Thanksgiving

Today I am expressing gratitude for those odd moments that divert our interests and create rich new worlds for us to explore.

But first, a word about the recent passing of AC/DC guitarist, Malcolm Young. I used to be a fairly passive AC/DC fan. I loved how hard they went and how reliable their songwriting was. But I wouldn’t have put on headphones and paid attention to the guitars, or the drums, or any one voice in the group. I just enjoyed the entire canvas of sound punching out of my car speakers or bearing down from the ceiling of every gym I’d ever been to.

Last year, out of nowhere, I became fascinated by the guitar. I bought an electric and an amp with decent distortion, and took a few lessons from Chris Corsale and Dani Rabin, two guitarists in Chicago who stop me in my tracks whenever they pick up their instruments. Chris showed me some cowboy chords and picking exercises, enough to get oriented, and Dani helped me with strumming mechanics and fluid left-hand technique. Amazing teachers who brought me further into the fold. I wasn’t centered on a genre or a particular style, I just noodled.

Then, by chance, I caught a guitar demo by R.J. Ronquillo, a musician I knew from my college days in Miami, and someone I didn’t think I was ever cool enough to hang out with. (Still don’t.) The demo begins with R.J. burning up this awesome riff, then soloing over it. It’s the riff from If You Want Blood. I played the video over and over, then picked up my guitar and started working out A to D, syncopating the palm muting as cleanly as possible. Kristen could hardly take it. For months, our kids wandered around the house, humming “If you want blood, you got it…”

It was as if a switch flipped and suddenly I could hear what the guitars were saying in these huge conversations. And it wasn’t just AC/DC. I got to fall in love with the guitars’ voices in Radiohead and Tom Petty and Pearl Jam and all my favorite bands. It gave me all these sounds to go off and re-create on my own guitar, albeit with varying degrees of success. Every musician knows what I’m talking about: re-creating those moments is something we do that’s as intimate and electrifying and humbling as prayer.

So, I was sad to learn about Malcolm Young last weekend. But I am grateful for what he created, and I’m grateful for people like R.J. and Chris and Dani, who have shown up as guides to a wide-eyed and obsessively searching student. Thanks, guys.

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