I’ll take d) for $500: Insecurity and Academic Balderdash in GuitarLand

2:47 AM seems as likely a time as any to hack away at a new post. I shoot for eight posts a day. Currently averaging one every six months. So if I ever get to a daily post, it’ll feel like a huge accomplishment and yet not even halfway to where I wanna be so as not to feel like I really worked that hard.

This week has brought some interesting conversations about modes- not about modes, actually, but as a matter of fact modes brought up some interesting conversations.
Though doubting mightily that the other participant in said conversation will read this ever, I’ll leave things on the safe side of vague so as to…well if this person reads this they will know I felt the conversation unpleasant enough that it needed redacting, so maybe that’s worse.

So it goes.

To generalize-

Gutiarists, and guitar teachers in particular, are a painfully insecure lot. As I’ve often said, there ain’t no drama like a boy drama. Modern men, being culturally disallowed from airing feelings with transparency, and now not even afforded the dubious luxury of generations past wherein they could openly and without shame punch each other in a consensual battle of non-wits without fear of ridiculous life-trajectory-altering litigation, now have few options. We are between a shitty rock (made of actual shit) and a shitty hard place (you guessed it, actual shit again), which is worse than just rocks and truly unyielding places because of the lack of honesty. These shit spots will yield a little sure, if you’re backed into them, which would offer a modicum of spatial relief if not for- now you’re catching on- the poop.

This is nonsense but you catch my drift. That’s a directive, YOU CATCH MY DRIFT, NOW!

So I post about modes, on TikTok. I explain them in the simplest way possible. I have sixty seconds. It goes like this:

Modes aren’t complicated. Anyone who wants to make them sound complicated either 1) Is a shit teacher, 2) Doesn’t know what they’re talking about, 3) Is trying to sell you something, or 4) some combination of 1, 2, and 3- usually at least two of them.

Major scale goes Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do (Re Mi Fa…ad infinitum). We can replace those Italian nonsense words with flavors of ice cream, one’s seven favorite dinosaurs, or say numbers. Numbers are more commonly used. Point is they’re just names, meaningful like all words only due to us having agreed that we’ve attached them as labels to the things they’re appointed to. In this case, the “thing” that Do Re…are appointed to are locations in musical space, along the axis of pitch, which is, unlike many musical terms, an extremely specific and definable and even scientific term referring to the sound of a note in terms of lowness or highness (and only in those terms- it describes nothing about any other characteristics of music, whether time, or sound “quality,” or anything else).

I swore this was simple.

So you got your Julie Andrews bit with the Do Re Mi, or as I like to label them (not unique am I) 1 2 3 etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Bonus points if you can name the musical I just referenced between The Sound of Music and the end of this sentence.

So if we travel from Do to Do- 1 to 1- we have a major scale. Now the point is not that we travel to and only and directly to 1 from 1. We could go past it, not get all the way to it, skip around, or even go to a 1 that’s several 1’s from “here.” The point is that 1/Do is our focal point. It’s home. It’s what our ear hears as homebase, as resolution, stasis, because we told our ear to think of it that way by repetition in terms of frequency of landing on it (mostly, among other ways).

That sound, making 1/Do “home,” is what we call a major scale- or to be more precise, we are playing a major scale if we travel from 1 to 1 (and usually back again, ears like resolution and there’s no resolution like landing where you began. Cue Van Hagar “Finish What Ya Started”). If we play the notes from that scale and make it clear that 1 is home, we are playing the notes of that major scale, and we can be said to be playing in that “mode”- in this case, the Ionian mode. The name doesn’t matter. It could be the raspberry gluten-free cotton candy mode. All that matters is that when you come across that word, your mind knows you’re talking about that sound. The menu is not the meal. Map is not territory.

So though as explained above we needn’t play FROM AND ONLY FROM 1-1 and back again to be playing in the Ionian mode (that would be simply playing a scale), it is helpful to think of the Ionian mode as playing music using the intervals (specific spaces, in terms of pitch and only in terms of pitch, between notes) that comprise the “Diatonic” (meaning normal-ass) scale, with 1/Do as your “tonic”- your “root”- your home base.


I’ll tell you why. Oh, I’ll tell you alright.

But to tell you that I have to tell you why I wouldn’t just tell you “The Ionian mode is a fancy word for the major scale.”

The answer here is that I did, in fact, do just that. On TikTok. In the vast expanse of sixty solar seconds, I explained that

  1. Modes aren’t complicated
  2. Anyone who tries to make them sound complicated a) is a lousy teacher, b) doesn’t know what they’re talking about, c) is trying to sell you something, or d) at least two of the above (usually the case).
  3. All modes are “naturally occuring” within the major scale, with each of the seven modes arising from the sound yielded when you travel from any one of those notes to the octave above it- again 1-1 (Ionian), 2-2 (Dorian), 3-3 (Majestic Stegosaurus), etc.

It was all so clean and simple!

So much so, one of my regular viewer/commenters and a TikTok friend commented that I had literally done a better job explaining the modes in sixty seconds than any of her music theory professors did in college.

Boy, that made me feel amazing. These are the things you live for as a teacher.

I screenshotted it.

I cropped the image to hide irrelevancies.

I shared it to Instagram.

