“be good, get good, or give up”

every musician i have ever known holds this hope in their heart that they can work their way to greatness.somehow. technical skill is no guarantee of magic, as many a folk, blues, and punk music fan can tell you.

but that magic is what we work for. study for, practice for,sacrifice health and home for. and when someone says they have the  key that will set that cold fuse of yours on fire,  they are the teacher with the technique that will align you with the stars you adore, it’s like getting a love letter from prince charming, promising the life someone like you was meant to live.

back in the ’80s and early ’90s, i never wanted to be a great guitar player, so i guess in that i have succeeded. i only wanted to be able to accompany myself through the “fake books” while i practiced singing them, and to write my own songs that hopefully “good” musicians would flesh out, according to my dreams for them. i was developing my voice, and learning along the way basic guitar, bass, keyboards and theory, playing rudimentary drum machines and recording with reel-to-reel tape.

but i took a literal handful of lessons – i never really found a teacher, i guess. i didn’t necessarily want to be rich, or famous – i wanted to be GOOD. who can teach you *that*?

after getting a degree in music and having some experience with being a music student, i feel like i understand the dynamic a bit better, and know that, for me, the goal needs to be specific – and at the moment i want to study rhythm and blues guitar in the style of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, one of my heroes.

i received an email from a msician claiming he was the man i was looking for, and that he would “co-create (me) into what you want to be, but can’t seem to make happen, at the moment.” wow – how did he know? – that’s just what i’m looking for.” but looking around on his website set of some alarms in me, particularly his claims that Jimi Hendrix didn’t really want to write music, and that Chas Chandler is responsible for Jimi’s writing – not that he inspired Jimi to do it, but that Chandler deserves the credit, as Jimi’s real skill was as a player, not a composer.

when i gently disagreed, he emailed me this response:

Hendrix, my favorite musical artist of all time, would scribble lyrics on hotel stationary and cocktail napkins and hand them to Chas Chandler, his producer/manager who would organize them into songs. Hendrix didn’t want to do original music. He had a deep, deep respect for traditional blues. Chas talked him into writing to capture songwriting royalties. This was a financial stroke of brilliance, which appealed to Hendrix deeply, because he was put into foster homes as a child, often, when his degenerate, gambling father would go periodically broke from his selfish behavior, while keep Leon (Jimi’s brother) at home with him, always. This damaged Jimi’s self esteem irreparably  and contributed inestimably to his drug addiction, which finally killed him. Jimi was trying to fill a father-wounded-hole in his heart with money. That is impossible…for anyone.

I, too, like many of Hendrix’s songs: Angel, Belly Button Window, Purple Haze, Manic Depression, etc. But I amable to discern, in a non-shaming way, what I like, from what is good. Jimi, like other men of his ilk, Robert Johnson, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Lee Hooker…create beauty from the playing, not the writing. That is where Jimi had the purest, most naked genius of anyone in the 20th century.

The reason I take the time to say this to you is that, if you were able to successfully, and self lovingly, discern these types of things in other men and women’s music, you could apply that perspicacity to your own music and perhaps become a better, more successful artist.

there is some promise being held out, here, but does it mean i have to swallow this bullshit? or am i misunderstanding what he is saying?

i wrote back:

I understand the analysis of Jimi’s background, his trauma with his family of origin and abandonment issues, etc. Certainly that dysfunction has been continued in posthumous dealings with Jimi’s music and legacy. I find it hard to believe, however, that Jimi never wanted to write his own music – I have never heard an interview or biographical program, nor read anything where he didn’t talk about his writing, his composition, how much he wanted to grow as a songwriter, and how much he wanted to inspire imagination in others through his songs. In Bari Scott’s documentary for Pacifica, in the recent special on the Biography channel, in the various written biographies about Hendrix, his ambitions for pushing his composition and his sound are repeated themes. His desire to explore, in his songwriting, the contrast between and balancing of reality and fantasy, is why some of his lyrics are in a realm of science fiction, and he was constantly taking about encouraging imagination in others through his writing. I don’t see any evidence that Chas Chandler is responsible for those creative leaps – certainly not in anything Chandler has done before or since Hendrix, that I am aware of, is there that kind of free-flying thought process.  Maybe I am misunderstanding you.

In a nutshell, my reading of what you have said is that you seem to have fallen into the  trap of giving the black man credit for the body – everything that is related to survival, instinct, “feel,” all based on a primal need for money/security (but NOT a primal need to create from his experience, to be SELF-DETERMINING, tellingly) –  while giving the white man credit for the mind. I agree that Stevie Ray Vaughn “create(d) beauty from the playing, not the writing” – and I agree, there is no shame in that (Frank Sinatra? Ella Fitzgerald? )- but Robert Johnson? John Lee Hooker? Maybe we are defining “writing” a different way, somewhere in between improvisation and adherence to structure, chromatic harmony on a page? – I’m not sure. It’s like saying Charlie parker’s beauty was in his playing, not his writing. He changed his fucking instrument, and he changed music after him – and he wrote some beautiful songs. I have no doubt Chandler encouraged Hendrix to write, as much for Chandler’s financial gain as his own. That Jimi wasn’t writing at a level of Lennon/Macartney is nothing to be ashamed of – neither of them wrote at that level when on their own, either – but why put the credit in Chandler’s hands?

Perhaps I have just proven that I could never study with you, but these are my thoughts on the matter.

his response:

When Gandhi was approached with a very sound reason to initiate violence, he simple replied “That’s clever, but I’m not sure it will give you what you want”.

I admire your work and talent, but my sense is that we do not have a fit here.
I wish you much success, happiness and satisfaction.
and i am left with a dissatisfaction that my question wasn’t answered, that, to the best of my knowledge, this man is teaching that the black musicians whose work he claims to revere are not self-determining men and women but merely skilled interpreters, that he denies a master like Jimi Hendrix the credit that he deserves but instead assigns that credit to Chas Chandler. i don’t believe every song Hendrix wrote was brilliant, but if Chandler was the brain behind Jimi, Chandler would have had a hundred Hendrix clones in the studio faster than a pimp with a cloning factory would have put a Bridgitte Bardot on every metropolitan street corner.
what is that magic, and where do you find it? if i’m not good, how do i get good? because i can’t give up. maybe when i’m 80, i’ll really be good. can someone really help me get there? i don’t know anymore. maybe if i can find the $250 for one, two-hour lesson with this man, he’ll work it out for me.
i tell you, if i could do this…..

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