Jukebox Zero

Whenever I meet new people there always comes a point where they ask things like, "So what do you do?" or "What's your thing?" -- A question that I almost always answer anymore by saying "I'm a writer." Even though it's been a while since I've had anything published, and I don't really have anything recent circulating around right now -- it's still the thing that seems to most define what my life has been focused on (professionally and otherwise) for the past few years.

Which is strange, because as much as I've always loved the written word -- it wasn't really all that long ago when there was only one answer I would give when faced with a question like that.
Because ever since I can remember, all I really wanted to be in this life was a guitarist.
From the time I was a little kid air guitar-ing along with songs in front of my parents record player until the several consecutive years that I pestered every Mall Santa I could find to bring me a guitar of my own to play, to the period where my father and I transformed all the leftover plywood and lumber in the house into a extensive collection of fake guitars that I would pretend to play, to the years I endured piano lessons that my parents said I had to take first before they would consider getting me a guitar, -- until mom and dad finally gave in and got me a $50 student-sized acoustic that I would lock myself in my bedroom and practice chords and scales on, to the days where Gristina and I spent almost every spare moment we had learning songs together, to the days when I would skip classes in college so I could spend more time figuring out how to play every riff and solo on whatever album I was obsessing over at the time note for note -- all the way up to the present day where I find more or less any excuse I can to end up at the Guitar Center in Regency Square every weekend ogling over the latest piece of equipment that I feel I absolutely have to buy in order to perfect my overall sound -- playing guitar has been a part of my world.
But for some reason it's never risen above a certain level.
I've been in my share of bands, but very few of them ever reached a place where they played regular gigs. It was always more about having a good time and being creative (which in my opinion is an important part of the formative process for any musical group) -- but for whatever reason never made that next step towards refining their sound into something that could be presented to others for fun and/or profit.

And if you really want to sit down and listen, I can easily provide you with a laundry list of logistical and situational excuses that got in the way of each specific group never reaching their full platinum record sales/sold out concert tour earning potential -- all of which are true and real, but none of which offer clues to any sort of final answer to the real question that's at hand here.
But whenever I sit down and really try to examine and answer this question in writing, I get stuck.
There's no rule that says I have to update this site every day. I enjoy writing things here, but one of the truly nice things about blogging is that it's only as serious as you choose to make it. For me (beyond the fact that it enables me to spout my various crackpot opinions and flesh out story ideas in front of an actual audience), blogging offers a convenient way to try and deal with personal issues in words. It's the same theory in many ways as having a personal diary, a place where you can vent about whatever issues you're dealing with so that you can a) get them out and release the tension, but also b) try to deal with your conflicts by explaining them in words -– which forces you to define them with actual terminology and reasoning, instead of just reacting to them emotionally.
Which is something I’ve been doing for the past few days with this whole "I'm not really a guitarist" thing.
It kinda reminds me of the times when I was in going to all sorts of therapy and counseling sessions towards the end of my marriage, where I noticed was that all to frequently it was easy to look the shrink in the eye and say "I'm sooo mad about XYZ!!" but then when they asked you What it was about XYZ that makes you so angry?, or Why do you think XYZ bothers you so much? -- That answer wasn't always so easy to come by.
That's what you would spend hours and hours talking around – trying to put into words, trying to figure out.
..That’s when the blog doesn’t get updated for days at a time.
It's funny now looking back -- especially when I think about all those marriage counseling sessions where we'd both go in there and say "He/She does this, and it pisses me off." and whether we wanted to admit it or not -- our actual hope was to have the counselor say "Really? Well, He/She is wrong -– You have every right to be mad."

