Whole lotta shakin’ … not going on

Time is a strange beast. Sometimes a straight line plummetting down into the depths, dragging us down as it goes, sometimes a great circle and we sit on the circumference watching our present, our past, and our future whizz by, just out of reach. Ok, maybe it’s a spiral. The fact is, that every so often we revisit our past. Past girlfriends, past places, past lives. We know that everything will be different, yet we still strangely expect it to be the same.

Yesterday I bumped into my past, my present and my future simultaneously. And it was strange. What made it particularly strange is that while said bumping was in occurrence, I noticed that the strangeness had been noted on facebook. ‘Waiting for Jedi’, read the status report.

I suppose I ought to explain. Yesterday, I popped out of the ‘office’ to visit a friend and old student. Make no mistake, this gentleman is a highly accomplished guitarist. Like me, he has trod the publishing boards, producing articles, columns and cds for various publications. Now, I don’t mind admitting that I was somewhat nervous. After all, when I was teaching him, I was uber-guitarist (rock), and my every note was hung upon by students such as he. I was worried that he would dazzle me into some humility – is that it? I’m unsure.

No. I wanted to be dazzled. And I wasn’t disappointed. While by his own admission a little rusty, he showed a maturity in his playing which was very impressive.

I was worried that he would think I sucked. That he would re-consider his opinion of me. That would hurt.

So, I’m explaining the parky’s and showing how frigid and rigid my left hand is (and yesterday, for some reason – tension? – it really was pitiful) and then picked up a guitar. Yes, I could barely string two notes together, but there were flashes of what my fingers could once do. I explained that so far as I can see, actions burnt into one’s muscle memory are less affected than those which require active nerve impulses. It’s the will which is denied by this disease. All the same, my fingers were less than impressive.

He fired up his amp, stuck on a backing track, and began to wail, as they say. I won’t lie, I was itching to have a go, but really rather scared at the possible outcome. After all, I have hardly picked up an electric guitar in the last ten years – I’ve probably spent as long playing an electric in that time as I used to spend in a day practising. And to add to that, I couldn’t remember the last time I played with an amplifier. It must be four or five years.

So. The track finishes. He hands me his guitar as naturally as can be, and I begin. It’s faltering at first, but my fingers begin to loosen up just a little, and every so often a nice little phrase pops out, or a burning little run flies from the speakers … in parts, it’s not bad.

He is very kind about my playing – overly so, but in some ways he’s right. There is some stuff still there. Some glimpses of what I used to be capable of.

But there is a caveat.

Every time I get to the end of a phrase – no matter whether it’s been any good or not – my fingers simply stop. Phrasing on a guitar is so dependent on that note, because it’s the pay-off … the note which you stamp with your personality. The note which you vibrato.

I discover something about vibrato. It doesn’t live in the muscle memory. It’s an instruction. You actively make the note sing.

I. Have. No. Vibrato.

This is shocking. Vibrato is one of the great leveller in guitaristic circles, and it’s one of the things parkinson’s has taken away. Ironic, really. A good, good friend said on hearing of my diagnosis that I ought to get a lap steel guitar, because ‘you’ll have the best vibrato’. The shaking palsy, however, seems to be preventing me from shaking notes. That, children, is the true definition of irony.

Now, I know that this disease, and the therapy which accompanies it, has changed me, in some ways quite fundamentally. As a guitarist, however, it has robbed me of my identity. Bastard.

A blog in time

Nunc stans

The idea of publishing old blogs – in this particular case two from the end of last year – is a strange one. The real question is one of editing. Does one edit to add value, to jazz up the prose, or does one simply leave the words as they were sprayed back on that day that they were conceived?

I chose, have chosen, will choose (tense is difficult when you’re writing for a different time, different times), to leave them as they are. They may not, as a result be accurate let alone interesting. I talk of performance anxiety (particularly ironic, considering some recent events), I and II. Right now I could expand upon them both, but I am going to pass up the opportunity to rewrite what was, in effect, my instantaneous re-writing of the past, via the then present, now past.

This last year has been a unreserved fuck-up. I am now in a position where I have none of the things I want, none of the things I need, simply because of my strange inability to control myself. My admission of fallibility has led me to living with a strange feeling of invulnerability. But the past always catches up, which is strange, considering it’s done and dusted.

But it’s never dusted, once done – it is dust. The past isn’t another country, it’s the mote in your left eye, that stops you looking to the log in your right. This is what blogs and memoirs are about. The opportunity to clean up the dust, to sweep it into a corner in a neat little pile, arranged perfectly in the way in which you want it. All it takes is a puff of wind, a swish of a cat’s tail, and it’s all uncontrollably swirly and alights wheresoever it wishes. And damn the consequences.

Once, we took photographs at concerts because they look good, sometimes, and because they transport us back to the experience – they are a gateway to re-experiencing. It’s a benign acid flashback, post-non-traumatic stress syndrome. We conjured the past.

Things have changed. Once, where we might have played the revisionist to make our set of personal life artefacts fit with the life we wish we had led, now we behave very differently.

Some years ago, I was watching David Byrne in some club in London (he did the most fantastic cover of Whitney Houston’s ‘I wanna dance with somebody’), up in the gallery. I suddenly noticed something rather strange. It looked like the audience were holding up lighters in the time-honoured fashion, but they were all square and luminous. I realised suddenly that they were the screens from digital cameras and mobile phones. The audience were half-listening, half recording. Some of them were, presumably, phoning up friends – ‘guess where I am!’

Now, this is far more prevalent. The advent of facebook, blogging and, most importantly, internet-ready phones, have led to an awful lot of live blogging. Last week, the guardian blogged a film live … dammit, we’re back to Plato again – the blog of the film of the script which was a fictionalised version of the revisionist histories of something which actually happened. The trend for live blogging is intriguing … as rather than watch and experience an event, the creator is fixed on interpretation from the outset. So they are creating our view of the past at the very moment that it’s happening. The past not only catches up with the present, but leaks into the future. The blogger blogs the now which will shape the past in the future.

Similarly, the facebook poster posts now so that friends can see what they were up to … no matter how contemporaneous the reading and the writing might be. How candid is the poster? Well, I’d say they’re invariably more than aware of what they’re writing. To whit one poster recently posting thus: xxx is drunk enough to know that I’m drunk, but not drunk enough to broadcast this on Facebook. I think I’m doing well … Damn.

Even my tagline on this blog is self-aware.

So past is created in the present. But we know this. The shift is that the revisionism which always occurs with the past when it is recalled is now increasingly built-in to both accounts and artefacts. No longer is experience the point, but the transmitting of experience. And yet the experience we communicate is the experience we want to happen, rather than the experience as it happened … and the revisionism happens immediately.

Recent events make me wonder whether I’m losing my grip on the real world. Whatever that is.

So. The question is, what am I revising here? Oddly enough, a Radio 4 gameshow called The Unbelievable Truth. The repeat, naturally.

© Pete Langman 2010