Last Call: I'm Not Hurting Anyone but Myself
Can you become addicted to guitar?
I watched Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Don Jon last night, a cautionary tale of a guy addicted to internet porn who trades any real human connection for the high-def, none-too-shy appeal of the web. It was a transparent morality play warning that in our modern age, objects are becoming more important than people. Ridiculous, right?
Then I thought about the time I spend playing guitar. Or reading about it or experimenting with my many amps, tubes, pedals, cables, etc. Or those shameful, late-night, online predatory gear-hunting sessions that have stolen huge blocks of my time and money, and made me wake up the next morning in a sweaty panic wondering, “What have I done? I do not need nor can I afford another amp."
Add it all up and this guitar thing does, in fact, seem a tad obsessive. (Even as I type this, I'm fighting the urge to pick up my guitar and play something. But dammit, these columns don't write themselves, so let's buckle down and stay focused.) Is it possible to be addicted to guitar? I could not imagine quitting. A few times I've run into old guitar-geek friends who have given it up, and it baffles me ... it's like meeting a person who doesn't like ice cream. How does one just get over guitar?
Granted, music is my job, so I have a good excuse to play a lot, but that's a bit like an alcoholic getting a gig as a beer tester. Even when I'm not “working," I play for free daily.
Like any modern hypochondriac, I turned to my somewhat annoying, know-it-all friend Google to see if I have any of the symptoms of addiction. After reading articles on a handful of medical and addiction sites, I drew up a solid list of questions about behavioral patterns that, when answered a certain way, can land a poor soul straight in rehab.
Here's a collection of common questions designed to identify addiction, followed by my responses. Feel free to play along at home and post your most shameful responses.
Do you engage in this activity daily and are you able to stop? Though I never plan to quit, I think I could, but I just don't want to. How many drinkers say that right before they're forced into Drunk Camp?
When you cease this activity, do you experience cravings, moodiness, poor focus, depression, emptiness, frustration, anger, and resentment? If I don't gig for five days, I get to that dark, what's-the-point stage: Why brush my teeth? Why put on pants? Why is no one hiring me?
Do you continue despite related health problems? I'm currently in the third month of a repetitive motion problem in my left arm that makes me about as agile as Mr. Burns. It feels like an angry demon is pounding my elbow with a ball peen hammer. My doctor recommends rest and stretching. I stretch but don't rest, so the problem persists.
Does this activity negatively impact your social life? Nah, I have no social life outside of people I play music with and family.
Are you in denial? That's the river in Egypt, right? Seriously, it's not a problem.
Do you take risks—such as stealing or trading sex for money—to continue this activity? I've never traded sex for a guitar, but if somebody has a '57 goldtop Les Paul, please send me photos noting any repairs or modifications. Perhaps we can work something out.
Do you engage in risky behavior, such as driving fast, while under the influence? While driving under the influence of AC/DC, I beat out rhythms on the dashboard, then do finger stretches on the steering wheel. “Highway to Hell," indeed.
Do you need this to cope with your problems? Well, yes. Mellowing out with some home shreddery is the best antidote to stress.
Do you do this in solitude? Okay, I have blown off parties to stay home and play with my drum machine.
Does this replace hobbies and other activities? I have none to drop.
Do you stash? There's always a guitar and amp in my car trunk, a full band setup in the garage, and at least one guitar in every room of my house—except bathrooms, which are loaded with back issues of Premier Guitar.
Do you consume in excess? You should see my stompbox hoard.
Does your activity cause problems with the law? Neighbors have called the PoPo as a result of me testing amp, pedal, and guitar combinations after 10 p.m. So far, no arrests.
Does it cause financial problems? I always choose a house payment over a guitar payment, so I'm cool for now. However, had I invested all that dough into stocks or real estate, I'd probably be in better financial shape. But come on, that's no fun.
Does it create relationship problems? I think all current and past wives have been cool with this guitar thing, but you'd have to ask them.
So let's evaluate: Depending on how one interprets the gray areas, I score about 13-15 out of 15. If you're reading this, you're probably hitting 10-15 yourself. But this is not an apples-to-apples comparison. Drug and alcohol addiction devastate people, whereas a guitar addict might annoy neighbors and spend a lot of money on gear. The guitar gives back so much: It stimulates your brain, calms your soul, and keeps your hands limber. If you're going to have an addiction, guitar is one of your better choices—probably like being addicted to exercise. Go on and obsess, I'll enable.