History of Guitar

 

Riley and I find ourselves in an ancient underground conclave and a wizardly elder is guiding us through a guitar time travel trip.

A single string is stretched across a stick which is then attached to a gourd. The string is plucked and a certain kind of haunting sound is brought forth as it echoes through the Sumerian marketplace–it is the cry of a newborn announcing the dawn of guitar. It was called ‘tar’–the Persian word for string.

Over the next 5000 years, the tar took many paths of evolution: the three-stringed bowl harp of Babylonia, the tanbur of Egypt and the Assyrian chetarah. The Middle ages  in Europe spawned the 9th century cithara and the 11th century gittern;  and later, the chime-like, multi stringed lute and vihuela dominated the renaissance of western Europe. Nineteenth century Spain produced the classic six string guitar–its direct descendants are the 20th century solid body electrics of Les Paul and Leo Fender. Digital effects transformed the 21st century guitar into an instrument with an infinite palette of colors.

 

Suddenly, the lights go on–the ancient elder is now an octogenarian author in a three piece glen plaid suit and the magical land of guitar is replaced by a theatre on the UCLA campus. Then the wizardly elder–aka Frederic V. Grunfeld, renowned author of The Art And Times Of The Guitar holds a brief Q and A:
Jayne Jeff: “Based on your research, who would you consider the first guitar hero?”

FVG: “If you mean ‘rock star’, it would have to be Fernando Sor of the 18th century. He played to sold-out venues in London, Paris, Moscow and his native Barcelona. There were plenty of groupies. He didn’t have roadies though–no Marshals to set up.”

A spot-on look-alike of the lead guitarist of The Donnas (Allison Robertson–wait it is her!) asks, “What did the oldest guitar look like?”

FVG: “Goodness, I wasn’t around in ancient times so I really don’t have first-hand information. I’m old, but not that old! I do know, however, that The Archaeological Museum in Cairo contains a guitar-like instrument that has three strings and a plectrum suspended from the neck by a cord. The sound box is made of beautifully polished cedarwood and has a rawhide ‘soundboard’.

Riley Ripintyme: “Well, just how old is it?”

FVG: “3500 years.”

Alison Robertson: “Whoa! That’s the ultimate vintage guitar!”

“Dude, I thought my granddad’s ‘57 strat was old!” somebody else yells out.

AR: “What about women and guitar?”

FVG: “There is no way of knowing of course, but the influence is surely indicated by the numerous paintings and sculptures of women playing guitar throughout the ages.”

JJ: “And their musical influence?”

FVG: “That we can say for sure–it’s been documented that there was a guitar mania as early as the 1800s in Vienna, Berlin and all through France; and it was dominated by female guitarists.”

The theatre lights start to flicker on and off– a none-too-subtle hint that it is time to leave. Frederic looks as if he wants to take more questions, but an aide gently guides him offstage. Sadly, the lecture is indeed over.

The crowd files out of the theatre, gradually dispersing–getting smaller and smaller until there were only two . . .  Riley and me. We quickly walk across the campus to the bus stop at Le Conte and Westwood.

RR: “Fernando Sor never started a band, and he did all right.”

JJ: “I didn’t say anything.”

RR: “I know, but I know what you’re thinking.”

JJ: “What’s that?”

RR: “Have I found any band members yet?”

JJ: “Well, since you brought it up, my Granddad’s set up a meeting with Billy James—it might be fun, and you could get some tips on how to start a band.”

RR: “Hey, that’s great! Um . . . who’s Billy James?”

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Time Traveling Guitar Players

 

Multi Media class: Meeting today in North wing, Room 212

Room 212 is in the older wing of Unity High–the part that was built in the 1920s. Hmm . . .  what’s Gunther got cooked up? He doesn’t do things without a reason, I think to myself. The walk from our regular classroom takes about five minutes and when we arrive, we see that Gunther has the desks arranged in a semi-circle. “This room has some history. It’s from another time—some very famous people have placed their books on these desks,” says Gunther.

I place my hands upon my desk and move them slowly. I close my eyes–the desk is as smooth as a precious gemstone. When I open my eyes, I notice something that had been carved into the desk a long time ago. It is a simple declaration of the heart–preserved like a leaf in polished amber. It states:                                                            

                                              “Norma Jeane Baker Loves James (Jim) Dougherty “

Gunther Parigaliy: “The topic of our class meeting today is twofold. First, I’m truly delighted that the quote– four young musicians began a journey–traveling through a portal where space, time and music intersect– has inspired a great project of your own design. I’m very impressed with all of you for your full participation and I know that the class is now being referred to as the Playing Her Guitar Suite project. I want to point out that those people behind the scenes: Emily as publicist, Susan for production and Pat in management, are just as important as those more visible, like Jane, Riley and Robin. You are all working together beautifully.

