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Review: Strange Beautiful Music: A Musical Memoir by Joe Satriani

I normally post reviews as a non-work related blog. But I believe this one warrants an exception.

Joe Satriani has been an inspiration and an idol since I was 14 years old. The Extremist was the very first guitar instrumental album I ever bought back in 1992 and remains as one of my favorite records to this day. I finally got to see him play live on the last show of his 2013 Unstoppable Momentum Tour in Oakland last year, right on time on the last day of my San Francisco vacation, which became its highlight. I didn’t cry or anything, but it was, for all intents and purposes, a magical experience and for two hours I hung on every note he played. I’ve never done that ever before for anybody. Ever.

I got excited when I found out he was coming out with a book this year. Then I realized it wasn’t going to be likely that I’d be able to grab a copy anytime soon. A book by a name that’s obscure outside the world of rock guitar isn’t going to be a priority of National Bookstore or Fully Booked. And when I do find one, it wasn’t going to be cheap. Luckily, a Kindle version came out. It’s not as romantic as flipping paper and taking a close look at the pictures is out of the question, but it’s cheaper and can be downloaded instantly. So, I went for it.

The bulk of the book chronicles the making of all of Joe’s studio albums, including the two he did with Chickenfoot. Together with commentary from his peers and collaborators, his stories make for compelling reading, especially if you’re a fan. On the other hand, gearheads might feel a little bit unsatisfied, as stories which they would typically want to hear, like the development of his signature gear, are sadly on the sparse side.

However, what I personally find as the most compelling part of the book is the first set of chapters, before recording Not Of This Earth. This was his developmental years from realizing his true calling as a musician after the death of Jimi Hendrix, to his move to the Bay area in California. This was the time when he developed his musicianship with the help of a number of mentors. It was interesting to note that while commentary indicated that his style was already established from the beginning, Joe himself relates throughout the book as to how he keeps refining everything about his music and technical prowess. I’ve even heard in interviews how he admits that he probably can’t play his old songs exactly as they were recorded. His identity was already established from the beginning of his career. But he has never stopped evolving. His body of work, from Not Of This Earth to Unstoppable Momentum, is testament to that.

This first set of chapters also include his time as a teacher. One line resonates with me over everything else in the book.

I thought, “Well then, if you’re a teacher, you have to do it, surrender everything you know.”
You’re bound by some sort of moral compass to do it that way.

What I did not realize, prior to this book, is that he had an approach to teaching which I have always strived to adopt. There are teachers who are not comfortable with sharing everything they know with students. Sometimes, I feel the same way, especially when there’s someone in class who is likely already as much, if not more knowledge than I did with the subject. Teaching him or her everything I knew would ensure that the student would already surpass the teacher by the time class ends. Satch himself thought as much when Steve Vai studied under him. But that didn’t stop him from sharing everything, anyway. Education is about sharing, and Joe Satriani understood that perfectly. All teachers should, as well.

I look way up to him as a guitar player, musician, and now thanks to this book, as a teacher. What if he suddenly publishes a cook book?

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