(For the uninitiated, check out last year’s infamous, introductory posts on NAMM )
Back from NAMM, that over-stimulated stew of amps, accessories, acoustic guitars, beer, booths, breasts, brochures, business cards, DJs, demos, drums, effects, exhibitors, electric guitars, handshakes, hairstyles, hats, headphones, instrument cables, jazz musicians, keyboards, long lines, leather, marketing reps, metalheads, miniskirts, mixers, nametags, PA systems, product specialists, quartets, registration booths, retail buyers, rock stars, shoulder bags, smiles, sunglasses, suits, ties, tuners, trumpets, ukuleles, video screens, water bottles, xylophones, youth programs and zithers.
NAMM. Where everyone is trying to sell you on something- “Come on over to our booth” “Try our tuner” “Play through our pedal.” Where you get handed more demo CD’s than you’d ever have time to listen to, more business cards than you’d ever have be able to follow up on and pamphlets for more equipment than you’d ever be able to use (or even store).
You know the routine: you bring a shoulder bag, a bottle of water, some breath mints, and a pack of trail mix. You hit the Starbucks at the Marriot or Hilton on the way in. You scope out the bathrooms and the exits. When running late, you wear a hat, which acts as an invisibility cloak.
All the usual freaks and weirdos were there. Once again there was the much too skinny ‘Gene Simmons Guy,’ in full make up, costume and gargoyle platform shoes. This time he brought his facepainted cohort, ‘Paul Stanley Guy.’ Scattered about were various guitar wielding science fiction creatures from another world who, in the process of taking over the Earth, had discovered screamo, goth and black metal. Then there was “Mohawk Girl,” whose giant multi-colored coiffe appears to be the result of a Trojan helmet cross-pollinated with a peacock. And what would NAMM be without the Dean Girls? For as everyone knows, nothing says ‘quality’ in a guitar like a scantily clad troop of trollops moonlighting from their gig at Hooters.
Speaking of hooters, wandering the premises was a lone lady with the biggest breasts I’ve ever seen. We’re not talking Hustler big, not porn-star big, not even Dolly Parton big. These boobs were so glaringly, painfully and uncomfortably huge, that as I stood next to my friend Juliette, a talented, petite female drummer, I couldn’t help but notice that those monstrosities were as big as Juliette’s whole head. Just then, Boob Girl called out my name and wanted her picture taken with me. A swarm of onlookers followed with cameras. Somewhere out there are pictures of me with my arm around Boob Girl, doing my best to maintain an expression of normalcy.
This year, I was invited to be one of about half a dozen presenters at NAMM Preview Day, which was only open to the media. Appearing right after me was Phil Collen, guitarist for Def Leppard, both of us demonstrating Agile Partners’ iPhone and Ipad apps for guitar. Afterwards, Phil and I stood together and smiled for the throng of cameras. As a teen in the 80’s watching those bigger than life Def Leppard videos like ‘Rockit,’ ‘Love Bites,’ and ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me,’ I never could have imagined…
Most Surreal Moment: Hanging with Presidential candidate, Fox News personality and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, promoting his initiative for music in schools. Despite not being aligned with Mike politically (teaching creationism over evolution? I can’t get behind that!), I commend him on this. Mike jammed a 12 bar blues with Phil while I was doing interviews. He told me he’d read all about me in the NAMM program and was disappointed he and I didn’t get a chance to jam. My father, a liberal left wing academic, sent me an e-mail wondering what Mr. H was like and more importantly…could he even play?! I answered that Mike’s one of the nicest people I’ve met, but he’ll never get my vote. And sorry to say: the Huck’s better on his bass than than Bill Clinton is a on his sax.
Most Awkward Moment: Bumping into an old acquaintance, a once promising but misguided musician, now unhappily working as a product specialist. “Congratulating on all your success,’ he said, smiling a painful smile through gritted teeth, as though I’d just won the Miss America pageant and he was first runner-up.
Most Fulfilling Moment: playing with my trio in the lobby of the Marriott hotel, having folks enjoy it like a real gig, not just a NAMM gig. Review.
Biggest Buzzkill: getting offstage at that gig and having to ditch all my friends and fans to go play solo at an exclusive invitation only event for top music dealers and manufacturers. Everyone there was very nice, well meaning and appreciative. Unfortunately the brightly lit sports bar, NFL games on big screen TVs and tables and chairs a mile away from the stage didn’t make for an atmosphere of good listening. There was so much idol chatter during the performances just before me that as I waited my turn to go on, I couldn’t help but think of the irony: each of us had risen through the ranks of the music industry for the privilege of becoming background musicians at a cocktail party.
Most Awesome Moment: mischievously walking out of the Hilton bar, sneaking our cocktail infused plastic cups past security guards and getting into a London style cab with a hero of mine, Adrian Belew ( the ridiculously innovative guitarist of King Crimson, David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Talking Heads etc..). We hit it off as soon as we were introduced by my friend Andre, a fine guitarist himself who also techs for Adrian. Adrian bought us a round of drinks at the bar and invited me to come along for the evening to the Boss/Roland event at House Of Blues. I’d planned to go back to my hotel, drop off my bag, rest and change into evening clothes before catching a later show with Megadeth. But how could I say ‘no’ to Adrian Belew? In the cab, I got to ask him all about one of my favorite stories involving him, Ben Folds, William Shatner and another hero of mine, Henry Rollins. Amazingly, he hadn’t seen Henry’s telling of the story, so I was thrilled to email it to him. If you have ten minutes, check it out, this is one of my favorite on-line clips of all time: Henry Rollins On Adrian Belew, Ben Folds & William Shatner.
