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11 September 2005 @ 03:21 am
DVD: History of Rock 'n' Roll -- #5 "Plugging In"  

Watching, having fruitful night of thought fragments and quotes.


Thinking, especially when I got to this fifth segment, "Yeah, that's me—that's my biography." At formative stage in my life, popular music went from accessible to complex and took me with it.

Recently at work I was on break, listening to iPod & reading Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought, which, at 1160 hardbound pages, looks rather like a book, and a coworker came by and started chatting. I paused the iPod and chatted a bit. After a few, he noticed the earplugs and said, "You were listening to music? And reading?" I mumbled my admission. "Wow. I couldn't possibly do that. I struggle with just reading." I kind of had to shrug, and didn't know what to say. To me, after a lifetime of it, music is air, music is the fishes' water. Oh, yeah, at some points that particular book had complexities such that if the current song had an especially present lyric I had to skip to another song, but … And then again, my wiring is such that I respond to music, even songs, even songs with lyrics, as music first and foremost. The only reason and extent to which I can say I know/understand the lyrics of any given song is that its music has sustained my interest in it enough times so I can finally start to piece together what its words are and what they might mean. Of course, there are times a particular phrase catches right away, but it's not in a context of the song's other lyrics so as to give it meaning to me. (I guess except for low-musical value, up-front & simplistically worded songs which I can more-or-less understand on first hearing [e.g., "When I Was a Boy," {some 50's song(s) as example? "Charlie Brown"? "Get a Job"?}]; but because of lack of lyrical & musical depth tend to wear thin on me fairly quickly. Can listen only so many times before it wears out on me.)


My life. Why not "successful" musician, photographer, artist, whatever? Fearful, personally conservative, not able to take risks. Maybe a bit too distractible as well. I just can't sustain balls-out going for it for any great length of time. On other hand, the successes, the if I might say it the brilliance that I sometimes show, have flashes of, in music, in photography, are from my sporadic ability to be totally there, totally "in the moment" as we now say, from time to time. I think my music is best when I'm channelling something else, whether it's my "deeper self" or the room's gestalt being or the cosmic All; not when the front-brain-me is "driving." I gotta be there enough to remember that the music will stop (for the moment) if my hands and voice and body don't continue to "do" it—to not drift totally into the space whence creative jizz—but that's about it. Doing photos too: best when I "set up" the camera and the situation and then "check out"—let … hmmm … my "greater being" take the pictures. I don't know. This all, both the negative and positive elements of my nature I'm talking about here, may well be a result of ADD and hyperfocus. Or maybe not. Maybe it's just how I am and there really isn't any need to apply clinical labels to the … root causes.

Heh. I'm good in spurts. One of my life's struggles is to come up with some way to sustain. (In particular cases, to practice guitar more often than once in a blue moon [my earlier recent picking' practice enthusiasm has now passed and I again haven't touched the guitar in far too long]. Or to follow-though once the photos have been taken. In the old days, getting around to processing the film … and then to making prints. Nowadays to scanning the negs or importing the store-bought scans, to throwing out the dross, selecting the good ones and refining them for presentation. And then presenting them somehow, somewhere. Heh. And finding/making occasions to make music. That doesn't happen much these days either. Follow-though, Fred. Sustain. *sigh*

Another of my great life struggles is to somehow develop a sense of sufficiency. Being a natchural-born perfectionist, my work is never good enough and rarely finished. I guess other people's rough edges are never as obvious to me as my own, so there are many times I can be enthralled by someone else's "product" and accept it as being "close enough to perfect" to suit me; but my own stuff? Heh.


Back to DVD. Noticed that Jimi Hendrix, while performing the most amazing music with "Like a Rolling Stone" at Monterey Pop, was, rather casually I thought, chewing gum. I got a strange cognitive dissonance; made me flash on that lately I've noticed in some porn loops the actors chewing gum while … performing … which always tends to … hmmm … destroy the mood for me. Like it was boredom/disconnect—insufficiently engaged in what they're doing. Disappointed me. But I don't chew gum, maybe I just don't understand. And seeing Hendrix chewing gum while engaged in the act of making … music … at that level … hmmm. I must rethink this….


"Like a Rolling Stone." Remembering being in the gym at Hamline years ago, I think because Michael Johnson reminded me of the show and I went with camera to take pics of him and Steve Goodman, in the gym listening to Goodman play "Door Number Three." For the first time, I rather think. Hearing the song start to go someplace different/strange/familiar; then the timing/shock of the "payoff"—realizing why it was at once both strange and familiar was exactly as the lyric proclaimed "Do you want to make a deal?" Electric. An electric moment. When I play the song I hope/try to communicate that excitement, that moment of realization, that rush.


