When I was thirteen I began taking guitar lessons.
I had reached a point in my life, where AC/DC and Led Zeppelin were the coolest thing around, and simply listening to their music wasn’t enough anymore. I decided to take the next logical step and begin learning how to play.
The guy my parents hired to teach me to play was an eighteen-year-old who lived nearby. His name was Taylor, and he had been an instructor at the small martial arts dojo where I had learned Tang Soo Do a few years back. Naturally—with those qualifications—he was perfect for the job.
For four years he would come over to my house, twice a week, and attempt to teach me to play the guitar. And, for four years we made minimal progress. It wasn’t so much that I was incapable of learning, but more I was incapable of practicing—at least in my mind, I was too busy doing everything else.
At the end of each lesson, he would tell me to practice “jamming”. So, immediately after he would leave, I would jam the guitar in the closet. Before long, my Ibanez would start collecting dust in the corner on a regular basis.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, Taylor would begin the lesson by watching me play the music that I had “practiced” for the lesson; and he would shake his head at me. He would then proceed to play the music himself, while giving me a weird fucking look—he would stare at me unblinkingly, curl his upper lip, and play the music back to me in silence. His eye contact seemed to burn a hole through me. To this day I’m unsure if it was him making a face at me, or if it was just, in fact, his face.
My little brother, Julián, had never really shown any interest in music when I began taking guitar lessons.
About a year or so into my musical career, however, he got it into his head that he was going to become a drummer.
“We can make a band!” he would say to me.
It wasn’t altogether a bad idea, minus the fact that I would actually have to play the guitar. In fact, I actually liked the idea of being in a band with my brother. However, I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of humiliating myself in front of a crowd—and I was certain that I would humiliate myself.
After a few days of persistent badgering, my dad conceded and drove us to Guitar Center to look at drum sets for my brother. Being uninterested in drumming, however, I left Juli and dad in the percussion section to wander the store by myself.
In the twenty minutes I was gone, something changed in Julián. I’m not sure what it was, but by the time we had left the store—empty-handed—he had decided that he was going to learn to play guitar rather than the drums. I can only speculate as to what inspired him, but it certainly wasn’t because he’d seen how good I had become.
A few days later, my dad came back to the house with a guitar-amp beginner set. The contents: a Squire Stratocaster and a small Fender amplifier. I could see that dad had learned his lesson and had decided to test the waters for musical talent before splurging on decent equipment—good call.
After Juli’s first lesson, I could tell our lives would never be the same ever again. I remember sitting in the living room and hearing him play the same song—Green Day’s American Idiot—over and over again. I remember just wanting to read my books in peace—and not practice for my own lessons—but apparently that was too much to ask. He just kept practicing and practicing and practicing—playing the same four chords again and again—until I would storm upstairs and beat the shit out of him. As a big brother, I think those beatings were justified. For a while, the whole house felt the growing pains of his music.
Well, guess what happened? All that practice paid off.
My brother became an incredible guitarist. As of now, he is a sophomore at the Berklee College of Music in Boston—where he majors in guitar, plays six hours every day, and is chasing his dream of becoming a musician.
To this day he practices for hours at a time—losing track of time as he gets totally sucked into his music. He has an arsenal of guitars at his disposal now, seven-strings and eight-strings included. He also finally got that drum set he wanted when he was ten.
I don’t beat him up for practicing so much anymore. I think it helps that he finally learned more than one song—and that he moved to Boston.
As for me, my career as a rock star ended somewhere around age seventeen when I stopped taking lessons with Taylor. I realized that Juli was the musician in the family, and that my time was better spent listening to music and writing. My old Ibanez is still sitting in the corner of my bedroom in Allen where I left it all those years ago. Its bridge has gotten shitty, and its strings rusty, but I still look at it from time to time and remember the hours I spent dicking around with it trying to make it make music.
I can only remember how to play three songs on the guitar. Four years of lessons for three songs isn’t a great outcome, but one of them was a favorite song of mine by AC/DC—that’s got to count for something.
And, who knows? Maybe one day, after a few drinks, I might get in the right mood and slap some rhythm guitar for Juli and let him do his thing. After all, what are brothers for?