Thoughts by Richard Bleil
A few days ago (as of the writing of this post) I started guitar lessons, and yes, I am still practicing despite my two new gaming systems. My instructor asked me to choose five songs (I will learn two) for the lessons, so, of course, I chose six. I thought it might be fun to write about the songs I’ve chosen and to say a bit about them.
The reason I wanted to learn guitar in the first place, many decades ago, was because of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by the Beatles. This is one of my favorite Beatle songs, and yet, interestingly enough, it was not written by the power duo of John and Paul who wrote most of the Beatle songs. No, it’s not a cover either although early in their career they did do some covers (like Twist and Shout, cover of a song by Phil Medley and Bert Berns, originally recorded by the Isley Brothers). While My Guitar Gently Weeps was actually written by George Harrison, although John and Paul did have significant influence on it. The band would have meetings to look at songs and decide what to put on upcoming albums, and when George first introduced the song, the decision was made that it just wasn’t ready yet. It was turned down multiple times and sent back for George to improve it. It must have been frustrating for him, but it’s an important lesson for all of us. It was being denied because John and Paul saw the potential in it, although I’m sure to George it just felt like he was being treated unfairly. The last time he introduced it, went outside for a smoke and came back expecting it to be rejected yet again. In fact, it is probably one of the greatest Beatle songs (at least in my opinion) ever recorded.
During the first guitar lesson, my instructor showed me the power chord rift for Ironman by Black Sabbath, but, no, that’s not my second choice. However, that rift is very similar to Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple. Smoke on the Water is actually a song based on real events. Deep Purple managed to pull off something of a coup when they managed to organize a concert for charity with some really big names of the time like Frank Zappa. Unfortunately, an arsonist decided to burn down their venue (“but some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground, smoke on the water, a fire in the sky”). The song is actually about their race against time to find a new venue before the opportunity to play with these legends disappeared.
How can I not include Neil Young’s Heart of Gold? This has been my theme song for my entire life. “It’s such a fine line that keeps me searching for a heart of gold, and I’m getting old.” Amen brother, preach it! Sadly, as the twilight of my years approach entirely too quickly, it seems my search will be in vain. I love the acoustic guitar work on this song. There are several songs by Neil that touch me deeply (some to the point of extruding tears whenever I hear them), but this song feels as if he wrote it just for me.
The newest song in my list is House on the Hill by The Pretty Reckless. I truly enjoy several new artists because many of them have sounds reminiscent, at least to me, of classic rock. House on the Hill is about children losing their innocence as they grow older. Taylor Momsen, who you might know as Cindy Lou Who when she played opposite Jim Carey in the Grinch, has made it no secret that she was raised Catholic and has issues with the church in the lyrics of several of her songs, including this one when she sings “but the children are doing fine, I think about them all of the time, until they drink the wine and they will…they will”.
Romeo and Juliet by dIRE sTRAITS (I love how they used this capitalization on one of their albums) is just a beautiful and heartbreaking song with gorgeous acoustic guitar work. The song is actually about Romeo who continues to pine for his former lover Juliet although she has moved on. Again, heartbreaking lyrics (are you seeing a theme here?) such as “I can’t do the talk like the talk on t.v., and I can’t do a love song, no, not the way it’s meant to be. I can’t do everything, but I’d do anything for you. I can’t do anything but be in love with you.” Even as I type it I’m getting a lump in my throat.
Finally, I’m thinking about Breaking the Girl by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, mainly for the guitar work. This is a song about a man who was basically messed up by his hero, his father, and the way he treated women. “Raised by my dad, girl of the day. He was my man, that was the way.” It’s a powerful statement and warning to parents to model their behaviors appropriately around their children, because we all learn our habits from watching our parents.
Before my next lesson, I’ll no doubt think of a dozen more songs for the list, but this is what I will present (perhaps dropping one). I just hope I don’t cry in front of him.