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.

“Legitimacy”…

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.
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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.
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Great Big Love to everyone reading this. We need you.
Josh

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.

MUSIC IS IN YOUR MIND

MUSIC IS IN YOUR HEART

MUSIC IS IN YOUR !!!EARS!!!

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:

DO

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?

4) PLAY YOUR INSTRUMENT LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT BECAUSE AT SOME POINT IT JUST FREAKING MAY

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

“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.

Internet, Meet Raven (Misadventures in fancy, prejudice, synchronicity, etc.)

IMG_20170720_092205436Who likes a story?

This here’s a tale of love, frustration, and the rich rewards of a lifelong pursuit that turned up gold just when it seemed like the trail had gone cold.

Back in November I visited Guitars USA in Lexington. I’d been there once before for some unmemorable reason (I can tell cause I don’t remember it). The outing’s purpose may have been forgettable, but its destination was not. A beautiful, finely curated, drool-inducingly stocked music shop with a dramatic focus on really, really nice guitars. It was clean. It was gloriously air conditioned. It smelled good. It was the guitar shop equivalent of that new car feeling.

The second outing had definite purpose. Guitars USA’s annual Customer Appreciation sale is, as I now know, the stuff of legend. I turned out to buy a guitar at a silly, silly deal, from a brand I never saw myself owning. I’d been thoroughly schooled in the offerings of Paul Reed Smith by my friend Dustie Waring, a man of stupefying memory and talent as any member of Between the Buried and Me is required to be. Dustie is an uncommonly generous soul and his friends enjoy the benefits of the many blessings that his efforts have brought him (Dustie has his own signature US made PRS model).

All of the half dozen-plus models I’d played were very good instruments. That’s a conservative assessment and a true one. Intonation, build, evenness of “speaking,” clarity, playability- they’re just darn good guitars. You can buy any of even their Korean models and while perhaps not unforgettable, they will be a much safer choice in terms of “does it work?” than taking a similar crapshoot of even US made models starting with F or G. They take quality seriously.

So where’s the “but?” I’ll tell you where the but is.

PRS meant to me consistently well made guitars. BUT- I just didn’t dig ‘em that much. I couldn’t go all in. Dustie plays the tar out of his; I know other people who use them to great effect. His even have matte finishes and black hardware which takes a little of the fancy off of these famously fancy pieces. Boy it was the fancy that bugged me. (This will be fodder for many a thought on guitarsruinlives.com) Yes, I was victim (willing) of the “lawyer guitars” perception. You know, guitars made so beautifully and so expensively that only guys having spent their whole life chasing things other than musical greatness could ever afford them.

Furniture guitars- pieces better suited to a glass case than a stage, guitars you’re so scared to put a scratch on and hurt the value that you play ‘em like a china doll. Stevie Ray Vaughan wouldn’t have gotten far on one of these, I thought.

And lastly, worstly, the “Swiss Army Knife” guitars. No one wants a Swiss Army knife when they’re cutting a watermelon. Or gutting a deer. Or doing leather work. Basically ever. But, carry one in your pocket, keep it sharp, and it’ll tear through whatever you need it to. PRS are beloved for their ability to cover a lot of ground, but in my mind, covering none of it perfectly well. Give me a Les Paul so I can be like Duane Allman or Randy Rhoads, a Stratocaster like Ry Cooder or Ritchie Blackmore, a Telecaster, plus maybe a pointy Ibanez with the Steve Vai tremolo for that Slayer number you’re covering at the wedding gig.

So, wasn’t I supposed to be saying something nice about Paul Reed Smith guitars? Yeah yeah yeah. Here goes.

So back to November 2016 and Guitars USA. I catch a killer deal on a Paul’s Guitar, the production model of the company founder’s personal guitar. It was royal blue, it had a spellbinding quilted maple top, it had oodles of sounds. It wasn’t my ideal guitar, but it was far and away the nicest I’d ever come close to owning, and it was a no lose situation- either I surprise myself and fall in love, or it becomes part of some future good deal for me. In the meantime, I get the experience of playing a top shelf instrument and deciding whether all my silly fancy guitar baggage held any water.

In the long run the second scenario came to pass. My suspicions were softened but confirmed, I thought. Great instruments, but not something my 60’s & 70’s heroes would ever have played even if they could. Not to be written off, but not for me. Moving on, where’s my 1954 Telecaster, etcetera.

Despite the brevity of my brush with PRS through that experience, the real indelible part was the association with Guitars USA as a great place to visit and do business. Technician/Teacher Evan Bloom is a die hard PRS man as is owner Chris Gregg.  They live for PRS, and though they would’ve love to see me join the family they both understand you either connect with a guitar or you don’t. On I went.

Part of the back story here is I’ve owned something like sixty electric guitars in the past eight years (not all at once!). I’ve searched, tried, experimented, and tinkered always looking for something. I’ve found it, but only in pieces, and never in once place. I’d kind of given up. No instrument can do all things, and most don’t even do a few very well. To search for one that proved otherwise was looking more and more like a fool’s errand.

Fast forward to June.

I hear this wildly named PRS artist is doing a clinic at the shop. Boscoe France was news to me but Dustie assured me he was a bad man on guitar. I love the shop at this point and I’m always eager to learn and be exposed to new players, so down I went. Have you figured it out by now?

