Take The Hit

Even as a little kid, I knew I could sing. It wasn’t too far into my first year of school that I discovered I could write. After all these years, it never occurred to me to see if I could write a song.

It is both easier and harder than it looks… especially if years into your quest to become a Rock Star, you still can’t play guitar.

I wrote a song, read it, was just about to pat myself on the back for getting it to rhyme where it should when I re-read it and realized it was crap. So I re-wrote the song, pulling out every overly sentimental and overly dramatic turn of a phrase I could think of, read it again, and then patted myself on the back. I had a fully functioning Jim Steinman-inspired hair metal opus about love. I sent it off to my band leader – he was not as impressed. He liked story songs.

So I went back to the drawing board. I had an idea, not quite a story song, but something about taking what the world has to dish out. I pulled out all the stops when it came to all the rhymes, and without meaning to, I had written a Southern Rock song. I sent it to my band leader and… nothing. The band thought the words were clever, but we were too tied up with other projects to compose music for my lyrics.

So I sat on the song for a while. I wrote another song, a rip out my heart and show it to me love song. A couple of years went by, and my nephew was suddenly a guitar guru, playing with his dad’s bands and accompanying me at the anniversary gig. So I showed him the lyrics and he immediately got it: it was a “Simple Man” message set to a “Gimme Three Steps” beat. Within a couple of weeks, he had the guitar riff and chord progressions. Once I had a riff and chord progression, the melody wrote itself. He recorded his guitar tracks and added in a drum loop and sent the music to me – I loaded it up on my GarageBand and recorded the vocals, and BOOM we had ourselves a demo.

The hope was to have some of my musical buddies help me polish it up; sand off the rough edges, put their professional shine to my diamond in the rough… after eight months of asking and everybody being too busy with their own projects, I finally said “Screw it. It’s a solid demo. Put it online, see what happens.”

So I did. My nephew and I are officially songwriters ’cause we have a song.

I’ve got a musical to help produce and star in out in Terrell all Summer, so the hope is next Fall my schedule and my nephew’s schedule will align, allowing us to take our demo and create a full fledged Southern Rock song ready for digital sale. I’ve got nine other songs written at this point… hopefully, if the recording goes well, we can take on the rest, too. In the meantime… my nephew and I have a demo: Take The Hit, copyright 2016 Keith Craker. Music by Kevin Craker, lyrics by Keith Craker.

Hope you like it. I do.

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25 Years

DSVpatch As far as my musical life is concerned, everything has been turned on its ear. The band lost our secret weapon to health issues; my solo work guitarist joined a band; my new piano player and singing partner got called away to work on a Broadway album; so musically, I was a dead man walking during the holidays. Good news is the band has a new guitarist and vocalist, and our first official show with the new line-up is in two weeks, which just happens to be my annual Birthday Bash – I will have a Rock Star post about the bash soon after; and as soon as I’ve cleared the air with my two musicians, I’m hoping to have another post or two.

In the meantime…

I wrote this over on Facebook, decided I needed to go ahead and share this here. Because even though this blog is supposed to be about me becoming a Rock Star, this is part of who I am, and a big reason I am who I am.

It is the 25th Anniversary of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. When I joined the Army, it was three weeks after the invasion of Kuwait. I did not join because I wanted to get shipped off to the Persian Gulf – I joined because my work life was going nowhere, I was in love with a wonderful woman I could not support, and I was desperate to feel that sense of belonging and purpose I had back when I’d been a kid in Boy Scouts and JROTC. I wanted to belong to something greater than myself… but I also didn’t want anyone asking me why I didn’t have the stones to go off and do my patriotic duty. So even though there was a very good chance I’d find myself in the middle of a desert in six months time, I signed the paperwork, took my oath, and headed off to Basic Training a month later, September 25th, 1990.

