A FEW FAVORITE
ARTISTS & MENTORS
original grandiose ideas for National Health, formulated over the
several drunken evenings at Alan’s flat and based to some degree on a
enjoyable collaboration between our former groups Gilgamesh (Alan) and Hatfield and the North
(me), were for a nine piece band, 2 keyboards, 2 guitars, 3 vocalists,
& drums. Alan was to play electric
piano and synthesizer (the latter an instrument on which he showed
prowess despite not actually owning one) and myself
One drummer, however, made a big impression… We attempted to break him in on one of our “easier” sections, a riff from a piece called Elephants over which Alan used to play a serpentine Moog solo. It was in 25/8. The short chap was not a bad drummer, but this was beyond his musical experience. After a few minutes of floundering (which sounded like the riff from Elephants accompanied by a free form percussion solo) we stopped, and I explained how the 25 quavers could be sub-divided into 3 sixes plus a seven. This made no audible difference (riff from Elephants accompanied by air raid) so I further explained how the sixes could be regarded as half time bars of 3/4. This was a mistake. At the mention of “3/4”, the drummer’s eyes brightened, and before I could count in, he launched like a madman into a brisk waltz beat, punctuated at random intervals by a deadly even, robotic 7 beat tom fill in a different tempo. We tried to join in, but it was chaos – the resulting musical carnage is beyond my descriptive powers.
In the midst of this mayhem, looking around the room at the other musicians’ concerned expressions, it suddenly occurred to me that the whole situation was becoming cartoon-like, and I had to try desperately hard not to laugh. The same thought had obviously struck Alan, because when I turned to look at him for some kind of moral support or guidance, he had slipped out of sight down behind his Fender Rhodes, and was lying on the floor wheezing, weeping and convulsed with suppressed laughter…
Fortunately, someone at Virgin Records had given Bill Bruford my phone number, and after dragging a wary Alan Gowen along to a couple of meetings wherein Bill explained to me and my suspicious partner why it was O.K. to have been in a group that sold a lot of records, we arranged to have a play together. The first rehearsal went very well – Bill could read music, so our complex arrangements held no terrors for him…
We had absolutely no idea how we were going to earn a living (in fact, we never did) but at least we had a band now. Encouraged, we began to rehearse a plethora of new compositions. I had written a daft, insanely long piece called The Lethargy Shuffle… which parodied Glenn Miller and rock’n’roll while maintaining Stravinskyan overtones, plus a more lyrical song in Hatfield style, Clocks and Clouds… Not to be outdone (You want complex? I got complex!), I wrote Tenemos Roads, an epic about ancient civilizations on the planet Mercury inspired by The Worm Orouborous. The Ramones we were not.
this fearsome repertoire… we set out in January 1976 to terrify the
We were now ready to record our first L.P., and though the press rapturously received our winter gigs, we had run into a wall of indifference from British record companies. Alan & I had thought that finding a record deal for this band would be easy. How wrong we were… After countless refusals and rejections from other companies, things reached a head when Virgin Records, a company who had to some extent built their reputation on progressive music and with whom we had close ties, turned us down. I had a furious argument with some wretched A&R individual over the reasons… apparently, our music was old-fashioned and “unoriginal.”
“What do you mean, ‘unoriginal’?” I screamed. “Tell me who else is playing this kind of thing?”
“Er, plenty of people. It just sounds like what a lot of other bands have done.”
sounds like, er…lots of other people.”
yeah. What Virgin had rightly divined,
of course, was that this band had MUSICIANS in it, and by some unspoken
inter-record edict that persists to the present day, had decreed that
were bad news, and bands which sported them were NOT TO BE SIGNED. Far better to sign up some good looking front
person who’s not particularly interested in music (like the record
replace the band, if there is one, with session players or MACHINES. Then you can get down to the real business of
making a HIT RECORD without all that music stuff getting in the way.
