Amazing Bass

Been playing a lot of bass these days, and after finding this, I have decided I can learn to play this — after, oh, say, another 100 years of practice:

Truly amazing, this…

God of Loss and Grace

God of Loss & Grace

ocean with lavaThe Anchoress tells of receiving heartbreaking news: the prospect of losing her hearing:

Yesterday morning, though, came a straw I have dreaded my whole life, and I finally drew it: the “you are losing your hearing” straw…

The loss was discovered, of course, due to that dismal ear infection of the past two weeks, but the hearing in that afflicted ear is only slightly worse than the other. Upon reading my test results the doctor asked if I had worked around airplanes for the past 20 years, or if I had fronted a rock band. “Severe degeneration! hearing aids!”
The pain of such a loss is real, and it is deep — it can neither be trivialized nor ignored. Some will deaden the pain by drink, others by denial or depression, or one of a host of other means whereby we mitigate the pain while refusing to embrace it.

We live with sense of entitlement: we should be free of pain and suffering. For most, such dire news—particularly about health and well-being—is a devastating blow, devoid of meaning and justice, a cruel trick of fate, perhaps, or some sort of karmic retribution for evil done in this life or one prior. It is at best random misfortune, at worst a cruel robbery, a brutal injustice. There is no making sense of it —it is without reason or purpose.

Yet for the Christian, things are supposed to be different. We serve&as an article of faith—a God of love, and when one has committed their life to such service, the reward of such a severe trial raises a host of uncomfortable questions: Is God unfair? Is this punishment for sin? Is He capricious, toying with me, playing me for the fool, demanding my obedience then rewarding me with pain and loss?

The Anchoress responds as many would — with rage:
“I drove home pounding the steering wheel and telling God I thought He was pretty damned unfair, after all. I demanded that He listen to me and make me a sensible answer about why things were going as they were, why at only 46 years of age I was increasingly debilitated, increasingly arthritic, increasingly feeling like a 65 year old.

It’s not enough that I must sometimes use a cane, or that I wear glasses, not enough that I am constantly bruised, often fatigued into stupidity and inarticulate, stammering aphasia, not enough that my body is scarred all over and that my skin is under siege simply because I am Irish! now I am going to need hearing aids? Now I am going to be deaf? What has my husband ever done to you, that you need to inflict this sort of wife upon him?

Oh, I howled. I ranted.

And it was so out of character for me to do so – this has not been my way, to shake an angry fist at God and make demands. I didn’t like doing it – it felt so wrong. So wrong, not to simply be thankful for my blessings – for all the good things, and all the “not too bad” things.

But I was so angry.
Anger at God — a frightening, even terrifying thought. At worst it presents images of lightning strikes, fire and brimstone, judgment, destruction. Better to pretend you’re not angry, hide it from God lest He send another, more awful plague in retribution.

Yet anger is the entirely correct response — it is so real, so honest. This is what happens in relationships — hurt, misunderstanding, confusion, mistrust. If your God is a remote concept, an idea of immaterial power, lording it over your life from a detached place far above in the heavens, then fear of angering the unknown deity is perhaps worthy of some caution. But the Christian professes, lives, experiences relationship with God — a two-way street, not between equals, but intimate and personal, and decidedly real. Not that we know God — I have always viewed those who talk of knowing God with some suspicion, judging (perhaps unjustly) that their God is entirely too small. God knows me intimately; I know Him hardly at all, and undoubtedly far less well than I think I do. And it is this unequal relational knowledge which breeds anger and mistrust. But God has broad shoulders: He can take a punch, and has taken many. And in some illogical way, to be angry with God is to know Him — if only in small measure — better.

But we are sentient beings, and our minds demand to know why — why the pain, why the loss, why the senselessness of it all? Whatever purpose could God have in such a wrong? And, yes, Christians — the folks with the fast track to God, supposedly — get the answers wrong all the time. Is it punishment for sin? Not if the cross has any purpose, or the gospel of God’s grace any truth. Is it a discipline of God, to correct errant behavior? Perhaps slightly closer, but still far off base, as our deduction of the error being corrected is almost invariably wrong, and our knowledge of the correct path even poorer. Is God angry, vengeful, petulant, capricious, inattentive? If He is, then there is no truth to His purported revelation, no meaning to a crucified prophet, no hope of forgiveness, no future worth living for. Or that most vile and repugnant of answers, heard so often from too-rich shysters on TV church: you will be healed — if only your faith is strong enough.

