Friday, August 18, 2006

bring the rain, bring the thunder

I love the bass guitar.

Every fat-bottomed, thick-stringed, finger-blistering inch of them. An embarrassing number of years ago, I decided that the bass was going to be *my* instrument, the one I was going to at long last pick up and figure out after a childhood, adolesence and college free of any musical fulfillment. As a side note, I'll pretty much always feel like I missed out on a minor part of the music geek's lifecycle growing up and somehow not a) being in a crap garage band or b) hosting a crap college radio show. These are two things that when people meet me they are somewhat surprised I never did. To be honest I am too.

So, I dropped a little over $500 on a pretty hefty Japanese Fender J bass (the fellow in Spiritualized and all my favorite britshoegaze bands seemed to prefer the J--it was that simple) and a SWR "Workingman's 12" cabinet. Big, thundering noise, at my fingertips.

This morning both of these things sit in my closet, ridiculously out of tune, neglected and sad. Lately my cat has been enjoy that lumbering carpeted amp more than I have. Years and years ago I tried to get my head around that thing, I did. I sat and worked on scales and penciled several notes-maps of its long smooth neck. I got high and wrapped myself in headphones, determined to copy some of my favorite songs and players (I came close a few times). I indulged in free-form noise rock experiments with musician friends at parties, sometimes with sloppily magnificent (or magnificently sloppy) results--and yes alcohol was involved.

I followed all the requisite steps, but it never took. I heard the music in my head and what I wanted the guitar to do but I couldn't find where those mystical notes lay, or even how to twist its notes into something reliably complimentary to a melody and the magical guts of what becomes 'music.' My bass never became more than a piece of wood bound by strings, strings that tied together all the instrument's secrets and wouldn't let them go.

So fine. I meant to get lessons and never did and other creative outlets rose up in its place. Frustrated friends in bands told me, "You'll never play bass, you're not flaky enough" (a reflection more on their current bandmate situation than my personality), and part of me actually bought it. "Well, that explains it then!" part of me must've said in relief. Maybe it's just not meant to be, and into the case went the bass, Sam I Am.

I haven't given up--I still have it, after all--even though about 8 years have gone since I first picked up the guitar and the fantastic silver-bearded man at Guitar Showcase in Campbell, California said, "You'll always find work; everyone's looking for a bass player" (see my friend's comment above). I'm still devoted to my instrument of choice and though I'm a little annoyed it didn't find me until I was old enough to have jobs and distractions and collaborators living progressively further away, I'd like to try again. But above all it hurts to realize that I could be eight years into playing right now. Dammit.

(This is the sort of thing that really should introduce a theme, and maybe next week we will embark on a sweeping Salute to The Bass. But for now, this is one of the countless songs that make me wish I had shown a little more tenacity, a lot more discipline.)

'Waste It On,' by Silversun Pickups

Silversun Pickups are a fantastic, post-shoegaze pumpkin bashing trio from my ol' neighborhood that with a little luck you've heard of already. But, as in all big guitar outfits, the bass is not-so-quietly picking up everyone's lunch tab while no one's looking.

Played by the predictably cute Nikki Monninger (seriously, the comely female bass player has joined the ironic t-shirt as a requisite indie rock accessory for some time now--not that there's anything wrong with that), this bassline is probably the most unique, most uncomfortable, most difficult sounding of its kind that I've heard all year. It's all hitches and stops, it paces and stumbles about on a wooden leg on its way around a scale and, above all, carries the whole song on its crooked woolen shoulders. It sounds like it should be in a different time signature, but probably isn't, which is even more interesting. As my drummer friend Marty said when I asked if one of his band's songs were in an odd time he said, "No, it's four but it feels like nine." Seems like a great slogan for a band: "Making four feel link nine since 1996."

And six drum geeks laugh with me.

Stereogum's linked to the Silversun Pickups' video for their considerably more raucous "Well Thought Out Twinkles" (where you can watch Miss Monninger rock the big Fender bass as well). Check that out, check the above song out, and when you're done buy Silversun Pickups' debut album 'Carnavas'. This local trio isn't staying local much longer.


At 8:36 PM, Blogger said...

The main line, during the verses, is in 10. It bounces back and fourth between that and 4.



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