Editor’s Notebook: The road to success

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_D5C5045brianby Brian Clarey

You wouldn’t believe how much phallic imagery adorns the walls of the green room at Ziggy’s. I stopped counting at a dozen.

My friend Andy Falco said it’s not the most homoerotic wall art he’s seen in his years on the road, first as a wayfaring electric bluesman, then as an acoustic hired gun and later — much later — as guitarist for the Grammy-nominated Infamous Stringdusters, the act that brought him to Ziggy’s in the first place. But, he said, it’s right up there.

He didn’t spot me in the crowd until halfway through the second set, tucked as I was behind an enormous hillbilly who must have wandered down some mountain path to stand in the front row for the show. I caught Andy’s eye and he shot me a wicked grin before plowing into the kind of flatpicking guitar work that he’s spent the last two decades trying to master, starting from the day he met Doc Watson at a bluegrass festival and put down his electric guitar for good.

He was such a tiny kid when he started playing — just 10 or 12 years old, the guitar like a shovel in his thin arms — that to see him now, working the fretboard faster than an industrial machine, tearing into lusty improvisations, earning adulation from audience and fellow band members alike, is amazing to me, no matter how many times I witness it.

We come from a suburb of Long Island where success in life is mandatory — one of our classmates was at one time the country’s foremost expert on T-bills; another became the president of the Florida Senate. There are dozens of doctors and lawyers and Wall Street grifters among our cohort. Andy never wanted that. Neither, incidentally, did I.

Andy never gave up. When waves of us were going off to college, he stayed. When our friends pursued work and women and whimsy across the 50 states, setting things in place for the future we were assured we deserved, Andy stayed put.

And the years went by.

The gig with the Stringdusters, his best-known project, came around just before he turned 40, while the rest of us were buying homes, raising kids and feeding our IRAs. Andy didn’t have any of those things. Still doesn’t. He didn’t even get the Grammy when the band was nominated in 2011 for Best Country Instrumental for their song “Magic No. 9.”

After the gig we left the phallus palace and drove around Winston-Salem, eventually turning figure-eights in his hotel parking lot and continuing a conversation that has been going on since high school, ruminating on the nature of success.

“Nothing happens without a ton of hard work,” Andy said. “You have to go get it. And you have to sacrifice.”

For him that means holding off on love and property, staying true to the vision that started back when we were children, spending half of his nights on stage and in small rooms with penises drawn on the walls.

He may be the most successful guy I know.