I got my orders to go to Desert Storm on February 1st, 1991; I got married on the 3rd, and then graduated on the 8th. I took a quick trip back to Texas so that everyone I cared about would have one last memory of me laughing and smiling; and then I flew back to Augusta, Georgia, where I would spend the next week doing… well, nothing. Somewhere deep inside the Pentagon, it was still being debated exactly how many troops would be necessary for the Persian Gulf; while the Generals and Admirals made up their minds, I spent a week picking up garbage, mowing grass, and trying to stay out from underfoot. Even after I was shipped down the road to Fort Benning to be outfitted, there was still scuttlebutt our particular group of soldiers wouldn’t be called on, more than enough boots were already on the ground. So while we took possession of our still-wet from gun oil M16A1’s and fresh, never-before-used protective masks complete with atropine injectors, the ones of us with something or someone to lose kept hoping and praying we’d get left behind.

February 19th all that hoping and praying were for nothing. We all loaded up onto a double-decker jumbo jet, wedging all our gear in around us, and took off. First for New York City for fueling and supplies; then to Belguim for more fuel and fresh pilots; and then finally to King Fahd International Airport in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. The trip took nearly twenty hours – even though we’d boarded around 6am, I stayed awake the entire flight. The last thing I wanted to do was rush this trip, so I did all I could to make the flight last as long as possible.

I’ve always had a high opinion of myself – I’m smart, talented, and semi-charming when I’m not trying too hard. I never thought I’d actually end up in a war zone – somehow, someway, the Universe would pull some strings at the last second, poke me in the ribs and exclaim “Psyche!” and put my butt somewhere else out of harm’s way. I was still holding on to that delusion five minutes before the jumbo jet landed – the pilot came over the loud speaker:

“This is your captain speaking. We’re coming up on King Fahd International Airport and are going to start our descent. Since we’re not sure what can of reception to expect, we’re going to corkscrew in so it’s harder to get a bead on us. If at any time I hear bullets bouncing off this aircraft, I will gun the engines and we will head back to Belgium. Attendants, prepare for final approach.”

Never before in my life had I ever prayed to be fired on – my prayers were not answered. Twenty minutes later, I was on the tarmac and carrying my gear towards an airplane hangar full of cots. And it hit me that I was not one of God’s favorites – I wasn’t going to get a last-second reprieve; I was going to war. Worse, I was no longer a person – I was just a thumbtack on a map signifying unit strength and placement. While I could say that I was truly a part of something bigger than myself for the first time in years, I’d done so by sacrificing my individuality. I was just a service number on someone’s clipboard somewhere, a faceless, nameless cog in the military machine. If I died, no one I cared about would know for months, maybe years.

(Maybe not at all. The Army had sent me overseas in such a rush, my records had become lost. I would be stateside six months before my records would catch up with me in Colorado.)

Since the 8th, every time I stepped onto a vehicle, some of the soldiers I knew and had trained with had been pealed away and sent somewhere else. Graduation had sent all the Reservists and Guardsman back to their homes, including my best friend and Best Man; the trip to Fort Benning had separated more of my old company; and after a night at the airport, the replacement detachment people divided up even more of my old squad. By the time I loaded up onto the old, rickety double-decker bus, I was by myself. No one I’d met in Basic Training was still with me. My support system was now the Army. I’d have to depend on the fact we were all in the same uniform to prompt my brothers and sisters to watch my back… just as they’d depend on their uniform to prompt me to watch theirs. Which is how my particular experiences differs from my contemporaries, my other friends around my age with military experience like my band leader – when they were sent into hairy situations, they were with the people they knew, soldiers they had trained with. They knew how each squad member would react in given situations, had some indication as to how their NCO’s and officers would lead them. I had none of that – all my friends, squad members, NCO’s and officers were gone. I was surrounded by hundreds of people wearing my uniform, and yet I was completely alone.

(Well… sort of wearing my uniform. While I had gotten a new rifle, bayonet, helmet, and protective mask, I had not been issued a Desert Camouflage Battle Dress Uniform – I was still wearing the Woodland Green BDU’s I gotten in AIT, the replacements for the set I’d been issued in Basic Training that no longer fit after I’d dropped forty pounds. The other soldiers that had been snatched up directly out of AIT were also in green BDU’s – the joke soon became if some sort of enemy aircraft came in for a strafing run, we should all huddle together and try to camouflage ourselves as an oasis.)

