Video Fridays: Double Hit of Rickenbacker 12-String Cover Song Goodness

rickI’m pretty confident in guessing that most guitar players who have stuck with the instrument for a number of years have at least tried playing a 12-string guitar, and from my experience as a guitarist, and from chatting with fellow guitarists for nearly 30 years, it is VERY common for said guitarists, myself included, to have purchased a 12-string guitar, only to sell it not long after, once we realize that it is pretty much a one-trick pony.

It’s a strange musical phenomenon, really. There are numerous unquestionably iconic songs, in folk, blues, and rock music, that feature the 12-string, either acoustic or electric, yet VERY few artists specialize in 12-string, and even if they do they eventually move on, either abandoning the 12-string altogether or featuring it in only a relative few songs in their repertoire.

The reason: A 12-string guitar almost always sounds exactly the same, lush and jangly, and VERY few musicians want every song to have that sound in it.

It almost seems unfair. How can something so pleasing become tiresome so quickly? Well, listen to more than three songs featuring the 12-string guitar in a row and you’ll get it.

That said, in small doses, the 12-string — especially, to my ears, the king of the electric 12-string, the Rickenbacker — is hypnotically beautiful, and so this week’s Video Fridays installment brings you a couple of mighty fine examples.

First up, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers do their version of a song, So You Want To Be A Rock & Roll Star, by The Byrds, THE band most associated with the 12-string electric guitar. Their earlier music, before they went Country, is likely the longest stretch of 12-string-centric music ever recorded.

The next clip features Matthew Sweet and John Hiatt covering a wonderful, underrated early Beatles song, composed by George Harrison: If I Needed Someone.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: Birth Of A Guitar

B&G Guitars
B&G Guitars
You don’t have to be obsessed with guitars, as I am, to appreciate this week’s Video Fridays installment.

In fact, I think it’s actually possible that folks who aren’t obsessed with guitars might actually appreciate today’s video even more than I do.

I’ve mentioned numerous times here at Fish & Bicycles, most recently this past Tuesday, that I play guitar and sing in a Rock & Roll band. As a result, I have a pretty good understanding of the various parts of the instrument and how one is constructed.

And still, I found the following video, of a GORGEOUS custom guitar being built by the folks at B&G Handmade Guitars, to be absolutely captivating.

I think there’s a good chance that for many people who don’t share the guitar obsession with me, this will be a very cool, eye-opening insight as to what this process looks like, engendering a new appreciation for the craftsmanship and artistry involved.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Downtown Bellingham Alley: Strangely Beautiful

alley

Eyecatchers: Upcycling: Allied Arts Recycled Art Exhibit

Allied-5It’s been ages since my last Upcycling installment, but this weekend I visited an exhibit at a local art gallery that focused entirely on pieces made from recycled materials, and I just had to share.

Allied Arts of Whatcom County hosted their second annual Recycled Art & Resource Expo (RARE) this past weekend, an event that included exhibits, workshops, and presentations at various locations in town.

My favorites were on view at Allied Arts’ Cornwall Avenue gallery, where the majority of the works took the form of multimedia sculpture, like Graham Schodda’s Magneto, featured in the lede photo here, fashioned from: a vintage drill, piston, rods, fuel filter, insulator, and radio antenna.

I LOVE the imagination on display here, how the artist saw in these discarded scraps — once intended for much more utilitarian purposes — that they might be pieced together to form various subjects or some new functional item, like this clock by Karin Mueller, titled Time To Call Mom, made from a vintage cigar box, telephone, clock:

Allied-7

The exhibit will be up through April 24th, so, if you are in Bellingham consider checking it out. And/or, check out my other Upcycling installments, or just Google ‘upcycling’ if this kind of thing strikes your fancy.

