Learning Guitars, Listening to the Greats

What music genre relaxes you? Mine is vincentclassic folk songs, even if Dan Fogelberg’s Leader of the Band guitar score is one i can only imitate imperfectly. I’ve watched Fogelberg’s solo on Youtube and the rendition is a soulspeak with his husky voice, the string’s simple and distinct variation, and the seriousness of remembrance and dedication of the song for a dad long gone. I am settled with my limits. But listening to folk music artists is an elevating experience, un-settling in a way on how the synergy of human voice, instruments, the many truths captured by words, turns me discourteous: they’re damn good! As if Beauty had pitched a tent like Jacob pitching one anywhere he went, the built one one adores with a sense of sanctifying distance, and if done fanatically brokers the adorer to carve a desert bull out of it.

Romancing Guitars

Backtrack a bit to the personal limit i alluded to. I’m not a guitar virtuoso, learned to play the instrument only in high school while shaving off the off-key edges of my voice. Statistics: it took me about 4 years in high school and another 4 years in college to hew off those edges and led small gatherings with some confidence. Guitar skills aside, the proliferation nowadays of home videoke would have hastened the process. Manny Pacqiuao would likely be happy to testify over this with his Magic Sing! But no, not during our time in the convent, not even a TV set despite the Dutch coffee and cigars. Thanks to this Dutch frugality, TV shows and movies are never my top sources of entertainment. It’s listening to music and playing some of those!

But guitars, yes a convent and church cannot afford not to have one. It’s crippling for a liturgy without its command for unison, rhythm and glee. If you grew up in the countryside, you can imagine what i mean: choir members glancing at each other first to gather hints when to open mouths for the big Am…oopps…Alleluia! Countless were the times when i sabotaged those choir bodies for the wrong chords, messed up introduction, playing the wrong song. Humiliation is always part of any learning. I kept strumming anyway through raised eyebrows and sabotage-pointing: in mananitas, haranas, Christmas carolling, house blessing, Holy Week processions, barrio fiestas, and burial ceremonies. It was learning past the living and the dead, sumptuous meals and Christmas coins, from Ang Mga Minatay (The Dead) to America’s Horse With No Name. The opportunities were there; i only need to scale off incrementally my fear of failure. In the stretch of my experience, no dead came alive again, laughing.

The Dutch Connection

Over a small bottle of Matador brandy, i played one of my faves: Vincent by Don McLean. Slowly, i was reminded of Darbs’ recent comment on my post My Silent Madness: “starry, starry night…” the very first line of the song. Then 3 days ago, i got an email in Dutch from a former Dutch mentor, a confidential one mistakenly sent to my inbox. Strange after not having heard from him for a long time.

Vincent is deep and dark, the message tragic and beautiful. It’s a song in poetic motion, bringing and beholding back the inner beauty and madness of this great Dutch artist we all know by the name of Vincent van Gogh. Now, there are 2 ways of talking: the poetry of the song, and that of van Gogh’s life. Briefly, let’s recap van Gogh’s talent and tragedies first with the aid of Tita Wiki:

  • Died at the age of 37
  • Fathered Expressionism with 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings and sketches
  • Worked as an art dealer
  • Fall in love with a landlady’s daughter: rejected
  • Grandfather was a minister: failed the entrance exam to study theology; also failed in a 3-month course at a Protestant missionary school
  • Became a missionary to a small village; brushed with church authorities and left
  • Wanted to marry his widowed cousin: rejected
  • Quarreled violently with his father, also with cousin-in-law
  • Fall in love with an alcoholic prostitute; Vincent defied his father’s objection
  • Fall in love with a neighbor’s daughter: opposed by both families
  • Impregnated a young painting session model: Catholic priest forbade modelling for him
  • Lived alone through the sale of his paintings with bread, coffee and tobacco
  • “Teeth became loose and caused him much pain.”
  • Diagnosed with gonorrhea
  • Worked with great European artists of his time
  • Cut off the lower part of his ear lobe after a fight with a fellow artist, gave it to a prostitute
  • Suffered from hallucinations and delusions
  • House was closed by police upon his townsfolk’s petition
  • Confined to an asylum
  • Depression went deeper and “walked into a field, and shot himself in the chest with a revolver
  • His last words: “La tristesse durera toujours.” (the sadness will last forever)