Let it be known I truly had not even the faintest rumblings in my mind of “This will look good and might drive business.” It was a moment of total teacher’s innocence. It was actually beautiful. Was I proud? Absolutely. But not egoically, violently so, as pride often arrives. I was happy, truly, for her, and felt so privileged to have been the one to make that lightbulb go off for her. Life was fucking perfect.

But I had missed something.

Something crucial.

Something damning.

Refer, if you will, to the numerical list above, with subsections a)-d).

If I had known then what I know now, item d) would be denoted item e), with a new item d) in its place:


That would’ve been item d). If only I had known.

The Reader’s Digest version of what ensued is this: one such teacher, having committed many such drive-bys on my educational content in the past, asked to see the post on modes which was the subject of the life-perfecting comment from my TikTok friend. I obliged. Then d) happened.

To be fair one might argue I’m reading quite a bit into what was actually written to arrive at d). But I would say I’m not reading into- I’m reading. Reading an old, familiar book, one detailed painfully at the end of this post. I know what was happening. There’s more to the story than would be fair to share here but suffice to say, plenty of water runs under that bridge and I know exactly what the hell it tastes like. Not recommended.

I was passive-aggressively critiqued along the lines of “I’d love to agree, but ‘What you forget is’ (direct quote)” and then lectured about context, and how that’s what guitar teachers all leave out.

I was desperately sorry to not have laid out a rich tapestry of musical context to the wide world of modes, making their application in varied harmonic settings relatively effortless for my dear TikTok audience of 16 year old boys in sixty seconds or less. Oh I mean it, he made me good and sorry.

I said Reader’s Digest, right.

I called him out, gently but in no uncertain terms.

Peacemaking ensued.

That relationship is now probably in as good a standing as it’s ever been, for whatever that says.

Here’s the hitch:

Class is class. Gatekeeping is gatekeeping. What was really going on when this long-time acquaintance and deep inhabiter of musical academia asked me to share the 60 second video that caused one close TikTok follower to comment, and I quote, “Also you just explained modes beter than any professor I ever had?”

Academia’s charade as the arbiter of reality is disintegrating. under the irresistible power of The Internet. Finally. To put it gingerly, thank fucking God.

What this person was really up to in asking to see the post was this: “There’s no way what that commenter said was true. They think they understand something, but they don’t. No one could pull that off in sixty seconds- at least not anyone who’s not me. Something was left out. He taught something untrue, even dangerously false. I must keep the gate. I must inspect, critique, and dispel the ignorance. I’ll even make it look like I’m being friendly and ‘helpful’ while I do it. It’s my God-given duty as the academic police to ensure this does not stand. I cannot abide it.”

This is academic poison, and it runs deep. Y’all see how I write. I’m no dummy. I ain’t! I’m not anti-academics. I’m the furthest thing from anti-education. Even music education (as a reminder, I’m teaching music, for passion, in 774 TikTok videos and counting since October 2019 (not all are music, but the vast majority are), plus five years of content creation on Instagram, six on YouTube, and heaven knows how many on Facebook. No, I am no adversary of academics.

Academia, however- oh yes. I yearn to see it crumble. To see the curtain pulled back, to watch the facade of authority and relevance implode. We are watching it now. It is truly beautiful. For the jobs lost after Coronavirus and the families affected of course I am hearbroken. They didn’t ask their institutions to be so recklessly committed to utter irrelevance. But committed they are. And so, so many will fail. Justly. Beautifully. Into the past, where they belong. If they didn’t, they would not fail. Those that endure clearly have earned their place in today. We’ll see about tomorrow.

And what was happening for my friend who desperately pined to do exploratory surgery on my work- to tell me and the world how deluded I was in thinking I had actually helped someone understand what she herself knew I had helped her understand?

Classic. Institutional. Academic. Bitterness.

The over-educated jazz musician who bemoans all the “no talent hacks” filling the pop charts.

Who believes she or he can buy relevance-through tuition, time, sleepless nights in intellectual hamster-mazes bearing no resemblance to the marketplace.

Who believes that academic study, institutional skill, and insularly validated metrics of quality have a direct relationship to the degree of success one is entitled to through said internally-accredited pursuits in the real world. In other words, who believes nonsense which has always been nonsense, but which is now- wonderfully, gorgeously, deliciously- being butt-ass-nakedly exposed as not only nonsense, but the most obvious and absurd kind, not innocent nonsense but truly stupid, willful nonsense, in the wake of the true scaling of The Internet, the great eviscerator of gatekeepers.

This person congratulated me on having “found” such a great audience on TikTok, after the fact. To say this person is struggling on that platform would be false, because there is no struggle without effort.

He’s paying a social media marketer. She says TikTok isn’t important, and that high-production YouTube videos are what he should be focusing on. The kind of vidoes that could win him a real audience, if only he’d been doing that exact thing starting at least five years ago. He’s banking on her being right. Literally. Because he’s paying her.

Paying her to give him wrong-headed, past-licking information, while the very act of paying her causes him to make psychological investment against even making the effort in arenas that could yield real exponential growth in his audience. Expensive.

I’m counting on her being right. Because I’m paying her.

So yes, I was congratulated on “finding” my audience of 22,602 Followers as of today.

