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Get Real

Hello Troubadourians! Facebook is such a bizarre medium for expression. People post the inane, profane, boring, beguiling, inflammatory, hilarious, ridiculous, and sometimes very personal parts of their lives. I’m probably guilty of posting all of these things but mostly the boring, I would imagine. What seems profound to one person holds little interest to another or the profundity of the statement has a very short shelf life and fades into the inane in what seems like a microsecond. If you are a musician it is easy to become caught up in viewing your music through the distorted reality that is Facebook. It seems like everyone’s posts are awesome—at least more awesome that yours—and that the gigs they played or the shows they saw were the most transcendent experiences of their lives… and you missed it. Everything is wonderful in cyberspace but nothing really happens there. Our lives take place in the real world (or “meatspace” as it is sometimes referred to by cyber nerds) and the real world is complicated and messy, where the cyber world is simple and sublime. If you succumb to the temptation to judge your life by the unreal postings on Facebook you can find yourself depressed and uninspired in a very short time. I have to admit that I’ve struggled with this myself much more often than I’d like to think, and I find myself competing in my thoughts with posts that have absolutely no real-world relevance to my life whatsoever. When I find myself starting down that rabbit hole I just have to remind myself to stop the competitive thinking and just go pick up my guitar and play. That simple act can inform my reality better than anything else.

For me the physicality of playing my instrument is where reality exists. Moving my hands over the instrument and having it respond with sounds that are unique to that moment in time, yet also timeless, keeps me grounded and in touch with what is real in my life. It’s been that way since I can remember. I fell in love with the sound of the guitar at an early age. My uncle Bob played the guitar and I loved going over to his house or to family gatherings because I knew he could be “talked into” playing fairly easily. For all you gear heads out there, Uncle Bob had an awesome rig: a 1959 Fender Custom Telecaster in a beautiful three-color sunburst with a rosewood fretboard, a tweed Twin-Amp, and a Fender reverb unit. He played semi-professionally around San Diego in the late ’50s and this was the required gear for a country guitarist at that time. Listening to him play I was entranced by the sound of a pick on the strings, the responding splash of reverb, and the harmonic richness of a bent note at just the right time. While my ears were focused on the sounds and music, my eyes were watching every movement of his fingers and taking in the sheer beauty of that lovely sunburst finish. And I could become intoxicated from the smell of tweed and cigarettes emanating from the amp and guitar case as well as the unique aroma of hot tubes and the low frequency rumble of the bass notes as they made their way through air and the floor beneath my feet directly into my very soul. Maybe I wasn’t born to be a guitar player but I sure was made to be one through my immersion into the very center of the tempest that was my Uncle Bob’s playing. This was real. This is where I learned the truth of music and the guitar.

As I got older and decided I wanted to perform my music for audiences beyond my family I learned the whole “thing” that is performing on stage and working with bands. I learned how intensely competitive the music business is and how easy it is—in fact often required—to inflate just how awesome your last gig or next gig was or is going to be. It used to be harder back in the day but with the invention of social media and particularly of Facebook, it is easy to make any humdrum open mic appearance sound like a command performance. It’s not that we intend to deceive but we tend to remember the best parts of our experiences and it is these memories that we post to Facebook and elsewhere. I mean, really, why would you want to post that you played two songs for three people who were only there because they were waiting for their turn to play, that you forgot the lyrics to your best song and your guitar went out of tune halfway through. No, you wouldn’t and neither would I. But the embellishment of the truth often lies in the mind of the reader. If we read a post about someone’s gig, it doesn’t take much to read into it all sorts of wonderful things that aren’t really in the text of the post. If we are at all competitive, we start competing with everything we read and everything we didn’t do. Yeah, not fun or healthy. So, what’s the answer to all of this? I’d like to say it’s as simple as staying the hell off of social media—not too bad of an idea actually—or to try to play every gig and open mic that you possibly can. But substituting one “thing” with another isn’t going to work. Rather, I would suggest that if you’re feeling left out when you read a post, just remember that it’s easy to let your imagination run away with you and certainly don’t go all jealous over words on a screen. Instead, you play. That’s real. And real is were you want to be. It doesn’t matter how you get real but it’s important that you get real and do whatever you can to stay real. For me, it’s essential to be real. I am too busy with my day job so I can’t play as often as I’d like and I have to be particular about how I spend my time that I set aside for music. I have to keep that in mind always, that it’s a choice for me to play gigs and it’s also a choice how I feel when I read about other’s gigs on social media. My choice to pick up my guitar and play, to lose myself in the physical act of making music. What’s your choice?

Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (ask.charlie@hotmail.com)

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