Sunday morning guitar players

Anyone can buy a guitar, get some practice (Youtube would be enough), take some lessons or advice from someone who already plays and then declare “I play guitar”. That’s what I did. An uncle gave my sister and me his guitar when we were 9 and 11 respectively. We experimented based on the first chords our uncle gave us. And we moved on. I in particular focused on being a guitarist, learning solos as well. Then when I was 16 the electric guitar arrived and by the time I was 20 we had a small band playing the songs of our heroes in the rehearsal rooms. When people say “I play guitar” it doesn’t mean much. I’ve always said that about myself – I play guitar – but what does it really mean? Do I play it alone? In a band? Do I perform publicly or do I play at home sitting on the couch? Even a professional can claim “I play guitar”. It only takes a small-time professional to humiliate someone like me who plays in his spare time. But there are also non-professionals with killer technique. The vast majority have not become famous, not even those who make a living from guitar.

If a guitarist became famous he owes it to all of us who bought his music. We ourselves started out with the desire to emulate celebrities. But celebrities wouldn’t be celebrities if it weren’t for the people who want to emulate them and still spend money to listen to them. There are non-famous guitarists, professional or not, who are better than people who have become famous. Because being good at the guitar is not enough. It takes too much more, even luck, to be able to “break through”. It also takes something magical that allows you to create music that for some reason touches millions of people who willingly spend money to listen to it. It’s called art. Some people have it, some don’t. I don’t. Or at least that’s what I think because I’ve never tried my hand at creating music. I started playing guitar because I was fascinated by the possibility of reproducing something I heard on records or on the radio. Then I also started imitating the idols of my youth: it’ s that emulation mechanism that triggers because you want to be accepted and approved by as many people as possible; if it works for guitar gods maybe it will work for us too. It’s part of that emulative process that causes over 90% of our behaviors to be adopted from others. It’s science that says so.

One in a thousand makes it. It takes luck, magic, but also the right environment in which to succeed. In my opinion, those who succeed have a rare characteristic. That of being in touch with that something inside that unifies us. We all have it but few are directly in touch with it: artists. They are able to create things that touch us deeply. Those are the “chosen few” who are able to communicate on an intimate level with many. We all have this thing inside, it’s just that most of us only contact it when exposed to art. Few are able to create it. I could easily write a piece of music that lacks nothing technically. But I know right from the start that it doesn’t have that something that “grabs you inside”. I can’t get in touch with that part of me like that, ” by myself “. But when an artist, in my case a musician, proposes a work of his/hers, it can happen that that hidden part of me is “touched” with force, unleashing inexplicable emotions and the desire to experience it again, listening to the song over and over again. And trying to reproduce it with the guitar, to get even closer to that something that the artist’s music managed to touch inside me. My music can’t. Probably because I am not in direct contact with that something. I need external stimuli to awaken it. This is the difference between those who make art and those who enjoy it. And being a relationship of the few to the many, when the thing is commercialized, those few can become rich. Of course, you have to be in the right environment: a blues guitarist in Italy will never make money, there is no market for it. There is no shortage of great musicians, but if you don’t play Italian songs, there is little to market here. Someone said that if Steve Jobs had been in Italy, the Health Service would have closed the first Apple lab. How true… and if Eric Clapton had been Italian what would he have played? The Blues for sure, but at home. If he wanted to make a living with his guitar, he should have auditioned for Zucchero. There’s little to do about it. It’s a cultural fact. We come from a great tradition of opera, which on a modern and commercial level is translated into Italian melody. In English-speaking countries it all started with the Blues from black slaves, from which Jazz and Rock and much more have evolved. And the electric guitar was born there. I repeat, there is nothing to do. There are plenty of Blues and Rock guitarists here. They are very good but if they put together a Blues band they can do little more than what I do with my rock cover band. A few club nights. That’ s it. Being good is not enough…

And am I any good? Who knows. It’s always a matter of perspective. Imagine two people saying to each other, “I play tennis” – “me too,” and they book a court. Then it turns out that one has played in the D league and the other has only played tournaments at his club. The first one wins 6-0 / 6-0 without breaking a sweat or having any fun. The other only touches the ball on his service turn. I can be satisfied to be able to put on something listenable in a band of people like me, who work during the week and have little time to dedicate to the instrument even on weekends. We do what we can with the knowledge we accumulated when we were young and had more time and malleability to train. We move forward by inertia thanks to the initial momentum. In these conditions, being able to put on a rock show worthy of being followed by friends and family and some passers-by amazed to see us on stage is already a great achievement. Why do we do it? Playing music is fulfilling at any level and at any age. Only those who do it understand it. Why perform? Well, it’s part of the game. Playing for oneself is perfectly fine and is very possible. However, it is one thing to play alone at home on a backtrack, another to play with other musicians in a rehearsal room (let alone live). It is not certain that an excellent guitarist who makes his own video in his studio is then equally capable of performing with other musicians in a full band. It’s a different story. A guitarist may be less technically proficient than another one who turns out a champion on video. Maybe the former is able to do his dirty work in the right way at the right time in the unison of a band; the latter, I don’t know, maybe knows only the most dizzying solos but is not able to play a full set of songs carrying out his task every time in harmony with the others. It’s possible. Especially in today’s world where everyone is performing on social platforms. I almost never record myself on video, although it’s helpful to see where you go wrong. Many people record themselves performing prestigious solos and post the video on social platforms. I just don’t feel like it. Maybe I don’t think I’m good (and handsome) enough for a video, but I also wonder who would be interested in seeing me play a Jimi Hendrix solo. Maybe my closest friends, yes, someone would be interested. But posting on social media means having the world as a potential viewer. I can imagine a blues lover who resides in Nashville how he or she might be blown away by my rendition of Hey Joe! It’s one thing for teachers to post tips and guides on YouTube, I can’t thank them enough. I’ve taken an incredible leap forward with their free videos. To the Sunday morning Youtube shredder I say bravo (of course) but I’d like to see you in a live band performing complete songs – it’s not the same! Obviously a lot of people who post their homemade videos are great, far better than me, even live. But that’s not always the case…

Whoever wants to perform probably needs approval anyway, but in adulthood it’s more about the pleasure of sharing with as many people as possible the same music that touches you in the deepest part of your being, hoping to be able to communicate that feeling to someone else. Besides, making music in public is something else, it’s very different from the rehearsal room. It’s not about “I’ll show you what I can do”, that’s the essay that music students do when they are very young. Those who have been playing an instrument since childhood find it natural to perform at some point. It’s not vanity; it’s sharing. It is also the pleasure of being able to give pleasure to those who listen to you, even playing music that is not yours, like a famous and appreciated tune. It’s playing Pink Floyd’s music where Pink Floyd will never go. Maybe someone will ask you “what song was that?” So they’ll discover new artists (while you are still paying the fee for performing their music).

We are Sunday morning guitarists. Let’s not forget it. We do what we can but the important thing is just to keep doing it, alone, on Youtube, in the rehearsal room, live in front of family and friends. It doesn’t matter. The important thing is to continue to be in touch with that something inside us that makes us one. We all have it since birth, then most of us, “growing up”, move backwards and lose the connection. Those who manage to practice some form of art despite their daily commitments are only doing good to their own being. They’re nourishing that part that modern society increasingly wants to stifle. If for someone this activity coincides with work, then they are extremely lucky people. It doesn’t happen to everyone. For the rest of us, we just have to do it in our free time, but it’s important, I dare say necessary. It is something that defines us more than our job, than our school degree, than our name or citizenship. It is who we truly are. We must not lose track of it.