Amazing what one can “find” when they’ve posted 774 videos in six months. Go figure.

at this rate I’m paying like $50/post and this bullshit has to stop

Welp my WordPress subscription re-upped and I’m super pissed cause I’ve posted like half a time this year so I’d best get going.

Writing isn’t hard. Not writing is hard. And boy sometimes it takes a lot of not writing to get any writing done.

It’s a heck of a horse to stay on. Once it bucks you it’s damn near impossible to mount again. The curve from there is exponential, it gets rapidly, rapidly easier and tapers off quickly. From there it’s easy. But what is ease when you’ve become accustomed to it? No different than difficulty, or medium-ease/difficulty. 80 mph is fast when you just shot up from 35 in four seconds. But once you’ve traveled it for thirteen minutes it’s normal.

And so on.

This little corner of the internet is ostensibly about guitars so reckon I’d better go there. Since last I posted I’ve owned, well I don’t care to remember all that so I’ll just tell you. I have my PRS McCarty 594, my ride-or-die (or sell if times get really rough)- newly dubbed my “Lester Bester” since it more than makes up for the lack of romance carried by a Les Paul in tuning stability, niche credibility, and that certain je ne sais quoi I lovingly refer to as “Won’t break at the headstock if you look at it wrong.”

Speaking of.

My 1953 J-45 is now, again, in two pieces. I leaned it in a corner, as I’ve safely done a thousand times before, while attempting to wrangle a very nippy Australian Cattle Dog. I hear the bang. It was windy. I look up at the corner of the porch in question, in shock and not at all suspecting its terrible fate.

Yeah you know where that’s going. It could be repaired, maybe- the break is deeeeep into the truss rod cavity. But I’m over it. It was a non-original headstock when I got it in 2004, having been replaced likely in the 70’s. It gradually came apart starting around 2010 and reaching a critical crap mass by 2017 that I had it repaired. Went great. Til I lived with a girlfriend who belonged in the rainforest, had no AC, and a humidity of 348% in her house. It was a weird time. I awoke one wet May morning to “POP” and the strings completely slacked against a headstock turned very much the wrong way. A year later it was finally repaired. Now fewer than two years after that- I’m done with repairs.

Now of course one day I’ll have it repaired with adamantium or something and it shall be as Aragorn’s Anduril, the blade that was remade. If only it had been broken doing something more epic like cutting off Sauron’s hand. In the meantime I’ll have a new neck built, or rather build one, or rather help my dad build one as he’s become more than handy at building necks and even entire ukuleles from scratch. I’ll be able to salvage the original Brazilian rosewood fingerboard which is cool to say the least.

Now speaking of Anduril and Aragorn- an unexpected delight in life has been TikTok. The internet’s home for all things Tolkien, naturally. The full extent of my escapades on that burgeoning platform are the subject of another series of posts entirely but suffice to say I’m using it to help find and finesse my voice. Literally, I read the entire Fellowship of the Ring, over fifteen nights, live on TikTok. It’s putting me back in touch with the love of reading, of reading fiction in particular (which constitutes less than 5% of my reading, easily), with Tolkien and Middle Earth (both of whom I love dearly and to whom/which I cannot get close enough), and most excitingly is giving me the opportunity to practice my voice. Throughout my purportedly adult years I’ve periodically been asked if I do or have done voice work, whether in radio, narration, or voice acting. The former answer was no, but now is yes (though not professionally as of yet). I love practicing, building my stamina, getting into characters, and above all delivering the arc of a narrative much as one would hope to deliver the arc of a musical work. It’s a natural fit.

More could be said but for now this post only cost me $33.00 so I’m moving in the write direction. Get it. That’s a directive, not a question. Please get it. I’m talking to myself here.

xoxo JoshOptical

Don’t worry, you’ll “figure it out”…

Let’s talk about family and work:

“Our parents had one job-
We will have five-
Our kids will have five at one time.”…

The above paraphrase is from photography innovator Chase Jarvis on the Gary Vee podcast this morning. As usual it touched on so many threads from my own “wantreprenrueurial” experience.

This bit is for anyone who is currently forging their work path (this should be anyone who is working in the marketplace):

Elders want to see you emulate their path, because each example they see of you doing life differently than they did casts doubt on the validity of their own path.

Again, rephrased- Aunt Sally, Cousin Mike, your Dad, whoever it is- when they’re playing that undermining game where you tell them about your work life and they say “Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out”- because of course you HAVEN’T “figured it out,” they wanna be real clear about that- What’s really going on there is they want reassurance 1) that their way was the “right” way- because deep down they are full of regret and wondering about what would’ve happened if they actually followed their dreams- and 2) (this is the big one)- they don’ want to think the world has actually changed as much as it has.

They fear irrelevance. Because they are irrelevant.

They don’t HAVE to be irrelevant. You can be 95 and the most relevant. You can be 25 and completely hopeless in he 21st century (I meet these people all the time).

The common denomiator? An unwillingness to learn and to change. “The way the world used to be was good enough.”

That world is gone. Praise be.

The industrial economy rewarded compliance.
The connection economy rewards creativity.

Let’s get creative, folks.


I see a lot of people chasing something I can only call “legitimacy.” In quotes for the reasons I’m about to outline.

I see this chase played out mainly in two social arenas: professional “advancement” and academia. None of this is to diminish the value of either of these things in and of themselves- it’s a question of motive.

