The Wizard – Insights on the Satriani Lesson

Spoiler Alert:

At the end of the Wizard of Oz, the curtain gets pulled back and we meet the man behind the mystique of the Wizard. It’s a bit of a letdown, as we were expecting something magical but it turns out to be just a bumbling buffoon who ends up flying away in Dorothy’s only means home, then we find out that she’s had the ability to go home the whole time. Then the good witch says something like “would you have believed me?”, which is stupid. I mean hell, she just landed in the only place in the universe that has colour, met a bunch of musical midgets, flying monkeys and a talking scarecrow. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’d believe you. Bitch.

Glad that I got that off my chest.

So why did I start this month’s column by ranting about the Wizard of Oz? Well, it’s because last week I was lucky enough to spend an hour with a man who is arguably the best electric guitarist in the world: Joe Satriani. This was my opportunity to pull back the proverbial curtain and separate the myth from the man.

I was part of the team that presented the winner of our contest, Rick Corvese, with the experience of a lifetime: get a one-hour guitar lesson from Joe Satriani. The prize was to be given in Kitchener Ontario’s Centre in the Square, before Joe’s October 10th show. I met Rick about two hours before the lesson, and I was amazed at just how nervous a human being can be. I think that I could actually hear his stomach flipping from moment to moment – which wasn’t helped by the fact that I kept saying “THERE HE IS!!! PSYCH!”

Ok, I didn’t do that because I could tell that Rick was just a couple of moments away from needing a defibrillator, and I didn’t want the poor fellow to die and mess up my chances of meeting Joe. Yes, I’m that thoughtful.

As the time wore on and we were nearing the interview time, the gravity of this situation seemed to hang heavier and heavier in the air. Rick was warming up on his guitar and was complaining that he felt his hands were like glue. Meeting Joe meant more to him than I had even imagined, and I could see in his eyes a genuine mixture of awe, excitement and diarrhea. Yes, Rick was scared – and with good reason. The Legendary Joe Satriani was only a few minutes away from hearing him play and evaluating him. The Wizard himself was to invite him in to the Emerald Castle and intimidate him with fire and a giant floating head….

I will take a moment now to express my gratitude for a few things. First, for the experience of being in that room at that time. It really was a priceless moment. Secondly, I’m thankful that I was not the guy in the room that was going to get the lesson. I am not nearly the guitar player that Rick is, and the fact that he could benefit from Joe’s teaching says that all was right in the world. Rick is a real guitar player, and a great student. He understands the instrument, the music, and truly values the opportunity to meet his idol. Finally, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to thank the Pulitzer Prize people in advance for considering this column for your prestigious award.

OK…back to the moment.

Joe (as I like to call him) walked into the room without any fanfare. There were three of us in the room – 2 of us to film the lesson, and Rick, who at this point had vomiting butterflies the size of 747s rumbling around in his stomach. At this point the proverbial curtain was about to be pulled back.

I suppose that Joe is used to the dense fog of admiration hanging in the air wherever he goes, so he’s quite good at dissipating it. With humility and kindness, he made Rick – and by proxy the rest of us – feel comfortable and forget that we were with guitar royalty and instead focus on the most important thing: the music.

The hour flew by like we were in a Blue Dream (holy crap I’m clever) and by the time he was leaving it was a round of warm and genuine handshakes between guitarists. And that was it. Much like Dorothy, we awoke as from this dream saying to each other “…and you were there too!”. The fact that the three of us went through this together cemented a friendship like bandmates or soldiers. It was bonding.

The lesson itself was recently posted on of course, and it’s a wonderful insight into how Joe Satriani looks at guitars, scales, musicality and evoking emotion through music. Some of the theory was above my head and skill level – but the biggest lesson of all comes from the way he approaches music with passion and determination. You will see that come through when you watch the lesson. Take notes. Take time to watch, pause, and re-watch. Take this gift from him to us.

After the lesson, I walked through the lobby of Centre in the Square and I saw a guy wearing a shirt that said “I believe in God, and his name is Joe Satriani”. I chuckled to myself and thought that I would’ve worn that shirt just the day before, but today I’d rather wear a shirt that said “The Man is more impressive than the Wizard.”

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