Hello Troubadourians! What do you love? Is your list long or short? I’ve had to think about that a lot lately. After 15 years in our big old house, my family and I are moving to a smaller home. Too much house, too much equity, too much stuff. Too much clutter. Ah yes, clutter. Moving requires dealing with the things that clutter our spaces and demand a decision. What goes with us and what doesn’t? What do I love? It makes me think, if there is clutter in my life, is there clutter in my music too? What do I love?
While I actively perform my music for audiences in many venues, I play the guitar for myself. I love the guitar. I love my guitar. I love playing my guitar. I love the feel of it in my hands. I love the sounds I can make with it. It’s a very personal thing for me and it means a lot to me to do it well. As a result I’m constantly thinking, “Was that any good? Did that make the song better or worse? Was it too much, or not enough? Was it too plain or too out there?” All that thinking… it’s just clutter. It’s not what I love. And yet it’s nearly impossible for me to turn it off. Damn.
I love to practice. I can clear my mind and just play. I can get inside the music and inside the guitar. I can explore new things and add nuance to familiar things. Losing myself in the sound, the touch, the feeling, the process of playing the guitar… That’s what I love. I can play whatever I want to play, as many times as I want to play it, until I get it right or until I find something new in something old. The physical interaction between my hands and the guitar – I need this. Like I need to breathe, I need this. The sounds – whether acoustic or electric – it doesn’t matter; I need this. It’s what I love.
I love to rehearse. This is when I get to try out all of the stuff I’ve been practicing and see if it works. That note, right there – that’s what I love. There’s nothing I do that feels quite like when I’m playing music with the Linkuns [Folding Mr. Lincoln] and we play a song in such a way that it just seems to come alive. Right there, in that room, we performed magic. We transformed some random sounds into a unified being, a question into an answer, a specter into a life. That’s what I love. Amazing people, those Linkuns.
I love to perform, to send the energy of my music out onto the stage, into the audience, into the world, and have that energy returned ten-fold. That’s what I love. Performing is when I have the opportunity to share what I love with everyone – bandmates, audiences, you. That’s when I want to be at my best… And that’s also when I find I most often have to sort through the clutter.
When I practice, there’s nothing but me and my guitar. All the clutter of the day is swept into the dust bin, banished to irrelevance. Sometimes I have to work at it a little but it doesn’t take long to get completely engrossed. At rehearsal, it’s a little more difficult. All of the Linkuns bring some measure of clutter with them and we each sweep the clutter out of the room at different rates and it’s easy for me to get distracted by the process. But we all recognize when it starts to happen and we’re really good at accelerating the removal of the clutter in our heads and hearts. Then suddenly, it’s gig time and, for me at least, I can count on sifting through plenty of clutter. It’s not nerves or stage fright; I know our material too well for that. And I’m not really too worried about putting on a good show; I trust myself and the Linkuns too much to think that collectively we’ll be anything other than entertaining. No, the clutter is all about me. The very personal aspect of playing the guitar and the intimacy I have with my music sets me up to indulge in the sorting of all of the clutter in my head. Not what I need to be doing when I want to play at my best. See, I’m selfish. I want to dig my playing, too. It’s not enough for me to play what is comfortable; I want to “turn it up” for the show. I want to play every cool thing I’ve ever played while practicing. I want to recreate every magic moment from rehearsal. So I cram all of that “want” into whatever amount if time I might have before I play. Of course, that means I’m almost assured of still being cluttered when I hit the first note. Now, I know all of this, and still it happens. Clutter.
Sometimes though, everything works like I want it to work. My mind is clear, the music flows freely, the show is good, and I get to enjoy it, too. No clutter. Those are the shows I live for. So, I figure that whatever I did before one of those gigs should put me in the same place for the next one. But it doesn’t. Instead it just adds more clutter. Maybe I’ll find something that works every time. Until, of course, it doesn’t. One thing I do know is that I’ll never stop practicing, never stop rehearsing, and never stop doing whatever I have to do to deliver a performance that pleases the audience. It’s what I love.
Coda: Last month I offered up four “rigs,” which I described using a whole bunch of lingo that guitar geeks regularly throw around like everyone knows what they are talking about. Don’t they? Don’t we? Well, no. Not everyone can speak “guitar slang” so I offered translations and explanations for everything in the rigs. Each rig was inspired by the actual rigs of four actual guitarists. I posted on the Troubadour Facebook page that I’d sign your copy of the Troubadour if you could name which four guitarists they belong to. For the record, here they are (in the order of the column): Danny Gatton, Gary Moore, Clarence White, and Norman Blake. Let me know if you like this type of stuff and I’ll periodically translate the most common and some of the more exotic Guitar Geek speak.
Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (firstname.lastname@example.org)