by Lynne Bronstein

My aunt gave me my first guitar when I was thirteen. I taught myself to play it, using instruction books with chord diagrams. I played along with songs on the radio, and picked up a few tricks from other kids I knew who played guitar. By the time I was fifteen I was even writing a few songs of my own.

But somehow, fate kept intervening to prevent me from becoming a musical superstar. First of all, the people who lived in the apartment upstairs objected to my practicing. They said the sound of my playing distracted their four sons from doing their homework. Their sons were always doing homework. If I felt like playing on a Saturday afternoon, it was no good. They were doing their homework. My parents feuded with their parents and we didn't move up on the waiting list for a larger apartment. Eventually we had to move. But I refused to stop playing the guitar.

Then there were the boys at school who played electric guitars and knew about amps and feedback. They sneered at my guitar playing and said I played the "wrong chords." But they didn't want me to know the "right chords." I knew they didn't want to help me or let me jam with them because I was a girl and this was the mid-Sixties when girls only played acoustic guitars and sang gentle folk songs. I liked the folk songs but I wanted to rock.

"There are no wrong chords," my music teacher told me. "You can make up any chords you like." But that didn't help me to win over the approval of the boys. While they knew that playing in a rock band made them "chick magnets," I, on the other hand, was losing out socially with these same boys because I was trying to compete with them.

When the annual Christmas variety show came up during my senior year, I decided to take a step in the direction of my dreams. I had written a rock song called "I'm Alive." I knew my parents would never let me have an electric guitar. But I could borrow one, right? I asked a boy named Eddie if I could use his shiny red Rickenbacker. And then I asked the boys in the school's rock band if they would let me do this one number.

"I want to do an instrumental," I explained. "I will be playing lead guitar during the instrumental part. So I need someone to play the rhythm part. It will be sort of like the instrumental part of "Light My Fire."

Tim, a sullen boy who played electric guitar quite well, agreed to accompany me, while his bass player and drummer would just "pick up" as we played. We rehearsed the song and it sounded really good to me. Not that my solo was much to brag about- I aspired to Eric Clapton's speed and fireworks but I settled for a simple melody that I played on the first string. Unaccustomed as I was to amplification and technology, I didn't know about reverb and other effects. Frankly, I didn't know how to turn an amp on or off.

So-there I was on stage that night of the show. I thought: "Everyone will be surprised that a girl is standing on stage holding an electric guitar!" I began singing my song of joy: "I'm Alive-I'm Alive-that's all I can say." I rushed through the overly simple lyrics to get to the important part-the instrumental. And then suddenly, as I began playing the solo, I realized I couldn't hear it. All I could hear was the rhythm guitar playing two chords. I felt like a fool, but kept playing my solo that no one could hear. When the solo part came to an end, well what do you know? The sound came back to my guitar-only now I was supposed to merely play the chords as I sang-while Tim played the lead riff.

Tim had played around with the amp, knowing I knew nothing about music technology. He had played a prank on me to teach me a lesson. He and the other boys would enjoy the memory of having made me look foolish as I tried to be a guitar "goddess."

But you know something? I still didn't stop playing the guitar.

I kept writing songs. I went on to perform at coffee houses. I auditioned for a major record company. Okay, I didn't make it. But when the A and R man who listened to me said "You still have a great deal of work to do, Lynne" I began taking guitar lessons. One of my songs was almost used in a movie. I made a demo. I heard more critiques of myself and I began to think my career path lay as a writer rather than as a musician.

All these decades later, I am, in fact a writer-and one of my specialties is writing about popular music. Because I studied guitar (and voice) when I was young, I am able to pay special attention to the guitar and vocal "chops" of the performers whose stage acts and albums I review. I took guitar lessons again in the mid-Eighties, mostly to see if I could learn to sight-read. I know I'll never be a great guitarist but I enjoy doing it for fun and it's always nice to pick up new techniques, like unusual tunings. And much to my pleasure, there are now many young women who are learning to play electric instruments and are forming rock bands. It's still a challenge for them, but at least I don't have to worry that it's up to me to prove that my gender can rock.

And when I interviewed a guitar instructor for a magazine article, he had some advice about performing live: "If you make a mistake, just keep on going. The audience may not even notice you made the mistake."

As a matter of fact, nobody said much about my unheard solo that night I performed "I'm Alive" at my high school variety show. And I haven't played the silly song since. But I found out that my love for music, my interest in guitar playing, and my hopes for the future could all be kept alive. Yes, I'm Alive, that's all I can say.