Tears For Gears
By James Willoughby
Why The Tears?
We've become urbanite temperamental beasts of burden, wandering amongst a cluttered landscape of utility.
We pleasure ourselves uniting communication and artistic expression.
Our hunger for stuff makes us gear sluts, thirsting after the newest bio-functionality extensions.
How did this happen?... the endless dose of clutter and Borg-ification of modern society.
Our world of gear has consumed the best consumers we've ever known and left them withered quivering saliva piles on the floor of Best Beast. We all know that gear is important. Hell there's a magazine named after it. Gear does so many things for us in this life.
The new fall catalog is out. Oh look, a new breed of cardigan which wicks away sweat leaving you dry and comfortable while still being breathable and airy yet warm and comforting! Oh, my gosh I've never seen one of those before. These are not at all like the warm breathable sweat wicking plastic cardigans they had last year, I must have one.
At 3 in the morning I blink at a barely big enough boom box blast from the past retro-grade emotional pull played by a group of musicians long since dead or crippled into old age, yet it fills my heart with joy. What did they have back then? Were these tables made of the same molecules or have the outer limits of television radiated them into plastic statues? I remember when things were quality, made of wood and metal. I remember when guns were safe and sex would kill you. Yes I said that right.
Well, the inevitable does happen. Strings break, shoes wear out, tendons rip and old cars need $400 worth of loving every few weeks or so. Time by its nature implies change and change by its nature implies a cyclical process whereby things wear down break and go out the door only to usher in a new era of similarly priced things which do nothing new. Yet gear seems to be indispensable. Where would I be, writing this column, if it weren't for computers? The nature of the dot com boom and bust has illustrated quite well the scandalous impermanence, engrossing cataplexy and lurid lies of our physical universe and thus also our physical bodies. Perhaps we are so engaged in our own survival that we seek solace in those things which stay constant for as long as possible. Change implies decay and decay implies death. Those things which stay solid, stable as rocks are a throwback to the days when we were molten planets, newly born, cooling off and forming our own tears of rain. We all desire in some sense to reach backwards through time living a live from death unto conception instead of the other way around. First we're old and grey then we drop the cane and start kicking and dancing and crying and breast feeding and all of a sudden we shrink and then we're dead and poof we're old and grey and we start the cycle all over again.
I watch my friends gather and release their organized collections of matter day in and day out. I watch the lust; I lust with the same lust we all lust with towards objects of beauty. Shiny new toys that promise a better something. How did we come to this? This bird-like obsession with material things? Is it bad? How is it that a new toy can make me happy if there is no happiness in material things?
A new toy illustrates this lust for permanence of childhood quite well. Watch a grown man's eyes as he test drives a new Porsche, watch a grown woman's smile as she finds a good looking pair of shoes that don't hurt. How much must we pay for satisfaction and at what point will we achieve this fabled state of mind? I think the answer, as many people would spout the cliché of it, is obvious: never. However, we can achieve some transient joy from the activity. The beauty of this is that we can perhaps realize that, since it is transitive that we needn't sacrifice entire lives questing for this holy bucket. It's easy to say that material things matter but it takes guts to believe it and it takes big balls to act on it.
Picture by Kyle KnoblockIf material things really don't matter then perhaps we should all disown worldly possessions, strap on sandals take off our underwear, slip into shaven head robes and live celibate lives on frozen mountain tops. The practical application of this seems to be rather impractical in a world with billions of people. There are scores of people and only so many frozen mountaintops.
Bargain hunters are some of the most spiritually adept individuals in the universe. Artists and creative individuals are not immune from the diseases of desire or the lust for gear. Look at the boom of chain retailer music gear stores. Ok, look at the boom of the one and only chain retailer music gear store which we all know if we know it and if we don't it need not be mentioned. I recently bought a new guitar myself. I decided to do some research on electric guitars because I realized that after years of only playing only acoustic I needed to figure out what was what in the world of electricity. So I went to my local dope shop to get hopped up on magnetic pickups and flamed maple varnish. I researched all the standard models very thoroughly and I was quite pleased with myself and feeling good. I felt like I could kick the habit at any second and then they hooked me.
"Wanna know the best guitar for your money?"
Said the wonderfully helpful sales dude, an obvious ex-rocker turned hipster slave. I had no choice but to appear cool, and besides, no good bargain hunter can resist the temptation for free junk.
"Yeah man, sure... I mean like, I'm cool, I can handle it..."
