Friday, November 30, 2007

Final Reflection: Taking the Good With the Bad

I'm sitting in my bedroom right now, staring at my computer screen, and ironically, for the first time this semester, I am at a loss for words. As I get the ball rolling on this reflection that's bound to change, but right now my feelings about this blog and blogging in general are mixed. When I had the time, patience or effort to sit down and write something on this blog, I loved every second of it. When I wasn't writing, I wasn't sure how to feel. I went about a month where I had trouble posting more than three times a week. But the weird part is, I never felt I was out of original ideas. I also never felt like there was nothing out there left for me to write about. I just didn't make it happen, and for that I'm coming out of this blogging experience somewhat disappointed.

I continuously look around my classmates' blogs- especially Matt C.'s Laugh Tracker and Jess' Good Film Hunting, due to my undying love for the arts/entertainment industry-and I get the sick feeling that I just was not up to par. I see most of these blogs posting over 4o times this semester, almost 50 for some, and it leaves me wondering where I fell short. Admittedly, I did have a lack of material pertaining to the original subject of my blog, my aspirations as the member of a jam band with my closest friends, but I'm not one to make excuses. I made a good effort to transform this blog into one about guitar in general, to make up for the lack of writing subjects, but I still feel I fell short of excellence, even for a rookie blogger. This could cause my readers to do a double-take, but I think the reason I failed to reach excellence with this blog is because I was always striving for it. I didn't want to write unless I had something profound or exciting to report. I didn't want to waste anybody's time with a single-paragraph post. I see that as padding my stats- like if a basketball player threw up a 3-point shot with a 50-point lead. Anyone can find an article and make a short post about it. I have nothing against people who do this, but it's not something I would want to do often. I think my pride in my writing got the best of me when trying to keep a consistent blog going.

I believe I've exhausted the negative aspects of my blogging experience already. Time to focus on the good ones! The biggest thing I got from this blog was, quite obviously, an outlet to express my feelings and opinions. This is not the same as a diary or a journal, where you keep thoughts to yourself. I've always felt I should be writing about music and/or film in some fashion, and now that I have gotten into the world of blogging I am left to wonder what exactly I have been doing the last few years. Whenever I wanted to find information or just a simple commentary on a certain guitar player, the best I could usually find was Wikipedia. That's what got me to start "Guitar Spotlight" as a weekly thing. I'm trying to pay tribute to some of the greatest of all time (Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan), as well as try as much as I can to gain recognition for some extraordinary talents (Jason Becker, Marty Friedman). It's much more, however, for the fans than myself. I know how great all these guys are, I want everyone else to know the same.

I can thank Youtube for being the main generator of multimedia content for this blog. I'm not sure where I could have gone without it. The site is so huge and all-inclusive now, I had absolutely no problems finding good videos of all the great guitar players I covered. And I've even started posting videos of myself playing for everyone to see. It's easily the best web creation since Google, and I spend every day hoping it won't become regulated for anything besides obscene content. With their videos easily ready and able to be embedded into web pages, I don't have to rely solely on my words to convey thoughts about guitar and guitar players. Same goes for film and television; I can find almost anything within the legal sector on Youtube, and I'm sure everyone will agree with me that it's one of the best tools a blogger can possibly have.

As for surprises that came about during this blog, I think the biggest and most obvious surprise was the thinning out of jam sessions between myself and the guys at 1474 Tremont St. When they had their basement walls knocked down to make more room for us to move around and play our instruments freely, we all had the same thoughts in our minds. We thought this semester was going to be an all-out jamfest, with us playing shows for our friends left and right, and even creating original material. While we did make some steps toward that goal of being a legitimate band, it felt like Murphy's Law completely took over at some point. Mike got mononucleosis for all of October and some of November; Justin and James got immersed into their job search lives, not that anyone would blame them; I also had tons of co-op job searching to do and my Line 6 amp head broke on me for the unprecedented third time; and Tyler announced his intentions to move to Colorado for a new life next semester. We certainly had plenty of great jams and some really fun nights playing, including some nights where we played well-known simple songs for karaoke-like activities. But we all left this semester unfulfilled in our quest to be a jam band.

We still have time to get the ball rolling, and that should be especially true once we're all on co-op and have no homework or projects to worry about at night, but we still need to find someone to play bass for us. My friend Steve Reynolds is a long-time bass player and versatile musician who I think could fill in nicely for us. However, until that bridge comes to us, we won't worry about crossing it. We still definitely only have an eight-month window to accomplish something with true meaning though. In September, James will be going to Germany, where he lived for four years before, to study abroad for a full year. Finding a new drummer will be harder than finding a new bassist, but as I said before, we will cross that bridge when we come to it. I feel we are in control of our own fate with this jamming business, no matter what kind of obstacles jump in our way. We were certainly meant to play together, and I intend to keep that spirit alive.

