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1999.04.DD - Guitar - Teaching Twister to the Blind: A Beginner's Guitar Lesson with Slash

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1999.04.DD - Guitar - Teaching Twister to the Blind: A Beginner's Guitar Lesson with Slash Empty 1999.04.DD - Guitar - Teaching Twister to the Blind: A Beginner's Guitar Lesson with Slash

Post by Blackstar on Sun Mar 29, 2020 7:05 pm

Teaching Twister to the Blind
A Beginner's Guitar Lesson with Slash

by Katherine Turman

There's a famous saying that tends to rankle music journalists: something to the effect of "writers write 'cause they can't rock." In the space of an hour, locked in my own private, soundproofed hell with Slash as impromptu guitar teacher, we proved the adage to be, as Metallica put it, "sad but true."

If there's only one way to rock, I couldn't find it - not even under Slash's surprisingly patient tutelage. The revelation came as somewhat of a surprise because Slash makes it look so easy. And isn't the celebrated Guns N' Roses axeman always spouting off about what an unschooled player he is? No problem, I thought. I'd be playing "Welcome to the Jungle" by the end of our first lesson. Fat chance.

The humiliation site was an elaborately equipped home recording studio in the basement of Slash's Beverly Hills home. Apropos phrases ran through my head: "Snakepit Studios - where no one can hear you scream." Or, "just when you thought it was sage to take out your earplugs."

"To play like Slash, you have to use a Slash pick," offered Slash's kindly guitar tech, Adam Day, placing the signature plectrum in my shaky paw. If only it was that easy. All started out fine. Then the second minute of the first lesson began.

"I don't even have the guitar on right... I need very much help here!" I moaned as Teach broke into a Metallica riff. I asked how to adjust the strap as we sat on facing stools. First mistake.

"No. No. You can't. Don't adjust it. One size fits all." groaned Slash, glaring slightly in my direction.

I knew I was in for a long hour.

It was all the more frustrating since my instruction came as a special favor. "Any time anyone's ever asked me for a lesson, I've declined," said Slash. "For one, I'm not credible enough to do it. Two, I don't have the patience. And three, I don't know what I'm doing anyway."

Well, then we have something in common. Make that three things.

"Hey, I didn't call you!" said the axe-master as I struggled just to hold the guitar on my lap. He began the lesson with surprising tenderness for a man with callous hands, imported cigarettes, and snakes as pets. A few minutes later, however, I'd driven him to drink, as he was taking regular sips from a tumbler filled with vodka and cranberry juice.

"What kind of stuff do you like?" Slash asked. A perfectly normal question.

"Well, I like a lot of Southern Rock stuff, like Lynyrd Skynyrd," I replied. A perfectly normal answer, or so I thought.

"No, no, no," came the emphatic response.

"Smoke on the Water?" I queried.

"If I showed you 'Smoke on the Water,' it wouldn't be cool," replied the guitar guru. "That's the first thing every kid learns. It's almost embarrassing. It's the '90s; you have to move on."

Shamed again. All I knew is I didn't want to learn anything by the Smashing Pumpkins. No problem. Slash doesn't know anything by 'em anyway.

"Well, how about that Metallica song you were just playing?" I asked hopefully.

From behind the dark glasses, I could sense the disbelief.

"That's great, that's just great. No, I can't teach you that," he laughed. "Actually I don't remember that song. I played it once."

"With Metallica, naturally?" I said.

"Yeah. It was actually Sebastian [Bach] and Lars [Ulrich] and James [Hetfield] and Axl [Rose] and Duff [McKagan]. We did Skid Row, Guns and Metallica songs."

"And now," I'm sure he was thinking, "I'm reduced to teaching imbeciles what frets are."

We began again. "The first thing you need to know is a chord. The three or four real basic ones. This one's prettty simple. Put your..."

"Index finger?"

"No, your middle finger on the second fret on the fourth, no fifth string."

"From the bottom?" I asked, starting to sweat.

"The hightest string is the high E. This is the low E. This is top to bottom. Top being the hightest. Then B G D A are in between."

He carefully placed my fingers on the neck of his Les Paul. "Oh, these are frets, by the way." he said laughing.

Hey, whaddaya think I am - stupid? Well, yes, he probably does.

