So I have a cousin that's been getting into rock music pretty seriously over the last year—I think he's 15 now, and he lives in New Jersey with my Uncle. (Although on his Myspace page, last time I checked, he was 89 and lived in Paraguay). Anyway, he's been getting into rock for the last year or so, and has already started 2 surf bands, a metal band, an indie/rock group, and his latest is "the Glass Zombies," a "punk/glamrock" band. I know because those bands add me on Myspace before they even practice. But I get a steady stream of emails from him with questions about guitars "should I sell my Jackson and get a Mosrite" or clothing-related "where can I get a cool belt" to TV "do you watch Rockstar Supernova?" I generally get a kick out of responding, because when I was his age I never had a "rock" music mentor, or anyone to explain to me what was worth checking out and what was garbage, or to even drop names of bands that might be worth a little investigation. I'm pretty sure he hasn't stolen his first copy of Maximumrockandroll yet either, but here's something that's been bugging me.
Why does he dig Steve Vai?
Here's what happened. I got an email from my cousin telling me he thought Steve Vai was the greatest guitarist of all time—way better than Hendrix. I really hate any kinda "who's the best" with music—it's not a hotdog eating contest, it's music. But I had to tell him, look, don't waste your time on Steve Vai. It'll ruin your life. If you're looking for by-the-book guitar gods, at least go Hendrix.
Then he sent me this. Naturally, I was horrified—it's Steve Vai doing an instrumental odyssey of the mind titled "Tender Surrender." Just typing that makes me feel gross. But that's what he sent, along with a defiant email stating that he thinks Steve Vai has unparalled technique and is a better player than Hendrix ever was. Frustrated, I let it slide and sent him some more links to Sonic Youth videos on YouTube.
Ok, flash forward a week, and I'm checking out the Nashville Hardcore/Nashville Shows message board, which obviously has a younger crowd of posters, and there's a thread on Yngwie vs. Vai. And sure enough, the example of how amazing Vai is, is that same damn YouTube video for fuckin' "Tender Surrender."
Sure, teenage years can be a whirlwind of mixed messages—one minute you're discovering some obscure band who uses cardboard boxes as drums and taking them seriously like they're Bob Dylan and the next minute you've got a Guitar World in your hand and you're reading a column called "Riff Addiction" trying to learn harmonic scales with John Petrucci of Dream Theater.
But why Vai? Sure, when you're a kid the idea of "shredding" can be a bit romantic. I guess my main beef with Vai is, other than the fact he plays a guitar with a handle on it, is that there's so many other "shredders" that don't dress in billowy pirate shirts and make sweet fretboard love with their Ibanez. I mean, if you want shred at least get into Randy Rhodes-era Ozzy.
I still don't understand, especially with the "power of unlimited music across the internet," why kids are still getting into Vai.
Who's your young relatives getting into these days?