In Which I Discuss The Definitely Awesome But Also Strange Feeling Of Being On The Cover Of Bass Player MagazineFriday, August 10th, 2012
Yes, you read that correctly:
It’s the October issue, hitting subscribers now in the mail, and appearing on newsstands later this month.
Back in June when I first found out this was going to happen, I wrote a little essay to capture my feelings about it. It’s below, right after the part where I profusely thank Brian Fox and Elton Bradman for making this a reality, and especially for seeing me as a subject worthy of this kind of treatment regardless of my past involvement with the magazine as a writer.
Beyond that…well, like I said, it’s below.
If you’re one of the folks who’s been reading or following me online for 5, 10, or even 15+ years, this one’s for you.
I remember being a freshman at Berklee College Of Music in 1989 and going to the Store 24 across the street from the main dorm building. I loved Cup O’ Noodles. Couldn’t get enough of the Shrimp flavor. I’d bring it back to my room, boil water in my little electric hotpot, and make the best damned Cup O’ Noodles a young bassist could make.
Store 24 also had all of the musician magazines on display in their newsstand, and I usually bought the latest issue of Bass Player Magazine if I didn’t have it yet. Sitting in my dorm room, eating my Shrimp-flavored Cup O’ Noodles, and reading Bass Player Magazine, was one of my favorite ways to relax.
Like a lot of young players, I was ambitious. I wanted people to know I could play. But I never stood out as a technically gifted player, because I’d never sought to be a technically gifted player. Even then, during my prime shedding years, I hardly ever practiced technique. Instead, I practiced learning songs. Sure, I liked complex songs with weird and difficult passages, but it was always about learning the tune, never about working on something I could show off. I was a bassist, after all. I wasn’t supposed to be showing off, right?
So I’d see the guys on the cover of Bass Player – Billy Sheehan, Michael Manring, Marcus Miller, Geddy Lee, Les Claypool, Flea – and think to myself, “I’ll never be one of *those* guys.” I played some tough stuff at school, but I wasn’t in the same league as the cream of the Berklee crop at the time (Matt Garrison, Chris Cheney, and John “JD” DeServio were there when I was, among others). I was in an original blues/rock band in my senior year. It was 1992, in the age of the Spin Doctors and Blues Traveler and similar outfits. We were going to move to New York and try to make something of ourselves.
Then I got the Dweezil Zappa gig right out of Berklee, at age 23, and suddenly everything changed. I was instantly admitted to the “Zappa” fraternity of musicians, and I found that I didn’t mind the increased musical intensity and attention that came along with it, as long I didn’t have to show off on my own. So I went with it.
A lot happened between then and now. I quit Dweezil’s band. I auditioned for Steve Vai’s very first G3 tour against only one other guy and didn’t get it. I went broke. I got a job and became a corporate executive and got out of debt. I began writing for Bass Player, even though they’d been writing about me just a couple of years before. I studied bass amps and speaker cabs as part of my job and became a tone-and-effects-pedals nerd. I played and recorded with some big names. None of it was ever enough. I was aspiring, searching, reaching, trying, I, I, I, I, I. I accomplished a lot, but was never truly happy, and I had no idea why. My nose was stuck so hard against the grindstone that I forgot that I was the one that put it there.
Then in 2005, after years of successful misery, it all came crashing down. I lost one of my best friends. I wrecked a long-term relationship. And I quit my job with no backup plan. I spent months in limbo, doing little other than working on myself, dealing with some of the reasons why I was so destructively driven.
When I made it to the other side, I resolved to have another go at being a freelance musician again…but this time would be different. This time I’d come from somewhere other than personal ambition. This time I would give instead of take. That would be where my musicality would come from, as an offering to others as opposed to a demonstration of ability. High-minded and slightly new-agey, to be sure, but that’s how I was going to do it.
I can’t prove it, but I would like to think that the results that followed – finally landing the Steve Vai gig in 2007, Dethklok, The Aristocrats, the instructional DVD, becoming a clinician, all of it – flowed from the original choice to not come from a place of proving or taking, but rather a place of giving, and behind that, gratitude.
I know this has the potential to sound arrogant: “I hereby give you the gift of my playing!” That’s not what I mean. It’s more like, “I am more at peace with what I do when I come from that space, and it shows up as freedom in my playing, and most importantly, my interactions with other people.”
This is not to say that working the business side of our industry is not important, or that it doesn’t yield results. As some of you know, I’m second to no one in promoting whatever project I happen to be working on. In full disclosure, *I* was the one who pitched Bass Player on an article (though I had no idea they’d respond with “OK, how about the cover?”). I personally feel it’s important to publicize yourself somehow, because in most cases, no one’s going to do it for you, and sitting quietly in a bedroom somewhere is not a blueprint for success in this business. So I’m extremely grateful they’re doing this, but not because I’m going to be one of those guys on the magazine cover. I’m excited because it gives me the opportunity to share the message of how I got to this unlikely place.
(OK, I’ll allow myself a very brief “holy shit, I’m going to be on the cover of Bass Player Magazine!”. There, I said it.).
All I ever wanted was to play in a band with other great musicians, do my job, and make the band better. Basketball fans may be familiar with a statistic where they measure how well the team performs when a certain player is in the game. They’ll say, “The New York Knicks average a 4.6 point positive spread when Player X is in the game.”
Regardless of whether I’m playing metal with Dethklok, complex instrumental music with Steve Vai or The Aristocrats or Mike Keneally, or simple R&B grooves with my wife Kira Small, I want to be that Player X. I want to make the people around me better. That’s all I ever wanted.
I’m aware of how incredibly fortunate I am, and I wish everyone could see what I’ve seen. Sometimes when I’m on the road doing clinics, I think of some of the experiences I’ve had and say to myself, “If I could just beam this into the brains of everyone here, we could all just sit back and say nothing, and go, ‘WOW, holy crap.’” If only there was a way to do that, I’d submit my brain for memory scanning and share everything. (Well, most things.)
At the same time, for people who see me on the cover – especially those who are younger – and see me as “one of those guys,” I’d just like to say that I’m really nobody special. I get up in the morning and stumble my way to the bathroom just like everyone else.
Why am I on the cover of Bass Player Magazine, objectively speaking? For all my high-falutin’ wordsmithing and navel-gazing, it’s probably because I’m in a band that has a popular television show to promote it, and so lots of people know about Dethklok, and someone thought it would be good business for the magazine. That’s how publicity really works.
How I got to the place where someone thought it was a good idea is another story, one that’s open to interpretation. My story is that I got over my own bullshit, of which there was plenty, and somehow everything just starting clicking. I think I’ll stick to it.
Those are some of the thoughts that cross my mind as I sit here typing this, alone in a hotel room, with my portable hot water heater still steaming next to a freshly made Cup O’Noodles.