(Hope you enjoyed Ziggy’s diary, but now we’re back to Daron! See the bottom of this post for some other exciting site news… -ctan)
I didn’t go to Spain looking for love. I didn’t go there looking for fame, either. I’d spent the better part of the previous three years of my life chasing after both of those things, with mixed results. Maybe it was time to look for something else.
So here’s what happened with me, and Orlando, and flamenco, and my quest for something I can’t really put into words… but I’m not going to let that stop me from telling this story.
When I decided to go to Spain, I’d just been on tour in Japan and Australia, with all the highs and low that come with playing rock and roll in front of thousands of people. I’d dropped acid for the first time in Australia, on New Year’s Eve, and it Roto-Rootered my 22-year-old brain. During the trip I decided that the vibrating string was the central principle of the universe. After the trip I decided I still agreed with that thought. Another thing to consider: at that point my guitar had taken me to three separate continents in very short order. A fourth seemed almost logical. Or at least not that far to go. Maybe when you’re an internationally traveling musician the whole world seems smaller than it really is. Or maybe it really is that small.
Final important note about my state of mind, I confess, I didn’t want to go back home because of my broken heart. Plain and simple. It hurt more there. I don’t know why, it just did.
So all that is why it made perfect sense for me to go to Spain.
Okay. I can tell by the look you’re giving me that I still haven’t explained why. So let’s back up a little. When I left Australia a lot of things in my career were up in the air, and through various connections I had managed to get a slot in a Guitar Craft seminar with Robert Fripp. Fripp taught these six-day courses every so often at a sort of rundown mansion in Virginia and I was keen to try it.
Guitar Craft is hard to explain. It’s kind of like yoga with guitar. It’s an art form unto itself, but if you’re a dancer–say–you don’t go on the stage and perform downward-facing-dog. You practice yoga so that whatever your own art form is you can perform better. The way yoga probably changes and improves the way some people relate to their bodies, Guitar Craft changes the way you relate to your guitar.
The first night I arrived at the mansion completely jet lagged from having just flown most of the way around the world. This was a few days after the acid trip and I think I was still sort of susceptible to falling into a hallucinatory state. Or maybe it was lack of sleep. I was shown to a room where I put down my guitar and my bag but I was apparently the last one to arrive so I was ushered directly from there to the main room where the introductory session was to be.
Many of the others had been there all afternoon and had already been talking to each other. I was the only one who took a seat in that circle of chairs who hadn’t yet met anyone but the guy who had picked me up at the train station and shown me to my room.
An interesting moment occurred when Robert Fripp walked into the room for the first time. Everyone’s heads turned like a follow spot had come on the second he appeared in the doorway. And everyone’s eyes stayed fixed on him as he crossed the room and took a seat and began talking without fanfare.
He reminded us we were to keep our hands off our guitars until tomorrow’s first session. He probably said a few things about philosophy. I’m not really sure. I was either too zoned out to absorb what he was saying, or it was absorbing directly into my bloodstream before I could process it.
Then began a round of introductions where we went around and told our names, which I floated through. In other words, I didn’t absorb anyone’s name and when it was my turn all I said was, “My name’s Daron. I’m from Boston. I’ve been playing guitar professionally since I was a teenager.”
One of the other guys was clearly confused that I didn’t sound the way he expected. “Wait. Aren’t you the one who came from Australia, though?”
“Had a gig.” I shrugged and the next guy introduced himself.
I’m sure Orlando introduced himself. He must have. Everyone did. But I don’t remember it.
What I do remember is that night, after I finally went to the room I had been assigned and collapsed on the bed, I was so overtired I couldn’t sleep, and I lay there thinking about what I had said. My introduction wasn’t calculated, but I realized it might have been the first time I introduced myself as from Boston instead of New Jersey, and it might have been the first time I thought of being a teenager as long enough in the past to be notable.
There’s nothing I can really tell you about the actual sessions without it being about as boring as describing a yoga class. We had re-tuned all our guitars to even fifths… if you don’t know what that means, don’t worry about it. Blah blah music theory blah blah.
Most of the sessions involved us sitting in a circle with our guitars, but on the first full day we did something I didn’t expect. They had us work with a movement coach, who analyzed our postures and tried to correct them. I was a bit surprised to find my posture was generally considered good. For one thing, I didn’t slouch. “I’m too short to slouch,” I joked, but it was true. For another, all that classical guitar practice in my formative years had properly trained me for the right ergonomics when it came to playing while sitting down. The guys who had only played rock and roll or who were self-taught all had problems with their posture, bent wrists, bowed heads, pigeon toes, you name it. The idea was that if we were positioned properly, then music, energy, creativity, et cetera would flow better. Kinda hard to argue with.
