Daily Archives: October 25, 2005

I Blame Lawrence Welk

I love old songs, and I love mixing it up and keeping ’em guessing.

For that, I blame Lawrence Welk.

Some jazz cats look down on Welk’s ensemble (compared to Goodman, Ellington or Kenton it was a SWEET band), and the singers WERE pretty square. But it was the only TV show that zoomed in on the trombone player. It was the “Elvis movie” of TV – inspiration to a young instrumentalist. The mention of the clarinet anywhere else results in raised eyebrows and looks of shame. And they did tribute shows – Irving Berlin, marches of the world, and so on. I blame Lawrence Welk for giving me to Cole Porter right after I finished devouring Buck Owens on “Hee Haw.” And Willie Nelson’s doing some of those songs now, so I’m not alone in this. Country music is built upon American song history, on “Down in the Valley” and “Sweet Betsy from Pike”. These are songs that New Country doesn’t know about. It’s a different “country” altogether. American music from Scott Joplin to Jimmie Rodgers to Fats Waller, from Lefty Frizzell to Woody Guthrie to Burl Ives, from Helen Forrest to the Andrews Sisters, from the Ink Spots and Mills Brothers.

I could go on and on. I blame Lawrence Welk for that, too.

It means that a barbershop arrangement of “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” or a high lonesome rendition of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” isn’t out of the question. I blame Lawrence Welk for showing that any song could be included in your repertoire, and that people will dance.

And I enjoy what I’m doing. I blame Myron Floren for that.

He ALWAYS looked like he was having a blast. And that’s what I wanted from the start. I love to entertain.

And I love America, where it is all possible, even for a son of immigrants (and aren’t we all?).

For that, most of all, I blame Lawrence Welk.

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Soundtrack for a New Age

Each historical age is determined by the predominant societal position given to the individuals, groups, nations or empires that can produce or have the resources to acquire whatever substance that age equates to its varied definitions of power. The Bronze Age – whoever could make the most bronze weapons and tools was the predominant culture; The Iron Age – same scenario, different metal. Once societies ran out of harder or more workable metals, they had to pause and re-evaluate their priorities. As a result, we had the Dark Ages – whoever could keep the most people in the dark about their own potential and thereby utilize the brawn of the world without the cumbersome benefit of its brain; the Industrial Age – the period during which those who appeared to be the most industrious were valued, when how much you had really first became more important that what it was you had so much of; the Computer Age – that period of time after we figured out we could get someone else to do the thinking for us, and ending just before the period of time when we began to realize we couldn’t tell the difference; and finally, we are in the midst of what some are calling the Information Age. Of course, because there are so many of us in this world now, and each of us more or less autonomously by consensus creates, borrows, buys, steals, inherits, creates, is allowed, is deluded into, or avoids their own separate, unique and individual opinion on the subject, whether we are at the beginning, in the middle, or nearing the definite conclusion of the information age is highly subjective.

My belief is that we are near the end of the Information Age; and that means that a new age is on the imminent horizon. I will outline my reasons for this belief, both in its ceasing to exist and clearly waiting to exist aspects, in a while. For now, let me just skip forward to my conclusion: The next age we are about to enter is the Wisdom Age, and unless we start thinking about gathering some of it together now, you and I and a lot of people on this planet are going to be on the bottom of the food chain, socially speaking.

The first question I would put forward to anyone I encountered in this new age would not be, “Do you speak MY language, stranger,” but rather, “Can you sing in your OWN (language)?”

At the conclusion of my initial interrogative statement I would commence to demonstrate a song of my own devising, in my own language. If there was no reply in kind, then that person would be required to locate someone of his own kind who could in fact sing a few bars. If that individual was willing to teach the first “stranger” something of the way of singing, then improvement of that culture could continue. Of course, there would be attempts, in the beginning of the age, where some would try to get others to sing on their behalf (which would of course give credibility to the singer and only by association improve the standing of the employer in some respects, and lower their believability in other respects), or would learn, by rote, someone else’s songs and try to bluff their way through (of course, a true singer would know that the song was not of the singer’s creation, and would know something was false in the communication). But this would rapidly prove the exception.

After the first exchange of songs in each of the singer’s native languages, translation of ideas and other information could ensue. Without a meeting of equals, an individual or group, no matter how extensive or impressive or overwhelming their other assets, had no basis for transacting communication and no wise way of achieving that objective. Unless two individuals can understand, through that shared experience of each other’s inner being that singing your own song weaves into reality, what really is important to the other person, there is no fair, equitable, honest, open, profitable or moral grounds for business, trade, marriage, treaty, alliance, division, disagreement, censorship, condemnation, ridicule, friendship, religion or warfare – in short, none of these partnership activities can occur. If you want any of those things but can not get your songs in order, you just have to wait. You’re obviously not ready for whatever it is you think you want. So you have time to work on your song and get it together.

