A two-parter on the notion of ‘criticism’. More on the Onward cover. Nobody cares about Hillary’s damned pneumonia. Prince. Blue Angels. George Van Eps. Old school gymnastics and the Olympics. Simplicity. Easy vs. hard. Simple vs. complex. Loops vs. clicks.
Roger CortonNo new Snippet this week? I thought you were going to throw up at least one new something every week.
JCHLook, don’t hassle me, man. It’s been a crappy week. Everywhere I go I just run into too much recession, man.
RCNo man, you mean he ran into too much repression (laughs). I haven’t heard that in a long time. So what’s going on?
...A certain group of listeners will always equate ‘note count’ with ‘impressive’ but there’s a whole other deal I try to tell students about
JCHTo paraphrase Bernie Sanders, nobody cares about my damned whatever. The point is, I couldn’t get it done. Come to think about it, that’s what Hillary should tell people when she got sick last week. “Nobody cares about my damned whatever. Now fuck off!” It just amazes me that she can’t take a day off to be sick without everyone acting like she’s being irresponsible. Not ‘sharing’ enough. People our age don’t feel the need to explain why we have to get in the limo. We wanna be able to go home and barf with a little dignity.
JCHBut that said, she is getting kinda defensive. I mean, I don’t blame her. But that got me thinking about something from our last chat. You said I was being too ‘negative’ about my performance. I want to say something about that. I identify with not having quite the sunny disposition.
JCHAt about the age of seven my kid nicknamed me ‘Mister Negative’. Seven! He comes home from school one day and tells me that his teacher said that everyone should give like one hundred compliments for every ‘criticism’ remark. He used that very word.
JCHYeah, I talked to his teacher and they place a LOT of emphasis on ‘positivity’ these days (laughs). The word ‘criticism’ is considered a big no-no.
RCIn the time I’ve known you, you’ve never seemed particularly reluctant to criticize anything.
JCHBut see under the skin, I feel super conflicted about it. I hate conflict. But when I look at a piece of art the first thing I think about is “how can we do ‘x’ better?”. I know that comes off as ‘negative’. But that’s only because 99.9% of the population is dead wrong.
RCSpoken like a true narcissist. Er, sorry, I meant …. ‘artist’ (laughs). So let’s get to the point.
JCHDroll. The ‘point’ is this: there was this interview on NPR a couple of weeks ago with a young R&B singer (can’t remember her name) where she was going all gaga about meeting Prince, right? He came to her show, he liked it and then invited her to watch his show later that night. But she’s all confused because he had already finished playing. But what he meant was that he and his band watch video of their performance and review it. Critique it. She was absolutely gobsmacked to learn that he did that pretty much every night.
RCI’m sure gobsmacked.
JCHWell I’m not. That just seems like standard operating procedure for a band at that level. In fact, what amazes me is that she didn’t get it.
JCHOh yeah. I don’t think most civilians understand the seriousness of a world class act. So I thought of a way to describe it. Check this out. Years ago a pilot friend of mine gave me a Blue Angels post-game review video.
JCHSo, you know The Blue Angels?
RCYeah, the pilots. The show. Of course.
JCHWell they have a crew that follows them around with like six video cameras and records every show. And right after they finish, they have a two hour post-game film review. Every show. Because that’s what it takes to fly 24 inches apart from one another at one thousand miles an hour. Well, that’s my idea of a professional musician.
RCI can’t imagine wanting to watch video after most of my gigs.
JCHI feel ya. Most people don’t want to be ‘critiqued’ too often.
RCBut that’s why we’re here. Some ‘musiciany’ comments I have here about our chat on your live cover of Onward. First up, “Man, that cover was so simple! Why are you making it out to be some ‘virtuoso’ thang.”
JCHThang? Well, trust me, that bass thang was tough to play. It may not sound ‘impressive’ but it’s a trick. A certain group of listeners will always equate ‘note count’ with ‘impressive’ but there’s a whole other deal I try to tell students about which I call ‘The George Van Eps Humility Index’.
RCGeorge Van Eps, the legendary studio guitarist. I know him as the man who wrote the most boring guitar technique book ever written. I quit taking lessons because of that book.
JCHI know. He’s for me like Mozart is for you: I know I’m supposed to like his stuff, but I don’t. Howard Alden just looooves him. But I GUFFAW whenever I hear his stuff. All his playing and his exercises sound so (cough) ‘simple’.
RCUntil you try to play them!
JCHI’ll tell ya what they are. Remember back in the good old days when they had the real Olympics on TV? Like 1968? They would have shown men’s gymnastics. And they would have had those ‘strength’ events. Like the ‘rings’, right? The guy just hangs there for five minutes. I can’t imagine them televising boring shit like that today. But it’s just crazy difficult, right?
RCJust to explain, his playing is difficult because his chord voicings are unusual. You need to have very strong hands and a lot of fingerboard knowledge to play them without buzzing and scratching.
JCHThat’s the guy. They sound OK, but frankly who else would know how hard he was working? It’s almost like those Zen gardens which look like nothing unless you’re in on the whole deal (laughs). Anyhoo, covering Onward was as much an exercise for me as anything else. Maybe it’s an old guy thing, but I just find certain things like this challenging now. Twenty years ago? Totally boring. Which brings up another boring thing about that cover: It’s a ton of pre-planning to make happen.
RCYou mean the hardware?
JCHRight. It would sound like total mud if I’m just a guy with a mic and an amp. So to get the clarity where you can hear each part, I have to run the bass through a mixing board and wear in-ears. And the bass has a stereo out: the bass strings go to one channel and the er… less bass strings go to another channel. That way I can make the low part distinct from the melody part. So it’s four channels. The loop, my voice, the low strings and the… er… less low strings. And in addition to being a lot of ‘tech’ for such a simple song, it kinda goes against the whole ethos of ‘simplicity’.
RCI think I know what you mean. That is my objection to a lot of one-man-band shows. People see a guy with all the machines and it looks pretty artifical.
JCHArtifical, indeed. There’s an artifice to having all that machinery which I don’t want like on something that is supposed to be ‘simple’ like Onward. But it can’t be helped. It takes a lot of complexity to do something so simple. Ironic, no?
RCGeorge would be proud, I’m sure. OK, and then there were your comments about playing along with a loop. You said it made for ‘robotic’ music. But if so, how does anyone play along with a click track?
JCHI obviously wasn’t clear. A couple of things. First, you probably wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) use a click for a ballad like Onward if you want it to sound human. But a click is a lot less onerous as the tempo increases. The other thing–and it will sound new-agey–is that when you play to a click, each player gets to interpret the click in their own way. One guy might be a little ahead. Another might be a little behind. There’s constant movement between the parts, even though the pulse is constant. A click is a bit like having a fastidious conductor. Maybe a little over the top; but you can work with it. But a loop? A loop is like playing along with a drum machine. There’s just no way to make it human.
RCSo if I understand you, the performance would have been better if there had been another person playing the loop part in real time along with you–even with a click?
JCHExactly. A click is just a metronome. But it’s the loop that makes things sound robotic. And one final snark. You’ll notice how closely associated loops and reverb are, right? Loopy people tend to use a shit ton of reverb when they play. The ‘spaciness’ tends to cover up that mechanical quality.
RCI’m not sure I agree with you complete…
To be continued…