PRS representative Claiborne Lord was working the event. Clay is pleasant, down to earth, and knowledgeable- what you want in a sales man. He had brought his own arsenal of eye candy (that is a terrible mixed metaphor but it kind of works) to combine with Guitars USA’s stash. It was a formidable display of flamed top glory. I was excited, but not in a way that suggested anything was there for me. I saw the familiar fancy tops and now familiar body shapes and control layouts. I was there to support and I was there for the show (and Boscoe put on a heck of a clinic). I wasn’t there for guitars for me.

But…there was this one. It was black. It was plain. The simplicity of it acted as a silent roar amongst the din of shouts coming from the more glittery offerings. It had nothing to prove. Its awesomeness was not in question.

I plucked at it unplugged- hard to tell much in that environment other than it was a solid piece, and more lively than most. On I went to watch the clinic, still no thought of making the guitar move of a lifetime. Boscoe showed off his pedal steel licks (I’m stealing those!), his slide prowess, and his pretense-less country charm. An honest humility shone through his informal presentation that rang louder than any crazy technique some YouTube guitar king in the world could’ve thrown at me.

Boscoe has played the same green Paul Reed Smith since he bought it new in 1997. As conversation turned from guitar playing in general to his guitar in particular, an important philosophical priority sifted to the surface. Guitarists are notoriously fickle when it comes to their gear. They own more guitars than they can play and don’t get to know their newest amp or pedal even halfway before they’ve decided “it’s just not what I’m looking for” and their on to the next one. G.A.S. is what it’s called- Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Like so many of the dysfunctions we joke about as people, our nervous humor betrays our deep sense that something’s not right and we just aren’t willing to address it- or don’t know how. Whether he meant to address that particular phenomenon or not, Boscoe said something next that hit me right in the gut. It’s something I’d been saying to myself for years without having the words. It was a lot easier to hear from someone who’s not me.

“Concert violinists don’t have a dozen violins they play on stage. They have one.”

Each guitar differs not only in sound but in feel. Micro differences in the size of the frets, the space between the strings, the placements of knobs and a thousand other factors more and less noticeable mean that each guitar your hands touch is literally a different instrument. While it might be nice to have the right guitars on hand for both “Sweet Home Alabama” and for “More Than A Feeling,” how are any of us who are serious about playing our instruments well ever supposed to get any damn good when we’re changing horses every other song???

Boscoe spoke straight to my deep musical longing- to connect and commit to one instrument, get to know it inside and out, until it becomes, as he said, a part of me.

From the acquisition of my first electric guitar at age 16 (black Gibson SG Special) to the onset of guitar-swap fever at age 23, I had only one electric guitar. I never thought about having others. I never thought about what I was missing. I never wondered which one to practice on today. I just had my guitar. MINE.

All those sixty plus guitars between now and then, I’d been searching for the same thing. My guitar.

The clinic ended and a time of informal chummery and picking began. No thoughts of buying anything more than a set of strings. I figure what the heck. Pick up that McCarty and plug it in. It’ll be fun.

I did so. It was over.

Between hearing the “speak” factor of notes all over the fingerboard on my own (well, combined with the unrelated shredding of Gary Hawkins next to me- who picked up his first PRS that very night:) and eventually swapping licks with Boscoe himself in a fancy-free rendering of the Allman Brothers’ “Blue Sky,” I realized I’d found it.

By accident.

Like all the best things are found.

I may not have owned it yet, but it was mine.

I look forward to many years of music making with this guitar, Raven, the most worthy of partners.

Greatest thanks to Dustie for laying the groundwork, Boscoe for inspiring me to make the connection, Clay for bringing it into my sphere (and for checking out my silly blog), Chris for working with me and Clay to make it happen, and above all to Antonina Whaples for helping me see and believe in my own value as a person, a guitarist, and as an artist- as one deserving of such a refined tool.

Me and this guitar are on our way to becoming great friends.

You’ll be seeing us.

On being Insta-Amish, getting the most twang out of your Warlock, and Shelton does The Byrds does Dylan

Josh tells you what to expect from this thing as we catalog life with guitars beyond the stage and screen.

Full discussion here, including Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” complete with Clarence White pedal steel licks on Josh’s all purpose metal guitar.             https://youtu.be/lZo4xsrbOgw

Guitars Ruin Lives.

So, Guitars Ruin Lives is a thing now.

 

This project is the tip of an iceberg-sized preoccupation with the way musicmaking in general and guitar playing in particular is presented in this day an age- a “performance” of microscopic proportions, the narrowing of a life-sized craft into Instagram clips and click-track powered YouTube pornography (I mean literally, the term “guitar porn” exists for a reason).

It is a manifesto against the prevailing unspoken ethos of photoshopped, botoxed noisemaking in the era of The Voice and Facebook Live.

Music doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Concerts don’t come from a box.

Making music is not a hobby for the musicmakers.

And life with guitars isn’t pretty.

I promise you engaging original content about the inner workings of the best guitar players I know, thoughtful commentary on guitar culture as it has, does, and will exist, and no shortage of fresh guitar playing on display from me and my friends.

Welcome to the anti-guitar culture guitar culture blog which, to quote the radio man from O Brother Where Art Thou, I predict you gonna enjoy thirrly.