Hi Rick, I hope this email finds you well. I wanted to reach out (after way too long) and just mention that I really was moved by your recent blog post about Ede’s passing and your friendship. I discovered him when he was demoing one of your guitars and became an instant fan of his music. (I wish there was more!) When I reached out to him to tell him, he was gracious, friendly, and very complimentary of you and your instruments. I hope that you are doing well. I recently watched the videos that we filmed at UNH and always love hearing Cupid! All the best, David
So good to hear from David.
I’ve flown the flag at half-mast since Ede Wright’s passing, but if his spirit were to appear in my shop, his first words would be: “Look forward.”
Ede’s death was a tragic and unnecessary side effect of the greater cultural-psychological illness that has swept through our society these last two years. Like every scorched earth event though, green shoots appear in the aftermath.
True friendships have grown stronger. Dead wood has burned away. Autumn leaves are peak color, birds calling these final moments of sunlit warmth. Blame my errors on my youth.
Ede was my friend. We had a fierce friendship, like brothers. His birthday only a few days from mine, one year apart.
Ede was my harshest critic…nobody could pick apart one of my builds like he could. Not even close, although Steve Blucher pokes me with the pointed stick pretty good sometimes. Ede was molecular, though. Whenever I sent a guitar to him for testing, I braced for a week of text messages and phone calls as he pulled the meat off the carcass. There was an Homeric story arc to the analysis, an epic of discovery: destruction, redemption. Articulate dissection which always transformed me into a better artist. Sacrificial flesh burned from the bones over open flames.
I loved him for that.
Only a very few players have earned test pilot status with me, and there’s the reason. You’ve got to be willing to hit with full force.
So many memories…
Earthbound Gravity arriving FedEx in spring of 2014 after an email introduction. Eyes closed, listening to his CD on the big monitors in the main room of the little cottage in Califon, NJ.
Driving from Fort Worth to Dallas to meet Ede on tour in the lobby of the airport hotel. USM™ with me. A long conversation as he played acoustically in the Texas sunlight through glass window walls. Introducing me to one of the band’s beautiful female vocalists.
Microbrews and burgers a few blocks from his apartment in Atlanta, after hours of testing. Discussing guitars and bicycling — torn hamstring — diving accident horsing with nephews in the pool at a family gathering. Gabriel Levi with us, attending AIMM at the time. If there is any one thing Ede is most proud of, I would guess it was helping Gabriel launch his career. Gabriel is both the son Ede never had, and also the player who is stepping into his legacy.
Ede arriving to our Magnets and Wire session at Steve Sjuggerud’s place in Florida, November, 2019. Setting up his amps and coaching me on mic placement. His epic duel with Chris Buono, covering Superstition (Casting an appropriate spell to make the noise go away). The three of us alone at dinner after, me watching the true respect those two Masters had for each other.
Tour reports from life on the bus, in airports, on stages. Local foods and beers. An absolute passion and educated palette for red wines.
Our final phone conversation. Ede laying out with clinical honesty the side effects of the C19 vaccine that destroyed his heart. Being on the transplant list, knowing there was not enough time. Wanting to record as much as he could in the remaining few months.
Beneath the layers of upbeat major chord harmonies and deft pop production of a love song lies this image. Coiled, writhing. Existential terror as Emily Dickinson describes:
But never met this Fellow Attended or alone Without a tighter Breathing And Zero at the Bone.
“Serpentine” combined with “mind” is especially horrifying. Reptilian non-negotiable predatory purpose superimposed on (dwelling within) mammalian skull, our locus of empathetic warmth and compassion.
Excellent writing, Gabriel.
Throughout our evolution, what is the one predator from which there is no escape? The one predator capable of silently killing, even when we are hiding in treetops for safety, seeking protection from larger carnivores below?
I want to propose an hypothesis.
The hypothesis is this: crowd-sourcing safety is the evolutionary driver for language.
