My other muse

Sometimes the process of writing is really frustrating. When I say ‘writing’, what I really mean is ‘editing’. Let’s say you’ve written a story and you love every word of it. Nothing can be changed because the particular phrasing in a certain section early in the story is absolutely necessary to explain why a character reacts in a particular way thousands of words later. You’ve read and re-read the story hundreds of times, and you are damn sure you can’t change that portion of it because doing so will destroy what you’ve so carefully built. Then, in the interest of making the best possible story, you leave the story on a shelf for a while to gain a bit of objectivity. When you pick the manuscript up (or open the file, as it were) after several weeks, you are still certain that the particular part in question must remain, but literally everything between those points must change for continuity and flow.

Such is the case with Brian’s Secret. I was supremely confident that I would be able to copy-edit the manuscript and have it in stores extremely quickly, but after distancing myself from the story a bit, too much needs to be edited to make that happen. I’ve been editing the story for a while now (longer than it took to write it, actually) and it pains me that I have to remove so much to get it to a printable form. By word count alone, I’ve removed just over 30,000 words during the editing process (that’s half the total length of the entire In the Shadow of Angels story). Major subplots and character building sections simply had to be removed to keep the story flowing and interesting (those parts still exist, and will eventually make it into print form as Ashwood’s vast and eclectic cast of characters unfolds in later stories). The process of removing so much of my masterpiece (subjectively, of course) pushed me to pick up an old habit to occupy some time and clear my mind. That habit: guitar.

guitarNot surprisingly, the most difficult part of this process was getting the shit back together. I knew where the equipment was, but it still took an hour and a half cleaning it up to get it to a functional form. When I initially plugged the guitar into the amp, it buzzed like a hornets nest would if you smacked it with a baseball bat. Plus, it was really dirty from disuse. So much so that I feared my wife would castrate me if she saw it in the house. I had to strip it down to a bare box, take it out back, and hose it off. I also had to clean all the electronics and solder a couple of broken connections (my brother found this thing in a landfill a decade ago and I’ve never really used it. I’m only using it now because it’s easier to lug around than my mini stack). It took another forty-five minutes to find some cables and my trusty effects pedal (which took an additional half an hour of cleanup time). I plugged them in and, to my surprise, everything still worked. I can now say that I’ve ‘touched’ a guitar in the last decade.

gw97The next issue, of course, is trying to find something that I can play. Thankfully, my periodical collection is still mostly intact. The March 1997 Guitar World magazine has some wonderful primers and the full transcriptions for a couple of songs. The primers were infinitely helpful in getting me back where I used to be, but I still can’t quite nail Puppets at speed (I’ve been practicing for less than a day, give me a break).

musicIn flow the tablatures! Oh, how I wish tabs would have been so readily available back when I was playing for real. If I’d had a site like TuxGuitar back when I was playing every damn day, I think I could have really made a go of the whole ‘rockstar’ thing. Instead, I’m left thinking, ‘fuck, I really need a stapler’. I’m pretty sure that when you throw a stapler into your gig bag, the chase is over.

backofmyThe first thing, and the one thing that quickly came back to mind when I picked up the guitar for the first time in a decade or more, was how my fingernails get in the damn way. Here you see my hand. This is after I cut those suckers all the way back to the tip. Evidently I have some weird, humpy fingernails. They’re long, they’re hard, they totally keep my fingers from resting in a natural position when I’m trying to finger a chord.

frontofmyLest you think there was some trick of photography going on there, here is the other side of my hand. I tilted my fingers toward the camera a bit so you could see that those long-ass fingernails don’t show past the tip. Regardless of relative length, they keep me from easily strumming an open chord -always have. That was another thing I remembered right away.

But, like falling off a bike (I would say riding a bike, but I haven’t done that for years. I’m pretty sure I could still fall off of one though) I remembered everything pretty quickly. Those times are as follows: Metallica’s Enter Sandman – the entire rhythm guitar -to a note- within ten minutes of picking up the guitar for the first time in a decade. That one was burned pretty deeply since it was the first one I ever learned. Megadeth’s This Was My Life was the next one I tried, and I should point out that I couldn’t play this even when I played regularly back in the day. After a half an hour, I had the rhythm of this one down, with the occasional missed note.

Getting cocky, I tried some of the more difficult Metallica library. All of the clean tone in Welcome Home (Sanitarium) came back very quickly. Again, down to a note on rhythm guitar in half an hour or so. The toughest song so far has been Metallica’s Fade to Black. It’s only difficult because I can’t remember how I used to play it, but I’m damn sure the sheet music I have for it is wrong. I’m only missing about two notes, but they are pissing me off mightily.

Surprise takeaways: I can play Metallica’s Of Wolf and Man pretty much start to finish right out of the box. That’s surprising because I don’t remember ever trying to play it in the past. Absolutely the most surprising was that I figured out the intro to The Showdown‘s Head Down:


It’s only surprising because I’d never heard of the song the last time I touched a guitar.

And that’s how I kept from editing my book today. Tune in tomorrow when I find new and more elaborate excuses!

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