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Guitar Lessons from an Over-Caffeinated Psycho

I started playing the guitar again lately and yeah, I still suck, but whatever.

It still feels so damn good, you know? It feels right and even honorable to hold something in my hands, some guitar that someone loaned me, and slowly let the power of the thing seep back into my world.

It's been a long time; I stopped playing after I left the band.

The band was called Marah and it was me and my brother, Dave, at the core of it all, and then a whole lot of other people who came and went through the years. So when I finally decided that 14 years of touring and making records was enough for me, that it was time to step aside and find what else life could offer up, I pretty much just walked away from everything like you'd walk away from emergency pissing in some afternoon alley.

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I ain't going back, I told myself. I've got to carve out a whole new life somehow.

And I guess I thought that if I walked away from Marah, from something very much alive, from an existence so magical and sublime, well, I guess I thought that maybe I didn't even deserve to play the guitar anymore.

Whatever. I was so fucking dumb. But anyone who knows me would tell you that: Serge is kind of cool, but he's so fucking dumb sometimes.

I'm not sure why I thought something so strange and unfair to myself. Like a lot of bizarre and damaging notions I've conjured up in my day, I regret it so much now. But what can you do?

Life is weird. I've never been a guitar geek or anything even close. I never really cared that much about what make or model or whatever I was playing. Hell, I only wanted to have a guitar on so that I could get up there on the stage, night after night, and have an actual excuse to be there. But across the years I think I fell in love with playing all the guitars I played, even if I was just a rhythm guitarist who played the damn thing like a drum.

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But then my kids came along. You might think that that might have spurred me on to break out an acoustic and play a little for them, but I never did, really. The guitars I had just sat in their cases, in their comas, in the dark beneath the bed or wherever.

The night I met the woman I married, I was playing guitar. At a one night stand in some Salt Lake City club, we played for maybe thirty people in the middle of a long west coast run and she happened to be there. She saw me play my guitar, watched me thrash at it and pound away at it and make it scream and sing and all — and boom: Six weeks later, we were married.

We rung ten years out of that marriage (and we're dating each other again!). We made three beautiful children, too, and in the back of my mind I knew that guitar really, truly did have something to do with all that. Not many people can actually say that without bullshitting you, but I can.

Still though, I backed away from playing much after we were married. She might have dug it if I played her a song here and there but I never did. I only played when I had to, I guess, and once I didn't have to anymore, I just didn't.

We got divorced earlier this year, just after I turned 43. My brother still keeps the band going and they are still one of the best you could ever find anywhere. In the months that followed the end of my marriage, as I slowly came to terms with how I had lost so much love and glory in my life by fading away from her and fading away from the music I had once loved making, I began to feel some kind of dead inside.

Divorce will do that to you. So will guitars in cases.

If you have things that you are good at — or even if you aren't that good at them but you really dig doing them — why would you not make sure that they are things that you continue to do?

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No matter what psychobabble reason I could ever come with for me just laying my guitar down and never picking it up again, none of it will ever make sense. But luckily something dawned on me one afternoon a few weeks ago: Not playing the guitar at all was probably the same as me inviting death to come and wrap her pretty little hands around my neck. To hell with that.

I realized that the guitar was something I needed back in my life. Even if it was only me and the acoustic my buddy up the street loaned me, I needed to sit down at my kitchen table and pull that guitar out of its case and feel it in my hands once again.

So I did. And I sucked. So rusty, I've gotten. But who cares?

It's lightning up my arms, man: old songs I wrote with my bro, songs we once played together, the two of us drenched in sweat, cigs dangling beautifully from the crook of our lips; songs we played for living, breathing people who stood there watching us up there on late-night stages in London and L.A. and Rome and Austin. All that and more came rambling down out of the sky and piled on me in ways I had begun to completely forget.

How glorious it is to be proud of things you once did in your life. I hate nostalgia and I'm not nostalgic to a fault, but still. This is the goddamn guitar we're talking about here, people.

I'm so glad I killed off this one particular messed-up part of me that was keeping me away from myself. I've got so many parts like that, but still. I busted through my own walls and slit the throats of the kidnappers who had stolen my guitars from me and kept my music hostage from me for the past 6 or 7 years. I've got nothing to be ashamed of. I'm like the Rambo of resurrected guitar slingers and I need to own that.

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And listen, I still play the guitar like the tragically over-caffeinated, magically good-intentioned hack job that I am in music and in all of it. Which basically means that I'm probably one of the greatest guitar players in the world if you think about it. And so now at long last, I can finally say something kind of cool about myself and the guitar. Ha! I never thought I'd say this clichéd, overwrought bullshit thing about myself in my lifetime but what the hell. Life is short. So here goes:

I don't play the guitar because I want to. I play the guitar because I have to.

There. I said it! Cringe with me. Laugh with me. Cringe and laugh at me. Either way, I'm not going back on my word anymore.

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