Thursday, July 10, 2008
While answering some questions for an interview, I was reminded of those rare moments in a person's life when something just clicks on. A story, a work of art, a piece of music. It's as if you're stumbling around in a dark basement, looking for something, only you can't remember what it is. But then you finally find it and your whole world changes. It doesn't happen very often, but when it does, you just know it. For me, one of those rare moments happened in 1988.
My freakishly talented younger brother had just started learning how to play guitar. He was one of those kids that understood the instrument and could make it do things from day one. You know the kind of kid I'm talking about. There are things that he was able to do at 13 that I still can't do today, and I can throw down like a motherfucker.
Since I wasn't about to have my brother be better at anything than I was, I figured I'd learn how to play myself. So I would sneak into his room and tinker on his guitar and browse through his guitar magazines. I wasn't doing it because I thought playing was fun or that it really interested me, I was doing it because HE was doing it. One should never underestimate the power of brotherly rivalry.
But the more I tinkered with it, the more it genuinely interested me. I figured that if I was going to be serious about it (well, at least as serious as a 17 year old could be about anything just to upstage his brother), I should probably familiarize myself with some of the music featured in my brother's guitar magazines. Keep in mind, I lived in a farming community in the 80s. We only had a couple of Top 40 radio stations and cable hadn't come to our town yet so only rich people in Roselawn had MTV. So unless a friend had something from these artists, I had no idea what they sounded like. So I took a chance and bought a couple of tapes based on ads I saw in the guitar magazines (yes, tapes. I'm old, get over it). One was Yngwie Malmsteen's Marching Out and the other was Joe Satriani's Dreamin #11.
I had heard of Yngwie before and saw his ads all over the magazines. He was the "Neo-Classical" guy who was supposedly so fast that he literally set his guitar on fire when he played. Fast? Yes. Flammable? No. Still, Marching Out was the tape I was most looking forward to. I had this bizarre hope that the tape would like the end of the movie Crossroads and be nothing but classical music played on electric guitar. It wasn't. I still enjoyed the music, for the most part, but it didn't set my world on fire.
So after listening to that tape and being mildly disappointed, I thought I'd give this Joe guy a try and see what he could do. I knew nothing about him and had heard none of his music (even though his Surfing With the Alien had already won a Grammy by then) but I remembered him from ads for Dimarzio pickups. Maybe this guy could fulfill my need for shred. So I popped the tape in and the first song to play was "The Crush of Love." Did he shred? No.
With his guitar!
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. It wasn't shred or pyrotechnic solos (though, he most certainly does that too), it was music. Strange, beautiful music. I honestly kept thinking to myself that I had heard it somewhere before, but I hadn't. Yet its melody hit me on such a primal level that it felt like I had been yearning to hear that all my life. The top of my head just came off. And it was at that moment playing the guitar was no longer about competing with my brother, but about playing music.
I had a moment like that for writing as well, but I'll address that in the interview (I'll post a link here when it's up). For now, just sit back and enjoy.