Wednesday, September 12, 2007


"When a Navajo woman weaves a basket, she leaves a hole in it to let the spirit out."

The XM radio on, I was cruising noisily home last night...Over the rumble of the beautiful music of Flowmaster (the mufflers), I was relaxin' to some tunes.

Bam, there the lesson was, waiting for me. It usually ends up annoying me, and then explaining itself. Not unlike how I myself teach.

Since I never, ever, want to be a critic, I won't refer to the names or genres of musicians that taught me this lesson.

These guys I was listening to were very talented. Burning, soaring, toneful. The entire band was cookin', better than I'll ever be in that genre. There's a few of these talented guys, and they're also related.

When I listen to them, I hear technical perfection, stellar listening skills, amazing tone, experience, and dedication to the art form. I do notice something that's missing. Imperfection.

I didn't realize how important it was until last night. Leaving a hole in the music, just as the Indian woman leaves a hole in the basket to let the spirit out, is a hallmark of my favorite musicians.

When I listen to the imperfect glory of these guys or girls, I lean in to listen, and get thrown back by the magnitude of soul that emanates from the recordings.

If we examine the "basket case" again, we can see a few noteworthy points. (By the way, it could be a blanket that the crafts person left the hole in. The reference has escaped me.)

The Old Blues Guys

Why do we still like these cats? The modern age is full of better slide guitarists, talented
singers, it's fair share of injustice, and recorders that blow away the old technology, AND fit in your back pocket.

While everyone has their different reasons, to me, these guys had a big, gaping hole in their music. Plunking, wailing, and beating away on their guitars and harmonicas, these dudes got their feelings across with three chords. So genuine, and so real, the hole in their music was of a dimension to let enough soul out to save the entire stadium watching Joel Osteen and the Dentist's Pride. (If that guy decides to race motorcycles, I bet Johnson and Johnson Mint Waxed Floss will sponsor him.)

Eddie Van Halen

For a hundred bucks, you can go see this guy play the stadium circuit this fall. He's one of my favorites. I've got shoes, basketball hoops, and suits painted like his guitar. Every time I turn around, he's on the cover of the latest guitar mag, grinning 'cause he knows his replica guitar sells for about the price of a new mustang.

Is he the fastest guy around? No. Check out guys like Yngwie Malmsteen, Rusty Cooley, or Michael Angelo Batio for faster stuff.

How about guitar tricks? Two words. Stanley Jordan.

Perhaps he was blessed with better frontmen? How about Zakk Wylde playing behind OZZY?
(Last time I checked, Diamond Dave hasn't bitten any bats.)

So what's this guy's dealio? Again, this is just my take, but I think Eddie has a certain authenticity to his playing. He sounds real. There's a person on the other side of that record. He rocks the house, yet he's still believable. There's a hole in his playing that lets the soul out.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

Talk about holes! The one in Stevie's music is so in your face, his soul roars through with it's signature subtlety, delicacy, and smooth sounds commonly found in a jet engine.

Stevie isn't the chops dog of the 80's (although he could burn). Nor is he known for his hip chord voicings, or harmonic innovation.

But man, he could play. And when I watch him, all I hear is soul. Less a guitarist, or even a musician, and more this strange, powerful force that pounds on the door of your spirit in the middle of the night, and barks "open."

John Coltrane

Johnny sure knew that saxophone. If you haven't heard this formidable jazz musician, do yourself a favor, and go buy one of his Cd's.

A contemporary of Miles Davis, and an important contributor to bebop, Coltrane pushed the harmonic boundary of jazz, especially with his tune "Giant Steps." A "shredder" and innovator, John could play fast, and slow. And he could make you cry.

There is a warmth to his playing that draws me in. I'm hearing a person, not a machine. Granted, a brilliant and practiced musician...But still a person.


Robert Johnson, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and John Coltrane. There's a dinner party for ya! We see that we have shredders, bluesmen, singers, and jazz cats. So this "brilliance in imperfection" idea is not the latest jab at glam rockers, or a snub to the jazzy among us.

I see this pattern, and resulting lesson, as a teaching of authenticity. They're expressing
a voice of themselves, not the voice of a scale book, or a lesson on music history. It's organic and alive, even if the musician has passed on to jam with Jimi Hendrix.

This realness is the difference between a walmart basket, and the one that's handmade by the old mountain man.

When true mastery is attained, the instrument, and the person, dissolve, and the music remains. If the musician concentrates too much on the instrument, and forgets to express with their hard earned skill, we hear a great athlete of the discipline, and the soul can be lost.


Hey, guess what! This doesn't have to take years. On the flip side, it could take forever. Just as some people have their head on straight by the time they're fifteen, and some folks will die worried, alone, and afraid, so to is it with the mastery of music.

So what are you gonna do?

"There's a fine line between genius and stupidity. The difference is stupidity has it's limits."
- Albert Einstein

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.