Welcome to Series 2 of the Nervous Human arc. I guess the logical sub-title is During. Series 1 Before posts have been archived and hidden. Series 3 will be After, assuming COVID isn’t the end of humanity and/or me.

I’ve archived all previous posts, and the reason for doing so is simple; there was a not insignificant amount of political content. My new MO is to not reference politics on this blog. I need the escape.

Politics is exhausting. Politicians are exhausting. People who argue about politics are exhausting. In order to lead a generally happy life, I have to remove some unhappy things from it. I’m starting with politics.

I met a gin soaked barroom queen in Memphis…

Even before the quarantine started, I had started to play guitar again after not touching the instrument for a year and a half. I didn’t consciously decide to play more, it just sort of happened after Brown Sugar came up on shuffle one day. It sounded like it’d be a fun song to play, so I learned it when I got home.

Keith Richards (“Keef” for the rest of this post) wrote so many great and fun to play riffs. The music is very forgiving for players like me who have, at best, average talent. Even when I screw up it stills sounds pretty good.

One of the most appealing things is that I can play Stones songs with the kind of relaxation in my shoulder, elbow, and wrist that I’ve never been able to achieve with any other music. I’ve been playing for about 40 years and I’m still not very good. I feel like I’m fighting the guitar and it usually wins.

However, those years gave me some mechanical skills and the muscle memory I need to be able to facilitate the learning of Rolling Stones music pretty quickly. It’s very gratifying. I can’t play along to Van Halen or Iron Maiden. I don’t have the right feel or technical ability to play that kind of music, much to my disappointment, but I can manage the Stones. Their vibe works for me, though I find myself adding little fills and noises that betray my VH aspirations; a pinch harmonic here, a right hand tap there.

All their songs and riffs are so beautifully, beautifully simple. I’ve found that you can play the most rudimentary chord shapes and strum along, or you can Yngwie Malmsteen your way through. Either way, it always sounds like Brown Sugar and it always sounds good.

It’s the kind of music that would sound shitty if a person who read sheet music played it. Apart from anything else, there’s no musical notation for texture and tone. Most rock music is not meant to be perfect or reproduced the same way every time. Keef doesn’t play it the same way every time. Neither does Page or Clapton or EVH or Slash or Beck or Frampton or any other guitar player worth listening to.

Despite me previously stating that Rolling Stones music is “beautifully, beautifully simple”, when you break it down and try to learn it, it’s very intricate. There’s a lot of interplay going on between the two guitars. They’re often playing quite different things. It’s very apparent if you listen on headphones. Keef calls it “weaving”.

Squier '51 electric guitar with removed low E string

Click to embiggen

I got so into this that I “Keithed” one of my guitars. I removed the low E string, tuning machine, and bridge saddle, then tuned it to open G. This required a little bit of a truss rod adjustment and some intonation, but it was worth it. With this setup I can learn and play most of the classic Stones songs like Honky Tonk Women, Start Me Up, and of course Brown Sugar.

Keef doesn’t use any effects, so there’s no stress trying to figure that part out. From his fingers, through the guitar, into the amp, into your ears. He has such a killer tone that putting anything else in the signal path would dilute it and rob it of its beauty. It’s Charlize Theron, not RuPaul.

I think The Stones will be thought of in 300 years the same way we think of Mozart today. It’s music for the ages. Go listen to some. It’ll improve your day.