Friday, December 21, 2007

Andy McKee, "The Friend I Never Met"

While we're on the topic of music . . .

There were a couple great discoveries in my life today. The first was that I work side by side, every day, with one very talented musician. For months we've toiled together at righting wrongs, answering queries from inside the beltline, making life better for some, ending careers for others, and now and then explaining to people that nowhere in our job description does it say anything about protecting them from the justifiable consequences of their own poor judgement. It's only half in jest that people say IG's have no friends. But I digress . . .

Just yesterday, for some reason or other, I ended up introducing my co-worker to this blog, explaining that, for the most part, what I do with my ever dwindling spare time is write, here and elsewhere. This morning, when I arrived at work, he'd brought something to share in return: a CD of tracks he'd laid down at home. Turns out he plays just about anything, and his oldest son and friends sing. I ripped all eight tracks to my computer and let them play most of the day. You can even hear some of them for yourself at his MySpace page. It never fails to amaze me the talent that can surround us without our ever knowing.

The finding out, and the discussion that ensued, led to today's second cool discovery for me. At some point, we were talking about musical experimentation, and he mentioned trying alternative tunings on his acoustic guitar. I asked if he were familiar with Michael Hedges. Of course he was, and he asked if I were familiar with Andy McKee's "Drifting." As he began to describe it, I recognized it as a video a friend had sent me a link to a few months ago. Turns out my co-worker is working on learning that piece himself. To quote Keanu: "Whoa!"

So tonight, I looked the piece up on YouTube again. For about the next hour or so, I ran through most of the Andy McKee offerings there. Candyrat Records understands viral marketing. Owner Rob Poland posts high quality videos, lots of them, of Andy doing his thing. I will own several Andy McKee CDs very soon. For more than a quarter of a century, I've been a Michael Hedges fan. The video at the bottom of this post, "The Friend I Never Met," is McKee's tribute to Hedges.

I never actually met Hedges, but I did see him in concert. It was sometime between 1989 and 1991, and it was in the auditorium at UNC Chapel Hill. It was every bit as awesome as you would expect it to be. And though it was at least 16 years ago, Hedges gave our family a phrase that we've been using ever since. Mid-show he took a quick break to down a carrot juice on stage, following it immediately with a can of Coca Cola. His explanation, grinning, "It takes the purity edge off." And that's been our excuse ever since whenever the person having the tofu for lunch reaches over and snags a fry; or when standing on a Colorado hilltop, watching the sun set from well above any hovering smog I pull a cigar from my jacket pocket. You get the idea. "Helps take the purity edge off." Once you get the hang of it, you'll find it's a phrase that comes in handy to explain a lot. You can thank Michael Hedges. But, I digress again . . .

McKee is, quite simply, a rather incredible guitarist. And although Hedges had died in a car crash a few years prior to McKee's coming into his own, I think McKee is quite right to think of Hedges as "The Friend I Never Met."

In keeping with the theme of yesterday's post, and the post elsewhere that inspired it, I think the following exchange from an interview with McKee, conducted by (it's not a link, and I don't suggest trying to enter it as a direct URL because it's crashed my browser three times now), and published on the bio page from McKee's own website, does a pretty good job of capturing, from the musician's point of view, that mnemonic quality we've been talking about here and over at Enrevanche.

IC: Do you have any advice for aspiring young guitarists who want to make a living as a musician? (Other than, “upload some songs to YouTube!”)

McKee: Well, I actually just posted a blog on my Myspace page yesterday about this topic. The main point of that blog was to remind guitar players to not get caught up in the technical aspects of music. It's a good idea to try and become fairly skilled with your instrument of choice, but don't let it be your focus. If you are going to begin writing music, don't focus on the accuracy of your sweep picking, the speed of your alternate picking, or the skill involved in your tapping. Unless you want to write music that only appeals to other guitarists, then that's fine. But if you want to really touch people with your writing, your focus should be on expressing something to your listener. Something they will feel. That's what music is about.
So, without further ado, I give you a video, only one of many available over on YouTube, of Andy McKee, playing "The Friend I Never Met."