I think about something that celebrated non fiction writer John McPhee said about writing:
Imagine writing a letter to your mother. Dear Mother, you write, I have to write something. I have nothing, and it’s terrible.
There’s this bear I saw the other day, Mom, you write. It wasn’t a grizzly, but a black bear. And unlike the grizzlies, it actually looked cute, and it made me wonder…
Keep writing about the bear, McPhee says. Just keep writing about the bear. And then, sooner or later, you’ll get someplace.
So yes, this set of paragraphs is a prelude, and I’ll probably start excising them in the days to come. They are, after all, just me saying that I have nothing to write, and I’ve noticed, thankfully, that sooner or later, if I open up my Scrivener program, go to my journal file, and write for a while about how I have nothing to write about, something comes up.
So I walk around that blank room, and though I have nothing physical to look at, and hold in my hand I do have thoughts of these things. I think of a wall in my apartment, on which there are five pieces of paper, all of them good stock stationery. One of them is a baritone ukulele chord chart; one is a chart of the neck of a soprano ukulele; one is a chart of the neck of a baritone ukulele; and the other two form a list of songs Megan made when I asked her to give me a raft of songs that she wanted me to learn so that she could sing to them.
I have a scrapbook that Megan’s mother gave me, and into it I have pasted charts of some of these songs. I go to one of those sites that has the words and chords to popular songs, copy the whole thing into Word, and spend a bit of time moving the chord indications around on top of the text so that everything matches up correctly. Then I print it up, cut it into columns, and paste it in the scrapbook, which has become my songbook.
There’s “Eres Tu,” by Mocidades, which I’ve turned into a sort of punk rock number;
There’s Keith Carradine’s “I’m Easy,” which I’ve turned into a sort of punk rock number;
There’s “Both Sides Now,” by Joni Mitchel, which I’ve turned into a sort of punk rock number;
There’s Micheal Jackson’s “Ben,” which I’ve turned into a sort of punk rock number;
There’s Nanci Griffith’s “More Than a Whisper,” which I’ve turned into a sort of punk rock number;
And, in addition to a couple of more (which I’ve sort of turned into punk rock numbers), there are two original songs, “She’s So Incredibly Cool” and “Honeytone,” both of which I wrote for Megan.
They are both sort of punk rock numbers, although Megan believes that “She’s So Incredibly Cool” is kind of a 90s Alternative Rock number.
I suppose I call them all punk rock numbers because, when I play the guitar, I still don’t use a whole lot of chords. Most songs that fit my limited voice range are in the key of D and G, so I’ve learned the back chords for each of those scales. For D, it’s D Major, E Minor, F Sharp Minor, G Major, A Major, and B Minor. For G, it’s G Major, A Minor, B Minor, C Major, D Major, and E Minor.
I wish I had known this a long time ago. I would have understood how popular songs work a lot earlier.
The seventh chords on each of these scales, my musician friends tell me, is an augmented chord, C Sharp for the D Major scale, and F Sharp for the G scale. I seldom bother with these things.
I’ve discovered that most songs out there just use those first six chords anyway. Perhaps, at some point, I will venture forward into the world of major and minor seventh chords, and actually start learning scales. All in due time.
In my mind, I hold my guitar in my hand. This makes me long to hold my guitar for real, and play it. I step away from the keyboard, and fiddle with those eight chords.
There, John McPhee says, you’ve gotten somewhere.