The real answer is simple but not satisfying: God is good; pain and loss, evil and meaningless — and grace bridges and heals that hopeless incongruity which demands explanation and finds none.

Many years ago, as a very young Christian, filled with intellectual arrogance, baseless self-confidence, and the fading embers of a newfound faith, I discovered God on a most terrifying and unplanned journey. I was a legend in my own mind: hot-shot intern, selected above my peers for a prized specialty residency, smart, handsome, talented, affable — and of course, immensely humble. I knew all the Bible answers, memorized Scripture, had God figured out. I was passionate about medicine, and perhaps even more so about music, having written and arranged for a fusion band with whom I played guitar. Creativity was my gig, but since time for music was short, I turned my interest to woodworking, having long admired furniture craftsmen who graced hardwood trees into elegant expressions of functional beauty.

Though my experience was woefully lacking, I charged into a wood shop full of power tools, my native intelligence rapidly absorbing their workings and their potential to transform wood into beauty. Soon I was cutting and shaping like the old pros — even occasionally asking their advice on hopelessly advanced cuts and techniques — like the blind dado cut.

A dado blade is a whirling chisel, a specialized blade for a table saw designed to cut precision grooves for furniture joints. A blind dado is a cut where the resulting groove does not run to the end of the board — a difficult and dangerous cut for even the best of woodworkers. After cursory attention to the shop instructor’s advice and caution — “hold onto that board, it tends to buck” — I charged ahead, dropping a gorgeous piece of 2 inch square mahogany onto the whining scream of the blindingly-fast steel saw. The sound, smell and feel of a table saw on hardwood is like little else — almost intoxicating, the glorious union of power and precision.

In an instant, my euphoria turned to stunned surprise, as the hardwood board became a missile, soaring across the room to an enormously loud and ungraceful landing. How embarrassing — everyone would be looking at me, wondering who that idiot was. The pain was annoying — not much more than hitting your thumb with a hammer. I shook my left hand, as one would a bruise, reflexively muttered “Shit!” — then glanced down at it: it was no longer recognizable as a human appendage. White, red, mangled, grotesque — a horror beyond imagining.

The next few minutes were a blur: people shouting, talk of a “bad injury”, a hurried ambulance call, and evidently some assistance as I was guided to the floor in a near-faint. No pain — that would come later. Fear — a growing, gnawing fear without form or source — began to rise. I was a surgical resident — what would this mean for my future? What comes next? Then the moment of true terror: my music! My guitar! I knew — then and there, with a clarity hard to describe — that this passion of my life was lost, forever lost.

The pain of this realization was almost unimaginable, far exceeding anything physical. But then, a most peculiar thing happened — from nowhere, a prayer arose: “Lord, thank you for what just happened.”

Totally illogical, fully irrational, unexpected, unplanned, unwanted, even — to this day I do not know from where this thought arose. But I know it was not from some deep well of spiritual waters: my cistern was broken physically and empty spiritually. Yet there was sudden peace: the fear had vanished. Somehow I knew it would be alright. Had I truly known what the future held, I would not have been so sanguine.

The following months were hell — the hand has more sensory nerves than any other body part, and each one screamed as antiseptic cleaned the wounds, fingers stretched for x-rays, steel pins were placed and removed, stitches dug out, painful rehab initiated. Several surgeries awaited me, each more awful than the last, as bones were broken and realigned, tendons stretched, limited movement regained at extraordinary cost. Whatever fantasy I entertained of regaining function sufficient to play guitar faded with each passing week.

But this was only the start: the rigors of surgical residency were compounded by the widely-held perception that I was no longer up to the task; by surgical missteps and poor decisions, engendered by a still-shocked mind unable to focus; by a father near death with a post-surgical stroke and a career in dire jeopardy. Healing fractures caused agony for months after the injury, whether assisting at surgery or storing the groceries. Depression compounded the pain, as I grasped desperately to the slender thread my once-hopeful life had become. Whipsawing between pink-cloud optimism and deep blue despondency made sane living all but impossible.

