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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Inspiration

Inspiration to pick up a musical instrument comes from a variety of places. I've heard many guys my age say seeing somebody like Kurt Cobain or Rivers Cuomo or Billie Joe Armstrong play guitar was their inspiration. Then I've heard of people say some guitar virtuoso like Jimmy Page or Steve Vai was their inspiration. For me, my inspiration to pick up a guitar came from a rather unlikely source: Dolores O'Riordan of the cranberries.

It's summer of '94 and the video for the cranberries' "Zombie" is on MTV every day. I love the song (especially the drum part) and the mostly black and white video (complete with an on-camera performance by the band). One day, after seeing the video many times before, I noticed a shot of singer/guitarist O'Riordan playing a simple, descending guitar line on the high E string before one of the verses. Seeing how simple it looked to play, I thought I could emulate the same thing on my mother's acoustic guitar (which was lying comfortably in a case in our gameroom's closet). I get the guitar out and fidget around until I think I've got it down. More and more, I kept getting the guitar out to try and find new sounds, much to the dismay of my sister's ears/taste.

About a year before this, my uncle showed me a few barre and open chords on the guitar. The deal was, I couldn't really get my head around pressing all of my fingers on a fretboard at an odd angle (it really hurts the first few times!). Now with this interest in figuring out simple guitar lines, it would soon be natural to learn traditional chords. How I learned them came from the cranberries once again.

Sometime during the fall/winter of '94, MTV airs "the craberries: Unplugged" a few times. I have it on tape and watch their live performance of "Linger" (one of my favorite songs of their's) over and over. After a certain number of repeated viewings, I looked down to see what O'Riordan was playing on the song. Turns out, "Linger" is only four chords repeated over and over for the entire song. I would soon learn those open chords and not cower in pain from playing them.

While I still prefer to play drums in a live rock band setting, I pull out my guitar from time to time. My knowledge of chords and technique expanded a little via the power chords found in altera-rock and punk rock and the weird, non-traditional chords found in post-hardcore and the Smashing Pumpkins. I'm too fidgety with playing chords over and over so it comes as no surprise that the only times that I've played guitar has been as a pseudo-lead guitarist.

In an early incarnation of what became the 11:30s and for two shows near the end of the 11:30s' tenure, I played lead guitar on some songs. Emulating what I was hearing at the time (Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Coldplay, Radiohead and Sigur Ros), my lines were not that far off from Dolores O'Riordan's line in "Zombie." You could say that I hadn't really progressed but I was just enjoying the moment and not thinking about my chops.

While drummers like John Bonham and Lars Ulrich inspired me to pick up the drums and bassists like James Jamerson, Peter Hook and Bruce Foxton to pick up the bass, I think my inspiration for the guitar is a tad strange. Musical inspiration knows no gender, but I hear all the time about how seeing a guitarist play four barre chords inspired someone, but it almost always is via a male guitarist. Now I'm not saying that Dolores O'Riordan is a wimpy guitarist- I think she plays what's best for the song. That kind of inspiration still rings true for me, whether I'm playing the guitar, the bass or drums.

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