Over the past 30 years, Joe Satriani has proven himself to be one of the most imaginative, brilliant and talented rock guitarists ever to strum six strings. He’s played guitar with Mick Jagger, Deep Purple and Chickenfoot. As a guitar teacher, his pupils included guitar prodigy Steve Vai, Metallica shredder Kirk Hammett and Primus experimentalist Larry LaLonde. And his own instrumental-rock releases, like Surfing With the Alien and The Extremist, earned him gold and platinum plaques and multiple Grammy nominations. So this guy can play anything, right?
When the guitar icon swung by the Rolling Stone office, he agreed to test his creativity by interpreting oblique concepts and words as impromptu solos. Watch the video above to see how the idea of a cosmic black hole inspired Jackson Pollock–like finger tapping and whammy-bar dives, and how “kittens” prompted a riff similar to Grease’s “Summer Nights” and feedback squeals. The guitarist also gamely transposed Salvador Dalí’s surrealist masterpiece The Persistence of Memory and “pizza” which, for some reason, necessitated a “wah-wah pedal thing,” as he put it. After playing some sweetly legato licks to approximate “the meaning of life,” he realized he’d surprised even himself. “That was a weird one,” he said.
The video above is also a playlist. Scroll through them for extended versions of some of the interpretations in the main video and to see how he approached other subjects, such as “Tetris,” “School’s Out for Summer,” author Edgar Allan Poe and painter Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Shockwave Supernova, Satriani’s upcoming album of non–Rolling Stone solo works, will come out on July 24th. Last year, he put out the box set Joe Satriani: The Complete Studio Recordings, as well as his autobiography, Strange Beautiful Music: A Musical Memoir.