embarked on a European tour in February , culminating in a
No one wanted to put it out, of course, but at least we had a tape. Then another good thing happened. We were invited to play at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, as part of a series of concerts entitled “Really Cultural Rock Music played by Serious Men with Beards”, or something… I was impressed, and excited to get the opportunity to play at what I then considered a prestigious venue. Eager to justify the gig as high art, and fill in some of the gaps in our sound left by Alan’s departure, I set about scoring some of our pieces for woodwind quintet…Subsequent events served to underline just how shittily
I arrived at the QEH having guessed what time we would go on from a poster I saw in a railway station. When I got there I found that our lighting engineer was being refused access to the lights, and that no-one had our lighting plan (which we had sent in 2 weeks previously). Having been assured we would have the full co-operation of the QEH by the agency, this made me pretty angry. Finally, after our soundcheck, a guy from the agency approached me and told me we were due on at 7:30. It was 7:10; I’d sent the woodwind players away to get some food, assuring them we weren’t on until 8:00; the guy from the agency had been sitting in the hall ALL AFTERNOON (unknown to me) while we soundchecked, and only now did he reveal our playing time. What was it, classified information?
We stalled until 7:45, but finally had to go on. When I went on stage, the woodwind players had not returned from their meal, and I had no way of knowing if they would make it back in time for their first number. But the SHOW MUST GO ON! (Why? HOW?) We started the set. When it came to the time for the woodwind stuff, I said to the audience, “Ladies and gentlemen, for the next tune we were supposed to be joined by 5 woodwind players. Due to the incompetence of the agency that booked us, they left the building some time ago, and I don’t know if they’ve come back. But let’s see what happens.” Bless their hearts, they all walked on stage dead on cue, having come back early from their meal. And not one of them was still eating.
seem like a little thing to you, but if the woodwinders hadn’t showed
think I might easily have soiled my trousers in front of 1,000 concert
goers. Anyway, this particular clothing
disaster averted, the rest of the gig went very well.
The audience was great – one guy told me he’d
concert? Prestigious venue?
I’ve played some shit venues in my time, including the Zoom Club
Frankfurt, where there are no doors on the toilets to discourage heroin
from shooting up, the Mobileritz in Antwerp, frequented mainly by
who ignore the band but cheer the blue slide show on afterwards. I’ve played at really dodgy pubs and clubs in
the experiment of augmenting the quartet with 5 woodwinds and a guest
the Roundhouse in
Of course, this was all a bit too good to be true, so almost immediately Neil Murray left the group. After all, no-one had left for a while, and Neil didn’t want this bi-annual ritual to fall into disuse… also, he had been offered a gig with Whitesnake, a rock band who went on to become enormously popular (much to our surprise). Luckily, we were able to replace him speedily with John Greaves, an old mate from the good old days at Virgin Records when Henry Cow and Hatfield & The North were on the label, before the terrifying Night of the Accounts (Wankernacht) when smart young men in suits ran amok through Virgin’s roster, smashing and burning anything tainted with the forbidden word MUSIC…
We set off on our most intensive touring period ever… When you’re really in love with a band and its music, you will go anywhere and do anything for the chance to play. In Egg I used to sometimes travel to gigs lying across my organ pedals in the back of the van – we once drove 400 miles to play a gig for 25 pounds in a venue called the Dead End Club (attractive name, eh?) Earlier in the Health’s career, we would quite happily go for 2 or 3 days without sleep to get to a European gig without incurring hotel bills…
had never made it to the
excerpts from National Health – The
Inside Story, included in the National
Health Complete CD. For more on Dave
Stewart, visit www.davebarb.demon.co.uk.)
