Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Ten Greatest Guitar Solos Ever Recorded

1. "Let It Be" (album version), George Harrison
Perfect tone. A melody you can whistle. Versatility: I have learned and used this solo verbatim - in other songs. A transcendent overall form, building slowly to its highest notes, then relaxing back down to make way for McCartney. The perfect blend of repetition and freshness from one phrase to the next. The guitar comes raging back and is a soulful co-lead singer on the outro.

Honestly I could have made this whole list out of George Harrison solos. Hearing this song recently inspired me to write this list.

2. "Sympathy For The Devil", Keith Richards
The guitar solo that channels everything people who think Satan is cool think is cool about Satan. Violent, brusque, screaming insanity. The solo tells the story just as much as the lyrics do. And that last ripped chord before Jagger comes back in? A frustrated Satan vanishing in a burst of hellfire.

3. "Candy's Room", Bruce Sprinsteen
The fastest, most intense song on Darkness on the Edge of Town comes to a literally screeching halt then gradually speeds up and loses its mind to become even more intense than before. It seems he's tried to become this sort of this folky, songwritery guy now but here Bruce just freaking wails.

4. "The Wind Cries Mary", Jimi Hendrix
More eloquent than any words could be, this solo makes an initial powerful statement and then sings about the variations the statement suggests. Then it goes veering off into places that appear nowhere else in the song. Finally, a return and resolution of the early statements. This solo is like a satisfying mathematical proof if a mathematical proof was translated into a heroic fanfare.

5. "Sunshine Of Your Love", Eric Clapton
I once created a piece of art with construction paper, two corks, and a wire that tried to depict how this electric solo blazed and flew above a sea of color. This made me realize the necessity of getting my first wah pedal.

6. "Sweet Child O' Mine", Slash
The awkward fourth note of the scale has been involved in a lot of poignant moments over the years, usually yielding to the sweetness of the third, never more so than in the indelible first two lines of the solo over the verse chords. The more violent, minor solo later on and of course the intro that kicks the whole thing off are possibly the best guitar moments of the entire 1980s.

7. "Bell Bottom Blues", Eric Clapton
Like Coltrane he sort of plays the melody but with embellishments. Also like Coltrane (come to think of it) he uses harmonics. This song taught me to use the edge of my picking thumb to make the guitar cry a little bit.

8. "The Crane", Matt Wilson
From Trip Shakespeare's Across The Universe album. It's an entire melody to itself, climbing up in bent fits, then falling down into the lowest notes the guitar has to offer. Once I finally figured out how he was articulating some of the climbing parts, this solo taught me to bend a note on one string to match a note on a higher string, something I later found in Hendrix as well.

9. "Way Out West", Alex Chilton
From Big Star's Radio City album, a melodic distillation of everything good and chimey Roger McGuinn ever played. Hearing this taught me how to solo using chord shapes and to mix open strings with fretted strings where possible.

10. "Octopus' Garden", George Harrison
In a demo session in the now unavailable Let It Be film Ringo is plonking out this silly little number on the piano. Months later, with a fellow underrated Beatle leading the way it exploded into a 3-D rock masterwork. I used to quote bits of this during Honigman shows. The guitar intro, verse arpeggios, solo, and outro are justification for the song's existence and inclusion on the greatest rock masterpiece of all time, Abbey Road.

Also essential learning:
"Johnny B. Goode", Chuck Berry
"Patience", Slash
"Eruption", Eddie Van Halen
"Bohemian Rhapsody", Brian May
"Let's Dance", Stevie Ray Vaughan
"Dear Prudence", George Harrison

All right, what did I forget?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Cross Section of Conversation

Me: ...I mean the whole reason I started going to doctor visits again was to live as long as possible.

Doctor: Yeah, good! What else have you done to that end?

Me: Hmm. (Thinks) I quit eating sausage, egg, and cheese muffins from the gas station every week.