The emphasis or focus, however, seems to be individually and collectively on the first part of the quote, four young musicians began a journey . . . so . . .”

“What is the other fold?” asks Vincent, a percussionist in the class.

GP: “Fold?”

Vincent: “You said the topic of our class would be twofold–what’s the other fold?”

GP: “The other ‘fold’ is this: I’d like you all now to focus on the second part of the quote–traveling through a portal where space, time and music intersect.”

Open your laptops and enter the keywords ‘time travel’. We’ll use the information that you retrieve as a starting point for a discussion . . . anything goes.  Take your time–we’re going to spend the better part of class for research activity. And just as a hint, you might want to check out what Stephan W. Hawking has to say on the subject.

The room immediately falls silent except for fingers flying across keyboards like miniature people tap dancing their way into the World Wide Web.

After a half an hour or so, Gunther says, “OK, OK . . . let’s talk . . . anyone?”

Pat: “Hawking says that ‘wormholes’ can enable time travel.”

GP: “Tell the class about ‘wormholes’”

Pat: “They are miniscule wrinkles in time–smaller than atoms. Wormholes exist in a tiny place called the quantum foam. Shortcuts through space and time constantly form, disappear, and reform within this quantum world. And they actually link two separate places and two different times.”

GP: “Good!”

Emily: “Fourth dimension”

GP: “Yes . . . describe.”

Emily: “Everybody knows that all physical objects exist in three dimensions. Everything has a width and a height and a length. But there is another kind of length, a length in time. Everything has a length in time as well as space. Travelling in time means travelling through this fourth dimension.”

GP: “How do we find a path through the fourth dimension?

Susan: “Hawking said once spaceships were built that could fly faster than the speed of light, a day on board would be equivalent to a year on Earth. That’s because–according to Einstein–as objects accelerate through space, time slows down around them. Believe it or not, travelling at near the speed of light transports you to the future.

GP: “These are all essential . . .”

Vincent: “Obviously speed-metal guitarists will lead us into the future.”

“You can’t help yourself, can you?” says Akemi, a cellist in the class.

Robin Araki: “I’d like to look into the future and see if Riley ever does start a band.”

GP: “I was about to say, before the, ahem, ‘comedic interlude’ . . . that all these pieces of information are essential; but right now they are just facts. Ask yourselves: how does this information relate to the quote and how can this information inform your project, Playing Her Guitar Suite?”

RR:  “What if you could have a musical Time travel trip?  Like, you could travel to different eras–see and hear what different guitarists are doing . . . their solos, riffs.  And then put those styles and sounds into your own . . .  present day guitar playing”

GP: “That’s what I’m talking about–Jane did you want to say something?”

Suddenly, the time-intruding, thought-killing, rude sound of the bell pierced a hole in our time travel journey that Gunther helped create. The class leaves, but I sit at my desk for a few minutes after the bell.  As Gunther is gathering his books and laptop, he looks at me and asks, “Did you want to talk to me?”

I’m thinking to myself, I really can’t say anything about Riley–Gunther thinks she’s got all the great ideas. And I wonder, what’s Robin thinking? Finally I answer, “No, no . . . that’s  OK.”

I walk out of the classroom and think, I hope Riley remembers that were meeting at UCLA tomorrow.

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Dreams and Daydreams in Guitar Playing

 

I meet Riley at lunchtime in the football stands–top row with a nice view of Unity campus. I’m all ready and psyched up to tell Riley off–give her an ultimatum. If she doesn’t show any progress in getting a band together, Robin and I are going to tell Gunther that she is just not meeting her obligations in the class project.

Jayne Jeff: “Robin and I were talking yesterday and we both think that you’ve got some great ideas . . .but . . .”

Riley Ripintyme: “Oh, thanks. You know, I get a lot of my ideas from daydreams.”

 JJ: “Well, daydreams are great but . . . about the band . . . any news on that?”

 RR: “Don’t worry. That’ll come–I’m just saying that daydreaming is a good thing.”

JJ: “Yeah, OK, so your band is just going to somehow materialize out of a daydream?”