But instead the marriage counselor would just listen, scribble a note down on her pad and then say, "Well why does that bother you? Lots of people act like that every day -- what is it about that behavior that makes you mad, and where do you think that comes from?"
At first you'd be all, "Who cares where it's from -- just tell the bitch to watch some football with me once in a while!"
But the counselor would never do that. She'd just keep on you, twisting the same question around in different ways until they found the combination of words that actually got you to face the issue underneath the anger/frustration.
Have you ever thought that maybe she doesn’t like football?
Why does it matter that someone else watches football with you in the first place?
Do you ever refuse to watch television shows she likes with her, even when she asks you to?
When did you first start to worry that she might think your passions are kind of childish?
If you’re secure in your identity, then why do you need someone else to validate it?
Without getting too deep into all the mess that was my divorce, one of the things that I took away from both the couples and individual counseling that I went through was that regardless of the situation it's all too easy sometimes to get lost in little details and the emotional debris that a problem causes – but if you never actually figure out what the underlying issue is and try to face that with an open eye -- the problem will always come back and wreak the same havoc in your life.
This should be the point where you start to notice that I've been using stories about my divorce
to try to distract myself from exploring the reasons why I feel like I've largely failed as a musician.
..Let me try this a different way. For a few weeks now, Bar Manager Ralph has been on me to bring a guitar out on Wednesday nights and take part in the "open mic night" that he's been trying to get off the ground over at Endo Exo. And while I don't really ever remember telling Ralph that I was a guitar player and I'm kinda flattered by the offer -- I haven't really done so yet.

See, an open mic night, especially an acoustic guitar intensive one -- sorta calls out for that whole idea of Pick-a-song-everyone-knows-and-just-play-the-chords-so-no-one-gets-lost-or-bored. It's kind of an unofficial sing-a-long type of deal. Otherwise it would be called a Jam night -- which is more like an excuse for guitar players to get together and play 15-minute versions of "Red House" so they can trade solos.

(And heeerrre come the excuses) But I am hopeless when it comes to playing and singing at the same time. I don't really know why I've always had such trouble with it -- but it's just something that trips me up. Not to mention the fact that I'm not all that great of a singer to begin with. Truth be told, I'm more of a "Do cool things on the guitar while the other dude sings" kind of guy.

But really, if I want to be a working musician -- If I want to be the kind of guitar player that could meld into any group at any time and just blow the doors off people, then I sorta need to drop that crutch and walk on my own.
I don't know -- I've written about this whole issue So. Many. Times.
In fact it's kind of odd to me that I’ve never had any problem letting other people see the kind of writer I am; but for whatever reason I see my guitar playing as different.
Why are you afraid of letting other people judge your talents?
Anyways, I go to the open mic thing last week (didn’t take my guitar, but I had a pick in my pocket) and a bunch of college kids came in and set up. You could tell they knew each other, and that they had prepared a bit for this thing together -- but in the end only two of them got up on the little makeshift stage. They set up all the microphones and adjusted their little multi-colored Rasta hats and then proceeded to out and out butcher Bob Marley's "Redemption Song".
I'm not kidding here -- they did fake Jamaican accents when they sang it.
Nevermind the fact that although I'm sure I learned them once upon a time (Gristina loves that song), I can't really remember the way the chords go (or all the lyrics off the top of my head) -- the important thing is that almost instantly I was 100% confident that I could have done the song a billion times better than this dude ever would.
But I didn't.
Why do you hold back and hesitate in situations where it seems you could thrive?
For better or worse, logistical thinking got the better of me -- and as they moved into bad song after bad song I resigned myself to the thought that my time would have been more or less wasted trying to show the guy behind the wheel of the Titanic that I could drive a boat better than he could – especially after he'd already hit the iceberg and the thing was talking on water.

That being said, there were probably plenty of opportunities for me to jump up there later and play some other song with total confidence and skill (which would have accomplished the same goal).
But I didn't.
If you’re so secure in your abilities, why do you need other people to validate them?
And that's when something dawned on me: I don't have a pocket song. I mean, I know how to play plenty of songs. I have a full list of "May I help you?" riffs that I use whenever I'm at guitar stores. But if you were to walk up to me right now, hand me a guitar and say "OK hotshot, play something" -- I'd be more or less busted.

Sure I'd probably start doodling around, maybe try to put out a few bars of some tune that you'd recognize, but I don't have a tune that I could break out with at a party. I don't have a song that I could play without having another player around to pick up the slack when I broke into a melody line or something.
I don't have a tune in my hands that I could take in front of an audience by myself.
But here’s the problem – that’s another excuse. The real question I need to be asking myself is: Hey asshole -- You’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years now. You’re telling me after all that time and practice that you couldn't figure out some stupid little 3-chord ditty and then to practice it to the point where you could sing your way through it in front of other people? No way. I'm not buying that.

In short, There’s no logistical reason I can’t have a pocket song.
..So why don’t I have one?
[Listening to:  Incubus"Dig" ]