In the meantime, here are some of my other faves from the RARE show:

Graham Shodda: vintage thermos, jigsaw, window winders, spatulas, gas can spout, etc.
Graham Shodda, “Thermo” – vintage thermos, jigsaw, window winders, spatulas, gas can spout, etc.
Karen Mueller, "Chicken or the Egg" - mixed media
Karen Mueller, “Chicken or the Egg” – mixed media
Rafael Mithuna, "Bomb Fin Lantern" - WWII bomb fin, WWII military transport parts
Rafael Mithuna, “Bomb Fin Lantern” – WWII bomb fin, WWII military transport parts
Launi Lucas, "Gnarwall" - mixed media
Launi Lucas, “Gnarwall” – mixed media
Rafael Mithuna, "Budenberg Steam Lamp" - early 1900s steam test equipment, lamp parts, plumbing parts
Rafael Mithuna, “Budenberg Steam Lamp” – early 1900s steam test equipment, lamp parts, plumbing parts
Alana Coleman, "Lovers Tango" - mixed media
Alana Coleman, “Lovers Tango” – mixed media

Eyecatchers: Seth Globepainter

seth-3It’s been ages since I posted an Eyecatchers installment featuring a street artist (some past examples: BLU, Sam3, JR), but, thanks to Colossal, my eyes were decidedly caught this morning by the work of Seth Globepainter (aka Julien “Seth” Malland).

Seth has traveled extensively, meeting other street artists, observing their work, and cultivating his own style. The pieces seen here are from a stunning series of murals with a theme running through them, depicting children (and in one case a mother of an infant child) either gazing at or plunging their faces into rainbows or rainbow like concentric circles of color.

Seth’s human subjects are rendered so beautifully, and there’s a lovely, loving, gentle sensitivity about them. Their gazes seem to represent how the power of a child’s sense of curiosity, wonder, and imagination enables them to see beyond the mundanity of daily life.

The figures do not seem to be in any immediate danger or distress, which is something that, I think, distinguishes the works from those of other street artists. While it might seem a more fitting approach for urban art to depict children as products of a harsh environment, in soiled, ragged clothes, surrounded by signs of neglect or threat, it could also be considered obvious or redundant, since the urban setting surrounding the murals already provides that context. Or, it may be the case that Seth’s work isn’t intended as a statement about urban decay.

Anyway, you be the judge as you check out the following photos of his work.

seth-1

seth-5

seth-6

seth-7

seth-3

seth-4

To Write, Or Not To Write Original Songs

scaleI came across an article at Wired.com today that touches on something I’ve thought about a LOT!

Since I am a musician and play in a Rock&Roll band, since I play a guitar specifically, THE iconic instrument of Rock&Roll, the instrument most commonly used to write Rock&Roll songs, I am often asked whether or not I write original songs.

And, for years, I’ve had a pat answer that includes these points:

  • No, I do not write original songs.
  • Yes, I’ve tried, but the world is better off without the songs I’ve written.
  • There are only so many notes and combinations of notes, only so many chords and combinations of chords, only so many words and combinations of words, it’s all been done.

Back to that Wired.com article, the author starts off referencing a couple of recent high-profile cases, and one legendary case, of alleged songwriting plagiarism, and he posits essentially what I stated in my third bullet above, that, mathematically speaking, with only 12 notes in the Western chromatic scale (he actually uses the figure of seven notes, omitting the sharps and flats), there are only so many combinations you can make of these notes, therefore only so many songs that can be written, and so plagiarism is unavoidable, regardless of intention.

It doesn’t take long, reading the Wired piece, to conclude, thanks in part to the author’s clear and oft-stated admission, that he doesn’t know much about music theory.

Additionally, about halfway through reading, I was reminded of an axiom of my own invention, which states that over-analyzing art kills it. (I also argue that it induces pain in puppies and kittens, but some disagree with me on that point.)

And yet, I believe he makes a valid point.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that I’ve heard thousands and thousands of songs over my 50 years, and I’ve learned to play some thousands of these thousands on the guitar. As a result, I’ve learned a lot about how songs are constructed, and one thing that jumps out at even a novice guitar player is that many, many, many songs share the same or similar chord progressions.

My attempts at writing an original song, then, go something like this:

Ok, let’s start by strumming this G chord, la-la-la, nice…

This feels good! La-la-la…

Now, let’s move to a C chord…yeah…I like that! La-la-la…

Hmmmmm, where to next? La-la-la…

Let’s go to D…um…wait a minute!…

Shit! That’s a Beatles song!

In music-theory-speak, this chord progression is referred to as I-IV-V. The song is in the key of G, because it starts there (I), then it goes to C, which is the fourth (IV) note in a G Major scale, and then it goes to D, which is the fifth (V) note in the scale.

