Tuesday, April 17, 2012

You tube?.... I don't. Guitar snobs be wary.

This was supposed to be a 'Yay' commentary about me purchasing some amplification equipment and a microphone/stand to start writing music once again. In researching amps, I did decide to go with a Fender amp, I read review after review about it's 'reliable, louder than it should be' reputation, and many messages from experienced to inexperienced musicians praising the clean channel as well as the distortion. I mean, in this day and age, what musician wouldn't consider distorting the sound of their acoustic guitar if their artistic integrity was on the line? 

Imagine my surprise that even now at 45 in 2012  it's a popularity contest. For some people it's appearance; No one wants to be seen in a Toyota when they could drive a Mustang. For others they've gone all psuedo technical with their own jargon and specifications and whatever the hell tubes are. Who'd know in the high school that is music and my life, my equipment is still the 'Irkel', the 'Skippy', the 'Horshack', the 'Screech'.... in other words? I purchased and now own outright 'dorky' equipment.

I was a bassist for years <gay, 80's style, you dig?>... years ago now, and picked up an acoustic guitar in 2006 for the simple reason that no one ever says to a bassist; "hey, crack that bad boy out and play us a song....". If that ever occurred, I'd be certain I had crossed over to bizzarro world, the notes are too low to stand alone, and they're empty to sing to without percussion, and while you're at it... 'Where's the freaking guitar?!?' Bass guitars fame alone belongs to five second snippets during Seinfeld, which were fresh twenty years ago and still sometimes if you happen to be caught during a rerun. But alas, the bass player in most bands is the unsung geek who is only doing his job properly when he perfectly blends into most of the song, sings backing vocals only, and in my case was originally hired not because of ability but because my hair was longer than anyone else's in the factory we were working at. Did I mention it was also dyed blue? No, I tend not to mention that, but in my defense, it was 1986. I played the part well; I had some talent, but not enough that I couldn't completely screw up the second set depending on how much I was drinking that night, but really who cares? It was a time when people really weren't listening too much to our playing, other than a steady drum beat, and the guitar solo in the middle, and it sounds just like.... well, it sounded like something we've heard before. Heavy metal, simply so simple that the louder you play it, the more talented you sound. Amen.

Flash forward to when I gave up my dreams, enlisted in the service, got <thrown> out and moved to Boston and took a job in an.... gulp!, accounting office, where I languished until 2002 and found other priorities, which we hopefully all do by about thirty, right? Wrong, I guess. In searching for equipment, I've found that people who've not won a Grammy, released an album they haven't had to give away, or have hardly dusted equipment to open the basement vault and expose it to the fresh air and sun are 'professional musician status'. They alone know what is boss and what to avoid at all costs. I think the status is attained when you can finally afford those high priced ticket item toys you read in the guitar mag's when you were fourteen and indeed purchase them, then play with them and adjust your sound to perfectly imitate Yngwie J. Malmsteen, and only you <and whomever's basement you're inhabiting> ever hear the 'soft fuzzy feeling of the tubes., and the 'secret dragon oil subtleties' of... or whatever the hell you believe. 

Standing in  the music shop, I actually heard someone say they wanted a particular amp because it was orange, and that made it sound better. It was an adult which makes it that much sadder. What made it tragic is that the employee agreed that the orange one was way better for it's orange-ness. The amps were virtually identical in a different color cabinet, but of course employee's pander to someone who's spending over a thousand dollars on mindless crap. I didn't want anyone in the store to ask if I needed anything, I was quick, had a list, and bought every generic cord, strings, stands and made a hasty get away, to be greeted by a friendly redhead at the register who was laughing at pretty much the same things I was, including the worst version of Eruption by Van Halen I've heard played by a rather ambitious teenager. I'm not sure it was a teenager, but I was afraid to look over and find out it wasn't. If it was someone my age playing that sloppily in public <at home is different> I'd have cast my equipment down and run out in front of a moving car. 

The musician's prayer?
 "God, I know I may not be the most talented person in the world, but please tell me I'm better than THAT schmuck. Amen."

