I’m self-taught on guitar, and I learned by playing along to some of my favorite records. I started on one string, which strengthened my ear and warmed up my fingers. Over time I’d add another string, then another, and eventually I could pick out and play chords.
The records that I selected had to fit specific criteria. First of all, they couldn’t be too complicated: mostly open chords, not too riff-based. And I needed to love the songs — I’d be enthusiastic about learning if the songs were favorites. Also, it was a bonus if a whole album fit these specifications — then I could just put the album on and play along, like a concert. Circa 1985, when I was starting to learn guitar, two records perfectly fit the bill: The Feelies’ The Good Earth and Buzzcocks’ Singles Going Steady.
The Buzzcocks got back together around 1990 and did a tour of the USA, which brought them to Jannus Landing in St. Petersburg. I made the drive over from Orlando to see them. The Buzzcocks were as good as I hoped they would be. Once the show ended and the club emptied, I stayed behind in a happy daze from finally seeing one of my favorite bands. That’s when I looked over to the bar and saw Steve Diggle, the lead guitarist, sitting down for a drink.
I walked over and introduced myself, and after his casual acknowledgment I decided to tell him, “I learned to play guitar to your songs.” Diggle’s reaction was like no one had ever told him this before. “Really? To my playing?” He then quickly ordered a pint for me and exclaimed, “You should meet the rest of the guys!”
So he took me backstage and introduced me to an incredibly friendly Pete Shelley. I stuck around, drinking their beer and chatting for about an hour. Somehow, they had no qualms about this excited fanboy hanging out in their dressing room while they were decompressing from the show. Everyone was so nice, and even Pete seemed interested in my compliments and questions. One of my best ‘meeting my heroes’ memories.
Pete Shelley died yesterday of an apparent heart attack. At 63 he was way too young. The Buzzcocks were still a going concern, with the reunion never quite ending. I see they were supposed to do a show in a couple of weeks.
Before you get to an age when your friends start dying, you experience your heroes dying. In a way, the loss probably feels about the same. You’re losing the ones you love.
Here’s the Buzzcocks song that’s rolling around my head today (not one that I would have expected):
And this one, too, which was used as the end-credit song for the great documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (no correlation — Pete Shelley was very much loved while he was alive):
Update: A friend with a much better memory than mine and who was also at the show reminded me that it actually moved to the smaller Club Detroit because, if you can believe it, Buzzcocks didn’t sell enough tickets to adequately fill Jannus Landing. We also figured out the year was 1990. BTW – this friend saw Buzzocks in Manchester in 1979, opening band: Joy Division.