I guess I missed the memo. Forgive me because I’m just a little “slow” if you catch my drift. Now I smell what’s cookin’ and it’s the last fragment of my stupid optimism about art and the expression of the human condition. Because now I realize that rather than being humbled by of our tiny place in this immeasurable universe, life and art are really about winning. I used to believe that life was not a zero sum game and that the world held so much bounty and beauty that there was enough for everyone if they’d just take the time to look skyward and breathe nature’s divine air. I guess I’m an idiot.



Training to win. The author in school circa 1965

I recently read a post from Esquire about how a rapper went home from SXSW early, because he “won”(their words) and it got me thinking—make that seething—about how everything in life now has to be a competition. Especially in this country. It’s the biggest, baddest, boldest, richest, righteous; most-popular-takes-the-prize mentality that surrounds us all. And it has always been this way. I was just a fool to think otherwise. Top forty, Billboard charts, top grossing movie, highest price paid for a painting and auction results on the morning news. What is American Idol if not a competition? Duh.

Even education is now about winning. Screw the arts—too hard to quantify. Our English and literature classes are now dumbed down to serve as training for corporate report writing. Learning is no longer the point; it’s all about positioning oneself for future employment. Imagine the fraud generated by all or nothing winning attitudes about the end game above all else. Creativity is given much lip service, but in the end it’s conformity that gets rewarded.

Still, I have optimism. Creative souls have always slipped through the cracks. In fact, I think the more robot-like the world becomes, the more misfits will rise to the challenge. Writing, filming, playing music, building and carving—not because of the money, not because of the fame, but because it has always been this way. That’s the creative person’s way of winning.

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Jol Dantzig is a guitar builder, designer, writer and filmmaker. He has worked for Gibson, Fender, Guild, Ovation, Gretsch, and was a founding partner of Hamer guitars—one of the first boutique custom guitar brands. Dantzig’s work has been played by hundreds of artists including Sting, Steve Stevens, Larry Coreyell, Dug Pinnick, Billy Gibbons, Keb Mo’, Nick Lowe, KK Downing, Glenn Tipton, John Abercrombie, Glen Campbell, Rick Nielsen, Kenny Vaughan, Lita Ford, James Honeyman Scott, Elliott Easton, Andy Summers, Peter Frampton, Martin Barre, Lyle Workman, Brad Gillis, George Harrison, Jeff Ament, Dweezil Zappa, Jeff Tweedy, Nancy Wilson—and many others.

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