Saturday, August 27, 2011

Punk Jazz Opus One




As I'm sure I've said before, the songs on Le Bonx were titled after the fact, with Arlene, Steve and I taking turns coming up with the names. This is one of Arlene's titles. The song itself is from the first session - the "Wurlitzer" session. It's just a 3 minute blast of punk jazz - one of my favorite tracks. We came out swinging and didn't let up. Arlene really lets loose and plays with uncharacteristic abandon and fervor while Steve manages to move things along rather than throw his usual percussive body blocks to the song's momentum.

I've talked before about my attempts to garner mainstream acceptance - radio stations, record companies, management, etc. - by doing things the "right" way. The truth is I really didn't try all that hard. Fear of rejection? Yeah - it's painful to be told that your stuff "isn't right" or that it "needs work" whether or not it's true. Laziness? I guess my approach to recording could be called lazy. . If I didn't get it right the first time I moved on to something else. Certainly I'm impatient. Ego problems? Sure. Like John Lennon once said "Part of me thinks I'm a loser and another part thinks I'm God Almighty". I always hoped that someone who was in charge of...something....would hear my stuff and say: "This is great. Let's sign this guy and develop this stuff!" Of course that never happened. That almost never happens. Artistic integrity? What the heck is that? I did what felt right. I did what I had the skill to do. The music I made when I made it was the best I could do at the time.

 I was pretty beaten down most of my life and by the time I was in my twenties I felt deep inside that I was pr worthless. I knew, on one hand, that I could do stuff not a lot of people could not do - I could make stuff up. On the other hand I also knew that there were lots and lots of people who were better at it. Even though I was a huge music fan and was writing lyrics and making up melodies even as a child, I didn't learn how to play guitar until I was 18 years old. Why? Because my father ridiculed my musical ambitions and humiliated me every time I brought them up. He'd say: "You'll never play guitar. I bet I could learn guitar before you." When I was 13 or 14 he actually bought me a cheap little steel-string guitar and told me: "Now watch - this will sit in a corner an he'll never learn to play it." I was so crushed that I never touched the instrument. A few years later I gave it to my sister. When I was in my last year of high school he took me to a pawn shop in Oakland and bought me a 12-string acoustic guitar. I wanted a 12-string because Richie Furay played one in the Buffalo Springfield. It's interesting to note that in emulating that group I didn't want to be Neil Young or Steve Stills, the warring guitar heroes, I wanted to be the third guy who didn't get the attention - the guy who was overshadowed and left standing at the curb when the bus to superstardom left the station. I knew I was good - I just didn't think I was worth a shit. Thanks, dad. ( Sometimes he'd get drunk and brag to his friends that I could sing, write and play guitar. Then he'd drag me - and sometimes my sisters - out of bed and make me perform for his drunk friends. Then he'd brag about all of the famous entertainers he knew and how he could help me start a career in music. The next day he'd be hungover and dangerous, his grandiosity of the night before a fading memory. I remember when I'd taught myself a  few chords on my 12-string I went to the kitchen where he was sitting with the current step mom and played a bit for him. When I was done he said: "Yeah, but you'll never be as good as B.B. King". Thanks, dad.

Putting Le Bonx together was a liberating experience. No one could tell me it wasn't any good because how the hell could they know? I invented the music. I created the genre. Le Bonx may very well have been the greatest music ever recorded. Who's to say it isn't? If I hadn't done Le Bonx I don't think I could have ever finished Won Out or any other music project. I learned to stop second-guessing myself. My music was and is my music. The listener is free to love it, hate it or be indifferent to it. It would be great if everyone everywhere loved everything I did. Since I know that's not possible, the best I can do is be true to myself and make music that best reflects who, what and where I am at that moment.. Releasing the album - even as (only) a cassette - was almost anti-climactic. What was important was that I made it. After Le Bonx, I was free.

"Punk Jazz Opus One" has no lyrics although at the end of the recording I say: "Oh, man...".

Back then we had no way of knowing that the instruments and amplifiers we were using would someday be valuable sought-after "vintage" items. We bought, sold and traded them without concern for their future value. Now, of course, I wish we'd held on to Arlene's Wurlitzer 200 and Fender Rhodes suitcase model electric pianos and the Fender Twin Reverb and Bassman amps that passed through our hands during those years. Even the Taiwanese-made Crest drums that we had for years (and eventually passed on to some kids who were starting a band) show up on Ebay as "vintage" for ridiculous amounts of money. My son Matt owns a "Wurly" that I borrow from time to time. It really takes me back. When Arlene and I broke up she took her amp (a 70's Fender Bassman 10 that had been passed down from Steve) and her electric piano to a local music store and traded them for a grand piano. They gave her almost nothing for them and turned around and sold them for a huge profit. I was disappointed that she didn't give me the opportunity to buy them from her, but then really what did I expect?

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