There is scared, and then there is scared… and then there is what I was experiencing. I was numb. It was as if someone had injected novocaine into my emotional core – I was thinking clearly, I knew exactly what was going on, I understood what was being explained to me and I followed orders to the letter… there was just no emotional response to any of it. I was scared past the point my system could process it, so it had stopped processing anything: no fear, no joy, no skepticism, no anger, no longing, no nothing. As far as emotions were concerned, I was a functioning corpse.

(While I was awake – asleep, I had nightmares of being chased by something horrible trying to kill me. One night it was Jason from the “Friday the 13th” series; the next night, it was the Alien aboard The Nostromo; zombies shambled after me one night; and one extra special night, it was the giant spider I’d first dreamed of when I was four years old, the jet-black horror the size of a VW Beetle that had haunted me ever since. Every night, I sat up, jolted awake by whatever it was pursuing me, trying to catch my breath and hoping I didn’t cry out in my sleep… only to realize I was in the Army, sleeping in the dirt with my field jacket as a pillow, in the middle of a war zone. And then I would wish I was still asleep – as terrible as the nightmare had been, it was less terrifying than the reality I was living.)

DesertStorm I was supposed to join an artillery unit that was laying down suppressing fire for the 101st, but my convoy got stuck waiting for a tank division to cross the one and only highway going our direction for four hours; by the time we reached the halfway station, it was after dark. Since it was pitch black and a wrong turn meant finding yourself inside the wrong end of Iraq, our bus driver refused to go any further – we’d carry on at first light. That night, February 22nd, the ground assault officially started; and by first light, the unit I was supposed to be joining was one hundred miles in country. The decision was made that I and the rest of the replacements would stay at the halfway station until our receiving units found a place to park.

(Replacements. The military estimated that there would be 30,000 casualties the first wave of the ground assault, so all of the units had the number of their personnel increased to 125% capacity. I and the rest of the soldiers I was holed up with were to replace those unit members injured or killed during the first wave, which is why a communications graduate was being sent to an artillery unit.)

I don’t pray often. Not because I don’t think it works, but because of the exact opposite – I do think prayer works, and if a prayer of mine is to be answered, I want to make sure it’s a situation completely out of my realm of control, as close to a miracle as possible. It’s rare when I pray, but I found myself gazing into the heavens that night. That far out in the middle of nowhere, there are no ambient city lights to interfere, so stars are visible all across the sky. In all my years of Scouting and volunteering with The Order of The Arrow, I had never seen some many stars. I had listened to everything my drill sergeants had been telling me since late September, I knew what was expected and what had been planned for, and I knew what my chances were expected to be. I wasn’t scared of dying – when you’re dead, you’re dead, nothing left to worry about – but I couldn’t shake something one of our drill sergeants had said weeks earlier:

“It’s not the bullet that has your name on it you have to worry about – it’s going to find you no matter what – it’s the one labeled ‘To Whom It May Concern” you gotta look out for. ‘Cause it don’t care who or what it hits.”

I didn’t want to lose my legs. I didn’t want to end up blind. I didn’t want to be maimed. I didn’t know how strong I could be, and I didn’t want to put my wife of less than a month through a lifetime of nursing me. So I prayed. I asked whoever or whatever it was that had me convinced there was a higher power at work to not let me be crippled; if going home whole was not to be, then please, just go ahead and kill me.

I then told the Universe I’d make it easy. I had every intention of going home. I had a new wife I’d never been on a honeymoon with, never lived with as a married couple with, and I’d be damned if I didn’t get the chance of experiencing the simple joys with her. I was going home, so whatever and whoever got in-between me and her had to go. I’d kill whoever I needed to, I’d destroy whatever I needed to, I’d become whatever monster I needed to be to make that goal. I wasn’t asking forgiveness – I was just stating fact. If I wasn’t to go home, then kill me now, because there would be no middle ground.

