Mailbag 15

> People,

Excellent website! It made me realize that I am not the only one with messed up musical dreams and alien ideas. I guess the thing that struck me most was how much Steve’s passion for music/guitar comes across. It makes me feel like a freaking cop out for not persuing music and instead becoming a, gulp, TELECOMMUNICATIONS & NETWORKING engineer! How blah… how boring… how pathetic… how TYPICAL! Playing music is so much better than designing the roads on the information highway. Well, at least “breeyark” is a cool name, even though it does sound like a Martian projectile vomiting a wet roll of toilet paper.

Anyways, the reason I was writing was to relate my Vai story. Well, it really doesn’t involve Steve (directly), and I haven’t met him either, and well, I’ve only seen him once in concert (G3, Montreal). Man, I was HOPING to see a jam with Michel Cusson’s Wild Unit. Steve, Joe and Michel jamming with a funky HORN section. THAT would have been something to see….)…so, what is this email about??

Well, it’s really about my mother, who I lost last year to cancer. She was the sweetest thing. I have her on an old cassette tape singing Greek songs from the 50’s, when they had these big bands backing the singers. My mom used to love singing acapella, because she had problems finding the key with other instruments! But, I can remember her soft vibrato, her controlled tone, and the songs she sang about the crazy kind of love people fall into (mom, I STILL don’t think it exists!!)….

While I was in university, studying engineering, I used to NEVER STUDY. I would instead play guitar for 8-10 hours a day. How I passed, I will never know. The amp would be in my room, and I would have this long cord that would snake out to my brothers room, who had the stereo. There, I would jam along to various guys, Steve being one of them, sometimes playing along, most times improvising my own stuff. The levels were perfect between the rooms when I had the amp cranked just right, it would sound like I was in the band.

No matter how much I played, not matter how long, my mother never complained. Not even once. She would be downstairs, fighting with the after-effects of another chemo session, while I was upstairs playing along with “For the Love of God”, or “Always with Me, Always with You”, or “Giant Steps”, or “Sofa”. It never crossed my mind whether I was playing like crap or like genius… I just played. I cherish that time I spent playing THAT freely…

A few years later, after finishing school and deciding to do the engineering thing, I was out on one of my first business trips, and when I came back, my mom had this wicked gleam in her eye, like she always had just before she was going to laugh at you. She started to recount this story about her walking past my room and her hearing crying coming from it. She had such a serious look on her face, I was like so INTO her story at that point. She had me hooked… I was wondering to myself who was crying in my room while I was away??

So, while she’s telling me about the crying, we’re walking toward my room, and she opens the door. She ends up with, “I heard your WIFE crying for you!!”, and she grabs the headstock of my beaten, cigarette burned, chipped, yellowed, white Universe. She breaks out into this HYSTERICAL laughter, all the while saying that she had me fooled (I must’ve had this concerned look on my face…), that I had NO idea WHO she was refering to as my wife (me?? MARRIED??)…etc… I hadn’t seen her laugh so hard in years. Chemo tends to quell one’s sense of humor.

Then, she told me something I will never forget. She asked me to put on the guitar and just play. Turn on the stereo and play, honey, she told me. After all those years of hearing me every day, she missed hearing the sounds coming from my bedroom. My brother would later tell me that my mom would tell him while I was playing, “your brother is really good, isn’t he?”. THAT compliment was the BEST compliment I had ever gotten…. you can bring back ANY of the heavies I admire (Miles, Frank, Trane, Bird, Jimi…) to compliment my playing, but it wouldn’t even come close to what my mom said.

And I just wanted to thank Steve. Thanks man, for being one of the reasons for me to pick up the guitar. Thanks for providing the inspiration; so that my mom could hear me play and feel a little better. When I lost her last year, I lost my biggest hero, but I know she’s better where she is. In fact, I’m pretty sure she’s somewhere right now, pulling the same stunt she pulled on me to Frank. But, Frank is lucky. He gets to hear her laugh.


Dennis “breeyark” Sarlis