As for my thoughts on blogging in general, I think it's one of the greatest web inventions of our time. In a journalistic sense, it might not be ideal, because let's face it, blogs are not all about objectivity. But the ethics of writing for the masses is still there, and what sets it apart from real writing positions is the freedom. There are exceptions, as there are in any walk of life, but most bloggers do not have an editor hanging like a vulture over their shoulder telling them what or how to write. We can do it from the heart, from the brain, or from the soul, and that does not only apply to words. As a musician, I understand the concept of putting feeling or character into pieces of music. I try to approach writing simply words in the same fashion. The internet has allowed people to communicate instantly with their friends and families, and blogs are no different. Tyler is going to be blogging about his life in Colorado at Down the Road, where he declares that he is trying not to live a normal life. I sincerely believe him when he says his friends at Northeastern are the best he's ever had, because he has told me some horror stories about his friends from New Jersey. I really hope we get to visit him sometime in the spring or summer of next year in Colorado, but for now I can keep up with him in the blog. My friends and family have all read part or all of my blog, and they have yet to say something negative about it. Expected, but still encouraging.

With a new blog being launched last week and hopefully a third one about my co-op experience starting up really soon, I have officially immersed myself into the world of blogging. I saw this three-month exercise as a warm-up period for when I really get things going with my writing. I feel I have a good grasp for rhythm, style, and technical proficiency in writing, and this is the easiest outlet for myself to write from. My post totals may not be a great indicator of my dedication to this world, but things happen. Life is the main thing that happened to me this semester, whether it's midterms, finals, papers, broken amps, holidays, weekends, birthdays, interviews, concerts, movies, or anything else that kept me away from my computer. That's the reason I have not come away from this blog experience 100% satisfied. Even if I posted everyday there would probably be something I could find in my writing or reporting to improve. The main thing I still need to learn about blogging is time management- setting a definite time to sit down and write, finding a good, interesting subject, and executing with proficiency and consistency. Maybe I should write those tiny one-paragraph posts just to keep myself sharp and in-tune with the blogging world. All I know is, it's a world in which I'm more than ready to live.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Just when I thought the jam sessions kicked the bucket...

Last night at 1474 Tremont was a truly spectacular one. Our close friend Patrick celebrated his 21st birthday in style, dipping his head into a bucket filled with goodies and presents that we, rather unceremoniously, made him bob for. He was a good sport about it and we all had a fun time watching.

The most surprising part of the night, however, was that Mike, James and I got in a jam session together! James asked me quite out-of-nowhere, and I didn't hesitate at all. Within a minute of him asking me I was warming up the Mesa/Boogie tube amp. Mike got on guitar as well, and we jammed away for about 45 minutes. I played a catchy-sounding hard rock riff that was pretty basic, but very fun, and Mike and James went with it. Mike then started playing his slower, subdued version of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze," and James and I quickly joined in. He likes to play it in an arpeggio style, but I prefer the straight-up chords. I played it my way as Mike played his, all while keeping it within rhythmic sensibility, and the two combined flavors made for an interesting-sounding cover. I also threw in a small improvisational solo...I can't resist!

A fun night hopefully followed by another one tonight. I'm off to Flann O'Brien's for the Packers/Cowboys game. If you don't know what that is...What rock have you been living under? In all seriousness, later tonight I'll post the final Guitar Spotlight of this month. And tomorrow will be my final reflection on the blogging experience before I take a break from it. Until next time...

Guitar Spotlight: Marty Friedman

In guitar, the art of shredding is something many players can imitate, but few can master. To reach that level, one needs to show just as much, if not more creativity than technique. Jason Becker, who was spotlighted last week, was the partner of the man to the left in the heavy metal band Cacophony during the 1980s. Marty Friedman has been a veteran of heavy metal lead guitar for about 25 years, and is most well-known for his work with metal giants Megadeth from 1990-1999. The lineup featuring Friedman as the lead guitarist is considered by most to be the most potent lineup Megadeth has ever featured, and this is a group that has featured the likes of Chris Poland doing the soloing. For a 25-year veteran of the axe, Friedman has flown considerably far under the radar for casual guitar players. That might be the way he likes it, but it's not the recognition he deserves.

He is known for his exotic scales that he employs very often in his soloing, some of which is semi-invented by him. He often uses scales that are derived from the harmonic minor and originated in areas of eastern Asia. He has effectively combined these scales with straightforward rock/blues technique to form a talent matched by few lead guitar players still going today. As he shows in this video from Youtube, it can be surprisingly easy to make your own great-sounding scales.

