Tuesday, December 11, 2007

When New Knowledge Comes...

When I was in college, I did my best to form bands. It was not a particularly successful exercise, for a multitude of reasons - the college's lack of practice spaces, the limited number of musicians who were neither jam-band loving hippies or too-cool-for-rock jazz freaks, the flakiness of those I did meeting, my (in retrospect) inability to play either guitar or sing particularly well - but it did prove instructive, and contributed to my eventually moving to New York. The reason I bring this up: one of my more successful attempts at band forming occurred when I was sophomore, and met a drummer named Eric.

Eric was perfect for what I was looking for: he was an excellent drummer, liked similar music, and had a kit in his dorm room, which he'd somehow been able to play without causing firestorms on the other sides of the thin dorm walls. We met early in the Fall 2000 semester - which might explain his drumming in the dorm success - and I brought my stuff over to his room, where we jammed and we talked. This happened to be not long after I had seen Pearl Jam for the first time, and I was high on the band and all of their albums for the first time in four or five years. Eric happened to have gone to a show on the same tour, but his reasons for going had entirely to do with Matt Cameron, the ex-Soundgarden drummer who'd joined Pearl Jam for Binaural. Eric thought Cameron was one of God's gifts to drumming, and he'd gone to the show - even though he didn't particularly like Pearl Jam - just to see him live.

Ever since that day, I've listened a little closer to the drumming Matt did on Soundgarden's albums, and sometimes I dig far enough down through Chris Cornell's magnetic voice and mind-bending lyrics, through Kim Thayil's discordant power riffing, to get a sense of the deeper layers that make those songs really work. This morning, Badmotorfinger came on my iPod, and I got that sense again, diving through the sounds of "Jesus Christ Pose," prying apart the surface and diving to the chugging of Ben Shepard's bass, playing the same main riff through so much of the song, staying steady and true whether Kim joins him, plays a bridge, or just freaks out. Realizing in the process that Soundgarden was so good on Badmotorfinger and Superunknown that they could have the bass player keeping time and the songs still flow so well that you don't know that Matt's playing some mishmash of polyrhythms unless you listen for it. The 1 is in there somewhere, but Matt'll never tell you where - you just have to feel for it. And when you do feel it, and you know you're feeling it, you feel really good.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Strange Dreams and Dark Imaginings

I'm listening to Opeth's recently released live album, The Roundhouse Tapes, for the first time. It's not quite the cherry-popping experience of hearing an album by previously unheard (by me) artist, where I have to test the limits of my acceptance for something I haven't really heard before; after all, I know I love Opeth, and Roundhouse is a live album, so I know all of the songs. And love them - did I mention that?

I find listening to Opeth - particularly anything from Blackwater Park and after - is a complete sensory experience; it generates vivid visions and feelings, like this one: Imagine a massive courtyard in the middle of a stone palace at midnight, light by torches or by the soft glow of phosphorescence emanating from the walls. Mist swirls in from the arcades on the side of the courtyard, and collects in the middle, over an enormous reflecting pool ringed by moss-grown statues of weeping angels. The water in the pool is black as pitch, a deep darkness that speaks of limitless depth and terrifying unknowns, but it calls to you in a soft voice that soothes and comforts you and draws you in. You dive into the water, and find that the depth is no illusion: you can't feel the base of the pool with your bare feet, just the strangely warm water and the swirl of the thick water plants that lurk beneath the water's surface wrapping around your toes. Everything's quiet, and you finally begin to relax, slipping deeper and deeper into the water's embrace, until you realize with horror that the plants are wrapping around you, pulling you down, away from the life-giving breath on the other side of the water's surface...