Tag Archives: Chic

GUITAR STORE CONFESSIONS

Photo courtesy of Caitlin Becker

I can count all the times I’ve been complimented in a music store. When I first started learning guitar as a kid, being complimented in a music store was an attainable dream on the list of dreams. It was among the things I wanted in a “Oh that would be nice too” sort of a way. I fantasized about it as recess from the other more extreme fantasies.

This is because a big part of electric guitar is the culture of big tits. For guitar players, big tits = shred, and shred = fancy in-your-face guitar playing that immediately shows off. If you have the big tits of shred, everyone wants to see it. But you’re not allowed to touch someone else’s big tits of shred, you just have to stare and admire it, or envy it. To put it another way, shred is obvious and powerful the way big tits are, and the feelings of attraction and confusion that shred inspires among guitarists are not, I submit to you, entirely different from the feelings many of us have about big tits.

I was 12 when I started taking guitar lessons, and my teacher back then was 13. I remember once, during a lesson in his living room, he told me that he went to a guitar store and bunch of other kids crowded around him and watched him play. “Yes,” I thought to myself as a hapless beginner, “I must have that too someday.” And it was at that moment that I first entered the gladiator’s arena and took my shoes off.

All these years later, do you want to know how many times I have received praise in a music store? The answer is 4. You may be wondering, “Is 4 a lot or a little?” You must decide for yourself. Judge my 4 how you will, with all that you know about shred and big tits.

Know too that many people who work in guitar stores are basically Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. This may explain why 2 of my 4 praises are not from playing guitar but from playing piano. I can imagine that the culture of piano is different, that there’s less silent hatred among players, less overall anxiety in the rat race for shred. Maybe because there’s never quite been a Jimi Hendrix on keyboard.

In any case, I’m not a good piano player, but it has brought me 50% of my music-store props. The first time anyone ever said to me, “Hey, you sound good,” I was diddling around on a keyboard in Teaneck, NJ. I had been playing guitar for about 8 years at that point, and I felt totally ready for someone in a music store to say that I was a shredder. But it didn’t happen until I sat down to play a keyboard, maybe because I wasn’t trying so hard, or maybe because I can only play pleasant, Paul McCartney–type stuff. It happened again at the Guitar Center near Union Square: I was sitting at a piano and people stopped and watched for a while, which counts the same as praise in my scoring system.

If I could, I would trade those for 2 more guitar praises, guitar being my main phallus and my main big tits, but that’s not allowed. Of my 2 guitar praises, one is from a guy in a store in Roslyn, Long Island, who seemed like he might have been looking for a guitar-bro. He was in his 40s, he had an 18-year-old son, but he gave off the vibe of the kid on the playground who wants to be friends more than you want to be friends. It was a small guitar store, and I didn’t want to get sucked into a conversation with this guy about his rig and his band and his dreams, so I bailed.

My 4th guitar praise, which is probably the only one that really counts, is from the owner of 30th St. Guitars, Matt Brewster, who once looked up when I played “Le Freak” by Chic. I was playing a BC Rich through a Marshall stack, which is totally un-Chic. But I made it sound like “Freak Out,” because I’ve had a thing with Nile Rodgers since 10th grade, and I even saw him on the street once. And while I was playing, Matt looked up at me from the back of the store and did the frowning nod thing.

So, to be perfectly honest with you, my 4 is really a 1. But it’s a good 1. And earlier, when I said that you yourself must decide whether my 4 counts for a lot or a little, it was really another way of saying that my 4 counts for a little. But I say too that my 4 contains 1 really great 1. So let that be known.