I’d love to tell you how my faith grew strong with a song in my heart, like those saccharine storybook endings in Christian magazines, but it was not so. My faith grew, to be sure: your muscles grow hard whether pumping iron in an uptown gym or stroking an oar in chains to the cadence of a galley master’s hammer. It sustained me through difficult times in my marriage, through the loss of a house to fire, through illness personal and family. I held onto God because I had nothing else; He held onto me like a fragile and broken treasure as he caressed and gently restored. But faith failed me often — or more accurately, I failed faith. Like a weight lifter’s training, the goal is failure — and I met that goal repeatedly — gloriously, even — in ways small and spectacular. I would recoil in terror at the journey again, were it offered in some instant replay, knowing what I now know — but I would not trade the outcome for all the treasure on earth.

There is no answer to the question why? in the walk of faith. It is a foolish question — we could not understand the answer were it given, and to know why would destroy the how, and the when, and the for which purpose. The answer is unfathomable. To know why? is to be God — and despite my aspirations, I don’t have the resume for the job.

Life is more than eyesight, or hearing, or senses, or health, or functioning hands. We treasure those things, but we are more than our bodies, more than our senses, more even than our minds and spirits. We are exquisite blocks of wood, formless with sharp edges and splinters, until God — in His wisdom, gentleness, and perfect timing — gouges deep furroughs and light shavings, chisels and sands, as we begin to form in His vision — not ours — the perfect work of art, a reflection in some small way of the Craftsman’s mind, His Spirit, His beauty, His greatness.

I will pray for the Anchoress — that her trial may be light, and hopefully fleeting, that her spirit be strong and her faith sufficient. I would not wish her trials on another, but each life’s sojourn is unique, a custom job not meant for others. But her God is faithful, and His greatness reflected in the brokenness of her life. May it be as well for me.

Grace 4 U2

Bono of U2If you peruse (or endure) the parade of celebrity interviews on social media or TV, you will before long encounter testimonials about some newfound “spirituality”– be it New Age, Buddhism, Gaiea, Scientism, Wicca, etc. etc. — which has transformed their already charmed lives. One does wonder what their life was like before this sea change, given their current lifestyle. But I digress.

On occasion, however, sanity does shine through — sometimes in the most surprising of places.

In his conversational book, Bono, of U2 fame, in his book Bono in Conversation, espouses a rather different perspective on life — that of Karma vs. Grace:

It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the Universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma. . . .You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics or physical laws, every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the Universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “you reap, so will you sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff…

I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep sh-t. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there’s mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and let’s face it, you’re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled! It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of Heaven.

It’s a little scary when Karma and Christ get mentioned in the same breath — from a rock star never seen without his wrap-around shades and so-cool demeanor — in a literary aside, furthermore, laced with the appropriate profanities, moreover — and it’s one of the clearest expressions of how the world works you’ve heard in months. God’s a very funny guy sometimes, and uses rather peculiar mouthpieces — which gives me great hope indeed.

I once had an online discussion with a young man from England, an agnostic, who maintained that all religions were the same: they all had their rules, and if you followed the rules, you got rewarded. Hence, there was no difference which religion you chose — pick one you like, stick to it, and you may get some reward at the end. I agreed with him, with but one exception: Christianity. How so, he asked, skeptically? Because most religions tell you to do something different to be right with God; Christianity says you must become someone different. This is the difference between Karma and Grace.

Karma’s about the Rules: do this, and that will happen; don’t do that, or this other will happen. It is, by and large, the way the world works — especially religion. Cause and effect, action and reaction, crime and punishment, yin and yang. In a theistic worldview — one which assumes there is a Being or Beings to which man is ultimately answerable — Karma is in effect one giant accounting exercise: do more good than evil, and you go to heaven, or reach Nirvana, or achieve some sort of eternal peace or rest. Do more evil than good, well there’s Hell, or Purgatory, or reincarnation as a rodent or Lyndon Johnson’s beagle, or Jack the Ripper, or perhaps — at very best — just get annihilated — poof!!

