NEW ALBUM UPDATE
In the mid to late 80s I had entered the bigger scene the day I joined the DLR band. After Edward [Van Halen] had reinvented rock guitar in the 70s and 80s the focus was on virtuoso type guitar playing in a rock context. This concept had been building steadily through the early 70s with players like Hendrix, Page, Brian May, Ritchie Blackmore, etc.
These were the players that compelled me to want to play the instrument as brutally yet as beautifully as I possibly could. By the time I joined with Dave [Roth] my chops were honed and unleashed on the Eat ‘Em and Smile record. Other players were emerging on the scene that were raising the bar on control of the instrument. Randy Rhodes, Neil Schon, Yngwie Malmsteen and Joe Satriani were some of the players who contributed to tasty shred.
As a result the 80′s were a time when you could practice the hell out of your instrument and flail like a madman in a cacophony of, do all you can in these 16 bars, guitar solo drenched pseudo-virtuostic frenzy. It was a time of recognition and before I knew it I was on the cover of every major guitar magazine in the world, sometimes 3 times in a year.
It was a great time for rock stars. The shows were huge with stages of doom where the lighting rig alone took up to 11 semi-tractor trailer trucks to lug around. These days I use one small U-Haul trailer that’s dragged on the back of the bus, can you notice the difference?
There wasn’t a guitar magazine I could pick up that didn’t have something amazing and flattering to say about me. It was almost surreal reading quotes from people like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Billy Gibbons. I knew in my heart of hearts that it would all pass and that a new trend would eventually emerge; Welcome the Grunge movement.
Volumes could be written about the grim reaper who appeared with his scythe and whacked the hair sprayed heads off of every shred, spandex band from the 80s. It took a lifetime for people like myself, Joe and Yngwie to be able to play the way we do and I suppose a lot of young guitar players just did not want to spend a life time toiling away over a hot guitar to try to outdo the previous guy. The 80s scene was becoming rather insipid anyway. MTV was almost as painful then as it is now. The whole revolution was rather refreshing in an odd way.
As a result of this musical rebellion bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana were banging out inspired melodies over slamming distorted guitar chords. I thought these bands were brilliant, but like any trend it had it’s pantomiming ne’er-do-wells that tried to copy the genius of others and once again the airwaves were polluted with insipid dreck. Like any trend some of it was inspired and some of it was sheer crap but I give credit to anyone that picks up an instrument and tries to make a go of it.
There was a tremendous whiplash against the virtuoso guitar hero and it felt as though most of it was aimed at me in the press. During the first part of the 90s it was virtually impossible for me to pick up a guitar magazine and not read something terrible written about me. It was rare to read editorials or letter sections where I was not mentioned at least once in an unfavorable way. Most of it was aimed at my style of playing but there was some pretty uncalled for personal shots too. I recall one reviewer saying that my parents should have been sterilized so they could not have had me.
Now, regardless of what artists say when they’re commenting on how much they don’t care what fans or critics say about them or their music, they actually do care. In their hearts, they really do care. None of us like when we are being attacked.
Whenever you create something, be it a painting, a song, a book etc., it’s really a testimony of your soul. Your creation is a naked presentation of your personal character and moral fiber. When that product is then introduced to the world and slandered it’s difficult to not feel as if it’s directed directly to the core of who and what you are as a person. Such is the risks of creating art, be prepared for the highs and lows, and don’t think drugs will make it go away.
I grew some thick skin but I always knew it was inevitable. None of this ever changed my love for the instrument or my desire to play the shit out of it. I always felt that I needed to do my best and the reward is having control over an instrument to the point where you can use it to express yourself limitlessly. To this day when I sit and play I am completely thrilled and fascinated that I can run my fingers effortlessly up and down the neck of that instrument and experience expressional liberation. And no matter what the latest trend or hairdo is, there is nothing that will stop me from doing it because I LIKE IT!
During the 90s there were a lot of young guitar players that were picking up the instrument and being influenced by the Monsters of the 80s. They didn’t know it was “uncool” to be proficient but for the most part they were still uninterested in being virtuosos. They had another agenda and as a result, guitar playing in the 90s and to date is not usually drenched in 32nd notes.
