I got my first guitar for Christmas in 2004. I had just turned fourteen, still on the immature, lower side of being a teenager, but with enough foresight to know that I wanted to play music. I was pretty late to the game though (or at least I thought). Most of my friends had already been playing for a few years, and it seemed like they were light-years ahead of me as far as talent and technique go (not to mention confidence). Most had been in bands that played (bad) shows that all of our friends went to. It was exciting to see them – friends and acquaintances – performing complicated globs of metal music to an overly aggressive drummer. Everyone sang the same way back then – either extremely high-pitched or with a deep glottal throat – punishing roar that always sounded worse than you could ever describe to someone who wasn’t there. I don’t know how much has changed in the South Jersey music scene, but I got pretty tired of it fast, and so did most people I knew. Unfortunately, a lot of kids have put their instruments down for good, and most of my friends don’t play any more. Some of them felt that their time had come and gone, and if the style they play isn’t in anymore, they might as well retire with the sound that they’ve grown accustomed to playing. When the blocks didn’t fit into the holes they were trying to push them through, they just said “forget it” and walked away. I heard a quote once when I was young that said “Over time, even the highest mountains can be turned into the lowest valleys by the steady dripping of water.” Essentially, that’s what this story is about, but I guess you’ll see for yourself when we arrive.
So as I said earlier, I got my guitar when I was fourteen and I was ecstatic. Apparently, my biological father (who I never knew) was a pretty good musician, and with that knowledge I figured it was in my genes to be a good musician myself. That was a good motivator, because at the time my family was very poor, and we couldn’t afford any lessons. My mom took me to a music shop so I could pick out a book to use, so I found one with a cool cover and took it home. From there I figured out a few basic chords, and within a few weeks I was on my way to understanding the basics of chords structure, finger placement, plucking methods, etc. It was awesome and I was progressing pretty quickly. Of course, everyone who I hung out with was able to shred and make these crazy awesome solos on guitars that I still can’t afford to this day, but I didn’t really let it affect me too much. Instead, I tried to learn from them, and always asked them to show me something new, or teach me something they found essential. It was from these friends and musicians that I picked up on dozens of different exercises, chords, and perspectives on how to play the instrument. I was never after a certain sound but more the discovery of new ones. Years later, this would end up being my most valuable tool on my educational journey of music, and one that I still use frequently to this day. Slowly but surely, I began to understand more and more about music and guitar playing. I wasn’t becoming a guitar player I was becoming a musician. I started hearing chords in my head that I had no idea how to play, and wrote poetry furiously. I started spending hours and hours doing nothing but playing the same simple riff over and over until it was so ingrained in my mind that I could do it first thing in the morning without much thought. I was getting control over my hands, and I could feel my coordination getting clearer and more exact. This became my method, and I followed it for the next five years or so, until I got to college where I finally opened up and started to sing. Of course, at the same time I had to deal with everything else that a poor, confused guy has to deal with on his way to adulthood…break-ups, fall-outs, depression, and anxiety. At the end of the day, every day, at least I had my guitar. At the end of the day I had my music and my hands to prove to myself that I was worth something, if not to friends and family, than maybe to someone who treasures the quality of what I might be able to accomplish in the future the same way I do. The hours piled on, and the months flew by until I found myself in a dark, wet basement in Trenton, NJ doing absolutely nothing but playing guitar for hours every day. I had just dropped out of college, had no idea where to go or what to do, but with the confidence of knowing exactly where I wanted to end up. I really had no concern for how I’d arrive at my destination, but I also knew it didn’t matter. What I think a lot of people forget is that whether you’re a musician, or a baker, or a firefighter, or whatever it is that you do, you’ll be that forever. Until you’re dead in that casket, you are what you do, and then at that point you’re nothing. You’re just another dead guy or girl in a cemetery or some urn on someone’s mantle. It doesn’t even matter what you do, or if you do it at all. The reality is, one day you’re going to die. It happens to everyone, and it will happen to you, too. What are you going to do before then?
That was the question on my mind during those days in the basement. I decided to be a musician. After all (I figured), I’ve gotten this far with no real “lessons,” and I’m sure I could go further. I found some old friends in Philadelphia, and moved into their crappy basement and figured this would be a good place to start. So far, it has.
I’ve only had a few shows within the last few months, but each one has gotten better than the one before it. I see a lot of musicians coming and playing at the venues I’m at, and most of them don’t have a lot of confidence in themselves or their music. They make it a chore to listen to them, usually dragging the audience down on their road to self-depreciation. It’s a waste of time, for them and everyone else. I do the opposite when I play, and give it everything I have. Each time I’ve played, the rooms have gone silent, and there’s a sense of control and honesty in the air. There’s a passion that can be only be found through years of intensity and dedication. This is really what being a musician is about. It has nothing to do with the attention or the egos. To some extent, it also doesn’t have a lot to do with the skill. It’s about the time you put into it, and the honesty you bring to a stage. It’s about letting people feel you, and its about giving them something to feel. It’s about destroying that mountain of negativity and frustration, not with the explosion of a bigger bomb, but through the slow erosion of all weaker parts of character and self. It has so little to do with the appearances. It’s about chasing failure to find success. Chasing failure to find perfection.
When there’s something you need at the bottom of the pool, you have no choice but to dive in headfirst and get it.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to get wet.
And it doesn’t matter if you have clothes on.
That’s what chasing failure is all about.