In the mid-nineties, I was in a jazz laced blues funk quartet. It was one of the most proud projects that I had ever accomplished in my musical career as it was one of the most difficult musical creations I had to work with. I spent a good part of my life at that time working in both a production studio and home studios for almost sixty hours a week working on music, in addtion to my day job, for this project in a one year span to culminate into a mere four months worth of bi-weekly shows. It seemed like little pay off for the live project, but the work was incredibly rewarding and many lessons were learned about my capacity to transform some elusive musical ideas from what I heard in my head into reality captured and mastered on CD for public consumption. The greatest lesson from that era in my life was that the greatest performances hid a painstaking amount of work in the details to get there, and to achieve those results, I needed motivation and opportunity.
The quartet was all musical, with no singer to carry a presence through to an audience, so it was on us to ensure the music was well structured enough to capture an audience’s attention and have relevant themes so that we wouldn’t be confused with a college hippy jam band. We had one very specific rule that we all abided by – what we created in the practice sessions and the studio recordings, absolutely, unequivocally, had to be played note for note live. No flubs or ad libs allowed in the live performance. This was incredibly important to us as the backgrounds for us four, were based in progressive rock and classical music, all either classically trained or part of our curriculum vitae in higher education. This was a much harder goal to achieve that any of us had anticipated. I had read an interview from Joe Satriani in 1988, a year that was influential to my learning of the guitar, where his answer to the question “When do you think you will feel like you’ve accomplished everything about guitar playing?” – His answer – “When I have every note on the fretboard at my disposal at any time” or to that effect. That had a profound influence on my study of the guitar. To have every note at one’s disposal is complete confidence and mastery of every nuance of the musical spectrum – a lofty achievement for a virtuoso. Happy accidents in the studio from either inspirational moments, or whiskey induced late night sessions, sometimes are very hard to recapture exactly as they were conceived. We insisted on ditching any musical phrase that was captured in practice, and not able to be replicated live in rehearsal. This was a tiring but effective ethic that played out well in that we were completely satisfied with every performance we gave – knowing we represented our ideas to the harmonic flair and odd time measure of every song we played with absolute love and certainty.
Racing bicycles has taken me down the same path. Mountain biking and cyclocross, but most significantly cyclocross as of late; reminiscent of the rapid fire progression in some of the difficult transitions in an above 80BPM solo transition that has to tangle with complex rhythm patterns, and abrupt signature time changes. There is little to no room for error, and when there are errors, they are magnified with gaps of racers fleeting by or visible to the spectator as the flub on the course met with heckles. In a live musical performances such failings, to the general listener, can be overlooked and hopefully recovered from with some graceful entry into the next phrase – at the end of the set, you’re still left with that mental gaffe thinking how awful you’ve made that song sound. I feel that way about racing that is so visible to spectators. I focus on a clean delivery and execution of the motions, focusing on fast turns and conquests of the technical sections of which I can nail down well, even when I know that at my redlined best, I can’t summon any greater speed than I have when I give my performance on the racecourse. I want to give a harder performance with gusto than what I was practicing daily before the rock show on the course. Sometimes, my playing is solid and smooth albeit slower played than my virtuoso counterparts who indeed are flying at the speed of a Petrucci solo. Which is why I practice, to nail a perfect race and progress as much as I can to learn the new licks that will get me further ahead.
It took me about ten years to feel confident in my own guitar soloing capability where I wasn’t merely playing or stealing licks from other guitarists and morphing them into my own style. In my formative years as a budding musician, I would force myself to focus on speed drills and endless practices to myself and my books attempting to break the Yngwie Malmsteen arpeggiated solos of eighties metal rock lore. I would come close and pull off impressive licks here and there, but in the end, I was playing someone else’s song and wasn’t dreaming up the rock on my own. I was thankful to have bonded with music teachers who helped me find a voice for my own style and not sweat the details of trying to come up with the ultimate solo, but to appreciate the totality of the musical composition to find where the notes would fall most impactfully, and from there, to find my own place.
I find myself having found my place in my racing, and in that place, my motivation to succeed where I can and push forward, finding the next lick to learn, the next power chord progression to the next category, and the desire to win with my own solo. The reality that it took me so long to find it in music, gives me clarity that in racing too, I will need to find my place and continue the plight to improve over time. Each race is the new opportunity to excel and test the licks I’ve learned from weekly training. I appreciate the totality of CX racing as a result too, where having a beer as a recovery drink, and socializing with friends is as much the great experience as the race itself. I have found yet again, motivation and opportunity.
The season is dwindling down for some in the racing scene as we launch into the black friday season of the year of seasonal beer and fried turkey goodness. The motivation to forge on past the holidays in the dimly sunlit skies of January for Nationals, is not for everyone. The stage is set, however, for the best performance of 2012 as the cap to a great season of off-road racing. Performances can still be had, in the jam band fashion at Afterglow and in full on rockstar mode at the New Year’s Eve UCI race. Afterall, with all the racing and training everyone has been doing, the least that should be done is to show the new licks learned throughout the year.
Let’s be frank, bedroom guitarists never get laid. If you’ve been jamming – come to the stage, rock it out, you’d be surprised how many people will support you regardless of what you perceive of your performance. Much like when I thought I flubbed a solo, the fans still cheered and I kept playing on. I fell off a stage once while soloing at the famed Metro, believe me, the show went on, and so did I, to finish the solo with another guitar and with huge applause. I didn’t practice my ass off to stop at one guffaw on the live circuit, why should anyone else do different. You’ve been practicing weekly to trip the live fantastic for the Sunday performance; why not see how far you can take it. If anything, you’ll be best prepared for the spring, and surprise yourself how well you glide into the next off road challenges. I’ve always never understood musicians who would practice endlessly and never show the chops off. Every solo should be heard, because every solo, gets applause. Be awesome – keep racing – rock into next year, and always. Your solos too will be greater and louder for it.