Released: 2014, Benbella Books
Fans of instrumental guitar heroes like Joe Satriani are a bit of a different breed; often different than Metal fans, often musicians themselves. I know a lot of Metal fans who don’t like Guitar heroes. The most common, misguided and silly comment or complaint is that it is all ‘wanking’ or some such denigrating or derogatory comment. Then, you have a batch of music fans who like guitar heroes but don’t like Metal. I fall somewhere in between. I’m not a musician and I don’t worship at the altar of Joe some people I know, but I do love instrumental guitar music and I have about 10 Satriani albums. I guess that makes me a fairly dedicated fan but not an obsessed one. That is why I was really looking forward to Joe Satrinai’s first autobiography, STRANGE BEAUTIFUL MUSIC.
The book is a standard hardcover, a good length at just under 300 pages. There is a nice Foreword by Brian May of Queen and for the gearheads there is an appendix that breaks down, album-by album all his gear. Anchoring the middle of the books are about 32 pages of glossy plates with tons of photos from across his entire career, live shots, candid shots, personal shots and studio shots. There are also many other black and white shots scattered through the text, so there is lots to look at.
STRANGE BEAUTIFUL MUSIC follows Joe’s life and it is restrained in the sense that he does not talk about his own life or family much; he seems quite private. Essentially Joe goes through album-by-album and discussing in detail the creative process. He describes how he made certain sounds on albums, how he jotted down ideas for lyrics on cocktail napkins and resurrected them years to turn into true songs, he talks about his days as a guitar teacher and hanging out in California with Steve Vai. The book is heavily reinforced by comments from lots and lots of other people in Joe’s life. I would even hazard a guess that 30%-40% of the book is other people talking about Joe and making music with Joe. Some of the contributors are producers, (Andy Johns, Mike Fraser) session guys, ex-students, studio engineers and people like Sammy Hagar and the Chickenfoot guys, Steve Vai, and his usual gang of collaborators, John Cuniberti, Jeff Campitelli, and Cliff Cultreri, (the three ‘C’s, well known to older Satriani fans). In fact, John Cuniberti has lots to add, pages and pages worth inserting his perspective about certain situations. In that sense it is a very collaborative project, not just Joe telling his own story. The additional writers significantly added to the overall impact.
The whole tone of STRANGE BEAUTIFUL MUSIC is positive and creative. It is very rarely he has something bad to ay about anyone, and even then, it is more his frustrations rather than dishing the dirt. This book is 100% G-rated, not one single story of sex or drugs or any tales about unfortunate decisions involving TV’s and hotel room windows, or Jack Daniels, Ferrari’s and swimming pools. I know that is not Joe’s style but he maybe could have given us a little peak behind the curtain. That aside, he does throw back the curtain and shine the hash unblinking spotlight on how his mind works, the creative quirks and quarks that come to him the middle of a shopping trip and suddenly he is ensconced in his studio writing a song that we all know and love. So that is what ‘Musterion of Rock’ means!
My largest disappointment in a sense is that this book is not truly his autobiography. It is his musical memoirs and in fact it is sub-titled ‘A musical memoir’ that that should have been my first clue. While it may not seem like much the distinct between musical memoir and an autobiography is an important one. I was hoping more for an autobiography but what he choose to write as his first book was, and perhaps rightly so, about music.
Joe went through in significant detail, every single album and recording session and what gear was used. He talked extensively about gear and because I’m not a gear guy, some of the descriptions of setting up gear made my eyes gloss over. For example, sections like this were common.
“I was using an old Marshall SE100 as my main speaker simulator which meant I was going guitar into amplifier into Marshall SE100 into ProTools directly, or through the STT-1 if I wanted to shape it with some EQ or an optical compressor.” (p. 219)
For some people, and I suspect a very large percentage of Joe fans and readers (the musical kind), would find this fascinating and then they rush off to their own little home studio to try to capture that sound. For me, it just didn’t hold my attention.
The other main issue is that by focusing on music, song-writing, compositions and studio stuff, Joe left out a huge amount of information. He did not really talk about G3, other than a couple of pages talking about organizing the first one, he doesn’t talk about shooting videos, very little about touring, doesn’t talk a much about anything outside of strictly creating strange beautiful music. He could write another 300-page book discussing his career and accomplishments and not duplicate anything from the first book. I wanted to hear his thoughts on playing in India for the first time (one of the few western artists to do so) and I wanted to hear about him on the G3 with Yngwie Malmsteen. I wanted to read about him being a producer for the thrash band Possessed and those recording sessions. I wanted to read about those wacky video shoots and the live albums. He did not mention his live albums at all and he has five of them, let alone his SATCHURATED 3-D movie. He toured Japan while he was briefly in Deep Purple, but it is not even mentioned! How could he leave such legendary stories out? This book could have been so much more.
I hope there will be another book by him one day, one that might have a broader appeal to non-musical gear guys. However, I fully sense that I am in the minority, a Metal fan primarily who is not a musician, who just happened to like instrumental guitar. He wrote the right book at the right time for the right audience, but I felt like I was on the outside looking in. However, at the end of day STRANGE BEAUTIFUL MUSIC it was a very interesting, very intimate look into the mind of an artist and composer, and the creative process of a modern day musical genius. For this reason alone it stand heads above many other rock bios which may have more flash and flair, but much less substance. I think fans of Joe and Joe himself would not have it any other way.