To Soothe The Savage Beast

The other day, I wrote a bit about my aunt and how she turned me on to much of the music I listen to today.  Music is, for me, one of the most important things in my life.  I am constantly listening to it, or playing it, or reading about it, or shopping for it, and even writing about it.  My tastes are extremely eclectic, and as I like to joke run the gamut from Bach to Zappa.  For as long as I can remember, music has been a very big part of my life.  I sat down at a piano one time when I was 5 and started playing, and I have ever since.  I’ve never taken any formal lessons, I can’t read a note of music, and I play entirely by ear.  I know how to make chords, and can tell you what key something is in…but put a score in front of me and it’s like me trying to read Hebrew.  I have three synthesizers in my office now, with two computer programs that create sounds, keyboards, drums, guitars, bass, orchestras, and will even write sheet music of anything I happen to compose (and I do a fair amount of that).  A couple of years ago I started flailing about on a small electronic drum kit I bought for my birthday, and while I’m not Bill Bruford or Max Roach, I can keep a fine beat…in 9/8.  Let me play “Larks Tongues In Aspic Part Two” by King Crimson, and I’ll have no problem with all the intricacies of that composition.  Ask me to play “Love Me Do” by the Beatles or anything else in 4/4 and I’m a mass of syncopated confusion.  I have a pretty good voice too…and I know my limitations and never stray out of my range.  There would be dead cats for miles around if I did.

While I enjoy playing and composing my own material (very electronic Tangerine Dream type stuff), my real pleasure is in listening to professional musicians do it on record or in person.  My parents used to have quite a collection of music, so I grew up on a lot of wild stuff (The Beatles, Santana, Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass, Brazil 66, Blood Sweat and Tears, Neil Diamond…name it).  I would up falling in love with Doo-Wop and 60’s Pop on my own, through whatever I heard on the radio.  One day, I was over my aunt’s apartment, and she pulled out an album from The Moody Blues called, “A Question Of Balance”.  Within the first minute, I experienced something I never had before: music touching my soul like it never had in all of my then 13 years on the planet.

Thus began my love affair with The Moody Blues, which somehow led me to Emerson Lake and Palmer which somehow led me to Yes and King Crimson, which somehow led me to Genesis…and as Progressive Rock was dying a slow death (around 1980), I would up getting turned on to Miles Davis during an LSD trip and from that moment on, the world of Jazz opened up to me.  To this day, my favorite musician EVER was Miles Davis; I even named a cat I had Miles (he was jet black, had a total attitude, was incredibly smart, and LOVED music…especially his namesake and Frank Sinatra.  Particularly Sinatra).   Music is, for me, as essential as air is to breathe.  It is a very part of who and what I am.  It has gotten me through a lot of different phases in my life: I cannot think about the first real love of my life without hearing “Love The One You’re With” by Stephen Stills, or about my wife every time I hear “More Than Words” by Extreme.  I can’t think of the aftermath of 9/11 if I hear “Buying New Soul” by Porcupine Tree or the hope and release from pain of that day any time I play “In The Presence Of” by Yes.

I was a DJ on my college radio station, and later became Program Director and finally General Manager (one of these days, I’ll have to post a few stories about those experiences; they are hilarious and insightful as well).  I’ve interviewed my share of rock and jazz musicians while I was there, and partied with quite a number of them too.  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting one of my favorite composers, Philip Glass, during intermission at a Broadway Play while I was getting a drink at the bar.  I sat on the side of the stage and handed Jorma Kaukonen (ex-Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna guitarist) his Heineken if he needed one after I did an interview with him at my first college radio station, and got to hang out with him as well.  Not only that, 2 years after I had transferred schools and my then roommate was chairman of the Concert Committee mentioned we had met…he actually REMEMBERED me.  And of course, I got to hang out with him again after that particular show.  He was definitely the nicest rock musician I met and hung out with…Ray Davies from the Kinks was the nastiest.

I’ve been at Progressive Rock Festivals and met a few of the known (keyboardist Erik Norlander of The Rocket Scientists…one of my heroes), and the unknown musicians as well.  I’ve chatted on line with a few (Billy Sherwood, ex-Yes and currently of Circa; a Yes offshoot band that also features Tony Kaye; and Tom Brislin who did a short stint as Yes keyboardist as well as leader of his own band Spiriling.  Both of these guys are really nice and fan friendly as well.)  The most common thing we all understand as human beings is MUSIC.

Music transcends politics, religious discord, languages…music is the unspoken truth that moves the soul.  It is the one element of Humanity that is gloriously universal.  It moves the soul in a way that needs no other being present, yet when you share the experience of a concert or of listening to the same album with someone, that beauty is indescribable.  Go to a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and you won’t see a dry eye in the house.  Imagine, music about the joy of life and the glory of mankind…written by a man who was going completely deaf at the time of its composition.  THAT is what music will do for people…the urge to create, to express their inner soul…not by words that could be misconstrued…but by notes that cannot.

My oldest daughter is taking guitar lessons now, and she’s pretty good.  My youngest wants to take drum lessons, and she just needs to grow a bit more so she can reach the kit, and we’ll start her on those.  It’s ironic though: both their parents know how to play keyboards (my wife took lessons and can read music), yet they choose instruments their parents can’t help them with.  (We can at least have a family jam session though).

My kids better choose their Foreign Language better than their musical instrument choices.  They need to pick either French (which I speak fluently), or Italian and Latin (which my wife knows and understands).  God help them if they take Spanish, though: the only things my wife and I know how to say are “Merry Christmas”, “Where’s The Bathroom?”, and “Two Beers Please!”

“Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence” – Robert Fripp