RR: “Maybe, yeah. Anyway, for sure, some of the best things I do on the guitar come from daydreaming.”

JJ: “Oh yeah, I get it  . . . no need to play scales, chords or–heaven forbid—Practice. Just daydream, and there it is.”

RR: “I’m not saying daydreaming replaces practicing . . . OK? Let’s say, for the sake of argument, I’m taking a guitar lesson with Joe Satriani . . .”

JJ: “Talk about dreaming . . .”

RR: “Oh, You know who Satriani is?”

JJ: “Yeah, sure, he’s the guy that taught Steve Vai, Kirk Hammett and who’s that other guitarist . . . from . . . Testament . . .?”

RR: “Alex Skolnick.”

JJ: “Right.”

RR: “Anyway, I’m definitely not going to be daydreaming while taking a lesson with Joe Satriani. First, that would be a very expensive daydream.”

 JJ: “And second, I don’t think Joe would take too kindly to an inattentive guitar student.”

RR: “Exactly. “So I’m going to be doing every scale and chord he tells me to do and I’m going to practice everything he tells me.”

JJ: “OK.”

RR: ‘But . . .if I’m not playing guitar–like I’m just doing some brain-dead activity . . .”

JJ: Yeah . . .?”

RR: “Ok, look. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. I’m on the bus just staring out onto Wilshire. My mind’s gone blank, but not really. Different riffs and solos are coming into my head and they’re really kind of cool.  It’s stuff I normally wouldn’t think of if I were really trying to think of it on a conscious level.”

JJ: “Hmm…Ok”

RR: “Then . . . when I get home and grab my guitar and try to play what I imagined on the bus ride–it’s stuff I never played before. But here’s the thing. I couldn’t have played these imagined riffs, solos, songs . . . whatever–had I not been practicing scales and such.”

JJ: “So the process is: daydreams are born out of practice.”

RR: “Maybe. I don’t know . . . but it works for me.”

JJ: “Well you sound convincing, but . . .”

RR: “Hey if you don’t believe me, just enter daydream creativity into your favorite search engine and you’ll find a whole bunch of scientists that are saying the same thing as me.”

JJ: “So is this what you mean about Guitar Dreams? You know, what you had mentioned the other day at the bus stop?”

 RR: “Oh no, I really can’t get into that . . . they’re way too bizarre . . . I mean, there are no laws of rationality, my guitar dreams are totally unfiltered.”

JJ: “Another time?”

RR: “Another time, another place, another world . . . you name it”

JJ: “No, I meant let’s talk about it at another time.”

RR: “Oh, yeah, definitely.”

JJ: “Gotta go, English Lit. awaits.

RR: “I’ve got a date with GYM.”

That really went well . . . so much for telling Riley off. What will I tell Robin? And I wonder what will happen in Gunther’s class tomorrow–should be interesting.

 

 

 

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How to Create Artwork for a Rock ‘n ‘ Roll Band

Robin Araki (the artist in Gunther’s class) and I are walking in a mini mall towards the Bamboo house on Sawtelle Boulevard. It’s early evening, and the parking lot is gridlocked with black Lexus sedans and silver Honda S2ks. The restaurants are teeming with overflow crowds of late teens and early twenty-somethings–girls right off the covers of Japanese fashion magazines and guys looking like slimmed down versions of PSY.

The Bamboo house restaurant is empty, however. It is merely a convenience used by older Japanese businessmen, who do some serious gambling in a larger adjacent room. Robin and I like it that way—it’s quiet here and we can talk; besides, the food is great with prices high school kids can afford.

“I’ll have the unagi donburi please . . . with barley tea.” I say to our waitress.

She frowns. I pause for a moment and then point to #11. The waitress smiles, nods and says, “Hai.”

Robin smiles and points to #27 (udon noodles).

We prearranged this meeting to talk about our respective parts regarding Gunther’s assignment. After the waitress leaves, Robin gets right to it, “‘I’ll do the artwork for Riley’s band.’– the most idiotic words I’ve ever said in my life.”

JJ: “But your drawings are amazing! What kind of media . . . and . . . how did you get your source material?”

RA: “Thank you . . . um . . . just marker and pencil. I drew Riley from memory; and I created the other band members from images found in magazines, photographs and books–then I just made composites. I added the guitar, bass, microphone and drums later. As far as the café, I had a photo . . . traced it and then filled in the colors.”

JJ: “What about the title of the CD?”

