Boris Johnson stopped me getting fit – but he couldn’t come between me and my guitar

I’m still no Jimi Hendrix, but after a year’s solid practice I have just about mastered one R&B track

Written by Nish in The Guardian on December 30th, 2020

This year, my original new year resolution was to be a two-pronged attack on my unhealthy lifestyle in the form of restrictions on booze and food. Sadly, that was waylaid by the unavoidable catastrophe of coronavirus, paired with the wildly avoidable catastrophe of Boris Johnson being prime minister.

Given that we have been trapped in our homes, I had to rapidly reimagine my ambitions. Without the assistance of chicken so deep fried it practically becomes a sedative, or the sweet embrace of red wine, I suspect I would not have been able to cope with 2020.

Now, I know what you are thinking: “Nish, the lockdown didn’t start until 23 March, by which time you could have made good inroads into either one of those two facets of your resolution.” Well, all I can say is that the virus has provided a convenient smokescreen for all sorts of things – from the end of relationships to the collapse of the US economy – and I see no reason why I should be any different.

I decided to amend my resolution to something more specific: “Learn to play the guitar part to Frank Ocean’s Ivy.” It is an emotional earthquake, a depiction of nostalgia for a lost love that causes a controlled explosion in the centre of my being every time I hear it – but I suppose you could also describe it as a “song”, if you want to get technical.

Perhaps one of the least surprising things about me is that I play the guitar quite badly. I carry the stench of “saw a video of Jimi Hendrix when he was 14, immediately decided to play the guitar, rarely spoke to girls” – no matter how frequently I wash. As a player, I compensate for a lack of technical ability with sheer enthusiasm, much as with my dancing or my standup comedy (I appreciate that there is probably space here for some kind of sexual reference, but my parents read this newspaper).

Ivy is the second track from Ocean’s 2016 album Blonde. Ocean is the crown prince of sad-lad, spaced-out R&B, a genre I just invented. The guitar part is played by Rostam Batmanglij and appears simple, but is complex and layered, like snowfall or a big trifle. Aside from professional obligations, it has been the sole focus of my year.

The version I have learned is from a guitar player on YouTube. I am not going to reveal this person’s name, given they are violating various copyright laws, but you can find it pretty easily. I am many things (lazy, sloppy, a sufferer of self-diagnosed IBS), but I am not a nark.

At this point in the year, I can do a relatively passable job of playing Ivy. That may not sound like much, but let me assure you: this is my most successful resolution of all time. Maybe the stress of the pandemic has made focusing on a small, achievable goal more palatable, but, even so – and not for the first time in my life – I am incredibly grateful for Frank Ocean and my guitar.