The brand of music that I was hearing in my head and wanted to make real was not necessarily based on guitar shredding. I use my chops as a tool to get my point across when it calls for it. When I sat down to make Passion and Warfare, I didn’t really care if my brand of music would sell or not. It was just what I knew how to do so I did it. It was important to me to continually try to push the boundaries of my abilities. I knew that if I just kept recording and releasing what I thought was quality and somewhat unique music that I could get through the assault. In some ways it seemed to work. There are usually three responses that you can get when my name comes up. The first one is “Never heard of him,” another might be, “Oh that guy, he’s a guitar God genius,” and another is “Who, that guy? Isn’t he that Mongolian string shredder from the hair band 80s? Is he still making records?”
Actually the one that I get the most these days is, “Hey dude, did anyone ever tell you that you look like Tommy Lee.” For which my stock response is, “Yeah, but I have better taste in women and a bigger penis.” Actually, if the latter was true then I might have a real career!
I am an Epic (Sony) recording artist at this time and they are apparently happy to have me because it’s a no brainier. They release my record; they don’t have to spend money on independent radio promotions, videos for MTV, Publicists to get me on the cover of Rolling Stone etc. They put it out there and there is a small (yet loyal) audience (thank you very much) of people that seem to like it. Then the head of A&R at Epic started to run into a lot of new artists that were citing me as an inspiration so I got a call from the big guy (the one who you have to make an appointment to make an appointment to make a phone call to talk to) who thought it may be a good idea to invite some of these artists to play on my next record. You know, like Carlos Santana did.
I’m very apprehensive to do things that I feel are a cheap shot at trying to sell records but the idea of having an opportunity to work with some of my favorite musicians was compelling. We went to work and created a list of artists that would make the history books heavy. It’s almost comical to think that some of these artists would want to contribute to a Steve Vai record so I thought, “Hmm, well, I’m not a pop star and although I would love to sell a lot of records and get my music on the radio it would have to be on my terms and that’s a long shot.” I felt that if I had the opportunity to work with these great artists I would want to give them something that they could be interested in because to me it seemed more interesting than just playing on a song. How about a musical with a story, characters etc.? It starred to come together and the inception of the dream began.
I have many stories I had written through the years and the one I started to formulate as the basis for this record was just one of them. I started to construct the story and pull the music together.
OK, that’s enough writing for today. I’ll try to write more to catch you up on the story and where I am with it at this time. If you’re reading this and you’re interested in it, I can’t tell you how much that means to me. It’s way cool! Stick with it because it gets much better.
December 02, 2002
Joe invited me down to his show at the House of Blues on Sunset the other night so a few of my friends and I went down.
I have been watching him play since I was 13 years old, have played close to hundreds of shows with him, and I believe I’m being totally realistic when I say his performance the other night was the best I have ever seen him.
I believe that no matter how good you are on an instrument, there is always something that one gains from time. It’s a type of maturity and confidence. In watching Joe I saw a completely inspired musical person who was in unequivocal control of his instrument. No matter how many times I hear those melodies they still have a tendency to penetrate to the depth of my being. I find myself swooning while bathing in the lushness of his tone, sheer virtuosity and composition. It’s amazing to me how he never makes mistakes.
Reeves Gabrels put it perfectly when he said, (and I’m paraphrasing) “By the end of the show, Joe is like a prize fighter who has thrown every blow he can and in the end just keeps slugging and slugging until you think he just can’t do it anymore, but he still does.”
It was a tremendous show and left me inspired, as usual.
November 22, 2002
It’s 12:41, Friday, November 22 and I’m with Pia driving across the desert in Nevada. As a member of the Recording Academy (NARAS), I periodically attend various functions on education, etc. Last night was a wonderful event in Vegas at the Hard Rock venue (The Joint). It was a producers panel and included, Daniel Carlin, Los Angeles Chapter President; Leslie Lewis, Director of the Producers & Engineers Wing; Ed Cherney, Panel Moderator; Mike Clink, Shep Crawford, Carmen Rizzo, and myself.
It was a nice opportunity to talk with young artists and producers seeking insight into the business and recording concepts. The most important piece of advice that all the panelists agreed upon was the necessity to have confidence in your work, performance and goals. Without this simple element it’s difficult to present yourself with any kind of authority. All great artists that have fought that fight have had tremendous confidence in their work and a clear vision of their goals. More on this in the days to come.
