guitar therapy

I try to hang out with my guitar a little bit every day because nothing really takes your mind off shit like noodling around on the strings until your fingertips are numb.  I put a lot of work into writing my own material, but no matter how much time and energy I expend on creating my own stuff, the songs I always end up coming back to and playing over and over again were written by other people.  I’m hardly a musician, but I guess I do have a little bit of a knack for deconstructing punk rock songs down to their bare bones — that’s what I do in Cunt Sparrer, and it’s what I’ve been doing lately when I get frustrated with my inability to come up with my own tunes.

So, for lack of anything else to post about, here are a couple of my super-rudimentary punk rock covers, which I record periodically and upload to my Youtube account, saraplayspunksongs:

“All This & More” (with apologies to the Dead Boys):

“Adult Books” (with apologies to X):

“Don’t Mess With Cupid” (with apologies to the New York Dolls):

As you can probably tell, I can only play a handful of chords, but I make do with what I got.  And what I got (as one of my original songs says) has got me to the gettin’ place.

My buddy Kevin Seconds liked my New York Dolls cover enough to ask if I want to record it and include it on a new comp he’s putting out for his upcoming Arms Aloft Musical Roadshow tour, so that’s pretty cool.  (Actually, it’s really cool…like, a-little-bit-beside-myself cool.  I’ve known Kevin for a couple of years now and he’s watched me make a complete drunken fool of myself in more than one southwestern state, but I don’t think I’ll ever fully get over being able to collaborate with someone who has been a huge icon to me for, like, my entire punk rock career.)

A comment I hear pretty often from girls, both here on this blog and out at my shows, is that they’d like to be playing music but they think it’s “too late” to learn or that they don’t have the innate ability they think is necessary to get the hang of an instrument.  I really get this.  I used to feel like this too.  I didn’t start teaching myself to play guitar until I was 20, and I was almost 25 by the time that Cunt Sparrer started performing.  I still don’t feel like I have much more musical skill than I did back on the day I took my old Daisy Rock acoustic out of the packaging, but the point is that over the years I’ve managed, somehow, to fake it.  Listen — I really don’t have any illusions about my talent or lack thereof, but I used to not know how to strum a lick, and now I can get a guitar to do pretty much what I want it to do.  And it feels good!

It’ll probably be several more years (if ever) before I stop correcting people when they refer to me as a musician, but I’m at least starting to get used to the idea that talent is what you make of it.  There are detractors — there will always be detractors! — but having the confidence to put your shit out there is seriously way more than half the battle, and you never know, it could end up dumping some cool opportunities in your lap.

I think it would be cool to hear from female musicians (and aspiring female musicians!) in the comments.  What are you guys doing and playing and creating and covering and recording?  What projects do you have in mind for the future?  Show and tell!

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3 responses to “guitar therapy

  1. Hi Sara! I’m a lurker who’s been meaning to introduce myself for awhile, and this is the perfect opportunity. (I wanted to say something on the recent post about struggling with depression, but never got around to it…such is the lot of the procrastinatory mood-disordered.)

    I’m Rose, from Seattle. I had this same experience of thinking it was too late for me to ever call myself a legitimate musician, and in fact wrote about it myself a few months ago (http://www.mcmayhem.com/2011/11/25/i-want-a-new-drug/). The first time this happened, I was SEVENTEEN. Seventeen! A baby! Then again at 23, when I finally took a chance and joined my first band as a bassist who barely knew which string the E was, and years after that fell apart, I had to overcome the hesistation again at 29 to decide “to hell with this Rock Band shit, I know how to hold down a 3-chord, 4/4 rock song- it’s for real this time.” So I got over the fact that I’d never be a 14-year-old virtuouso, but SO FUCKING WHAT, went out and found some people who didn’t care that I was hardly Jaco Pastorius, and can say with absolute convinction that it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I’m 31 now and have been through a few bands in the last couple of years which have progressively challenged me and given me the confidence to achieve what I originally set out to do:
    1) sing AND play bass
    2) hold my own playing with people whose ability I admire
    3) feel justified in calling myself a musician
    Looking back and seeing how far I’ve come in just a couple of years just encourages me to keep going- I started learning guitar around xmas this year, something that I’d previously thought was way out of my league, and now I even have people asking ME for help and advice, which is humbling and astounding.
    The one thing I’ve noticed through this process is how much I was holding myself back because I was afraid of not being perfect, and I wonder how common that is among women musicians. Guys tend to just throw themselves into it, and care less about being an expert before they try working with others. I wanted to go into it making a great impression, but at what point do you finally decide you’re ready? You can always make the excuse that you have to put off taking that step until you learn this one next thing, and then this other thing…I think I also harbored a fear that because of the scarcity of women in rock, if I didn’t present well, it was going to reflect on my entire gender, and so that was making me hesitate as well. If you can get over worrying about that, though, the rewards are incredible. Being in a band is SO MUCH FUCKING FUN.

    As for what I’m doing now, I was recently able to cross another aspiration off my list: playing with girls. I just joined an all-girl Soundgarden tribute band- we recorded our demo last week, and hopefully will be playing shows by the end of March! http://www.bleedtogether.com/home.cfm

  2. Sara!!! I love these videos of you playing and singing. You are so freakin’ cute!

  3. Hi, I’m Aurora, another long-time lurker, musician, and depressionaut. I completely relate to this post, and to mcmayhem’s response. At some point, you just have to make that leap of faith and believe that you can hold your own. Because the thing about musicianship is that no one is ever perfect. There is always room to improve. That can make it incredibly difficult to keep going some days, but that’s also one of the very best, most rewarding things about it.

    Having to represent the entirety of Team Girl can be daunting: there’s this common sexist trope that if a guy guitarist (bassist, drummer, keyboardist, etc) screws up, he’s given the benefit of the doubt, he’s just having a bad day, everyone hits a wrong note or drops their pick occasionally; at worst then he personally sucks as a musician, but it’s not a judgment about his entire gender. If a women, on the other hand, fucks up her lead or bass line or whatever, well, pfft, what did you expect, girls can’t play for shit, amiritedudes? And it can be pretty confidence-destroying. We always have to be twice as good for half the credit.

    I’ve been exposed to and to some degree internalized a lot of really toxic baggage about women guitarists. I’ve been playing since I was nine, I studied classical guitar eight years, and at one point I was considering conservatory instead of university. So I have chops, I know my way around the fretboard, and as a result I can in fact tell one end of a guitar from the other which apparently is shocking. Yet the second I walk into a guitar shop I suddenly turn invisible. If I never get asked if I’m “with the band” again, it will be too soon. I’ve played lead guitar in a few bands, bass in a couple of others, and judging from reactions I’ve gotten this makes me some kind of magical unicorn or something: a lady? On stage? Wearing clothing that covers her naughty bits? Playing an instrument competently? Inconceivable!

    For a while I got so sick of the constant onslaught of seriously misogynist crap getting thrown my way that I quit my band and spent almost a decade as a frustrated bedroom guitarist. I missed playing with other people and gigging desperately, but at the same time I was having a crisis of confidence, and was wrapped up in a hated soul-draining job that was sucking all my time and energy. Eventually (fairly recently) I came to the same conclusion that mcmayhem did and decided that a bunch of regressive buffoons were not going to keep me from pursuing the thing that has brought me such joy. Life is too short, you know?

    As a result, I’ve begun a new project, The Scarlet Conspiracy. We’re hoping to get an EP recorded this summer and start playing out.

    BTW, the New York Dolls are one of my favourite bands of all time and I really like your cover of “Don’t Mess With Cupid.” I’d high-five you right through the internet if I could.

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