Rock Show

It’s Friday night, and time for a cold beer and some live music, courtesy of Trans Fat Orchestra at Woodlands Backyard. I’m a sucker for a horn band, some Joe Cocker and Johnny Cash covers, and a few tunes belted out by the Jersey Girl.


Paul McCartney, Bassist

Recently I stumbled across this article about Paul McCartney, the bass player.  It’s based on an interview of McCartney that occurred in November 1994, conducted as part of the research for a publication called The Bass Book.  The interview — which focuses on how McCartney became a bass player, the instruments he used, including the famous violin-shaped Hofner, and other musicianship basics — wasn’t published until this year.

1214-32-601b_lgIt’s a fascinating read, and it highlights a point that often gets overlooked:  the incredible musical talent that was packed into the four people who made up the Beatles.  Sometimes the band’s legendary, overwhelming celebrity overshadows the fact that they were all brilliant musicians.  I’ve written before about Ringo Starr’s exceptional drumming, and the underappreciated contribution he made to the underpinnings of the Beatles’s greatest songs.  Paul McCartney’s bass playing was no less phenomenal.  Together, McCartney and Starr gave the Beatles the greatest rhythm section in rock music history.  (And don’t let anybody dismiss George Harrison’s lead guitar work, or John Lennon’s rhythm guitar efforts, either — they’re equally outstanding.)

McCartney’s bass role in the Beatles was foisted upon him — somebody had to slug along on the bass after Stu Sutcliffe left the band — but he took to it like a duck to water and showed amazing creativity in devising bass lines for the band’s songs.  Listen, for example, to songs like Come Together or Something from the Abbey Road album (a song that also shows McCartney’s extraordinary gift for background vocals) and focus in on the bass playing.  You’ll come away shaking your head at the creativity McCartney shows, and thinking about how his playing just blows away the work of most bass players.  McCartney somehow devised bass lines that faithfully anchored the rhythm of the songs, but also advanced them musically — which is not a common ability.  And his bass skills didn’t end when the Beatles broke up, either.  Mrs. Vandebilt from Wings’ Band on the Run album also showcases McCartney’s bass capabilities and drives a song that irresistibly forces you to move with the beat.

We’ve heard recently about who’s a genius, and who isn’t.  Paul McCartney’s bass playing shows genius.  When you combine it with his songwriting ability, his singing ability, his guitar work, and his piano playing . . . well, it demonstrates what real genius is.

Where Are All Of The Great New Political Protest Songs?

Lately I’ve been listening to my iPod playlist of protest songs.  It features a lot of music from Bob Dylan and Rage Against The Machine, of course, as well as some great songs like CSNY’s Ohio, Stevie Wonder’s Living For The City, Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth, Mercy, Mercy Me from Marvin Gaye, Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A., Zombie from The Cranberries, Get Up, Stand Up from Bob Marley and the Wailers, John Lennon’s Working Class Hero, Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free WorldMy City Was Gone by The Pretenders, Capital G by Nine Inch Nails, The Temptations’ Masterpiece, and a whole lot more.  

rs-4997-rectangleIn all, there are more than 230 classic songs on the playlist, spanning multiple decades, all featuring great music and lyrics that pack a punch and convey a clear, pointed political message.  There are songs about important social and political topics of the day, like racism, the Vietnam War, oppression, the right to protest, poverty, ecology and the environment, urban renewal, the indoctrination of youth, and the mallification of America.  And listening to the songs got me to wondering:  where are the new, great political protest songs about our current era?

I guess just about everybody will agree on one thing about President Donald Trump:  a lot of people hate his guts and despise his policies.  He’s depicted as a racist, as a Nazi, as an imbecile, as a warmonger, as an oppressor, and as just about any other bad thing you can imagine.  It seems like President Trump offers very fertile territory for some great modern protest songs.  And don’t tell me that more time needs to pass — CSNY’s Ohio, about the National Guard’s shooting of students at Kent State University, was written, recorded, and released to the public in about two weeks, and the immediacy of the anguish about the unwarranted killings, which comes through in the song with raw, crackling power, is what makes it one of the greatest protest songs ever recorded.

So, are there any great new political protest songs about President Trump and his Twitter comments and his policies, and if not, why not?  Are they all rap or hip-hop songs, and just not reaching the ears of 60-year-olds?

Annual Singing

When it comes to singing, I subscribe to the Buddy the Elf approach:  “The best way to spread Christmas Cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”

maxresdefaultSo, yesterday I donned a Santa cap and, with about two dozen other lawyers at the firm, engaged in our annual holiday singalong.  We remember and honor two of our departed partners who loved the singalong, perform for a roomful of absurdly supportive colleagues and friends, and belt out favorites like The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) and I’m Getting Nuttin’ For Christmas, as well as new parody songs with lyrics deftly penned by one of our talented partners.

When you only sing out loud once a year, it takes a while to really hit your stride . . . if you even have a stride.  There’s a musical concept called a key — I think that’s the right word — that you have to figure out, and it takes some searching and a few songs to find the right range.  I usually realize I’m singing in the wrong key when the high notes come out like more of a high-pitched screech; then I overcompensate and end up in a key where the low notes come out with an earthquake-like rumble.  This is why no one who has any kind of singing talent wants to stand next to me at these annual performances.

Our little singing group will never be mistaken for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but we make up for our overall lack of talent with enthusiasm and sheer volume.  And Buddy is right:  It’s fun and it always puts me in a good holiday mood.

Christmas Music, All Day Long

Yesterday I was at the dentist’s office, getting my teeth cleaned.  As I was reclining in the chair, with the dental hygienist sand-blasting my teeth in a desperate attempt to make them slightly less dingy, she groaned.  “Oh no!  They’re playing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer again!” she said.

rudolph-the-red-nosed-reindeerSure enough, some uninspired, generic version of Rudolph had just begun to play over the office sound system.  I hadn’t really noticed until she mentioned it, but the sound system at the dentist’s office was tuned to a local pop music station that starts playing a steady diet of Christmas music as soon as Thanksgiving is in the rear view mirror.  It was only Wednesday of the first week of the Christmas music marathon, and already the hygienist was feeling the pain of the relentless carol barrage.  I said, “Well, you’ve only got four weeks to go” when she removed the scraper and saliva-sucking tube from my mouth.  She smiled bravely behind her mask but responded, “I’m not sure I can make it.”

I like holiday music, particularly the classic versions of carols and pop hits like Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree or Blue Christmas, and I’ve got a playlist of Christmas music on my iPod that I listen to while doing my holiday baking.  I could probably listen to an endless loop of the A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack for hours and be perfectly content.  But the generic stuff, like a version of Do You Hear What I Hear by the latest one-hit wonder pop star, is nothing but grating.  I can’t imagine being forced to listen to instantly forgettable renditions of holiday music all day, every workday, and I’m grateful that I work at a job where that isn’t part of the performance expectations.

Employers should consider whether it’s only fair to their employees, and their sanity, to take an occasional break from the Christmas music every now and then.  Who knows what a dental hygienist, armed with hooks and scrapers and sand-blasting implements, might do after being driven around the bend by the 25th playing of Celine Dion’s version of Feliz Navidad?

Free Fallin’

Here’s one of things that just sucks about the internet age:   premature news of the worst kind.  First we hear that Tom Petty is dead, then we hear that the LAPD didn’t intend to confirm his passing.  And now we are left to wonder, and hope.

I was never a huge Tom Petty fan, but he wrote at least one perfect song:  Free Fallin’.  It’s an anthem, and one of those songs that perfectly captures the modern world, where things are just . . . adrift.  Here’s hoping, against hope, that the reports are wrong.