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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

So You Want To Start A Metal Band…

Back when I played music, the various bands I was in all developed shorthand for explaining in a thumbnail what was going on in any particular song.

My older brother was, and is, really good at this. I’ve only performed with him once for money. He got me a job playing in a bad blues band (is there another kind?), and the guitar player and the bandleader (they were brothers) had a fight over who busted mom’s lamp or some shite, and the resultant falling out left us guitarless. I’d been playing the bass for two weeks at that point. My brother, who was a bass player, swallowed his pride and agreed to be seen in public with us making musical noise. He played the guitar and sang half the tunes. I still remember him standing in front of me, singing, playing an ES330 that would feed back if he turned his shoulder, and at every chord milepost he’d hold up the fingers on one hand in sort-of gang sign shapes to let the rest of us know what chord was coming next. Index and middle finger pointing down in an inverted “V”, with your thumb poking through like a winkie, is an “A” chord. Try it, it’s fun. My brother didn’t have to worry about whether the chord was major or minor just then, because the keyboard player didn’t know what the black keys were for, and I wouldn’t play the third note of any scale if you put a pistol to my head at that point.

Coincidentally, I have had a pistol put to my head in a barroom, but whether the third note of the scale was flatted or not didn’t enter into it. But I digress.

Lots of people know which note of a scale the coming chords are based on, and hold up fingers to let you know. In the key of C, C’s one, F is four, G is five, and so forth. You’re playing with fire here, of course, since you’re adding arithmetic to a drunken, drug-addled carpet installer-cum-guitar hero’s creative process. He’s got Chemistry down, it’s true; but Math can be a bear. Besides, most guitar players don’t even try to ascertain what key the rest of the band is playing in until the second eight bars of their solo.

My favorite thumbnail-producing bandmate, Stevie, could explain any song by telling you another song you knew that was just like it. He was always right; I always knew the song he referred to, and it was always close enough to what you were doing to play it. He always learned songs by rote, and understood nothing of music theory — and didn’t want to either. But what difference does it make why someone’s correct about something?  “Show your work” is for academics. “Give me the answer, right now,” is for the real world where beer bottles are thrown for not knowing requests. 

My only contribution to the world of musical shorthand was, interestingly enough, concerning metal music similar to the appended video. I was able to sum up the entire musical genre, with myriad sub-genres, with one sentence: It’s one of those,”This is how I go, when I go like this,” songs.

4 Responses

  1. I really enjoy your blog for the fatherly love you display. I was driving up to Cape Cod last weekend, and on the interstate saw we were crossing the Sippican River. I was so excited to know where your blog's name came from. Take care. Keep posting.

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