Like Fukushima’s radiation-damaged daisies, we’re all at least a little messed up, yet still fascinating
and beautiful, aren’t we?

Besides the ridiculously cool Pittsburgh Modular Synthesizers Patch Box, and Analog Outfitters Scanner, the most shocking thing I heard at Summer NAMM was the observation that I always have “a chip on my shoulder” here in Tuning Up. I think it was meant as a compliment— the guy who said it is kind of quirky—but who knows? Despite my tough talk, I’m kind of a softy, so I kept waiting for a smile, laugh, or some indication he was dishing kudos with a side of ribbing. But his expression remained inscrutable until I was abruptly pulled away to a video appointment.

The rabble-rouser in me wanted to believe it was praise for not playing it safe in this space—for trying not to be predictable, for not blabbing about how awesome our latest reviews and articles are, for trying to say something of a little substance. But the other half of my brain kept asking, “When was the last time you heard that as a compliment, dumbass?”

Regardless, there’s probably truth in both interpretations. I am kind of a contrarian. The fact that I was just about to write “But I wasn’t always this way” just proves it.

Still, there was a time when I was very much by the book. I grew up in a religious culture that was very big on self-betterment and an eventual goal of achieving “perfection” in the afterlife. The definitions for this perfection were very black and white. Even though my family wasn’t as strict as some, I became very gung-ho about doing things “right.” It was a way of life. An all-encompassing worldview.

Given how traditional and straitlaced my cultural sphere of experience was, it’s a wonder I ever got into guitar and rock ’n’ roll at all. In retrospect, I’d chalk it up to three things: naiveté about the true extent of rockers’ supposedly transgressive lifestyles, a mom who’s cool and laidback (by our religious-bubble standards), and an insatiable love of music.

And sometimes we should just smile, take a compliment, and go on our merry way thinking, “I’ll show you a chip, mofo!”

Still, it doesn’t take a genius to see how this upbringing would inevitably filter into how I viewed everything, including music and guitar playing: Do it right, or don’t do it. Be the best you can be. If something didn’t meet my rigid standards for morality or excellence in achievement, the people involved were on the wrong life path or kind of underachievers. Most of the music I adored was by virtuosic musicians—mostly guitar-centric. In part, I blame the guitar mags I took as another form of gospel.

Over time this outlook gradually eased, especially once I moved outside the homogenized hometown of my youth and was exposed to wonderful music I never would’ve heard otherwise. But the biggest change came years later when I saw a fork in my life path that led away from so much I’d held dear. To be true to myself, I knew I had to take it.

The whys and hows and ramifications of my switch upended so much of my existence that it led to a very different kind of righteous indignation, though one with similar intensity. I began questioning status quos and kneejerk assumptions. I became a lot more stingy with my allegiances, yet increasingly more open-minded and adventurous. For better or worse, the culmination so far is lived out somewhat here in Tuning Up every month.

Everyone has similarly complex stories. No matter where we start, we’re all mutants morphing at varying levels of conscious detection. Despite our best efforts, sometimes we can’t escape who we are, can’t change our genetic/socially programmed codes—at least not completely or in a timeframe that doesn’t seem infinitesimally slow-mo’. In some ways we probably shouldn’t even try. And sometimes we should just smile, take a compliment, and go on our merry way thinking, “I’ll show you a chip, mofo!”