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Tuning Up: Gratitude, Giving, and Other Rubbish

This time of year tends to put most of us in a bit of a reflective mood, regardless of whether we’re atheist/agnostic, hardcore about the “reason(s) for the season”—which

This time of year tends to put most of us in a bit of a reflective mood, regardless of whether we’re atheist/agnostic, hardcore about the “reason(s) for the season”—which can be multitudinous, depending on your spiritual/philosophical bent—or somewhere in the middle. We’re moved to consider what we’re grateful for, whether we view those circumstances as randomly fortuitous events of chance or gifts from above. We put special thought and effort into offerings of time, attention, or physical tokens of affection we hope can convey even a fraction of our feelings’ true depth.

It goes without saying that all of us who have anything to do with Premier Guitar, both here on staff and you who enjoy the stuff we put out, have so much love and gratitude for the gift of music that we’d be lost without it. It’s part of our foundation as human beings. Life without it would be shades of grays, and life without the capacity and opportunity to create it on our beloved planks of steel and wood would be pixelated shades of gray.

But rhythm, melody, and harmony aren’t one of life’s most precious facets just because of the physical and emotional highs they provoke as they surge through aural synapses and into our cerebral cortex. And it’s not because of any glory or ego-stoking caused by the exhilarating act of creating something almost out of thin air. I mean, yeah, those things are incredible—but it’s really about the relationships music inspires, creates, and restores.

Sometimes those relationships are with ourselves—sometimes hearing a rapturous melody, a profound lyric, a raging riff, or a funky beat has the mysterious, awing power to help us heal from wounds of body, mind, and heart. Wounds inflicted by time, fatigue, heartache, or failing health.

Other times, those relationships are almost the opposite, at least in terms of depth and complexity. Sometimes music connects us with a person or band we’ll never meet or know personally but with whom, for reasons science will probably never fully explain, we feel a bond, a connection that reflects parallel cognition, spirituality, and/or artistic sensibility. It doesn’t matter that we’ll never physically embrace, confide in, or be consulted by that musician—we’ve still embraced each other. They’ve shown generosity and honesty of character (for the most part) by putting their art out there to be exposed to ridicule or praise, and we’ve shown them acceptance that supports their art and being both financially (hopefully) and emotionally.

Somewhere in the middle are the music-nurtured relationships that are at least as important as those with self or hero. They’re the ones with family, friends, soul mates. The relationships that make or break us as sentient beings. Whether it’s a tune you and a special someone call “our song,” a kick-ass tune that a friend or lover exposes you to, a song you write for your sweetheart, or a jam you write with your pals in your band, nothing feeds these relationships like the boundless powers of song. It’s an intangibly special and deep-seated experience that we’re so lucky to have.

In my case, I’m infinitely grateful to my beautiful wife/ best friend for inspiring me to write songs and for giving me newfound appreciation for certain older tunes and exposing me to more recent tunes I never would’ve found on my own. Songs she’s brought (or reintroduced) into my life include everything from Kool & the Gang’s “Ladies Night” and the Commodores’ “Brick House” to newer tunes like Thriving Ivory’s “Angels on the Moon” (which also ties us to a dear friend who passed away three years ago from cancer) or Neon Trees’ “Animal.” (Say what you will, the Trees—who happen to be from my hometown—write irresistible hooks and grooving beats. Not to mention, singer Tyler Glenn’s fantastic voice is one of the few on radio today that’s instantly identifiable, and bassist Branden Campbell’s a multifaceted player with bona fide blues-rock credentials. He and his former bandmates from Alex and the Blueshounds won the battle of the bands when we were both in college back in Provo, Utah.) Conversely, I’ve given my foxy lady an unlikely love for J. Mascis and Dinosaur Jr., Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, Bill Kirchen, Brian Setzer, the Flaming Lips, and the National.

But just as close to my heart are the musical experiences with our three boys—from the days when my youngest son was a baby and, ironically, wouldn’t stop crying on a long road trip unless we put Audioslave’s “I Am the Highway” on repeat, to the times when my middle son couldn’t stop asking to hear Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” or Oingo Boingo’s “Weird Science” (he digs dancing to ’em), to the trio’s current love for Metallica’s “One” and “Enter Sandman,” and their propensity to quiz each other on what band’s tune is coming out of mom’s or dad’s phone. (Default guesses for the younger two: Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Radiohead, or Elvis.)

For years now, I’ve held off pushing any of them into playing an instrument. To me, that simply has to come from an inner yearning. But I’ve always hoped and tried to facilitate. We’ve had a short-scale Strat around the house for years, and because my band practices in our basement, there’s been a drum kit on hand for some time now (thanks, “Jerald”!). For whatever reasons, 2012 has been the year for musical growth in our family. My youngest has taken to the drums quite naturally— he’ll sneak down there to jam after school, and we have to tell him to knock off the body drumming at dinner all the time. And my oldest has shown a natural ability at drums and has really dived into guitar over the last year. (The wife and I joke about hanging a Wayne’s World-style “No ‘Stairway’” sign at home.)

Even cooler than seeing my 15-year-old studying Zep and Beatles tablature and figuring out Rage Against the Machine riffs by ear is seeing him take the dive into writing his own progressions and licks—and then getting the fun-as-hell pleasure of being his shoddy groove maker/timekeeper on the skins. I guess there are a few benefits to getting older.

Life, music, family, friends … all are invaluable gifts. Wherever they come from, let’s celebrate them and do our best to ensure they’re all enriching each other. All our best to you and yours this holiday season.

(P.S. Sorry for baiting you with that disingenuous, heartless- bastard headline.)

Shawn Hammond