The desert has an intrinsic beauty that captures one of the ominous qualities of nature, especially at night. The molecules in the air are just different in the desert and to take them in on a clear day is magnificently rejuvenating.
Not to mention it’s as hot as hell.
August 24, 2002
As I write this I am sitting in the coffee lounge of the Celebrity Millennium cruise ship gazing out the window at the rolling blue waves of the warm Caribbean Sea. Next stop St. Martin. Not for one minute do I take for granted the remarkable good fortune that the merciful lords of Karma have bestowed on me, except for the damn fuckin’ waiter that just spilled my cappuccino all over my new… oh never mind.
Steve at the end of the first performance of Fire Strings, Tokyo, July 24, 2002
I wanted to follow up on the Fire Strings gig. In a nutshell, it was a raging success, and I do mean raging.
I arrived in Japan and headed straight for Akihabara with the kids. That’s the place where towering buildings are filled with every kind of electronic gadgets you could possibly electrocute yourself with. It’s a gadget geek’s wet dream. The amazing thing to me is that with all these buildings, floor after floor of stuff, they all sell the same thing. I don’t get it but… whatever.
We had three days of rehearsal planned with the orchestra before the performances and I had one day off before that to work on the music some more even though my fingers were stiffing up. I was fighting the jet lag but I kept reviewing the music over and over in every spare minute I had. I was pretty confident as to how I would perform it but there is always the unknown such as string breakage, amp problems etc. My main concern was how I was going to change the pages without missing a beat while following the conductor etc. Rehearsals would tell all.
Usually in a situation like this I would memorize the music, and although I was almost there with this piece, it was so long and hard that I felt I needed the security of the music in front of me at all time. Rarely did it let up and give me enough time to change the page, so Anthony Garone (my studio assistant) and I devised a way to tape the pages so that 4 pages would be viewable at a time and with the simple move of pinching the center of the layout and pulling, I could change to the next 4 pages. Seems easy enough right? This also meant that all 15 pages of each movement were taped together so if you were to hold it from one end to the other it would measure approximately 14.5 feet long. That’s for each movement.
The other anxiety attack hanging over my head was following the conductor. Now, a rock musician has it easy because there is a drummer and everyone follows him/her and there is no real need to look at the drummer for the beat. In the orchestra you have a guy that stands up there and waves his arms around and is basically a performer in his own right. You need to understand all these smoke signals to know where each beat is. In conventional orchestra music there is usually a rhythm and pulse that helps the performer to know where the groove is but in “Fire Strings” anything that resembles a beat is purely coincidental. Rarely do rhythms and melodies line up or even start or fall on a beat and there is constant time signature changes, dynamic swings, accelerandos and ritardandos, etc. It was necessary for me to watch the conductor, read the music, look at my fingers occasionally and turn the pages, all while blowing smoke rings out my arse.
The first rehearsal was for the soloists and that meant viola, violin and myself. There is an exhilarating passage written for the three of us. The other two players were stunning in their ability to master their instrument and it was fascinating to stand next to them whilst they were ripping.
The conductor was the very well respected and famous Maestro Yutaka Sado. A tall, handsome and powerful Japanese man who’s ability to wield a baton rates with the greatest ever. I immediately connected with him and created a musical bond that squelched much of the concerns I was having. He was considerate and patient and had told me that the orchestra was concerned with the complexity of the music on their end too and in an odd way that gave me a sort of relief. So the first rehearsal went well although it was just the three of us.
The next day I walked into the rehearsal room and it was filled with world class musicians all ready to dig into this music. It was a bit intimidating but like any other high-pressure situation I find my mind saying “bring it on and make it intense”.
There was always a concern about how the guitar would meld with the rest of the orchestra, so they conceived and built this very interesting looking sound projection unit that resembled a ball of speakers. They placed this little whirlybird right in the center of the orchestra. To my surprise they liked to hear the guitar very loud at times. From my speaker I didn’t want my guitar to be too loud or scare them. I remember performing with the Seattle Orchestra once and they had it worked into the contract that if anyone in the orchestra felt I was too loud, that person would have the right to stand up and walk out at any time. Huh, me too loud?
