Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Holy smokes, comrades!

I've had a tremendous insight today, and I want to share it with you!

It's the meaning of music, or at least how I see it. But before you hear that story, you have to hear this one...

Half a lifetime ago, but then again, that's not too long, I went through a phase that perhaps some of you could relate to. I would become intensely interested in various topics - paleontology, ornithology, magic, and photography, for example, and not unlike those love songs you hear over the speakers at the supermarket, I'd want to be with them forever. Further drawing on the grocery store analogy, it would then evolve into a tabloid story of "Josh tells paleontology he's finished." OK, scratch that, I guess nobody can relate to that.

Imagine my concern when I found guitar. I kept waiting for it to wear off, but it never did. The closest I ever came to quitting was two years ago, lugging amps through a bad section of Baltimore on my way to a low paying gig. "What are those cameras for on the street lights, man? Oh those? Police cameras...There's usually been a murder on those streets if there's a camera." I got through the gig alright, and after a few weeks, seemed to be back on the bandwagon, if you'll pardon the pun.

But still, there was that nagging doubt I had felt for years. When I read the articles with the guitar greats, saying how they could lock themselves in the cellar and practice arpeggios for 25 hours day at warp speed, have fun, and not want to do anything else, I couldn't relate to it at all. I mean, I could work all day at music, but I liked the blue sky and the breeze, and wandering around cities and watching trains. So where did this leave me?

Cut to yesterday. Wandering on back to the kitchen at my studio building, I picked up the latest issue of a popular guitar magazine that had arrived in the mail that morning. Waiting to hear the tasty "beep!" of the microwave announcing the completion of the veggie burgers, I thumbed through the pages and got more and more ticked.

BOY was it stale. It was either about old players telling the same old stories, or new players sounding like the old players, or an impossible permutation of an exotic scale "explained." Sure, I realized my sadness that I can't shred like Steve or Joe was probably a big part of it, but I was really annoyed.

It seemed that I might have reached the end of my interest. Yet, I knew that it wasn't music I was frustrated with, only the way it was portrayed.

I teach in analogies, and I guess I think in them, too. I was driving along today, and, to borrow a term from my mom, it's like my car is a magic phone booth or zephyr or something. I get the coolest ideas in it. Well, all of a sudden, I realized what it was:

It was if I was reading a writing magazine, and they were discussing Charles Dickens' choice of writing utensil, and if the latest brand of paper was really true to Tolstoy's legacy.

Missed was the story, message, very picture of life itself that these great artists were writing about.

I got really enthused about this train of thought. It means that I'm no longer just resigned to re-processing the same tired old scales and cliches. It means that they are brushes and paints with which to portray and interpret the world as I would like to share it.

Music as a sonic camera - that's what it really is. Vignettes of life, portraits of the ordinary and gut wrenching, a still life of the city. All of it, and the music is just the vehicle with which these pictures and feelings are conveyed. A camera is lame just sitting up on a shelf, and music can get boring if we're just living and breathing the notes, not living and breathing what the notes can coonvey. There's only 12 notes, and only 3 colors, but man, can we paint with 'em.

I love cars, but for all the shop talk, I love what they allow me to do more. I love that they allow me to show up somewhere and change the world. Sure, it was nice to have a Chevy 350 get me there (or D Dorian mode), but the things I accomplish once I'm there mean much more to me than how I got there. And so is it with music. Now, this is not to say that hard work and discipline are out the window. If I'm a sculptor, and I want to convey an idea using a metal sculpture, well, I'll have to learn to weld. I can't just paint it. And that might take some practice. But it's practice for a purpose.

I'm so excited. Now I can drink in that blue sky...and tell the world about it with a song.

What a great way to end 2010. I've finally, finally got something that makes sense to me!

Happy New Year! I'm off to go interpret the world!

- Josh

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