Gary Clark Jr. is one of those guitarists other guitarists, and musicians in general, just love. Just love to be on stage with. Born in Austin, Texas, in 1984, he quickly gained a reputation as one of the finest guitar players of his generation. In 2011, Rolling Stone named him “Best Young Gun.” Extreme skills on that instrument, even after some 60 years of Rock N Roll, still carry a great deal of weight. And when they’re Bluesy and Root’s based, they tend to garner even more respect.
The lyrics for the above song, from his 2012 album, Blak and Blu, seem to contest their own ground, with an ironic subtext of famous people singing about anonymity, demanding to be known by name, assuring they will before the night is through. The cool confidence and self-assured performance deepens this contradiction, and the edgy belief in the power of one’s own skills cuts across many realms.
The protagonist of the song may have a host of other things in mind beyond great guitar playing and carving out his moment of fame before the dawn. His vision of New York may be nothing like we imagine or assume it must be. Listening to the song or watching a live performance may give us a false sense of the character narrating his experience. But we the audience don’t have to care if we get it right. We don’t have to know the complete biography of the man in question, which is one of the beauties of Rock to begin with. It says so much without saying anything at all.
But still the interpretations linger, undercut or buttressed by the propulsive beat and electronic machinations. But the driving rhythms tell us to stay on track, more or less, to take it all at face value, and stop overthinking it all. This is about launching a new career, conquering a new town and the people one meets in the night — if the riffs speak the truth. If the buzz is as it appears to be.
New York City has long had a reputation as the Big Test for musicians, actors, artists and writers. If you can make it there . . . and so on. But the concentrated madness of the Big City seems like an especially tough nut to crack for a niche guitarist, fighting through a first night of alcoholic fog and shockingly bright lights that really can’t compete with the darkness of the unknown. As metaphor, as allegory, even as morality tale, a Bluesy, edgy guitar solo can cut straight through all of that in seconds, illuminating the darkness and standing up to those bright lights unlike most other art forms. Music as obsessive dynamite, midnight Ferrari or tropical machete. But one’s precise aim is paramount.
As long as there is a Big City, wave after wave of young people and the young at heart will try to conquer it. Always. There is no “right way” to do this, but hard-edged and ferocious sonic vibrations, thrown with easy confidence at its massive buildings, may be the fastest.