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BLOG – “THE HALVING OF MAYER’S HEART”

Recently I read a great article in Rolling Stone. Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton interviewed together. Guitar royalty talking about the evolution of The Yardbirds, their admiration for each other’s talents and their subtle competition to outdo each other. Both agreed that B.B. King is the Master of Blues and Jimi Hendrix is the God of Guitar. But Clapton and Beck are divine disciples of the six-string. They have each added to music’s history by mastering their craft and developing signature sounds that are unique and unmistakable. You know a patient Clapton lick when you hear one, and when Beck rips into a solo it’s a kind of energy you’ll never forget.

If you love music and respect its history, then this article was a perfect strike down your alley… a far cry from the cover story that disgraced the pages of Rolling Stone a month before. A shirtless, tattoo-sleeved John Mayer talking more about gripping his penis than his Fender. His classless sexcapades threw his name right into a sloppy sty where pigs poop. Then Playboy got a hold of him, and career suicide oozed out of his mouth. He threw around racist words claiming he had a “hood pass” that instead should have landed him a whooped ass. At a concert in Nashville shortly after the article was printed, he cried to fans explaining that he was just trying to be clever. He vowed never to play the “media game” again. “I’m done,” he repeated during a five-minute soliloquy that’s all over YouTube. If sympathy held an election, Mayer would get zero votes.

Just before Mayer became the darling of mouth diarrhea, my wife bought us two tickets to see him in concert in San Jose for my birthday. Even though I like his music, I considered not going on principle, but Friday night we made the drive to the HP Pavilion. I thought for sure there would be protesters there to greet him, but there weren’t. Instead, 15,000 fans of all ages – including lots and lots of teenage girls – packed the arena. I’m not normally a judgmental person, however, something inside me wanted him to fail. He did just the opposite. AND I found myself on my feet hollering for an encore along with everyone else in what has to be one of the loudest ovations I’ve ever heard. The most interesting fact that I’m digesting is that he deserved it.

Here’s the deal – in no way will I condone Mayer’s comments. They were offensive to women and black people. I don’t fit in either category, but I was bothered nonetheless. However, for me there is no greater trump card in life than music, and Mayer pulled off a royal flush to regain my respect. I have never seen domination of a musical instrument quite like this. During a song called “Assassin” off his new record, he literally killed his Stratocaster strumming it wildly with a drumstick. He awed us all with a stripped-down, bluesy cover of Bill Withers “Ain’t No Sunshine” – demonstrating his incredible control over each note. He faded in and out of his poppy “Half of My Heart” with Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” using the same instrumental arrangement. On acoustic guitar Mayer was just as impressive. He plucked alone to “Stop This Train,” serenading the crowd with whistles and a soft falsetto. The clincher was his closer. The song is called “Gravity,” and what he did to the air in that arena made me question its scientific validity. At its core the song is a heartbreaking blues ballad. “Keep me where the light is,” Mayer signs while turning the lights out on his guitar. As the song drew to a close, he laid it down flat on the stage, got on his hands and knees, put his forehead to the floor and played the thing like a piano – blind. The rifts were reminiscent of a B.B. King improvisational session – clean and deep. I’ve seen some incredible guitarists in my life – including Angus Young and Lindsey Buckingham, also at HP, but I have never seen anyone own an instrument like John Mayer.

Mayer’s encore was an acoustic “Who Says” and “Why Georgia,” And as he and the band (feat. Robbie McIntosh & Steve Jordan) bowed before us – we all wanted to bow back. The appreciation truly was mutual. We knew we’d seen a talent that simply doesn’t come along very often, and he knew his fans were sticking by him despite his tabloid crap and cocky behavior. “As long as you keep coming, I’ll keep playing for the rest of my life,” he said with humility. You know, rock stars talk about sex; legends speak about music. Mayer is for sure the former, and he has all the tools to become the latter. His tour and album are called Battle Studies, and the last few months have been just that. The flapping of his mouth has made him the poster boy for Main Street smut, but if he lets the guitar do the talking for awhile, he’s got a bronze plaque waiting for him on a wall in Cleveland next to Clapton and Beck.

Written by: Ben Bamsey

www.johnmayer.com

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