Let’s step back 2 million years for context. Fight, flight, freeze, fuck. Our basic survival responses to new external stimulus. Fight (including hunting), flight, and freeze are physical movements under the control of each individual. Fuck — sexual reproduction — is coordinated and negotiated chemically via pheromones.
None of these responses require vocalization.
However, what would? Two million years ago, what would be the single most useful tool to ensure our species survival?
“There’s a snake on the branch above you.”
The ability to transmit instantly an image directly from mind to mind using sound waves.
There is a multiplier effect when suddenly ten individuals with twenty eyes and twenty eardrums are coordinating information from ten locations and perspectives. Incredibly powerful survival mechanism. This is what drives the evolution of language.
Once Homo became fully erect and disconnected diaphragm control from breathing, our ability to develop complex nuanced language evolved exponentially. We now use and practice language as play, enriching our experiences across the entire spectrum of human activities.
However, the fundamental purpose underlying all linguistic development remains: safety.
I want to propose a second hypothesis.
Freedom of Speech is not only a moral right, Freedom of Speech is a biological imperative essential for human survival. Surrender that right at your peril.
When considered at the level of DNA replication and generational transference, all speech is useful, and all thoughts are useful. This is our species-wide survival mechanism of individuals broadcasting their unique perspective from their location. And as individuals, we assess the relative accuracy and urgency of that raw incoming data from other people…
“This book might interest you,” prefaced my visitor. “I’ve read your recent writings. This Journal and Remarks chronicles some related thoughts of my own. For historical context, at the time we sailed, the sun never set upon our empire.”
“182 years ago,” I noted. “You, more than any other human, at any point in time, shaped how we currently understand biological life. I am deeply honored to meet you, Sir.”
His handshake was warm and kindly. “Please call me Charles.”
“I’ve contemplated your observations for all of my educated life,” I continued. “May I combine your hypothesis — with recent fossil and forensic genetic research, contemporary explorations in the field of Psychology, and the teachings of Aristotle?”
Evolution selected for us to use our senses to perceive the world around us: physical objects, other living creatures, relationships. (stimulus)
Evolution also selected for us to have emotion, which is a near-instantaneous chemical survival mechanism triggering flight/fight/freeze/fuck reactions. (response)
Evolution also selected for logic, which is the introspective tool we use to determine if our internal perceptions match external conditions. (cognition)
If our internal perceptions match external conditions mostly consistently, then we learn to trust our own judgment. (meta-cognition)
Because, ultimately, each of us is a potential DNA replicator responsible for our own personal survival and decisions. This is the evolutionary purpose for autonomy.
“Precisely!” Darwin exclaimed. “There have been many instances in history when only a small cohort, or sometimes just a single individual, survived a mass extinction event and lived to contribute genes. Consensus is not analogous to safety, at any scale. Autonomy is an evolutionary failsafe.”
Startled, I opened the door to a horseman dismounting his lathered chestnut mare. Early thirties. Auburn hair tied back in a short queue, rider’s clothing late 18th century. “Twenty eight miles and a swim from Independence Hall,” he said by way of introduction.
“Thomas Jefferson.” I scarcely breathed the name.
“Yes,” he replied.
He unbuckled his saddle bag and presented scarred timber — burn marks and bullet holes. “Given to me by a friend. Will you accept the responsibility of fashioning an instrument from this?”
I weighed the piece with my hands, history immediately visceral. I understood. “Not an artifact, a reminder. Much like your Declaration.”
“Which you have let slip through your fingers.”
“Me, personally? I build guitars. What do you expect me to do?”
Ferocious intelligence assessed me: my words, my physical self. Unbearable scrutiny of this experienced swordsman, blade in hand. “I gifted you a set of Principles. At full risk to Life and Fortune we fought to give you self-responsibility. We have granted you the freedom and the mandate to speak Truth.”
He continued. “Instead, I find an Empire of Lies.”
