13 April 2008

Any way you slice it, it’s only rock and roll

I just saw Shine A Light. I'm glad I did—it's a engrossing look at a band on stage, more so because the Rolling Stones have been playing together for so long.

There are plenty of things that I could write about the Stones, their body of work, their history, the songs that they chose for the concert, the musicians they have on stage with them. But all those things have been written elsewhere, and probably a lot better than I could. I have never been a particular fan and I don't know much of their history or songs that were not big hits. There are a couple of things that I took away from the film, however.

Mick Jagger is a pro. He gives a great performance. But he does it like someone doing a job of work. Music is what he does. Keith Richards, on the other hand, seems to live in the music. It's what he is.

The other thing the film makes me think about is Petey's chicken. Petey was a neighbor of my grandparents, an old bachelor who had always lived alone. Whenever he cooked a chicken, he cut it up any old way. We would hold up an odd-shaped piece and ask him what the name of it was; he would make up funny names until we had run out of chicken.

Watching the concert, I noticed something that I had never picked up from hearing recordings. Ron Wood and Keith Richards cut up the guitar work like Petey cut up chicken: any way they feel like it. Most bands have the lead guitar guy and the rhythm guitar guy. These two don't slice it that way. Sometimes it seemed like they were taking turns from song to song, or from one end of the song to the other. What fascinated me most were the songs on which neither one of them seemed to be playing lead or rhythm. They would each play something cool and the effect of the two parts overlaid was lead and rhythm. I suppose there's a name for that and I bet they teach it in music school, but I don't think there is much of it in your run of the mill rock band.

It makes me want to listen to their work again with new ears.

09 April 2008

While my accordion gently weeps

Mike’s death really knocked me down. He has been in bad health for a while, but the news was still stunning. Until this week, I pretty much only came out of my cave to go to work. I spent a lot of time listening to music.

At first, I listened to stuff that Mike liked. He was a concert organist, so he listened to a lot of classical music. He was also a dancing fool, so he loved anything that you would hear in a club. I don’t have much house music or disco, so I listened to a lot of Bach, Beethoven, and Handel.

After a few days of that, I thought I was wallowing, so resolved not to listen to any more Mike music. I tried a little plumb-pitiful "My wife left me. My dog died. Sure am gonna miss that dog" music, but that didn’t help with the wallowing. I switched over to music I knew Mike would hate: country, salsa, metal, reggaeton. But that made me think of all the times we talked about why he didn’t like that crap and I did.

All this time, I was completely paralyzed as a performer. Every time I thought of the accordion, I thought of Mike giving me gas about playing such a lame organ. (Of course, I was able to point out to him the advantages of having an organ that doesn’t use a whole building as a bass resonator.) I cancelled out of all my lessons because I just couldn’t go.

In short, it was a rough time.

Finally, I was listening to salsa and then clicked over to some folky stuff. That started with a rather mumbling vocal and I was straining to figure out the words. I finally realized that the problem was that the words were in English and I was trying to parse it as Spanish. Instead of thinking that I needed to tell Mike about that, I thought of what a laugh he would have gotten out of it and then a good rant about non-English speakers. I knew I had turned a corner when thinking of this didn’t make my brain go blank with pain.

So I hauled myself out to my next scheduled accordion lesson and noticed that the sun still shines. I’m not sure I’d say I’m back, exactly, but I’m not gone anymore, either.


Crashlight from Thanks for Nothing.