Master Of My Domain

I used to coach people to be more effective public speakers.  After leaving Gillette, it was going to be my new career. I discovered I did not want any new career. I just wanted to play my guitar. Thankfully, I had a wife, Rosemary, who still worked.

However, I did keep one major client. It was 1995. Together we discovered the Internet, websites, domain names, et. al.  He jumped in with both feet and considerable financial resources. Here’s Bill FitzPatrick today:

Although we don’t see much of each other anymore, for several years Bill called me his best friend. I called him my mentor.  He suggested I get involved with internet marketing, too. I had little interest. I just wanted to play my guitar. He ignored my lack of interest and bought me domain names ( and In 1997, he had his staff build me a little text based website:  

I got traffic. I got tons of emails from people asking how to be successful musicians. I answered these emails and posted the Q&A on my Acoustic Guitar website. No money, but some fun, and a certain kind of recognition.

One afternoon, while napping on the couch (retirement at forty-eight is great) I  got a phone call from a woman: the president of String Letter Publishing: the publisher of, among many others, Acoustic Guitar Magazine. After introducing herself she said:

“I see you have a website using our name.”

“Yes, I do,” I said. I was a bit excited. I thought she was going to suggest an on-line partnership.  At the time I was an advertiser in several music magazines. Acoustic Guitar being one of them. I had a one-sixth page display ad for Christmas Guitar: Book and CD

But, no.

“We would like our name.” She said rather unceremoniously. At the time their internet address was Character limitations and all that back in the day.

“You mean, I should just give it to you?” I said.

“Well, yes,” she said, “we have a legal right to our trademarked name.” Not quite true at the time.

She went on, “We have spent much time and money developing a high quality image for Acoustic Guitar. Your amateur little website diminishes our trademark.”

*Sigh*, no partnership for me. Just hurt feelings.

Truly, if she had taken a different tack, a little compliment (phony or not). Maybe some thanks for being a loyal advertiser (at $750 a month). Perhaps the offer of a mention or two in the magazine. I would have just signed the name over and been happy to do it.

Marshaling a little diplomacy, I said, “I’m not sure of my standing here, let me think about this and get back to you.”

I then called my friend and mentor, Bill FitzPatrick, the man who got me into this internet thing in the first place. I related the phone call to him and said, “She hurt my feelings, I’m too emotionally invested. Will you deal with them?”

Bill is a Sixth Degree Black Belt in Shotokan Karate. He started life as a teacher in Cambridge Public Schools. His personality was a good fit for the position of Teacher of Teenaged Offenders from the Billerica House of Correction. Later, he was a millionaire real estate investor and landlord. One of his favorite quips, “I’ve made millions and lost millions, the key is I didn’t lose them all.”

I could almost hear Bill rubbing his hands together in happy anticipation of going to battle for me. “OK! Who do I call?”

About two hours later, Bill called me back. “They want to know what you want.”

My philosophy has been to ask for the Sun and settle for the Moon. “I want my current display ad, free, for life!”

“OK!” said Bill, “Be back to you.”

A half hour goes by, the phone rings, it’s Bill again.

“You’re not gonna’ get that, what do you really want?”

“I want my one-sixth page display ad for free, revised at my discretion, every month for five years.”  The moon.

Bill calls a final time, “OK, it’s done. They’ll send the paperwork.” Then he laughs.

“What?” I asked.

“One of the lawyers asked if I was an attorney,” said Bill. “He said, you negotiate like one.”

I thanked him and asked if his internet guru could find me a new domain name. I suggested, or Both were available. Better to be lucky than good, as they say. I’ve had them ever since, along with, also acquired for me by Mr. FitzPatrick.

Later in our client/friend relationship, Bill encouraged me to write a book about performing and public speaking.

“Bill, I just want to play my guitar,” I said. “Besides, there are dozens of books already on that subject.”

“Not one by you,” he said.

A few weeks after that conversation, Bill dropped a hundred pages, mostly blank in front me. 

He said, “Your book should be 101 Questions and Answers on Performing. I’ve done most of the F-ing work for you: here are the questions, all you have to do is write the answers.”

Indeed he had. At the top of each blank page was a question. What he had done was write my consulting advice, our conversations and interactions over the past few years, in the form of a question. As I looked over the questions I realized how brilliant this was. Bill really had done more than half the work.

Still, I’m lazy. I just want… (well, you know) So I asked him if he had the questions on a disk. God forbid I use a pen. 

I wrote the book. Bill’s company published it. I changed my free ad in Acoustic Guitar magazine to sell the book instead of CDs. I thought that five years of display advertising in a major music magazine would make me a household name. The ad ran from 1998 to 2003.  My book, The Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide to Stage and Podium, sold steadily as long as the ad ran. I put it on Amazon and sales bumped nicely. But when the free advertising stopped, sales plummeted.

The numbers didn’t quite work. The ad cost $750 a month. On average, book sales were $400-$500 a month. It doesn’t take a marketing genius to see that is unsustainable. 

I now sell the occasional book. Even more occasionally, a CD. Mrs. Rapson and I are not getting rich, but we don’t need to be. Enough is, indeed, enough.

I didn’t become a household name. I did get a good story. And without my friend and mentor, Bill FitzPatrick, I wouldn’t have a published book, or a few valuable domain names, or happy memories of our time together during the wild west of the new internet.

Mrs. Rapson is now retired along with me. We have a great life in Massachusetts and Florida.

And, I’m still playing my guitar.


Steve Rapson is a songwriter, solo guitarist, and author of The Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide to Stage & Podium .

