If the majority of people were allowed to define rock critic as a new entry in Webster's Dictionary, it would likely say, "One who is musically impaired; unable to produce a musical note worth listening to thus needs to critique those who can."
We know the jokes, but they are jokes that carry some truth to them. But if there's one thing that the punks of the late 70s reminded people was that anyone can sing into a microphone...anyone can pick up an instrument. For me, R.E.M. was the band that not only stood as an example of the "anyone can do it" punk ethos but also provided me with a compass to use on my own musical path.
Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe gave me a sense of direction at the age of 13 but never told me where to go; that part was up to me to decide, that was my choice. Life's Rich Pageant, my first CD, was my key to a treasure chest of music that I still find new discoveries. It was also the album that made me want to pick up a guitar. For one year, I played air guitar to those twelve songs until I received my first guitar when I turned 14, a classical acoustic from Mexico.
Now, I find myself picking up my Rickenbacker and sitting in with the R.E.M. Ensemble at the Old Town School of Folk Music for the next 7 weeks. The class has been on my radar for some time, and it was a now-or-never decision to finally jump in. At the end of this session, the ensemble performs at a venue to be named later. My understanding is that the ensemble performs a selection of R.E.M. songs that the students pick to be practiced during the overall 8 week class.
Leading the class is our instructor, Bob Goins, whom I met only once before at Old Town when he was a substitute teacher for my Guitar 1 class. In that class, I apparently threw him a curve ball by playing the A chord differently from the textbook version. To be fair to Bob, he was there for 1 class and didn't know that I had been playing since I was 14. I'd also forgotten that I've actually seen Bob perform with his Wilco Ensemble, which included Jeff Tweedy, for Old Town's 50th Anniversary show at the Auditorium Theatre in 2007.
Since I've been on such a long hiatus from covering music and doing the rock critic thing, I see this class as my way of refocusing my energy towards playing the music rather than reviewing it. So, I'll be posting little updates on the progress of the class and my experience being the 1 guy in class that is playing a Rickenbacker (you're welcome, Peter Buck).
Week 1 - 9/4/12
Songs practiced: "The One I Love"/"Begin The Begin"/"Cuyahoga"/"Fall On Me"
Yeah, I really set myself up as being the only guitarist to show up to class with the same Rickenbacker model guitar that Peter Buck used for all of R.E.M.'s career. As Bob handed me the class packet of songs, he announced to everyone in the practice room, "It wouldn't be an R.E.M. class without a guy playing a Rickenbacker."
Most of the class was made up of other musicians that had taken previous sessions with Bob. 3 playing electrics (including myself), 4 playing acoustics (including Bob), and 1 playing electric bass. The bassist could have passed for Mike Mills circa 1982. The drummer didn't show up (somewhat fitting considering R.E.M.'s history with drummers). If the drummer shows up next week and has a unibrow, I'll take that as a sign that this will be a good class.
Warm-up song was "The One I Love." Straight performance, no solo. Then we took a few passes at "Begin The Begin" and "Cuyahoga." Some extra work done to tighten up the rhytym part to the chorus in "Cuyahoga."
Since I was the one in class with a Rickenbacker, I got assigned to take the Peter Buck parts for the songs (i.e. the intro/verse riff in "Begin The Begin"). Yup, I was the Peter Buck of the class; picking out the notes instead of strumming full chords. Funny and scary considering it was my first time playing R.E.M. songs with other people.
"Fall On Me" was the last song of the night. Once again, I had the role of Peter Buck and had to start the song. On my own, I had maybe only ever played "Fall On Me" about 5 times and always stuck to just playing the rhythm (not including the intro). After 3-4 quick attempts at the intro, I got it down, and the class jumped in. Must remind Bob that someone should do Berry's backing vocal part ("It's gonna fall").
Overall, everyone that took lead vocal duties did pretty well. The group's playing ability is strong and should get better week by week. Some of the songs I saw in the class packet were:
"Driver 8"/"Radio Free Europe"/"Oddfellows Local 151"/"Me In Honey"
Hopefully there will be some post-1992 material that comes up. We shall see...