I’d fallen into practicing classical style a few months before, working on getting those chops back even though at the time I didn’t have a reason to. Now I had a reason. Funny how things work out.
I sleepwalked through the first three or four days. I didn’t think jet lag or acid flashbacks could be the only reason for it. I think I kind of hypnotized myself into a state where I was just a sponge, soaking it all in, but in a really passive way. Then I started to wake up a little, as facility with the tuning began to sink it, as ideas for ways to use Guitar Craft in songs or performances started to pop up in my head. I resisted writing anything down. I tried to hold myself in that space of creativity where all possibilities are equally open.
Basically, I went. I did the practice. I had my understanding of what one could do with a vibrating string expanded.
Or did I? I had arrived there pretty much convinced that the vibrating string was the binding principle of the universe, remember. At the seminar I was caught in a bubble with two dozen other people who happened to believe it, too. Good.
The result was that six days later I was back in the real world, my posture refined, my fingers lithe, my ears open… and the real world was still the real world, and full of aggravations like, well, the usual bullshit at airports when flights are delayed. My roommate, my best friend, my sometime lover, my sister, and my manager were all waiting for me in Boston. (That’s five different people, by the way–don’t want you getting the wrong idea.) It was January. There was snow. There was no telling when, or if, my flight would take off.
When was the last time I was home, anyway? I wondered. I mean, for more than a week? Between the warmup tour in the spring and the US tour in the summer, that was when. Then had come the tour, and then the trip to Mexico, and then the side track to living in Los Angeles, and then the tour of Japan and Australia, and then six days in Virginia.
I was sitting in a coffee shop in the airport with my guitar against the wall thinking this over when another guy carrying a guitar case came in. I recognized him from Guitar Craft but couldn’t remember his name. He was a little taller than I was, with straight black hair chopped off right at his shoulders and a hint of a black goatee and mustache.
I saw him scanning the seats, no doubt trying to figure out where he could sit where his guitar would be safe. I waved him over. There was room for another guitar on top of mine where I had wedged it between my seat and the wall.
He leaned on the back of the chair opposite me with both hands and gave me a very intense look.
“Put it here,” I said, gesturing to the guitar. “It’ll be safe. It’s fine.”
He nodded, handed me the case, and I settled it atop mine in a kind of nose-to-tail arrangement. Mine was a road-worthy clamshell that could survive a nuclear attack. His was a more modest fake-alligator-pattern case that was probably mostly cardboard and probably had fake fur inside, if it was anything like the one I used to have on my old Yamaha classical guitar, my “school” guitar.
“Orlando,” he said, and held out his hand to shake mine.
I figured he didn’t mean the city in Florida. “Daron,” I said.
He made an attempt at saying my name, and it came out sort of like “deern?” I didn’t try correcting him. At the time it didn’t occur to me that I’d be spending more than an hour at most in his company.
Then he said, “You, here?”
“I’ll watch the guitars if you want to get some coffee,” I said.
“Café, sí,” he said.
That was my first tipoff he was Spanish. He took his leather jacket off and slid it over the back of the chair. Underneath he was skinnier than I was, rangy and whipcord. Not that I was a hunk of beefcake myself, you understand. I was still never going to be taller than five-foot-four, but I’d put on some weight while I’d been living in L.A. with a boyfriend (now ex-) who liked food better than sex. Some of what I’d put on was muscle.
I pretended to read the newspaper while Orlando got a coffee and two muffins. He sat down with them, and we made eye contact and kind of stared at each other across the table while he picked one of the muffins apart with his fingers, eating it piece by piece. He didn’t look away, so neither did I.
He pushed the other muffin toward me and I clued in that it was for me. So that was the first time Orlando fed me.
While I ate it—in the same manner as him, pulling it apart and eating the pieces—he watched me with an interest I would have said was sexual only because what else could it be? When else does someone stare at you like that? But as we made a few halting attempts at conversation, halted entirely by the lack of words we had in common, I decided it wasn’t sexual at all. It was that I was the closest thing to a person he could talk to there.
We did have some basic words. “Where?” he asked me.
I pointed ahead of me, “Boston.”
“Ah, Boston. The Cars.”
