The Electric Guitar and the Shortness of Human Life

I started taking guitar lessons this week for the first time in years.  I took lessons when I was younger, but a great deal of the stuff I know is self-taught.  I always approached the guitar like a songwriter, from a compositional standpoint, and I really want my playing to equal the best of what I can write.  Although I was always good at coming up with guitar parts, I have never been a great soloist.  For years I have tried to learn how to be the best songwriter possible.  I listened to an infinite number of albums and read as much as I could.  (I am still under the impression and possible fallacy that a good songwriter should read a lot, so as to not just spout cliches.)  Most of the time when I would pick up a guitar, although there have been plenty of times I practiced the art of playing, I usually was trying to write songs.  I’ve played bass professionally for the last few years, even though I grew up switching back and forth between that and guitar.  When I needed to pick the guitar up again, as I have started performing solo shows, I knew I needed to up my game.  I also figured with guitar lessons I would learn new things for bass, whereas you one could learn a lot about bass and not have it necessarily transfer to guitar.

In one lesson I learned as much as I have in five years of playing in my house.  It’s amazing how many nights you can hold an instrument and for there to still be a seemingly infinite amount of knowledge that you don’t possess.  For everything I can do on an instrument, and I can do a lot, there are probably ten things I can’t do.

I find the electric guitar really fascinating because it seems an instrument of endless possibility.  It is the one instrument that relies so equally on a combination of technology and humanity.  The way everyone holds and touches one is unique to that person in the way that all stringed instruments are.  However, with electric guitar you must also find the right combination of amps and effects to achieve the desired sound.

That’s one thing that always comes back to me in life and taking lessons again has only enforced it:  How much we don’t know.  You can work at something for years and still have so much to learn.   I don’t understand those that aren’t curious, that are too comfortable being comfortable.  I especially don’t understand those that are arrogant enough to believe that they know everything.  When this is in the arts it might just be a charming character flaw.  When it is mingled with religion or politics it can become fatal.  Human life is so short and there is so much we don’t know…

Johnny Depp: Actors that Start Bands Make Him “Sick”

Johny Depp: Actors that Start Bands Make Him “Sick”

The above link is to an article where Johnny Depp discusses his distaste for actors who use their fame to start bands.  Depp plays music with others on the side, but would never form his own project because most people would only want to see it due to fame.

I was trying to think of people that were famous in one career, that moved over into music later in life, and there isn’t many that I can think of that actually made valid music.  David Lynch has gone from being a director to creating valid music at times, even releasing solo records.  However, Lynch has always been sort of a Renaissance man.  He was involved in the music and sound design of many of his films.  He wrote the lyrics for the Julee Cruise albums that him and Angelo Badalamenti did with her.  I think someone like Lynch is the exception and not the rule though.

One of the things that is really troubling in Austin is that you see a lot of the young rich starting bands and taking up club slots on the weekends.  The tech industry is really big in Austin.  You will have these guys that are rich by the time they are in their 30’s start up these massively funded bands, taking slots away from working musicians.  If they were any good one could possibly ignore it.  Although I’m sure one of those kinds of bands is actually decent, most of them are terrible.  Sure, they are usually professional, as they can afford to buy good equipment, pay for promotion, take professional photographs, buy good looking stage outfits, etc.  However, the music itself is usually the worst kind of cliched nonsense.  It may seem like I am jealous, and I do feel it is an insult to people that have spent years honing their craft, but really I just wish my ears wouldn’t be polluted by so much nonsense.  The 1% will not only own 50% of the wealth by 2016, but are also pumping out more than their fair share of sonic gibberish.  There are some that will refuse to believe me, and will think that this is some kind of personal vindictiveness, but I would so rather hear rich guys making amazing music than poor people making total shite.  However, this is rarely the case.  Most of these “weekend warrior” bands are making, to quote Keith Richards when talking of Mick Jagger’s solo album, “dogshit in the doorway”.

Save Me From Life

Lifeguard – save me from life
Save me from life
Save me from life
Save me from the ails and the ills, and from other things – Morrissey

I know from personal experience that there are musicians that will try to turn every defeat into a victory, but that’s just not me.  Tonight’s show was one of those nights where it was a coin toss between suicide and slipping someone’s throat, watching them bleed out slow down the sewer drain.

There were some amazing moments.  Some of the people that came out to support me were truly exceptional.  Friends that I hadn’t seen in awhile, new faces that were a pleasure to spend time with.  One couple came out for their second show ever and gave me The Clash’s Sandinista on CD, along with two CD’s of rare track.  That is the kind of kindness that one can never forget.