"This is an E chord we're trying to do. AC/DC uses it a lot. Your first finger on thte G string."

"The first string?"

"No. Third string." A quiet sigh and another sip. "First fret."

"Ouch. My fingers hurt."

"You gotta hold it down. Now take your plectrum..."

"My what?" How little I know.

"Your guitar pick. Take your pick and hit all the strings."

Slash demonstrated effortlessly. I followed, less effortlessly, producing a sound somewhere between an off-key clock chime and a wet newspaper hitting porch steps.

"Pretty good," Slash lied. "So you got that. Another one that's in the same position is tan A minor chord. You do the same thing, only here - take your hand here and go here..."

I tried to follow his example, but even fewer true notes rang out. I considered fleeing, but the door to the studio appeared to be locked, so I tried to talk my way out of the uncomfortable situation.

"Uh, so, what was it like when you started playing?"

"When I was about 18, people just wanted me to put the thing down," mused Slash. "I tried to take lessons, and to give credit where credit's due, there's a guy named Robert Roland. And the first time that I went to take lessons, I was going to play bass and [GN'R drummer] Steven Adler was the guitar player. I was 15, and Robert said, 'What do you want to play?' And I said, "the one that has four strings on it."

That soon changed after Slash's grandmother gave him his first guitar... and it had only one string. Hmm, maybe that's what I need?

My diversion only wastted a few minutes, then Slash returned to the tas at hand, clearly following the theory that the faster he tried to teach me, the faster the lesson would be over. I struggled to hold my now-numbed fingers on the strings.

"I'm afraid I'm not a very good student so far," I said sadly.

"No, I'm a lousy teacher," offered Slash.

"How soon 'til I'm playing "Welcome to the Jungle"?

He averted my hopeful gaze. "Let's get through these first, couple chords," he offered, grabbing his drink again. "This is the A string. This is the nucleus of every AC/DC song ever written. Take the second fret, same finger, third string, okay? Then your third finger, ring finger, put that on the same fret and then on the second string, your index finger. First fret. Don't hit the E string. Now we can do 'Angie.'"

He did. I didn't.

"You could do 'Greensleeves,' but that means you have to incorporate finger movements in all these different places, so you have to get comfortable moving your fingers around different chords."

Like hell.

In theory, it sounded okay, but in practice it was like trying to speak fluent Spanish after watching 15 minutes of a Pedro Almodovar film.

"You need to know one more chord at least," the instructor continued, breaking into the opening lick of "House of the Rising Sun."

"Is there an easy way for me to remember the strings?" I asked, struggling with the basics.

"Yeah," he said, looking somewhat perturbed. "I didn't think about this before; ummm... Every Asshole Does Generally Bullshit Easy. No, that's wrong. From bottom to top. Tope being the bottom. That's high. Okay, EBGDAE - Every Boy Goes Down An Elevator," he said, clarifying. "This is just for you, not for some poor kid on the street to figure out!"

"Can I learn a barre chord?" I asked hopefully.

"Okay. I'll show you one." he replied. "This is a G barre chord. First finger laid all the way down on the third fret, every string. Second finger third string, fourth fret. This is a bitch," he acknowledged. "I practice this a lot." He strummed, Offspring-style, and the heavy silver chains on his wrist jangled.

By that point, his drink was gone, and so were my high hopes. He must have noticed my long face. "Take the chords that sound Russian to you now and learn how to do them, just because they are tried and true chords," he gently advised. "Learn 'em and go, 'Okay, what do I do with these?' Without harping on the subject, first things first. Just learn basic chords. I taught you E major and A minor. It's like exercising."

Oh, good, there's another thing I don't do.

"It's like learning how to use a clutch," he added hopefully.

"Is that an effect pedal? "Oh, you mean on a car." Yet another thing I don't do. If I hadn't set this lesson up myself, I would have been looking for the camera: 15 minutes of fame on a special segment of "America's Funniest Home Videos" called "America's Most Inept Students." Bob Saget would have a field day.

As I fumbled through what I'd been taught, Slash, his equanimity intact, related that he began playing at 15 and was in a band by 16. And he doesn't feel there are people who can't learn to play. (And this comment came after our lesson! Victory is mine! Sort of.) Well, if Slash was 15... maybe by the time I'm 40 I'll be able to master "Louie Louie."



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