I went to another store directly after that I'd researched on the web. I'd seen the amp I was looking for for two hundred dollars less than the store in Sydney, and the price was only thirty dollars more than a used amp <same model> had sold on e-bay only days before. Although it was a piano shop, they said they specialized in guitars and violins. It wasn't easy to find the location but the service was impeccable even when they had no idea if we were there for picks only, and when we weren't it was an easy purchase anyway. I told them what I wanted, they agreed it was a great amp for it's price, and didn't try to upsell, downplay the solid state circuitry, or casually lure my view to the 'orange' one. They saw my purchases from the other shop, and apologized for the horrible customer service they assumed I'd received there. When asked who helped me I said 'noone, I had a list and moved with stealth, the only person who talked to me was a sarcastic redhead and we laughed at stuff. Wouldn't you know it? The redhead was his girlfriend, and you could immediately agree with the connection. Quiet guitarist meets quirky redhead, happiness ensues, at least til the end of University. I feel the same way about my equipment, although I did see a canary yellow Ibanez guitar that I hope makes it around my neck. What can I say? I want to play my three power chords and have someone look at me and say 'see that guitar? that guy must be awesome.'

Friday, April 13, 2012

Perkiness: A Survival Tactic

Anyone who knows me outside of Facebook, my notoriously bad first impressions, or instinctively defending a friend without knowing all the details knows that once you break through the deliberately placed initial sour taste you get in your mouth, I ain't such a bad guy. In spite of me, it must be true. I still have friends or so they tell me.

Free loving, tree hugging, nauseatingly tolerant expectations I may drudge up in your imaginary flower child scenario's be damned. I have few shades of gray when it comes to belief's I hold dear so far as morality, manners, and loyalty. I see things in black and white, right and wrong, and yes and no. No gray, no ties, no maybe's. I can be a rigid son of a bitch <what did you call my Mom?>.

I'm not a saint by a long shot, and I also make mistakes on a regular basis, so much so that it'd be easier to say 'wow, I really Brian-ed that up, huh?' but in the moment, and when it comes time to act, I'll grant as much time to logic as I can possibly muster, try to be more like 'Touched By an Angel' than 'Judge Judy', and will react in appropriate time with an apology or justification of sorts.

I have to confess that I've felt the sting of being judged wrongly without prudence, been excluded based on appearance <which always amazes me, considering how highly I regard myself>, and feel like from initial introduction, which is the easy part, that it's an uphill climb for me to overcome whatever subconscious message that's harbored in your hippie fantasy. Yes, I have tattoos, No, I haven't been to prison, capisce?

Let's face it, when someone says 'My gay friend is coming over, and he's smart, funny, and cute' {assuming that's what people say, it tends to be what I hear in my head, ha ha} I'm pretty sure the last person anyone expects to walk through the door would be a guy who represents as a tattooed, long haired, fat guy. I'm hardly your conventional looking person and I make no apologies for this. As a gay guy, I right off the bat offend many a straight friend or stranger in a party environment, and have learned to counter every request right out of the gate- such as <"Don't be starin' at my ass, dude, I'm not a homo'> with a quick retort. 'You don't have to worry, I'm only interested in men' is one of my favorites. 

What you may not know, unless you're a gay guy, is that gay men turn selective thought and stereotyping people into an art form. There's no winning a room over when the wheels of a witch coven starts churning the pot. What's worse is you can't beat those people up; mentally you're too buzzed or caught off guard to be quick with words, and fisticuffs is not an option; These people have been tortured in gym class for years and know how to dramatize and over dramatize for drama's sake. My nightmare is having to defend my sexuality on a stand in court, trying to convince a jury that I'm 'gay enough' to not be eligible for conviction of a hate crime, and 'THAT queen deserved a smack and noone who was there would deny it' is kind of a weak argument unless you're lucky enough to have a gay jury. If I could dream a dream, my jury would be in complete drag, comprised of Tanya Tucker's, but that's a story for another time.

Having confidence in the face of adversity takes many years of overcoming having no confidence in the past, and I'm lucky enough to know a handful or so of people who remember me as the quiet guy who just wanted to be left alone throughout my scholastic career who can appreciate my evolution to sarcastic smart ass that defends not only himself, but causes of a personal nature. I tell John all the time that I'm not right about a lot of things. We can agree on that, and I don't need to close my eyes to see John's head nodding with that expression that says 'if you only knew how often and how wrong you can be'.

