I have lately been enjoying my daily dose of mr. David Lee Roth.
It's great to see an accomplished musician who is also an articulate person, with opinions about a lot of things, and a wide span of interests beyond their musical craft.
I really hate that stance in many musicians who just put their music out there like a chicken that lays an egg and then forgets about it. I like Aerosmith's song "Let the music do the talking", but when a musician, in this day and age, adopts that motto as a stance, it always seems a bit of a cop out to me. I believe in criticism as a form of art in itself, and I think everybody should provide their own vision of a piece of creation, starting by the creators themselves.
Listening to David Lee Roth I've found he has a clear consciousness of his body of work in the "grand scheme of things". His roots in vaudeville, the intentional content of Van Halen videos...
I have to admit that, while I always admired DLR's musical talent and swag, I always thought of him, tbh, as a square, vanilla, typical made-in-USA kind of guy. That's why it's a double surprise and a double pleasure listening him discuss for example his influences; too often, at least for my European taste, the US'ians tend to see artistic creation as a competitive thing, where one "makes it to the top" alone, at the expense of the bodies of others left behind. I belong to a different school, where you see in your "style" a sum of acknowledgements, of people who have gained your admiration and your heart while you were learning, and it's great to see Lee Roth within that "school" too, as he talks of Picasso, Braque, Mark Twain, Chaplin, musical films...
And so many other things. His bushido training. The art of the videoclip. His pretty extreme outdoors adventures, his vision of professional wrestling as a cathartic form of show business...
The program is basically him rambling about something; spontaneity is valued above brilliance, so it is only normal that here and there, interspersed, is sometimes a pinch of bad taste (seems appropriate, as that was a criticism very often made to the post-WWII culture that he worships among his roots). But invariably in all the episodes, no matter how inspired or not David looked to me that day, or how abstruse the issue seemed -initially- to my likings, two moments have always appeared at least once per show:
1) Moments when he cracks me up.
2) Moments when I wonder "how the hell we got here? What the hell is this guy talking about now?"
Both 1) and 2) are things that I treasure among the highest things in life, and for me it's a great luxury to be able to hang out with DLR like that.
His voice alone is a delight, he could read the phone book and be a pleasure to listen to, and he is also charming and naturally funny... Physically he reminds me to a cross between Joe Pesci and a piranha, with that smile full of teeth that tells you he knows he can get away with anything...
Maybe not for all audiences, but any good artist worth their salt shouldn't try to appeal to everybody...
I don't know if this is a universal feature of creative people, but I get very cranky when I'm not working in new stuff of some kind (music above all, but also writing, DIY gadgets, computer scripts, lately some video...)
The way I've come to see it is that my intellect, mind, ego, give it the name most suitable to your preferences, I mean that "inner voice" with a tendency to ramble that some of us have, needs something to chew on. I've read in several places the analogy that compares intellect to a dog, always in need of some "bone" to get busy on.
If you give the dog a few snippets of melody and words, it will chew and chew and at the end it may happen that you end up with a song. In the worst case scenario, at least you got the dog entertained, and leaving you alone, for a few hours. The same with a plot for a short story. The same with an idea for a videogame. For a mural on a wall for those who paint... Etc.
If you don't offer the dog some of those tasty morsels, however... Then guess what, it will chew on whatever it can find inside your head. And that's where paranoia, hypocondria, storymakings of all kind start to flourish, depending on each head's bearer particular characteristics. Not much to show at the end of such chewing, only a human being ruining one more day of his/her life in solitude and obsession.
I guess this is what the saying "an idle mind is the devil's workshop" points to. I also remember an entry in Charles Baudelaire's journals that said something like "The only piece too big to tackle is the one you don't start. That one torments you endlessly".
I have a feeling that there is some of this "devil at work" in those news you hear about some A list musician involved in legal quarrels for silly things, absurd feuds with band members, coming to and fro of accusations and versions of some worn out story... Huge reserves of talent and creativity, perverted in an extensive "soap opera", that would have found a better use in launching 3 or 4 whopping albums in one year... (even things like reunion tours are only remedial in my view, for sure those must be an incredible adrenaline kick, but there's no new stuff, no growth, no release for the creative energy.)
Like I said at the beginning, I don't think this tendency is universal; I'm sure some very damn good and successful musicians out there don't feel this kind of periodic "itch", and just see creativity as something they can "milk" on demand, when the time and the right offer arrive. But for sure there are a lot of unnoticed "dogs" on the loose out there, and if you're in that kennel it's a good way to give yourself a kick in the pants: whenever you think you're obsessing too much about something you shouldn't, perhaps that is the sign that you're not creating enough. The moral: don't starve your dog, he might stop being your best friend :)
A few videos of Nick Menza playing with what would be his final band, Ohm, have given me the occasion to remember how rare of a talent he was (and mourn the tragedy of his loss at such a young age). Here are a few observations of mine as I listened to this material.
