Monday, April 30, 2012

Destiny Calls

Bob Dylan once said that “Destiny is a feeling you have that you know something about yourself nobody else does. The picture you have in your own mind of what you're about WILL COME TRUE. It's a kind of a thing you kind of have to keep to your own self, because it's a fragile feeling, and you put it out there, then someone will kill it. It's best to keep that all inside.”

In an age of technological rubbish and social control, child manipulation and political turmoil, it becomes more and more apparent to me how that old Kerouac trip seems more necessary now than when it actually happened. In the Beat era though, it was still the blooming of a nation, a government still trying to figure out how to control citizens. Unfortunately, now they’ve figured it out after 60 years: give everyone really nifty, intuitive cell phones. Not just a cell phone, though…but a tracking device, a statistic calculator, a heap of distractions, bright colors, and seemingly convenient and groundbreaking functionality.

From a personal point of view, I am at an age of 25, an age that becomes more important and crucial as you approach 26. What have I done? Well, I went to high school, formed some deep musical and personal friendships,  moved up to the mountains with a girl for 2 years, came back to my home town, played gigs, moved to Nashville for a year, got in with a band, played some gigs, and then I lost my job. And where do you go from there? Do you stick around Nashville? Do you head home? Do you curl up and die?

My idea of my destiny never comes out of my head. Like Bob Dylan says, as soon as you open up to someone else about it, your perception of it can change with negative judgment, so it’s best just to shut up about it and keep people on their toes and guessing. It isn’t worth your insecurities.

So what have I decided? Well, as much as I love the city of Nashville and the southern pace, I might be heading home soon. One thing I do know for sure: from now on, I’m never signing a lease with somebody else. Sorry; will never happen again. I always feel guilty when I want to up and leave, which is one thing a human is always able to do, no matter what anyone says. This is the second time I’ve found myself in such a predicament. When I told him about my yearning to get home, a wise friend told me, “Never sign a lease. The word sounds too much like leash. They’ll have you by the balls.”

And he’s right. But in the long run, a lease holds no candle to what your heart desires. My heart desires the company of close friends, family, my homeland, and a little bit of ambition and perseverance. I just cannot get that down here. I have Drew, and I’ve made some friends, but there’s no family, and your ambition and perseverance get severed by the competition and standards of Downtown Nashville and Music Row (the latter being virtually extinct due to consumer recording innovations). It’s a wasteland. It’s an established standard and formula. There’s no room for innovation.

Culturally, it’s a fine city. Nashville is one of the best nightlife scenes I’ve ever experienced, anywhere. But once you get outside the city, where do you go? There’s only a 10 square-mile radius of city offshoots, and then you’re headed into the sticks. That can be great for an established band. But for a band that’s settling there and starting from the ground up, you’re going to run out of gigs. You’ll need to go on tour, paying out of your asshole.

My thoughts drift to Henry David Thoreau, a true hero of mine and a historical symbol of New England independence. He said that you never really had to go too far from your hometown to discover the secrets and wonders of life, in his case, being the thousands of species of flora and animals in the area. Sometimes it’s not so good to think outside the box. Sometimes it’s better to look at the Big Picture. Outside the Box and The Big Picture are two completely different things.

Maybe sometimes, you’re better off where you’re comfortable, because if you’re comfortable there, why seek to be comfortable elsewhere? A lot of people aren’t comfortable with where they came from; either they grow bored of the geography because to them it seems there’s “nowhere to go”, “no one to see” and “nothing to do”, so they take off and pursue their endeavors elsewhere. And that’s fine; that’s genius. But for me, it takes getting away from New England to realize that I belong there, that I’m comfortable there, and that I have the best chances of making a career there.

My destiny points to the North. I’ve always heard it’s all about who you know, and I know more folks than I can count up there. This isn’t the 60’s; I can’t just move somewhere and expect to be somebody else, especially when living with a lifelong friend. By somebody else, I just mean rebooting your drive and focusing on being ambitious and making things happen. It’s so much harder when you start from scratch. Whereas up in New England, I’m connected; it’ll happen faster. At this point in my life, at the crucial and breaking-point age of 25, this is the option I’m taking, because it’s realistic, it intrigues me, and it makes me feel good.

