The Polish Connection

This is my first ever Guitar mag cover story.

“Are you sure?’ ‘No, that can’t be!’ ‘Really?!”

Yes, really.

I’ve been mentioned on a cover, photographed with other guitarists on a cover and once or twice put in those little squares on the corner. But never a full, genuine, honest to god ‘cover story.’

When you’ve been in the guitar game as long as I have, you no longer think about stuff like this. I figured if it hasn’t happened at this point, it’s probably not going to, which is fine by me- there are many musicians just as deserving as I am (if not more), who haven’t had nearly the press I’ve gotten over the years. I can’t complain. But sometimes it’s a pleasant surprise to be wrong.

There were many thoughts that crossed my mind when I saw it.

First, it’s a huge honor, one that is to be accepted with humility and gratitude. Anything less would be a disrespectful, cheapening of the moment. I do, however, admit flirting with a tiny wave of childlike excitement, imagining myself as rap artist and shameless celebrity Sean’Diddy,’ Combs, cracking open a bottle of Cirac, flaunting the magazine and boasting out loud to all within earshot ‘Yeah, yeah, das right muthafuckas!

But in all seriousness, these thoughts quickly dissipated. I suppose vanity’s never been my strong suit. And as the reality sunk in, some thoughts much more deep took hold…

It is a Polish magazine, ‘Top Guitar’ that has made the bold move of finally putting me on a cover. And the fact that this magazine comes from Poland is significant.

My grandfather came over from that country as a little boy in the early 1900’s. They came on a ship, his mom (my great grandmother) and several other siblings. They were processed on Ellis Island, given ‘American’ sounding first names and, like many other Jewish immigrants, settled in Brooklyn. It’s a damn good thing they came over too. Because if they’d been in Poland during WWII Nazi occupation, a few decades later, I wouldn’t be here.

The tiny town (Shtetl) in Poland where my Grandpa was born is Pyunyitza. It’s 8 kilometers from the labor/death camp known as Treblinka. There were some survivors from Warsaw but few, if any, from Pyunitza. Luckily my Grandfather’s family had gotten out and came to the US all those years earlier.

So to get this kind of recognition from the very country where my grandfather was born and fled 100 yrs ago is amazing. It stirs appreciation for the US & it’s potential, as well as resistance to all these right wing, anti-immigration rants by people who don’t know better.

Being on the cover of a magazine is an unexpected but nice acknowledgement; a sign that all the focus, sacrifice, hard work, dedication, and fighting for what you believe in has not gone unnoticed. But having that cover represent a triumph over one of the most terrible chapters in human history, one narrowly avoided by your own ancestors of several generations ago, represents something far more meaningful than media exposure.

25 Responses to The Polish Connection

  1. Don't know if you've heard of or seen the documentary Shoah, which you can find on Youtube, but if not you might find it interesting. It's about Treblinka and other major Holocaust sites.

    • I remember it from when I was a kid. I'm a bit squeamish about watching Holocaust docs, not something you want to watch everyday. But I know that's a powerful one and I plan on watching it again.

  2. Congratulations Alex an honor long overdue in my opinion. It's funny how countries assign people with names to try and help them fit in, a friend of mine's parents emigrated from Korea to Australia they told them to rename their son Ahrom to an Aussie name, he became David! These days he would just keep his Korean name, funny old world innit

    • My Grandfather's name was difficult to pronounce, so they stamped his passport and said “You're now 'William,'” which was slightly phonetically similar. It was unheard of for Jews to be named 'William,' but that changed with early 20th Century American immigration.

  3. I never quite knew why you were Jew, but now it makes sense. Well deserved cover story. Perhaps you could translate the article for us (non Polish speaking folks). Do you speak Polish?

    • This brings up an interesting point. I can't tell from your e-mail whether or not you understand this or not, and it's ok either way- but being 'Jewish' is an ethnicity as well as a religion. Many are Jewish just as an ethnicity, not in the religious sense.

      And I don't speak Polish, wish I could read it!

      • Thank you for the clarification but I knew about the “dual” meaning of Jewish, still didn't know your background and had no idea you had Polish roots. I really don't care about religion nor ethnicity, I was just commenting. Hope you didn't get it wrong.
        Nevertheless, this could bring an interesting debate about American and European education as far as General Knowledge is concerned.