The rest is history. While Zappa did go on to compose dozens of contemporary classical pieces that he and a host of others performed during his lifetime (not doubt they’ll continue to be played well into the next century and beyond), he also made an indelible mark on the rock world… The Mothers… opted instead to negotiate the twists and turns of FZ’s experimental and distinctively weird rock tunes… Instead of lulling listeners into a pop music stupor, Zappa used poignant satire, goofy humor and hefty doses of snarling rock to provoke his audiences to think. Throughout his life, Zappa’s propensity to challenge, shock and even outrage people with his bold political views and idiosyncratic music often made him an easy target for critics bent on dismissing his dissenting vote against the social and musical status quo. That didn’t stop him. He adventurously covered a universe of stylistic terrain, ranging from ‘50s doo-wop to 20th century classical music inspired by Varèse, Stravinsky and Bartok. He punched out hardy rock on his surly guitar and served up “jazz from hell” experiments on his computerized Synclavier DMS keyboard (his instrument of choice in the latter years of his life when he was studio-bound). With a lifelong flair for creating genre-jumping, post-modernist music, Zappa released nearly 60 albums, many of which folded together several different styles of music, cross-referencing such seemingly disparate domains as classical with reggae and melodic R&B with dissonant avant-garde. He fused it all into a sometimes brilliant, frequently madcap, always spin-on-a-dime concoction of distinct and inimitable “Zappaesque” music…
(For more info, visit www.therealallanholdsworth.com.)
The album's entirety, with its unorthodox songs, sounds and recording production (the latter partly inspired by, but venturing beyond, Phil Spector) and classical and jazz instrumentation and arrangements, was rejected as too "way-out" by the other Beach Boys, in favor of preserving Wilson's previous, commercially successful "formula", and by Capitol Records, whose lack of promotion contributed to an indifferent and unreceptive American public (unlike in England.) Yet, it changed the standards for pop music within the industry, inspired the Beatles' cultural watershed album Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and received high acclaim and recognition some 30 years later as a landmark album ahead of its time, climaxed by the 1996 release of the Pet Sounds Sessions compact disc box set. Indeed, Wilson's work on Pet Sounds was largely responsible for his being lauded, at the time, as an American cultural treasure by Leonard Bernstein and numerous pop music dignitaries, with some musicologists going as far as comparing his "musical genius" and personal outlandishness to Mozart, his emotional and creative struggles to Beethoven, and his youthfully prodigious, innovative multiple artistry to Orson Welles. (Ironically, his comparison to Welles also included Wilson's suffering one of the most devastating falls from grace in music history. If Pet Sounds was Wilson's career equivalent of Citizen Kane, his subsequent, even more ambitious unfinished Smile sessions, which ushered in his mental and professional undoing, were his equivalent of Welles' It's all True.)With the hindsight of history, it is quite possible that, had the Beach Boys and Capitol Records embraced Pet Sounds and the Smile project the way the Beatles and EMI embraced the similarly unconventional Sgt. Pepper, it would have not only facilitated the Beach Boys' transition into the acid rock and psychedelic period, but allowed Smile to rival Sgt. Pepper as a centerpiece for the pop music revolution. Instead, an era of musical innovation not inconsistent with
Sounds is meticulously faithful to the original's unique arrangements and
effects. Still present and tightly
performed are the inventive melodies and harmonic vocal and
counterpoints, the tempo changes, the pulsating harpsichord and piano
the swinging dual bass guitars, the harp-like guitar motif in Wouldn't It Be Nice, the stirring French
horn and vocal
fugue in God Only Knows, the strings' haunting, intricate
harmonic tensions on Don't Talk (Put Your Head on
early synthesizer-like Theremin in I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, and the surprise,
departing train and barking, chasing dogs at the end of the album's final song Caroline,
(the latter's influences evident in
fade-in and fade-out of train-like noise at the end of the Beatles' song Strawberry
and the barking dogs and animal sounds at the end of Sgt. Pepper's near-closing song
Good Morning Good Morning.) Indeed, Pet
Sounds was the first
record to employ such common
– yet musically unused
– sounds in pop music
(shades of the
avant-garde Stockhausen.) The
also included occasional, tasty jazz-like embellishments
– particularly during the
piece Pet Sounds, a Bacharach-inspired, jazzy percussive/brassy
instrumental (rejected as soundtrack for a James Bond movie prior to
inclusion on the album, as Wilson surprisingly revealed in his
introduction.) The band's state-of-the-art
improved on the sound quality of the original album.