If someone wants an “advanced” (see how the class and social herding functions are baked into the linguistic cake?) degree because it’s a hoop they need to jump through to do something they truly want to do, or if they want to do it for its own sake, kudos.

But be real- how many people who have gotten or are trying to get such accolades are truly internally motivated? As opposed to how many are doing it- though they’d never admit it- to appease mom and dad, or a spouse, or impress a potential future mate- or most of all, to satisfy some deeper sense of inadequacy, that only once they’ve “achieved” x, y, or z will they be worthy of- whatever it is they need to feel worthy of?

It’s a rare breed.

In the case of professional (again this is a code word we use for class status- all professional actually means is you make money at something; we functionally use the word “professional” to separate important work from supposedly unimportant work, and thereby important people from, well, you know) advancement, you could apply all the same dynamics.

I wonder how different the world would look if more people were able to ignore the external and internalized narratives of what they “should” be doing- how they are to attain “Legitimacy”- and we’re able instead to realize, finally:

This is YOUR life.

Not your mom’s. Not your boss’s. Not your uncle’s or your sister’s or your granddad’s or your asshole brother-in-law’s-

It’s YOURS. You are the one who has to live it, live with it, and yes, die your death.

You are the one who has to taste your regrets, and your victories. Only you can measure them.

I hope just one person reads this and recognizes some place where they are chasing “legitimacy” in their life no matter how big or small.

No papers, no job, no promotion, no degree can ever make your life more or less yours.

No one’s approval or critique can give or take anything from you.

You own your life. It has meaning or doesn’t according only to how you see it.

Scary, right?

Freeing, right?

Choose your carrots well folks.

Oh- and Guitars Ruin Lives.

I Will Not Die Chasing A Carrot: on Guitars, Success, Death, & The Internet

The bulk of this piece was originally a letter to a beloved, relatively distant family member explaining my current position on work, success, and life. If you’ve ever struggled with your place in life or a sense that your work lacks direction or importance, this is for you.
Hey, great to be in touch.  You’re about to dive into a much denser thicket than you surely expected, because selfishly my chewing on your queries has helped me put my finger on a number of things about my philosophy which I heretofore hadn’t articulated.  So thank you for the questions and thank you for bearing through the answers, if I can assume so much!

