Live snippet. Cover of Yes/Chris Squire’s ‘Onward’ from Tormato. Why we hate looping. Alfalfa and learning to croon. Simple things that are hard to do. Dick Van Dyke’s Recurring Nightmare. Tempo maps. Why do classical conductors make the big, big money? Astoria, OR is great in the autumn.
Roger CortonWe have that rarest sighting in the wild. You doing a cover song.
JCHWell actually one verse, but yeah. As background, I finally got round to listening to that boxed set of Yes re-masters.
I love ‘Onward’. I think it’s as beautiful as progressive rock gets. And it dawned on me, “WOW! it’s been a year since Chris passed away.”
RCWhich came out, what, three or four years ago now?
JCHDo you actually listen to those door stops? I get these ‘gift boxes’ for Christmas pressies and…
RCI confess. I’ve gotten a few of those. Never listened to most of them.
JCHIndeed. Who has the time or patience to listen to the fifth outtake of whatever? Anyhoo, I listened to ‘Tormato’ again and… by the way, did you know, there’s like a whole second album of unreleased songs on there? Some of ’em are really good. They’re like from another era.
RCI did know that. They sound like they are from ‘The Yes Album’. Which is a good thing.
JCHRight! Anyhoo, I love ‘Onward’. I think it’s as beautiful as progressive rock gets. And it dawned on me, “WOW! it’s been a year since Chris passed away.” And THAT is the definition of getting old, my friend….
RCWhen you remember someone who passed and the first thing you say is, “Has it been a year already?”
JCH(laughs) That’s right. That’s what ‘old’ people say. So I started noodling it and I realized that I could probably do a passable solo version if I could break down and use DUN, DUN, DUN! The dreaded looper!
RCFor any new readers, please explain in just a few words. Why do you hate looping so much?
JCHLook, it was a cool party trick at first. But all I hear with that stuff now is like boooooooooooooooring Fripp/Eno music in airports shite. Or worse than the airport? Some guy at the airport Holiday Inn playing ‘one man band’. Shiver.
RCWell, I liked this. Nice and simple. Like you said, Chris’s songs tended to be that way.
JCHAnd the great thing? His lyrics usually make some sense! (laughs). But the irony is that this is one of the more sweat-inducing things I’ve done in recent memory.
JCHWell, fretless is hard enough to play in tune. Singing along always adds another frisson of danger. But then there’s the two-handed tapping and harmonics and fuckin’ around with that stupid echo box. So even though it’s a ‘simple’ tune, the cumulative effort of all that multitasking is, for me, ridonculous. It’s what I call “Dick Van Dyke’s Recurring Nightmare”.
RCSay no more. Say no more. But you put all this effort into doing just one frickin’ -verse-?
JCHBasically, for the challenge. I don’t know if the audience gets it, buuuut… it’s that eternal Mozart question. I mean, almost every performer says that Mozart is really tough to play well. You know, because it sounds so ‘simple’. You just have to make it beautiful.
RCAnd ‘Onward’ is a simple, beautiful song.
JCHIt really is. So all I’m thinking as I play, ya know what’s going through my mind? “Gee, I sure wish I’d used MY FUCKING INHALER before going on.” (laughs) I’m concentrating so hard on not having a seizure with all the multi-tasking so I forget to do basic things.
JCHLike breathe. There’s no way I feel ‘entertaining’. I listen to this and it sounds like “Alfalfa” to me. And the visual is more like Quasimodo hunched over a sewing machine.
RCYeah, you’re really selling the show there buddy.
JCHActually, it did go well. I had a ball.
RCWait, am I hearing you correctly? You sound slightly happy. Those new drugs must be working!
JCHIt’s not all doom, dude (laughs). The crowd was good…
RCWhat was good about the audience?
JCHWell, they didn’t start throwing shoes when I stopped after the first verse! (laughs). Anyhoo, my hosts were great! On the way down I brought down a bunch of crawdads. Sp we had this fantastic pilaf concoction. And the sky along the Columbia? WOW. It’s my absolute fave this time of the year. We get these sunsets that are so deep. I mean literally -deep-. It’s like watching a 3D movie. You remember those old Viewmasters? It’s like that here in the fall. EPIC!
RCNice. Sounds like a mini-vacation.
JCHAnd the best part? I found out there’s an audience in Portland! It’s great to have more places to play near by. I never seem to get this booking thing right.
JCHWhat the hell are you talking about?
RCCovers? Looping? New town? You’re ‘growing’. You’re turning into a ‘sensitive new-age guy’ (laughs).
JCHOh sure. The only reason the ‘cover’ is here is because I promised I’d post a new ‘snippet’ as much as possible and I didn’t have anything else ready to go. But here’s the other thing about ‘looping’. This is an exercise I give to my students which no one does…
RCThe bitterness oozes.
JCHQuite. I imported the Yes version into my computer and it magically creates a ‘tempo map’. See that horizontal line with all the little blocks? Those are all the fluctuations in the tempo. It goes from 110 to 136 BPM. And that’s just within a three minute song!
RCI would expect it to slow down at the emotional parts and then speed up at the big finish, right?
JCHNot really. What I’ve noticed over the years–and I’ve done this with hundreds of songs–is that it’s not so much some dramatic plan like you just said. That does happen. But it’s just the fact that the tempo moves in any fashion–it could be almost random–that makes it sound ‘human’. What drives me nuts about playing with a ‘looper’ is that you lose that. It’s challenging (for me anyhoo) to follow the bouncing ball and make it sound natural. The traditional solution (or at least my solution) is to drag a bit behind the loop here and there. But it’s not the same as really being able to flow with it.
RCInteresting. I don’t think most people realize how much tempo goes up and down.
JCHIt’s one of those amazing things. We don’t hear the constant shift, but if it isn’t there? We notice it, for sure! There’s one exception which I know you won’t believe. Symphony orchestras.
JCHYeah, really good classical orchestras will keep a much more stable tempo than pretty much any other type of group. It’s one of those intangibles that makes the guy in the tux worth the big, big money. I think there’s a PhD thesis in there. Seriously. You put any great recording of a Beethoven symphony into the old tempo map and it looks a LOT less jumpy than most any pop band. No matter how ‘tight’ people think their fave funk is? How much they say they ‘groove’? A good conductor is what really locks it down.
RCSo what we think we hear as a ‘solid’ tempo isn’t the same as a truly fixed tempo.
JCHNot at all. One of those mysteries of humanity. Which is why I hate loopers.