Maestro Sado walked into the rehearsal room, picked up his baton and signaled the start and away we went. It’s hard to describe the experience. I found myself slamming away at the music and behind me was the thundering and sometimes whispering of this magnificent orchestra. Master Sado was the center of control and energy. He made it easy to follow his movements so I cranked along trying to focus on his movements.
The etiquette of an orchestra if they are compelled to compliment the soloist is not to clap but to gently tap their instruments with their bows and or stomp their feet in a gesture of approval. After the first movement there was this clamor from the orchestra that sounded like a buffalo herd. I respectfully bowed, and sat down. An incredible wave of relief and joy washed through my body as I felt tears rolling down my face.
Later master Sado told me that it’s rare that the orchestra react like that. This gave me the further support that I needed to get through the shows.
Finally the night of the first show had arrived and the backstage area was bustling. Orchestra soloists are treated with such dignity and respect that I was caught off guard a bit. The etiquette of the audience at a classical concert is very different than a rock concert too. They are much more reserved.
As I made my way onto the stage that old familiar feeling of inner energy, fierce confidence, focus and complete control encompassed my consciousness. It’s quite the rush really.
I walked onto the stage and the entire front row was filled with my most devoted Japanese fans and a few American ones as well. The music stand was about three and a half feet wide and on a vertical angle, which concerned me a bit but it was too late to try and adjust it..
The piece started and the first thing I noticed was that I could barely hear my guitar. Suntory hall is an acoustic wonder. There is no PA system but when the dynamics were soft you could hear a pin drop across the hall, literally. I tried to ignore the gigantic fluctuations in the guitar level as it came out of the whirlybird speakers but I really had no control over it. It was very distracting but you just gotta keep pounding it out. I had been in similar situations so many times that nothing mattered but delivering the music as best I could.
The first movement was raging along. Maestro Sado and I were connecting. The musicians were nailing it and right at the peak of the intensity I went to change the page and… With only one bar of music to change the page I pinched the center of it and pulled then frantically tried to reclaim the real-estate on the neck of the guitar. As if in slow motion out of a terrible Twighlight Zone episode the music slowly teetered upright and then swiftly flew off the stand, unfolding page after page as it chaotically tumbled to the floor where it finally lay dead.
My head tried to follow the pages as they unfurled (actually a pretty comical sight) and my heart sunk with the manuscript. The result was an accordion like mess at the feet of the stand. Oddly enough I kept playing, amazed that I was actually continuing to perform the music from memory. An analogy would be like when you learn to ride a bike for the first time after the training wheels were taken off and your Dad just let go of the seat and left you half scared to death and half ecstatic at the same time. I was wondering when I was going to fall but I kept on peddling with fear and joy. All the time I was wondering when my guitar tech would come out and put the music back on the stand but he didn’t. Richard Pike was sitting in the front row about 2 feet from me and I came very close to signaling to him for help.
Finally a break came and I picked the music up, which was no easy thing to do given that it was un-accordioned, and continued the piece.
The rest of the performance went fairly well and after the last note there was a dead silence in the place. The applauds slowly started and they were the kind that sounded like, is it over??? was it good??? was it crap??? was it genius??? was it…??? I got a real kick out of that.
After the show all the Sony people, fans, Ibanez people, guitar magazine journalists and editors etc. seemed to be a little stunned and confused. Some thought is was brilliant and that my performance was breathtaking and some thought it was… weird. As I made my way to the hotel I couldn’t help starting to feel a bit insecure and wondering if I had done the right thing by spending all this time learning this piece, and spending the money recording it, plus I actually thought I may have done some permanent damage to the delicate muscles in the forearm of my left hand because they hurt in a way I had never felt before. That turned out to be a touch of tendinitis that slipped away a week later.
I have a very sincere fan that through the years has become a friend. She has been to every show I have ever played in Japan and many shows in other parts of the world and she is always sitting or standing in the front row. She has always been very honest with me with her thoughts on my music. When she doesn’t like something she has no problem letting me know. She was in the front row sitting directly in front of me and when I returned to the hotel she was waiting in the lobby. I walked up to her and said hello and the first words out of her mouth were, “That was the worst shit I ever heard”.
I was stunned and could only laugh. It was so very unlike her to say anything like that and to use a profanity was way out of character.