Its musically richest songs, Wouldn't It Be Nice, God Only Knows
and Don't Talk (Put Your Head on
easily worth the whole album or concert.
As former Beach Boy Al Jardine acknowledged, just the
heartfelt vocal performance of the brutally honest, artist's lament I Just Wasn't Made for These Times
expresses Wilson's sense of frustration
as a visionary artist, and a thinly veiled description of his rejection
Beach Boys) seemed especially poignant and moving during the concert,
own painful life journey and the troubled but triumphant history of the
Pet Sounds album
itself. Indeed, time
seems to have vindicated them both.
despite all the hype, the Brian Wilson performing on stage was a
different man from the 24-year-old who composed, produced and sang
of the lead vocals in that impeccable, angelic, yearning (almost
without compromising musicality), smooth high-pitched voice on Pet Sounds back in 1966. What
instead was a 58-year-old, disoriented-looking singer with a rough,
stilted, lower voice that nonetheless managed to reach some crucial
and recapture some of the old magic, remaining seated behind a keyboard
served as a prop rather than an instrument, except for a quixotic
mostly visual stint as additional bass guitarist (Wilson's original stage
one of the encore songs. Even
nothing short of miraculous, considering his past, that he's not only
alive but professionally active, even if he's mostly doing his "Vegas
act", living off his former glory, and will never be able to live up to
the standard he created when he was in his early 20s.
It's a bitter irony that
some of the
happiest-sounding pop music ever written came from someone profoundly
compelled to compose for his own salvation.
info., visit www.brianwilson.com.)
My mother’s successes as a concert pianist, music educator, community activist, humanitarian, devoted friend, wife and mother, combined with her keen sensitivity, resilient spirit and humor, were unassuming. Yet, they profoundly touched seemingly everyone who knew her, whether casually or closely.
Her music, along with my father's occasional jazz piano-playing, permeated the house. Although she never pressured me to study music or be a musician, I absorbed its language before I could speak. It was in the room even when she wasn't. Specific pieces became my earliest memories.
President of the Hofstra University-sponsored Pro Arte Symphony
League and a former teacher of choral music in public schools, she died
cancer in 1971 at the age of 41. A
lifelong Long Islander raised in
She also toured the country and performed on radio with the Oberlin Woodwind Ensemble. After receiving a Bachelor of Music Degree from Oberlin Conservatory of Music, she earned her Masters in Music Education at Columbia University, and went on to teach in several public school systems in the tri-state area.
Hofstra’s semiannual Rhoda Pinsley Levin Endowed Award for Excellence in Musical Performance assists promising senior undergraduate musicians in their scholarly and vocational pursuits. Her legacy is honored by that award, its semiannual recitals, and Hofstra’s Rhoda Levin Piano Literature Collection.
“…these music-hungry kids… what endless possibilities there are… I only hope I have opened doors for you, helped to give you confidence, and have shown you what resources you all have that you can call upon for the rest of your lives.”
-- Rhoda Pinsley Levin
With its own brand of rawness, heavy grooves and traditional influences, Gentle Giant’s music has aged surprisingly better than that of their “progressive rock” contemporaries. Indeed, although once accused of pretentiousness, their music actually sounds less pretentious now than it did back then, and less so than that of their more successful colleagues from that period. (With typical jocularity, Gentle Giant even took to performing concerts with a “pretentious” sign as a backdrop!) Ironically, the band’s heavier use of traditional instruments than state-of-the-art technology and production gimmicks (or their inability to afford some of the latter) has rendered their music far more timeless and honest sounding than the artists who capitalized more fully on those passing trends (e.g., period keyboard- and guitar-synthesizers and mellotron, and the overproduction that often went with it.)
Excerpts from the liner notes for the “Gentle Giant in Concert” CD…
Gentle Giant were, first and foremost, pioneers of progressive rock. Their musical repertoire was as diverse as the array of instruments they used, combining classical, medieval and experimental aspects into composition which defied convention… Gentle Giant’s goal was to expand the frontiers of contemporary music at the risk of being unpopular. This was a credo which found them few friends in the media and restricted their fan base to a loyal cult following, rather than the mass popularity enjoyed by many of their contemporaries.
