I’m looking at a few songs to arrange for my concert in March with my electronica duo Gretzler. They are:
1. Love Lies, by Captain Beefheart. You don’t know Captain Beefheart? His real name was (he is dead as of a few years) Don Van Vliet, and he was a high school friend of Frank Zappa. They have one album together. Beefheart put out an album in 1969 called Trout Mask Replica which was hugely influential on the rock music scene. Of all his albums, I actually find it the most difficult to listen to. It kind of reminds me of Charles Ives, believe it or not. Anyway, Beefheart grew up on the blues, and his gritty and powerful voice is clearly largely inspired by the singing of Howlin’ Wolf. He put together a few bands during his performing career (he eventually left and devoted himself to visual art, an area in which he had been a child prodigy), ending up with an amazing group that included trombonist Bruce Fowler. I eventually got into Beefheart because of Fowler’s amazing playing. I have listened to the album Shiny Beast at least 300 times, and have arranged some of the tunes from that album for Meridian (we have recorded some, and Yes, we got permission from Beefheart!). To sum up, Captain Beefheart is the most important rock musician you have never heard of. His tune Love Lies, from Shiny Beast, is incredibly soulful and bluesy, and I think we can pull it off in Gretzler with some judicious use of our loopers. You can listen to it here and let me know if you think we can pull it off.
2. Another favorite band of mine is Radiohead. I have posted previously about Pyramid Song. I think Gretzler might be able to do the song Videotape, which is here. Again, the repetition makes it so that we can put some parts on loops, so we’re not just playing two lines.
3. Maybe we can even do Pyramid Song. Listen to it live here. If we put the confusing repeating riff on a loop, we can play the tune on top.
There are studio notes from Abbey Road recording the time the Beatles spent at the studio. The engineers and staff hated it when the Beatles were coming in. They wasted massive amounts of time just hanging out, getting completely high on whatever, and messing around musically until they found something that worked. That’s what it takes to be creative: time. The Beatles weren’t just composing music: they were inventing styles – plural, because almost every song is in its own style. It takes time to work through all your mistakes until you find something good. Not too many people have that kind of time, myself included.
Even without the time and money to spend hours and hours in a studio, creativity requires one other thing that is free: the courage to risk failure. So, as I sit with my horn and my electronic grab bag, I need to keep in mind that this is a wonderful experiment that will go wherever it goes.