Stunned, I walked to the elevator and went to my room feeling like an emotional truck hit me. My feeling is that the music is sheer brilliance and that my performance was as best as I could do, and quite good at that, but there I sat on my bed thinking how am I going to get through the next two performances. She called from the lobby but I could barely even muster a word.
The next day she had sent me a beautifully descriptive e-mail that described the concert as brilliant and wonderful and that there was nobody else that could have played it etc. It went on and on to describe the richness of the music and how someday she would like to see me performing my own music with the orchestra etc. She has such a sincere and passionate way of writing that it deeply touched me, but at the end of it she wrote, “but it was the worst seat I ever had”!
The amazing thing was that the night before I had misunderstood her broken English and thought she said “It was the worst shit I ever heard”. She went on to say that the music stand was directly in her way and all that she could see of me for the entire performance was from my knees down.
At first I felt like a heel and then I thought how funny it was that this misunderstanding could have taken place. This reinforced my confidence about the performance and I took to Suntory Hall that second and third night with courage and pride. The second performance was much better. They finally got the sound down and the third performance was the best and I captured it all on digital hard drives in audio form and also a 2 camera video shoot to be edited and released sometime in the future when I have some other music that is somewhat in the same ballpark that could round out an entire album of frequency pandemonium.
All in all “Fire Strings” was a valuable and honored experience. The orchestra, conductor and composer were so thrilled with the way it turned out that they invited me to perform “Fire Strings” and one of my own pieces when they come to San Francisco and Los Angeles sometime in 2005. Hey, maybe by then I can play it perfectly.
Gotta go, St. Martin just came into view and I can smell the coconut palms wafting in the warm wind.
July 18, 2002
As I am writing this, I am on a plane with my son Julian and one of his friends to Japan to perform a piece called Fire Strings with the TMSO.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra (TMSO) has a concert series where they will occasionally introduce new pieces and composers. The prominent avant guard composer Ichiro Nodaira composed a piece for electric guitar and 100 piece orchestra. The guitar part is tremendously challenging and when they inquired to various sources for a soloist for the performance my name kept coming up so I was contacted. Now, I would not normally accept something like this but after seeing the music I could not resist. It looked artistic, bizarre, beautiful, and terrifying. It’s been a while, if ever, since I attempted anything like this so I decided to do it. Not since my days with Frank Zappa have I been confronted with such a challenge. The music is unorthodox for the guitar but I have been seriously shedding it for about 10 or so weeks. About 40% of that time I spent 12 hour days on the piece just trying to figure out how to negotiate some of the fingerings.
Ichiro really did his homework on the performance potential of the electric guitar, and has written masterfully for the instrument incorporating the depths of the dynamics that the instrument is capable of.
Every riff is meticulously specific in it’s approach to the performance. At times he has a note holding that has to be fluctuated with the volume pedal and maneuvered with a whammy bar to the appropriate pitch while playing other notes, only to end up in a series of virtually impossible cascading harmonics that necessitate a fabricated style I have never used, alongside a raging 100-piece orchestra, and all this within a few seconds. It’s a 25 minute piece of music with 2 long form, completely notated guitar cadenzas that defy conventional fingering and approach to the instrument, and there is not one note of improvisation in the entire piece.
For the first time in my entire life I wore out the delicate muscles in the arm and fingers and at one point actually thought I was developing carpal tunnel. I had to lay off for a while, and that’s a first too.
I don’t think that this piece is impossible to play for some other players because it does not involve a lot of “shredding,” but the articulation and use of rhythmic notations took me a lifetime to understand and this piece takes me to the enth of my ability on the instrument. I’m sure there are some aliens out there who might find it easier and I bet I know some (Mr. Lukather), but not this alien. I had to bust hump. Anyway, I’m happy to say that I just about got it and we have rehearsals on July 21-23 and three shows at Santory Hall on July 24-26. The first performance of the night is Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to “Candide,” and then after “Fire Strings” will be a performance of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” I do not play on those pieces, only “Fire Strings.”