There you go, peeps – the beauty and madness McLean tried to capture in his song:


starry night
paint your palette blue and grey

look out on a summer’s day
with eyes that know the
darkness in my soul.
Shadows on the hills
sketch the trees and the daffodils

catch the breeze and the winter chills

in colors on the snowy linen land.
And now I understand what you tried to say to me

how you suffered for your sanity
how you tried to set them free.
They would not listen
they did not know how

perhaps they’ll listen now.

starry night
flaming flo’rs that brightly blaze

swirling clouds in violet haze reflect in
Vincent’s eyes of China blue.
Colors changing hue
morning fields of amber grain

weathered faces lined in pain
are soothed beneath the artist’s
loving hand.
And now I understand what you tried to say to me

how you suffered for your sanity
how you tried to set them free.
perhaps they’ll listen now.

For they could not love you
but still your love was true

and when no hope was left in sight on that starry
starry night.
You took your life
as lovers often do;
But I could have told you
this world was never
meant for one
as beautiful as you.

starry night
portraits hung in empty halls

frameless heads on nameless walls
with eyes
that watch the world and can’t forget.
Like the stranger that you’ve met

the ragged men in ragged clothes

the silver thorn of bloddy rose
lie crushed and broken
on the virgin snow.
And now I think I know what you tried to say to me

how you suffered for your sanity

how you tried to set them free.
They would not listen
they’re not
list’ning still
perhaps they never will.

Next time, i’ll try to explore some theological openings from such a colorful life. Meanwhile, i’m leaving you this quote from our man:

“…to try to understand the real significance of what the great artists, the serious masters, tell us in their masterpieces that lead to God; one man wrote or told it in a book; another in a picture.”


22 thoughts on “Learning Guitars, Listening to the Greats

  1. I learned in my Literature class way back in college about Vincent’s suicide. But I didn’t know the details of his life. Malungkot pala. 😦 Great post!

  2. bata pa ko nung inistorya ni laola ang buhay nya, malungkot talaga sya kaya nga raw sa mga paintings nya palaging dalawa kasi nag iisa sya, kunyari yung bintana 2, yung upuan 2, basta madalas dalawa, pagpapahiwatig na malungkot syat nagiisa.
    my banto din sa utak, tapos palaging rejected, at sumikat lang at nakilala nung namatay na sya.
    ganda nyang kantang yan,favorite ng lola ko.

    • Mahilig din siguro sa mga malulungkot na drama at kwento si Lola mo Lee. Interesting yung tig-2 na objects sa kanyang obra. Bakit kasi laging rejected, mahilig naman sya magsulat? Yun nga lang, may tenoneng din daw sabi ng mga experts…Yes, he died poor pero maraming yumaman sa obra nya…

  3. ive learned ‘vincent’ way back in college, our prof. even sing it for us… ganda talaga..
    his loneliness brought him to become a very good artist….

    nakatawa ko sa imo experience, playing ‘ang mga minatay’ to a horse with no name…

    leader of the band still one of the best country song ive learned…

    • Depth psyc would probably explain the ambivalence of insanity and talent as the creative power from his Unconscious that is beyond what he can cope, and yes, tamed or triggered by his loneliness. The power of the Unconscious that many of us dare not explore via the road of loneliness and solitude because it is scary…

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  5. 1. I love Vincent Van Gogh with all his eccentricities… I watched a film about him but did not understand it actually hehe

    2. I love the Vincent song. McLean’s my father’s favorite, I asked him ngano walay vincent sa lyrics and he explained me why, because of the song, I was intrigued of who he was.

    3. I love music maski unsay instrument gamiton… listening to it brings me to the only place I feel safe and I feel like I can be anything or anyone… I get goosebumps ALL the time just listening to ALL my favorite songs or music even if I’ve heard them more than 10x in a day. Sometimes I feel ashamed having goosebumps when I am in public basi abe nila kaututon or kalibangon ko hehe

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  7. Hmmm… Vincent Van Gogh’s life story is truly very sad. He was a genius at a wrong time. He was always misunderstood. His great contribution to the world of Art was impressionism, yet, at the time, nobody understood him fully well, and so, he died without really vindicating himself… His painting, The Starry Night, (opening line in Don McLean’s Song, Vincent), is one of his most famous works.

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