But then there was a sound man that didn’t even know the set times and was rushing me the entire night.  I was supposed to play for an hour, but I only got 40 minutes.  I thought about sacrificing him to Beelzebub.  I would go to jail, and definitely hell, but I might live on eternally in local lore, creating the kind of darkly humorous story that would keep others alive in trying times.  A sound man sacrificed like a goat in front of horrified patrons.  Some of the other staff members were quite nice, so I decided not to create a local ghost story.  (Perhaps it will be a deeply held regret on my own deathbed.)

There were also certain patrons that looked like they had withered their lives away at the same barstool.  Indifferent to anything I played.  Indifferent to the songs booming out of the PA between sets, whether it was the Dead Kennedy’s or Iron Maiden.  They sat there like weather beaten wooden Indians.  These are the kind of people that, when they outnumber the living, can make a bar feel like a tomb.

Time has a funny way of healing all wounds rather quickly.  (Or as Nick Lowe sang, “Time wounds all heels.”)  I’m sure after a good nights sleep I will be ready for the next dash into the ring.  I actually played fairly well and there were some incredibly amazing souls in the room.  Usually nothing gets to me on stage.  I’ve played more shows than I could ever count and some are excellent, some are bad, and most are good.  That is the way of the world.  But something tonight left me feeling rather rotten and slightly evil.

One thing I’ve learned is, if you feel your mood darken, don’t try to prevent it. Embrace it and let it go as far as possible.  Eventually if you let it take you far enough, you will pass through the looking glass and emerge out the other side, cleansed and purified.  Laughing all the way to the…

Sleeping Like a Baby in ATX Tonight

Comedy is what happens to others
Tragedy is what happens to you
If I ever get through the gates of heaven
I’m gonna punch the first thing in view
Since the Ides of March, I’ve traveled far
Through Appalachia and Dixieland
Searching for the one who
Sees me as I am

I’m sleeping like a baby
Still chasing that dream
Never sure if what I’m wishing for
Is dignified or obscene

I went from Paris in the springtime
To Hitler in the first chill of the fall
Taking up arms against
All of nature’s laws
Maureen, oh Maureen, she was my first true love
And I often think of who will be my last
She’ll need an iron will and selective memory
If I’ve learned anything from my past

I’m sleeping like a baby
Still chasing that dream
Never sure if what I’m wishing for
is dignified or obscene

There’s snow on the pines and ice on the road
And it’s getting hard to steer 
And I’ve found myself laughing at
The things that I used to fear
The things that I used to fear…

I’m sleeping like a baby
Still chasing that dream
Never sure if what I’m wishing for
Is dignified or obscene

Sleeping Like a Baby by No Show Ponies.  This is the first song I wrote after moving to Austin, Texas.  It was on our first album we made here, The End of Feel Good Music.  The album as a whole is a mixed bag that didn’t turn out quite like we imagined.  It ended up being too alt-country in our minds, which was our fault, but we accidentally stumbled down that road.  However, this song, strangely also the most country of all the songs, was one that turned out exactly like it should have.

I’ll be performing it tonight down at Hole in the Wall in ATX.  Show begins at 10pm.

Rockin’ In the Free World On Saturday Night Live

Thanks to JR for the tip-off.  

I saw this today on a friend’s FB page.  It is so ridiculous and over the top that it is beautiful.  Probably my favorite live album of all time is Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s Weld.  (Note: The band above is not Crazy Horse, but is Neil’s band from the Freedom era.)  That entire album sounds like a fucking jet plane taking off.  I’m not a big live album collector, but there are a few, like Weld and Jimi Hendrix’s Live in Monterey, that capture something primal that cannot be duplicated elsewhere.  Anyway, I got such a big kick out of seeing the above video that I thought I’d share it.

Solo Gig This Friday

f-steve-vai-heartshaped

For those of you in the Austin area, I’ll be playing a solo gig this Friday night at the Hole in the Wall near UT.  Show begins at 10:30pm.  I’ll be joined by by Alex Moralez on drums.

And either the allergies are really bad today or the CIA is hitting my house with chemtrails of Nyquil…I say it is 50/50 either way…

Steamboat MusicFest

Steamboat_Lineup

Shinyribs Steamboat Dates

For the next week I’ll be at the the Steamboat MusicFest with Shinyribs.  I’m bringing my computer along so I can keep things updated.  Still, tomorrow I might be a bit off the grid as I travel.  I don’t ski, so I hope to read as many books and listen to as much music as possible between shows while I’m there.  That’s the plan anyway…

Here is the website for the festival itself:

Steamboat MusicFest