  4. Knowing about your Grandparents, their story is valuable life changing information. I know many who have escape the Nazi stories, I too have it in my family. I have had to move recently, and loose my things… Nothing really compared to what our ancestors must have endured, thank you Alex again for such a good perspective on a tough time. And for sharing the little things that make a difference, like you being proud to be Polish and published!! Covers rule!! Awesome. 😉 xxx

    • As we all know, it's hard enough moving from one apartment to another in the same town (I've gotten exasperated with it every single time). But I can only imagine what it must have been like for these people, not just my relatives but all immigrants- Jewish, Italian, Irish, Chinese etc- to uproot themselves from their homelands and jump on a boat across the seas to a strange new world.

  5. Well deserved Alex! And in light of your family history this honor is indeed momentous! You are so very humble, not to mention blessed. My grandparents also arrived on a ship, were processed at Ellis Island and given 'American' sounding names. I'm sure many can relate to their plight. My Grandfather set up shop, on Perry Street in Soho, in pursuit of the 'American' dream! Survived by three generations, his business recently celebrated 100 years! God bless America! And as you so poignantly state, histories such as these stir both appreciation and resistance. Anti-immigration thinking is wrought with ignorance. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself. You are insightful and engaging, to say the least! Go celebrate “like a child”….do it for those who came before you! And thank your parents for making you possible…for all of us!

    • I never got the memo that says as soon as you experience any sort of success, you must automatically act like a jerk. It's all about creating positive experiences in the world, whether through music, words or actions. It's all interconnected. Not sure how so many musicians miss that, then wonder why their careers slip through their fingers.
       
           It is great to see these businesses that have been around for so long still thriving in New York, even though the cost of doing business here has gone through the roof, especially in locales like Perry St. in Soho (Feel free to share a link to the shop if you like).  Anthony Bourdaine did an episode entitled 'Disappearing Manhattan' which focuses on a lot of immigrant-founded shops and restaurants
      http://www.travelchannel.com/T

      • True Alex, it's all interconnected. As are we. We are all apart and yet we are all a part. It's an exciting situation! Indeed disheartening that so many are blinded by the “memo”. Thanks for the link to 'Disappearing Manhattan'…I will make time to view it. For many reasons, mostly expansion, my Grandfathers business eventually moved to Westchester….cheers.

  6. About time.Here's a shout-out to Guitarworld, Guitar Player, and similar publications out there : Quit the Page/Clapton/Slash/Hendrix/Wylde/Halen rotation ensemble and put somebody new on your upcoming issues. Nothing against these musicians as they are absolutely amazing, have truly earned their dues,  and cover-worthy, but putting them over and over again ? C'mon, there ARE other musicians out there. And include some original Alex Skolnick Trio arrangements and compositions in your issues as well !! Enough said.

    • While I could never say something like that (for obvious reasons), hopefully it's not inappropriate for me to comment on it.

            Unlike record labels and other avenues of the music biz,  these mags are run by people who understand music- most are players themselves (I can't say for sure, but it wouldn't surprise me if some of these guys secretly agreed with you). However, there is tremendous pressure from the publishers to go with a cover story from the list of guaranteed sellers, which includes everyone you mentioned. Ultimately, these decisions comes down to what will be best for magazine sales, which I understand.

             Speaking strictly as a fan, I admit wondering if we really need yet another 'untold story' on Jimi (Yes, he's  the greatest, and the reason we all play the way we do… but couldn't we let him rest for a bit?).  And I appreciate Slash and Zakk- they're not necessarily studied by serious players (Jimi, EVH, Clapton etc.. certainly are), but hey- they're great to listen to, they've contributed to music that has helped define hard rock as we know it (Ozzy and Guns'n'Roses- who can argue?). And both these guys bring a lot of personality, which certainly isn't the most important thing, but hey, they have it in droves. Sure they deserve a cover every now and then.

      But sometimes I too question whether so much focus on these 'big names' eclipses choices that might be better for the state of guitar in general.

      It would be nice to see more diversity.  Again, this is speaking as a fan.  I'm certainly not
      saying
      it has to be me (I repeat- NOT saying it has to be me!).

         In the 70's it wasn't unheard of to see an occasional cover story
      on an artist who wasn't a huge name, but whose activities warranted the
      exposure, such as George Van Eps or Kenny Burrell.