“A central bank — the Federal Reserve — which you have allowed to finance military expansionism around the globe. Recently you have purchased the finest pandemic borrowed money can provide, from patented disease to patented cure, while you cower in your homes, begging unelected bureaucrats for permission to live.”
I countered heatedly. “But isn’t this for the greater good? Export democracy to spread peace? Accept restrictions to protect the weak…how can you possibly suggest we ignore Science?”
“In both instances, correlation is not causation,” Thomas Jefferson stated.
“What if you were to discover reality is actually completely opposite the narrative you have accepted?” He looked directly in my eyes. “I submit you prove current regulatory actions are not exacerbating your circumstance. If you wish to follow scientific principles, you will begin with Marek’s disease.”
I countered, the phrasing as if memorized. “Many alive today believe hypocrisy as a slave owner cancels your words and actions.”
“It would seem the Age of Enlightenment is ended,” he noted. “What exactly passes for rational thought in your era?”
“Twitter mobs,” a sonorous voice quietly interjected.
Powerfully built black man of similar age stepped forward, and my two visitors warmly embraced. Thomas Jefferson turned to me, “May I present Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: It seems unreal as I relate this experience. And yet…
“Would you gentlemen mind if I pick up the thread and weave several strands into this cloth?” Dr. King asked. “Spiritual aspects underlie the purely logical and biological.”
“Slavery is a universal human condition. As far back as known in recorded human history, slavery has been the default: on every continent, across every race and culture. Continuing in many places today, including slavery of debt. The exception proves the rule. This one singular individual,” he indicated Thomas Jefferson, “in boldly stating ‘All Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights’ established for the first time a framework recognizing the primacy of the Individual above the desires of the State.”
“There can be no Freedom without this principle.”
“Thomas, I deeply and sincerely thank you for this accomplishment you have wrought. You made my life, my work, possible.” Tears rolled down Dr. King’s face. Jefferson too was moved. I observed, fascinated.
“At the risk of being offensive, how do you reconcile your words — and works — with the treatment the both of you are said to have visited upon women: forced childbearing by slave Sally Hemings, marital infidelities against Coretta Scott?” I asked.
I held their gaze for a long minute of dead silence.
“A man is the product of his time,” Dr. King spoke slowly. “We cannot live outside historical context. In the words of God: ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.‘”
Thomas Jefferson watched my reaction as I thought.
Then he asked, “Is it not more useful to value and build upon the greatest achievement of an individual?”
“Shop’s closed,” I called out. “New national holiday.”
Quiet laugh from outside. “This would be a social visit.”
Intrigued, I opened the door. Slender graceful figure, bullfighter. Dark hair, swept back, deep mirth lines around keen eyes.
“Have we met?” I asked.
“Several times. Never in person.” He stepped through the doorway, casting a quick appreciative glance at tools and systems neatly arrayed in the guitar shop. “My name is Francisco.”
I studied him: self-possessed, confident in his own body and thoughts, without arrogance. Straightforward.
“How is your supply chain?” His eyes focused directly on mine.
“Delays. Suppliers — like DiMarzio, for example — forced by government to suspend business during lockdowns. StringJoy, and others, waiting for raw materials or facing a shortage of skilled workers. Wait times for some items are more than twelve months. Prices are increasing.”
He nodded slightly.
“What are your clients saying?”
“My clients are people of means, or quite often very serious players who understand the value of my work and are willing to save for a guitar purchase…or sometimes sell off other equipment. Universally, they appreciate what I am doing: designing and building singular pieces, transforming raw materials into a finished instrument, delivered directly into their hands. They pay me, I invest back into my own company, keeping some money for my personal needs.”
Startled, I looked at him more closely. “That’s not a word I hear often…with your tone of appreciation. A friend texted me a few days ago. She was at a party with 25-30 year olds. She noticed their main discussion topic was: ‘How Capitalism has ruined their lives’.”
Holding my gaze, he said: “Because they have correctly identified they are slaves. However, they have not identified their master.”
“Provocative statement,” I responded.
