The Axe: Part 6

Part 6 of The Axe. After my arrival in California, I become part of my very first band.

Ultimate Guitar

Note: Sorry I took extra long on this one. This part was especially hard for me to write for some reason, maybe my memory is a bit hazy at this point?

As July faded into August, we arrived in the city of Cerritos, a suburb of Los Angeles. It was a quiet place that was constantly maintained with perfectly cut grass and artistic sculptures and fountains. We settled into a bungalow that was half the size of our old two-story house as imposed on us by the high cost of living in California. Unfortunately, our cardboard boxes of mostly useless things wouldn't be arriving until about a week later, so blankets and sleeping bags were our beds while we waited. My Godin was still packed away with the rest of our things, so I was stuck with my acoustic for another week. In this period of time, I learned the solo to Highway to Hell complete with it's bluesy full-step bends on the stiff strings of my acoustic guitar. I spent the rest of the time aching to try it out on my electric.

The month of August was spent up and down the necks of my two guitars while watching lessons on YouTube, reading guitar articles across the internet, and becoming inspired by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Van Halen. My hours were consumed by the roars and shrieks of strings that fed no one's soul but mine.

When September pushed me into my junior year of high school, my eyes were open with readiness to find myself a band. These eyes were useless, however, because I was connected to no one in school, and I didn't have the knowledge to seek out the right band members. So I kept modest about my guitar affiliation, only mentioning it when it was appropriate. My Canadian background was the topic of most of my conversations during the first few months of that school year I remained an underground guitarist until I befriended a kid name Neil.

Neil was actually a fan of hip hop along with the rest of the school. The only rock music he listened to was Linkin Park. He didn't play guitar, bass, or drums. He couldn't sing either. The only reason we became friends was because he sat next to me in Physics. But I talked to him about my passion regularly, exposing him to the musical revolution that I had experienced not long ago. He quickly became attracted to rock and roll not as enthusiastically as I had, but there was a genuine interest. I showed him a couple of my recordings. His inability to grasp the real difficulty level of the songs left him mildly impressed.

This went on for a few weeks; still, nobody had heard me play, and Neil could only gauge my abilities through my old recordings and claims of skill. He wasn't exactly bandmate material either. He bought an Epiphone SG at one point I taught him the string names and lectured him on the importance of chords. He ended up learning a few open chords and a one-stringed version of Smoke on the Water. Then he sold his guitar. I had almost lost hope in doing anything with my guitar in public, but Neil managed to end the mediocrity of my guitar life when he introduced me to Jeffrey.

Jeff was tall and skinny; like me. He wore skinny jeans and a leather jacket, and he had his hair in a fohawk. Neil brought him over to me at the end of Physics class.

You play the guitar?


You wanna start a band for Winter Concert?

At the time, I wasn't aware of any school concerts or that I was eligible to participate in them. Nevertheless, I was up for anything, so I accepted his offer.


Alright cool you into Muse?

Uh no.

I always feel like an idiot when I don't know a band's name.

He put on a smirk and said, Alright, I'll get you into Muse.

We exchanged our instant messaging screen names and parted.

That night we discussed the band business via AOL instant messenger. I asked him what he played; he was apparently the frontman; the singer. I continued by asking if he is good at singing. He dodged the question a bit by saying that some people are tougher critics than others. At his similar question directed at me, I just said that I was an okay guitarist. Then after telling me that he has a bassist and a drummer in mind, we went on to discuss what song we would play.

He linked me to one of Muse's music videos: Uno. I listened to it intently, and felt unmoved. I was used to colorful guitar licks grabbing me and pulling me into the song. There was one guitarist in Muse, and in Uno, his part was light. The solo was also very subtle and simple. I then subconsciously labeled Muse as not within my interests. I typed away on AIM.

It's alright I guess I probably need some more time to get used to this music.

Yea, that's how I felt too. Can you play that?

What, Uno? Yea, of course.

What about that part at the end? The really fast part.

He was referring to a simple tremolo picking riff in the outro.

Uh yes I can play that.

He proceeded to barrage me with more links to more songs, mostly belonging to Muse. The Killers, My Chemical Romance, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, and other alternative rock bands came up as well. After a passive, open-minded listening, I thought that it was my turn to suggest a few songs.

Based on his taste, I decided not to overwhelm him with my Judas Priest and Led Zeppelin, and give him something closer to his music. I tried Green Day, The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, and a couple of other bands that were reasonably in my tastes. Jeff replied with slight aversion and I knew that we would be in for a long discussion. We escalated in our song suggestions until I reached Black Sabbath-level to which he responded with Muse, Muse, and more Muse. I eventually picked out a couple of guitar-heavy Muse songs that I agreed wouldn't be so bad to perform. They were The Groove, Stockholm Syndrome, and Supermassive Black Hole. He said that he couldn't sing Supermassive Black Hole, and made no strong opinion on the other two. Out of my song suggestions, Green Day's Holiday and Basket Case were the only two that he considered.

We continued to converse online.

Can you even play Stockholm Syndrome?

Hmm, I don't know, it doesn't sound that hard.

It sounds hard to me.

I casually looked up the tablature for the song. Jeff was referring to the main riff of the song when he said that the song sounded hard to play. It was all on the heavy E string that was dropped to D. I looked at the numbers on the tab: Twelve, zero, thirteen, zero, twelve, zero, ten, twelve I squinted as I saw that the string of numbers continued for several lines.

Hmm, I dunno I guess it looks okay. Might take a while to memorize all the notes.

But then I looked again at the tab to see that most of the riff was repeating itself. I grabbed my guitar and slowly figured out the pattern. Just like that, I played a low-quality version of the intro and scrolled down the page to see if there were any harder parts. There were none.

Never mind dude, I got it, it's pretty easy.

You can play that?


You serious?!

It's not that hard it's the same thing over and over again.

It sounds pretty hard to me

A lot of things sound hard until you learn how to play them.


After learning and debating over half a dozen Muse songs over the week, Jeff finally settled on their cover of Can't Take My Eyes Off You by Frankie Valli. Jeff again doubted my ability to play the song, and I again scoffed at his overestimation of the song's difficulty level.

By this time I had completely given up on any songs that I personally liked, because Jeff could always throw in the I can't sing like that excuse. The people at our school doesn't like that kind of music' also came up frequently. I still had Basket Case and Holiday memorized and perfected, though I doubted we would even go that route.

After a long series of discussions, it was time for our first practice. Our bassist was a laid-back, homeschooled student named Jim. He also played a bit of guitar, and he also shared a lot of Jeff's taste in music. I asked if we were allowed to have kids from outside of our school, and Jeff just answered with, "We'll work it out somehow." I decided to put my trust in him and let him handle all of the managing duties of the band. After all, he did form the band. Our drummer was apparently not available, so we decided that we would practice without him for now, at the bassist's house. With my guitar strapped tightly on my back, we plodded on over to his pad after school to begin work.

18 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This is EXACTLY how it is with me. I hope that you find/ found some musicians with similar tastes in music, they're out there.
    I like this, I'm matching my guitar experiences with yours as I read. Keep it up man.
    this is really intriguing for some reason. your way of writing is really balanced and "catchy" so please keep them coming. right now i'd pick you over nolan and colohue when it comes to reading.
    My first year of guitar was dedicated to learning Muse. After that I realised that Matt Bellamy doesn't really do so much guitar work. He sings as well though, so it balances out.