That Bitch-Goddess, Success

Did I mention this already?

Chances are:
I did, as I've only got so much in this brain of mine to share. Ah, here the nave writer ventures into the oft poeticized notion that there is some struggle between the intellectual life of the mind and the physical life of the body and soul. Anyway: Back in Vegas, after a long day of note-taking, hand-shaking, picture-snapping, nodding, smiling, and listening, I followed Jon Iverson to his hotel room where we picked up a couple of guitars and traded riffs.

As with most things, when it comes to playing guitar, I don't know what I'm doing. For the first five years of my fiddling, I played in made-up tunings. It really wasn't until I joined a band, having to communicate in a certain language with other musicians, that I started playing in what we can call a standard tuning. Now, other than the fact that, from skinny to fat, the strings on a guitar go


there's not much else I can tell you.

I can make music, though. I can play songs for you. My own songs, I mean. I have no idea of how to play any songs you might already know. No Nirvana, no Led Zeppelin, no Rolling Stones. And even within the band, I have to be the one to lead; the others must play to me. Not because I am the best musician, but because I can't play to them. I play alone even when playing with others.

Still. While I love the way I play guitar, I would, sometimes, like to dig into a classic rock riff. I would sometimes love to slide into some dirty solo, some undeniable high pitched cry. But I can't. And that — the fact that I can't — sometimes upsets me. I want the option. I want to own that card, keep it hidden until I need it.

Monty brings up an interesting idea — one that has often intrigued me — when he relays:

The teacher will appear when the student is ready to learn.

I bet there's truth in there. I like to tell myself and others that I enjoy learning. While we were playing, Jon Iverson taught me just a couple of things. He shared with me the secret of A minor. That is: according to Jon, I really like A minor. I would have never known. Even now, I still really don’t know. I can't tell you what A minor looks like, or what it sounds like. For all I know, it might look like a Totem Arro; it might sound like a DeVore gibbon.

Jon also gently informed me that much of what I play can be traced back to songs and ideas that have existed for years and years and years. And years. I'm not doing anything new or different. I could play one of my own songs, and Jon might play "Stairway to Heaven" right on top of it, and the two would hold hands like an old married couple sitting in the park. Being slowly swayed, feeding the dirty pigeons, contemplating the fat-ass squirrels.

Not that I ever really entertain the possibility of doing or thinking something new or different. When JA, one day, offered his advice on this blog, saying, "Each entry should be an original thought," I quickly objected: "I don't believe in original thoughts."

I had a professor in college who taught of poetry: "A poem should do one of two things: it should say something new, or it should say something old in a new way." I always shot for the latter.

But still.

The next day, Jon revealed that he was scared to teach me more because learning conventional methods might erase all of my natural...

All of my natural what?

What's the opposite of convention? Lawlessness? Impropriety? Chaos? Neglect? Am I choosing to isolate myself, as I often do, rather than, say, communicate, half-assedly at that, with a band? Is this art or is this contempt? Am I nave or am I stubborn?

Alright, shut up! Shut up.

Monty also suggests that I'm getting my education "even if it doesn't seem like it."

John comes over to ask, "May I borrow your copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover?"

"Sure," I reply.

John grasps the book, lifts it into the air, holds it out to Elizabeth, and points to the cover image: "You see this, Elizabeth?"


"What is it?"

"It's a boobie."

"No! It's what separates us from computers. It's not a boobie. It's an abstract expression; a semi-circular line with a pink blob in the center. A computer would never see this as a boobie!"

Buddha brings up an interesting idea — one that has often intrigued me — when he relays:

Maybe you're just not neurotic enough to be an audiophile or reviewer.

There are those who think hi-fi is so frequently off-putting to women and musicians because they [women and musicians] can listen through the badness of gear to actually hear what's going on.... Even if they can hear the difference, the majority of their brains vote that they don't care, 'cause they "get" the music just as well, either way.

Well, I do like to think that I can hear emotion, relate to passion, love love, and all that. As I write this, I'm listening to Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell share lines about that old, familiar feeling, sounding something like Serge Gainsbourg and Bridget Bardot. I'm listening through my cheap computer speakers, and I'm sure there's so much I'm missing, but, then again, I know I'm missing nothing. Still. I can certainly hear the difference between the sound of music coming from my computer and the sound of music coming from my home system. And I do care about that difference. It's as big and as obvious as a semi-circular line with a pink blob in the center.

In a great e-mail titled "Fly Specks," a reader addresses my holistic approach to listening to music:

Why do you currently listen to music in the first place? Is it for your own personal pleasure and enjoyment? Or is it in order to try and hear differences in audio equipment? Or perhaps even to try and "fit in" with the "audiophile" community?

Let's say you do start listening for fly specks. And let's say you do start hearing some differences. Will you still be able to listen holistically again (or as Harvey "Gizmo" Rosenberg once put it, "wholistically")? And will you experience as much pleasure and enjoyment listening to music as you did previously? Or will those fly specks remain in the back of your mind nagging at you?

There's absolutely nothing wrong with your holistic approach to listening to music. It's the best approach in my opinion. Er, unless of course one is aspiring to become an equipment reviewer.

You don't have any such aspirations do you?


