Somewhere along the way, I developed a disinterest in gear that bordered on distaste.
For way too long, I played lead guitar with an acoustic to avoid having to put together an electric rig, and while I’d replace strings when they broke and bring stuff in to get repaired when it wasn’t working, that’s the most I wanted to think about my equipment. When I did start playing electric again — I spent a solid decade avoiding it — I bought a Boss ME-50 hoping that one big effects board would keep me from having to think about individual components, but I grew to hate how much I didn’t understand about it. I have three single-function Boss pedals now, including my tuner, and even those can stress me out.
Things started to shift a few weeks ago, when I got sick of 9-volt batteries and the panicky troubleshooting I had to endure just to get a soundcheck going. I bought a power supply that instantly paid for itself when I thought about how many batteries I’d been buying, and I finally got patch cords to connect my pedals so there wouldn’t constantly be cable spaghetti at my feet. These are baby steps, but I can already feel the hostility I built up receding. It feels like we’re a team again. For the first time, maybe.
Feels like I took another step when I watched the video above. It’s a neat premise for an interview — surprise Newport Folk Festival performers with the guitar Dylan played when he went electric in 1965 — and there’s something the interview captures that I think I especially needed to see, which is an artist’s appreciation for his tools. If you really love something, then you should love what makes that thing possible. It’s not Isbell’s reverence for the Dylan Goes Electric Legend that grabbed me — it was his amazement at holding such a pristine instrument of that vintage, and how easily he identifies what makes it such a specimen. Makes me think of Remy from Ratatouille and how bonkers he goes over ingredients. He’s so psyched about every part of the process. I think about that all the time when I’m chopping garlic.
If I had to guess, there’s a deeper reason why I’ve been keeping my gear at arm’s length. Some problem with the music I’m writing, or some guilty hangup I need to untangle. (With me, guilt is usually in there somewhere.) Because the look on Isbell’s face when he’s admiring the condition of Dylan’s Strat — I want that. I want that combination of awe and understanding. I want my instrument to be a source of inspiration and joy, and I want to look forward to holding it and practicing with it. If and when I get there, I bet the music I make will reflect it. Something tells me Dylan felt the same way back in 1965.
Bob Dylan — “Maggie’s Farm” (live at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival) [YouTube]