Tag Archives: identity

Taking What You Do, And Making It Your Own.

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 1:9

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“It’s all been done, it’s all been done. It’s all been done before.”

- Bare Naked Ladies

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So what have you done today?

I used to labor under the mistaken impression that I was going to create music that was unlike anything anyone had heard before. Today, this seems pretty unlikely. I’m not less interested in being creative, but now I’m interested in doing what’s authentically mine;  taking music and expressing who I am with it; taking what I do, and making it my own.

About ten years ago, I was the main guitarist for a large (now monstrously huge) church in Cincinnati called Crossroads. The head pastor complimented me on my guitar playing one day, and asked me why it was that the music seemed so much better when I played with the band. This was no slight against the other musicians, all of whom were fantastic players, but he recognized that I brought something extra; special; other. It was nice to be recognized.

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My answer, after I thought about it, was this:

When I play a song, I don’t think of it as someone else’s music anymore. I think of it as MINE. It’s MY song to play. In that 3-4 minute window, I take the fullness of who I am, and how I feel at that moment, and I project it out through my guitar into the universe as notes and sounds.

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Let’s go back in time…

Over the years of honing my craft, I discovered a few things that worked well for me. I distilled things from my assorted influences, and put them all together to create a nice little niche for myself to occupy. In fact, I was so successful at this, that in a city full of superb guitarists, I still get asked to join bands, work on projects, etc, when there are hundreds (maybe thousands) who can probably play circles around me.

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These guys aren’t impressed with me at all.

YouTube and Instagram illustrate to me every day that the top level of my technique is pretty mediocre compared to what a planet of bedroom guitarists are doing these days. I have no illusions about my skill/talent. But I am confident of my niche.

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Maybe this is common, I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know. No one can play guitar like I do. Lots of people can play guitar, and they might even play similarly (Many are vastly superior!), but none of them can bring what I bring. So when I go out on stage, I’m convinced that what I play is worth being heard. It’s mine, and no one can play it like I can.

How do you get to that musical know-thyself point? It’s a little like learning to hail a taxi. You stand there waiting for one, and finally one stops. Over time, you get better at hailing those cabs, and then more of them become available. Pretty soon you’re just jumping into the street, and a taxi is right there to take you where you’re going. It takes time and practice, but it happens.

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That doesn’t mean every idea is great. Not every taxi automatically takes you to the coolest location in town. You’ll need to know your way around, and choose the right locales.

Here’s a taxi I jumped in to-  Last year, it seemed like a fun idea to play Van Morrison’s classic hit “Brown Eyed Girl” with minor chords instead of major. The whole thing started off as a joke- a prank to play on drunk bridesmaids who requested the original, to see if they could tell the difference. Well, the idea took off, and with a little massaging, it became clear that I had landed on something really interesting.

Morrison’s original basks in the glow of pleasant nostalgia, driven by simple bread-and-butter chords. Changing the music to minor chords upends the whole mood, and makes it a lament for lost love; lost youth; lost innocence.

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I find this transition remarkable. You can listen here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVFSO-2WwMY

Anyone can do this sort of thing, but this particular thing was MY idea. The same approach goes in to all the guitar parts I make up for other songs. I hear what’s there, and I react to it. I hail the taxi, and take it to my destination. I take what I do, and I make it my own.

What will you do?

 

Defining The “Speso.”

The first electric guitar I ever played was a vintage Fender Jazzmaster. I have no idea how old it was, but it was already old when I discovered it at age ten or eleven.

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It was owned by the oldest brother of my childhood best friend. I knew it was forbidden, and so I treated it with grave respect… every time I secretly played it… when he wasn’t around.

Sometimes I had access to his old Fender Twin Reverb. It wasn’t sacred like the Jazzmaster, and I recall being fascinated by the reverb and vibrato.

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I found a classic Twin Reverb in my mid-20′s. I ended up gigging with it for several years. We had a good run together, but Jazzmasters remained elusive- they were hard to find, and expensive. This is still the case, when comparing to Stratocasters or Telecasters.

When my main gig ended, I taught lessons in a couple of local music stores (this is a great way to see cool gear before it gets sold). A consignment Jazzmaster showed up one day. It was a ’61, and seemed to be all original, but a previous owner had stripped the finish down to natural wood. That ruined its status as a collector’s item, and made it perfect for a player- exactly my type. More importantly, it sounded amazing. I looked like this when I played it.

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So I taught lessons on it, fell in love, and started saving money for it. As these things happen, I had an expensive car-repair, followed by a water-heater failure, followed by something else expensive. I had no Jazzmaster money after that. The seller got antsy, and moved his guitar elsewhere.

A few years passed…

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I started shopping casually on eBay for Jazzmasters, researching and comparing. After several months, a familiar-looking natural ’61 Jazzmaster showed up. Same one? I asked the seller about certain features, and yes, sure enough, it had to be THE SAME ONE. Unbelievable! I was similarly penniless at the time, for similar reasons as before. I started making arrangements to sell other gear so I could afford it. Then, out of the blue, the auction was removed. Two days later, it showed up again on eBay, on the other side of the country, as parts. PARTS. Aaugh!

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It seemed like a bad idea to buy a box of parts. So, after some wise council, I finally let it go. THE VERY NEXT DAY (I’m not making this up), a Jazzmaster appeared on the local Craigslist. I had never seen a Jazzmaster there. It was a Japanese model from the mid-90′s, certainly more affordable, and less of a risk. I met the seller, checked it out, and bought it. Truth: it actually sounds better than that parted-out ’61.

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I’m really happy with my Jazzmaster. It makes a sound like no other guitar I own, but I’ve started to recognize that it isn’t the guitar that makes itself sound so good, it’s how I react to it. And here’s the thing- I can react that way to ANY guitar. The special part isn’t the guitar, it’s my unique interaction with it. Boom.

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That ’61 Jazzmaster sounded great in my hands, no doubt about it. There were plenty of other competent players who handled it. Why didn’t THEY buy it? Were they all deaf? Did they lack my tonal majesty? I don’t think so. I think the “SPEcial SOmething” about it was my spiritual/emotional/artistic reaction when I picked it up. So here’s where I invent my own unique term- The “Speso;”™  that particular reaction from the inside that we attach to a person, place or thing.

I recognize that I have a different Speso ® for each instrument to which I become attached, and it isn’t just guitars. My relationships each have a Speso™. My songs are each an out-loud Speso®. My family’s cabin in the Poconos has a Speso™.

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Dang preexisting government acronyms! In any case, I’ll keep using the term.

You can buy any guitar, or have any relationship, but there’s THAT ONE that’s special; separate from the rest. I think the difference isn’t the guitar or other person (or whatever), I think it’s the Speso; the unique connection ingredient, that resides mysteriously inside each of us. It’s that thing, where when you made contact with the other person, or that one guitar, and there was an instant connection. THAT is the Speso; the unique facet of your identity that becomes matched or complemented by the connection to the other.

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Today is my wedding anniversary. I have an obvious Speso for my sweet little wife, having literally chosen her over every other woman on Earth. I have completely different, much-less important Spesos (Spesoes? Speso’s?) for my guitars, but that’s the easy example we’re reaching for today.

 

What guitar / amp / music object exemplifies and undeniable indefinable Speso for you? What was it that connected you, over anyone else, to THAT guitar, over every other one at the time? Was it another version of one that you already had? Was it something completely different? How long and how deeply did it go?

Describe your Speso. Go!