HARDBARNED! The Blog

Joe Satriani, Gay Marriage and The Rock

When I was but a wee lad, I went flying in a blue dream and never quite made it back. Before my voice changed, I was introduced to the music of Joe Satriani, (AKA Satch), the custom Ibanez-slinging instrumental guitar hero who taught the other custom Ibanez-wielding wankster, Frank Zappa acolyte and David Lee Roth/Whitesnake alumnus, Steve Vai.

Satch also taught Metallica's lead shredder, Kirk Hammett, Primus's guitarist Larry LaLonde and Testament's Alex Scholnick, as well many other prominent and lessor-known fretboard freaks. He has unleashed a steady stream of (mostly) instrumental, solo-artist guitar rock since maxing out his credit cards to record Not of This Earth (1986), an album featuring one of my favorite tracks, Driving at Night."

Over the last few years, Joe has also moonlighted in the "supergroup" known as Chickenfoot, handling guitar duties among friends Chad Smith, Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar. As I kid, of course I wished I could play like Joe, but as Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel put it on a Satch VHS tape I once owned, "you can't be jealous of something you can't fathom."

Nigel was right. Unquestionably a master of his instrument, Joe has always seemed like a gentleman who stayed true to his art while rock music rolled through one trend after another, and although he sued them, I doubt even Coldplay would ever have accused Satch of being a "savage twit."

After Not of This Earth, I collected every Satch album through The Extremist (1992), and I haven't kept up with the majority of the last quarter-century-plus of music he has released, but Joe's late-80s to early 90s back catalog remains a guilt-free pleasure that I have been revisiting more often of late. I don't believe in guilty pleasures anyway. Sure, some of Satch's music is considered by many to be pretty damn cheesy, and I get that. If you've never heard Joe before, give him a chance. Embrace the cheese.

Instrumental solo guitar showmanship, though it has sold its share of records, has never been front and center in the musical mainstream. It's certainly not "cool" for a lot of people who consider themselves "serious" rock fans and frown on solo artists who excel at their instruments and are happy to demonstrate it.

These folks only listen to bands with "messages" that speak to them for one reason or another. While I'm a fan of plenty of "serious bands" and also enjoy dark, thoughtful lyrics paired with spare, minimal musical arrangements too, I still dig me some Satch.

I once had a very restrictive set of rules confining my music listening. As a teenager, certain bands were cool. Other bands were not acceptable. For that brief, excessively judgmental time, I only succeeded in limiting my own potential enjoyment of a wider variety of musical genres.

However, like a lot of teenage phases, including the stupid haircut that involved shaving the sides of my head and letting the rest of my thick, wavy hair grow long and hang over one eye; or wearing necklaces with miniature, bejeweled, pewter sword pendants and plaid pajama pants tucked into combat boots, I grew out of it and learned to embrace variety.

Who cares if you enjoy songs by Minor Threat, Enya, Metallica, Tina Turner, John Denver, Operation Ivy, Slayer, John Coltrane, Kathleen Edwards, Fishbone, Doomriders, Old 97s, Florence and The Machine, Queensryche, Fugazi, Marvin Gaye, Rancid, P-funk, Iron Maiden, John McCutcheon, Joan Jett, Shania Twain, Joe Satriani, Neurosis, Crooked Fingers and Billy Joel? I do too.

Put them all on one playlist if you like. Collect a ton of music and hit shuffle. You might hear something you haven't heard in years, and variety is a good thing. Don't get stuck in a rut of what's cool and what's not. Try something new. Well, old, I guess.

Or you could get crazy and check out something on the radio. I tried that and failed today, riding in someone else's car and hearing only Maroon 5 and Korn, but don't let my failure to hear something awesome deter you! Don't fear what you're not familiar with. You might discover something great and even learn from it. Nobody is keeping track of what is cool or uncool about your personal selection of tunes, and if they are, tell them to get bent. Your music collection is your own. Be bold!

And another thing. Just because you like a song or two doesn't mean you have to worship an artist's whole freaking discography. In the late 90s, when music became downloadable, at the first whispering death knell of the compact disc, purists decried the demise of the album; of course they had done this before at the onset of the cassette and again when CDs had first arrived on the scene.

Rock music, they pleaded, was designed to be experienced as an album, not as a song here, a song there, a radio hit here, a movie soundtrack tune there. The purists argued that The Rock (not Dwayne Johnson) was being ruined by easy access to "singles," or the ease of buying single tracks from albums on iTunes or elsewhere...instead of being forced to buy the whole set of 10 or 12 songs, light candles, put the player on repeat, pour a glass of vino tinto and snuggle under a blanket to memorize the lyrics.

