BY ERIK CHRISTENSEN
March 11, 2015
“And what do you believe in?” This question is posed in my favorite scene from a favorite film, “Bull Durham.” (Warning: some strong language at the start of this passionate rant.)
I’ve always wanted to string together a list like Kevin Costner does in that scene. Musically, I have a lot of strong beliefs.
• I believe that cello is the sexiest instrument. (Close second: saxophone.)
• I believe in Irish drinking songs.
• I believe it’s cool if your band has a female bass player.
But let’s dig deeper, shall we? Here are my All-Time, Top Five Musical Beliefs:
Number Five: I believe one should go easy on the “confessional singer-songwriter” pose.
It’s not the fault of James Taylor, Joni Mitchell or Paul Simon. They are amazing artists, craftsmen of the highest degree, and we should never blame them for the 27,000 bad imitators they have created. Just because lesser talents think it’s OK to get up there and sing tortured pages from their diary doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Yes, I know it’s deep, it’s meaningful, and they’re singing about their TRUE FEELINGS, but, as I tell my Creative Writing students, Oscar Wilde stated that all bad art comes from your true feelings. “I wish I had a river/I could skate away on,” indeed.
Number four: I believe the statement “If a song is stuck in your head, just sing another song to get it out of your head” is absolutely FALSE.
As the poet Billy Collins has said, if you try to force the song out of your head with another, sometimes it just makes the first song mad, and it really digs in. You can try “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It,” but then “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It” will be stuck in your head, or, better yet, the song “Tainted Love,” which will destroy any song in its path. Now, how to get “Tainted Love” out of your head? You can see the conundrum.
Number three: I believe in real encores.
When was the last time you saw a REAL encore, not something pre-programmed and thought out well ahead of time? Was it always an excuse for the band to drink a quick Budweiser backstage, then come out and play the latest song that’s on the radio? I love something unexpected, or better yet, dial down the volume and play something quiet.
I remember back in the late 80s, (the apex of The Big Rock Show era) Billy Joel came out at the Tacoma Dome, by himself, and played “Souvenir” on solo piano. After two hours of loud rock and roll and bright lights, 18,000 people just ate up this quiet ballad. Amazing.
Better yet, Dire Straits has finished hundreds of shows with the instrumental movie theme “Going Home” while the lights came up and the crew came onstage, breaking down the microphones and other equipment. This felt like a real farewell and an end to a great evening of music—much more so than some big boom-boom anthem and a shout of, “Thank You, Cleveland,” or whatever. And speaking of that…
Number two: I believe you shouldn’t address the crowd by the name of the city.
My name is not “Seattle,” especially if the performance is in Bellingham, Mt. Vernon, Bainbridge Island, or Olympia. There must be better ways to engage a crowd—right, Whidbey? Let’s hear it, Langley! I can’t hear you! (OK, just kidding….)
And now, the Number one, All-Time, Top Five Belief: I believe in real drummers, not machines or tape loops.
Yeah, real drummers are a pain. They play too loudly, twirl their sticks in the air, show up late and hit on somebody’s cousin. They can sometimes murder a quiet song and ignore dynamics.
But nothing beats a real human keeping time and using some of that God-of-Thunder vibe to build a song into something danceable. And it’s thrilling when the big, loud drums get pulled back to focus on the lyric, then comes crashing back into the chorus.
Our Jacobs Road drummer, Mitch Aparicio, is a master at this; he plays to the song, and he doesn’t just bash at one volume. (Still, if something goes wrong, our band motto is: “Blame the drummer.” Others include “find out how much we’re getting paid,” and “never give your real name.”) The best of the best—I’m thinking Levon Helm or Charlie Watts—are a joy to listen to: drummers who are musical, who add to the song without showing off.
So what are your musical beliefs? I tend to agree with Texas songwriter, poet, actor, and activist Steve Earle:
“…I believe in miracles.
Something sacred burning in every bush and tree.
We can all learn to sing the songs the angels sing.”
Erik Christensen teaches English at Oak Harbor High School, writes songs and poetry, and hates encores that don’t happen when the audience really wants one. C’mon dudes, just come back out and jam for a bit….
Erik Christensen’s band plays at Blooms winery in Bayview from 3-5 p.m. on Sunday, March 22, at 9 p.m. at the Oak Harbor Tavern on March 27 and from 6-8 p.m. at the Front Street Grill in Coupeville on Wednesday, April 22. All info on the Jacobs Road band can be found at www.jacobsrd.com.
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