getcher hand outta there. you'll gum up the werks.
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So... Thanks
posted: 03/27/07

Been a while.

My mind has been occupied with other things. Ditto my person.

I hesitate to comment on the sniper matter. Suffice it to say it has/had driven me certifiably batty. I'm so far to the right of hopeful that they caught the people involved that I could just about bust. But I'm going to hold off talking any further, because... you just never know. It just gets curiouser...

What I'd like to do here today, briefly, is talk about some very good stuff. So here goes.

I've waxed on about Al Petteway on numerous occasions on this site and have linked to the site he shares with his wife Amy White ( many times from this domain. Al and Amy are great people. They are superb musicians who have created a beautiful body of music. And, probably even more important: they're two of the most positive forces I've ever encountered on this here earth.

I've studied guitar with Al for the past year or so, off and on. I'm not a good player by my reckoning, but I try. I've been a closet musician for most of my life, but I've only started to get reasonably serious about the twangin' machine in the last couple of years. At a certain point I thought it might be a good idea to go see someone who might set me a little straighter on my crooked ramble down Tunesville Way.

I first saw Al and Amy at an outdoor gig they were playing at Harper's Ferry, WV, at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, where wacky John Brown held court during the Civil War. They were not dressed as Johnny Reb (as opposed to others in the area), and I was moved by both their gorgeous compositions and their clear love for one another.

Several years later, while looking for a local teacher, Al's name came up. I emailed him and we set up a date and time. I made the traffic-choked drive up I-495 to Al and Amy's studio in Maryland, and got to pickin' straightaway. The first few lessons I recall as a mixture of tuning, retuning, capoing, uncapoing, excessive gabbing and about three minutes of me misunderstanding and mangling some arrangement of some tune or another. The balance of time was taken up with Al playing things back to me with the tone of an angel and the phrasing of a poet hailing from Inisheer. We always ran over. I was frequently dejected. But Al was always kind and if a point or suggestion didn't sink in immediately (a common occurence for those of us affected by the much maligned affliction recto-cranial inversion), sometimes months down the road I'd recall something Al said or played and then suddenly everthing made sense. It has been a wonderful process - one that continues.

One night I showed up at Al's place and no one was home. Al had mixed my time up with another student or date and the house was empty. Except... there appeared to be someone living downstairs. After a brief conversation the boarder contacted Al and Amy, who were computer shopping (their PC had died and with it, apparently, had Al's organizer). I was let in and was told to make myself at home. So... I couldn't help myself and I played two of Al's custom guitars for about 10 minutes. Gently. I couldn't believe how much nicer they sounded and how much better I played. Later that night Al loaned me one. For two months.

I saw Al maybe six or eight times over a year's period and attended he and Amy's gigs whenever I could. I would always practice extra-hard before lessons, sometimes obliterating entire weekends working on one tune or another in preparation (and developing a nasty case of tendonitis in the process). And then, invariably, I would come to Al's studio, sit down, announce that I'd "been working on this thing," and... blow it utterly. I would just suck. Just about always. It was really frustrating. Some of it was anxiety, I'm sure. Solo guitar is a pretty difficult thing to pull off. But at the end of the day I made a realization: I wasn't going to impress a professional guitarist with umpteen albums out, a stellar reputation, compositional genius and technical mastery of the instrument. I wasn't going to wow Mr. Al. So why beat myself up about it?

So we'd tune, retune, capo, uncapo and gab. And Al would play like an angel and I would flub along behind, wheezing.

At a certain point, maybe six months ago, I realized that I needed a little bit of focus. I was all over the place and not really improving much. So I decided that I'd take a break from just about everything, including lessons, write a batch of tunes (18 or so) and work on these compositions until I got them right. And so I have. Those tunes will hopefully make their way out into the world in the next little while.

Last night I had what will probably be my last lesson with Al, at least for a while. He and Amy have bought a house down in Asheville, NC. When Al told me about it a month or so ago, I was bummed. But, listening to him talk about the move and seeing pictures and home movies of the property - witnessing he and Amy's excitement... I'm converted. I'm happy for them. I predict that the coming days will be a very nice next chapter in their lives.

I took about six tunes, give or take, to Al's place last night. I had told him that I'd like to play for him and get some feedback. Can I just tell you how incredibly intimidating this is? This is like some day trader (is anyone day trading anymore?) calling Warren Buffet up and setting up a time to dump some "investment ideas." But anyway, we set up a time, and I went over last night.

I played my six or so tunes. Bits and pieces of most came off somewhat as I intended. I did mangle a few things, and I was a bit frustrated with myself. But Al tapped his feet, nodded along, and said some nice things, seemed to like a few things, and only panned one piece (which I have to leave mostly as-is for reasons I won't go into here, though I'm looking at some devices to make the melody a little more of... a melody). But I have to be honest. The thing that I keep replaying in my head from my lesson with Al last night is that during one particularly mangle-rific run through the A and B section of the second tune I was playing, Amy came downstairs, poked her head in and said I sounded good. Like, she actually seemed to mean it, too. And she stood there and listened for a little while, and she said it again.

Can I just tell you... This made my year.

And when I finally left an hour plus later, Al had said some more nice things, and Amy said the stuff I'd played was beautiful.

I do not suck.

In the last day or so, things seem to have come together in very strange ways, as another good friend put it in an equal parts moving/sad/uplifting note I received yesterday.

Bill, my friend, Dear Brother Bill, lost his father a week ago. Bill had been a little quiet lately, he'd said (and he had) and that was why. Bill said, in part, in summary:

I am very grateful for the last days I had to spend with dad. I came away with the realization that so much of what happens between people has its roots in misunderstanding and only by reaching out can these things be fixed. I don't want to preach but I would encourage everyone to take the time to reach out to people you want to reconnect with. Swallow a little pride and say what needs to be said. When we leave this world the only thing we leave behind is the memories, love and respect of friends and family. In these strange times it is more important than ever to set things right.

I won't put Bill's (or Al's or Amy's) personal life on parade here, but much of what Bill expressed on the loss of his father, despite the sad circumstances, rang so very true to me and struck me, perhaps because in some ways I wanted or needed to feel: as positive, despite the pain. Despite the threat and reality of loss, we touch, we feel, we connect. We deal.

I want to express how deeply thankful I am to my friends and loved ones. In these strange times, yes, the smallest gestures can make the biggest differences. I've only mentioned three by name here, but there really are so many good people out there. Even - and especially - in these strange times. It's important to remember that, I think.

So... Thanks. And good day.

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