Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Knowledge Lust

This weekend I became obsessed with learning how to play George Harrison's song While My Guitar Gently Weeps as arranged for guitar by Eric Schoenberg. I had seen some YouTube clips of guitarists playing Schoenberg's arrangement and I became fixated on finding the sheet music.

Now even while I was in the throes of this obsession, one part of my mind remained objective and understood that there was nothing urgent or crucial about learning to play Harrison's 1968 song in the style of Schoenberg's 1999(?) fingerstyle guitar arrangement. After all, nobody was clamoring to hear me play it. But what should have been a passing whim had me in a powerful grip. I was suffering from a flashback of knowledge lust, an affliction that had often troubled me when I was in college, so long ago.

Back in my college days, I would frequently find myself overpowered by the desire to suddenly and intensely research arcane subjects that were far removed from my engineering studies. This would lead me into weekend knowledge binges. Examples of topics: the linguistics of Noam Chomsky, the deciphering of ancient Mayan script, the frenzied reading of every novel ever published by comic writer Peter De Vries (see his characteristic wit in Comfort Me with Apples and his sensitivity in the poignant masterpiece Blood of the Lamb). After spending every waking moment of Saturday and Sunday in exhaustive (and exhausting) study, I would return to my engineering classes on Monday with bleary eyes and a head buzzing with poorly digested ideas. While I never drank as an undergraduate (more owing to poverty than temperance), the sleeplessness and over-concentration associated with a knowledge binge produced damage comparable to a severe hangover. During one Monday morning class I remember being groggy to the point of near incoherence, prompting the professor to upbraided me for partying too hard over the weekend. Being labeled a rake and a womanizer in front of my fellow engineering students was such an improvement over my customary nerdly reputation that I was not inclined to correct the professor's misconception.

Anyway, for most of the weekend I searched and searched the internet until I found a PDF file of an simplified tutorial adaptation of Schoenberg's arrangement of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Then, after only six or seven hours of practice, I succeeded in playing a half-speed version of the song that more or less resembled the Schoenberg arrangement.

At last the binge was over; the knowledge lust departed. I was left with sore finger tips and a sour feeling of dissipation at having wasted an entire weekend on a Beatles song with a pleasing melody but some of the most insipid lyrics in pop music. Curses on whoever gave George Harrison a rhyming dictionary:

"I don't know how you were diverted
You were perverted too
I don't know how you were inverted
No one alerted you."

Dreadful. At least Harrison didn't force "blurted", "flirted", or "squirted" into the lyrics.

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