But there’s a few problems with the Karmic system, as I see it. First of all, everybody’s rules are different, so whose rules apply? Seems like you’ve gotta get that right — do you meditate on your navel chanting “Ohmm” in the Himalayans, join a Trappist monastery, worship your ancestors, or strap on the ol’ C4 and mosey into the pizza parlor for one last blowout? Seems to me that might make just a bit of difference when your audit comes up with the Great Accountant. And where’s the break point, the marginal tax rate, so to speak — the point at which, if I do one more good thing, I pass, or don’t do it, and damn — nice try — hope ya’ like really, really hot food?

You see, I want to know exactly where that point is — after all, you don’t want to run around doing namby-pamby do-goody-type stuff if you’ve already got your ticket home, “Ya know what I mean, Vern?” But nobody — and I mean nobody — tells you where that point is. You have to guess. And that leads to another little problem, now that you mention it.

You see, like most people — pretty much everyone, actually — I’m a lousy accountant. In my moral bookkeeping, I greatly inflate my assets while offloading most all of my liabilities to an offshore corporation — I make Arthur-Anderson’s Enron books look like Mother Theresa’s prayer journal. Not good, if you’re trying to make it to that heavenly break point two breaths before the Grim Reaper arrives. And when you finally reach the Great Audit in the Sky, it’s a little late to cook the books or give a few more old clothes to charity.

I remember watching an interview with double-murderer Gary Gilmore, before his execution. He told the interviewer he didn’t believe he was a bad person “because I never tortured anybody.” Bad accounting, Gary — even OJ’s lawyers couldn’t help you beat that rap. But frankly, my accounting ain’t that much better — and I’d be willing to bet yours isn’t either.

And what if the magical good/bad break point is just slightly more than 51% good, 49% bad — oh, say, 100% good, and 0% bad? Whoa, dude!! — you are seriously screwed — who’s gonna pass that class? That’s like nuclear physics 501, and Albert Einstein’s in your class, and the teacher’s gradin’ on a curve. Holy Shiite! Time to drop out and audit The Cultural History of Rap — for no credits.

But if the Ultimate Being happens in fact to be perfect, all goodness, holiness, no evil whatsoever, He ain’t lettin’ no riffraff in the door. No trackin’ mud on those Snow White heavenly carpets, no sirree. Fuggeddaboutit. And if the Grand Auditor is not all good — perhaps He has a cynical, twisted sense of humor, and likes playing mean tricks on His heavenly guests, or is capricious and moody — getting in the door could be an eternal case of terminally bad timing and judgment — or bad Karma, if you will.

So Karma is the ultimate crap shoot — and the dice are loaded: the house has all the odds.

But what if you don’t buy all this heaven/God/reward/punishment stuff? All ignorance and superstition, designed to control the masses and line the pockets of the clergy, to be sure. Being a multiculturally-inclusive kinda guy, I surely have no desire to depreciate you, and want to value your narrative as well — in fact, I would even add one more category — just for you — to Bono’s worldview: the Nihilist.

Ahhh, the nihilist — so enlightened, so intelligent, so skeptical. Truly a 21st century postmodern man in every sense. Nobody tells him or her what to do — the rules exist for others. All those archaic do’s and don’ts which have guided people for the past few millennia are outdated, oppressive, the product of ignorance and superstition and the will to power: no one’s gonna force their values down my throat, keep your rosaries off my ovaries, live and let live, and whatever doesn’t hurt somebody else (narrowly defined, of course) is OK by me, and OK for me. I didn’t do anything wrong if I didn’t get caught. The nihilist doesn’t worry about the Rules because the nihilist makes the rules. Tolerance is the Golden Rule — which means nobody gets to tell me what to do, and in return I let you do whatever you like — unless, of course, you’re one of those religious, intolerant types. Sweet deal, really.

Only one problem: old lady Karma won’t leave the premises just because you don’t believe in her. Ideas have consequences, and behavior repercussions. You’re running your own show like a pro, making up the rules as you go, but for some reason that third marriage is kinda rocky — the Princess just doesn’t understand my needs. Your kids are stoned, surly, and pierced in places they didn’t teach you about in health class — and despite your best efforts to buy them off, they still hate your guts. Your career is great, but for some reason all those co-workers you used and screwed on your way up just don’t appreciate your awesome talents. Those a-holes at the IRS are hassling you — of course that tryst with your secretary in Cancun was solely for business purposes. The new wife, the new car, the new job, the new palace are great for your image — and fortunately, the Prozac and the single-malt help take the edge off that uneasy dissatisfaction that festers deep within despite all your stuff. You spend all your time and energy molding the world into your own image — but none of this is enough, really. It goes from bad to worse, from unhappy to miserable — and it’s pissin’ you off. The raging two-year-old inside makes mommy go away by tightly squeezing his eyes closed — but that doesn’t prevent the wack to your naughty bottom. Karma is alive and well, and she knows where you live.

