Monthly Archives: July 2010

pals on punk

On punk vs the people


The key, to me, is for a music to evolve which both permits complete participation and provides scope for instrumental virtuosity. I suspect this music will involve software synthesizers, but also give scope to
new Yngwie’s. The hip hop folks understood in an earlier time that they could use electronica and manipulation of samples to tell a populist story not embedded in amber. I envision an electronic future that looks a lot like 1960s Folkways magazine crossed with Stevie Ray Vaughan goes to Berklee thermodynamics.

I keep waiting for digital instruments to become as expressive and potent in real time as analog ones. Not that live performance on digital instruments isn’t often amazing, but as far as I know there’s nothing with the same power in the hands of a virtuoso as, for example, the sax.

victor aka fourstones

I saw both the pistols and the clash (and the ramones for that matter) and they definitely had guitar solo breaks but point taken wrt to attitude, esp. at the very early stages. (Note that no matter how “bad” a group of musicians are, if they go on the road for 5 years they can’t help but get proficient at their craft no matter what their attitude is.)

2nd: The whole musical backlash thing (“we’re not Yes/King Crimson/Foghat/etc.”) reached even “real” musicians – Elvis Costello came very close to not hiring Bruce Thomas because he admitted to liking Steely Dan.

but my point was that punk was not just another musical genre in the UK – there it had mass, numbers and broad cultural impact. Punk, like reggae, didn’t happen in the US because, really, there was nothing about to relate to – these were someone else’s fight (having said that, don’t ask me to explain the rise of “urban” hip hop amongst suburban boys lol)

True! I get it.

I remember the press about punk having this baggage about populism and it coming off as a complete falsehood because only the coolest kids dug it. But it makes sense that the populism was for real in the UK.

early sacred harp

In this picture of psalm singers in colonial America, notice that they’re facing one another rather than an audience. This is still how Sacred Harp is done.

Engraving by Paul Revere included in William Billing’s “The New England Psalm Singer” (Boston, 1770):
Engraving by Paul Revere included in William Billing's

The hollow-square seating arrangement for Sacred Harp singing:
The hollow-square seating arrangement for Sacred Harp singing

Spotted Pony tab and sheet music

A piece of handwritten sheet music for a fiddle tune called “Spotted Pony” came into my possession via a mandolin player I jammed with in LA by the name of Bill McClellan. I got to like the tune and wanted to teach it to a trumpeter I’ve been playing with in Oakland, but my original is covered with chicken scratch handwritten annotations and isn’t readable any more. So I retranscribed it on the computer.

No problem, I like tweaking sheet music for readability. One change is that the font is bigger. The other is that rather than squeeze the piece into the top half of a portrait printout I gave it 100% of the space in a landscape printout. Also I nuked a couple of chords that were IMO needless complexity.

There’s another song by the same name going around. This isn’t that. If you find something called “Spotted Pony” you have to listen to know whether it’s the same.

If anybody knows the source of this tune I’d be interested to hear it.

I think of these sheet music posts as mail to the future, for people who are searching and come across what they need here. I hope there is eventually a purpose, anyway.

Thursday night coffee gig / July 22, 2010

Thursday night (July 22, 2010) from about 7 to about 8:30 I’ll be playing at Caffe Trieste in downtown San Francisco. I’ll do a solo set and a set with the trumpeter Paul Mccue.

I’ll do the solo set as 100% instrumentals. The creative concept is to focus obsessively on the ultra-narrow niche of music that is solo and acoustic and instrumental and lowbrow and victorian and american.

The set with Paul will be 20s-30s proto-country and early blues. Fun.

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Caffe Trieste
Downtown - Civic Center
1667 Market St, at Gough
San Francisco, CA
Mon-Thurs 6:30 AM to 9:00 PM
Fri 6:30 AM to 10:00 PM
Sat & Sun 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM
Tel: 415-551-1000
Fax: 415-551-1030

Mural in this Caffe Trieste:

Sunday coffee gig / July 18, 2010

On Sunday morning (July 18, 2010) at 11am I’ll be playing solo at a little coffee place called Nomad Cafe. It’s on Shattuck in Oakland, a block or so from the Berkeley line.

This is the second time I’ve played there. It’s a really relaxed and pleasant thing to do — have a latte, read the Sunday paper, play a bit in this nice sunny space.

6500 Shattuck Avenue
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 595-5344
Subway: Ashby BART

Africa Polka

Ogg Vorbis

Africa Polka is a song I got from Turner’s Banjo Journal #10, a British magazine of sheet music from the 1880s or 1890s. I think it was a yankophile thing populated mainly with American music. There was a banjo fad going on in England, an early example of American folk culture crossing over to the top of the pops. It was similar to the way that Howling Wolf’s shows in Britain in the 1960s influenced the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton.

Africa Polka sheet music

I was playing with live dancing in mind. The part with just chords and no melody might be fun to jam over — the chords are C-G-G-C and G-D-D-G.

The guitar has a couple rattles. There’s a blooper note near the end that I am hoping doesn’t really affect anything. YouTube reencodes the original video to sound and look really bad.

This recording is hereby in the public domain.

Punk and amazement

Punk was against solos. The Ramones, Sex Pistols, Clash made the absence of a guitar hero in their lineups a strength. It was ok to have pre-arranged instrumental elements — the guitar line in the Ramones’ version of “California Sun”, the melodies in Ventures covers — but the idea of soloing was squarely against doctrine.

The doctrine was DIY. Anybody can do this. It’s the people’s music. Three easy chords. Roll Over Beethoven. It was a cause, a manifesto, a revolutionary creed.

But in a sense instrumental virtuosity is more plebeian, more open, more democratic. Guitar heroism is the people’s choice. Guitar heroics appeal to the people. The public demands them.

The reason the public demands them is that heroics are entertaining. It’s not music, it’s acrobatics, true. But that isn’t a drawback for most people. Acrobatics are easier to understand than music! Acrobatics create a climax in the arc of concert that music is hard pressed to match.

Compare Yngwie Malmsteen’s ultra fast metal riffing context to Bill Evan’s complex piano chord voicings on Kind of Blue. Compare stupid but hot drum solos at an arena rock concert to sophisticated but emotionally frigid post-WWII classical music like Milton Babbit. (And leave aside the rare cases where instrumental acrobatics hit the target on a musical level). Instrumental heroics are crowd pleasers.

Purist punk has never been the music of the masses. The people speak with their numbers, and their numbers are squarely on the side of music that not anybody can do. The people want to be amazed by virtuosos.

This is an old story. Cheap thrills or elitist ecstasy — pick one. The thing that amazes me is how punk turned the narrative inside out, so that the thing the people loved (virtuousity) became elitist and the thing the elites loved (purism) became populist.