Saturday, July 4, 2009

i really do love you, polly jean

"i don't know what silence means"

and then, at 2:48, that voice that cuts through with the lucid, purifying certainty of spring's first sunlight.

i dream. i dream.

that just bowls me over. she can sing with the old woman voice the whole way through, and the reason that it's not some lame artifice is that it leads up to, and makes possible, that moment.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

secret weapons: new york dolls edition

that chugging, itchy riff; the way the placement of "trash!" makes the verse cycle a little bit frantic; unexpected majesty serving as the perfect frame for a defiant line like "'cause i don't know if i DO!" (btw, anyone else hear "white room" in that progression?): all awesome, necessary foreground elements, but the song would have a very, very different character if it weren't for those ghostly background vocals that kick in around 0:32.

having mulled it over, i think the power of this incidental element lies in the way it eludes defining, an enigma within the context of the rest of the music going on. is it eerie? is it pensive, gloomy? is it beautiful, like an angel hovering above the chaos?

there's a vitality to this kind of challenging incongruence; the song can effectively take on a new life with every listen ... and perhaps that, and not the obvious pleasures of the sugar on top, is actually the most compelling hook.

Friday, February 6, 2009

when the FM dial doubles your pleasure

two of classic rock radio's staple two-fers:

led zeppelin's "heartbreaker" will almost always precede led zeppelin's "living loving maid"

queen's "we will rock you" will almost always precede queen's "we are the champions"

and on the modern-fading-into-classic rock tip,

green day's "brain stew" will almost always lead into green day's "jaded"

there is intelligence to all of these pairings (consecutive songs on their respective albums, similar themes / natural transition). as such, i'm sure there has to be other instances where the double-play is basically a given, but i'm coming up a little blank as i rack my brain. i want to say that the beatles' "sgt. pepper's lonely hearts club band (reprise)" tends to segue into "a day in the life" when played on the radio, though i'm not sure if this happens all the time, so it will have to remain an honorable mention for now.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

sometimes, progress marked and expressed in beautiful metaphors

my guitar teacher complimented my playing at our lesson the other day, observing that i'm no longer soloing "like [i'm] trying to get out of prison."

i feel like i tend to have on and off days when it comes to improvising expressively and effectively, and i think that i happened to be on an up day in this regard, though i will allow that the on days seem to be coming along a little bit more frequently. i was really struck by how easily that off-the-cuff analogy came to him, and how increasingly apt it seems as i think more and more about how i've sounded whenever i am deliberately trying to impress (the act of simply identifying those times represents a different but equally valuable path of learning).

i love that music is evocative to the degree that such symbolism can ring true on such a deeply innate level.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

portrait of the artist as a young man

the below is taken from the 'funky monks' dvd, which documents the recording of the red hot chili peppers' 'bloodsugarsexmagik'. there's a nice back story to the making of this album; wikipedia has a pretty good account. it's one of those albums that ranks up there as a personal guitar bible, and in tandem with my best efforts to learn it song for song, i've made it a point to become acquainted with where guitarist john frusciante's head was at the time of recording, something for which this dvd has been a go-to resource.

i am a fan of what he has to say starting around the 3:52 mark:

it's good to bear in mind that john frusciante was only 20-21 years old at the time, not to mention that he was smoking a shitload of weed, and you sort of have to forget about the locker room humor on display in the rest of the clip, but that said, there's a lot of wisdom there; a balanced ego is a great ally in creative endeavors, and it is good to recognize that the outside world has the potential to upset that balance by stoking/diminishing the ego.

where john frusciante veered into deadly territory was when he chose to avoid perceived ugliness in the world by escaping into heroin shortly after the recording of the album. music's filled with too many instances of greatness succumbing to self-destruction, and one of rock's great survival stories is that he fought back against his demons (ones that left him barely clinging to life) and entered rehab, emerging a healthy, replenished individual who claims that a pursuit of asceticism has taken him higher than drugs* and who has gone on to generate a fairly staggering creative output.

side-stepping the world's ugliness by numbing yourself to the point where it doesn't register is the path of least resistance, and leaves you ill-prepared for when darkness inevitably comes calling to roost. the funny thing is that actually embracing the world's ugliness and accepting it as an indelible facet of experience is not letting it win or giving up, and in fact takes a great amount of strength to do. there is an irony (the good kind) to the fact that once you start accepting that there is ugliness and falsity and suffering in existence, and embracing the humility that comes from serious contemplation of one's infinitesimal place in the scheme of joy and woe, that the inner voice actually begins to grow, and finds that it has a function in harmony and order just as essential as anything else.

* realized at some point that i'm troubled by the semantics of the old cliche that you hear from people who have lived rock and roll and come out the other side and insist that spirituality gets you 'higher than any drug' -- it inhibits the potential of spirit by framing it with the language of altered consciousness.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

the who went home and cried

been on a big guided by voices kick, and i checked out this brief documentary the other night. the ostensible subject is bassist greg demos (pronounced 'dee-moes') and the last show he played with the band before committing himself fully to family life, but the centerpiece of the video is about 25 minutes of footage of the band rehearsing for the show on bob's porch.

great (perfect?) songs run through a campfire vibe and wrapped up in the beautiful possibility of an early spring day. setting and moment so essential in opening up what a song means, what feelings it communicates.

here's a snippet from the video to give you an idea. unfortunately, the audio's kinda crappy, but maybe it gives a taste of what i mean:

Monday, December 1, 2008

the kids are alright

leilani and i played a couple of tunes at an open mic last week at the lizard lounge, which is quickly becoming a comfortably familiar and supportive venue. when i started into the progression for our cover of 'breaking the girl', this kid in his early twenties who was sitting among the patrons and bore a resemblance to seth rogen bellowed his approval, exclaiming 'i can't believe you're doing this song! yes!!'. he then proceeded to sing along to the entire song from where he was sitting. i couldn't help but smile big at his almost cheerful and sincere gumption as i played, and in an inspired moment of post-song monologue, leilani thanked him for his impromptu back-up vocals. later, there was an emphatic handshake to congratulate us on our performance.

i love seeing younger people express passion for older music. i love when i youtube stuff like hendrix, led zeppelin, ac/dc, nirvana and stone temple pilots and read through comments posted by 15 year olds who profess to loving such artists and having been inspired to explore their music by guitar hero, older siblings or their parents, or even simply the sheer luck they had in nosing around on the 'net and following links into the rabbit hole.

i am aware that there is a tendency to venerate the music one holds dear, especially in cases where there is some kind of generational context in play. still, i sense that perhaps the yearning for music that operates on and rocks hard with unapologetic verve is something that knows no generational bounds. that rock is something that defies the marginalizing effects of both trifling, self-aware spoofs and affectionately daft (even somewhat earnest) emulations, conjoined efforts that seem pretty passe by now.