So whether you’re buying it or not — and in whatever form you choose if you do — Karma’s here to stay.

That is, unless you find Grace.

Grace is a disgrace to the logical mind — it’s just so, well, unfair, so un-American. After all, we get what we deserve and earn what we get — God helps those who help themselves, and all that. But Grace intervenes when we arrive at the point where we cannot help ourselves — or worse, when our best self-help program has impossibly screwed up our lives. Grace gives you what you haven’t earned, and doesn’t give you what you justly deserve. Grace is scandalous, insulting, humiliating, an affront to our pride — indeed, it is the very enemy of our pride.

Everything we do to fix ourselves, to control our lives and those around us for our own gain and benefit, is at once both natural and self-destructive. It is natural because our inborn drives are self-protective — call it natural selection, call it survival of the fittest, call it enlightened self-preservation, call it selfishness and self-centeredness. It’s me first, and the hell with you. Of course, we wrap this up in social niceties because we live in a world with other people — people who can do us harm if we step on their toes too hard. But even this is fundamentally self-serving. We are born to take care of ourselves, first and foremost.

But it is self-destructive, in ways that are not always apparent. We are social beings, designed for relationships: we reserve solitary confinement for our most reprobate criminals; loneliness is the deepest of emotional pains. We are not crafted to be self-dependent, but interdependent. But we are possessed of the notion — inherently anti-social — that self trumps all others. And our mental skills are such that we can rationalize, deny, minimize, and excuse the harm done to others, and ourselves, in the name of self. Self-serving brings temporary relief but long-term misery: it is a proven path to an unhappy, unsatisfying life.

And that is why Grace is revolutionary.

Grace says someone else can do it better than you — if only you ask. Its message is an affront: it says we do not have all the answers — and the answers we do have are wrong — often disastrously so. Grace does not excuse our wrongs — it covers our wrongs. It doesn’t nullify Karma — it simply puts the bill on someone else’s tab. When we receive Grace, someone else is bearing the price, the consequences for the hurt and the harm and the evil we have done. When we give Grace, we choose to pick up the tab for another’s shortcomings, wrongdoing, destructiveness, evil. And that’s where we draw the line: we are happy to receive Grace, but it is too much to ask of us to give it in return.

And that is the roadblock — ironically — which we need Grace to overcome.

What is needed is a core inner transformation: we must become someone different. We are hard-wired to take — we need to be transformed to give. Trying to be other-oriented — following the rules, being a good person — without this transformation is counter-productive: it breeds resentment, self-righteousness, pride, self-sufficiency. But this inner transformation cannot be brought about by ourselves — it must come through others, and above all, from Another. But once this happens — and our will must be broken before it can — the miracle of motivational change begins to take place.

When I act, I do so for one of two reasons: I do so because I have to, or I do so because I want to. While these motives may overlap, it is — not surprisingly — much easier to do the things I want to do than those I have to do. Karma is about doing that which I have to do — to placate a demanding God, to save my own skin. The miracle of Grace is the willingness — the desire — to do that which is contrary to my nature, yet beneficial to my spirit.

Yet Grace does not instantly transform — it seems rather to thrive in the fertile manure of failure. Those who grasp Grace still fail at marriages, have rebellious children, hurt others, act selfishly, pursue wealth and the material. But the seditious espionage of Grace slowly erodes the forces that drive these disasters, changing — from the inside out, one small step at a time — the corruption of self to the contentment of service. Failure — the judgment and condemnation of Karma — becomes the very seed of re-creation, of new life: from the stench of the manure will arise, in time, the fragrance and beauty of a flowering garden.

