Friday, June 9, 2017

Interview With Guitarist Scott Tarulli

It is hard to believe that it has been more than a month since Scott Tarulli and I finally crossed paths and got to hang out and talk shop in Manchester, New Hampshire!

I had mentioned earlier that week that I'd shortly be just a short drive from his home base in Boston - presenting at the 6th St. Anselm Conference - and he drove up that Saturday with beers and snacks, ready for some intensive discussion about the music business, education, rhetoric, philosophy. . .  and of course all sorts of matters of the metal scene!

I actually recorded 1 1/2 hours of our conversation - here's the video of it - in the hotel room where I was staying.  I call it an interview, and I suppose it started out more with Scott interviewing me.  But it quickly turned into an open-ended, sometimes at-tangents, super-enjoyable conversation - and I even got a bit of "interviewing" in on my side, putting Scott on the spot.

Who Is Scott And How Did We Get Connected?

If you don't yet know Scott Tarulli and his work, he is a particularly versatile guitarist.  Although he came originally from a metal background (which of course is what I'm most interested in!), he shifts easily into other genres - blues, jazz, rock, and funk - and he is someone who I'd describe as sharp across the board.  He's a phenomenal player, who loves his craft - but he also has a wealth of knowledge about music history and theory - and, making him a triple-threat, in my view he's a professional who has over time developed what in philosophy we call prudence or practical wisdom.  I love discussing the music business with him, gleaning insights about how things work and what has changed over time from our conversations.

You'll want to check out his main site - Scott Tarulli.  He's also a professor of guitar at the Berkelee College of Music.   He's done a lot of studio and tour gigs, with all sorts of artists - and he's got three albums of his own - Anytime Anywhere, September in Boston, and Transitions.  So for me it's quite a treat to get to interact with someone with his background, skill, and knowledge - and particularly in terms of the classic metal that I grew up with and love (as turns out to be the case for him as well)!

You might well wonder then:  How did I end up connected up - and developing both a friendship and a collegial and collaborative relationship - with a professional musician from the east coast?  The answer to that lies in the fact that Scott is also a professional educator.  He contacted me originally because he wanted to resume studying a subject he had encountered way back in his college days - rhetoric - in order to further develop his chops in the classroom, helping his students progress across all fronts (often in spite of themselves, as any educator knows!)  So he reached out to me because, in my day job (which often goes well into the night) one of the services I provide is tutorial sessions.

We decided to start with the very first substantive treatment of the discipline of rhetoric in the West - Aristotle's Art of Rhetoric - going through that work chapter by chapter, working through each of the topics methodically.  Very quickly, it became clear that we had a ton in common in terms of our musical tastes and background - and that both of us had given considerable thought to one of the main overlaps, classic heavy metal.  It is incredibly fun to have a student with whom one can both literally and figuratively let one's hair down.

What's particularly cool about the relationship is that although officially Scott is a professor and professional who happens to be my student, we're really more on the level of peers - but not equals in the same disciplines.  We're both decades into our careers, long past the early days of our formation.

When it comes to philosophy and rhetoric, it's true there's some scholars and teachers that I'll readily concede to be my superior - but I am at the top of my game.  If you want someone who can take a number of texts in ancient, medieval, and modern philosophy, explain them, guide learners through them, apply them, make those past thinkers speak to the concerns of the present - I'm your guy (if you haven't already checked out my main video channel, with over 1,000 philosophy videos, give it a look).

When it comes to the history of rock or even just classic metal - when it comes to music theory and performance - when it comes to the ins and outs of the music business, I'm just an interested amateur. Scott is clearly someone who has long sense fought his way to the level of mastery, and has been there long enough to get comfortable with his place.  Both of us being at that level, in different fields, and overlapping interests, makes for a really great dynamic as we study Aristotle's Rhetoric together, especially as we apply it in areas that I can make guesses about, but which Scott knows (or like any genuine expert, knows that he doesn't know!).

I think that comes through pretty clearly in the interview video.  It was a great conversation, and given the dynamic chemistry we have - sort of like jamming together, but with ideas rather than instruments - we're kicking around the idea of putting together a podcast down the line.  Scott has also agreed to start writing some guest posts here in Heavy Metal Philosopher - and I'm seriously looking forward to seeing those!

What Topics Did We Discuss?

What happens when you put a philosopher who loves music together with a professional guitarist who teaches both individual students and entire classes - and when both of them also grew up listening to, getting excited about, and (more in Scott's case than mine) playing the same songs?  Add to that some beer, a couch, a camera, and stage it at the end of very full days for both of us - and you get that conversation.

