Book Review: Guitar Man

The full title of this book is “Guitar Man – A Six String Odyssey, or, You Love That Guitar More Than You Love Me”. It’s the autobiographical tale of a Brit named Will Hodgkinson, who takes up the guitar in his mid-thirties. The interesting twist here is that the author sets himself a goal of performing in public within six months. That would be a bold move for anyone, but especially so for a guy with a job, a wife, a couple of kids, no prior musical experience and a self-proclaimed lack of talent. He has a few factors on his side, however: a long held dream, a few eccentric and marginally musical friends, and a long-suffering but ultimately supportive wife.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the first chapter:

The golden light of creation was shining. Harmony filled the world. I closed my eyes and let the guitar resonate with the sweet vibrations of eternity.

“STOP IT! I can’t stand that guitar. It’s driving me crazy!”

I was getting used to that reaction from my wife. It seemed that my every rendition of the chorus of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones was like a needle piercing the nerve endings of her brain. But it wasn’t [my wife] who was complaining. It was our three-year-old son Otto.

“I don’t want you to play your guitar any more”, he cried, sticking his fingers in his ears. “I don’t like it. It’s horrible.”

I had only had the guitar for two weeks…and my family were already rebelling against any attempts to bring a bit of musical provenance into their lives. But I had set myself a task which, having been foolish enough to boast about, there was no getting out of: to perform before an audience in six months’ time. This was before I had picked up a guitar, when the idea still sounded fun; a way of forcing myself into doing something I had only talked of for the last two decades. The possibilities of life are infinite, limitless and exciting before you start attempting to do something. But as soon as you apply yourself to learning a new skill, you are confronted with the severity of your limitations.

So begins a journey of both musical education and self discovery. At times it becomes a sort of musical travelogue. Hodgkinson’s quest takes him to some interesting places, including London’s famous guitar mecca Denmark Street, and a trip to the deep south to explore the roots of American blues. He meets a few famous musicians along the way, including Johnny Marr, Roger McGuinn, Cat Power, P.J. Harvey and others.

I enjoyed this book. If you’re interested in playing guitar or the history of rock and roll, I think you’ll enjoy it too.

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