Four days later, the cease-fire was called. The middle ground wouldn’t be necessary – I’d be going home. And well sooner than expected: mine had been one of the last planes to land before the ground assault, so I was with stationed with a bunch of Independent Ready Reservists who’d been called up with just days left on their contracts. The IRR’s had careers and families back in the States, and their wives were hard at work, calling their Congresspeople to get their husbands sent back home ricky-tick. Their combined pestering worked, so instead of the six months I’d expected to spend in the Persian Gulf, I spent just under six weeks, long enough to earn a couple of medals and the right to wear a combat patch.

After that, life happened so fast, I didn’t have a lot of time to process what I’d been through… other than to notice my head suddenly sparkled. Where once I’d had a stray silver hair here or there, I now had hundreds of stark white strands all over. I moved my wife to Colorado Springs for two years of active duty; then to Arlington, TX for three years of Reserves while I want to art school at night, holding down a full-time job during the day. It wasn’t until after I got my orders moving my status to the IRR and I graduated that the war began to seep in. Not showering enough love and praise on my deserving wife was the first indication something wasn’t completely up to snuff; a lingering dissatisfaction with my day job and it’s lack of social significance another. But it was after the invasion of Iraq that everything came bursting out.

9-11 had been traumatic, but no more so for me than it was for any other American; the invasion of Afghanistan didn’t bother me, really – if anything, I was disappointed it had taken weeks to get to doing what I thought would be undertaken the week after the Twin Towers came down; but when the military went into Iraq, something inside me snapped. Iraq had been my war, and my war had been over for a decade. I had gotten accustomed to my participation being overlooked or even forgotten… and yet, here it was: boots in Iraq, fighting my war all over again, restarting what I had been led to believe had been finished. As I watched the news, as I saw the troops land inside my war zone, I began to sniffle. Slow tears began to slide down my cheeks. I wiped my eyes and went back to getting ready for my day job, making pretty pictures to sell couches to the Middle class… only the tears kept coming. Not a sobbing fit… just slowly tearing up, clearing my throat and wiping me eyes, over and over and over again, for the next three days.

For three days, the only time I wasn’t crying was when I was asleep. I stayed home from work. The counselor I’d started seeing after my marriage had started to crumble was sympathetic, but not much help. If I wanted the tears to stop, I’d need to confront all the stuff I’d buried a decade earlier.

There’s an unspoken truth to being a soldier: you’re only truly a soldier when you’ve done your job during a war. Whatever you’re particular job specialty, part of what you train for, part of what you prepare for, is doing that job in the field during a combat operation. And while the training and preparation is vitally important, it is still not the real thing; soldiers with combat patches – sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously – get afforded a higher level of respect than soldiers without. I had a combat patch; I had felt that respect while I served; but I also felt like a fraud – I’d only done half my job. I knew what it was like to stand up and be counted, I knew what it was like to be ready to lay down my life, and I knew what it was like to be in a war zone surrounded by not just enemies, but FEAR… but I didn’t know what it was to be under fire; I didn’t know what it was like to be counted on to protect my brothers and sisters; I didn’t know what it was like to take another life in defense of everything I hold dear; and I especially didn’t know if my courage would hold true in the face of hopeless odds.

During the war, I’d been prepared to do terrible things – now, years later, part of me was thankful I’d never had to do those terrible things; but just as large a part of me was wracked with guilt I hadn’t done those terrible things. Thankful I hadn’t had to do a terrible job, but left feeling like a fake because I hadn’t had to do a terrible job. And now that ground forces were back in Iraq, I was thankful I wasn’t there with them, yet feeling guilty that I wasn’t still serving my country; and worse, even more guilty for feeling thankful it wasn’t me overseas a second time.