He pointed me to the back corner and handed me a guitar which I immediately scoffed at, however there were many other interesting offerings and, being a fire sign I picked up a bright red axe that caught my eye. I plugged it in, strummed one chord and instantly fell to pieces. A good gear nut knows. He just knows. An absolute connoisseur has a good reference for what is what and this is why he can tell what is what. Well my ear has listened to enough guitars and certainly played enough to know. The way my ear tells me is he makes me laugh uncontrollably. I just can't help it. I hear it and something about the nature of that sound tickles my brain. I fell in love. Absolutely situated in saturated infatuation. Just say no? Okay, "No." Hah! Who was I kidding? I needed it. The way I knew I needed it was, not only did it make me laugh while playing it, but I laughed all the way to the bank as they say. For a good 3 hours after I left the store I had merely to think about the experience and I began to instantly crack up. I knew it, there was no denial. Ok, maybe there was denial. But I set my mind and I went out and bought it. I'm just glad I didn't have a wife or I may have been decapitated. The most beautiful part of this whole shebang was that this particular gear was and is instrumental to my work in life here on planet earth - the work of creation and no price can ever put a head on that. I'm just glad that I took the time to go bargain hunting and glad that I relegated myself to realms of existence with which I am familiar. After all, are those molecules in that guitar gonna be the same 30 years from now? I highly doubt it, but I do think it will still be a guitar and I do think it will still give me as much joy as the day I bought it.
The ultimate consequences of these actions might actually be different than we had originally thought. There are players and then there are creators. Players are stuck in the land of mechanics hoping that the new machine will improve their art. Theoretically a full Borg style replacement of fingers and muscles with a Luke Skywalker hand would achieve the highest and most perfect playing ability. That's all well and good, but what about "touch" and feeling. Being able to feel out what you play with a subtle sense that a piece of metal just can't create. All too often people think that a better magnet will make the people dance. Nothing can make people dance; the best musicians can only get people to dance. The music is still sweet and its got nothing to do with the equipment that they use. But yet it does. For the musician his equipment is like fine wine for the discerning palette. A professional wine taster won't bother with consumer oriented box wines which taste like rat droppings because the procreators didn't feel de-stemming was worthwhile for profits. Similarly, a musician evolves a taste for the better gear and in order to stay satisfied and thus inspired with his own sound he must have the highest quality equipment available to create the creamiest of the screaming guitars in the world or the phattest of the B3 tones in existence. Does the audience notice? Probably not. Does the musician notice? Most definitely. So who's more important, the audience or the musician? The business or the consumer? The producer or the product? Most people ascribe to the notion of the customer is number one. Maybe the customer is number two. In reality, the customer wouldn't exist if it were not for the creator.
Photo by Todd Brunozzi The creator must have a fair exchange of energy inspiration and passion to keep creating if he is to provide a quality product. If the product works, the consumer is happy. If the product has that upper edge in quality the consumer comes back. How do you get that upper edge? Well, make sure you are happy as a producer and a creative entity. This includes your tools. A tool is only as good as the master that wields it yet at the same time a master with a horrible tool will still only perform up to the limits of that piece of gear.
I have a feeling that the things which we can see and touch do have a real impact on our lives despite all the emancipatory rhetoric proposed by the world's religions. I'm feeling more and more the solidarity of an existence lived within flesh; breathing meat. I long for the days of old when dragons and goblins roamed the earth. At least then my skin could crawl into my bones letting me know that my mind was keeping my body alive.
What is it about this physical universe that evokes such kindness, such hatred, such passion, such sorrow? I'm only beginning to understand and the more I realize, the more questions I have. Where do molecules begin and people end?
A true gear slut never compromises his integrity when it comes to the quality of his equipment but he never compromises his wallet when it comes to corporate hype and sales pitch fall artists. After all, if you get stuck religiously squeezing a leaky lemon, not even Liza can mend it and you'll find yourself swimming in a holy pail of tears for gears.
James Willoughby is a professional linguistic programming consultant and artistic creative expression coach living in a random corner of the United States. He specializes in sound form manipulation, poetry and production aesthetics. Most people would incorrectly and unfairly categorize his profession as a musician, teacher and freelance writer. James is available to perform puppet shows at weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. He has an honorary Masters Degree which he gave himself for being so cool. He's also got a sense of humor. If you love his work you can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you disagree with him then that's too bad. If you hate his work then you can buy some ice cream.