It took me a good while to wrap my head around what conversation we were actually having a month ago, and why I felt so ill equipped to have it at the time.  I’ve since realized it’s because I do not share a framework for understanding many foundational aspects of life- big words with big baggage like “career,” “work,” “success,” and even bigger ones like “reality!”- I do not share the framework, the philosophy, that dominates our culture.  The reasons for this lack of shared philosophy- not that I am entirely alone in it, but mine diverges certainly from the dominant paradigms at least in US cultures and especially those of Americans above say 35 years old conservatively and many as young as 20 years old- some have to do with that (age), some with travel (spending time in Tibet and amongst desperately poor people, I know now 13 years later, fundamentally changed me, as trite as that sounds), some with being an artist (which is different than someone who plays guitar, or paints, or plays at business, etc), some with having always been preoccupied with “religious” questions (matters of ultimate importance, philosophy, why are we here and what are we gonna do about it, reckoning with death & suffering, what happens after we die, what was happening before we were born, etc), and last but not least, some are just Josh being Josh, whatever that Venn Diagram of DNA and spirit is composed of.  From my childhood, not only did I not care about the things my peers seemed to care about, I didn’t even know how or why they would care about them.  Our motivators lacked contact.
So there by the fireplace at we were having the “success” conversation, the one families have over Thanksgiving dinner, and frankly the one the younger generation at any table dreads!  I know no pressure or performance was expected by you, and I know you are rooting for me and your curiosity was genuine, which I deeply appreciate.  The crux of it in my mind was when I talked about pursuing music, and in essence you suggested/asked if that game might look something like this: Songwriter writes song/s with commercial viability in mind, songwriter pitches song through whatever the channels of the day are, songwriter hopes a “big” artist bites, buys, records, distributes…and finally songwriter gets a royalty check.  
Despite the woes of streaming for writers, this is still a very real and maybe for a time even viable model.  I have a good music friend who is starting her own music licensing company with partners in LA as we speak.  In any event I said something like “That doesn’t interest me,” and you asked “What does interest you?”  Which I think was probably the best question anyone has ever asked me about career/work/meaning and believe it or not one that no one as close as you are has asked me, especially not in that context.
I think to answer your question and scratch my own itch here, I first need to answer why that model, I’ll call it the “old songwriting” model, though I mean more broadly than just in the music industry, doesn’t interest me.  It’s related to a slew of topics and intergenerational luggage (I won’t quite call it baggage in this case, but it’s certainly containers filled with stuff:) I’d put under the header of “Security.”
“Security” is a word with disproportionate emotional weight in our culture and even moreso in the micro ecosystem of our family.  I think that’s more true for my mother’s sides of the family than my father’s, so in this case I do mean “our” as in shared between the family you married into and I was born into.  My dad’s folks, being originally working class and not college educated, lived a lot closer to earth literally and figuratively, and as I have observed over the past thirty-three years, preoccupations of “security,” though shared between classes, take on varied definitions.  To folks coming from somewhere (figuratively) more like Mary Ruth and Earl, “security” meant something fairly straightforward- stability, reasonable assurance that if you showed up on time and did a decent job you wouldn’t get canned, and food on the table.  There wasn’t a lot of ideology around “security” beyond that; to “provide” was essential and noble and enough, to do work you enjoyed was an unexpected bonus, and to do work that impressed others was an afterthought at most.  I may be idealizing; everyone in every place wants to flex a little!  But relatively speaking, I think I’m correct.  
     To an educated class like we find on Mom’s side, “security” means many of those things, but has layers of meaning as we find as we move up through classes, educationally at least as much as financially, though in this case we’re looking at both.  As an aside that may be less tangential than it initially seems to me, that largely is what constitutes “class,” beyond pure dollars and degrees- the layers of meaning collaboratively laid upon various activities and their absence, accidentally or otherwise, particularly with regard to perceived importance, prestige, and social approval.  
I had a tremendous experiment in class which I was truly lucky to escape, not because of class or money itself but because of the particular context, which was my marriage to a once dear friend.  My former partner is a wonderful person in many ways, with a terrible hole in her psyche, her self, her ego- all of the above.  Alison was taught to a painfully forceful degree that love and approval are based on performance and societal approval.  Whose societal approval?  Whoever was at the top- in terms of finances, power, and perhaps above all, the social gatekeepers of prestige related to education and more importantly position.  I don’t want to pick on her but this is crucial to my story and my position to all these issues.
     My ex-wife thought she had in me a budding performer.  Not the kind I live to be, but the kind who could “perform” for her grandparents, whose largess her entire lifestyle had been dependent upon, for her parents, who probably didn’t actually care, but she like probably all of us felt she had things to prove to our parents that she actually didn’t, and most importantly, for her high-brow, socialite, moneyed friends, those she’d always sought out, to camouflage herself amongst hoping their approval would deem her belonging.  If she could just be “one of them,” then she would have made it.  Which so sadly was a losing game, because even if she had had the show-horse husband she thought she had secured- thought a bit of a late bloomer and maybe a scratch-and-dent special she had herself!- and the masters’ degree and career for herself, and the kids, house, 2.5 kids, picket fence and three-car garage, she would still deep down feel like an imposter.  
I share that not to get into a therapy session but to lay out this crucial example, this painfully clear illustration I have the privilege of referencing.  And it is a privilege, and it is truthful and without any meanness that I say I am so grateful to have escaped it- and it feels very much an escape.  That life would have absolutely suffocated me, and had it not ended as early and relatively easily as it did, it could have been truly disastrous for both of us and others.
Now none of this is to demonize money, societal prestige (the only kind of prestige there is, since it is based on an agreed upon aggregate of subjective perspectives- changing rapidly, I’ll add), high-class people and activities (I enjoy a few myself!) or certainly “success” of the “old songwriter” model, whatever form that takes in any given industry.  
What it is to say, is that I have seen up close and personal the hollowness of pursuing those things, any of them, for their own sake.  It’s a losing game.  There is never enough.  It’s a ruthless North Star because it’s always moving.  I can’t live like that.  
Now- back to “security,” and those other words: “career,” “work,” and the big one- “SUCCESS”: 
     The short answer to why I believe every one of those big words should be and are being redefined is this: 
The Internet.  
I feel the need to capitalize it because it is like a person, a place, and a way of living wrapped into one.  It is very much a new god.  I think there’s a tendency to believe that the internet isn’t fundamentally different than the media and market forces that came before, that it’s essentially a speeding up of things.  That it’s a quantitative change more than a qualitative change.  It’s natural to assume so because the nature of true qualitative changes, of transformations, is that we have no point of reference for the new thing other than the old thing.  It’s natural, and it’s also inherently a mistake. 
     The internet to all former technology/media/life shaping forces is less like the automobile was to horses- and that is a technological breakthrough I can scarcely begin to imagine- and more like airplanes were to automobiles.  We could only travel in two dimensions before (okay we had scuba but still:).  The analogy is imperfect but hopefully gives some sense of the scope of exponentiality, the qualitative transformation, the quantum leap embodied in the internet, especially in 2019 (vs say 1999, 2009, or even 2014).  The internet is all grown up.  
     We THINK we’ve seen “all this change” and that we’re “finally” “getting used to it.”  Again, I think we as a society are dead wrong about that.  In the words of The Carpenters, “We’ve Only Just Begun!”
I could go on, but here’s what I think this means: every industry is in deep doo-doo.  Every single one.  And the more bureaucratic an ecosystem is, the more layers of excess wedged between producer and consumer, the more vulnerable its inhabitants are.  Amazon ate Borders, and every other mom and pop bookstore in the country (exaggerating, and there are counter-movements of course, but those don’t change the point)- and “Amazon” is coming for absolutely everything else too.  
There was a time I thought “Isn’t that terrible!”  Well, sure, automobiles were terrible if you were in the horse and buggy business.
The way I have made peace with this around music is to completely divorce my personal music making from the motivation to monetize it.  Note I say from the motivation- I do make part of my income from music, and paradoxically the more I do it for its own sake the more money seems to be generated from it.  But my personal music and music-related branding work for myself is 100% divorced from any intention to monetize it.  That is the ONLY way to be artistically free.  And being artistically free is the only way to create what I most want to without the slightest pressure of “But will it pay?”  I work two jobs, six days a week to facilitate that- jobs that I love and that generate opportunities of all sorts.  Because creating what I want is my legacy.  I think about my legacy every day, a lot.  Not because I’m so important but because we all should- when we are gone, it is all that will remain of us.  When I’m dead I will not care a speck about some financial hardship I endured to stay artistically free- to build my legacy.  
     Currently I generate anywhere from 3-10 pieces of content for the internet per day, from guitar reviews and songs on YouTube to pithy tweets to Instagram stories to LinkedIn motivational thoughts to Blog posts to Vlog posts…etc.  This surely isn’t “branding” from a business school perspective, but again we go back to values and motivation, as well as the pre/post-internet discussion in the next paragraph.  I learn by doing and I’d rather practice than debate.  I also am utterly and thoroughly done with school of any kind!:)  Being “good” at school and identified by my academic success, mostly by others, made it very hard for me to own the fact that I hate school!  I’ll not go back without a darn good reason.  I like being in the market too much.
Lest this go on forever, I’ll give some idea of what “success” and “security” mean to me.  First, any definition of either of those words that is based on a pre-internet world is, to me, irrelevant.   All the middlemen are going away.  The prestige and economic power of college, already largely imaginary, is going away.  Not entirely, but to a degree still unimaginable to most Americans.  The irrelevance of any model of career/success that is based on a pre-internet world to me cannot be overstated.  This can rub some people wrong so let me clarify- any MODEL, not any principle.  In fact the principles will be the only thing left (work hard, if you want extraordinary things you need to do extraordinary things, be a good person not just because it’s right but because it pays off in the long game- etc).
“Security” for me must be defined as the minimization of vulnerability.  I have a long way to go in that category- divorce is a big setback!  But holding back on being who I really am was a much bigger setback.  My chief ways of minimizing vulnerability is by having multiple income streams based on real work, and by having few and small liabilities.  Currently I have at least four streams that are active, with many more dormant and waiting to be activated at any time (these are various music projects.  Each is headered under “music” but represents a real and distinct network of money-making possibilities).  To be sure the aggregate of these streams leaves plenty to be desired!  But I’m playing a very long game. 
Lastly, you also said something to the effect of “You want the good life.”  And you’re absolutely right!  Again we get into definitions, and we’re back to “Success.”
Success to me must be measured in direct proportion to happiness/satisfaction.  And it must be 100% internally motivated (as an ideal) and derived.  Anything else is chasing carrots.  I may live to 112, and I may die next Thursday.  Likely somewhere in between.  Whenever it happens, I will not die chasing a carrot.  I’ve got the carrot, because the carrot is my own life, lived with purpose, giving happiness and improving people’s moments, creating the things that I want there to be more of in the world that I have the power to create.  
This is not a cop-out or a work-around; it is not a consolation prize I offer myself because “making it in music is so hard” or anything to that effect.  I would like very much to have “bigger” experiences in music, both online and on stage.  But I do not confuse those things with success.  I won’t make myself vulnerable in that way, because to live that way is to be a victim.  If my success is contingent on whether or not I get something that is ultimately out of my control, then I have already failed.  My success is then not in my own hands.  I am a victim, and if I do “win,” I am just lucky, no matter how hard I worked for it.

