My Life with the Chord Chemist
My Life with the Chord Chemist: A Memoir of Ted Greene, Apotheosis of Solo Guitar
Throughout his career, the guitarist, author, and teacher Ted Greene (1946-2005) developed a devoted following of students and listeners. His books were sought-after references for guitarists eager to develop a style based on a broader harmonic approach to the instrument than was generally available at the time. His students valued his musical insights which spanned composers Bach and George Gershwin, guitarist Wes Montgomery and The Beatles, not to mention an encyclopedic knowledge of guitars and amplifiers. His lone album, Solo Guitar (Art of Life, 1977), is a master class in technical craftsmanship and harmonic imagination. What becomes clear from reading Barbara Franklin's memoir of her life with Greene is how totally consumed he was with achieving this acuity, and how it was through these obsessions that he managed to soothe his restless creative mind.
Franklin's book mixes straight narrative with casual remembrances, magazine interviews, articles, notebook entries and a number of Greene's own musical charts. The book has the impressionistic feel of a 19th century memoir and is a perfect format for exploring Greene's wide-ranging musical fascinations. Franklin, whose personal relationship with Greene slowly developed after taking a lessons from him and continued until his untimely passing, does a splendid job of illuminating a complex, generous and caring man.
Born in Los Angeles, Greene grew up moving around as his father's salesman job dictated. Music was an early and permanent solace. Greene was given a guitar at 11 and by high school was playing in local bands. While initially sharing many of the baby-boomer's cultural touchstones (rock 'n' roll, recreational drugs, etc), by his twenties Greene had moved well beyond these trends in developing his own intellectual universe. A life-long list maker, Greene's notebooks are filled with entries focusing on the direction his musical interests would take. One on why he gave up playing rock 'n' roll in bands reads: "Stimulates the already over-stimulated self-gratification tendencies of mankind."
Instead, Greene focused on teaching with occasional gigs on the side, a professional pattern he maintained for the rest of his life. And he took seriously the rigors of transferring the knowledge he worked so hard to obtain. Mostly self-taught, Greene endlessly wrote out "systems" and harmony charts for the fretboard to guide his students. These developed into his much acclaimed books. Eventually, Greene struck out on his own, teaching out of his apartmenta space packed with books, notebooks, records, CDs and guitars. As their relationship grew deeper, Franklin came to see Greene's personal idiosyncrasies more clearly. He had a hard time completing things, endlessly reorganized his materials, was sound and taste sensitive, and his collecting verged on hoarding. Franklin recognized that Greene had a mild form of Asberger's Syndrome, and through Franklin's insights, we see these mannerisms as a metaphor for his creative singularity---the endless collection and organization of his musical understanding. As Franklin writes: "This thought or that, a moment split by the minds' idle chatter or a tune running through it and a week flies by."
Sadly, Greene suffered a heart attack and died at 58. He left behind a community of friends, readers, fellow guitarists, students and listeners indebted to him for expanding their musical understanding and appreciation. Additionally, they owe a debt to Franklin who has been a tireless archiver of his musical legacy. She has inventoried his papers, organized CD tributes and overseen the development of the website TedGreene.com that publishes his charts, writings, photos and even lesson videos donated by his students. Franklin has done a marvelous job in My Life with the Chord Chemist of enlarging our understanding of Greene's life and perserving the very valuable work he devoted his life to creating.