One thing I've always loved about Menza's style is that it is filled with "air", that his cymbals "breathe", especially in the slow parts. This "breathe" is part, in my view, of what gives its peculiar flavor to the whole "Countdown to Extinction" album, and is also present in these pieces. It's perhaps Menza's most recognizable style feature, if I had to pick one (that, and standing up to do the tom rolls :) ). I don't know how to express it, it's like he "plays in 3D", his cymbals paint a picture for you, something that is alive and organic and evolves, like a forest. I've never seem anything nowhere near by other drummer.
Another thing I enjoy about his playing is that it is "tectonic"; it feels always very grounded, steady on the floor, like a house's main column. Even though the music can get very frantic, the hits going in all directions, he always feel "rooted", steady, like a mountain surrounded by a storm keeps being a mountain. Here's a homemade theory of mine: perhaps it has to do with the fact that he was a short guy, i.e., closer to the floor, i.e. the toms closer to the floor and providing more "rumble", and this added to his superb playing style? This is not enough to prove anything, but there is a point of contact there with Faith No More's drummer, "Puffy" Bordin, also a short guy with a tremendous power to summon elephant stampedes when the moment demands it (and at the same time, both are very nuisanced and rich drummers too).
Another thing that astounds me about Nick's style is his rolls. To me he is perhaps one of the clearest cases of a drummer who is also a musician; this sounds like a play on words, but sadly, a lot of drummers feel really "binary", like human rhythm boxes. In Nick's rolls, on the contrary, you feel, besides the punch and the impeccable execution, there is also gusto on every note. And yes, I say note, not hit. Perhaps that's the thing a lot of drummers forget: each piece of the drum kit "sings" a note. I don't know if Menza got traditional formation, but I do know that he came from a musical family; an advantage I've always regretted not having. Those who have been raised in musical families have like a different familiarity and ease with their instruments, you just can tell. And you can tell he really plays seriously, in the present moment, he's not just "going through the movements". Other drummers, even some that I really admire, feel like they were driving a high precision car or dodging bullets, rather than enjoying themselves.
I have to say one more thing, however, I noticed in these videos. Nick's style and playing was great, unique and enjoyable. But I thought it was exactly as great, as unique and as enjoyable as it was 20 years ago, when I saw him live.
This is a problem a lot of musicians have, I think, and perhaps it happens in other professions as well. Every human being needs "stretch goals" to keep them motivated. Otherwise you stagnate, and that is bad for the psyche. We need a challenge, the next sucker we're gonna get. Who knows, perhaps by playing the kind of fusion jazz Ohm does, he was looking, consciously or unconsciously, for some opening of this kind. Sadly we will never know how it would have evolved beyond these first steps...
(Note: potential spoiler alert -of a movie that I think pretty much everybody has seen, but who knows...)
The whole plot of the first "Back to the future" movie revolves around the heroes' attempt to generate the energy blast required for the time traveling car to work, so that Marty McFly can go back to his time. To generate the tremendous discharge required, Marty and Doc Brown come up with the idea of conveying a lightning into the car at the designated moment; they can do that because they know when a lightning is going to strike, due to Marty's knowledge of the future.
I think it is by now notoriously well known that Marty McFly succeeds (he also invents rock and roll along the way). Then, in the movie's final scene, opening way to the sequel, Doc Brown appears out of nowhere in a modernized version of the car, and tells Marty to come with him in a new time travel, this time to the future. But this time, to create the energetic discharge for the travel, Doc just goes to a trash can, picks some items (a banana peel, if I remember correctly), inserts them in the car mechanism, and they are good to go. No lightning is required anymore.
I have a feeling that the script writers of that movie were in some way familiar with the scientific method. Or maybe it was just something embedded in their culture in the moment of writing. US, after all, was the father of the Training Within Industry programs, which after WWII evolved into Lean, so there's evidence to show that that kind of thought (scientific method, continuous improvement) is strongly rooted in that country, or at least in some of their individuals.
I remember that banana peel often, mostly when I discover one of my processes turning a bit obsolete. It's a funny and bittersweet sensation, how many times I've thought some way of doing this or that was the be-all-end-all of speed and effectiveness (a list, a layout, a job breakdown, some sort of kanban board...), only to find it a bit later, giving it enough time, well, not very impressive anymore, in fact movingly rookie, cumbersome, Rube Goldberg-ish...
The cause is that iteration after iteration of the process have improved my skills and my training to a new normal, which again, now seems top notch but, giving it enough time it will seem outdated, rookie, etc... All the knowledge, all the errors, all the experiences, are added to the new process, where now I get the same results without requiring the lighting, all it takes is a banana peel (and even that, the banana, is only the basis for the next improvement!). However, of course, the lightning stage was required before the banana was possible...
I have a guitar and I'm gonna use it