Destiny isn’t about pushing it to the limit. Destiny is tied into your instincts. You are in control of your destiny, but little things pop up that you can’t really explain that have a tendency to stop you in your tracks and make you think; these pop-ups are incredibly important. I find that usually, it’s best to just roll with whatever. You can decide to turn around later. You always have a choice, and you can always walk away. You might get in trouble, you might get hurt, you might lose some money, but at least you went with the flow. You’re not sitting on a shitty couch in a shitty apartment thinking, “Man, I should’ve gone with that deal”, and instead you’re thinking, “I did the best I could. I wonder what’s next.”

It’s all how you look at it. I think Forrest Gump was right when he said life is a little bit of both; it’s a mixture of having a destiny written for you, and having the ability to control that destiny. You have to trust your feelings; they’re given to you by God (or whoever runs this place). If you don’t trust your feelings, you’re flipping God the bird.

Whatever happens, happens, through the natural course of time. You are a variable in this string of time. You decide what happens next, but there will be those feelings. And there will be times when your heart tugs harder on your soul than the rationale of the mind, and although it may seem far-fetched, you must trust your heart. For instance, I would rather be surrounded by 200 friends and family, than three band members who have no idea where I’m from. I would rather sit by a murky pond in May when I can still see my breath, rather than a stifling, humid river among sweaty southerners. The early summer is beautiful, but it doesn’t mean it taps into who I really am, and where I came from.

I like the southern vibe; I like sitting outside and getting sweaty and tired from just sitting there; I like the music; but I don’t like the attitude. I was brought up in a fast-thinking, fast-moving society, and I can’t help but feel out of place here. Everyone down here is in no hurry to get anywhere. And when I look at myself, I’m in a hurry to do things and get things done! IT WILL NOT GET DONE DOWN HERE.

So, still in Tennessee, amongst feelings of angst and yearning to hit the road up the East coast, I’ll say my goodbyes with a lump in my throat and head out just like Stosh would’ve done. We all have ticking clocks, just like he did. My clock is reaching the stroke of midnight. And after midnight, we’re gonna let it all hang out.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Learnings About Guitar Rhythm

I have loved the playing of Jerry Garcia for years. I encountered albums of the Dead when I was probably about 13 or 14, but never really became immersed in them until after high school. I have personal belief that I have loved Garcia's playing subconsciously since I was a little boy, maybe as early as 5 or 6 years old, hearing him play on the radio or amongst my family.
I suppose it was the way he "sang" with the guitar that really drew me in initially. However, as a musician myself, although I've studied some of his leads and listened to his phrasing rather closely, I find that he has influenced me as a rhythm player just as much.
A lot of really far-out folks that I've talked to about this will agree with me when I say that he plays off of the reverb. I have heard Jerry's playing on records without any reverb, and it's drastically different. It is still always recognizable, but it's different. His acoustic playing plays off the sympathetic overtones. He's very aware of a "field" of sound.
So when he plays off the reverb, he can make staccato chord strikes, yet induce their sustaining properties through reverb. It's genius, and although many players before him utilized this same sound, it was he who made it beautiful, and a true trait of his sound. The upstrokes involved in his rhythm playing are so natural. He is a true example of how much of the best rhythm playing isn't all in the strumming hand; so much is in the fretting hand.
Watch any talented rhythm player, and unless it's jazz or classical, it's likely that it's just a continuous strumming motion. It's their fretting hand that syncopates the chordal phrasing. Leaving the chord position there but merely lifting the fretting hand stops the chord immediately, leaving only a noteless, percussive, raking rhythm from the strumming hand. There are many possibilities, especially once you start altering the right hand.
The Famous Chuck Berry Rhythm. The all holy "da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da". Many players learned to take this same rhythm, same chord, same notes, same position, and make a slightly different sound out of it by deadening the notes with their fretting hand. Keith Richards, enough said.
I guess what I like about Jerry is that he knew that he sounded like nobody else. He knew that he sounded best with a rather clean, powerful signal from his Fender Twins, and I'm not sure anyone can use a Fender Twin without using the reverb! Fender reverb is the most beautiful spring reverb I've ever heard, and Jerry knew that too. Once you start to break down Garcia's lead playing, you'll find it's rather simple; just innovative. You can learn his licks pretty quickly. What isn't so easy, is getting that punchy, driving Garcia rhythm tone.
Once I learned it, I knew that I could use it for many different things, in many different ways.