by Anthony Garone
[ This is a guest blog post by my old friend Anthony Garone. I’ve known him for many years, he’s a talented musician, and he was one of the biggest supporters of Sir Millard Mulch in the old days. -Carl. ]
A couple weeks ago, I took a management personality test at work called DiSC. My resultant personality profile was “Promoter,” a type motivated by “popularity” and “social recognition.” Being independently-minded and a proud esotericist, this description chipped away at my soul for days. I struggled with it because–deep down–I really felt it to be true. And I couldn’t stand it.
I ended up forcing Carl to have a desperate late-night discussion about the need for creative validation. He (basically) wrote: “I gave up on the validation after so many years. I am making tangible money selling a bunch of stuff every month and it keeps me grounded.” He reminded me that I have an awesome day job that provides the money I knew I could never sustain if I chose the career path of a professional guitarist/musician.
Still, the whole recognition/popularity thing didn’t sit well with me. I continued to struggle for days. That is, until January 24, 2014: The first day of NAMM.
I had never attended NAMM before. I didn’t really know what to expect. It turned out to be 6 or 8 Costcos-worth of music vendor booths with (approximately) the following demographics:
- 1% talented and successful musicians, producers, and recording engineers
- 5% vendor reps, product engineers, music store owners, and salespeople
- 95% desperate, unsuccessful/once-successful, attention-seeking musician rat racers (myself included)
- (1% margin of error)
It reminded me of one of my favorite video games, Borderlands 2, in which most of the loot/gear you pick up is common and undesirable, but every once in a while you find something awesome. People rarely made eye contact with me and instead read my name badge to see if I was someone they needed to meet and exploit for a photo opportunity. (If only they’d known I used to work for “Steve Vay!” See photo of Steve Vay’s guitar “Emo” below.)
For at least 15 years, I have wanted to see Michael Manring perform live outside of the constraints of a computer monitor. I had two opportunities to see him perform at NAMM this weekend and both times there was some shmohawk playing his personal set of “scorching leads” with his “maximum volumized” amp ~30 db louder than Manring’s performance. His performance was so beautiful, it nearly brought me to tears. He played BEAUTIFUL MUSIC to spite the cacophonous din and didn’t look once to see who was paying attention. (See photo of Michael Manring below.)
I found this video of Michael performing a piece of music at NAMM 2013 and the description states: “I ran into Michael Manring at NAMM on Saturday. He was just hanging out at the Zon booth. I assumed he was about to give a demonstration, so I asked if he could play ‘The Enormous Room.’ About 10 minutes later he signaled me over, asked me to sit down, and gave me a private performance of the piece. It was incredible!” In the video you can hear people talking over the performance. And the video itself is a testament to the spirit of many NAMM visitors I saw: “I’m going to film this and hold a camera to this musician’s face and put it on my YouTube account and share this private performance I just bought for free!” (See also: Man Forced To Watch Concert Through His Own Eyes.)
I had to strain to hear Victor Wooten’s beautiful harmonic-driven music amidst another “shredder” fumbling his way through five-note-scale woe and two drummers nearby trying to outperform the other. Paul Reed Smith said in a presentation on Thursday morning, “Most of the musicians I know hate NAMM, and I think I’m beginning to understand why.” He even called out an amateur photographer who started filming him: “Are you filming this to put on YouTube? Oh no no no no nooooo… Please don’t do that. Really.”
Talented musicians like Peppino D’Agostino, Jeff Campitelli, Stu Hamm, Andy Alt, Project RnL, Greg Koch, and Roscoe Beck were competing with the likes of those Mr. Koch describes as: “a caucasian, middle-aged ne’er-do-well who seeks to differentiate himself from the masses by memorizing the nostril circumferences and underwear sizes of all the legendary bluesmen, while personally maintaining a pitiful repertoire of badly-delivered blues tunes and licks usually wrought with a queer, quivering vibrato.” Unknown talents gave great performances to crowds of 5 or less. Supertalents gave performances to fickle attendees who were hoping the crowd was for someone more famous.
It was so weird. It’s really hard to articulate any of it.
The introvert in me could only handle a day-and-a-half of NAMM. The crowds were one thing, but the desperate attention-seeking fueled my need to get some time alone to recharge. I was thankful to have a personal issue come up so I could drive back home to Phoenix earlier than planned.
The event really was an incredible experience, but I think my expectations were not appropriately set. I ran into long-time friends and fellow music-makers, saw some incredible performances, laughed at ridiculous people and instruments, and nearly cried at the beauty of a single musical performance. It was unforgettable.
In the end though, NAMM made me realize that my desire for “popularity” and “social recognition” is nowhere near as bad as I feared. Outside of what Carl calls “The Imaginary City,” it’s easy to believe my desire for popularity is extreme. It’s perfectly normal to want to be liked. I’m just glad I don’t have to need to use forgettable and predictable pentatonic licks to do so.
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Anthony Garone is a Creative Technologist and family man living in Arizona. He has a website: blog.garone.org