I’ve been seeing posters like the one above for the newly released movie, Ricki and the Flash, (starring Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer, Audra McDonald, Sebastian Stan, and Rick Springfield) in my travels around New York City for quite a few weeks now and have to admit that I was fairly skeptical about how those involved with the film would go about posing Meryl Streep as a believable rock guitarist, singer, and performer. For, while she’s had a few recent turns singing in Mamma Mia and Into The Woods, I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around her believably delivering the goods in a rock-genre role. Truth be told, although I’m planning on seeing Ricki and the Flash in a few days, I’ve yet to see it, so I can’t provide a personal report on my take about Ms. Streep’s performance. However, talking about the movie itself is digressing from the impetus of this article. (For those of you interested in the movie itself, please see the Sony Pictures press release at the end of this post.)
What is driving me to write this piece is what Meryl Streep did to prepare for her role which required playing guitar in a way that went beyond her rudimentary knowledge of guitar chords. To ready herself for her role, Ms. Streep immersed herself in the guitar lesson process by taking eight hours of guitar lessons every day for a month. That’s 240 hours – maybe 160 hours, if you consider five-day weeks as the model – of guitar lessons in the course of a month. If one were taking a one-hour guitar lesson each week, it would take anywhere from three to five years to accumulate those kinds of numbers. Now, of course, we understand that the two models of guitar lessons (standard protocol guitar lessons vs. immersion guitar lessons) are not easily equated or exactly comparable. But, what is intriguing about the immersion approach is exactly what various posts on the Lessons.com blog have alluded to, namely the misconception that the only way to learn guitar is by taking a half-hour or an hour guitar lesson one time per week or less.
According to a story in The New York Post by Jerry Oleksinski (See the story here.) on August 2, “‘The reason [Streep] is believable is that it’s actually her playing,’” says Neil Citron, who coached the actress on guitar. There’s no stunt double jamming behind a curtain.’ Before meeting Citron, who has played with heavy-metal gods Quiet Riot, the hard-working Streep had only dabbled on guitar. “She knew some basic chords . . . D and A and a little bit of a G chord,” he tells The Post.
“Citron coached her for a month, eight hours every day, before two weeks of rehearsals with the guys who play the members of her band — real-life working musicians including Rick Springfield and Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell.”
The premise our various articles have proffered – in essence, the more guitar lessons, the more often, the better – seems to be born out by the results. The Post story goes on to say: ‘ “The practice paid off. Springfield told The Post back in February that Streep “looks more comfortable with a guitar on her than I do! It’s pretty amazing. I saw how brave she was — and she didn’t need to be, because she’s who she is, but she was experimenting.” ‘
While I can fully understand that most don’t have the financial means to afford, nor the time to devote to such a rigorous schedule of guitar lessons, I also feel that when those who do have those kinds of resources pursue such a course of learning, it clearly demonstrates how the immersion experience is the mode of choice. At the very least why shouldn’t we consider the options in our approach to the most effective way of learning guitar – independent of our restrictions or limitations?
As I mentioned above, here’s the press release from Sony Pictures:
Meryl Streep takes on a whole new gig – a hard-rocking singer/guitarist – for Oscar®-winning director Jonathan Demme and Academy Award®-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody in Ricki and the Flash. In an original and electrifying film loaded with live musical performances, Streep stars as Ricki Rendazzo, a guitar heroine who made a world of mistakes as she followed her dreams of rock-and-roll stardom. Returning home, Ricki gets a shot at redemption and a chance to make things right as she faces the music with her family. Streep stars opposite her real-life daughter Mamie Gummer; Rick Springfield, portraying a Flash member in love with Ricki; Kevin Kline as Ricki’s ex-husband; and Audra McDonald as Kline’s new wife.