She and The Layers of Engagement

The first time I heard the song “She” by Green Day was probably during the summer of 1995, or at least that’s the first time it really made an impression.  I remember ducking into a Christy’s Market on my way back from lunch and really hooking into it mentally–there was something pretty magical about the chorus.  This would be an awesome song to learn on guitar.  Drawn in.

Because it was 1995 what that meant was taking the train to Harvard Square and heading to the University’s internet kiosk to “go onto the World Wide Web?!?!?!” and “find guitar tablatures on Netscape Navigator.”  Yes, I know.  Ancient.

Turns out the song was fairly simple to learn.  Three chords, really: D to C to G.  I sat on the edge of my couch with my guitar and kept playing that chorus over and over again.  What I remember thinking was how right the chord progression felt, like I’d unearthed some forgotten smithery.  Because I was still a pretty crude guitarist, I played the power versions of the D, C, and G chords, which allowed me to keep my left hand in the same chord shape while simply sliding it up and down in time with the song.  Basics.  Get It Done.

As the summer went on, I began to play around with different voicings on that basic chord structure.  I was into the Jesus and Mary Chain and Husker Du and My Bloody Valentine–bands that made deliberate use of feedback and distortion–so I experimented with hitting all six strings on the guitar even as I was only fingering the top three to move the chord shape up and down the fretboard.  The results was a beautiful (well, to me!) cacophony: you could still make out the chord progression, but only underneath a lot of beautiful (well, to me!) noise.  My style.  Figure out what works and is repeatable.

As these things happen, I got into a few different bands that fall.  I remember The Spinanes in particular–some nice, clean, chimey guitar.  I think I started listening some more to Blondie too.  With a widening palette came the courage to try playing with some cleaner tones and more deliberate strumming patterns.  As my playing improved, I was pleased to notice that playing “She” now felt different, like I was striding into the song with renewed purpose and aplomb, able to move across different chord positions and attacks while still maintaining the essentials of the song.  “She” was still “She,” but it was almost mine now, every time I played it.  Incorporation, increasing confidence.  An understanding that the basics are the basics, that “She” is always D to C to G but that my style now incorporates multiple approaches.

Twenty-five years after the song’s initial release, I still enjoy playing it from time to time.  It’s more tool than test by this point–having fallen in love with its promise, internalized its basics, imbued it with my first instincts, and deepened its performance with varied approaches, I now look at this song as something which I can grant my full engagement.  Mastery.

I don’t play “She” anymore to learn from the song, or from repetition, or from practice.

I play to teach myself the most important thing I can know: when you cede your full self to a moment, magic happens.  Some call this no mind, some call this beginner’s mind, but I call it the way your five thousandth back squat feels.

What am I going to teach myself about myself today?  As with music, so with movement: we start with the basics, personalize our approach, then experiment with and internalize different cues and approaches.

And finally, at the beginning again, we come to the movement with clear eyes and open ears.

What will I teach myself to learn today?

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