Sieze The Means of Amusement and Play Guitar
Back in the ’40s, Woody Guthrie stuck a message on his guitar: This Machine Kills Fascists. Today’s humble home troubadour might go with a different slogan: This Machine Kills the Global Entertainment Complex.
The best defense against the stream of mediocre, soul-crushing, at at times downright wicked content our media assails us with in the name of “pop culture” begins at home. Keep a guitar around. Learn to play. Have sing-a-longs. Get your kids to play. Start a family band.
The secret is, you don’t have to be that skilled to start playing songs. And playing songs makes you get better. Pick up the guitar today and you’ll be able to strum a few carols by Epiphany.
Ukuleles are good too. Even more portable than guitars, and easier to learn (fretting is much more forgiving). And yet they are capable of great musical sophistication. With that in mind, while you can find $20 ukes, they probably won’t be much better than a toy and will ultimately prove frustrating.
For a quality, American-made instrument that will last for generations, look no further then Mele Ukuleles. Mele began crafting their gorgeous, extremely playable ukes on Maui in 1993; since then countless professionals and amateurs alike have used them to spread “the sweet sound of Aloha.”
Show me a popular song from the last 70 years and I’ll show you a guy on YouTube teaching you to play it. Such a bounty of free guitar instruction makes it very tempting to go it alone, but nothing motivates regular practice like the guidance and accountability only regular lessons can provide. Face to face is ideal, but remote can be also be very effective, especially as it can give you access to world-class teachers. Venerable Santa Monica guitar shop McCabe’s has a list here.
This is not to say you can’t get good results from a less personalized online course. Founded in 1998, Guitar Tricks is the oldest guitar instruction site and widely considered the best. You can learn more about its highly-structured approach — and deep library of video lessons — in this review.
1968 (as any boomer will tell you) was a year of revolution. And rock music wanted in. “Cause summer’s here and the time is right for fighting in the streets,” Mick Jagger howled in “Street Fighting Man.” (After their execution by fascist British authorities, the Rolling Stones were lauded as populist heroes, and to this day their music survives on bootleg tapes circulated by the underground resistance).
Meanwhile, another young Brit was taking a more reactionary position. A informal US touring ban (some kind of vague union dust-up) and a recent nervous breakdown had put Kinks frontman Ray Davies in a pensive mood: maybe some tradition just might be worth keeping? As he put it in an interview: “I hope England doesn’t change….I hope we don’t get swallowed up by America and Europe. I’m really proud of being British …We have so much that is great, compared with other countries, and people just don’t realise it. I want to keep writing very English songs.”
The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society is the result of that ambition. A pronounced departure from the American blues-based rock of their earlier hits, Village Green incorporates elements of British folk, music hall, and calypso into a collection of linked songs about an idealized English village and its inhabitants. A flop upon release, the album is now widely beloved for its beautifully-observed, slightly melancholy potrayal of a vanishing world that few of their contemporaries had the sense to think worth mourning.
Many siblings have, like Ray and Dave Davies, started bands. Few can claim to have founded entire genres. In August 1973 Bronx teenager Cindy Campbell wanted money for back-to-school clothes. Her solution was to throw a party featuring music by her brother Clive, better known in the neighborhood by his stage name, DJ Kool Herc. Herc was already a draw for his recent. crowd-pleasing innovation of isolating and prolonging the drum “breaks” on funk records using two turntables. With a microphone he would exhort those inspired to dance with snatches of rhyming exhortations inspired by the “toasters” of his native Jamaica. That party at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue was a success, and also the moment when Herc’s resourceful and ingenious assemblage of various musical traditions and techniques began to coalesce into the worldwide phenomenon known as hip hop.