Live & Unplugged

My dad taught me to drive, and to do Sudoku puzzles, and how to shade the iris of an eye in a life drawing to make it look real. He taught me to pack a suitcase properly, and how to ski better, and when I was 13 or 14, he taught me how to play the guitar. The first thing he showed me was a series of three very easy chords; the kind of thing everyone learns to play in the beginning. I practiced in fits and starts over the years, occasionally going through phases where I'd add a few new chords to the mix and start strumming tunes that sounded vaguely recognizable, but aways getting frustrated and giving up, neglecting the hobby again for months at a time.

I never got any better; that was the problem. I couldn't change chords quickly enough and I was always far too embarrassed to sing along with what I was playing, opting instead for a tepid hum. I had a few embarrassing moments at parties during college, when the guitars would come out at 2am and the Merlot had convinced me I was Joni Mitchell. A boy would hand me the instrument and I'd strum my three beginner chords---D, G, A7, D, G, A7, D, G, A7---over and over again, until everyone would slowly come to the realization that I wasn't going to break into something recognizable, and I'd hand the guitar back and take another sip. I was in a band for five minutes when I lived in Connecticut; we were called Token Chick, a name conceived in a Dunkin Donuts parking lot. I was the token chick. We had one practice in someone's garage---I don't remember his name but he had a statue of the Virgin Mary on his front lawn and the dirtiest, messiest bathroom I'd ever seen---and that was the end of that. I think my ability to only play three chords might have had something to do with it. You can't really make it big when the only song you know is "Oh Susanna."

My dad has played the guitar ever since I can remember; I have a picture in my head of him playing in every country we've lived in, with the snow outside in Holland and the desert outside in Abu Dhabi. I was in Barcelona one summer when I was 21 and I caught a snippet of one of the classical Spanish pieces he plays; it was being performed by some buskers on the corner. I immediately pictured him in his study on a Sunday afternoon in Connecticut or Hong Kong or Paris or London, the smell of cigar smoke in the air, a fierce concentration presiding, and him wearing the same green sweater he wears in all the memories of my childhood.

We had a lovely weekend while he was in Charleston; living so far from one's family, one often forgets how nice it is to see them, even for brief snatches of time. You forget how nothing needs to be explained. We went to an antiques show, and we walked through the historic district, and we went to see a bluegrass band, and we ate and we ate and we ate, but my favorite part of the weekend was the time we spent playing guitar together. He played, and then I played, and then he played, and then I played, and the cats looked on in awe, like, "is this the stereo? How are you doing this?"

I'm still pretty terrible, of course. Those three beginner chords are always going to be the mainstay of my repertoire, no matter that I learned a few more this weekend; I doubt Token Chick will have me back for an audition anytime soon. But I guess I'll keep practicing the way I kept practicing when I was learning to drive or learning to ski or learning to draw. I've been taught well, after all.

Mar 21, 2006

I always enjoy hearing the love you have for your family, Holly. Especially the stories about your dad. If, 25 years from now, my daughter waxes as warmly and eloquently about me as you do for your dad, I will be a very happy man (especially because I'll only be able to teach her 2 beginner chords!)

Mar 21, 2006

What a wonderful story. You dad sounds like an amazing person. And you do need to stick with it. You will get better, I promise.

Mar 21, 2006

i love how you can bring tears to my eyes with the simplest of images. i'm glad you enjoyed your weekend!

Mar 21, 2006

glad you had such a nice visit with your dad. cherish the times you get with him and your mom... i miss my parents terribly and often find myself jealous of friends that still have one or both of theirs.

Mar 21, 2006

My dad tried to teach me guitar too ... with about the same results. Except that I can play C F G A & Dsus. My brother actually practised and now he's a rock star (especially in his head). On the other hand, my dad used to play song after song after song for me so I could practise singing AND he taught me how to sing harmony.

On another note, I think I'm in love with your dad. Is that so wrong?

Mar 21, 2006

Dads are the best! Hey, you should write about boarding school-- why you went there what it was like, etc. I'm sure your readers would be interested.

krista- the silent k
Mar 21, 2006

I bet you could play like- every Nirvana song with those three chords!