Pain, Irony, & Humility by Steve Rapson

I fell off a roof last month. I didn’t want to fall off the roof. I tried hard not to. I clutched the roof with all my might as I slid from peak to eaves. I clutched so hard the ends of three fingers were torn off. And, in spite of all the clutching, I fell anyway.

I was painting the ridge board, backing along the peak and stood up as I neared the far edge so as not to fall off. I stood, turned, and stepped, saw my paint rag under my descending foot and thought, Don’t step on that rag, you’ll slip.

After I stepped on the rag and slipped, the fall happened quickly, but time slowed. This allowed for a thoughtful descent.

First thought, Damn, the paint spilled.
Second thought, Whoops, better hold on, I don’t want fall off this roof.
Third thought, Shit, I can’t believe I’m going to fall off this roof.

Then, the void…

I have fallen out of trees, off galloping horses, into sand pits, off ladders and fences, out of second story windows, and from other roofs I have known.

I have fallen out of moving cars and off speeding motorcycles. While drunk in the former, sober in the latter. One of my favorite ways to fall is to have a car door flung open in front of my bicycle. In martial arts class the sensei used me as demonstration throwing dummy.

One could say that I have earned a PhD in falling.

After thought three, (Shit, I can’t believe I am going to fall off this roof) I went into fall mode, which, at its core is, Oh, well, relax and go with it.

I hit the ground falling backwards. I tucked my chin to my chest and rolled, doing a complete somersault. Momentum carried me back to my feet, facing the building. I came to a halt with my arms in the air, like a gymnast landing a vault. Two inches to my right was a stack of concrete blocks. Had I fallen on them, this story might be delayed for weeks, or longer. I wiggled around, amazed that all parts were in place and operational. In my right hand I still gripped the paintbrush. Don’t know why I didn’t let go of it. But it saved the right hand fingers.

On the other hand…

Blood, lots of blood, obscured what was the matter. I shook the hand to see the damage. This was a mistake. First because up till then there was no pain, second, I totally saturated my pant legs with sheets of spattered blood. I looked like a scene from CSI. I became light headed, and dropped to one knee.

I am not usually squeamish; the sight of blood doesn’t bother me. I now understand that what doesn’t bother me is the sight of someone else’s blood.

Ditto with pain.

Speaking of pain, let’s. First, the happy news: significant trauma is not initially painful. Later, it is. Still, it is hard for me to remember just how much it hurt, even during the initial washing, and the repositioning of the torn off tips–though still hanging by the most tenuous of threads–or the wadding of a paper towel, which I held in a bloody, oozing fist. I vaguely remember driving myself to the hospital eight miles away.

I fell about 12 feet. Not that big a deal. But the emergency room personnel ignored my bleeding all over the place and took me in for X-rays. It seems that if you fall twice your height, the odds are good for back or neck injury. This was their concern and not my painful fingers. I kept pointing them out, they kept ignoring them.

They did ask about my pain, “On a scale of 1 to 10, Mr. Rapson, with one being no pain and ten being the most pain, how much pain are you having right now?”

“My pain goes to eleven,” They were all young and didn’t get the Spinal Tap gag.

The doctor said I was lucky to retain the fingertips as they usually are torn away or need to be snipped off, making for a lengthy healing process. She said she’d try to save them by stitching them back on.

It’s hard for me to remember what it felt like when the doctor injected anesthetic right into the open wound of each finger prior to stitching. Rather than scream, I laughed out loud and told the doctor that this was the most pain I had ever felt.

“I know,” she said, “the finger tips have so many nerve endings. One more to go; do you want to take a break?”

“Please get it over with,” I whimpered bravely, enduring another needle of doom and then 27 stitches.

So it is only the memory of what happened during the pain that I can report. The actual feeling of the pain I cannot quite recall or adequately describe. This is why women can have more than one child. If they remembered childbirth pain, all they’d be saying is, “Get away from me with that thing.”

The poetic irony of my injury is that I had been preparing for six months to compete in The Walnut Valley International Fingerpicking Contest. I had practiced the same four songs* for two hours a day right up to the day before I left, which was when I injured myself. Everything was paid for, and Rosemary said I could go if I demonstrated that I could change my bandages by myself. Which I did.

Walnut Valley Guitar Showcase in Winfield Kansas

So I flew to Winfield, Kansas and camped for ten days with 15,000 other guitarists, mandolinists, banjoists, fiddlers, dulcimerists, and dobroists. Perhaps God knocked me off that roof so I would just listen to all those marvelous players. I found it truly beneficial and a personal growth experience. For the future, dear Lord, a burning bush will do.

I pray for humility every night. In Winfield my prayers were answered with great players showing me what I don’t know.

Further humbling me was Garry, a fellow camper, who helped me change my bandages every day. He didn’t ask if I wanted help, he just sat down and said, “Let me help you with that.”

It is hard to accept help, but doing so allowed me to plumb the depths of humility. I was so humble there wasn’t any left for my fellow campers. My quest for true humility is cursed, however. Because, should I ever think I had attained perfect humility, I would surely be proud of my achievement.

And finally, to show you the power of positive thinking, when I saw the damage to my fingers, my first thought was, I could always play the Dobro.

Post Script: I went back to Winfield the next year and competed in the finger picking contest. I applied all the techniques I know to play my best, and thus did. I didn’t win, but it felt like I did.
My next blog will be about the Walnut Valley Festival, the various contests, and the scene.

Steve Rapson lives in Boston, Massachusetts. He is the author of The Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide to Stage and Podium. A guitarist and recording artist he has seven CD’s in release. His web site is