Oh, I love to debate and discuss creative concepts, business strategies, musical opinions, dramatic criticism, and even sports prognostications. I’m a glutton for having my views and beliefs challenged, and either solidified or changed. But start telling me that you’re going to do something—or are standing strong for something—and I go deaf.
“I’ll turn that article in on Friday.” Yep, we’ll see.
“Support the troops.” Uh huh, and what exactly are you personally doing to support them?
And then there’s one of life’s real humdingers: “I am a moral person.” Oh yeah, people love to tell you what they are—a good parent, a smart person, a gifted athlete, an astute businessperson, and so on—but a healthy dose of cynicism is probably a good defense when being bombarded by self-assessments. The recent John Edwards debacle is sad and hilarious, because his camp was desperately promoting him as Mr. Virtue throughout the former senator’s run for the Democratic presidential nomination. But Edwards’ affair and his initial public denial of it prove he is far from a standup guy. Again—watch the actions, and accept the words at your own peril.
As guitarists, we are also blessed or bedeviled by judgments of our words and actions. Our “words” are the notes we use to communicate musical language, and our “actions” are derived from the honest emotions—or lack thereof—we employ to voice those notes. Now, it’s no great surprise that masses of people can be fooled by stirring speeches and savvy acting— just check your history lessons for proof— but I’m not really concerned with whether a guitarist has the potential to wow listeners with insincere flurries of notes, or excite an audience with choreographed rock moves. I mean, let’s be honest—we all have the ability to grandstand our way through a performance with learned gestures that reveal absolutely nothing about our souls, our passions, or our lives.
The big question here is whether you care if you’re being a phony?
When the public makes it so easy for entertainers to be musically dishonest, yet still elicit cheers, press, and even career advancement, is there any significant motivation to cut through layers of ego bullsh*t to embrace truth? Is there any so-called payoff for being “real”—meaning not just saying the word like a culture-schooled automaton, but actually sharing your uncensored emotions with every note you play? Would people think you sucked if you abandoned all the accepted techniques and tones, and just played whatever you felt? If you were truly expressing yourself, would it bother you if no one listened?
These are some of the hard questions that surround contemporary guitarists who actually care about how music affects us all. It’s not my place to judge, one way or another. I can only endeavor to start a discussion. In the end, only you can look in the mirror every day and be okay with what you see staring back at you.