Tuesday, February 14, 2012


"I learned how to play this song on guitar when I was your age," I told my son and his friend as we pulled out of the friend's driveway earlier. My son sat beside me and continued to text while his friend worked on a candy bar in the backseat. "MTV had only recently been born, but we didn't have cable so I'd spend entire weekends at my friend's house watching the twelve videos they rotated through. This was one of them."

"What is it?" C asked.

I was elated he'd asked; elated that he was still breathing there next to me with his nose in his flip phone.

"'Photograph' by Def Leppard." I went on to explain who they were and that the drummer had lost an arm in a car accident yet continued to play with a specially designed drum set. Behind me there was the rustle of candy wrapper, and beside me, more click-click-clicking. "MTV began in August, 1981," I ventured, somewhat ashamed that I was able to reel it off quicker than I could any of my kids' birthdays.

I took guitar lessons when I was 13 or so. My poor instructor attempted to teach me the chords and theory and how to play the damn thing. I wanted to learn how to play 'Photograph' and, perhaps, 'Back in Black' by AC/DC. I was an awful student and it shows today, I still can't play. It wasn't completely my fault, though, or his. I have no rhythm. I could memorize the notes, I just couldn't do anything with them. The idea of learning the principles of music was as foreign to my newly-teenage, freshly-MTVed brain, with all of its lasers and pyrotechnics, as the idea of typing a message to someone on a telephone might have been then. 

I watch my kids now as they struggle to master whatever interests them and it's fascinating for me. They seem so naturally talented in ways that I wasn't, or in ways that I didn't recognize at the time. The other night, while the adults were sitting glassy-eyed and brain dead in front of the talentless field that was the Grammy Awards, JP sat at my computer and wrote a story about the Great Depression for school. It is a fantastic piece. I sat and watched S sketching a bowl of grapes with an onion resting beside it as I cooked dinner the other night and, while the proportions were slightly skewed, I saw the same determination and concentration in her face that I see in my sister's when she sketches. C is also a great writer, having won a Memphis in May short story contest last year, and he's an ever-improving baritone saxophone player as well.

I think one of the greatest things about having kids is watching them develop, seeing their talents and interests grow on a daily basis. They may not stick with each one, they'll probably find new ones to explore and work at as they progress through school and age, but I see now that they commit to ideas and see them through, and that they see the value in such endeavors.

It means a lot to me.

In the car this evening, I had a very distinct muscle memory for how to play the guitar solo in 'Photograph.' I'm sure I couldn't play it if you handed me a guitar because I wouldn't be able to play anything if you handed me a guitar, I have no aptitude for the instrument. And my kids may realize they don't have the talent it takes to continue on a particular track, but for now it's great fun for me to watch them and fun for them to make the attempt.

Much more fun, I'm sure, than a history lesson with soundtrack by The Buggles.