Category Archives: Guitar stuff

Confessions of an Inverse Snob

Just recently I had the opportunity to meet one of the heroes of my youth. And while both of us may have aged somewhat over the last 25 years, it was still a real buzz.

The hero I’m referring to is Joe Satriani, and believe me he is still very much at the top of his game.

For those of you who don’t know of whom I speak, it is probably easiest to describe Joe as being the ultimate guitarists’ guitarist. He can do things when he plays that causes mere mortals like myself to question why they ever bothered to pick up a guitar in the first place.

I do believe the Devil himself would sell his own soul to be able to play as well as Joe (or Satch as he is known to his legions of fans).

But enough. I could enthuse about Joe’s mad skills forever. However, that is not my intent. Because what I really wanted to focus on here was the man himself.

You see, in person, Joe happened to be everything you would want your hero to be: humble, polite, very centered and totally inspiring. And I know all this from a quick handshake and a brief exchange of words as I got my photo taken with the great Professor Satchafunkilus

So what of it? I hear you ask. Well, I suppose, this is meant to serve as a confession of sorts. For as much as I am ashamed to admit it, I didn’t conduct myself in a totally dignified fashion throughout this fleeting interaction.

The problem was that I initially approached meeting Joe with the wrong attitude. I thought he would be all aloof and dismissive with me, his being world-famous and all. And so, I therefore acted like an “inverse snob”, sort of almost snubbing him before he could snub me type-thing.

Fortunately, his gentle, zen-like demeanor cut through all my crap real quick. And that’s when I realized it’s not always enough to be the very best at something. Because if you’re going to rise to the top of whatever it is you do, you’re also going to have to learn how to deal with other people on a major scale. Something which is an entirely different skill set again.

Anyway, that was my recent celebrity encounter and subsequent bout of self-analysis. And so now I wonder if any of you have had a similar experience? And, if so, what did you take from it?

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The High Price of Obscurity

Due to the fairly mild weather where I was today, I went out and did some busking. It was nothing too elaborate. I kept it pretty basic, limiting my set up to just me and my guitar and a microphone stand down by a wharf. Although I did also use a little busking amp (that runs on batteries), to cut through the sound of passing traffic and general street noise.

As a rule of thumb, I tend to get around $40/hr wherever I busk; and today was no different to usual. Which got me next thinking about how impossible it is for me to make any kind of money at all from writing, my other great passion alongside playing music.

Seriously, over the last 20 years or so, I have earned 10’s of thousands of dollars kicking around in dead-end bands and teaching guitar and busking etc. But, please, you must trust me that I’m not telling you this so as to boast about it. I’m just pointing out a fact, so as to put what I’m trying to say in context.

Because, even though I have a degree in English literature and have spent many years trying to refine my writing style — during which time I have also completed a novel, I might add — I’ve never managed to make any real money out of being a writer.

Sure, at the drop of a hat, quite literally, I can stand on any street corner in the country and earn enough money to feed myself, by busking. But, trust me, if I had to make an equivalent amount of cash through writing I would immediately end up starving.

“So what’s up with that?” I ask you.

Yeah, okay, you might argue that busking is simply a less demeaning form of begging. And that people are merely handing over their money to buskers the same way they would to someone who was panhandling.

Well, of course, it hardly needs to be said I totally disagree with this view of busking. And yet while I could next go on to explain exactly why it is that I disagree. I’m not going to for the sake of brevity.

Suffice to say that I’m much more interested, instead, in again lamenting the sorry fact that, as a writer, I have no means by which to make the sort of money I can from strumming a few chords while casually belting out a handful of old Iggy Pop and Lou Reed standards.

From searching the Internet, I gather what I’m suffering from is actually referred to as Starving Writer Syndrome. A condition that evidently is largely fed by a misguided belief that there is something romantic about living in obscurity as a struggling writer.

Notwithstanding the accuracy of this label, I’ve decided to end (somewhat ironically) with a quote from a famous musician about his view on making money from writing. To my mind, it neatly captures my own misgivings about professional writing, more generally. And perhaps it even helps explain why I have not enjoyed any real financial return for my literary efforts so far.

“I didn’t want to write for pay. I wanted to be paid for what I write.”Leonard Cohen


Love Me Two Times — The Impossible Task of Keeping Both of My Muses Satisfied

radiohead at heineken music hall, may 9. Ed O'...

radiohead at heineken music hall, may 9. Ed O’Brien (left), Thom Yorke (right) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m a dirty, two-timing swine. There, I said it! And, yeah, I know what you’re thinking now, too. How can I live with myself?

Well, the truth is, it just sort of happened. I didn’t set out to fall in love with two muses. But that’s exactly what has taken place. On the one hand, I have a love for words and writing. While on the other, I’m just as passionate about being a musician. Oh, God, I feel so torn!

You see, I can’t ever indulge one of my loves without feeling I’m cheating on the other. I don’t think being a Gemini helps, either. Because, ultimately, I want to be true to both my muses at the same time, but the physical reality is that there is only one of me. Not two, damn it.

Even as I’m writing this, I’m suffering from the guilt of knowing I’m neglecting my guitar playing. And yet earlier today, when I was struggling to learn the fingerpicked guitar part to Radiohead’s Street Spirit all I could think about was writing today’s blog. Aargh!

And you know what? That’s the problem right there. The fact that I was struggling with what’s really a pretty simple bit of finger work. Now, believe me, I’m not disrespecting Radiohead’s musicianship, far from it, I’m just saying I have mastered much harder pieces five minutes before having to play them at some stranger’s wedding.
(FYI I’m talking about what’s often required of me as a guitarist in a covers band, at this point).

Anyway, lately, I’ve been going really hard on my writing again, including trying to keep up this blog for instance. The only trouble is my guitar playing has dropped off as a direct consequence. I can’t please both of my muses at once, you understand. And it’s driving me crazy, because I love them equally.

You’re probably inclined to think that I should just shut up and choose between the two. But I can’t. If I stay too long away from either passion I get totally depressed. I need them both for different reasons. The power of words and the associated act of writing, more generally, fires my imagination, while playing music stirs my soul.

So, look, there’s this Sufi proverb, I know of, which I like to think perfectly sums up the predicament I’m faced with, which says that, “the imagination is the seat of the soul”. Meaning that the two are totally interconnected.

Suffice to say, then, that I can’t bear to think of living without either one of my muses for longer than a day or two.

Although I only wish they’d kick in occasionally and help pay a greater share of the rent, every so often. Just sayin’…

'Only Sufism' Facebook capcha

‘Only Sufism’ Facebook capcha (Photo credit: FredMikeRudy)