I started playing music at the age of 4, first with piano, then later with clarinet and saxophone, but I didn't really feel the addictive thrill of finding MY instrument until I discovered my mom's old classical guitar in a closet one day at 15. It probably is lucky that I discovered a guitar instead of, say, an accordion...I likely would have played whatever new instrument presented itself that day with equal abandon and need, and I was geeky enough already without adding an accordion to the mix.
At the time, my father, Nathaniel Weintraub, had been recently diagnosed with a rare from of cancer and I desperately needed a way to both distract myself and express myself. Teaching myself a new instrument fit the bill. That the guitar is so tied in with those feelings and that time is one of the key aspects to how I play it. At a time when everyone around me was learning to "shred" and hair metal reigned supreme, my style developed around expressing emotion, not flash. I didn't pick it up to impress girls at school, and I wasn't interested in emulating any of my musical heroes of the time such as Clapton, Van Halen, or Metallica. I even made a conscious pact not to learn covers or "licks," delving into music theory as a way to understand new possibilities. I wrote, of all things, solo guitar compositions.
These were my ways of talking about one of the most challenging things I've ever had to face at a time when I didn't have the confidence and skill to talk about it in words. Many of those compositions made their way onto my first album called So, You Think You Know Me? The title is a reflection of the fact that I was perceived of as a slacker who got mediocre grades while other students worked their asses off to "build their futures."
Truth is, I just didn't have the energy to get good grades. With my dad sick at home, I didn't feel that I could afford the luxury of worrying about my grades and what college I was or wasn't going to get into. The only reason I didn't flunk out of school entirely was that the family therapist convinced me that my failing school would cause my father far too much worry at a time when he needed to focus his energies on healing. So I worked hard at school for him.
But I knew that none of that was helping me deal with the main problem at hand: figuring out what I was going to do if my father died. So I spent all of my free time playing guitar, and bicycling 20-30 miles a day, stopping often at the top of an enormous hill up a street called Skyview which on a clear day looked all the way out to the NYC skyline 30 miles away. I would sit up there and meditate...my meditations often revolving around this central question, "What the fuck am I going to do to survive this?!" And the answer, it turns out, was to play a LOT of guitar.
I watched my father die on January 15th, 1990 around 2 am. I was given a last moment alone with him. I stood over him for a while and then simply whispered, "there will be music."