I see virtually everyone living this way. It is most difficult to make my worldview make much sense to such people; our values are too chasmed.   My people, who are few and far between but very easy to recognize, are those who live MY way- knowing they are a success because they are making what they want to make in the world.  They tend to be artists and entrepreneurs- and anyone who is truly either of those things is at least partially the other one as well.  They are few, and they are far between.  But the connection there is very sweet.  We know what the carrot tastes like.  Don’t get me wrong, we always want more and bigger carrots!  Probably much moreso than the other types.   But we enjoy the one we have, because it itself is the climb, and no event, person, or setback can take that away from us.
Thank you so much for entertaining the opportunity for me to flesh out some of this perspective.  Maybe now my response can make more sense as it has a context to sit in.
Great Big Love to everyone reading this. We need you.

Your “Merit” Entitles You to Absolutely Nothing

Hurt about “what passes for music” these days and how unappreciated your brilliance is?

First things first, the idea of art “selling on its own merit” is a knot of confusion I wouldn’t know where to begin untangling. It’s an idea based on an imaginary vacuum where a thing, any thing, in this case a specific piece of art like say a painting, can exist on its own, outside of all context. If art succeeded or failed “on its own merit” then a great painting (“great”) could just sit in a closet and people would be magnetically drawn to it and its greatness- by the power of its “merit.” If art should succeed or fail “only on its own merit,” then no one should post their art to social media, because plenty of artists globally don’t have that advantage. Good looking people shouldn’t be able to have their faces shown with their works because that’s hardly the art’s own merit, right?

It also supposes some direct relation between “merit” and sales. As if, all other things being equal (if everyone had to play by the same rules, no nudie stuff, all work was magically equally accessible, etc.), then work of greater “merit” would sell more than that of lesser. This is not the case. There is no direct relationship between these things.

Ah more merit talk. Art should sell on its own merit, right? So an artist shouldn’t buy ads, right? Hardly selling on its own merit. And so on.

TL;DR to all that- the “merit” notion is as Pollyanna as it is ignorant, and unfair to artists. It would make some sense in a world where everyone had equal opportunity, and where merit and sales had a direct relationship. Neither of those things are real.

