If that’s the next generation, we’re in dire straits…

Written by

Andrew Millar


May 5, 2008

Yes, I know, the Bleat’s been a bit neglected of late. But I do have a note from my parents. It explains that I have recently bought a guitar and have been trying to catch up on 35 years of neglect.

And I’m enjoying it. Although the fingertips of my left hand have absolutely no feeling whatsoever. And I’m discovering just how hard it is to type with long fingernails on one hand.

The thing that makes me mad is that I stopped playing in the first place. I stopped playing because I was not very good at it. 35 years later I’m still shocking, but now I have ‘the key’. The bottomless ‘Well of Knowledge’ to draw on. The digital guru. The endless tutor of the Internet. There are extensive lists of people willing and able to help you learn. Granted some are better than others, but if you want to learn a song, there are enough music tutorials to keep you frustrated with your musical shortcomings for hours on end. It beats the hell out of a Mel Bay chord book any day.

‘Youtube’ is the best place to start. And it was on here the other day that I found something that not only taught me something about the intro to Mark Knopfler’s ‘Local Hero’, but also about the arrogance of the generation that is coming on.

And that’s what I really want to talk about today.

The entry was a video of an English program called ‘Master Class’. I have seen one before with Dr Jonathon Miller and a class of opera students. But this was Mark Knopfler and three music students in a recording studio.

Knopfler is a humble man to say the least. He comes across as quietly spoken and eager to help and encourage. It almost seems as if he is struggling with shyness and confidence. He appeared to be a little uncomfortable when he asked the first student to play something for the group.

The first student confidently played a little jazz piece that he’d written. At one stage during his performance he would pluck a string then roll his little finger across the volume control of his guitar. It alters the attack of the note and gives it a ‘horn’ like quality.

When he’d finished, Knopfler offered his advice. “”I like what you’re doing with the volume, but if you use a volume pedal you can expand on the technique.”” He then gave a few examples of songs he’d used it on and then gave a little demonstration.

The kid’s response left me slack jawed.

“”Yeah but that’s not the way I do it.””

Knopfler was knocked back in his seat. He started to say “Yes. But if you look at what you are doing…”…” The kid didn’t move. And I think Mark gave up on him and turned to the next student who played an improv version of ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’, which to me was nice but interrupted by the student fumbling for the tremolo arm of his guitar every now and then. (The tremolo arm is the bar mounted on the bridge of the guitar that adds vibrato to a note.)

Mark suggested that rather than let it dangle down he should tuck it in his palm. It is then there ready to be used.

“”It gets in the way.”” was the reply.

““But you are destroying your timing searching for it each time.””

““Yeah but it gets in the way.””

At about this stage I expected Knopfler to throw his hands in the air and walk off. Or at least raise his voice a little. But no, he pressed on, allowing the last guy to play his piece but made no comment. I think he’d had enough.

A lesser man would have exploded. “’Hands up who has a Fender guitar named after them.” “Hands up who’s played before crowds of 500,000?”’ ‘“Hands up who has walls covered in gold records?” “Oh It appears to be only me.”’

But the Dire Straits frontman is a gentleman and let them get away with their arrogance.

It strikes me that this generation has built upon the attitude of those slightly older than them. The previous generation has no loyalty to anyone else but themselves. They believe they deserve it all now and don’t want to invest in a future. They want it now. This current generation has replaced this individualistic attitude with one of self importance. They believe they can have it all now because they know it all now.

Two out of three of these students were happy to ignore the advice of a virtuoso –- even in a Master Class environment. They weren’t even prepared to play the game and fake it.

If we don’t have the capacity to learn from the past or present, what hope do we have for our future?