Mar 21, 2006

Token Chick would be lucky to have you. You may not be a guitar virtuoso, but girl, you've got soul.

Mar 21, 2006


1. Your life sounds amazingly diverse and interesting -- both past and present.
2. Your dad sounds wonderful -- mine plays guitar, too and tried to teach me to play... then I got caught up in flamenco guitar (!) and everything went askew.
3. I think you could front a band, no problem. But you'd have to do something to keep your bangs out of your eyes while you rocked out.

I hope today is as excellent as your weekend, Holly!

Nothing But Bonfires
Mar 21, 2006

I think Token Chick really could have gone places if we'd called ourselves The Inadvertent Bangs instead.

Irony Queen
Mar 21, 2006

I have vivid memories of my dad playing the guitar and singing me to sleep. I never learned to play, but damn if I don't know all the words to those songs. (My brain is currently singing "Puff the Magic Dragon.")

To this day, I get a little extra hopeful when I discover that the guy I'm dating plays guitar. Serial murder? That's ok, as long as you'll play/sing our children to sleep.

Mar 21, 2006

*tear* that was beautiful! Your dad sounds like an Awesome Man! And, I am currently trying to teach myself guitar--it's not as easy as it looks! But, I don't have a wonderfully skilled dad to teach me!

Mar 21, 2006

Your dad sounds glad you had a good weekend with him. Must be hard living so far from such a cool and loving family. :-(

Mar 22, 2006

touching post holly. you can play like 26% of Wilco's oeuvre with those chords. [D] I dreamed about killing you again last night, and it [A7] felt alright to [G] me. . ." not that you would sing that song.

Mar 22, 2006

Oh dear I must admit I'm a bit teary!! The picture of Daddy in his green sweater, playing the guitar with his eyes closed, oh its all too much!

And what are you talking about! You ARE Joni Mitchell!!!

RockStar Mommy
Mar 22, 2006

At least D, G, and A7 all go together. Most pop bands only produce three chord driven songs. You could join Matchbox 20 and no one would be the wiser.

I knew a guy in college that swore he could tear up a guitar and then everytime we got drunk he would pull it out and only play C & Emi over and over again - nothing else.

So, see? You're way better than you thought. Now you know. ;)

Your dad sounds awesome.

Mar 22, 2006

Wow...incredible. Cherish these times, girl! Parents leave us entirely too quickly. I miss both of mine more than words can say.

Mar 23, 2006

I love the picture of your dad! The story of your memories of your childhood and the things your father has taught you was very timely for me. I sit here in my living room with my 83 year old father asleep in the recliner as he has been all day. He is dying from congestive heart failure. We have just gotten Hospice Of Charleston involved and they are a tremendous help. My point is that I am sitting here thinking of how many things he has taught me and the memories of our lives together. I am almost 42 years old and still it is too soon, but it is time. It is so sweet that you have a good relationship with him, you will always cherish that I'm sure, I know I do. Sorry to bring you down, but you touched me with your writing and I am grateful. Blessings!

Mar 23, 2006

"Living so far from one’s family, one often forgets how nice it is to see them, even for brief snatches of time. You forget how nothing needs to be explained." My mom is visiting me right now, and your words capture exactly how I feel. Specially the part about nothing needing to be explained.

Mar 24, 2006

I would SO sleep with your dad. I mean, if he weren't your dad and if your mum weren't your mum and if Ben Crumpacker had never been born and so on. And I say that with all respect, you know, but Holly -- the guy is HOT.

Thank you. I am writing this all the way from Palm Desert, which is mostly full of fags and fossils. I am more fossil than fag, but by local standards I'm a dewy young thing. WHEE!

Mar 27, 2006

I love your line about "you forget how nothing needs to be explained." That's genius, woman. I am totally going to pilfer it (and footnote you, of course). I loved the whole post, actually.

And someday we have to play bad guitar together. I have managed to get myself all the way to B Flat, but no farther. We will sound like two cats mating, but damn, it will be good!

Mar 29, 2006

Your life story is amazing. It is truly AWESOME that when you think back to memories of your dad, you can picture (from experience) Holland snow or the Abu Dhabi desert in the background.

Man! My memories have gray, flat midwest US in the background. Blech.