Doctor: Congratulations. You have discovered the key to immortality. Surely you shall be a modern Methuselah.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Last Thoughts on the 2011 Twins

1. The undeniable highlight of this season was the roadtrip with my friends where we saw two games and did some epic tailgating in Kansas City. The Twins swept the Royals in four games and seemed to be on a path back to contention. Brian Dinkleman got hit by a pitch, was intnetionally walked, got his first hit, and made a spectacular catch directly in front of us in left field - all in his first ever major league game. Awesome time.

2. But it wasn't all sweeping the Royals for the Twins this year, obviously. It was all about injuries. Joe Mauer, with bilateral leg weakness (I can relate, but then I'm 39 years old), sat out a ton of games. He was widely criticized for not playing hurt. I disagree with this criticism. If this was his final year in the majors then sure, play hurt. But we want Mauer to be well and healthy for the next 6-10 years here in Minnesota. Forget this year and just heal up real good, I say.

3. On the other hand, Michael Cuddyer played hurt a lot and got most of the positive press for the Twins despite Liriano's thrilling no-hitter and Thome's 600th home run. To me the explanation is simple. Cuddyer is in the final year of his contract and stands to get the biggest payday of his career if this season is a success for him personally. So I'm not jumping on the Cuddyer-plays-hurt-has-heart-and-Mauer-doesn't bandwagon just yet.

4. The biggest question now is next year. Will Bill Smith bring back the players this team could build around to contend again in the near future? I hope so. I realized this year how much I've gotten used to supporting a winning team and I (a Hennepin County resident just like Bob Dylan) continue to pay a .15% sales tax to support the new revenue generating stadium.

5. Which brings me to my penultimate point - I did not attend a single game at Target Field this year. Too pricey, too crowded, just never got in the habit. Yes, Johnny Cash, I still miss someone and her name is the Metrodome.

6. Finally, I think I just saw Alexi Casilla (15-day disabled list) shopping at the Knollwood Target in St. Louis Park. Does anyone know if he's shaved his goatee off or whether he's back here from Florida?

Oh, and I will try to catch at least one more game on the radio to hear John Gordon one more time. What's next year's broadcast team going to be? I'm hoping for Chris Atteberry and Jack Morris but they'll probably keep the Dazzle Man.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Have You Ever Met Your Heroes and They Were Totally Cool? I Have.

On July 22 I played bass at a Skittish show at Mears Park in St. Paul. We were opening for The Twilight Hours featuring Matt Wilson and John Munson, two of my all-time musical heroes. It was awesome to meet them, tell them how very much their music has meant to me over the years, and find out they are really great guys who are kind and considerate toward their fans. Here is that whole story, which I wrote up when I got home because I was very excited about it.

My Dad and I drove over to St. Paul and got a parking space directly behind the stage. It was perfect. I got my stuff set up. Then Matt Wilson arrived. I must have stared a little bit because as he walked by he said, "Are you playing tonight?" I said I was. After a little while I went to the back of Dad's Kia to change into my suit pants from my shorts. That was unpleasant, changing into a suit there on East 6th Street in downtown St. Paul in the back of a car.

I realized the knot in my tie, which I leave in due to not knowing how to tie one, was looking totally weak. I asked Dad to do it for me. He realized he couldn't do it without a mirror. He was doing it in a car window and said to the car's owner, "I'm not trying to peek in your car but I can't do this tie without a mirror." The car's owner was Twilight Hours' keyboard player Dave. Matt Wilson went over to my Dad and was trying to tie it on him.

At that point I came over and said, "You've further outsourced my outsourcing of tying my tie." Matt asked if he could put it on himself and do it. I said sure and he put a good, big knot in it. Dad asked him about schooling or something and he said St. Louis Park High School then a short time at Harvard. Dad bragged about me being in the St. Olaf Choir.