For years, my wife and I would see and read reports of people who’d never finished their military contracts finding themselves called back into uniform years later. People a hundred pounds overweight, grandmothers in their 50’s, high-paid executives who had forgotten to resign their commissions, all being backdoor-drafted back into serving. And even though I knew my contract was over, I’d received my letter saying I’d been removed from IRR roll, I still went to the mailbox every day with dread, half-expecting to find the letter commanding me to go to my nearest recruitment center, half-hoping to find that same letter so the dread and the guilt would finally be over.

I was at home, in-between freelance assignments, when the troops officially left Iraq a few years ago. I cried as I watched the convoy cross over the border. Since that day, I haven’t had a nightmare about being reenlisted in the Army – while there were still troops in Iraq, I had that nightmare every six to eight weeks or so.

It is the 25th Anniversary of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. It’s the middle of an election season, so the anniversary of the ground assault has been overlooked and ignored by the media except for the military magazines and newspapers. It originally took about two years for me to go from being an American hero to a footnote. Back in 1993-94, the economy was starting to improve, unemployment was dropping, and the stock market was beginning a meteoric rise. The Persian Gulf had been the former President’s war, and he was gone, replaced by charismatic Southerner who had never served in uniform. No one was still itching to shake the hand of a veteran any more – they all had important things to do.

After the caskets started coming back week after week, month after month, after “Mission Accomplished” had been declared, suddenly the same folks who’d had important things to do ten years earlier were crying as they hugged me, thanking me for my service. by 2006, I was back to being an American hero again.

Another ten years have passed, and I’m back to being a footnote. The veterans of Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom are probably starting to experience that sensation, as well. No one is talking about the “advisors” that are still in Iraq and Afghanistan, no one is talking about the backlogs in the VA hospitals, and no one is talking about the suicide rate among the recently discharged veterans.

It is the 25th Anniversary of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Since mid-January, when I haven’t thought about my 50th birthday party bash in March, I’ve looked at the calendar and remembered where I was 25 years ago. This isn’t just my 25th Wedding Anniversary, and this isn’t just my 50th birthday… this is the 25th anniversary of my becoming a Desert Storm veteran, and like it or not, that is just as important as the other two events. I’d be lying if I said there were never times I wished that wasn’t the case… but it is what it is. And I am who I am.

Thunderstorms and Ukuleles

green ukulele

My Love, My Ukulele

So it’s been exactly one month since my doctor’s appointment and my not getting bad news.

Getting up and exercising has been hit or miss. The weather has been all sorts of wonky – here in the North Central Texas region, we’ve had the wettest January on record, with 60 mph winds and torrential downpours. And with these thunderstorms come my dog, Spike, losing his ever-loving mind during the overnight hours – barking, running around in circles, shivering, and creating a bad example for his brother, Sparky, who either joins in or hides behind the couch. More than once, I have found myself watching the radar at 3 am, vainly trying to convince the dogs that there was not a damn thing I could do about all the noise going on outside and that noise outside wasn’t going to hurt them. I’m pretty psyched about getting into some healthy habits, but I’m not doing a 45 minute bike ride on 4 hours of sleep – that gung ho, I am not.

Lifting heavy objects has also been hit or miss – pumping resistance bars after work resulted in a sleepless night, and it has been far too cold most mornings to do so before work. So lifting has been limited to the odd weekend when I had plenty of time to kill.

My one true success has been my diet – I am eating a lot better. Breakfast is mandatory, either a light sandwich or cheese and fruit, usually eaten on the way to work; lunch has been a protein bar and two-three fruits I took with me to the office; and most dinners have been either salads, or lean meats and vegetables, concentrating on the non-starchy varieties like green beans and asparagus. I’ve been limiting carbs after3 pm– no pasta, no rice, and no breads, splurging on a fiber bar those nights when I’m still massively unsatisfied after dinner and willing to eat my own arm to feel full. I’ve also cut out sugary drinks – no more Mountain Dews, no more Coca-Colas – and instead have been downing water like I plan to be marching across theSahara. The biggest change has been I’m no longer adding sugar to my tea or using flavored creamers in my coffee – half and half only. Hating that – I just don’t dig on bitter tea and coffee – but I’ve cut my calorie count by over half in my hot drinks and 150-200 calories in my cold drinks. The few times we’ve gone out to eat I’ve stuck with fish and salads, staying away from the appetizer and dessert menus.

