Monday, September 05, 2011

A Thumb Update (And Book Report)

So I mentioned last week that I hurt my thumb. And Friday, when I needed music, I played guitar with a pick, rather than use my thumb for hitting a key or plucking a string.

In case anyone is wondering [and more on that kind of presumption later!] my thumb seems to be healing okay. I change the bandage every day, air out the wound, wash it off and put on fresh Neosporin. My skin isn’t turning any strange colors or gurgling up any strange liquid. The cut seems to be closing up properly. I believe by the end of this week I will be back to normal—for whatever that’s worth.

Okay, well, that didn’t fill up much space.

Here’s a book report.

Over the three-day weekend, I read some books. Mostly I re-read some old favorites, but I did read one book I’d never read before.

This one. “One Train Later,” by Andy Summers. I suppose I need to say that Summers was the guitarist from the group, “The Police.” Most of the songs were written by Sting, but in that group Summers was more or less free to come up with his own guitar style and guitar parts.

There’s not much to say about the book itself. To whatever extent the stories can be believed—there are the blunt contradictions so common in these days of no editors: for instance, at the start of chapter twelve the band has so much material they can record one album that is a selection from what he calls three albums’ worth of material; but then, two pages later, when they get a club booking they only know half a dozen songs and have to repeat their opening set as their ending set—all the stories are pretty tame. There are no teenage groupies fighting in the living room, like in a Jimmy Page bio. There are no interesting personality fragmentations like in a Jim Morrison bio.

And although Andy Summers seems to see himself as an intellectual—he’s always dropping names of books or artists—to my less than expert ears he sounds very much like a rock star intellectual. For instance, although the album called “Synchronicity” was one of the biggest selling albums of all time, when he describes the background of the title, talks about the word ‘synchronicity,’ he briefly mentions Jung and coincidences but doesn’t mention Paul Kammerer at all. [sighs]

But to my eyes there is one thing that stands out about the book. This book is an interesting commentary on the Socrates saying that, The unexamined life is a life not worth living.

That’s a saying that seems to make sense. But what does it really mean? Andy Summers seems to examine his own life. He’s certainly always introspecting.

But what exactly does it mean to “examine” your life? Is it just to introspect?

Because it seems to me that Andy Summers examines his life a lot but he seems to miss the point a lot, too. I want to focus on one particular issue that he raises a couple of times.

Early in his career, Summers toured briefly as the guitarist with a reasonably famous group, Eric Burdon and the Animals. In his memoir, written long after The Police have broken up and, one would think, having had time to gain some perspective, Summers looks back on his days with the Animals and recounts his mood back then. He says:

I have a nagging feeling that it is temporary and that I have not yet found the environment in which I can be the most expressive. ... Other guitarists I started out with—Clapton, Beck, Page, Albert Lee—are well on their way. Maybe I have been sticking to my own path too rigidly, maybe my time hasn’t come yet.

This is how he sees himself? Clapton, Beck, Page, Lee?


And, later, when the album Synchronicity is dominating the music world, Summers remembers it like this:

My guitar style in particular has entered the lexicon. At this seminal point I am probably the most imitated guitarist in the world. Guitar players everywhere are quickly dropping their Led Zeppelin riffs and Hendrix lines to stretch their fingers out for the long reach of the added second chords and offbeat syncopation, the shining minor eleventh of “Walking on the Moon.”

This is how he sees himself? Guitarists dropping Zeppelin and Hendrix to play Summers?


So, I mean, on one hand, Socrates would be proud. This guy is kicking back and examining his life.

But what does ‘examine’ really mean in a context like this?

Doesn’t it mean more than just looking at events and providing some subjective response? Doesn’t the word ‘examine’ at least imply an imperative to construct a context larger than a person’s private, personal subjective awareness?

For instance: Yes, it’s true, many guitarists did learn to play arpeggios and little reggae rhythms. I knew a couple of those guitarists. But they learned to play like Andy Summers because bar bands—back when there were bar bands—had to cover whatever music is in heavy rotation on the radio. Musicians learned to make those sounds because they needed to do it to keep working.

Guitarists learned to play like Hendrix or Page or the others because they loved the music, loved the sound, loved the emotion.

Guitarists learned to play like Summers because it was their job.

Guitarists still learn to play like Hendrix or Page or the others. And it’s still because they love the music, sound and emotion.

I don’t talk to as many musicians as I once did, but I strongly suspect many young guitarists—the same guitarists who are still learning to play like Hendrix or Page or the others—barely know who Andy Summers is.

So, I found this book to be very thought provoking.

Probably not in any way that would make Andy Summers happy, but thought provoking nonetheless.

Was Socrates right, that an unexamined life is a life not worth living? What does it mean, then, for a person to examine their own life?

Examining a life must mean a lot more than just looking at events and reacting to them.

Apparently there’s a very thin line between Socrates and having your head up your own ass.

As a blogger this is an important issue to me! I don’t want to have my head up my own ass!

But, now, this has become to my mind The Andy Summers Question: What if a person can’t tell their head is up their own ass?

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