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Notes from the Field

Musical Heroes - a second take

Rating: 3 votes, 5.00 average.
A little over five years ago I wrote a blog trying to sort out my feelings in relation to my musical heroes. And at the time of course I figured I had written about all that needed to be said on the topic.

To prove me wrong, go here.

In the interim I have had a thought or two more, and kind of in a different direction. Bear with me, this is something.

I enjoy listening to Chris Thile much more when I ignore any connection between what he does on the mandolin and what I do on the mandolin. I do best if I pretend he plays some other instrument, only called the same as mine. (Similarly with Mike Marshall, Marty Stuart, Sierra Hull, and a bunch of others, I am just picking on Chris because he came to mind the first time I thought this through.)

These days I am inclined to think of it the way I think about NASCAR. I mean racing is done with cars, but what they do in their cars has little relationship with what I do in my car. Yea we sit the same way mostly, and grab the wheel the same way mostly, and ummm, we look through a windshield, and ummm… a few other similarities, but really, these similarities might as well be coincidental.

Both Chris and I use a pick. (For a while we used the same make and model of pick.) And he fingers with the left hand like I do. But that certainly does not make his playing necessarily relevant to my playing.

The analogy holds to surprising degree. For example if I attempt to do what Chris does, on my mandolin, what will happen will be the same as if I attempt to do what Matt Kenseth did at Daytona, in my car. Yea, I will crash and I will burn.

The analogy holds in other ways too. Certainly I can learn something, maybe a few things, about driving and driving skills, from close attention to NASCAR stars, but seriously, not a lot. I am better off learning how to drive from a drivers-ed instructor. And I can watch Sierra Hull, or Chris Thile, and pick up a few good tips here and there, but I would be much better off getting a good mandolin instructor, or watching the better quality teachers on line.

Here is the epiphany; while I drive every day, I have for years, and I have even taken a few defensive driving classes here and there, I have never, ever, had the slightest desire to drive like Dale Earnhardt Jr. I think what he and the NASCAR elite do is impressive, amazing even, but I have never wanted to race, or even to drive all that fast. I just want to get where I am going comfortably, safely, faster than walking, and with less exertion than cycling.

So too in mandolinning, I feel a whole lot better, about me, and about my heroes, if I remind myself that my goals do not involve them. I only want to play with others and have others want to play with me, and to intensely enjoy the music and the playing of it. I don’t want to play like them. Not really. What I want is to play like, well…. Like me. Only much, much better.

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  1. Gelsenbury's Avatar
    For my money, you were right both times. Two good reads, two enlightened opinions. I would probably want to be more like you rather than being more like Chris Thile.
  2. JeffD's Avatar
    You are the only one in the world that can be you. Ever.
  3. Jandante's Avatar
    Sound like you have found contentment in your mandolin playing, a good place to be.
  4. JeffD's Avatar
    I don't know about contentment - but my disappointments and struggles are more realistic and relevant. Its one thing to motivated by not being as good as you would like to be, but quite another to be frustrated because your not inhumanly genetic-anomaly awesome.
  5. Kevin Stueve's Avatar
    So you are saying, that there is little chance that I will ever play like Don Stiernberg? Well, nuts. I gave up on playing Guitar like Clapton but I don't know if I can let this one go
  6. JeffD's Avatar
    Yea, but nobody every, no-matter how hard they work at it, can ever sound like you. You will always be the best at that.
  7. Drew Egerton's Avatar
    You should try the driving experiences sometimes. I drove a car at Charlotte Motor Speedway last year. It was a 'real car' from a few years back that had obviously been de-tuned and governed down to what they considered an acceptable speed. But still, it was awesome! Hauling off into turn 1 with the gas mashed and it drops down and banks 30's a huge rush.

    It'd be like getting invited to pick on stage with Sam Bush....but probably less scary.
    Nice post though. Appreciate the perspective. Even playing in a band now, I need to remind myself sometimes of where I'm at. Yea I'm an OK picker, but I play in a band whose biggest show so far is about 40 people in a BBQ restaurant.
  8. JeffD's Avatar
    I knew someone was going to ask me about car racing "have you tried it?".

    I actually did once, a kind of an informal drag race when I was young and stupid. So much adrenaline. I don't know how those guys can keep a level head on their strategy and tactics.