Between 1970 and 1980, Giant recorded eleven studio albums and one double live-set, an impressive legacy for a band who had worked on the fringes of obscurity for their entire career. During this time they also toured vigorously, earning a reputation for meticulous musicianship and deservedly winning many new fans abroad. Their live shows captured the instrumental dexterity of their studio work and instruments such as cello, recorder and vibraphone complimented the more traditional use of guitar, bass, keyboards and drums…
There is a growing respect for Gentle Giant, with many of today’s successful musicians citing them as influences… the reputation the band so richly deserves, but were cruelly denied for most of their career.
(For more info., visit www.blazemonger.com/GG.)
Annette Peacock at the Downtown Music Gallery in
perhaps telling that, when she made her 2000 “comeback” after a
hiatus and nearly twenty-year absence from a
Unlike most of the records I had at the time, Jim’s seemed to fit any occasion or mood. Some of the other records were fun and lively. Others were soothing and nurturing. Only Jim’s were both. His songs conveyed toughness as well as vulnerability. They churned beauty out of chaos and humor out of pain – as I imagine he sometimes must have done in his own life.With his rare combination of humor and pathos, his stories of challenging day-to-day survival and love, his vivid portrayal of odd jobs and colorful “working class” characters, and his simple and universal themes (his widow, Ingrid, refers to them as “haiku”), Jim was – to me – very much the Charlie Chaplin of music. Both of them created and entertained in ways that were “street-smart” yet tender.
During my early teens, Jim’s songs became a consistent backdrop to my life and the lives of the people I knew. “Next Time, This Time” got me through a torturous romance. And “One Less Set Of Footsteps” got me over it. I’d just sit in my basement listening to those songs by myself and they somehow made me feel okay about everything (talk about the healing force of art.) When I entered a junior high talent contest with an original piece, I placed second but lost to an aspiring singer-guitarist who performed “A Good Time Man Like Me Ain’t Got No Business (Singin’ The Blues)”. I even fought over the “Life and Times” album with my father’s fiancée – a nationally known sociologist and college professor who equally treasured the album and didn’t want to give it up. It’s not surprising that a sociologist would like Jim’s songs! “It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way” remains one of my favorite “Christmas” songs. I’ve sometimes wondered what specifically inspired Jim to write songs like those. (Other than “the landlord each month”, as James Stewart says of the songwriter in “Rear Window”.)
I identified with the loss of Jim even though I never knew him. “Dreamin’ Again” still captures that general feeling of loss for me. Yet, his songs and presentation were so personable and intimate, his storytelling and imagery so vivid, his warmth so contagious, it was easy to feel as if I did know him. And I know others have felt the same way. That’s another testament to his artistry. His songs were so filled with humanity, the songs seemed human!
The bittersweet paradox of “I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song” is one I’ve related to. As a songwriter, it’s indeed been easier for me to say such things in a song. Well, at least there’s some way to say it – and someone to say it to. Even many years later, that song’s beautiful, understated simplicity and lushness still appeals. Just like Jim “had to say I love you in a song”, his songs often expressed my feelings better than I could. Sometimes one works things out through art that you can’t in life.
some of his songs got me through part of adolescence, others touched me
an adult. “Lover’s Cross” helped me cope
with a break-up. “Workin’ At The Car
Wash Blues” got me to laugh at, and thus endure, some of my own less
glamorous, grueling means of employment over the years.
info., visit www.jimcroce.com.)
As anyone who knew her could attest to, Mrs. Spiers was just as theatrical a character as the ones we studied, if not more so. When it was time to leave high school, she told me, in her typically quizzical way, “It will be interesting to see what becomes of you. And I think I may be around long enough to find out.” I was fortunate enough to speak with her many years later when they commemorated the school’s auditorium in her name, by which time I’d worked in the arts for many years. She had been around long enough, and she found out.