Back to DVD.

John Phillips: "The Who and Jimi were determined to out-do each other; and I'm not sure who really won, you know, I mean … Jimi humped the amp … broke his guitar; burned it up in flames—The Who broke the entire stage…."

David Crosby: "We … didn't … know … that you could do that. You know … "He's lighting that thing on fire!" "How dare they break up a drumset?" They obviously had gotten a new sense of theatrics that nobody had, you know, even conceived of … previously."


Peter Townshend: "You know, what The Who were doing was transcendent in a lot of ways, but what … what Jimi was doing was sublimely … uhm … ep— It was an epiphany." Followed on the DVD by Hendrix's intro and "Like a Rolling Stone" from Monterey Pop. Amazing music from guitar, amazing playing the silence as well as the notes, amazing timing, combined it if you're watching with seemingly casual slides and swoops with his right hand (which for Hendrix was his fretting hand), changing his right arm's positioning from normal behind-the-neck positioning to swipes at the fretboard from the front and back again from moment to moment without missing a lick, a beat. Performing, by God. Music yes but also yes theater and … yeah … what Townshend said …


Fender stratocaster—the guitar Hendrix used—has a relatively small neck anyway—shorter than many, narrower fretboard—and Jimi had monster hands (as does Bobby [Weir], btw, and, was it Chopin?). Had a reach … he can play chords nobody else can, 'cause others can't reach. In addition, Jimi was a lefty playing a flipped right-handed guitar that wasn't restrung, which further affected his chord constructs—not to mention intonation and subtle things about the difference between how a string sounds when played on downstroke vs. upstroke. And he could fret and pluck with just his right hand, adding more dynamic to sting sounds. And one of the first, if not the first, experimenters with fuzz/feedback/sustain which allowed long held tone which could be fretted and changed and mutated as it went on.

He literally opened up entirely new guitar sounds and therefore entirely new ways of thinking about guitar music. Part of that of course was my old observation that he was "the first person to play electric guitar, not simply a guitar with amplification." Regardless of whether that theory fails to hold water …


Townshend: "There was something really important happening, which was that … this great music that we'd discovered—this great music which is still growing—this music which now you can write songs about what's really happening deep deep deep inside of you and what's happening around you in the world can also sound extraordinary."


A few people I wish I could, or could have, just sat somewhere and chatted with, 'cause they impress me as being interesting and articulate and having a good sense of humor and stuff. Not, you know, ooh-googily-woogily hero worship at all; just set a spell and have a pleasant chart. Those who spring to mind at the moment are:

David Crosby
Pete Townshend
Graham Nash
Dave van Ronk (I had that chance a number of times and punted it *sigh*)
Tom Petty
Judy Collins
Bruce Springsteen
Jim/Roger McGuinn
Jerry, of course …


Is it possible that anyone could listen to any of Judy Henske's first three albums and not fall totally in love with her? What a witty and charming and lovely woman.


Can anybody who was not then understand the feeling I got when hearing Hendrix introduce the "combined US and Britsh national anthems" and go into his remarkable and spectacular version of "Wild Thing" (on film of course—I wasn't actually at Monterey Pop)? How this/his version sounded to a person who'd heard the Troggs a lot on Top-40 radio?

Hmmm. Perhaps this is one of the contributing feelings to my love of "roots", both for my own experience and wanting others to hear it. Growth/progression/change/(sometimes even decay) of a song and derived songs over time and space and point-of-view. Good stuff. E.g.:

"Original Stack O' Lee Blues", Long Cleve Reed and Little Harvey Hull—Down Home Boys, 1927
"Stack O' Lee Blues", Mississippi John Hurt, 1928
"Stack-O-Lee", The Fruit Jar Guzzlers, same era
"That Bad Man Stackolee", David "The Blind Soldier" Miller, same era
"Stagger Lee", Lloyd Price, 1959
"Stagger Lee", Sleepy LaBeef, 1994
and then Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia's "Stagger Lee", 1978.


I would like it if I could someday follow all or even many of the sparks and tangents these fragments evoke/engender …

Current Mood: excitedengaged
Current Music: Judy Henske: Judy Henske, "Hooka Tooka"
A monstrous ramblingbibliofile on September 11th, 2005 08:44 am (UTC)
So much to read, so many things that you say! It's hard for me to ingest it all, much less come back with anything coherent.

