A Most Regal Countenance…


He walked amongst us as Arthur. That was during his last three-dimensional gig.

 I have heard of a few supposed re-incarnations, but these are very difficult to substantiate. We must, in the end, carry on as best we can; on faith alone, ultimately. Do we mistakenly presume a possible re-incarnation to be exclusively of the feline persuasion? What can explain the dream sequences, and the arbitrary paw-prints?

Take note, if you will, of the regal bearing in this ancient daguerrotype. I especially appreciate the right paw being tucked in and under; a detail not wasted on Napoleon. This pose also served as a model for dozens of Civil- War era photos. Rumor has it that Matthew Brady took this shot just after the famous one of Lincoln and McClellan under the tent fly; the Cat was there to assure that the meeting concluded without a hitch.

An Extraordinary Cat.

Published in: on December 27, 2010 at 1:57 pm  Comments (2)  
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Mr.B, and Mr.B…

Ludwig von Beethoven is 240 years old.

 More than any other single aspect of music, I have come to appreciate dynamics; the dramatic contrast that can be created between things that are very soft and very loud. Ludwig was an absolute master of this, and I have probably written somewhere else by now that if Ludwig had access to modern electric instruments, he would likely have tried to conquer the world. After all, he wrote a symphony for Napoleon and then yanked it back again after Napoleon declared himself Emperor. He was apparently good with the whole world domination thing up until that point. We all have our limits…

On the other end of the world domination scale; my sole guitar student and I have been working up a short JS Bach piece originally written for two violins and cello. We call it ” the Beer Song” because Bach supposedly wrote it for an Austrian duke who was visiting the German court, and who couldn’t wait to get to the pubs.

As with all Bach material, the individual parts are disarmingly simple. Each can be played pretty easily, and each has its own little flair and character. The top line carries the hook, or main melody; with a supportive second part that is actually the more difficult one, and a mainly  straightforward bass line. Seemed like a good project for an intermediate student. The plan was to have me do the top line, him the second, and I would afterwards  add the bass line to finish it as a three-track recording.

My little plan was going along nicely. We learned and rehearsed the two violin parts; and then came time for the bass line. I thought it would be good to play the second part and the bass line together, as further exposure to part-playing in general. The absence of the melody should not hamper the execution of the other parts…right? So says the widely experienced and seasoned instructor  (WESI).

So; we borrowed a bass ( a fretless copy of a Fender Jazz).  WESI thought that the bass part would be a five- minute piece of cake. WESI was a bit premature in that. I can play it alone just fine; but in combination with the other parts, I drop it every single time. That’s because WESI is  suddenly prone to every single bad habit that WESI is being paid to instruct the student to never fall victim to ( always believe in your ability, don’t rush the tempo, trust in the parts as they’re written, always play with conviction…all that crap). And, mind you, this is not exactly a Brandenburg Concerto we’re looking at here. Bach probably wrote this on a cocktail napkin while the Duke was staring down the cleavage of a German princess. Hell, Bach was probably staring down the cleavage and  writing  on the napkin. Maybe this music is more about the Princess than the beer. This is not rocket science. It’s not even bottle-rocket science.

I’ll get it. I know that. It’s not about the music. It’s about the brain/foot/mouth connection. I seemingly don’t have trouble with those executions. But it’s teaching me something about ensemble playing that I thought I knew already; that chamber-music players are the baddest MFs out there. A symphony is more like a lot of people playing simple parts, and the co-ordination of it all is where the art is. But chamber groups are playing stuff that is genuinely difficult, and they are cueing only off each other. No conductor involved. And that is extremely impressive.

Maybe Bach’s ghost will make a special visit from Leadville to watch the futile struggles of WESI. Maybe he and Beethoven can toss my useless corpse over the second-story balcony. Maybe, with some luck, I’ll land on Rihanna, and her useless corpse will break my fall. Maybe I don’t sing so well either. Maybe she’s a better bass player than I am. Maybe she should get her ass up there to try a little Bach-style ensemble playing.

Maybe I should just shut my old ass up and do the damned bass line.

Pithy Observations…

“I love the smell of estrogen in the morning”- Katie Couric

I love the smell of napalm in the morning“- Kilgore

” I love the smell of Europe in the morning”Eddie Izzard

” I love the smell of dirty wool in the morning”– RCoyne

I found myself recently indulging  in an odd re-enactor-based behavior. Many times, around many campfires, I’ve heard people comment that they can’t resist it; sometime during the off-season, you find yourself grabbing an old uniform jacket, or a blanket, a greatcoat, anything made of cloth, and stuffing it into your face and inhaling deeply. The effusion of woodsmoke, dirt, sweat, and wet wool that permeates everything is irresistable. Really just makes you want to get outside again. There’s no word for that particular odor, but if it could be bottled, it would knock ” Old Spice” right out of the market ( or at least “Pine-sol”).  It’s somewhere in between ” delightfully pungent” and ” wet dog”. More truthfully, maybe somewhere between ” wet dog” and ” road kill.”  I should think that the female of the species would find it most alluring. Available soon as cologne, after shave, and roll-on deodorant.

I’ ve noticed from local radio today that it’s all about John Lennon. All well and good, but I’ve also noticed that Pearl Harbor seems about ready to disappear altogether; in the newspapers, only a few human-interest angles having to do with surviving vets; no actual observance of the event itself. I presume that this indicates that any coverage will disappear altogether, probably by next year. We certainly wouldn’t want to appear insensitive to Japanese political or cultural interests. Let’s just hope that Iran and North Korea  also appreciate our sensibilities…

Lest We Forget…

With all this Adoration of the Stratocasteri going on lately ( thank you for all the supportive responses!), I would be remiss not to make mention of the sterling cast of supporters that always seem to surround J. Beck like a newly-raked November leaf pile ( NRNLP).

Leaf afficionados know that the best leaves are actually in November; drier, crunchier, better for jumping into.  I can no longer be tempted to indulge; at my age and general condition, I would likely throw out a hip or trigger a back spasm, and have to lie there mewling piteously, in the rain, or maybe even an early snow, with the theme to ” Dr. Zhivago” playing softly in the background. How awfully sad.

Back to The Theme. Jeff has always required superlative players in support, and has fielded some spectacular rythym sections over the years. I’ll not list them; if you are a true follower, then you’ll uncover them on your own. Drums and bass are the very heart of any support cast; not  at all to lessen the importance of keys, horns, etc: but there is often something purely magical about drums and bass. Consider Redding/ Mitchell; Bonham/ Jones- that sort of thing. Rythym sections have often saved the bacon of many a headliner. And not just in rock and roll.

I am compelled to insert a plug here for my own Don and Ed. I worked with them for many years, and I firmly believe that they were Siamese twins from hell who simply couldn’t be allowed to torture the same body, so they had to be  separated. No records kept. They not only smoothly and effortlessly saved me when I screwed up, they had some frighteningly non-verbal way of knowing when I was about to screw up. They were waiting for it. They were in control-always. I think that most people assume that singers or guitar players lead bands. No; the truth is that a good rythym section drives a band from the rear.

Don and Ed are currently supporting Bad Andy. ( http://www.badandyrocks.com/ )

With all that said, I’ll close with a clip of The Bass Solo That Changed The World. Tal Wilkenfeld, with Jeff Beck at the Crossroads festival a few years back. This got so much attention so fast that her career was fairly shot into space ( as if a gig with Jeff Beck wasn’t already enough…)