Amazingly, Friedman has never formally learned any scales- he's entirely self-taught in that respect. He sounds like a master of western music theory as he plays, when in reality he's a master of a theory all his own.

The above video is of Friedman and last week's spotlight, Jason Becker doing a private show in Los Angeles in 1988 when they were members of Cacophony together...Such an odd name for such a great-sounding technical rock group. It's appropriate to show these two together, because they both came into their own around the same time and rose to prominence around the same time as well, obviously playing together in the process. Unfortunately, Becker was diagnosed with ALS, but Friedman continued playing. It's certainly what Becker would've wanted him to do.

This is the last guitar spotlight of my class period, and I have to say it's been an enriching and fulfilling experience to put the spotlight on these guys. Searching for Youtube videos and watching plenty of them has put guitar into a whole new perspective for me, and has given me a whole new outlook on the instrument, something I previously thought wasn't possible. I believe everyone is too close-minded about the instrument; they believe guys like Marty Friedman and Jason Becker are all the same. I strongly disagree. Watch videos of these guys laying tracks and giving searing riffs time after time, and you'll notice the differences in tone, technique, picking, theory, and other elements of the instrument that are too often overlooked, especially in mainstream media. This section of my blog was meant to be a reminder to everyone that this instrument still has real artists, and always has.

The guitar has been reduced to somewhat of a joke since the early 1990s. The grunge era (something I have a great interest in as a music fan) degenerated guitar playing to the point where lead was non-existent and bands retreated to formulaic, pop-catering filth that only got worse. Soloing and lead guitar in general got pushed to the back of the musical line, which simply isn't fair. There are plenty of great guitar players like Marty Friedman keeping the shreds alive, and I thank the guitar Gods everyday for that.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Reflection: Where did all the jamming go?

Whoever's out there still reading my blog must be wondering where all the jams went. I'm disappointed to say the aspirations I had at the beginning of this semester have shriveled up like a raisin in the sun. It's nobody's fault; you can only say that these things happen.

For this class blog, I'm required to write a reflective essay to comment on my experience so far as a blogger. This is NOT that assignment. But this is a reflection on what has transpired in my hopes to start a legitimate band with my friends at 1474 Tremont St. in Boston. The jam band we had going got derailed this past month, due to outside elements and things that were, well, simply more important than music. It's not what I expected and I am truly disappointed in what we've been able to accomplish, but nobody's at fault. Sometimes things need to be put ahead of musical endeavors and pipe dreams.

It started off amazingly, with everyone participating and playing extremely well. We had a few covers lined up. We had the basement expanded to make more room for us to play. Some of us even had new instruments to try out! So what exactly went wrong?

In my case, the first big domino to fall was my amplifier. It broke over a month ago, and it is still in the repair shop (that reminds me, I should give them a call!) That severely hampered my ability to jam with everyone, although we still had two amps. One of them was a regular Fender amp that was not suited for live shows or jam sessions with drums, so whenever we played with drums it would have to have been one guitar and a bass player. With myself and Justin both primarily being guitar players, this had trouble working.

November was way more hectic than any of us imagined. Mike was coming up with some great stuff on the piano, and still is, but illnesses took over his life in October and November. He came down with mononucleosis (commonly known as "mono"), which rendered him unable to do, well, anything, for an extended time. Then he had to have his tonsils examined shortly after, which made him more like a ghost these months. He's thankfully recovered from these illnesses and you can find him blogging at the Reality Distortion Field blog.

Justin, James and I all focused more on acquiring a co-op position in November than anything. I had about 8 interviews and I had to get there on my own every time. This often took up entire days just going to and from places to interview. I had to skip some classes just to make these interviews. Gladly, I ended up with a position I actually wanted, at the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. James has a position with a small financing firm, and Justin unfortunately still remains jobless. He is confident, however, that he'll land a position at the offices of Gillette in Boston. We had some jamming time mixed in between this crazy month, but not enough to make significant progress.

The worst news of this semester by far was the news that Tyler would be moving away to Colorado. He's transferring to Colorado State in Fort Collins, CO, in January, where he'll keep his major at Mathematics. So now, if we even want to think about having a band, we'll need to find a new bass player. Tyler will be selling his bass and amps to us, so we can have them at our disposal. It was a shock to all of us that one of our closest friends, who lived in New Jersey his whole life, would suddenly move out west, but it's a family thing. Tyler will be missed, but I'm sure this won't be the last time we see him. We're already planning a spring trip to Colorado.

I plan to continue this blog as a guitar commentary vehicle, which I've been doing for the past month or so. "Guitar Spotlight" will continue on, including this week. And whenever I get some jam time in, I'll let you all know how it went.

Until next time...