He's not real, right? He's this crazy wizard looking guy on the Dream Theater album covers, a flying purple cartoon, the guy on stage with Dream Theater playing all kinds of bizarre instruments, and he's also an irreplaceable backbone to Dream Theater's music. But then, he Skyped me. I was all like:
I think the first thing he said to me was "Ohh, Stop trying to fix your hair!" I would schedule a meeting with a famous dude and then not get dressed up. It's rock 'n' roll, if you do have hair, you don't comb it, ever. We talked for a little while and it was soon agreed upon that I would meet him at his coming shows in D.C. and Philadelphia. I asked for full filming access. He granted it.
After I realized what I had just committed to I sat back and thought, "OK, these shows are in about seven days; I am in Los Angeles; I need to get to the east coast." I hopped a bus from L.A. to San Francisco, because that is where my primary residence has been for the last year. I got screamed at by no less than 500 people for wearing a Raiders hoodie. To be honest, I bought it trying to pretend I am not originally from Cleveland, because they always lose, the lazy bums.
At first I didn't understand that the animosity was directed at what I the hoodie, rather than me as a person. For an hour I was like, "What in the hell is wrong with these people?!" I'm kidding. I actually never stop thinking those words when I am in The Bay Area. While I was there I chilled back with this dude, a road acquaintance, who is always down on Union Square shredding on his drums. Then, I hopped a plane to D.C.
When I walked into U Street Music Hall there was Mr Rudess standing on the stage, rehearsing with legendary Berklee College of Music drum instructor, and Winger drummer, Rod Morgenstein. I looked up. I just froze for a minute. "Holy shit. What the fuck is going on here? Why is Jordan Rudess talking to me? What is he saying? Wake up you idiot the man is talking to you!!" I came out of my reverie. He said, "What's up dude?"
We took off for a minute, went to most awesome pizza place I have eaten at in a long time called &Pizza. First I went there. Then, I dragged Jordan there, and then it was so good the crew, and members of the crowd, ordered even more. I think they probably sold 20 or 30 extra pizzas that night because of Jordan buying two pizzas.
I worked my ass off, filmed the whole first night in Washington, everything I could possibly get. I got to see a bit of Jordan, as a human being, rather than as a rock star. The man is, also, is probably one of the busiest guys I have ever met. He plays his keys, but also runs his award winning app development company Wizdom Music, and has many amazing side projects going on, outside of Dream Theater, plus an endless stream of YouTube videos. There, truly is, no rest for the wicked.
At the D.C show, a couple of his developers were there showing off some of their new creations. It quickly becomes apparent that Jordan, even more so than previously thought possible, is truly a 100% tech geek junkie. When he wants some piece of technology isn't out there, he just invents it, because "heavy metal" that's why.
His gadgets are a trippy, glowing combination of light and sound. They create an ethereal physical connection to music that one could not previously experience before Jordan came along and invented it for himself. The bottom line is that, more than just being the keyboardist for the greatest band that ever lived he is a brilliant inventor, software developer and a lot more than he seems to allow to rise to the surface of his public personae.
Meeting Jordan inspired me to be inventive myself. I felt like I had spent years working for an opportunity to have my own talents be seen by a larger audience. When opportunity knocked I was prepared for the challenge. Over the next month Jordan and I collaborated on Philadelphia Experiment "Ra" Live, a crazy VFX filled video which was, pretty much, made to watch while you are allegedly stoned.
As we worked on the film the thing just got crazier and crazier. Jordan ended up buying a "head cam" which he used to film his hands playing the lead. If you look closely in the video you can see HIS GOD DAMN JACKET to the right of the frame.
One of the craziest things about working with Jordan is standing right next to him when he is playing. The guys talents are absolutely absurd. Watching him play makes no sense, like he is partially existing in another dimension while he is shredding. As a matter of fact, what scientific qualifications do I have to argue that he isn't?
He starts an octave with his thumb, and then like thirty or forty fingers -- he has about 75 of them on each hand, it seems -- play the rest of the ascending notes or descending notes. When he is at the end of his fingers he shifts his whole hand, looking like somthing you would only see in The Matrix, directly over the next octave with the mind blowing precision, and continues, with no break in the playing. I think, if I could talk him into it, Jordan could make a video of him shredding* with one hand while scoring an orchestra section with another, in calligraphy.
Since the release of the video I've gotten to know Jordan a little better, as much as one can get to know someone you've spent a such little time with but have found common ground with. Our common ground is the relative ages that we began to have real, emerging, success with our careers. He got into Dream Theater when he was around my age. I'm pretty sure he understands a lot of my troubles, and personal battles with trying to "break through" the sometimes impenetrable wall of the entertainment industry.
He told me some funny things about his career in a post-video phone call in December. We talked a bit about Dream Theater's 2014 Grammy Nod, which happened about three weeks into making Philadelphia Experiment. We started to talk about art, and being an artist, and the struggles one goes through to be an artist, and what he knows about that particular subject.
At one point, I was speaking about my own film career, after working many years with very little pay or none at all. I exclaimed, laughing, almost rhetorically, "Where you ever a fucking broke ass artist, dude?" I was thinking of how many thousands of dollar menu cheeseburgers, and packs of ramen noodles I had eaten, to get a shot in the industry.
His response was fucking amazing.
He said, "Oh sure man, I remember way back on the old days, in my twenties, when we went to get something to eat and we only had fifty cents between us. There was even one time I didn't even have a keyboard. We had a gig, and I had nothing to play, so I ended up showing up with one of those half size Casio keyboards because it was all I could find. Can you imagine that?"
I remember laughing my ass off at the thought of Jordan Rudess playing a mini-Casio keyboard. You know he played that thing like no human being ever played a half-size Casio, to the point that the people in the room were probably like, "Who the hell is this guy killing it on that tiny keyboard? HELL YEAH!!"
The story is pretty funny but it also shows that Jordan worked his ass off for everything he has. Aside from being born able to play the piano, and keyboard, better than most people that have ever lived he went hard as an artist. At some point, just like everyone who ever picked up an instrument, and took classical lessons, he said, "Fuck this classical music shit... I wanna rock, and also, I want to actually go on a date that isn't with my hand." Then, ironically, he became a keyboardist.
He went against his parents wishes and took off on a path that would eventually lead to him being a two time Grammy Nominated artist, in a band with over 14 million albums sold, and is arguably one of the best, and most inventive, keyboardist that has ever graced the instrument.
That shit... is inspiring, bro. Especially for someone like me who has put in so much work and effort into my art. Knowing that Jordan went through the same type of struggles before he became who he is today makes me respect him ever more.
After everything has been said and done, Jordan Rudess, without a doubt, is one of the fucking coolest, nicest, most patient, level headed, and respectful guys on the planet, who deserves every bit of success he has had in his career. It has been an honor to work with him, and get to know him, and to work with such ridiculously refined talent.
Randomly enough, the most hilarious thing I picked up in my friendship with Jordan Rudess, is the true value of the exclamation point. He uses them alot!!!!!