Last week the magnificent Steve Vai played here in Melbourne (read my recent interview with Steve here). I was lucky enough to be offered some free tickets so I invited my old school buddy and his friend, as well as a guy I know who’s had a bit of a hard time recently and who I thought might enjoy the chance to take him mind off it with a gig. Like all Vai gigs it was a wildly diverse experience: blinding virtuosity, humour, melody, showmanship, and all-round good vibes. And I got to meet quite a few I Heart Guitar readers before and after the show, which was really cool. But something my buddy said afterwards really jarred me. Nodding back towards the venue, he asked, in an almost protective tone:
“So, are you jealous?”
I get his point. Lemmie give you a bit of background. My buddy and I played in bands in high school, and I was always considered a pretty good guitarist around town. My self-esteem was such that it just never seemed possible or attainable for me to go on to be in a famous band. Stuff like that just didn’t happen in my world. I guess in retrospect there may have been a few people around me who could have thought “If anyone from this town’s gonna join a band and make it, it’d be that dude,” but honestly, it just wasn’t something I thought about. I was always happy playing for myself or playing the occasional gig, but I never really had the emotional strength to put myself out there as a player – and I guess more to the point, to put myself out there for criticism. My fragile little ego just wouldn’t have been able to stand it.
Having said that, I’ve had a few little successes as a guitarist. I’ve jammed with a few of my heroes (Steve Vai and Joe Satriani). I’ve done session work. I get to write about guitar for a living. My music seems to attract a decent number of listens on Reverbnation, Bandcamp and YouTube. And it feels really good to know that my reviews and demos have directly influenced I Heart Guitar readers to make gear choices that have made them happy. And through guitar I’ve made some great friends and had some amazing experiences. So am I jealous that I’m not at a Steve Vai level of success, touring the world and firing off solo after solo on signature gear?
Nope. When I see Vai, I’m inspired and invigorated, but certainly not jealous. Do I still feel crippled by anxiety about getting my playing out there in the world? Fuck no! Any time I’m onstage I feel incredibly comfortable and right. I’ve been recording a lot of music lately and getting some really great feedback, and if the chance becomes available to me to play it for other people, I’ll jump at it. I’d love love love to some day get the support slot for a Vai or Satriani tour, for example – and my experiences jamming with those guys have reinforced to me that I feel comfortable in front of audiences of fellow guitar-lovers, so I don’t think I’d even feel that intimidated.
No, I’m never going to reach Steve Vai’s level of popularity. But neither do most guitarists, and that’s why Steve Vai’s a big deal. I love the fact that every day I know – from looking at the stats, getting emails and seeing YouTube comments – that people are listening to my music. And that makes me feel like I’m standing on a stage in front of thousands.