A LESSON IN HUMILITY

Michael Gulezian

The more a man knows, the more he forgives.
- Catherine the Great

Early in my career as a professional solo guitarist, I knew I was very, very good. I was signed to a big record label, and big record labels have a way of making their artists feel like they are more important than they usually are. I don't think I ever bought into that mentality completely, but I'm sure it did have at least some effect on me. The big record companies certainly do not have anything to teach their artists about humility.

So there I was, this young kid, out on tour, totally independent, playing concerts all over the country, getting great reviews, blah blah blah blah blah. In the early 1980s, Michael Hedges' first album, Breakfast In the Field, was released. I thought it was good, but it didn't knock me out.

I was scheduled to perform at Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma. I received a call from Ray Parker, the Dean of Students, asking me to approve an opening artist, who happened to be a graduate of Phillips University. He was also an acoustic guitarist; he was a big fan of mine, and loved my recorded work. His name was Michael Hedges. I'll never forget what I said (and Ray will never forget what I said either). I replied that I would probably blow him off the stage, that I might make him look bad. I turned him down.

That is the truth. I refused to allow Michael Hedges to be my opening act, on the grounds that my own playing was so good, Michael would be embarrassed.

Looking back on it today, it seems like the most preposterous statement I could have possibly made in my entire life.

Soon afterward, I met Michael for the first time, at a concert in Santa Cruz. He was playing with Preston Reed and John Fahey. We were backstage, and John introduced me as (I am not kidding) the best guitar player in the world (remember, John was working for Chrysalis Records at the time). Michael was very gracious, and played some new compositions for me. I was startled to see and hear him doing things on the guitar that seemed impossible. I asked him, "How do you DO that?" He just laughed. We didn’t talk about my refusal to let him appear with me at Phillips University.

A couple years later, Windham Hill released Michael's Aerial Boundaries album. I would not be exaggerating to say that upon hearing it, I went into a state of mild shock. This was the most powerful, majestic, original and beautiful solo guitar music I had ever heard. It was nothing short of revolutionary. I still remember that day very clearly. I was on tour, in Oneonta, New York. I was staying at a cabin on a lake. I repeated the first side of the album all afternoon, and all night.

As awed as I was by that recording, nothing could have prepared me for hearing Michael live in concert. It was a completely transcendent experience. There are no words to describe the hugeness of that sound, the technical command he held over his instrument, the grace of his music, and his utter authority on stage. It was 1986, in Tucson, Arizona. The concert promoter happened to be my old friend Larry Berle, from SRO Productions. He had flown in from Minneapolis for the night. We sat together, and he saw how deeply I was moved. So I told Larry the whole story of how I had once said the most absurd, arrogant and awful thing possible about Michael, and how heavily it had been weighing upon me.

Thank God for friends like Larry. He didn't tell me what he was planning to do. After the concert, Michael, Larry and I were all gathered in Michael's hotel room. Larry turned to Michael and said, "Michael has something he wants to tell you." So I told him the exact words I had spoken to Ray Parker years before. I confessed it all. By the time I finished I was practically in tears. And once again, I was not prepared for what happened next. Michael smiled and shook his head, then walked over to me, gave me the biggest hug, and started laughing, and kept on laughing until all I could do was laugh with him. I laughed at my own stupidity, I laughed because the burden was gone, I laughed because it was all so funny.

Michael and I went on and became good friends. We would bump into each other whenever our paths crossed when we were on the road. We saw each other every time he came to Arizona. Michael died very tragically in a car accident in December 1997. As far as his place in the world of guitar music is concerned, I believe he was by far and away the greatest musician ever to touch an acoustic guitar. As a human being, he was a gentle, kind soul. He taught me the true meaning of humility. And he taught me a lesson in the power of forgiveness.

Life is fragile. Life is short. Life is precious. If we need to reconcile ourselves to the ones we love, the time to do it is now.