In Search of a Lost Love

Judas Priest was a staple of my musical diet when I was about fourteen. I’ve long since expanded my diet to include other things. My current daily ration consists mostly of a stew of symphonic metal and neo-psychedelia topped with a generous helping of Chicago blues and a side order of ultra-obscure prog, with just a pinch of Allan Holdsworth for taste. But I still like to break out the Priest every once in a while. If we ever send another probe out into space to communicate with the aliens, a Priest record should definitely be included as an example of what music sounds like. Recordings of Mozart and Beethoven are all fine and good, but save for a single Chuck Berry number, there was no rock n’ roll on those Voyager golden records at all. Tsk, tsk. I’m sure the aliens could rock out to Bulgarian bagpipe music, because they’re aliens. But dashnabbit, why should they have to? British Steel would make a worthy interplanetary gift, and I’d send them that album if I could only pick one. But I’d keep Turbo for myself.

At the time of its release, Turbo was dismissed by many a heavy metal purist as being “too pop”. The inclusion of what sounded like keyboards would send the aforesaid purists into conniptions. But methinks they totally missed the point. If one approaches the album with a beginner’s mind, they are rewarded with one of the most sonically interesting offerings in the Priest catalogue. A casual skimming through Turbo‘s liner notes (remember those?) revealed there were no actual keyboard parts on the album at all. The “keyboards” were in fact performed by Messrs. Tipton and Downing on their usual axes, equipped with guitar synthesizers. A novel technology of the day that had achieved some currency in the world of jazz fusion, but had never been explored at length within the metal idiom prior to Turbo. Their contemporaries Iron Maiden would go the whole hog experimenting with guitar synthesizers on Seventh Son of a Seventh Son two years later. To great effect, mind you — it definitely worked with the whole concept they were going with on that album. But it was those freewheel-burning Brummies in the leather and studs who did it first.

As a young lad, I was most certainly intrigued with the fact that there is now a technological gizmotron available for purchase that grants a guitarist (e.g. me) the power to aurally impersonate any instrument they so choose — a power that was previously reserved for keyboardists. The aforementioned albums ignited a yearning in me to try my own hand at such a gizmotron. Someday. When I had more money. These things evidently don’t come cheap.

Unfortunately, my first stint as a musician ended when I graduated high school. By the time I donned that cap and gown, grunge was king. A genre that emphasized making the audience feel things in the feels as opposed to wowing them with anything vaguely resembling innovation, with a certain hostility towards any guitar accessory other than a plain fuzzbox. Something like a guitar synthesizer would be seen as a superfluous extravagance that distracted the listener from the “heart” of the music. Whatever in the blazes they meant by that.

So I walked away from music, and became a web developer. While it was definitely a trip helping to build the Internet in those idealistic independent-businesslike early days before the whole thing became Walmartized with the advent of social media, I sure could’ve done without all the sociopathy that runs rampant throughout the sector. Not working for a boss who eventually went criminally insane would’ve been nice, too. But that’s a completely different story.

My second stint as musician occurred in the last six weeks of 2015, when I ceased working for the aforementioned boss and had to go into group therapy for alcohol abuse (I only drink an average of one beer a month these days, but that’s not because of the therapy). I was tapped to be the accompanist in some Christmas concert the group performed, to be streamed live for a select audience. The other group members were all tone-deaf and had no rhythm whatsoever, and I wouldn’t form a band with any one of them. But there were two noteworthy takeaways from that experience. Firstly, I was somewhat relieved to learn that ours was merely one performance out of many, and plenty of other acts on the bill were far worse than us. Secondly, it had instantly dawned on me that despite years of not having touched a guitar, I had somehow never forgotten how to play. I guess that’s testament to the fact that stuff you learn when you’re young tends to stick with you for life.

I had borrowed a guitar from the rehab centre for both rehearsals and the actual performance. An acoustic model, unfortunately. The rehab centre didn’t have anything else; synthesizers were a superfluous extravagance here, too. But that lowly six-string with a busted tuning peg put plenty of ideas in my head about eventually picking up where I left off musically. Someday.

Speaking of that someday, I foresee it coming sooner rather than later. As in, later this week, when I’m slightly richer. Not that I don’t have the money now, but a little more can’t hurt.

Technology has marched on considerably in the decades that have passed since Priest and Maiden first meddled in these things; there’s practically nothing these new synths can’t do. The downside is that they’re a notorious pain in the butt to install. These are not simple plug-and-play devices like the fuzzboxes beloved of the auld Seattle set. Most synth models use a special dedicated pickup that needs to be mounted on the guitar itself — a task that usually involves breaking out the toolbox. I know my Phillips screwdrivers from my Allen wrenches and used to repair brake mechanisms on knee walkers, so I think I’m up to the challenge. A musical Narnia awaits me if I succeed. If I make it there, then tales of my wacky adventures shall be entertainment for all of Internetland. Becoming a rock star is a dream I abandoned years ago, but I got a strong hunch at least one person* will hear whatever proclamation I end up making in song. That’s good enough for me.

* …who is not my mother. She’s been dead for four years.

It’s a safe prediction that the week I die, most (if not all) the Top 40 singles will be written by computers. So I reckon I may as well get the leftover music in me out now while human songwriters are technically still a thing and I still have a full set of dexterous arthritis-free fingers suitable for guitar playing. Of all the possible ways a dude could spend his midlife crisis, making music is one of the better ones, methinks. Spending extravagant thousands on some highfalutin gas-guzzling contraption is just not my bag. Not into the tinfoilhattery either. Whoever angers you has conquered you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close