Behind the Mask

Behind the Mask

Andy Dear | Thursday, 2 July 2020

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
---Oscar Wilde

  Anyone that knew me from the years 1984 though about 1999 will tell you that I was completely obsessed with playing the guitar. I lived, breathed, ate, and slept electric guitar. At one point I even dabbled in building electric guitars, which was most definitely the impetus for my interest in building things, namely fishing rods. Somewhere around 1993, I remember reading an article about a hot new west coast shredder who went by the name of "Buckethead". The name itself is pretty self-explanatory, as anyone who has ever seen the man understands the origin of the name. As infatuated as I was with guitar-centric music, I have to admit that I never gave Buckethead or his music the remotest of chances in my closed-off little world. I can say now looking back that I, like many, had a bit of an air of arrogance and pretentiousness when it came to my musical tastes and influences, and I couldn't get past what appeared to me at the time as nothing more than a lame attempt at a bad attention grab. I mean c'mon....a Michael Myers Halloween mask and a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket? 

  Fast forward 27 years, to the advent of the youtube search algorithm. A few weeks ago I found myself revisiting some of my old favorites from several 1980's guitar heroes, and out of nowhere a video from Buckethead appeared as a suggested view. I hadn't thought about Buckethead in close to three decades, as my days of obsessive guitar playing are long gone. And, along with them went much of my hearing. Anyhow, I figured, what the heck, let's see what ol' Buckethead has to say.

  So, upfront, I will admit, I have a ton of character flaws. However, admitting when I am wrong, ironically enough, has never been one of them. This cat is INCREDIBLE...I mean absolutely not of this planet. And I am not talking about his ability to play twenty notes per second or his penchant for emulating odd computer noises with his nubbing technique, and a customized kill switch on his guitar. As my old guitar-playing buddy Dan Gelo, who is also a recent Buckethead convert recently put it "I was really amazed, and moved. The songs are enjoyable on one level, but they tend to be very emotionally draining." Dan, who is a much more accomplished musician than I, had never given Buckethead a chance either, and is now as addicted to the man's music as I am. I have found in Buckethead's playing a level of sincerity and maturity that I haven't heard in a long time, if ever. His playing soars beyond stylistic boundaries with a freedom and confidence seldom exhibited by this current generation of lackluster copycats. His compositions, much like the art of fly casting, are an equal blend of masculinity and femininity, elegance and aggression, order and chaos, and most importantly they display a level of emotional honesty and vulnerability that can only be described as frighteningly touching.

  So, what the heck does this have to do with fly fishing? Good question, as I am really not sure. Actually, I am positively sure, I am just not sure I know how to articulate it in a way that doesn't sound absurd and ridiculous. As I've gotten older...and maybe a bit more mature, I've learned to recognize and appreciate dedication and discipline in one's craft. I've also learned to appreciate the deeper meaning behind behaviors that might otherwise be considered outlandish or eccentric, but whose intent goes far beyond the act of just participating in their chosen activity. These eccentricities are usually an outward manifestation from someone who is on a path of pursuing something much deeper and more intimate than just showing off for their peers. My gut tells me that the mask and bucket serve multiple purposes in Buckethead's world. Most of, if not all of which go infinitely deeper in meaning than what they would superficially appear. And, 27 years later I can now appreciate the more peculiar aspects of why it is that he does what he does. Like many of us, I believe he is on a search....a search for truth and meaning in his craft and in his life. More importantly, I believe it's the same search I have been engaged in my whole life, first with a guitar, and for the last 25 years, with a fly rod.

  Several months ago I wrote a piece titled "Air Sculpting" about my introduction to the godfather of outer limits music, Frank Zappa. In that essay, I alluded to his masterpiece, "Watermelon In Easter Hay" as being one of my favorite songs to lose myself in while practicing my fly casting. Easter Hay has been quickly, dramatically, and most likely, permanently removed from its throne and has been replaced with a revolving selection of pieces from Bucketheads much celebrated "Pike Series". An appropriate name for the fishing enthusiast I would say. Among my current favorites are "Cavernous", "Reaching", "Whispers Way", "Sunbursts", "Machete", "How much does a thought weigh?" and "Fireflies". All of which are stunningly beautiful, masterfully written and performed compositions that lend themselves to the beauty, elegance and cadence of an unrolling loop. I will warn you though, once you enter Buckethead land, you may not want to come back. If you're at all like me, you will be forever ruined for anything of lesser quality, destined never to return to a world of manufactured mediocrity. And, considering he's released over 300 albums in the last 30 years, there is plenty of material to stay lost in.

Hope your all having a great week,


P.S. Brian, if you ever come to Texas for a gig, and want to go fishing....hit me up, I'll be glad to take you anytime. You can even wear the bucket and the mask on the boat.