I will be attempting to record it and if I can and you get to hear it, I preface it with saying that this is unlike any music you may have ever heard. When I first started playing through the guitar part I knew it would be dissonant and odd but after Ichiro sent me the piano reduction it was clear to me that this is really a way outside piece, and I can’t wait to see the look on the people’s faces in the audience who are expecting a soaring Vai type piece with huge thick melodic orchestrations and warm endearing passages. Ha! Hold on to your seat because the friction of the frequencies caused by the harmonies and rhythms that will be performed on that stage can rattle the bass clef out of your G-string.
There is something that happens after listing to this kind of dissonance after a while. It becomes pleasant in an odd way and has a tendency to scratch itches that “normal” music just cannot reach. It has it’s own life and it’s own set of emotions. It’s tenderness and aggressions resonate within a different realm of physiological fiber. After a while I found myself craving to hear and play it and then feeling a sort of addiction to it. Like a drug that makes you sick at first, but later you find yourself needing it’s effects after it has so blissfully dominated your senses (but I don’t do drugs so I wouldn’t know anything about that).
After being ensconced in the elixir of Fire Strings everything else seems to pale in comparison. I’m concerned how it will affect my ability to enjoy the simplicity of a good song, without it fading into obscure insipidness.
Listening to pop music or even conventional yet inspired instrumental melodies after the addiction of Fire Strings is like comparing the light of the sun to the light of a galaxy. Of course you have to get past the shock value and the peeling away of the skin from the sheer intensity but I warn you, there’s no turning back. I wonder how many will allow it to get that far under their skin. God, I’m turning into more of a musical snob than I already am. Great Ceasar’s Ghost!
In any event I choose to do it and though it threw my schedule back 3 solid months I don’t regret it at all. It’s just another one of those things that I do because I can.
I really hope you get a kick out of it and don’t think I’ve lost my mind completely, although the challenge of learning and performing this overtly brilliant piece of music has humbled me into a state of melancholy.
I’ll let you know how it turns out.
July 18, 2002
Flying somewhere over the Pacific.
May 31, 2002
As I write this I’m sitting in Hawaii (Maui) under a coconut tree, overlooking the bluest ocean you could ever imagine in your most vibrant dreams. Pia is sitting next to me sipping some exotic drink with little umbrellas in it. We are at the Kea Lani Hotel. It’s really paradise. I’m actually here for some business meetings. By the way, Mike Tyson just walked by with 2 giant body guards. Seriously, he’s been training here for a month and staying at the hotel in a villa on the beach. His quadriceps are bigger then my waist.
I want to write about the G3 tour we just did last week in Mexico. It was absolutely special. We attempted to do this tour two times before, but due to 9/11 we had to cancel. Luckily the shows were rescheduled for May 15th in Mexico City and May 17th in Monterey, Mexico.
I always look forward to G3 tours. It usually means the best accommodations in the best venues with the best crew and the best musicians. It’s a sheer pleasure and I believe it’s a show that you would be hard pressed to witness anywhere else. The level of musicianship that graces the stage is tremendous and everyone on this tour delivered famously.
The first show in Mexico went down without a hitch. There were close to 10,000 enthusiastic music lovers. When I look at the way I delegate my time during a normal day I realize that I have a tendency to clutter my life with stuff that takes me away from the guitar, but when I jump out onto that stage I’m reminded of the sheer freedom and liberation one can have when creating art and performing for people who are not only interested in what your doing but are unbelievably supportive. We dismantled the place.
There was a curfew so we were only able to do 3 songs in the jam instead of the 4 we usually do. I occasionally get a chance to watch John’s show and am continually awed by his control of the instrument. Besides being one of the coolest guys I’ve ever toured with, he delivers a performance on the guitar that pushes the envelope of what’s possible to do on the instrument.
My band and I watched Joe’s show from backstage on a TV. It was so perfect. His concentration is solid and his playing seems flawless. His command on the instrument is stunning. He squeezes that neck to get every sound and note possible. Reeves Gabrels put it perfectly once when after a 2 and a half hour Satriani performance, he said it reminded him of a prize fighter in the 15th round and he’s made every punch his body could muster and still keeps slugging it out (I’m paraphrasing). We were all just looking at each other while Joe was playing, and laughing at how amazing it was. After the show I asked him how it went and he had the nerve to say “Ah, I played kind of sloppy tonight.” I told him to shut the fuck up before I get sick.