For perfectionism, well, I think some of the best artists are never truly satisfied with their work. That doesn't mean that one should let one's tendencies get in the way of working on stuff until it's good enough to release into the world. Actually, I think that musicians have a unique ability to keep working on their art even after it's recorded: every performance can be a little different. For a static visual artist, or a writer, once it's published, it's out there. Variations become separate works.

For photography, do you think a digital camera might help? The process is (one could argue) more limited in some ways (or at least it started out that way), but the element of instant feedback is very, very nice.
Fred A Levy Haskell: eyes of the Fredcritterfredcritter on September 11th, 2005 12:21 pm (UTC)

"So much to read, so many things that you say! It's hard for me to ingest it all, much less come back with anything coherent."

Yeah. I know. [what's the 'smilie' for a wry grimace?] I suppose I should have "hoarded" this and "released" it in dribbles to maximize its comment-hook potentiality, not to mention increasing the possibility that at least some part of it would be on the page when a friend was checking their friends list. But I had spewed it into my paper journal (more or less, only slightly thinner and less developed than here) and I especially wanted not to have one of my special "not getting around to it moments" as far as posting it to LJ. Even knowing full well that it is both too chewey and too full of crunchy bits to get a "proper" or "full" response from anyone—there really is just too much there. Maybe I'll be able to revisit pieces of it in the future, which would also have the side benefit of allowing y'all to have another crack at it at that point.

"For perfectionism, well, I think some of the best artists are never truly satisfied with their work."

Oh, absolutely. Once, commenting upon his own artistic process, Reed Waller commented that a good artist really needs to be two people: one to actually do the work and the other to bop the first one over the head & knock him out when he's done. Unfortunately, the fact that it's not a unique trait/obstacle doesn't really help me overcome it. Which is why, as I said, I really am consciously trying to develop a "sense of sufficiency." I'd say I had one once but the wheels fell off but that wouldn't be true—I never had one.

"… musicians have a unique ability to keep working on their art …"

An interesting point. I don't think I ever looked at it exactly that way. I thought I had more to say about this, but … I guess not. Perhaps I will have some other time.

"… do you think a digital camera might help?"

I'm pretty sure it wouldn't. It would, of course, improve the social and parlour game aspects of the exhibition part of the photographic process, which might well be fun and nice and interesting, but it wouldn't actually solve the bit I need to deal with—it really wouldn't differ from dealing with the commercial scans from the film for that part. I'd still have to sort through, make decisions & toss the dross, and post-process the gooduns to clean 'em up for presentation. Aside from that and speaking from an artistic point of view, I still prefer the artifacts film introduces, partcularly for b&w, but that's another issue.

Carol Kennedycakmpls on September 11th, 2005 01:35 pm (UTC)
Brains are strange. I can read pretty much anything while listening to pretty much any kind of music, but I can't edit while listening to lyrics in English, or sometimes even in Spanish.
Carol Kennedycakmpls on September 11th, 2005 01:38 pm (UTC)
Can't listen to any kind of lyrics, even the most simplistic. The words get in the way of reading-to-edit in some way that they don't get in the way of reading-for-information.
Stephen Leighsleigh on September 11th, 2005 01:44 pm (UTC)
Interesting musings, Fred!

Listening to music and reading: We have the same impulse, FWIW. I always have music on -- if I'm working on a novel, if I'm checking e-mail, if I'm reading. It's rare that there's silence around me. Heck, I'll even listen to music to go to sleep. In fact, trying to read when there's nothing but environmental quiet around me makes me fidgety.

The music I choose to play will vary with the task, but it's there. As you say, music is like air... And like you, I tend not to listen to lyrics as words. I hear the vocalist as another instrument in the mix, with the words being the warp and woof of the tonal notes. As a result, I'm really awful about remembering the words to songs unless I've literally played them a thousand times: I know the melody, but the words can be spotty (which is why you've seen me carrying around a binder when I play...).

Perfectionism: I know I won't change your mindset, but... I understand the urge for perfection, but it's a chimera: a quarry that recedes from you every time you approach it, impossilbe to catch. As a writer, as a musician, I've had to realize that "This is the best I can do right now" is all I can achieve. That doesn't mean that I have to accept where I am (and I hope I never do). I hope that "the best I can do right now" is a marker that keeps moving closer to that impossible 'perfection' even if it never, ever gets there. But I can accept less-than-perfect as long as it truly bumps up against the edges of my current competence.