“Yes, that’s right, The Cars are from there.”
“Yes!” I smiled. Only a total guitar geek would name Eliot Easton as the first member of The Cars they thought of. “How about you? Where are you headed?”
He gave me a blank look.
“Where?” I asked then, the way he had done.
That time it sank in. He pointed like he was lobbing something over the table. “Sevilla.”
Something clicked at that moment. Something that had been trying to gel in my head for months–maybe years?–about the guitar, and the weird hybrid instrument it has become, with the classical tradition on one side (especially the Spanish tradition) and the folk/rock tradition on the other.
One of the things that was driven home during my acid trip epiphany was that every culture has music, and every culture has rhythm and melody. We’re born sensing the inherent difference between higher frequencies and lower frequencies. We call those “notes” in music but ultimately it’s a physical property of reality that we sense. It’s physics. And rhythm? Every human has a sense of time moving forward. Cultures cut that time up different ways, but it’s the same principle. Just like different cultures cut the frequencies up in different places, so they have different notes, different scales. It’s still music.
Having grasped this basic tenet of human existence, I wanted to explore that territory immediately. It’s hard to describe what I mean by that, but I didn’t mean sit alone in a studio recording things for myself. I wanted to throw myself into a situation where I could play within a structure but improvise at the same time. Like the blues, yeah, but because I’d just spent six days at a Guitar Craft seminar, it had kind of re-set all my expectations and made me feel like I didn’t want to settle right back into an old rut. I’d blown my mind on Indian classical music and hare krishna chanting and sufi Qaawali singing, too. I’d been doing all this thinking about Indian music, about how their “classical” tradition still had a deeply ingrained improvisational aspect, how there was a way in which it was a highly different artistry from the rigid, rigid, rigid world of Western classical music, and yet no less rigorous or demanding.
And I was wrapped up in this wish that I could do something like that… but with the guitar, which is my instrument.
When Orlando said “Sevilla” though–which is Spanish for Seville, as in The Barber of–everything coalesced. “Flamenco,” I said. I felt like my head was on fire, but in a good way.
“Si, si, flamenco,” he said and snapped his fingers. That was pretty much the limit of that whole conversation. His eyes were bright and he had a little smile in the corner of his mouth.
Here’s the thing. I didn’t really know much about flamenco at all. Or Seville. In fact, most of what I knew about Seville I had learned from the Spanish language textbook we used in ninth grade. There was a whole section on the “Tunas,” which were described as roving bands of college students who would play guitar for tips and food in Seville, a tradition that started in medieval times. On the page there was a line drawing of a guy who looked kind of like me playing a guitar in a short cape and floppy hat. In my wildest fantasies of that era–that is, the ones that didn’t involve being jerked off in the gym shower by someone whose face I couldn’t see–I imagined I could run off to Sevilla at any time.
Anyway. What I knew about flamenco was only enough to realize, in that moment when it all seemed to come together, that flamenco is the place where the guitar takes on the role of the melodic instrument in Indian classical music, improvising while at the same time being forced into a rigorous structure.
“Flamenco,” I said again, like I was taking a taste of the word in my mouth, rolling it around like a fine wine.
Orlando’s smile widened.
Now do you see why it made perfect sense for me to go to Spain?
(Site News! The section of story that begins here will be running three times a week–Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday–with no additional donations necessary, until April 19. Why? A couple of things. One, I’m starting a new Kickstarter campaign on April 9 to raise the funds for a new omnibus edition that collects books 4 and 5 into a paperback tome, so save your dough for that! [In fact, take a look at the draft of the campaign here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ceciliatan/1521476013?token=a7f3ebc1 Remember, that’s only a draft, so it’s not live yet, but you can take a look at what rewards we’re going to be offering and such!] Two, I wrote Daron’s trip to Spain as an erotic novella, too erotic for the usual posts, so what you see here are expurgated versions. I’ve already emailed the complete, unexpurgated novella to everyone who donated in 2014 or 2013. If you didn’t get it, let me know, as the emails I used for everyone came out of Paypal and are not always the best ones to reach out with, but they’re what I had. [And even if you already read it, please comment on the posts!] Also, the unexpurgated novella will be offered as a Kickstarter reward, so anyone who didn’t get it last week will be able to get it then. Daron’s timeline and Ziggy’s will synch up again with the posting on April 22. That’s when we’ll resume the usual twice a week schedule. Liner note to come soon, too. Enjoy the excursion! -ctan)