Sunday, March 04, 2012

At The Wall (Again)

I’m a writer. I've always been a writer. When I was seven my best friend, Ricky Bradshaw, showed me how to fold blank paper in half, and then staple the fold to make a book. If my grandmother wasn't so cheap about her typing paper I would have written 300 books while in the second grade. These books were usually 12 pages long, and the stories were about Tyrannosaurus kicking ass. It was all there: a strong character, a plot, and a resolution. By third grade I’d branched out to the USS Constitution sinking pirate ships. In junior high school I retreated into my head as my world went sideways, but I still managed to write a story here and there.

In high school I wrote a lot. My freshman English teacher, Mr. Scheckler, encouraged me to write him stories. It was his way of keeping me interested in class, and to his credit it worked. I wrote 12 stories for him. After high school I still wrote once in a while. There was always a college rule notebook in my desk which I would write in when the urge hit me. I find these stories when I clean out my closet, or my truck. Most I don’t remember writing. They’re like gold to me now. I think about the other stories I've written which have been lost, and it boggles my mind.

The problem was before I realized I was a writer I thought being a writer meant you had to be published. This is my mistake. There are people who earn their living as writers who are not writers. Writing is a means to an end. They have no passion for their work beyond its dollar value. I have spent a great deal of time lamenting becoming a guitarist because of the years I felt I wasted becoming good at playing. Now I’m glad I did it. The very things I did to become a quality guitarist are the same thing pushing me along to becoming a good writer. Silly drills, writing prompts, description exercises, and throw-away stories are sharpening my skills. The next barrier is the one in my head.

The key to becoming a good guitarist was practice. Education, reading books, magazines, and studying the work of other players was important. Without practice it was all wasted. I practiced guitar an average of four hours a day, seven days a week. On some days I played as much as ten hours. My fingers are deformed from holding a pick for thousands of hours, or as Larry Carlton pointed out I “have the hands of a guitar player” as witness to my dedication. My skills as a writer grow with each story I finish, but the real action starts when I sit my ass down to write at a dedicated time every day. As I said, this is the wall in my head I need to get over, around, under, or destroy.

Let me clue you in on the monster in my head. I had terrible things done to me as a child. I was lucky to get help from gifted people along the way who guided me away from many dark paths. However the damage is there, and on some days it seems as fresh as ever. I call it the monster because giving it a shape and a face helps me fight it. Playing guitar helped me connect to the larger IT of the universe allowing me to create free of ego. The monster fed and justified my addiction to booze. He gave me an excuse to quit. The irony is through writing I have been able to unearth damage to my psyche I wouldn't have found any other way. With each story I write it has become harder for the monster to hide.

So now I’m at that wall. On this side is everything I know, my life from birth to now, some success within reason, and a lot of self-doubt. On the other side? Success, maybe, a life without the monster in my head is certain. So at this moment I think about women we studied in Citizen’s Police Academy. They chose to stay with an abusive husband because it’s safer than the unknown. At this point in life I can’t see how the unknown can be any worse than my life up to now. So here I am one more time. All I have to do is grab the brass ring.

Stay tuned.

On Ronnie Montrose

I haven’t written much about guitar though my screen-name is Axxman. I should fix this.

I began playing guitar in September 1978. To be honest my brother loved rock music more than I did at the time, and the evidence for this was his massive 1200 album collection. I benefitted from this by having access to just about every cool rock album there was. My own collection would grow to 500 before CDs took over. The other benefit was my brother’s to the point critiques of my playing progress, and this mostly consisted of “you suck”, “do better”, or he’d just shake his head as he walked out of the room. On the bright side he was always bringing home albums of guys he thought I should know about.

Ronnie Montrose was one of those guys.

The album was Gamma. The song which had the biggest impact was “Thunder and Lightning”. It was just a rocking song where Montrose was spotlighted. Unlike Van Halen, who is probably from another planet, Montrose’s playing was accessible -NOT EASY – but a style I could wrap my young guitarist brain around. I never fell in love with Ronnie Montrose, mostly because of his choice of questionable singers, but I always liked him.

I saw Ronnie Montrose three different times by accident. By accident means he wasn’t on the original bill when I bought the tickets. Bill Graham (his manager, and Bay Area concert promoter) would add him to the ticket later. So I saw him with Humble Pie and Ted Nugent. He opened for Blue Oyster Cult. The last time I saw him was at Oakland for a Day on the Green with Santana, Toto, and Journey.

Montrose was liked by most people he knew which speaks to his character. I just thought he’d always be around, or at least be around longer. I hope he’s happy wherever he’s gone to, I sincerely wish this for him.