Next, the whole idea of selling art, hate to break it to whoever is still in this merit wonderland (the more I talk about it the more irked I am with the whole idea), but the moment one decides to put any piece of art into the marketplace (up for sale) they have created a product. It can go on being art, but it’s now also a product, and products exist in a market and are subject to all the “unfairness” of markets. “Better” products lose out to lesser ones all. The. Time. For any variety of reasons, which boil down to marketing (an enormous umbrella of a term).

So what we have in the “merit” lecture is this high school fantasy: “REAL art should be made by REAL artists who should only care about REAL things and lets be real they really shouldn’t even be trying to SELL it anyway because can you really even sell anything without SELLING OUT…MAAAAANNN…”. Are you annoyed yet? You should be because this is one is the most annoying and patronizing attitudes anyone can hold, and at the end of the day it’s violent to artists, who are people, who need to live and for gosh sake should have the chance to make money over and above what they need if that’s what they wanna try and do. This is America for Chrissake.

Now from a pragmatic perspective, we all have to live with what we have presented to the world. If someone poses nude with their newest work each time they post in their store, well then they’re gonna be that artist who poses nude with their work.

If I was a gorgeous woman with an envy-inducing bosom and I showed it all off with every artwork, well that may put me at an “unfair” advantage to other artists in similar circles without the same assets. But 1) life isn’t fair and we have no obligation to shoot our own success in the foot for the sake of someone else’s arbitrary notion of fairness.

But more importantly, again, then I’d be the booby painter/sculptor/whatever. And it would affect people’s perception of me in all sorts of ways including ones I found unfair, unpleasant, and probably even hostile at times. Right or wrong, fair or not, I would be making the choice to live with that. And I would be volunteering not to be taken seriously by certain sectors of the art power structures, especially if you’re talking about “high art”/ “legit” art/ academia.

That was a lot, but to boil it down- 1) anyone lecturing artists (especially artists themselves) needs to check their privilege and their inherited bullshit philosophies, 2) fairness does not exist in art, business, or elsewhere so any preaching about fairness goes back to point #1, and 3) ladies and gentlemen do what you want with your bodies and your work, just don’t be naive about the world we are living in and the fact that you are marking and potentially pigeonholing yourself in ways both predictable and not by the ways you market your work.

What the Guitar World Needs Now (Is Love, Tough Love)

STOP PLAYING NOTES AND START PLAYING MUSIC, AKA the cranky music rant you didn’t know you needed.

I am soon to lose my mind over guitar posts and videos about how you’re “playing something wrong,” about “the right way to use scales,” about “unlocking the fingerboard.” My disgust surely marks me as a grumpy musician, bitter even! But that’s not what this is about.




Asinine guitar videos telling you about how “understanding” some scale or chord or for Chrissake technique (because music is something to be “understood,” with your left brain, right?) is going to give you the key to music- as if the door were locked.

Wanking fusionists with musical diarrhea for which there is no cure, passing themselves off as “masters” (masters of what? Musical diarrhea, that’s what. But mercy that shit comes so fast and free!)

Here’s the bad news:

If you’re shredding a ton of notes, IT PROBABLY SUCKS. It’s probably the furthest thing from music.

What’s that? Oh, but you’re “expressing yourself?” Some people just do it with more notes? Hate to tell you, but it sucks. WE ARE MUSICIANS; WE SERVE MUSIC. Music is your boss. Not your feels or your ego. If it’s not your boss, go on playing. But don’t call yourself a musician.

If you’re thinking about music like a math equation, or thinking about how to impress your pretentious music friends, IT PROBABLY SUCKS.

If you are going out of your way to look or sound the right way for the hipsters at whatever bar is cool this week, whether in your music or dress or Instagram posts or anything else, IT PROBABLY SUCKS.

Here’s a list of do’s:


1) Play the blues. You must do this.

2) Play with conviction.

3) LISTEN TO YOUR OWN PLAYING AND NOTICE IF IT SUCKS. I don’t mean “isn’t perfect” sucks; that kind of thinking is what sucks. I mean, does it sound actually good? Is it music? Or is it just notes?


Please Share this, the world needs it and I don’t mind saying so.

Chasing Impossible Feelings, AKA Why I Can’t Live Without a Warlock

I’m trying to remember how many Warlocks I’ve owned.  I think it’s eight.  Having owned 86 guitars in my 32 years (really in 18 years, since I started at 14) that’s over 9%.  One out of ten guitars I’ve owned, on average, was a Warlock.  I’m just figuring this all out myself.

I’ve never played in a metal band.  I’ve never played in any band in which a Warlock wouldn’t look ridiculous.

The customer comment upon pulling out my first Warlock at The “B” String guitar shop was one of these two (both equally accurate): 1) “Warlocks are just metal as f***!, or 2) “Warlocks are just the most metal guitar” or both.  Either way, dude was right.  Look at this WOOK AT IT:

img_0931img_0930I don’t care if it’s electric blue, look how f****ng METAL it is!

Sometimes I wonder why I would ever have a blog about something as ridiculous as say electric blue battle axe guitars from 1989, but then, I remember that no one else is writing about them (that I know of- please lordy if anyone knows of blogs I should be reading, stop keeping them to yourself!).

