"And now let's play the 'Bourgeois Bluess' while Aaron gives us some solo lines on his new Bourgeois guitar," said Rob. Thanksgiving was always a time for our alternative family to meet, eat, be merry, and make music. Rob, my brother, and I sat in the living oom sharing songs and taking solos. How long had this song, "Bourgeois Blues" been a part of my life? It was a fire-side circle staple that Rob had been singing since my parents met him at college.
While I'm not sure that the term "Bourgeois" applies to me, the word has been a constant in my life. I took the solo and I look forward to the next time I can play my new guitar alongside Rob.
Lord, in a bourgeois town
It's a bourgeois town
I got the bourgeois blues
Gonna spread the news all around
A good friend, Rob--bearded, clad in a jean jacket and red bandana--sang his rendition of a Lead Belly classic around the fire on a dew-heavy summer's eve where my mother sat pregnant with me. The guitar he played, an old Guild from the 60s, was the first instrument I'd have had contact with from within my mother's womb, and in my introduction to the world as an infant. The song, "Bourgeois Blues," would remain a constant beacon of folk music in my life as I grew older and eventually, after watching and listening to Rob, I would find my own way to the guitar.
The first guitar I played was of an unknown make, with doves painted on its top, a nostalgic beacon of decades ago, with that funny dusty wooden scent that old guitars develop after an age of sitting in corners and dry spaces. It was a guitar that my aunt loaned me. I didn't even know if I wanted to play the guitar at this age. All I knew of the instrument was that Rob made it look so easy, yet challenging at the same time, and as I began my first lessons I quickly learned that playing the guitar was going to be work and not so much fun. The lessons would only last a couple weeks. As an eight-year old I wanted video games, and the instant ability to know how to play music without having to work at it and study for a long period of time. I let the guitar go for years with no renewing interests.
I didn't hold a guitar again until I was in high school. A friend asked me to learn how to play bass so we could start a band, so I got one and started plucking. I'd been playing music for years at this point: I'd started on saxophone in concert and marching bands, I'd taken more lessons, again without much success, in piano and violin. I decided that learning another instrument with four strings like the violin, but with frets and no bow, would be so much easier.
I managed to teach myself how to play the bass guitar by getting a white Squier P-Bass to help in the learning process. Within a year I had not only begun playing bass for two or three different rock groups, but I was playing bass in the high school jazz ensemble as well as playing for the front ensemble of the competition-winning marching band. Four strings had suddenly become my daily passion.
I auditioned for the Mary Pappert School of Music at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and while I aced the music composition and theory portion of the audition, I quickly realized that my self-tuaght bass methods and experimentalism (going so far as to write a solo bass piece and bring along the music notation to show) wasn't what a conservatory music school valued in its entrants.
I fell back on my second option, being an undeclared exploratory student at a nearby state school. Eventually playing bass lost its edge without bands to join, and I made a friend who let me borrow his guitar for the weekends he went home. The first song I learned was "Classical Gas" and suddenly I was attached at the hip to six strings and not four.
I soon went out and bought myself an entry-level Taylor guitar. I began listening to guitarists such as Pat Metheny and Michael Hedges in addition to the many incredible guitarists and singer-songwriters I'd grown up listening to in a household where my parents listened to folk, rock, blues, jazz, and R&B. Beofre I knew it Iw as tapping harmonics and performing techniques that make most guitar hobbyists dizzy.
It remained my hobby for eight years.
Then I was asked to open a show at the local guitar boutique shop in Pittsburgh. I suddenly found myself performing live music openly at festival fire circles and no longer keeping it to myself.
About a year later, a guitar came along that I hadn't expected. A Bourgeois guitar (from Dana Bourgeois' Bourgeois Guitars guitar luthiery company) was on display at the guitar shop where I made guitar demo videos and it was the first time I'd found a guitar that instantly bonded with me. I'd had a place in my heart for the word "Bourgeois," mostly because of my musical upbringing, and fate would have it that I'd find a guitar with the same word on its headstock.
While the meaning behind "Bourgeois Blues" doesn't apply to my situation, I've been hearing that word, bourgeois, in song and conversation for a long time and having been asked to play my Bourgeois guitar during Rob's rendition of "Bourgeois Blues" just feels like the completion of some musical quest I didn't realize I had undertaken.
I guess it's time I arranged my own version of the song.