          But things are
      different now. It's hard to imagine someone like that making it on a
      cover today.

      • Sorry my intromission, but you said something absolutely right : the number the peoples that buy a magazine, today, is a seller termometer, because this, sometimes we see the “same” artists on cover. And this not only in guitar magazines, but in other segments too. As a fan, I also ask myself why this, but as editor I need sell magazines, and if my readers like more one or other artist, i don´t have why change always!!! If i consider 12 edition in one year, is possible repeat 11 editions and put only one different. Is strangely crazy !

      • Thanks for your insight. Your perspective helps brings out into the open what executives in the music mag industry ,regrettably, hold close to their hearts, and that is the business aspect. Still, there's a light of hope out there when non-mainstream musicians and bands like yours go against the grain and spread the word out through touring and dealing directly with fans, instead of relying on mass media for exposure.

  7. Kudos on the Cover!  How great to be recognized, as a pinnacle of excellence for others to view and look up to in both professional and personal achievements as displayed by your gracious acceptance, that reflects your humility and integrity, likely gained by the journey – that is the real glory and worth noting, and, one linked significantly to your ancestral past with reverence to surrounding circumstances carries the journey full circle. A strong determined one that brought some beautiful benefits. A lineage you can connect to and bridge from the one on your guitar, to the one your grandfather made to get here, far beyond to all those you have inspired and made happy by the gifts you have developed and succeeded in.  Ones we all possess in varying degrees of separation and need to find, through our diversity and tolerance, and continued reach out to all borders,cultures,faiths, races and religions for a better understanding between all of us for a better country and terrestrial ball we live on.

    • Again, it is great to have a first ever cover that has a lot of meaning to it, that represents something really important, beyond just
      publicity. The fact that these people were able to migrate to the US, thus allowing individuals of our generation and that of our parents to pursue their dreams, is invaluable. It represents the American Dream. Unfortunately, these rights are in jeopardy, not by foreign dictators (used as puppets to justify preemptive wars), but by the neo-conservative right wing fringe of this country, who are on a PR war, pointing fingers and mislabeling the concepts of accessible health care and support for the arts as 'socialism.'

      • Ah, to Dream the impossible dream, the once 'American Dream' is getting harder for many reasons. And, it is right, (literally and figuratively) to point the finger on those who spin, or slap more polarizing rhetoric when we need peaceful unification……'how many times can a man turn his head and pretend he just doesn't see,,…'how many debts will it take till he knows, too many people have died….the answer my friend, is blowin in the wind….by those f'n fringe……

  8. Have other curiosity in this : He settled exactly in NY !!!! sincronicity ? yes or not, you born in California, but choosed east side to live hahahahaha… congrats for the cover and not have nothing of vanity, it´s only a true and hard work.

    I´m desolated, send a gift for your p.o box in april, but it´s back for my adress one week ago (O_O) , the post office have some problems for packages from outside ?

    • That's right. My great grandparents (with my grandfather in tow as a little boy) settled in Brooklyn, NY.  Not the part of Brooklyn where I live, which is close to Manhattan, but near Coney Island and the Verizano Bridge. My father grew up there, and become a law & sociology professor. He was hired by the University Of California at Berkeley, which is why I was born and raised there. But I think I always had New York in my blood, so I found my way back…

           Sorry to hear about the gift. We don't usually have problems with the PO Box.  It has changed, make sure you're using the one listed on this site. And if you have problems again, our assistant, Francine, can help. You can reach her on the trio FB page.

  9. I might have to buy this. I'm actually currently learning Polish – because my grandfather was from Poznań, and he was such a great influence on me- taught me a few words here and there, and also taught me to play chess. It wasn't until very recently – And unfortunately a long while after his death – that I found out he, his brother and a friend came to England by way of Norway, after escaping a Nazi concentration camp. I never got told which one, however, although not through lack of trying!

    Were you close with your grandfather?

    Also, congratulations on the cover story, I hope it is the first of many to come!

  10. Hey, Alex put some more cool videos in the youtube like shredding,sweeping, and anything else. I'M A HUGE FAN OF YOU. I'M SURE THAT YOU WILL ON TOP LATER, BECAUSE YOU PLAY TESTAMENT,ALEX SKOLNICK TRIO,AND TRANS SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA those bands you're playing are Gods.

Leave a reply

Top of page