With the healthier diet and the limited exercise I’ve gotten, I have dropped 7 pounds in the last 30 days. Doesn’t sound like much – and to perfectly honest, it doesn’t look like much – but I can feel it: how my clothes fit, how much better I’m sleeping, how much better I feel when I’m awake. I haven’t lost my craving for junk food yet, but the longer I stay away from it, the easier it is to turn down. The one time in the last month I truly let myself splurge – the Lady Fair’s cheese enchiladas – my taste buds were rejoicing, but my stomach and head were planning a revolt all night long. So the craving is purely mental – I’m now to a point where my body loves the good things I’m putting into it.

My guitar has fallen by the wayside, and I’m seriously considering leaving it there for a while. I’ve got a brand spankin’ new tutorial on killer keyboards made easy I’m starting tonight. It looks very promising – the guy is a pro and he’s speaking the language I want to hear: namely, how to play the ivories in a way that makes guitarists want to kiss you. Immersing me in this program would be the smart move, and since the guitar HURTS LIKE HELL, I’m thinking being smart is the way to go. I also love my ukulele, and despite what John thinks, ukuleles are cool. I can strum the four-chord 50’s progression easily, and my Somewhere Over The Rainbow is getting closer and closer. The best part of a ukulele is you can practice in your living room watching “Glee” on the tube – talk about feeling like a romantic-bohemian type. Joygasm! The ukulele has been so easy and delightful so far, I’m seriously considering swiping the mandolin I know is hidden at Paul’s house and learning three chords on it (Copperhead Road cries out for a mandolin – I’m just sayin’).

One month down. Progress has been made.

 

New Year, New Start

Choke written by Chuck Palahniuk

Just a little light reading

I’m glad to report that I survived the holidays – didn’t get too hog wild, didn’t stuff myself silly, didn’t eat every piece of cake or pie under the sun… didn’t exercise, didn’t learn my songs, didn’t practice the guitar or the keyboard, either. As far as Rock Star is concerned, with the exception of catching up on some much needed sleep and still practicing my oh so lovely ukulele, the holidays were a bust.

But Hey! It’s a New Year, and that means a New Start!

And I started the year off right, with a full check-up from my doctor I hadn’t seen in years (if I’m serious about exercise, the last thing I want to do is stoke out on my stationary bike – awkward). Did the works – checked my heart, lungs, blood pressure, prostate (oh THAT was fun); drew blood to check my blood sugar levels and cholesterol and anything else nasty that might be lurking around. The nurse had an excellent time – I’m a fluffy dude of German descent, the veins in my arms like to hide; poor woman had to stick my three times in two arms before she finally found a bleeder. An afternoon of humiliation and forty-eight hours later, I get my results: blood pressure is great, cholesterol is just over optimum, blood sugar is fine, nothing at all unusual with my booty. With the exception of low testosterone  (which isn’t surprising considering my age), I’m in good health for a guy lugging around a Body Mass Index of over forty percent.

(And NO, my doctor was NOT at all happy about that BMI.)

With a stern warning to start eating better, another stern warning to get some exercise, and a prescription for a topical testosterone cream, I am ready to tackle the tasks at hand. Let Rock Star commence!

P.S. Oh, and a word of warning: if you’re going to discover Mr. Palahniuk’s body of work, don’t attempt it while riding a stationary bike – whipping your head around in shock is doubly painful when aiming for the twelve-mile mark. Definitely need to be in a chair listening to something soothing with nothing breakable within arms reach. Just saying.

Sexy Beast

The guitar is the sexiest instrument in the world.

