Let It Bleed
Yesterday lunch-time, I was put on child-care duty for a couple of hours, left to amuse and watch over our lovely three-year old Noel while my wife went out and about.
“He’s playing with the bath toys,” she said as she left. “Just go downstairs and let him know you’re here.”
So I did. He was kneeling over the bath, pouring water from a washing-up bowl in and out of a few containers as three year olds are wont to do, pointing out the various plastic toys to me as he did so. “Whale.” “Fish.” “Boat.” “Duck.” (What kind of parents would we be if we didn’t provide him with a rubber duck?)
It was fun for a while. But only a little while. Three-year olds have more fun playing with bath toys than adults. Fortunately, Noel has some mature hobbies too. As I think I stated back at the time, we bought him a thirty-dollar miniature acoustic guitar for his birthday/Christmas, and he’s rarely let it out of sight. It’s a pretty good guitar to be honest, stays nicely in tune, lets out a decent ring, and I often walk around the house with it like it’s a ukelele. Noel has been playing it more and more often recently as he’s become an increasingly passionate devotee of our friend and neighbor, Uncle Rock. (I’ve raved about Uncle Rock before and will do so again; any of you with kids aged ‘tween 1 and 10, please go check out his music. Your children will thank you for it.) He’s even taken to strumming the open strings and singing a couple of Uncle Rock’s songs by memory. One of them is about a Polar Bear; the other is a Superhero medley that ends with the Clique/R.E.M. garage rock classic “Superman.” I may not love spending my child care hours pointing to plastic ducks in the bath, but when it comes to singing “Superman,” I’m down. As I worked on the laptop in the spare room, Noel sat on the bed hitting the open strings on the down beat, doing his little best to pronounce some words, looking to me every couple of bars to help him out. It was a blast. His rhythm was so good I was even able to keep working while singing with him.
After about thirty minutes – it was an extended version – he finally put the guitar down and looked at his fingers. My wife had told me of a similar scenario a couple of weeks back when he was surprised and upset to find them blistered. He’ll get used to it, I assured her; blistered fingers are part and parcel of becoming a good guitar player. So when he walked over to me, I expected him to show me his calluses and I fingered I’d kiss them better and that would hopefully be the end of it. But when he came closer, I saw just how very red they were. They weren’t just blistered, they were bleeding. Noel had put so much energy into his rudimentary power chords that he’d cut open his index finger.
I was so proud of him! Blisters and calluses are inevitable until your fingers build up strength. But cutting your fingers on the guitar is a mark of real devotion. Pete Townshend claims he used to lose whole fingernails in the early days of the Who, slicing and dicing through those windmills of his. I’ve never gone that far, but on my wedding day, I stood in with my own Rickenbacker for “I Can’t Explain” and “Teenage Kicks,” and hit it with all the amateur enthusiasm that comes from not playing very often. When I finished, the guests stared at me in horror. Was I that bad? Possibly, but their expressions were primarily from all the blood splattered over my guitar and my white shirt. What can I say? I never much liked guitar picks.
So, after I washed down Noel’s hands and assured myself that the cut was a mere nick, I checked his guitar and sure enough, there was blood all over the strings and the wooden body. Here’s the evidence, as captured for posterity:
Do I seem a little, excuse the pun, callous about all this? Perhaps; we dads can be unforgiving at times. But before you report me to his mother, let me tell you what came next. After I washed down his finger, he took my hand, walked away from the acoustic – not that I blame him – and led me to the Rickenbacker that is now permanently on display in our living room-music room. Then he instructed me via gestures to plug it in and turn on the amp, and made his request: “Daddy: Superman!” (Even I can play this song: It’s E and A major throughout, with a D major thrown in at the end of each verse.) As soon as I started playing, he walked over to the drums, which are also on permanent display in our living room-music room, picked up a pair of sticks and started playing along. Not in time. But with impressive vigor. If his finger bothered him, he certainly wasn’t going to let it stop him banging the drums. I’m sure we both agreed: baby-sitting has never been so much fun.
This morning I retuned his acoustic guitar to an open G chord. We may just have us a real guitar player in the family.