HUNDREDS of songs have been written using the I-IV-V progression, and thousands more have used the same exact chords, just in a different order. (Check out this great article at Gibson.com, titled I-IV-V: The Little Chord Progression That Could, where they break down just 10 well-known songs using I-IV-V.)

Now, put these chords in a different order and add a minor chord — I-V-vi-IV — and the list of popular songs using the progression is staggering. (See many of these songs put together in a briliant medley in the video below.)

This is why I don’t write original songs, and why anyone who does earns my deep, deep respect. Because, they’ve heard the same thousands of songs that I have, and yet they conclude they’re capable of writing something that no else ever has.

That is awesome.

Bill Clinton Deserved The Portrait He Got

Bill-Clinton-PortraitSo, I’m late getting to this, but I’ve been thinking about it on and off since the news broke.

Two days ago, artist Nelson Shanks admitted that when, in 2006, he painted a portrait of then former President of the United States (POTUS) Bill Clinton, he included in the portrait a reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal that led to Clinton becoming only the second president in history to be impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives.

In the portrait, pictured here, you can easily see the reference, and Shanks explained the reference to the media thusly:

“If you look at the left-hand side of it there’s a mantle in the Oval Office and I put a shadow coming into the painting and it does two things,” Shanks said. “It actually literally represents a shadow from a blue dress that I had on a mannequin, that I had there while I was painting it, but not when he was there.”

The shadow “is also a bit of a metaphor in that it represents a shadow on the office he held, or on him,” Shanks said.

Full Disclosure: I’m NOT a social or political conservative. I am an unapologetic liberal.

And yet, Clinton’s affair with his intern Monica Lewinsky, and how he responded to getting caught, caused me to lose all respect for the man whom I twice voted for.

Right wingers like to smear liberals by suggesting that, in addition to all kinds of sins and transgressions, we’re just fine with people sleeping around and having affairs. Not true.

So, since I’m not a fan of the religion’s judgmental rubber stamp known as “sin”, let me explain why I objected to Bill Clinton’s behavior and why he lost my respect, with this list of reasons, in no particular order:

  • I don’t think stupid people should be President of the United States, and any man or woman who has made it through the court of public opinion and the media gauntlet involved in running for any office — Clinton was elected Arkansas Attorney General, Governor of Arkansas five times, and, of course POTUS — knowing all that that entails and how under the spotlight and microscope these offices are, and yet chooses anyway to have an affair with an intern…in the White House!!!…is stupid, Rhodes Scholarship notwithstanding, and should not be chief executive and commander in chief of the most powerful country in the world. The affair was, of course, wrong for other reasons, for example…
  • When people get married they are making a solemn vow to commit to another human being, until death do they part, and it’s a beautiful thing to do, not because the bible or some other religious document says so, but because marriage is a powerful contradiction to how humans otherwise see each other as replaceable and expendable. And if our president breaks his wedding vow, how do we know, then, how seriously he takes his oath of office? Some might argue that human beings can be failures at relationships but geniuses and very effective and successful in other areas of their lives, maybe that’s true, but I still don’t approve and they still lose my respect.
  • When you are the most powerful man in the world and you have an affair with an intern, you obviously have no clue about the relationship between privilege, sexism, and oppression. This man should not be POTUS, and when, under another oath, this man characterized the affair as “I did not have sex with that woman!” because, reportedly, only oral sex was involved, well, that’s just disgusting insult to injury and a disgrace to the office.

Now, it should be noted that many news outlets reported this story incorrectly, referring to the Shanks portrait as the official presidential portrait, which it decidedly is not.

While the Shanks portrait, as mentioned, painted in 2006, five years after Clinton had left office, IS part of the permanent collection at the National Portrait Gallery (though currently in storage), the official presidential portrait was painted by artist Simmie Knox, commissioned in 2000, while Clinton was still in office, completed in 2002, and it now hangs in the East Wing of the White House.

I’m not naturally inclined to hold grudges, but at least for now, I still think Bill Clinton deserved the portrait he got. He abused his power, he lied, he was stupid, and we need SO much more than that from our president.

If the polarized, dysfunctional, corrupted state of our government didn’t have such dire consequences, if we weren’t entrenched in perpetual war, doing nothing substantial about climate change, and allowing the wealthiest 0.1% to own as much as 90% of the population does, combined, I might be more forgiving.