“No,” he replied. “Education failure. Those partiers don’t understand they are trapped in a Socialist system — where select few politically connected classes of people are given unlimited amounts of unearned Dollars. Why do you think there is growing unrest and political tension within the United States? It’s because competing political tribes are in a fight to the death to gain access to that free money.”
I thought quietly. “What is the solution?”
“Scarcity has value. Things that are scarce are valuable…consider what you would be willing to pay for a bottle of drinking water if you were canoeing on a pristine glacial mountain lake vs. dying of thirst under relentless desert sun. This same principle applies to money. When money is unlimited, it has no value. The solution is to end the central bank: The Federal Reserve.”
“Those angry partygoers clearly understand it is increasingly difficult to simply survive: pay for food, pay for housing. Why? Prices are going up, and the reason is: our culture is quite literally drowning in excess money. Over time that money will accelerate toward accumulating in the hands of the few, but the nature of the problem will remain unchanged.”
He shrugged, “Even if everyone was given the exact same amount of money, prices will continue to rise. Because each Dollar is worth less, as unlimited amounts of new money are created. Every additional added Dollar buys less.”
“What if the government implements price controls?” I asked. “Setting a basic price for wages, or food, or housing?”
After a moment he walked to the window and looked out across the farm fields.
“What makes you think other nations will continue to use the Dollar? What happens when they begin to use scarcity-backed competing forms of currency: blockchain-crypto, gold? How will you survive when nobody accepts your form of worthless money?”
A quiet knock but with weight, on the wood door of my shop. Deep evening, winter’s blue black and the hush of deep snows.
“Come in,” I said.
Cloaked figure stepped through, gracefully, balanced muscle and power. Greying hair. Two half-wolf dogs slipped in behind him, circling the room, settling at attention, tails to the hearth.
He looked at me appraisingly through one clear eye, the other covered by a patch. Snowflakes rising as steam from his woolen mantle. I nodded.
“Please make yourself comfortable. Mead?”
“Yes, thanks.” he replied.
He studied my tools, the layout of my workspace, builds in progress. “You have a certain mastery,” he said. “I value the precision in your work.” He continued: “Skill and trust are the coin of my realm.”
I recognized him as a leader of men.
“I have…an adventure ahead.” His eye glinted with mirth.
I intimated thoughtfully, almost as an aside: “Perhaps related to the follies of Lear.”
He smiled, then his features hardened. “Many suffer from the foolishness of the few. This world does not abide weakness.”
“Return again in Spring, the first month of green grasses. Your build will be ready.”
We stood, both wolf-dogs bounding out the door into the night. He clasped my forearm strongly, then strode forth beneath breathtaking stars, diamonds in darkness. High above the western horizon, Mars shining red.
The crown was too heavy for the old man’s head. Lear resented the weight, the headache, exhaustion of it all, blue eyes bloodshot, his frail neck strained, wisps of white hair trembling.
He wanted to be done, yet the lust for power dominates long after physical appetites erode. Once experienced, desire to command and be obeyed is not easily relinquished.
Lear felt a certain responsibility, as well. He believed, as all fools do, his will should dictate distribution of wealth amongst men. So thus cleverly, he devised to bestow a kingdom’s treasures between his children — decided in proportion by the earnestness of their public professions of love for his magnanimity.
From each, according to their avarice, to each according to their guile.
I wanted to reflect emotions of Shakespeare’s King Lear at this moment of descent into madness. His armor and clothing cast off in a tremendous storm, freezing, covered in mud, raving to the heavens how he had been betrayed…when all along the destruction was of his own making.
Swamp ash, roasted flame maple, bone, carbon fiber. Layers of finish depth, patina of antiquity, raw metal of medieval armor. Driven by gleaming precision machined patented Intonation Cantilever™ stainless steel bridges, polished stainless steel frets, and the most versatile but subtle electronics I’ve yet installed.
Measured in terms of tonal sophistication, my builds will be judged as separated into pre-Lear vs. post-Lear epochs.