I've also told him that when in a crowd, I may tell everyone the sky is green, and that regardless of it being correct, it's his duty to concur. I have agreed to reciprocate. There's plenty of time to be wrong, like when we're at home and he can explain to me why I'm mistaken, preferably over white wine. 

What's your perception? We could be seen as the 'distorted facts couple' but I like to think of us as 'blissfully and idiotically united'. The way I see the world because it always makes sense to me and no one gets hurt. As soon as John surrender's to my logic, it will be utter harmony.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Free Bird is no longer my signature song.

In the last twenty years or so of my life, I've noticed a pattern of leaving both common and proper nouns in my wake as I've hightailed it into the sunset. The Schoolhouse Rock definition of 'noun' must be sung, and I indeed do 'find it interesting, a noun's a person, place, or thing.' That chuckle aside, and after some forethought or hindsight <whichever makes me sound more inflective>, I can say for the most part, I may not miss the places, I may not miss the people, but damnit, I miss the stuff!
I've left entire apartments full of furniture, clothes, and electronics, CD and book collections, movies in so many formats I couldn't play them if we were ever reunited, and a myriad of other possessions in a mad dash to liberate myself from drama or situations I was partially or totally responsible for  in one way or another, and let's face it, if you don't have a beast of burden or at least an F150, these are things you can't pack in your bag and hit the road with and make a clean getaway.

By the time I reached Wisconsin, and got a new job and apartment there, I wouldn't be able to physically or mentally make a purchase of more than tv, laptop, stereo, and futon for months in fear that I wasn't going to commit to living there much longer and  my mood changed from day to day. It was a great job with lot's of potential, downtown Sheboygan may seem like a tiny town, even to the locals who called it 'Sheer Boredom', but it had everything you would look for in a small city; the pubs all had happy hours that lasted four hours, cigarettes were under four dollars a pack, and it was on Lake Michigan. If you can imagine a salt smell it's as close as you can get to being on the ocean without being anywhere near one.

When I would shop for anything other than food, the internal argument would start with the 'do i want this?' phase of the purchase, which is pretty much self explanatory. I'd then graduate to the 'do i need this?' phase of the purchase, and I'd imagine the many uses and benefits of purchasing a  <let's say> couch for my living room in the event I decided to have people over and not have to pretend to notice the expression of awe on their faces when they walked into my two bedroom apartment that with the exception of a 'nerd nook' was completely barren. The last and most crucial phase of the purchasing procedure was the 'can i leave this?' phase. It entails not spending so much money or getting emotionally attached to anything that you couldn't easily leave behind if you couldn't take it with you. It would be a real strain to pull out my checkbook and fork over an entire paycheck for something that was ultimately going to make my neighbors dream come true once it was fished out of the dumpster area. I had to make sure I was willing to make the temporary commitment while also reminding the couch at least weekly that 'this is only a temporary thing' and when it got too comfortable or I sensed it was too needy, I was quick to give it the 'you knew what this was about when we got together' speech.

I really like to think I'm over this phase of my life now. Married to a better guy than I probably deserve, I've managed to become an international traveler, and have relocated hopefully for the last time <and yes, I pretty much left all my stuff to donations when I broke my lease and said I wouldn't be coming back to the States as early as I had originally intended> and am settled in our new home situation in Australia which is also subject to it's own fair share of idiosyncrasies as far as permanence. We lie in bed, and chat about where we could go, where we could live, and when we'll be able to afford to travel back to the States, a formidable expense in any budget of any size income. I'm making my first major purchase this week, I'm buying a new guitar amp so I can practice guitar, plug in a mic, and hopefully get comfortable enough to either recruit a band or put cymbals between my knees and be a model 'geek'. It weighs over 50 pounds. Even if I could get it back to the States I wouldn't be able to plug it in due to European socket configurations. It wouldn't fit into my bag if it had to. It's taking a lot of thought to relax and say to myself 'if i buy this amp, I'll never need another.' I can't quit smoking, I still drink. I still believe, however, that this is one habit that it's definitely time to break..... maybe.