Now I know there will be some who read those words and the hackles will start to rise, so let me say it is not my intention to offend. As a child during the Seventies, I remember well the bittersweet, evocative melodies Billy Joel, Elton John, and Barry Manilow coaxed out of their pianos; I’ve witnessed first-hand how fair-to-middling bands can be elevated to near-awesomeness with the addition of a top-rate bassist laying down those funky rhythms; and I can appreciate the pure power and animal magnetisms generated by a stick-wielding barbarian pounding on the skins like a maniac (see my brother). Anyone who’s made the sacrifice to learn an instrument even fairly well will reap the benefits as someone else will always find that ability attractive – all instruments can be sexy.

Epiphone guitar

The six-stringed version of Chinese finger-cuffs

A guitar can travel, though – you can’t pull out the drum kit at a campfire and you can’t take your piano with you to the in-laws. And while you can show up to the company Christmas party with your violin or strumpet in tow, not everyone wants to hear Mozart or Herb Albert, and both instruments are nearly impossible to sing along with. Even if you’ve only mastered the basic chords, a guitar is a welcome addition to any setting.

(And dear sweet Lord, the guitar isn’t just a panty-dropper – them underdrawers come flying up on stage once the hot licks commence. It isn’t the lead singer who gets all the babes  –  it’s the lead guitarist, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.)

I bought myself a guitar while in a transitional period about a decade ago, then managed to transition myself into a full-time day job and lost the momentum to learn the damn thing (a poor decision that is haunting me all day, every day now that I’m in a band); now I’m still working full-time and need to be able to at least strum some chords, so I’m stuck trying to teach myself during my downtime. I got myself an Epiphone acoustic: nothing fancy, not cheap but not all that expensive – all the reviews have been fairly positive, it seems to be a good starter guitar for the beginning player (and before you go off on me about how electric guitars are easier to learn because they’re thinner and more forgiving to the fingers, you weren’t around ten years ago to school me wise and I can’t justify a new guitar purchase with a perfectly good six-string specimen sitting in the corner of my office, so there). I don’t particularly want to waste a bunch of time relearning what a quarter-staff means (and no, it has nothing to do with Robin Hood and Little John), so I’m skipping over the basic how-to book and pinning my hopes to Guitar for Dummies.

Guitar for Dummies

My new Dr. Spock's Guide to Babies

Guitar for Dummies is, IMHO, freakin’ awesome. I can’t even play the guitar yet, and I’m already learned more about music theory than I did in two years of high school choir. I can appreciate how the book is written in a completely unpretentious manner, making it easy for a layperson like myself to comprehend the subject matter. I really appreciate how the authors flat out tell you stay with Chapters Three and Four until you’ve got them done pat, those are the money subjects: basic major and minor chords, and those bluesy sevenths. And the thing I appreciate most is they are unsparingly honest about one specific topic: learning the guitar HURTS.

Dear sweet baby Jesus, I haven’t picked up that Epiphone since last Wednesday and the fingertips on my left hand are STILL tender. It’s bad enough just trying to wrap your hand around the guitar neck in a foreign manner, but then having to not only press down on metal wires but press down with enough force to create a buzz-free tone is literally torture – I can get in a couple of strums and then I have to let go, shake my hand and curse like a sailor on shore leave for a minute or two. I’m attempting to learn the three chords of the key of A and failing miserably so far: A is the easiest to manage with the fingers, and E is the easiest to strum with the open strings, but D is kicking my tuckus big time – hard finger position, difficult to strum just four strings, and pressing down feels like nails being driven into your fingertips. Sumbitch hurts like HELL, and according to the book, sumbitch may hurt like hell for a few WEEKS until the calluses I need develop. And I haven’t even mentioned how foreign it feels just sitting with a guitar in your lap attempting to just strum the damn thing.

You want to know why more singers don’t learn the guitar? That’s why. Singers don’t generally dig on weirdness or pain unless gratuitous nudity is involved, and that’s a different post on a different blog altogether.

Learning the first instrument in my quest to Rock Stardom flat-out means weeks of pain, with every day taken off for whatever reason adding just that much more time spent very, very uncomfortable.

I feel sexy already.