Elizabeth voiced similar concerns this morning: "If you learn a more technical approach to your craft, you may lose..."

Lose what? I always forget what it is that I might lose. Something about naivety, something about purity, something about art.

While I love the way I play guitar, I would, sometimes, like to dig into a classic rock riff. I would sometimes love to slide into some dirty solo, some undeniable high pitched cry. But I can't. And that — the fact that I can’t — sometimes upsets me. I want the option. I want to own that card, keep it hidden until I need it.

And I want to get paid.

I could probably write 75% of a very fine audio equipment review. I can create a story. I can describe a product. I can relate what I hear. But. But I can't make comparisons because I can't hear differences, and if I can't hear differences, the review is moot. Moot. Mute.

Art Dudley visited the office today. We went out for lunch. Towards the end of our conversation, JA flashed back to his days of working as a musician.

"So, yes," he said, "I wanted to be in a touring rock band, but would I pass up the opportunity to tour with a cabaret show? No! The pay was good."

"Sounds like it was a fun experience."

"Oh, it was terrible... You see, Stephen, by doing what you're doing, you're remaining pure. You're an artist."

An artist not by choice, but by default, because it's better to be an artist than to simply be alone. I couldn't tour with a cabaret show if I wanted to.

Back in the office, we make more jokes about the semi-circular line and its pink blob. Some call it a boobie.

"I want a report on that book by Monday," says Art.


Buddha's picture

World class blog today. I know I joke around a lot, but I really mean that.

As a guy who can sing along to a tune he loves (in the car, where you can't judge me,) or tap his toesand be enraptured by a great rendition of a tune at some dive bar with a great band playing through a Bose (gasp) PA system, or fall in love with a new artist I hear on a relative's crappy boom box, or dig Jake Holmes rendition of Dazed and Confused via some crappy online server played via Explorer...I think the key is to answer that question about what you want by boldly answering," ""Both!""

Hi fi is not 24-7. Just like you are not overtly sexual (on purpose...:)...) every second of the day", or can read a poem and enjoy the imagery without breaking it down for lit class every time - feel free to aspire to be both an audiophile and a music lover. There are countless things we do that require critical evaluation in one context, and pure flat out enjoyment in another, so grab it all.

Rant continues...

Buddha's picture

So, where was I? Oh yeah, I was headed toward talking about context.

The black line and the pink blob can be just that, or, if you like, it can be Lady Chatterley's boobie. Heck, it can be a metaphor for things taboo, it can symbolize what Oliver shouldn't have been allowed to have, and it can be what Sir Clifford had, but couldn't properly use. It's all up to you.

So," time to develop your ""switch."" Always hearing as an audiophile will kill any joy you find in music - it would be an untenable thing", but being able to listen critically as its own enjoyable thing is pretty fun.

Sometimes, we can achieve both things," simultaneously - which brings us right back to D.H. Lawrence.

I think you should be open to being both Sir Clifford and Oliver. Hi fi is one place you are allowed to say ""both"" to an either/or question.

Did that make sense?

One last cool thing - audio is something you can do with lots of different people and no one will get upset.

Clay White's picture

John is right, it is a boobie, and kind of a cute one at that. Either the illness has been defeated or whatever you're taking for it should become a regular part of your diet. Your writing chops are back in full force today. Jon is also right, much of what everone plays can be traced back to songs that have been around as long as anyone can remember. Years ago a neighbor and audio buddy of mine who was a fine pianist and I were listening to some Vince Guaraldi on my rig of that day. He said," ""You realize that song is just Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas?"" Well", after a few bars, I did, but not until he pointed it out. You're just a temporary victim of moving through this whole music/audiophile development at light speed. It'll be fine. Sitting alone and playing your guitar for yourself like you did the other day won't hurt a bit. It always works for me. So I'm not Clapton (or what he once was). Not many are.

Al Marcy's picture

Somebody already was a glib picker. It is OK," some chick may still dig a spontaneous love poem which begins: ""Ah"," c'mon!""

Jonathan Scull's picture

> All of my natural what? Talent.

David Nighorn's picture

I'll chime in to agree that this is your best blog entry since just before you got sick. Heck, it might be in your top 10 so far. On another point, I too had the moment when I realized that I was listening to the sounds of my system rather than to the music. My favorite tunes no longer moved me. All that mattered was whether the lastest change in speaker position was doing what I'd hoped. Once I realized that I'd killed the joy of music, I quit messing with the system.Magic! It all came back. Now I simply go to the listening room, fire up the Squeezebox, and let the music flow. Could it sound better? Probably. Do I want to destroy what I observe simply through the act of observation? No. To kill a symphony is a sin.David

Buddha's picture


I have a button that says that, only it says it about the button, which is ironic, because it really is a button, but anyway....exactly!

Jon Iverson's picture

Okay SM, I promise to teach you a classic screaming guitar lead at HE2006. Be ready.

Stephen Mejias's picture

>Okay SM, I promise to teach you a classic screaming guitar lead at HE2006. Be ready.S

Stephen Mejias's picture

By the way: I love turning this page into a Lit course. Buddha gets an A.

Jim Teacher's picture

I dunno about youse guys, but I listen for the drums.