Culture | Music | Philosophy

Vigor (and a Smile)

Eddie Van Halen passed away yesterday. And so it is that another chunk of my childhood drifts away into the otherworld. I was never much of a guitar player, but it isn’t hard to see Eddie Van Halen playing his guitar Frankenstein and see a virtuoso at work. I suppose there are other guitar players I personally love listening to more for their particular style, but there was no better guitar player on the planet than Eddie Van Halen. That he never learned to read music amazes me, but it shows the difference between knowing the music on paper and living the music in practice. You don’t have to be great at everything, just your particular thing.

My own life is about as far from the life that Van Halen lived as anyone’s. I’m a New Englander, he grew up an immigrant child in Los Angeles. I dabbled in bass guitar and put it aside when I started college, a victim of my overall casual approach to any form of discipline at the time. He latched onto music and went all in. In the ten years from 1978 to 1988 he was about as big a rock god as you could find. I quietly went about my life, stepping stone to stepping stone, from kid watching Star Wars to high school and college. Completely different life tracks. A pity he always had that damned cigarette burning away. Those would kill him eventually, just as he was entering his elder statesman stage of life.

I suppose the big lesson with Eddie Van Halen is to put in the time necessary to master your craft. Don’t half-ass your work. But the thing that sticks out with him is that huge smile when he played guitar. He was a guy in love with his craft, exuding joyous electricity. And that love of craft was exactly why he put in the insane amount of time necessary to become one of the best guitar players who ever lived. If you don’t love your craft, why the hell would you do it? And that’s the difference between a craft and your job. You work to make money to feed the family and pay for the stuff of life. You perform your craft to extend some of your life force out into the world. That’s true whether you’re knitting a pair of mittens or writing a novel or playing guitar.

So a fair question to ask as you follow your muse then is will this pursuit make me smile like Eddie Van Halen playing his guitar? If yes, proceed. If no, well, find another way to express yourself in the world. For if Eddie taught us anything yesterday, it would be that life is too damned short to flitter away your life force on other things. Pursue your thing. And do it with vigor (and a smile).

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