Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Time Moves Ever On

     This has already become a hectic week for me, which is why I emitted nothing yesterday. Today looks to be even worse, but I can’t let two days go by without writing something for my Gentle Readers. Unfortunately, the “serious” subjects I’d like to address next are pretty large ones, which deserve more effort than a quick witty comment. So I’ll veer off to another topic for the nonce.

     Way back when, I was regarded as a pretty good acoustic guitarist. Not excellent, mind you, and certainly not Marquee quality, but I provided many an evening’s entertainment at the corner coffee house. I even had a following of sorts.

     However, as does every young man who picks up a musical instrument, I had heroes who were far better than I – guitarists whose ability I hoped someday to equal. Most prominent among them was a young man, just rising to fame, named Leo Kottke.

     Kottke wasn’t merely excellent; he was an innovator. He composed most of his own material, which (of course) he conditioned to his unusual gifts. From his first album to be nationally distributed it was clear that he was something new in Guitar World, something to make other guitarists sit up and take notice. On that first album was a piece, titled “Vaseline Machine Gun,” that stood out from the other tracks as a diamond among the rubies, emeralds, and pearls.

     “Vaseline Machine Gun” became the peak of many a guitarist’s mountain of ambition, including mine. I figured that if I could reproduce what Kottke had done on his twelve-string guitar, I could validly call myself a “pro” guitarist. I put a lot of effort into it, but sadly, I never quite got there. I’m sure many other aspiring guitarists could tell a similar tale.

     Kottke’s music got much wider notice than just guitarists. Here’s a brief clip from a 1997 CNN interview of him, in which he played “Vaseline Machine Gun:”

     I stumbled over that clip only yesterday, and marveled afresh at Kottke’s virtuosity. It remained unparalleled...or so I thought.

     But time moves ever on, and the skills of guitarists do, as well. Today, “Vaseline Machine Gun” has become a guitarist’s showcase piece: the sort one uses to demonstrate that he’s “got it.” And indeed, there are guitarists who’ve moved beyond Kottke’s seemingly unbeatable technique. Here’s one: that crazy fingerpickin’ fool from Canada, Ewan Dobson:

     But don’t imagine that only world-famous guitarists of genius have mastered “Vaseline Machine Gun.” Some guitar makers have “house” guitarists – quite good ones – whom they employ to demonstrate the sound of their instruments. Here’s one: National Guitars’ Macyn Taylor:

     Pretty damned good, eh what? And on a six-string, which speaks volumes about the quality of that guitar. But I’ll bet Miss Taylor’s ability was as much of a discovery for you as it was for me yester eve.

     I’ve lost most of my guitar skills due to lack of practice. And no, I never mastered “Vaseline Machine Gun.” But the clips above suggest that the advance of human ability is unstoppable. Someday there may be a guitarist who’ll throw Ewan Dobson, currently the most advanced fingerpicker I know of, into the shade. What’s certain is that there will be guitarists who’ll strive to equal and exceed him. There are probably a few working on it now. And if one does emerge to show us lesser practitioners that there remain new worlds to conquer, it will be because he believed it possible and never ceased to strive for it.

     Because time does move ever on.


David DeGerolamo said...

Thanks for post. Let remind ourselves about our culture and its benefits instead of the attempt to rewrite it.

Michael Stone said...

I've never heard of Kottke before.
Marvelous stuff!
Thank you.

Col. B. Bunny said...

With a bit more practice that Kottke guy could really go somewhere.

Swede said...

Here is Leo playing with the masters. He even misses a note, which they immediately pounce upon.