Three Sheets to the Wind

I make my daily bread as a technical editor, hammering the words of economists and engineers into business English. It’s a good gig for a creative writer: you get to work with words all day, but you don’t have to invent them, which taxes the writing gland (and which is why I gave up journalism, for all its pleasures).

I’ve found, however, that I can’t edit while listening to music with lyrics (unlike creative writing, where I often use music to key off the words, putting me in a particular mood, or bringing me back at the beginning of a writing session).
That kind of leaves you with jazz, which I love—but it can be a bit too complex for sustained listening, and classical, which I also love—but it can become a little too relaxing after a long day of fixing punctuation. Sometimes, you need a little…juice.
Thus, I rediscovered instrumental rock, particularly featuring guitar. That is to say: Jeff Beck, who’s probably my favorite living electric guitarist (Hendrix still reigns supreme). Besides having unbelievable chops, Beck’s playing’s so smart, expressive, sometimes funny, and inventive that’s it’s a pleasure to revisit again and again. And, if you’re losing altitude in the afternoon, there’s nothing like a little “Big Block” to step on the accelerator.

But, let’s face it, a steady diet of the same dishes, even by the world greatest chefs, can get a little stale. Thus, of late, I’ve been exploring a bit, getting into some of the “fusion” players, the straight-up, wondrous weirdness of Eric Johnson and Steve Vai (don’t get help, guys…just keep playing), and, just recently, one Mr. Joe Satriani.

I had my reservations. I kind of associate Satriani with metal and shredding, neither of which particularly speak to me, as much as one might admire the players’ technique. There’s a sameness, a formula, to much of what I’ve heard from the metal guys that just doesn’t click with me: what difference does it make if you can spit out a jillion notes per bar if they’re the same ones used by a hundred other players? And the “I’ve got Big Balls” lyrics get old. Apparently, I lack the metal receptors.

I’d heard good stuff about Satriani, though, and I found him immensely personable in interviews; so I went all the way back to his album “Surfing with the Alien”—the source, so to speak—and, somewhere in there, I began to hear something different. Some great playing, of course, but also a sense of adventure that started to resonate with me. And, as I listened to more of his work, I heard an artist pushing himself—and writing some damn catchy melodies, in with all the whammy bar acrobatics, wah pedal workouts, and flying harmonics. That and something he seems to share with Beck—a sense of humor, which goes a long ways in adding to the likeability factor.

So there I was, feeling some genuine excitement when picking up his brand new album, “Unstoppable Momentum” at Music Millennium: I’d caught up with his contemporary music, and here I was, picking it up hot from the lathe.

It didn’t disappoint. The cuts had the energy and fun, mixed in with serious intent, that I heard from his best stuff, and I thought: cool…I have a new editing soundtrack.

Until I got to “Three Sheets to the Wind,” the album’s fourth cut, and everything…stopped. I went from rocking to listening. Not only did it sound different from the other songs, it was different. A mix of old and modern music, searching for something new—looking both back and forward. And, by the time, the big Marshall amp guitar sound roars in at the climax, I felt the bottom drop out, like wheels leaving the tarmac, and that bird took flight.

Art—good art—is tremendously difficult to pull off, no matter what medium you’re working in. But, when it does, there’s simply nothing to beat it. We may be weird monkeys, with too much gray matter for our own good, but we do make strange and sometimes wonderful things. And, just once in awhile, we get it so right that we transcend ourselves. Which I suppose is why we keep doing it—because it’s such a damn rush when we take that extra step.

So…props to Joe Satriani, and congratulations for succeeding (the rest of the album’s also quite good). Now, of course, he has to start over and do it again. Without repeating himself. Which is why being an artist, in addition to its thrills and straight-up terror, can be such a bitch.

[Editor’s note: So, if you’re a professional editor, pal, how come your blog has so many grammatical glitches and left out words? Because it’s almost impossible to proofread your own writing. Your brain knows how it’s supposed to go; so, naturally, it just fills in the blanks, and you end up recklessly dangling participles, mixing metaphors, repeating words repetitively, or even sometimes leaving out whole.]

About Steve Patterson

Steve Patterson has written over 50 plays, with works staged in Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Austin, Tampa, and other U.S. cities as well as in Canada and New Zealand. His works include: Waiting on Sean Flynn, Next of Kin, Farmhouse, Malaria, Shelter, Altered States of America, The Continuing Adventures of Mr. Grandamnus, Bluer Than Midnight, Bombardment, Dead of Winter, and Delusion of Darkness. In 2006, his bittersweet Lost Wavelengths was a mainstage selection at Portland Center Stage's JAW/West festival, and, in 2008, won the Oregon Book Award (he also was an OBA finalist in 1992 and 2002). In 1997, he won the inaugural Portland Civic Theatre Guild Fellowship for his play Turquoise and Obsidian. View all posts by Steve Patterson

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