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HEAVY METAL HEARTBREAKER

 

When I was 20, I saw Slayer in concert, and I stood in the front row. I had decided to stand at the center of all heavy metal, and see what it made of me. Why did I feel the need to do this? I am, from time to time, unable to resist trying things that may indicate some measure of my own toughness. A Slayer concert is one of those things. Moreover, I like Slayer. Being in the front row and witnessing the madness that took place there felt commensurate with my love for the band. The law of attraction as I understood it seemed to apply. And, sure enough, something was revealed to me that night, standing amidst the violence and anarchy. But it was not what I had expected: I learned that I was not a metalhead the way that other metalheads are metalheads.

To be clear: the front row at a Slayer concert is where the savage come to have parties. The concert onstage, less than 10 feet away, is secondary to the fight for survival. The front row is a war. It is a vast communion with violence. People go wild and push each other and flip out. There are some rules (if you fall down, someone will usually pull you back up), but you can’t trust anyone too far. Before the concert started, a large bald kid with broken teeth was shouting, “I don’t care what anyone says, it’s a Slayer concert. You’re gonna get hurt.”

My purpose is not to condemn metalheads, or concerts, or mosh pits. Let the record show that I waited on line for an extra 2 hours so that I could be in the front row, which is where the mosh pits and slamdancing are most intense. I could have hung out on the mezzanine, where no one hits anyone. But I didn’t. Whatever else heavy metal concert violence is, it is basically elective. And it’s daring enough that I had to try it, once.

Yet the experience struck me as contrary to heavy metal. When I was in high school, I understood heavy metal to be a parade of force. It was a demonstration of fury, and massive, massive force. To appreciate that force was to possess it. To be tightly coiled around it. Not to be sneezed at. Not to be fucked with.

In other words, heavy metal music was what it sounded like to tame the beast. It was under control. Orderly. Disciplined. When Phil Anselmo, of Pantera, sang “Be yourself, by yourself, stay away from me,” I took that to heart. That, to me, seemed like the gist of it. “Be yourself, by yourself.” That was where the biggest muscles came from. It seemed like something we should all do.

At the Slayer concert, I realized my understanding of that principle may not have been shared by everyone. Standing in the chaotic beast-war of the front row, it all struck me as the opposite of Be Yourself By Yourself. Entering that world is the opposite of staying away.

It was a strange sensation, to observe heavy metal contradicting itself. For the first time, I realized that I had mostly listened to heavy metal alone in the attic. I was out of touch. Since I didn’t really want to participate in that brutal catharsis taking place around me, I felt like less of a metalhead. But that would mean I didn’t fit in with the club for people who don’t fit in—and that made me feel like the king of all metalheads. I wondered if the difference between me and some of the other metalheads was that my love for Slayer was happy to be in love. I didn’t want to push or get pushed. I just wanted to stand there, really close, and love Slayer.

It was not a new question for me. Even in high school, when I had my own metal band and covered my guitar case in stickers for Metallica, Megadeth, and Iron Maiden, I wondered what sort of metalhead I was. I was good in school and I didn’t smoke. I must have been the only kid my guitar teacher ever had who came to class with Chic records, because I needed help figuring out the guitar parts. I remember wondering if he would say anything. My friends didn’t get down with Chic. My own girlfriend said it made me seem gay to listen to that stuff. But I loved it. And when I solicited my guitar teacher to help me learn “I Want Your Love” he said, “Oh, this.” He gave a half-smile. Then he nodded. He said, “You can get some cool ideas for riffs if you take the bass lines to these songs and mess them up.” Yes, I thought to myself. It was at that moment that I knew I was on to something. I was a metalhead that liked disco. A straight faggot. That would be the source of my big muscles.

Five years later, at the Slayer concert, I saw a 12-year-old girl standing in the front row near me, wearing a hooded sweatshirt with the album art for Master of Puppets. I could not believe that this girl-child was going to stick it out here, with the slam-dancers, so I tried to be her friend. I pointed to her hoodie and said, “That’s my favorite record of all time.”

“Mine too,” she said.

I put out my fist, to pound hers, and she hit it as hard as she could. She punched my knuckles with all her strength. I looked at her and smiled. I figured she would be fine.

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