The choice is ours. If we are unfortunate enough to be self-sufficient, strong in our determination to survive on our own, to meet our own needs in our own way, we will live under the painful lash and uncertain future of Karmic fortune. If instead we find, in honesty, our emptiness and weakness — and submitting ourselves to the only One who can fill these yawning chasms with Grace — then a world beyond our imagining, filled with purpose, peace, and wonder, awaits us.

The choice is important — indeed, it is about life and death — so choose wisely. Choose Grace.

“I Totally Despised You”

One of life’s great pleasures for me is discovering new music. Now, mind you, this is rarely new in the sense of being a new group which has just broken onto the scene; in most cases, I’m discovering music, artists, or groups which have been around for some time, unbeknownst to me.

One such artist I have recently run across is Jonny Lang. One of his songs, Lie to Me, caught my ear on XM radio, and I jotted it down and subsequently made a beeline for iTunes. Turns out, this guy is nothing short of extraordinary. He starts playing the guitar at age 12, releases his first album at 13, and his second album — his first solo and signature blues work, Lie to Me — is released at age 15, and goes triple platinum. He blows away critics with a voice which, at age 15, sounds like a hardened blues player three times his age. It’s gutter-grating gritty, his phrasing and expression incredibly innovative, and the guitar playing is evocative of such blues greats as Stevie Ray Vaughn, with exquisitely blended influences of soul, R&B, Motown, and gospel music. Before he turns 20, he’s touring as the warm-up band for Aerosmith, Sting, Jeff Beck, Clapton, the Rolling Stones, and B. B. King.

Not bad for a kid with a guitar.

However, life in the fast lane is rarely kind. Many older and more mature troubadours than he have fallen to its brutal revenge — think Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, Brian Jones, and a host of others — to whom the Roman candle of fame proved both furious and lethal. Drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll often prove a highway to hell, and Jonny Lang was driving that freeway with pedal to the metal.

Then something changed — drastically, almost cataclysmically. In what can only be termed an extraordinary conversion experience, his entire life is transformed, bringing with it his music, immediately terminating his addiction to alcohol and drugs, and changing his very face and disposition.

I was not thinking about God, not at all. In the middle of our conversation, from that same spot that I felt something had hit me earlier, I just felt something start welling up, just burning in me, and it came up out of my throat. It was like I was throwing up, and the name “Jesus” just came out of my mouth. I just said “Jesus!”

Interviewer: Mid conversation?

Lang: Yeah. And when I said “Jesus,” my whole body started shaking. Haylie was looking right at me (laughing).

This is the part of my story where I’ve just said, “Lord, if I’m ever doing interviews, what should I say?” People are going to think I’m insane, you know? Nevertheless, it’s what happened. I knew it was Jesus immediately from the moment I started shaking. It was like he just came up and introduced himself to me. I remember him saying, “You don’t have to have this if you don’t want it.” And I said, “No, I want it.”

I kept shaking, and I knew when it was done that I had been completely set free of all my addictions, and I knew that I didn’t have to smoke or drink or do drugs anymore. All I could do was fall on the ground, and I gave my life to him right there. I was just in shock. I thought, “I totally despised you, and you just did this to me!”

Check out his music video for “Lie to Me”:

Now, take a look at his face, and watch him perform after his experience. It is almost like he has been replaced by another human being.

Which, in a very real sense, he has.


You can read about his rather extraordinary conversion and the changes it made in his life here. Check it out.

Guitar Wizardry

For those of you who are guitar players (as I was in a former life), or admire guitar players, or have played air guitar when you thought no one was looking, here’s a rather amazing performance by John Butler.


What amazes me most about this performance is that he is working his magic on a 12-string guitar. For those unfamiliar with such things, a 12-string has two paired strings corresponding to each string of a 6 string guitar, either doubling the note or an octave higher. The two strings of each pair are struck in unison (not plucked separately), providing an extraordinarily rich and nuanced sound, with rich overtones and sonic saturation. Because of the added heft the the paired strings, however, it is far more challenging to perform agile fretwork (12-strings are often used for chording and accompaniment rather than detailed melody lines and arpeggios).

And speaking of wizardry on stringed instruments, this is another must-hear experience: Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” — on a ukulele, by the world’s best player, Jake Shimabukuro:



It is simply not possible to get that much sound and complexity out of a ukulele. 4 strings. Unbelievable.