We started out with Scott asking me to discuss some topics we'd been hitting pretty consistently in our studies of Aristotle's Rhetoric, but with an eye to giving his students some idea why those ancient ideas might be relevant to their own lives in the present.  One easy hook gets provided by the fact that his Berkelee students do want to become successful musicians, and that requires giving some thought to how they are going to get gigs - and that means making a case for why they ought to be hired.

Although there is this romantic notion - pushed in a lot of movies - that if you just are making good music, sooner or later, you're going to get "noticed", and then start making money making music, that's rarely the case.  The music business is after all business.  So the discipline of rhetoric becomes involved immediately when you get down to actually business - you have to persuade the people who have the money, the venues, and the decision-making power that it would be to their benefit to hire you to play.

Aristotle distinguishes three main modes of persuasion - and he has in mind persuasion through speech, but this can apply just as well to written communication, visual presentation, video or music, and other modes as well.  He calls these logos, ethos, and pathos - and we usually translate these as "argument" or "reason", "character" or "habit", and "emotion" (which are not bad, as far as translations go).  Each of these provides some of what a person needs to make a case to some other person, or some particular audience - so the would be persuader needs to understand them well - but they work even better when they reinforce each other.  We ran through a lot of specific examples illustrating how this can work, and engaged in a lot of great back-and-forth analysis of those cases.

Another set of issues we gave a good bit of discussion to - straying out of the Rhetoric and into another main work of Aristotle's - the Nicomachean Ethics - how to distinguish not just between good and bad relationships, but between relationships that are fundamentally based on different types of goods.  People get themselves into a lot of trouble and predicaments when they confuse one type of relationship for another, or when they try to turn a relationship based on one kind of good - usefulness or pleasure, for example - into a deeper relationship with the person that is based fundamentally on his or her character.

We also spent quite a bit of time focusing specifically on the emotions - and anger in particular.  We don't get a lot of consistent training or education - and we do get a lot of mixed messages - about emotions.  This is the case in our broader society, but even more so, I would say, in the creative arts and crafts.  Scott and I delved quite a bit into the causes of anger, how it works, how we might productively direct it.  We also looked at a number of examples - including people (like Richie Blackmore) who seem to project anger in performance - and what those reveal. He also got me to talk about why I ended up turning to philosophers like Aristotle (and the Stoics, and a few others) to derive the understanding of anger I rely upon in my anger management coaching.

What other topics did we range over?  How musicians learn from and successfully incorporate things from each other Musical niches and tribute bands.  How to establish legitimate boundaries.  Why judicious examples are needed in teaching.  Positive and negative feedback loops in teaching and learning, and in musical performance.  Reasons why some bands were successful and others weren't. What practical wisdom is, what it has to do with judgement and sensibility, how we cultivate it,  and why it is needed not just in the music business but also in education.  What genuine humility is and what people deserve. . . . and all sorts of other stuff!

We did keep coming back to one main issue consistently - habit and character.  Aristotle actually considers this to be the most effective mode of persuasion, but he also doesn't tell us as much about that mode as we might like in the Rhetoric.  What he does tell us though, we can build off of, so that we can apply it directly to all sorts of aspect of the music business.  What messages do we send to people who we want to persuade about the kinds of persons we are - what sorts of qualities we have or lack - whether, for instance, we are someone who can be relied upon to deliver the goods or not? Or what our motivations are - do we come across as someone who really wants to give an audience a great show? Someone who is more interested in making a buck? Someone who is all about being the "rock star"?  Those sorts of projected personalities can make a difference when it comes to getting a gig or not.

The Interview and Where We're Going Next

I've written a good bit about the interview here, but really just scratched the surface.  If you'd like to watch it now, here it is - check it out!



This was actually my first face-to-face meeting with Scott - though we'd skyped dozens of times by then - and we both not only had a great time, but realized that we have some excellent chemistry.  You might say that, analogously to musicians who jam together for the first time, and everything clicks, we had that sort of "everything coming together" experience in intellectual conversation.

We're already kicking around the idea of doing a podcast together- which I think would be a blast - and I'm looking forward to the next time we're in the same place at the same time (I'm sure we'll do another video-recorded conversation when we do!)

Another thing we're looking at is some collaborative work that would apply directly to musical education - infusing additional insights from rhetoric, critical thinking, and ethics into the classes Scott teaches, building them into exercises, assignments, and activities.

As I wrote earlier, I suggested to Scott that he might also "come on over to my house" (figuratively!), and write some guest posts for this very blog- Heavy Metal Philosopher.  He responded with great enthusiasm - and I'm really looking forward to his contributions!