And here begins much of the impetus behind this ridiculousness that is Guitars Ruin Lives), the persistent question of, “Am I the only one?”

Am I the only one who doesn’t play in metal bands, who would look ridiculous holding a Warlock on stage, and yet is obsessed with Warlocks and how mind blowingly awesome they are?

ASIDE: I am Facebook friends with Neal Moser, iconic designer and builder of B.C. Rich and later Neal Moser Guitars fame.  Neal designed the Bich, off of which the Warlock was based.  (Neal also designed the Virgin, which he fashioned after his imagining of the descending swinging blade from Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Pit and The Pendulum”- how fricking metal is that???)  I recently asked him which Neal Moser model would come closest to the feel of the Warlock, and he said the Moser 6/10 (six or ten string), which is his perfection of the “Bich” model.  I dearly want a handbuilt Moser made just for me during Neal’s building career.  But it’s got to feel like a ‘Lock.

Which brings me to the REAL controversy of this post (A GUITAR GEEK ON THE INTERNET ASKED HIMSELF WHY HE LOVES WARLOCKS AND YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HE SAID!): Warlocks are belief-defyingly ergonomic.  This one in particular, a 1989 USA built neck-through, is the most comfortable guitar I’ve ever owned in terms of playing sitting down, and the most balanced in terms of playing standing up.  It is the most intelligent guitar.  The Warlock has its own wisdom.

Then there’s this- It stands on its own two pointy-ass feet, dammit.  While lesser guitars whine and clamor to be held by their precious bottoms, the Warlock stands alone.

But for real, why am I so crazy about these things?  No seriously I’m asking.

When I don’t own a Warlock, I get itchy.  B.C. Rich is a storied brand with a rich (yaaawwwwn) legacy…and at times with a poor one.  Neal Moser- come on!  This guy invented the BCR Virgin shape BASED ON THE SWINGING BLADE FROM EDGAR ALLEN POE’S THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM…IT DOESN’T GET ANY MORE METAL!!!  I’ve owned a Mockingbird and two Virgins.  But nothing touches the Warlock.  It lives in a metal kingdom all its own.  And what do I receive there that I find so breathlessly cravable?

It’s nothing more than a feeling (Boston be damned).  But good Lord, aren’t certain feelings hard to come by?  Don’t we chase not just products, or people, but entire chapters of our lives, capriciously throwing time and money out in pursuit of…yes, just a feeling?  AM I NOT WRITING A WHOLE DAMN BLOG BASED ON “RUINING” ONE’S (POSSIBLE) LIFE IN PURSUIT OF- WHAT ELSE- A FEELING?

A feeling you got maybe just once…or twice, if you’re incredibly lucky…because everything was just right in that time and place.  So irreplicably correct, in fact, that you didn’t even know how perfect it was.  You didn’t even know how much that feeling felt like that feeling until it was well over, looking back, and you could measure it against the infinitely less desirable banal feelings that come and go and annoyingly often stay with you, the stress, the blah, the ugh, the “do I have to?”‘s of life which- let’s face it- comprise the overwhelming majority of our lives’ time.

What’s that feeling for you?  Now, behind that- what is the experience that brought you the feeling?  I’m thinking about a girl.  You’re probably thinking of a person too- that one time- No…THAT time!;)- Or maybe a trip, a day, a hike, a waterfall, a scent, a sensation- where is that moment for you?  How do you miss it?  Do you let yourself?

Wouldn’t you give anything to recreate it?  That feeling?  That experience?  To go back and do it again for the first time, but knowing how infinitely good it was so that you know to savor and simmer in every soul-subsuming breath of it?

You’re damn right I’m still talking about Warlocks.  And girls (for me, whoever you’re into for you).  And the first CDs I ever owned as a twelve year old, listening to over a hundred times until all the instrument parts were etched on my psyche.

I actually do not own a Warlock at this moment.  I experience this absence as a palpable hole in the fabric of my life.  But right now I like it.  Because it gives me the chance to crave that outrageous sensation of the extended upper bout, the inevitably chipped points, the expansive resonance of a guitar that’s just unnaturally huge.  I want it, because I don’t have it.  I know what I am missing, because I have known it, and I miss it.  I like the pointy hole in my life.

And, I’ve got my eye on a fuschia USA Warlock.

“hi, it’s rock & roll…anyone seen my cajones?”

     Rock and Roll is supposed to be unsettling…threatening…even dangerous, particularly to “the way things are.”  Because no matter how things are, you better believe it’s not working for a lot of people. Even our beloved Beatles, now seen through the sanitizing lens of cultural selective memory, embodied this destabilizing thrust. Rock & Roll is not safe.
This is why I am no fan of today’s guitar scene (or modern rock, or modern metal, or modern country…). There is nothing of Rock & Roll to be found in our headphoned, YouTube stuidoed, backing tracked, boutique pedaled online musical monoculture. It is an insider’s game.
Rock and Roll is an outsider’s game.

Boy howdy, did Alex Harvey, Zal Cleminson (seen here as always in terrifying mime makeup) and gang understand this.  I’ll let the BBC do the explaining at the bottom of this post.

Meet some outsiders…be freaked out…love it.
And in case I haven’t been clear enough,
Guitars Ruin Lives.