I am the Guitarist
My name is Justin Moses Gunn – the middle name being that of my now deceased father. Admittedly, it has taken a very long time for my body and mind to fill out, to mature, in order that I may feel able to carry this name with any authority, with any honesty. Even now, I feel my voice should be deeper!
I was born in the morning of the 8th of May, in 1970, in New York City Hospital – located on the far east side of lower Manhattan, precariously suspended over the FDR expressway. My mother reminisces of how idyllic the weather was on that day. She also remembers that I didn’t cry – not even a whimper – when coming out and into this world. I was nearly one month premature and jaundiced. I had to stay in a sort of plastic bubble with very little human contact for the first week of my life. This apparently gave my then-racist grandfather just the time he needed to finally and seriously come to terms with the reality of my mother marrying a Black man – the product of which I was and to which, now, he was blood-related. But, as my mother mentioned, it was an exceptionally warm and sunny day… And I eventually put on the necessary weight to leave the plastic bubble and receive that most essential motherly love… And my grandfather, he taught me how to fish… And I’ve cried – on several occasions – since..
I spent my formative years in Greenwich Village. It was a rare place in the world, at least in the U.S. at the time – an oasis of acceptance for “colorful outsiders” and “beautiful losers”, and many winners too! My very first musical “experience” that I can remember happened as a toddler there in the West Village. These groups of West Africans would converge and play their traditional drums every weekend in a park by the building complex where I lived. I was so drawn to their music that my mother often had to fight with me to get me to come home again. Later, she told me that that experience with me was not entirely new and unexpected to her. She told me that, while still in her belly even, I used to react strongly, with kicks and punches, to the very same African drummers’ music in the park whenever she would pass on her way to and from.
My early attempts at formal musical training were rather “unsuccessful”. At around age 6, I engaged in piano lessons, but was asked eventually by my impatient instructor to stop taking the lessons, since I apparently showed no interest in learning to read and/or play the songs she gave to me. My attempts at the violin at age 8 were equally short-lived, when I was finally caught too many times faking it in the orchestra – kicked out again, for not being able really to read or play the songs. And to this day – and I say this with great pride and arrogance – I can neither read music notation nor can I play another persons songs with any proficiency what-so-ever.
At the age of 5, my family moved to “the country”, about an hour-and-a-half north of Manhattan. This was the result of my father’s increasing success in his acting career and my parents’ mutual desire to provide my sister and me with a “safer” and “healthier” natural and educational environment in which to be nurtured. In my great boredom, I found solace in my solo wanderings in the marshes and fields and forests. Marijuana played its role… And so too did Punk Music. In fact, it was in punk music – and its raw and immediate Do-It-Yourself attitude and approach – where I finally began to find my musical voice. And it was with and through the guitar to which it finally was given sound. And with punk music as the springboard, I have developed an insatiable musical “hunger” and have since been opened and exposed to – and devoured! – all genres of musical expression, past and present. But it always seems to be the ‘oddballs’ – the ones with their own and undeniably unique expression, regardless of what ‘genre’ he or she is described as playing within – to which I am most naturally and automatically drawn. All I can say is It’s something rooted in the in-between notes.. and in the rhythm!
After some years getting my academic curiosity out of my system, I moved, as a young adult, back to my birthplace – Manhattan. This time, it was the East Village that I inhabited. And it was there and then – in the early 90’s – that I joined a particular musical project – that was seeped in the “indie-rock” sound of the time – and that had a fairly brief life in itself, but that first introduced me to musical collaboration with Claudius Pratt, a collaboration that continues today – 15 years later! We, in truth, have not been playing together continually for all of those years. But we’ve stayed continually in contact and in conversation, mutually sensing, if not saying it outright, an alliance in our common musical histories, interests and quests. We are different, no doubt, in our musical expressions as in our personal characters. But, like two sides of the same coin, the complimentary parts that we each fulfill complete the creative whole. And with our maturity, I believe, we’ve become clearer about what we want to say and how it should sound when we say it. And Reverend Shine Snake Oil Company is the result of this.. and perhaps, too, it’s partly the result of our leaving the U.S. and moving here to Copenhagen and the vantage-point that living outside from “what one knows” can offer, in terms of helping to provide that (self)reflective gaze so essential in order to better perceive aspects about who one is and from where one has come.
There’s really so much more to say… and so many different ways to say it.. But really this is supposed to fill the requirement of stating who I am and what my role is in this band and its music… Like I said, my name is Justin Gunn. And I play the very self-taught guitar in the band called Reverend Shine Snake Oil Company – a band whose musical expression is proudly simple, deceptively naive and, despite the apparent expatriation of it’s founding members, very “American”(meaning a unique historical merging of the African and the European musical expressions)… and with occasional dabbles in more oriental influences! Our music is “social music” – as Claudius says, music “for people of fair health and moderate intelligence.”
That’s it for now.. this time!
Photo By Anders Graver