I went to an Ozzy Osbourne concert with my son.
Zakk Wylde was on stage tapping.
I know about tapping because my son plays guitar.
He knows about tapping because he loves Led Zeppelin.
Eddie Van Halen learned about tapping from Led Zeppelin, too.
When Zakk Wylde was developing his style, he saw Van Halen as a game changer, but he avoided tapping. That was Van Halen’s thing.
Nikki Sixx: How much of an influence was King Eddie (Eddie Van Halen) on you?
Zakk Wylde: I think on everybody, I mean . . .
Nikki Sixx: He really changed the game.
Zakk Wylde: I mean, put it this way . . . Billy Sheehan said, “You know you’ve really changed the game when you’ve influenced people not only that wanna sound . . . that end up copying your thing or sound but that go intentionally out of your way not to sound like you. So that’s when you’ve really influenced people. You know what I mean? So just like, you don’t wanna sound like King Edward or anything like that? Don’t tap. I remember with Oz when I first got in the band it was like, How am I gonna be me? I won’t play with a whammy bar, I’ll get rid of that. . . . I have them now, but I intentionally went out of my way when I first joined the band. No tapping, no whammy bar, no diatonic scales or harmonic minor. You know, three notes of scale . . .
Nikki Sixx: I like how you were like, “I’m going to be in this band with one of my heros and these are the things I’m not going to do.
Zakk Wylde: This way you just won’t sound like that if you don’t do it. . . When GNR was the biggest biggest thing at the time, if you don’t wanna be like Slash get a Flying V or an SG. Just do the opposite of him or get a Strat. You don’t wanna sound like Jimi Hendrix? Don’t play a Stratocaster. Get a Les Paul or get a Flying V. It’s something that’s complete opposite of him. Get a guitar that doesn’t have a whammy on it. Don’t use a Uni-Vibe pedal. You just cross things off the list . . . Getting back to when I first joined the boss, I just crossed off all these things and the only thing I was kind of left with was pentatonic scales. And I love John McLaughlin and he’s the king of it, as far as blazing pentatonic scales and picking them all and everything like that, and Frank Marino is huge on me.”
The thing about choosing to do the opposite is that it means you have to be well versed in the opposite. Zakk Wylde knew the opposites and developed his style and wove in the techniques he’d crossed off the list. That style fit with Ozzy Osbourne.
My son likes Ozzy Osbourne.
That’s how I came to be second row at the concert last Friday, with Zakk Wylde in front of me tapping, with a son mouthing “tapping” to me and pointing at Wylde—the same son who went home and practiced playing ’til the sun came up.
What does this have to do with Stephen Hawking?
In their book The Grand Design, Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow talk about force fields, which was the brainchild of scientist Michael Faraday.
In the centuries between Newton and Faraday one of the great mysteries of physics was that its laws seemed to indicate that forces act across the empty space that separates interacting objects. Faraday didn’t like that. He believed that to move an object, something has to come in contact with it. And so he imagined the space between electric charges and magnets as being filled with invisible tubes that physically do the pushing and pulling. Faraday called those tubes a force field. A good way to visualize a force field is to perform the schoolroom demonstration in which a glass plate is placed over a bar magnet and iron filings spread on the glass. With a few taps to overcome friction, the filings move as if nudged by an unseen power and arrange themselves in a pattern of arcs stretching from one pole of the magnet to the other. That pattern is a map of the unseen force that permeates space. Today we believe that all forces are transmitted by fields, so it is an important concept in modern physics—as well as science fiction.
If you look at the image in The Grand Design, of “the force field of a bar magnet, as illustrated by the reaction of iron filings,” it’s an opportunity to see the beauty of forces that are present but invisible to the eye.
So what if those forces are what lead to art and innovation and also likely destruction and war?
Could there be a theory that would predict, explain, or cause these things to occur and/or perhaps prevent them?
Is there a force that will always lead to a specific reaction?
If tapping is a force, it beget a reaction in Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Zakk Wylde, and my son—which in turn beget innovation.