RA: “I took it from the title of her website, Playing Her Guitar Suite.”

JJ: “And the band name and . . . the logo?”

RA: “I put Riley’s last name in a circle –changed one letter of the spelling—curved the letters and that was it.”

JJ: “Well at least you can relax. You’ve done all the art work–you’ve finished your part of the project.”

RA: “Not really–there’s still the 24 page booklet.”

JJ: “I thought you did that already.”

RA: “I’ve  only done  two pages, the cover and the so-called page 12.”

JJ: “But it looks like . . .”

RA: “Riley just did a 3D Photoshop tutorial and made it look like a complete book–just like she did with your book.”

JJ: “So there is a nonexistent band, nonexistent book and nonexistent booklet!”

RA: “I wish Riley was nonexistent.”

JJ: “She is all too real–she’s ridiculous–but she is real.”

RA: “This situation is ridiculous. You and I are doing all the work. I really think we’re going to have to talk to Gunther.”

JJ: “What will we tell him?”

RA: “The truth–Riley’s not doing her part of the project. She’s doing everything but what she is supposed to be doing.”

JJ: “Well . . . maybe you’re right . . . but . . .”

RA: “Oh, I almost forgot! Here’s another thing, and this is really outrageous. All that music she put up? It’s bogus!

JJ: “What!?

RA: “Well the music itself is not bogus, but Riley didn’t write it.

JJ: “Who did?”

RA: “The Byrds.”

JJ: “No!”

RA: “Yes. It’s from an unrecorded track from an album that was never released–back in 1965.”

 

Our orders arrive, we dig in and our conversation devolves into phrases like, “mmm, good,” and “yum, yum!” Between bites, my mind ponders, What has this Riley character gotten us into? As if I wasn’t stressed enough already, Riley’s bogus music bit is putting me into a whole new anxiety zone. Now, instead of a worrying about getting a scholarship to a good school, I’m worrying about doing five years hard time at county for being an accessory to copyright infringement.

 

I try not to think any more bad thoughts, and we both finish our meals and tea. Hisako, our waitress, can’t be found, so we just leave cash for the meal and tip on our table. As we are going out the door, however, we look back and Hisako is there. “Arigato!” she says.

 

Outside, Robin says, “Why don’t you sleep over? My house is just around the corner.”

JJ: “No, that’s OK–I’ll take the bus home.”

RA: “Alright, well then I’ll wait at the corner with you ‘til your bus comes.”

JJ: “No thanks, I’ll be fine. I’ll see you in Gunther’s class, day after tomorrow.”

Ra: “Are you going to talk to Riley in the mean time?  . . . About our situation . . . so to speak?”

JJ: “Yes and yes.”

 

I walk towards the corner of Sawtelle and Olympic. The bus arrives, I get on and sit down; and as I stare out the window–I start to think, “God, I dread confronting Riley tomorrow.”

 

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How To Create A Website

 

Leaving Unity High, Riley and I walk towards the Santa Monica Boulevard bus stop; and the corner is already crammed with kids who got out of school earlier. They are all involved in their own conversations; or immersed in their own private ear-bud, musical worlds. The buses are always late, so there is plenty of time to talk, and the other kids pretty much ignore our conversation.

Jayne Jeff: “I don’t understand this . . . . You’ve got no band, yet you seem to have plenty of time for developing an entire website.”

Riley Ripintyme: “Oh I had that website up before I even started Gunther’s class. The books and some of the other stuff I added later–after the class began.”

JJ: “ Gee, that explains everything.”

RR: “ You seem upset.”

JJ: “ You could say that.”

RR: “But, why?”

 JJ: “Why? Your website’s got a store selling T-shirts, posters, CDs,  a  press kit– even profiles of the band members . . . and you don’t have a band . . . that’s why!!”

RR: “Well I figured, get the website up first–you know, create a buzz.”

JJ: “OK . . . alright. But . . . it’s one thing for you to put up a website about a nonexistent band; quite another, when you promote a nonexistent book (Playing Her Guitar Suite—Endgame, no less!) that I’m supposed to have written.”

 RR: “You worry too much; more than likely, nobody will visit the website anyway.”

JJ: “Wh-huh? You just got through saying that the website was going to create a buzz. Oh, what’s the use ,you’re incorrigible.”

RR: “I’m in what?”

JJ: “Never mind. Maybe I can salvage something from this conversation–tell me about starting a website. I’ll use that for a post on my blog site.”