Though the single predated it, the vinyl LP ushered in an era of the album's dominance. The large-format art, the full track listing, the lyrics, the photos, the liner notes. The whole experience. The boomer generation, raised on vinyl LPs, led the charge against the bastardization of the album format and pointed the finger at iTunes and its competitors who had enabled a music consumer to pick and choose individual tracks for purchase.

The purists were offended, I think. "Real fans" would only be interested in an entire album, and people who only listened to the radio, only cared about hits and didn't do the serious music fan homework of digging deep and getting to know an album like an old friend were somehow cheapening everyone else's engagement with music.

But these purists seemed to miss the fact that singles had been around for a long time, since the original prevalence of 45s, and hasn't music been there for us all to enjoy in our own ways from the beginning anyway? We just have a greater variety of means for which to do so today. Who is making the rules for this stuff anyway?

Listen to what you want to listen to in whatever format or frequency our outfit you prefer. I won't feel threatened or as though my preferences have been rendered illegitimate by your insistence on listening to your favorite Korn singles and B-sides on your Granddad's record player, between selected Gordon Lightfoot selections of AM gold. Have fun and more power to you. I prefer Gordon to Korn, but you didn't ask my opinion, did you?

For a time, I was guilty of this narrow, juvenile musical mindset, but aren't we all like this for a while in junior high? Looking back, my cool/not cool music concerns of decades past seems silly and reminds me of arguments I have heard against gay marriage. Maybe this is a stretch, dear reader, but bear with me. It's just a blog post, so I can take this all over the map, right? Just check out this post's title, right?

Consider a straight man arguing that a gay couple's right to marry somehow impacts his own marriage in a negative way, that it somehow makes his own marriage less legitimate. He may describe a gay person's right to marry as a "threat" to his own.

Yes, elected officials in America have actually made this argument in public. I have never understood this position, perhaps because it has no basis in logic whatsoever. How could someone else's marriage threaten yours? What does someone else's lifestyle choice have to do with yours? How could anyone else's choices have anything to do with yours, from marriage to music and from your choice of living room furniture to what kind of Chinese food you prefer?

Sorry, I may be losing some of you here with this tangent, but my point is that who cares if someone wants to buy only hit radio singles via iTunes? How does that choice impede your enjoyment of full-length albums on the couch as you read liner notes and sip that red wine? Why is everyone so worried about how other people live their lives?

Okay, let's circle back around again, fans of the absurd blogging randomness that is HARDBARNED. Thanks for hanging in there, all three of you. So yeah, Joe Satriani. He's been on my mind lately because he actually came to town. I finally got to see him play guitar, live. A buddy and I went to the show and grabbed a couple beers at a snooty bar on the way, barely convincing the server to acknowledge our existence before we got up and left.

We made it to the auditorium and secured a couple more beers, only to face gay jokes in line from married couples significantly older than us because hey, people apparently bring their wives to Joe Satriani shows, not their buddies; people still make lame gay jokes, and let's face it: there was no way in hell that either of us was going to convince our wives to go see Joe Satriani with us.

My buddy is 40 and I'm not far behind, but we were by far the youngest people at the show. Anyway, we had a blast. Steve Morse opened and honestly bored me with his shred. The guy can play, but it just seemed more like wank than rock to me. No offense, Steve. You have mad skills. But Joe owned the show. An entire section of the balcony was empty, and my friend and I were able to leave our cramped seats between older married couples tapping their toes and seize the best seats in the house to pump our fists in the air and bang our heads with adolescent abandon.

The rock was on, and at full blast. We grinned from ear to ear and approached the stage toward the end of the show until we were pushed back by big dudes in STAFF shirts. They actually were polite but firm. Joe's music soared upon a lithe, melodic, emotional wave of sunny tunes, reminding me of teenage summers spent with boomboxes outdoors, John Cusack kicking the shit out of the heavy bag in Say Anything and the reason I still dig me some Satch today.

Sure, nostalgia is a part of it, but I like most of his new record, Unstoppable Momentum, quite a bit. Satch is one of a very few musical artists I enjoy whose music actually sounds happy and really makes me feel happy. For some reason, a lot of music I like is sad, dark, depressing, lonely, angry or generally misanthropic. For me, maybe listening to a little Joe Satriani once in a while is soothing, like letting a warm light into a room that often stays pretty satchurated with darkness. Ha. Lame joke.

Please forgive me, and go embrace a little slice of Satch cheese. It'll do you good.