Maybe this will help put things into a bit of perspective:

Imagine walking down the sidewalk on an early spring morning, a light mist still hanging in the air in the coolness of the day. You could be in a metropolitan area, or out in the middle of the desert (of course, the construction and very nature of your sidewalk will vary depending on that first choice). There could be thousands of other people involved in this selfsame activity, or you could be the only one. For the sake of this illustration, imagine yourself and at least one other person who will become aware of your presence at about the same time you gain awareness of them.

Now imagine that instead of having a set of headphones on your head that is fed from Sony Walkman, you are accompanied in the open air by a group of between two and six musicians, all accompanying themselves using whatever acoustic (that is, non-electrically powered) instruments, devices, accessories, tools best describe and reproduce the music that describes you. This may take a while to imagine, and of course, at different times, the group may be composed of different and perhaps interchangeable individuals and/or attachments. Chances are you’ll have several varying groups, but at least one or two. Now imagine the body of work that they might perform. It might be songs from the radio, ambient sounds, religious hymns, classical works, etc., etc. At least one of the songs must be an original work (exactly how original is always going to be a problem, it always has been, but I think the nature of the problem will probably change in the future), the performance of which you take an active part whenever it comes into rotation, or by request, whichever comes first. Since this discourse will get confusing unless we somehow divide its parts into recognizable segments, let’s call this first imaginary product in the course of this analogy “The Soundtrack of Your Life.” Don’t worry if you think you might have left something out – there’s going to be ample opportunity in the future to expand your repertoire.

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Letters to a Young Picker

or Free Your Mind and Your Chops Will Follow:

EVERYTHING is a matter of personal taste. Nobody gets “great ears” without playing badly with their betters (betters who are willing to accept a lot of bad notes, ideas or tangents as the price to be paid for developing new talent).

If somebody sells a lot of records, that helps everybody else (to some degree). That means people are interested in adding music to the soundtrack of their lives. And you can’t change the way people think about or listen to music if they’re not listening to or thinking about it to begin with.

What were the “classics” when they were written? Weren’t they all experimental to some extent? The appeal of music is that it contains universal themes that are at their heart, extremely and uniquely personal experiences.

What makes a song a classic is that people connect to it and relate it to their own experience. And that takes time and not much else. But remember, before classical music was “classical”, ol’ J.S. Bach was just improvising on the organ (to feed his dozen odd children). Mozart was writing what came into his head. They made it up as they went along.

Minds are like parachutes – they only function when open. There’s much to be learned from absorbing the “classics,” but you’ve got to eventually squeeze the sponge – and all the water might not end up in the sink.

The quality of the instrument you’re holding doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. It’s the quality of the instrument that YOU are that does. Each note tells a story, so be careful not to talk too much – the more you know, the more choices you have, the more challenging your role. When you set standards rather than just playing them, then you’re great – and it doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been on the road, or how many “name” acts you’ve played with.

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Careful With That Rhinestone Axe, Eugene (Radio Free Nashville)

Johnny Cash said that Nashville’s had a hard time figuring how to sell country to New Yorkers with boots. It’s a national advertising demographic thing now.

Well, country ought to be personal and interactive. Nobody in new country makes you think of Marty, Hank or Lefty – not because they weren’t influential, but because real country singing requires life outside a studio, not video appeal. But Nashville, Inc. doesn’t want that – it’s too risky. Why? Well, new country radio is designed to offend no one. Sure, it’s caricature, apology or hip idiom, but nobody laughs at themselves anymore. Politically correct? Maybe, but there’s a lot of cutesy girls and dimpled boys, and nobody’s hands are getting dirty working. It doesn’t reflect reality. God didn’t make these honkytonk angels, unless he’s writing the graffiti in the mens’ room.

Old country doesn’t get on radio because “there’s no money in nostalgia”, but there is quite a bundle in fantasy. Nobody’s ever mad or disgusted in New Country, where a smile and great hair prove your heart is broken. It’s a product for a disposable society, leaving no impressions, taking no stand and requiring no listener commitment.

Real Country is like whiskey – it improves with age. A new country song doesn’t need born-on dating. You know when it goes bad. Praise of mediocrity devalues genius, which is a long-term thing. Singers who survive their twenties, who resist being groomed and shrink-wrapped, and who prefer giving unique memories to each two-bit roadhouse rather than an intimate global satellite experience from Central Park.

Buddy Holly told Nashville, Inc. “My way, or I’m leaving. I’d rather shovel shit in Lubbock.”

Well, until there’s a Buddy in New Country, you’ll just have to pretend that Hank Sr. would have been “discovered” on Star Search.

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