RR: “ OK, yeah. I got this book on website design—confusing! So I called up the author . . . turns out he’s local . . . right here in LA. When I tell him about my project, he’s all excited. Says I’m just what he’s been looking for! Says he’ll put me and my band in his next book . . . exposure . . . blah,blah,blah.

For a 1,000 bucks.

So I went online, did some tutorials . . . put it up myself.”

 JJ: “I can work with that . . . but . . .”

RR: “But what?”

 JJ: “The posts really should be about guitar.”

RR: “Hey, what about your granddad?

JJ: “What about him?”

RR: “For years he owned and operated the world famous Twisty Road Café, right?”

JJ: “Yeah?”

 RR: “And every world famous guitarist played there, right?

 JJ: “Yeah . . .and . . .”

RR: “Well, I’m sure he’s got some tasty stories about some famous guitarists—and those stories could make some great posts.”

JJ: “Actually, that’s not a half bad idea. But . . . still . . .”

RR: “I know, you want geeky guitar info.  Well, I can help with  the technical side of guitar: scales, chords, amps, effects . . . gear in general.”

JJ: “That would be helpful.”

RR: “Oh and here’s another thing; I’ve been having some real crazy guitar dreams–well here’s my ride, the number 2 bus—see you at school . . . .”

Riley disappears into the crowd and I’m left alone at the bus stop, waiting for the 720. I wonder, are we getting too far away from Gunther’s quote? And what does Riley mean by guitar dreams?

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Playing Her Guitar Ebook

                                                       Six weeks ago

“. . . In September 2013, four young musicians began a journey–traveling through a portal where space, time and music intersect.”

Those were the words spoken by Gunther Parigaliy–our seventh period instructor of a course called Multimedia Studies–at Unity High School, Los Angeles, California.  Each one of us in the small class were to apply the above quotation to our particular fields of interest, and we were to craft a separate project that would also be part of a larger whole. Riley Ripintyme, a guitarist in the class, was the first to speak, “I’ll start a band!”

Then I just said, “Hey, she likes playing her guitar!”

Gunther looked at me and said, “You’re a journalist. Why don’t you start a blog?”

I said, “Cool –I’ll write about Riley and her band. I’ll keep a journal of her experiences–the travails of starting a band and so on . . . a sort of ebook.”

As other members of the class shouted out their individual project ideas, my mind started to drift and my initial enthusiasm waned considerably. I was having second thoughts already. Had I spoken too soon?

The desire for a good grade in each class is something that is always in the back of my mind, and this is the only class I have in which I have to depend on another class member to complete the class requirements. I can’t start my project until Riley starts her band, and to make matters even more stressful, she is somewhat casual about her studies and grades in general. I am not. Another issue: how does Gunther grade? In all my other classes, it’s clear–just do your written assignments, score high on tests and quizzes–that’s it.  Gunther’s class . . . not so sure.

Why are grades so important to me? Good grades mean good GPA. A good GPA means going to a good university and ultimately getting  a decent job doing what I love–journalism and creative writing.

Other concerns outside of class were gnawing at my brain as well.  Money . . . if I don’t get a scholarship—no college.  I’ll just be another FTA (Future Telemarketer of America)–or a zombie wearing the blue vest of shame at MonsterMart . . . retail for the living dead.

                                                 Six weeks later (Today)

Riley and I are sitting here on the grassy knoll at Unity High campus. I turn to Riley and say, “Talk to me, girl. Tell me all about your band. What’s going on?”

Riley’s playing her ESP Explorer guitar, unamplified; but I can still hear that she is playing the guitar solo from Stairway to Heaven. Riley looks up and says, “I don’t have a band.”

“Excuse me. That’s your part of the project. I can’t do mine unless you do yours. Hello.” I say. Riley continues playing her guitar and I interrupt, “Did you hear me?”

“Yeah, I heard you. Look, creating a band isn’t as easy as it sounds—I need a bass player, a drummer and  a singer. It’s not like just putting up a website and typing away, you know.” Riley says.

“The point is . . .  I have to post something on my blog. What am I supposed to do if you don’t have a band?” I answer.

“You’re a journalist, right? So, journal – do research about the guitar. That’s what journalists do, don’t they?” says Riley.

“Yeah, but . . .” I say.

“There’s my ride—gotta go.  Oh, by the way, I already have a website.” Riley says.

“No, no, no –you’re supposed to be starting a band!” I shout as she‘s running towards the street.

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