 

Operation: Rock Star is a GO!

Hi! I’m Keith, and I’m a forty-something graphic designer working in the DFW metroplex. I’m married, no kids (by choice), I like comic books and video games, Harry Potter and Doctor Who, and I know the the antagonists in the animated feature “The Yellow Submarine” were the Blue Meanies. I am what is politely termed a pop-culture enthusiast; the not-so-nice term is geek.

I’m also the co-lead singer of a classic/Southern rock cover band based out of Terrell called The East Texas Garage Band, and I don’t care who you are, that’s pretty damn cool – not everybody can claim to be the lead singer of a band. And as lead singers go, I’m not bad: I can sing a song, stay on beat and in tune, and not embarrass myself or my band mates.

The East Texas Garage Band performing

The East Texas Garage Band at Lone Star Legends

Truth be told, though, I’m in the band only by the graces of one of my oldest, bestest friends and brother from another mother, Pauly – there are three other vocalist in the band, each one playing an instrument and playing it well, so if I was to get struck down by lightning tomorrow (always a possibility, I’m a liberal in Texas), the band wouldn’t have to miss a single gig.

After my wife and my marriage, singing and performing are my two biggest passions. I desperately want to bring more to my band than just a good voice and ability to harmonize; just as desperately, I want to be able to perform smaller, more personal solo shows. I could perform a little coffee house gig on Thursday, then help front my band with Pauly on Saturday. My life would be complete.

The problem before me, though, is two-fold:

First and foremost, I don’t play an instrument. Because no one was there to slap me and say “NO! Wait for marching band, dumbass!” I took violin and cello lessons back in middle school, two of the most unflattering instruments for a teenager, rating just above the sousaphone and French horn. While I can find and play my melody on a piano, I can’t get both hands working; and while my parents bought me a guitar once upon a time, they forgot to spring for the lessons to go along with it. If I wanted to perform solo tomorrow, I’d first have to spring for a karaoke machine, and I’m sorry, I don’t care how high tech the technology is, there’s nothing warm and cozy about singing along with a music track – huge amounts of fun at a bar with a bunch of like-minded friends, complete fail at a coffee shop with the people in black.

So my first challenge is to learn an accompanying instrument. My darling wife loves me, so I currently own an acoustic guitar and full-size electric keyboard. I want to learn the guitar to strum at coffee shops, but Pauly wants me to learn the keyboard to fill in the holes of our wall of sound with the band – so like the idiot I am, I’m going to attempt to learn both.

My second challenge is my appearance.

Keith

Not exactly Steven Tyler

The six years I spent in the Army were fifteen years ago, and complain all you want about daily physical training, it will keep a geek toned and semi-sexy; a Joss Whedon fetish coupled with a Ho-Ho addiction, and before you know it the singing geek is two-hundred and seventy-five pounds of chewed bubble-gum. And as much as I’d like to say my appearance doesn’t matter, it does: I’m self-conscious up on stage. I don’t want my audience pointing and laughing at the big fat poser trying to rock out without having a coronary, and I don’t want my immense ass blocking the view to my most excellent singing drummer.

Contrary to what most people think, singing is also a hell of a lot of work – crooning one song is easy; belting out forty-eight songs over the span of four hours is a huge strain not only to your throat, but your diaphram, your back, your shoulders, your legs and your feet especially if you’re trying to maintain the same quality of vocal performance throughout the show, especially if you’re attempting to put on the best show possible from start to finish. Performing well takes stamina.

Losing one-hundred pounds would be a big help in both of those directions.

So that’s the point of this blog: I’m going to record and report my efforts to become an actual musician, a fully-rounded member of my band and potential solo performer, the best possible front man I can be. I’m going to learn the keyboard (for the band), learn the guitar (for the solo act), and lose one-hundred pounds (because there can only be one Meat Loaf, and even he slimmed down a bit later in life). And I’m going to do all this while not losing my mind or running off my lovely, loving wife.

Welcome to Operation: Rock Star – hope you enjoy the ride.