Auto psycho analysis of a guitar player

Written by peterkienle on October 19, 2009

This is going to be a very personal item. That doesn’t mean it will contain juicy details or revelations of secret information. It just means it might not interest anybody else but myself – hence the ‘Auto psycho….’.

In my professional life I pretend to be a guitar player – for the past 35 years or so. I can’t believe that myself. If you care to suffer through my long bio you would notice that I never played in a very successful musical group. I also never played music in a highly profitable band – such as a cover band or a wedding band. I am sure that was partially due to my own conviction that my art was somehow ‘pure’, however stupid that sounds (and some of the music that comes out of such a conviction.) And somehow potential employers must have ‘smelled’ that I wasn’t cut out to emulate somebody like a Carlos Santana or Eric Clapton.

So now, after all this time there are close to a thousand tunes I have written, plus about 90 works for Classical Guitar and a handful of quite esoteric CDs I recorded. And there comes a time when one has to figure out why a career went the way it did. When I was still a greenhorn on the guitar but good enough that I didn’t have to think about every note I played, when things started to ‘sink in’, as they say, I was already playing occasional jazz gigs. Jazz mainly because it wasn’t as restricted as most other music styles I knew at the time. I relatively quickly started listening to myself and the band I was with as if I was sitting in the audience. “Would I get bored now by the guitar solo if I was in the audience?” I would ask myself as I was playing. As my abilities developed this avatar of mine, sitting in every audience I played for, started listening to the whole group. And it was greatly influencing what I was playing and many times whom I wanted to play with. This had really two distinct but connected effects:
1) Rather than looking at the actual audience reaction I judged the performance by my avatar’s reaction
2) Since I tried to impress my avatar, and he was me, I really played for myself

In the past years I have often heard from people who come to our concerts that they admire my style. They say I play like nobody else. I don’t know about that but at the same time it’s flattering. I have many influences in my playing and don’t deny that if I hear John Scofield play a cool thing I like I’ll try to figure it out and use it. Obviously my narrow mindedness carries much of the blame that I fail to impress a broader audience – I don’t play for them!

Now, all of this sounds like it’s a true disadvantage. After all, it looks like a perfect way to forgo fame and fortune in favor of a self-serving artistic goal. I don’t want to talk about artistic integrity or some such high-flying claim. And I don’t really believe in reincarnation, a soul, telling the future from tea-leaves or something along those lines. But I can see something decidedly ‘supernatural’, out-of-this-world in the recognition that now I am the guitar player I went out to see when I was in my teens. Because back then I was the teen who went out to see a guitar player in concerts. This teen would imagine to be that guitar player. This teen probably didn’t even listen to what the actual guitar player on that gig played but rather what he (the teen) would play were he in his (the guitar player’s) place. And then, over the years, this teen slowly, and unnoticed really, evolved into that guitar player and today looks into the audience and finds that one person who he used to be.

To become utterly philosophical you could say that this would have created two poles. You don’t get much of an interchange with one pole. It’s silly, really, but I am still striving to become what that teen saw in that guitar player 35 years ago. Or simply said, I now realize that I am the carrot that was once dangling in front the teenager I used to be.

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