The next day the crew went onto Monterey and the bands stayed in Mexico. It was a day off but Joe and I had press all day. It started out in the hotel where the record company (Sony) and the promoter scheduled a ton of interviews and rented out the whole wing of the hotel. The idea was to put me in one room and Joe in an adjoining room and have the camera crews and journalists go from one to the other. Well, for the first interview I walk into this room and there is a big Steve Vai banner draped across the backdrop and a camera set up in front of the door. I can’t remember the name of the show (I never can) but is was the equivalent of CNN in Mexico. It’s supposed to be the most popular TV show they have. I sat down dressed in a long black coat, dark sun glasses and my lime green (GRAMMY) shirt underneath. I was trying to be real cool and suave by talking slow and being very descriptive and animated with my hands bla bla bla.
The first question was, “so, how does the audiences in Mexico differ from the rest of the world?” Now, I get asked this question in almost every interview and as usual I had to try to make it seem like, “Oh, what an interesting question.” I start to speak with this very philosophical look of interest on my face. I bring my huge hands up to display my deep inner thoughts in gesture form when all of a sudden there is this huge SPLLLAAATTTT!!! type explosion sound that emanated from the fire sprinkler that was situated over the camera and right above the extremely high heat giving light. What had happened was the light that they were using to light me was too close to the sprinkler head that was in the ceiling and it caused the sprinkler to go off by first exploding a powdery like fire extinguishing chemical throughout the whole room, and then violently spraying water as if the walls of Montezuma had opened and the flood gates had blown!
The second I heard the explosion I knew what happened. All hell broke loose. The TV crew was stunned and started to dash about in a frantic display of confusion and terror. The way they were all of a sudden running around, it looked like someone had kicked a beehive. I started laughing hysterically while clumsily trying to make my way off the chair and out of the range of the water flow. Dave Weiner and I were tremendously amused at all this. The crew tried desperately to save the camera from the water fall that was filling the room. It was impossible to get out the door without going through the spraying water and I figured that I had better make a dash for the side door that led to the adjourning room.
So there I was, laughing hysterically and trying to make my way through the water to the door. The door was already opened a crack and as I grabbed it and pulled, it slammed into my own face. After the stun of the impact from the door, the whole Keystone Cop activities made me laugh even harder. I go through the door soaking wet busting into Joe’s interview.
He and his interviewer just looked at me like “What are you doing coming out of the bathroom covered in water”? It wasn’t the bathroom and I tried to explain what was going on but felt it would be better to get to the outside and inform someone to turn the sprinkler system off.
Well, they eventually shut the water off but the room was destroyed. There was water billowing out from under the door that drenched the carpet throughout the hall. I just found a chair and relaxed in my giggling stupor while they set up another room.
I was told that they were most definitely going to air this aqua episode as this would probably make for a more entertaining show. I suggested that after they show me dashing from the room and opening the door on my own face, they should cut to Joe’s camera to catch the surprise on his face along with me tramping through the room.
That whole day was filled with press and later that day Joe and I had to go out to do a live TV show that was broadcast to all Latin countries including Mexico, Spain, Portugal, etc. As we exited the hotel the sky opened up and it began to torrentially rain. This was the second time I was getting rained on this day.
The show was very cool. It was sort of like an intimate setting, and was quite nice. Joe and I sat for one hour in front of a small audience of young guitar lovers and answered questions and demonstrated various things on the guitar.
It’s far too seldom that Joe and I get to sit together as two people and just play the guitar. When I was a kid we used to do this every week I would go over his house and we would sit in the backyard for sometimes 4-5 hours and just play only using our ears and our fingers. This is where I developed my musical ears because I had a real live tremendously able and inspired musician to communicate with. It was just pure expression, no ego or thoughts of anything else. These memories with Joe as a kid are truly my most fondest musical experiences. At that tender age of 14-16 that lesson every week was what I lived for. When I get together with Joe these days and do these kinds of things, it’s as if the world melts away and we’re two kids again sitting in his backyard or bedroom and allowing each other to share that valuable intimacy of our inner ears and musical thoughts.
We both looked at each other after and agreed that someday….. Oh well, you get it.
So, I’m far from done.
