A few notes of a musical nature

Since I’m in a musing mood and relecting on the Clapton concert the other night, perhaps a few semi-related notes on me and music might be fun…

As a kid, I never had much of a formal introduction to music; my family’s taste was oriented towards 50’s crooners (think Ed Ames). I successfully avoided piano lessons, but instead, took up clarinet. Also, early on, it was drama, which means, of course, musical theater. Hello, Dolly!, South Pacific, and Oklahoma! are all still guaranteed to generate hives…

The early days, if you think about it, didn’t lend itself well to improvisation. Technically, I was a rather good musician (by 7th grade, I was 1st chair 2nd clarinet all county, and mid-chair first clarinet) — give me a score and I could master it. Put me in a group and I could play to it. stick me on a stage and tell me to just wing it, watch me freak. The perfect kind of orchestra drone, if that’s what you want… (and that’s not a complaint, either).

After 7th grade, orthodontia started, and woodwinds stopped. I was encouraged to switch (I wanted oboe, but was vetoed again — I still, honestly, don’t have a clue if the orthodontist had a clue or not about this), so I tried trumpet, then tuba; frankly, I found the brass family cold and uninteresting, so I more or less dropped out, and worried more about the drama side of life.

In high school, I discovered rock and roll — Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Three Dog Night, Deep Purple. (it wasn’t rock unless it was heavy…). One of the joys of iTunes is going back into my youth and rediscovering my old favorites, and seeing what holds up over time. I’m now a happy owner of all of the above, except for the Black Sabbath, which I now write off as youthful naivete or something.

After high school, I went to work at Disneyland for a few years. Not only did that reinforce my inherent disney-geekness (“in the tiki-tiki-tiki-tiki-tiki room”), it gave me access to something I hadn’t known about. At that time, Disney did a continuing summer series of swing at Carnation Gardens — I fell in love with a musical style for the first time (who cares that it belonged to my parent’s teen years, not mine). Basie played there at the time, Glenn Miller’s orchestra, others. Of course, I fell in love with Benny Goodman, but also Buddy Rich — and louis. It also exposed me to Honkytonk (just go sit in Coke Corner; it’s the same piano player as it was when I was working there, and he’s still amazing), and dixieland. I tried guitar once or twice, never stuck with it, but got fairly good at ukelele, for a while. but it just wasn’t high on the priority list of life.

But over time, music faded from the scene, pushed out by other aspects of life. I wasn’t playing, and I just wasn’t that interested in listening. It stayed at best a casual interest, after I also dropped out of the drama scene as well.

And that’s more or less where it sat for a long time. Some things grabbed my attention — theatrically, I became a fan of Webber (for his theatrics) and Fosse (now, can you name two styles so diametrically opposed?) and Gilbert and Sullivan; Laurie and I started attending Scottish festivals, which introduced me to bagpipes; somewhere along the line discovered steel drums .

Suffice it to say my musical background is, well, eclectic. And about four years ago, after years of mostly hibernation, it started waking up again (it’s not alone, a number of things from early in my life that I’d put aside have come back and rejoined me, such as my woodworking). and then came iTunes.

I’m in deep trouble. Although — dammit — I keep complaining because Rhino Records isn’t on the store. they’re tired of hearing it from me, too. (grin) (what’s on Rhino? how about Emerson, Lake and Palmer? I”m a huge analog synth fan…)

How eclectic? here are the concerts Laurie and I have gone to in the last year: Paul McCartney (twice), Eric clapton, Fleetwood mac, and Bette Midler. I also seriously considered Sarah McLachlan but the timing didn’t work (I’m also going to try to see Lion King before it leaves town, and I wanted to see Starlight Express, but it also didn’t work out). thanks to iTunes, I’ve finally started exploring classical music (especially baroque strings) and opera (Wagner’s Ring, in german. no kidding). And other stuff. It makes it so easy. Anbd everything I run into points to something else new, something else to explore. how wonderfully scary. I’ll probably wander off after Bach soon, then Brahms.

For me, concerts are fascinating events. Since I did so much tech crew (and at one point, I was theater/tech major, and dabbling in set design, before computers took over), concerts exist on many levels — I not only lose myself to the music, I find myself dissecting it, isolating the parts, critiquing the artists, and watching the crew and the results. Studying technique, studying the tech. But not too much; I’m there for the music.

If my first musical life was as technician, this musical life is one of exploration and examination. I’ve come to appreciate the subtle beauty of a bagpipe, the high energy clarity of steel drums; a good guitarist makes my day, an artist like clapton leaves me stunned, raptourous in tears. I’ve always been fascinated by the drummers — that’s beyond my ability, pure and simple, and the only thing that would come out of putting me behind a drum set is a call to 911 asking for the jaws of life to get me back out. And synths. Blame Keith emerson and rick wakeman, and blame Three Dog Night.

Back in high school, mid-70’s, they played a concert in Anaheim. Opening act was Neil Sedaka, of which less said the better. But that tour, they were touring with a guy called “the wizard”, owner of this huge, fascinating thing called a Moog. entranced, but I had no access to one, and it remained a “gee, wow” kind of thing. One can only wonder if I had gotten my hands on one, how things might have been different.

Just look at the technology today, though — for christmas, Laurie bought me a synth (yamaha PSR225-GM), which I love, but work, life and lack of time has limited how much time I’ve had to learn and practice, but I keep hoping that’ll change. and apple’s brought garage band, which is amazing to hack with (but see “time, lack of”).

And I’ve told myself after I get decent at keyboard — I’m buying myself a bass. or two. Laurie has her Dean spanish acoustic (but no time….), but after the Clapton concert, is lusting after a slide guitar (as played by robert Randolph and the Family Band, an awesome opener, but more on that later)… (as I put it — put that baby in the hands of a white guy, and you get hawaiian music!)

What’s in my iTunes right now? Here’s a highlight: 78th Fraser Highlanders, Alice Cooper, Artie shaw, PDQ Bach, Bare Naked Ladies, Bela Fleck, Billy Joel, Buddy Rich, Duke ellington, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, Guess who, Ian Anderson, Police, Quarterflash, Richard Wagner, Royal Scots Dragoon Guard, Queen, the Tubes, Warren Zevon, the who, and Mozart.

Beware of party shuffle, it will fry your mind.

And, you know? I keep thinking about buying a clarinet again. But I don’t want to split my time and make it even harder to get my keyboarding going… But — I have plenty of time, the rest of my life.

you know? If I work at it, I could probably do a decent Benny Goodman cover.