If yes, then is the force already in existence or is it created by certain people coming together? Or is there a force bringing them together, which will always guarantee a bang—whether it is Lost Generation expatriates in Paris or Hudson River School landscape artists?
And, if the forces are already there, can we call ourselves creatives?
Or are we more miner-49ers, mining invisible forces to tap into what’s already there?
I listened to Zeppelin and Van Halen as a teenager, but I didn’t know about tapping because I wasn’t paying attention to the how of the music. I was safe on the perimeter instead of deep in the mine with a pickaxe.
Then I birthed a kid who pays attention to the how and who is so passionate about the how that when I see Zakk Wylde tapping, I know what I’m seeing and I have a deeper appreciation for the how.
I realize that this connection is a cross between a puzzle and the game Memory.
Each time I’m exposed to something, I get another card.
A got a card years ago with Zeppelin and Van Halen, but it took my son to make the connection, which led me to a concert in which I stared in awe at Wylde, and had a little brain explosion when I saw him tapping, and saw my son pointing and mouthing “tapping” to me.
It was all already there.
So back to this question of forces.
I think art and innovation and destruction and war are the result of those forces.
Uncovering one and avoiding the other is a mix of those memory cards, which only come with experience and exposure.
Want to be nudged by that force that brought us the impressionists, jazz, and any other movement? You’ve got to be there, ready with a pickaxe for mining, and then paying attention to the connections.
How do you get your pickaxe?
You have to be in the invisible mine.
How do you get to the invisible mine?
You have to know where it exists.
How to get there?
Toward the beginning of the interview he did with Sixx, Wylde and Sixx talk about growing as a musician, and adding the music and artists you’ve been exposed to into your “soup.”
Sixx: We were talking about stuff we grew up on, stuff that inspired us in the beginning and I wondered about some of your favorites—like even going back. I know you started when you were 15, right?
Wylde: Yeah, well I was 14 years old, first year of high school and I started getting serious, but, uh . . . When people ask me, “Do you have any advice for my son or daughter?” they’re going to MI or whatever, I say, whatever it is you love, what moves you—like if some kids like, I just love early Metallica . . . —that’s what your band should sound like. You know what I mean? You should be able to open for them. It’s like, I like Meshuggah, too . . . Those are the bands that move you, but you’re doing . . . It’s like if we said with Rich Robinson and the fellas—you know it’s Rich that does those Hendrix Experience tours—it’s like if you said to Rich, you know with the Black Crowes, it sounds kind of like Humble Pie. And, we’re eating that soup and it sounds like Humble Pie, Stones, and probably Rich would go, “Yeah. That’s what I’m on a steady diet of—and that’s why it sounds like that, because that’s what we listen to and that’s what we love.
Sixx: And we feel it when we play it.
Wylde: So yeah. It’s real. It’s like the Stones, back in the early days, you guys must be into blues bands and stuff like that, and Keith would have said, “Yeah, I like Chuck Berry . . . ”
Sixx: And then you grow as a musician—and you pick up new things to put in your soup. Just don’t put wrong things in the soup.
You’re Van Halen and my son watching Zeppelin and you’re Wylde and Sixx—and then one day you’re decades down the road and you have so much exposure that you can talk with ease about Meshuggah and Chuck Berry within a few minutes of each other, and you know who they influenced and who influenced them, and you’ve likely got an arsenal of pickaxes at that point and doing some serious mining.
Suggestions on exposure:
Read The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow.
Watch Zakk Wylde’s interview with Nikki Sixx.
Watch Eddie Van Halen share his introduction to tapping.
*A belated thank you to Hawking, and Mlodinow, and Faraday, and Einstein, and Newton. I wish I hadn’t run away from physics in high school. Thank you to Zakk Wylde and Ozzy Osbourne and Led Zeppelin and Eddie Van Halen for the force that landed me at that concert, and which keeps my kid practicing at all hours, and my heart exploding with pride.