More Surreal Moments: At the House Of Blues, we watched a series of solo artists performing various combinations of beat boxing, droning, dancing, rapping and comedy, all using a new loop pedal made by Boss/Roland. After each performance, a spotlight would shine on the balcony, where several judges passed a microphone around offering commentary similar to ‘American Idol.’ The first judge was Dave Navarro, the Jane’s Addiction guitarist, and music reality show host. Next to him was Billy Idol/Michael Jackson guitarist Steve Stevens and his wife, the two of them stars of the reality series ‘Married To Rock’ (Reality TV meets NAMM). As the ‘Loop Idol’ contest ended, Adrian went to go say hello to his friend, Steve Stevens, just as I was approached by my new friend, Herman Li of Dragonforce. Herman introduced me to his girlfriend Nita, also a shredding guitarist. As if on cue, the most blistering arpeggios I’d heard in a long time started appearing out of thin air. What was going on?! They told me they’d come to see Yngwie Malmsteen who was on next. Of course- that could only be Yngwie playing! I’d had no idea he was going to play. “C’mon!” they said grabbing me by the arms. “Lets go watch Yngwie!” The three of us ran up to their special ringside, balcony seats, where we watched, high fived and giggled for about half the set, before it was time for me to head across town to catch Megadeth. It felt as though I was Harry Potter and they were Ron and Hermione.
Now before you go any further, you may be wondering: what the hell was I, the author of ‘The Shred Epidemic,’ doing sitting there with master shredder Herman of Dragonforce and his shredder girlfriend cheering on Yngwie? I shall explain… First of all, I have no issue with ‘shredding’ as an act, only ‘ ‘shred’ as a genre. My biggest problem with shred, the genre, is that it takes itself soooooo seriously. However, Herman and his band Dragonforce, like the guitarist Buckethead, are an exception, inserting humor, creativity and cleverness into their presentation of flawless, hyper-speed guitar playing. And in my two cohorts that night, I’d found like minded souls- not so jaded that we couldn’t be blown away by Yngwie’s supersonic licks but also able to find humor in the sheer absurdity of the performance..
Watching Yngwie was like watching Elvis in Vegas doing karate kicks in a gold lame´ jumpsuit. He’s wearing pants so tight they look as though they may burst. He holds the guitar over his head, plays with his teeth, spins it around his shoulders and poses like a Swedish Olympics athlete who’s just conducted a triple axel flip. While his playing is agile as ever, his music, like his body, are not aging well. As Yngwie enters middle age, the acrobatics seem a bit forced, and the band has the feel of a live backing track, like hard rock elevator music. Don’t get me wrong, I want to be knocked out by him as I was when I was in high school all those years ago. But somehow, doing the exact same music with the exact same shtick just feels a bit, well, odd. Of course, this being NAMM, the crowd ate it up. And, when it comes to the ‘neo-classical’ style of shred , one cannot deny that Yngwie still outshreds them all. Its just that he’s become a bit of a caricature in terms of his stage performance to the point where its hard not to think of Elvis…
Weirdest Moment: being rolled up on by a drunk, overzealous amp technician as I attempted to have a non-business related conversation with a couple female friends at a corner table. It was my last night of NAMM. We’d left the packed madness of the Hilton bar for the civility of the much quieter bar at my hotel. As the girls listened in bemusement, he leaned over the table and got way too close to my face- I could smell the Beefeaters Gin on his breath. He hurled his gear questions at me, wearing the agitated expression of a mobster who’d just found out I’d been an undercover FBI informant all along. My feelings of having escaped the NAMMness of it all quickly disappeared. The conversation more or less went along the lines of this:
DRUNK AMP TECHNICIAN:, You said you love your Marshall Mode IV amp. LOVE! Wanna know why!
ME: When did I say that?
DAT: I saw this thing on-online, this gear rundown thing. You said “I LOVE it! It’s the best amp Marshall’s ever made!” Why is that? I’ll make you a better amp!”
ME: I’m sure you can. Look, I might have said it was the best for touring, not necessarily the best for the studio. Uh…I think you’re taking what I said out of context, let me explain what I…
DAT: NO, it’s exactly what you said! You said ‘I LOVE it! It’s the best Marshall’s ever made!” What is it?! Tell me why you like the sound!
ME: Listen, if we had the rig in front of us, I could point out sounds I’m able to get that I like. But I’m not a tech, I can’t describe the EQ or anything, especially here at the bar where I’m just trying to chill out. It’s been a long day and I’m just…
DAT: Tell me WHY you said you LOVE IT!
ME: :.Did I really say…
DAT: You said I LOVE IT! I LOVE MY MARSHALL MODE IV!! That’s what you said! Tell me what you love about it! I have to know!
The conversation went around in circles for a few more minutes until he abruptly ran to the bar one last drink, giving us the chance to escape. I’d was literally saved by the bell as Sue, the bartender, gave several clangs and cried out: “LAST CALL!” It was one of the few times in my life I was happy to hear those two words.