I told Matt I'd first seen him in December '92 at First Ave and how very much his music has meant to me over the years. He said thank you and said he was honored. I said I wished there was more of it and he said he did too. We talked about how music gets put into such a small stretch of time when you get older. "Unless you're Mick Jagger or my brother," he said. I agreed and said yeah I was in a similar boat. Then loud music started to play over the P.A. and he gestured to his throat and said something about his voice - needing to not shout to be heard right before the show presumably.

John got there a little later, while I was soundchecking my bass and when he walked up I said, "John Munson!" and we shook hands. I said I'd seen him for the first time at First Ave in 1992 and that his music had meant a lot to me. He said thanks and asked my name and I told him.

While the sound man was still setting up I went and got in a conversation with Matt, John, my friend and bandmate Pete Rivard (who has done some work for Twilight Hours), and Dave, Twilight Hours' keyboard player. John talked about vintage clothing acquisitions and golf. Pete brought up the ukelele and said he'd given me one and he hadn't gotten it back. I said I could not possibly give it back. John said he liked playing single note stuff on the uke - just sitting around and picking out melodies. That I would be fascinated to hear, but I didn't say that because I felt very conscious of seeming like an overly involved fan, which of course I am.

As Skittish was soundchecking and the soundman asked for bass I played the riff from Matt's "Raking Service". John noticed this walking by and laughed, which I found gratifying. We played the Skittish show and I was distracted by Skittish leader Jeff's acoustic and possibly my bass being badly out of tune. I'd been so busy chatting with John, Matt, and Pete that I neglected to tune right before the show. Skittish were okay but not great like we can be. I had to really try to get into "Little Things" but got there of course, partly by thinking that it may have been our last show. (It turns out this was probably true. There are currently no shows on the calendar and unfortunately co-leader Vonnie has quit again.)

The Twilight Hours part of the show was pretty great. Like their album, they started with "Dreams". They were much more electric and rocking live than on their album. Matt was lit in red and the night grew dark and the music became increasingly intense. Their musical interaction was really great to watch. They did stuff from the Twilight Hours album and several new songs. As far as I could tell only "Troublemaker" and "Descender" were older than 2010. They finished with "Descender" then encored with "Stay With You".

I spoke to both guys afterward. Matt mentioned how great it was that my dad seemed so totally with me. I agreed and we talked about the benefits of having good parents.

A moment passed and I radically changed the subject and mentioned that he had done a lot of new stuff and that I liked it. He said they're working on a new album. Matt signed my Twilight Hours CD soft case I brought with the Sharpie I also brought. He wrote, "I'm happy to adjust your couture anytime. Matt Wilson." Jeff and Vonnie came by and we chatted about ties. I said in high school and college that if you couldn't tie a tie it just meant you'd have to get a girl to do it for you and that was a good thing. Matt jokingly asked if that was what was going on tonight. I said no.

I talked briefly to John and he signed my CD as well, writing "A pleasure to meet you after all these years. John" and drew an arrow to his picture. I helped Jeff and Vonnie take their stuff to Jeff's parents' Chevy Suburban on the opposite side of the park. I was in a great mood and was much more talkative than I was when I was exhausted and hot at rehearsal yesterday afternoon. I don't know what the other people in Skittish must think of me. Probably just that sometimes and I am talkative and funny and other times I am stonily silent, which is accurate.

Dad and I drove home. Then I came downstairs and wrote this blog entry while it was all fresh in my mind. I feel so happy to have met those guys and to have had them be such friendly, gracious guys. I think I conveyed how much their music has meant to me without seeming creepy or obsessed. I feel inspired to really try and get something of my own going and finish an album and maybe even play some shows, even if only a few people ever hear it.

I remember how strongly I used to feel sort of sad and happy all at once after a Matt Wilson show. Like pretty much all my feelings at this age (39), I still sort of feel it but it's muted. It's a more manageable, practical feeling that won't interfere with my getting to sleep or send me into some kind of spiral one direction or another. Getting old is weird. Or maybe it's being young that's weird and you just don't realize it at the time.