To be alliterative: Pursuit of perfection is paralyzing. At least it would be for me.

We grew up with different musical influences. In my early years, I was more interested in R&B, Soul, and jazz than in Hendrix, the Who and so on. I didn't come to like and appreciate them until after their day in the popular limelight had faded. I still don't care for much of Hendrix or -- I know this is heresy for you -- the Grateful Dead beyond a few songs.

I'm curious about this... What about new music? I like a fair amount of new stuff I hear, and I'm actively trying to listen to new groups and new styles. Yeah, I listen to (and play) a lot of old stuff, but I want to keep walking (well, shuffling at my age) forward while at the same time fondly looking back. I find that in one of my current bands (the members of which are of my advanced age), four of the six musicians only look back. They hate anything new. This is irksome, since I'd love to play more songs that weren't written from the late 60s to the mid-70s (or by artists whose heyday wasn't in the same timeframe, even if their songs might be newer). I like the old stuff too -- but why is that 90% of what we play?

I suspect there are a couple reasons for this... For one, there's a time in everyone's life (and it's in the teenage years, I think) where the gates of the mind open up and the music of the moment imprints itself on you -- whatever music that is, this will be your music, the "good old stuff" you listen to. I think that imprinting lasts for about five to seven years, and then (for most people), they stop listening to anything new. They keep listening to that era's music -- and because they no longer listen to newer music with the same intensity and with the same amount of repetition, they never "like" the new music as well.

Any thoughts on that?

Anyway, thanks for a truly interesting post that sent sparks flying off in several directions for myself.
dd-bdd_b on September 11th, 2005 04:39 pm (UTC)
Fruitful night indeed! Glad you did manage to actually get it posted.

"Good enough" is one of the most amazingly liberating discoveries -- at least for people whose tendency is towards that paralysis of perfection that sleigh mentions. Also one of the most antithetical concepts to real art ever invented. I rather suspect I discovered it too early.

I'm fascinated to read your thoughts on the musical issues, but there's little I can say about them, because I never did connect really solidly with popular music, and never established the sort of "important" relationship with music that seems to be stereotypical in adolescents.

On looking forwards and looking back, I think it's nearly impossible to recapture the experience of hearing (or reading or seeing) something really new for the first time. Going back to the sources of ideas and techniques is interesting academically, but I don't know how to get from there to the feeling of illumination of discovering the new in its historical context. Most especially for people who grew up on the later music derived from that breakthrough. It's like trying to get new SF readers to read Heinlein these days (even setting aside late Heinlein).
Bonniebonz_lizard on September 11th, 2005 11:55 pm (UTC)
"You were listening to music? And reading?"
I use to be able to do that. Probably because of that, and my choice of music was many of the bands you've mentioned, I now tune out all background sounds. When I'm reading I don't even hear the phone or the doorbell ring. chasophonic can play guitar while watching a movie on the tube. I find that amazing! If you are similarly "gifted" perhaps that would be a way to accommodate more guitar practice.
Anne: Sarah's paintingnetmouse on September 12th, 2005 09:53 am (UTC)
I can listen to music and read.

What *really* amazes me is that Bill can listen to talk radio (including NPR) and read. and fall asleep, for that matter.
Skylarker: The Big Pictureskylarker on September 12th, 2005 01:52 pm (UTC)
And then again, my wiring is such that I respond to music, even songs, even songs with lyrics, as music first and foremost. The only reason and extent to which I can say I know/understand the lyrics of any given song is that its music has sustained my interest in it enough times so I can finally start to piece together what its words are and what they might mean.

That's an excellent statement of my own wiring as regards music/lyrics.

I'm perfectionist, too, but I think part of my definition of perfection includes an appreciation for the virtues of a thing as it is: X might be a flawed Y, but it's a perfect X.
Skylarker: Making Magicskylarker on September 13th, 2005 12:53 pm (UTC)
I should distinguish between two cases of 'X':
X might be a stage in a creative process that's intended to become Y, in which case it can be helpful to assess the kinds of changes needed to get from X to Y, (lose the lower right appendage and straighten that angle, or pull the two lower appendages together into one strong verticle trunk) - like a sketch that starts out loose and is gradually modified to more closely resemble its subject; or,
X might be intended to be taken just as it is, without reference to any external model - like any moment in Eternity, that stands forever, perfectly as it is. This view of X can include all the cases of X that are also steps in a transformative process, but it's more troublesome when the cases that aren't intended to be something else are approached as if they should be.