal rooms. When people say “I play guitar” it doesn’t mean much. I’ve always said that about myself – I play guitar – but what does it really mean? Do I play it alone? In a band? Do I perform publicly or do I play at home sitting on the couch? Even a professional can claim “I play guitar”. It only takes a small-time professional to humiliate someone like me who plays in his spare time. But there are also non-professionals with killer technique. The vast majority have not become famous, not even those who make a living from guitar.
Things change. Life is a becoming. What happens has consequences. It’s natural. The big changes in life, those that leave a mark, that cause the greatest stress and therefore require a greater readjustment of a person’s life, come sooner or later for everyone: bereavements, changes or loss of jobs, relocations, marriages and separations, births of children. They are both positive and negative stress. You are no longer the same when you become a parent, nor when you lose a loved one. As far as my life is concerned, the most beautiful and intense positive stress was the birth of my son: I discovered that you can’t describe how you feel, you only understand it when it happens to you; the feeling I describe to those who ask me is that I felt finally “complete”. So far the worst negative stress that has happened to me has been the loss of my job.
Two things made it heavier than it normally is: the struggle and sacrifices I made to get to the job I dreamed of and the critical age at which I lost it, shortly after I was 50. It was like being in no man’s land, too young to retire, too old to be hired again.
I was born and raised in Italy and obviously I have been exposed to our musical culture. I’ve been humming songs since before going to school. I also sang the musical parts, for the fun of the many uncles and aunts who buzzed around me. Then I started putting my hands on a toy keyboard and finally got to the guitar around the age of 11. Of course I played the Italian songs I listened to on the radio. But a voice inside me told me I needed something more…