Now, I usually don’t go out while I’m on tour unless I’m dragged because I like to be alone and stay in the room and … ha, answer e-mails. Well, we had this wonderful promoter rep named Andrea and she told me that I had to go see this show that was taking place called De La Guarda (I have to check the spelling on this). It originated in Argentina and has ran in London, New York and Vegas. I said, thanks but I think I’m going to stay in, it’s been too wet all day. She sort of refused to take no for an answer, saying it was the most amazing theatrical display in the world. A bunch of the guys including Billy (Sheehan) Joe, Virgil, etc., were going to go. I had seen Stomp, Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil and was told this is sort of a combination of all those things. I was suffering a bit from Montezuma’s Revenge as a result of eating the fruit in Mexico, but I had loved those other shows and decided to go.
You walk into and stand in this dark room that has about a 9 foot ceiling made of paper. The music is thumping percussion stuff. As you look up you see and hear things being dropped onto this paper like little balls, water, paint, balloons, etc. There are these mysterious shadows of people flying across the ceiling and as the music grows and the colors change the ceiling slowly rips open to reveal these crazy performers who are suspended by ropes as they poke their heads out of the paper and allow the water, balls, balloons and smoke to billow into the room. Once again, I was getting rained on from the inside. This was the third time in one day.
The music grew and the entire ceiling ripped open to reveal a much higher ceiling with these performers flying back and forth across the room and running on the walls while being suspended by wires. What they were wearing, along with their facial gestures, screams and body language, made for a colorful and quite erotic fanfare. At one point some of the performers would drop into the crowd and molest various members of the audience. The male actors would embrace and kiss female audience members at random and vice versa. One over zealous actress came up to me and just grabbed a handful of my man parts, turned to another woman in the audience and exclaimed something in Spanish that led me to believe she was impressed with the situation at hand. And hey, I got wood. Ah, I guess if your going to attend a contemporary dance theater show, you better be prepared.
One of the nightly traditions that is performed during this frenetic display of theatrical excess, is to select a member from the audience, hitch them to one of the flying members of the cast and take them up to swing over the crowd. All I could think was whoever goes up there better be prepared to stomach such a thing, and I couldn’t even begin to imagine the liability of the situation. I though to myself, Phewww, I’m glad it’s not m…..
Now I don’t know why these things always seem to happen to me but sure enough, before I knew what was happening, the woman who had previously been so bold as to secure a generous handful of my stuff decided I might be the perfect candidate to swing from the ceiling too. All I could think was, why don’t they just pick Joe! But hey, I’m down with it. What the heck, I may never get another chance for something as ridiculous as this to happen so they led me to the center of the room to this strapping young guy who they secured me to, face to face. I had to put my arms under his and lace my hands into these loops while they joined us at the hips with a carabeaner and strap and off we went. The fact that I had to hug this guy and lock legs for dear life didn’t bother me, but he was working pretty hard that day and as a result could have used some ode-da-doo-da-day anti-perspiration deodorant. We flew around the room and I was screaming and laughing and watching the entourage from above. It was actually a blast. When I got down Andrea told me how one time there was a famous… I think it was a soccer player or something, was up there swinging around and he experienced a bout of vertigo and projectile vomited all over the audience. Well, in my situation if the Montezuma’s Revenge was as bad as it could have been, the potential disaster would have been much worse than the predigested spewage off the soccer player.
After I touched back down the show really started to freak. Little satellite stages would be wheeled out with various percussion players beating away in these tribal like grooves to die for. As I watched all this I embraced the pounding beats and the sheer extravaganza of the show and in one quick and penetrating flash the entire concept and title for my next record came to me.
I started to weep. I could hear, see and feel in my psyche the whole record. I tried to hold onto the idea until it sunk deeply into my soul and burned it’s impression into my imagination glands. The biggest problem with an experience like this is that it’s so overwhelming. At one point you feel like you are on top of the world but you have nothing to show for this extraordinary epiphany except the look on your face and all the work of making it real in the world lies ahead of you. But I got it, it’s in here and starting June 1st it’s going to start to make it’s way out and It’s going to be my most important work yet.
It’s going to be called….
On second thought, I better not tell you yet.
Uh oh, here comes Mike Tyson again and he just sat down two lounge chairs away from me. Hmm, I would like to start a conversation with him but I’m afraid he might chew my ear off, daaa!