How do you make the show go on after a broken leg?
The blessing we give performers before they go onstage isn’t something we actually want to see happen. Nonetheless, stage injuries occur frequently, and in some cases, severely, as when Patti Smith fell 15 feet into a concrete orchestra pit in 1977 and broke several vertebrae in her back. “I felt like an asshole,” she told Circus magazine, “but my doctor told me not to worry, it happens to everybody.”
Maybe not everybody, but when the Foo Fighters played Gothenburg, Sweden in 2015, Dave Grohl took a major spill from the front of the stage, breaking his leg, while a crowd of 52,000 people watched. They also watched as, several minutes later, his crew carried him back onstage while the rest of the band fittingly played Queen’s “Under Pressure.”
The fall happened during the second song of the show, and Grohl returned to play the entire 26-song set, his doctor kneeling next to him, holding his leg together.
It didn’t hurt until I wound up on my couch in my hotel room, with a beer in my hand. They gave me some really strong painkillers—I never take pills, but within half an hour I was like, “Get me the f—ing Oxys right now, man!” It was pretty painful. And then I thought I could just get up and do a show a week later after surgery, but I literally could not get out of bed for about six or seven days. It was so f—ing painful. I had never experienced anything like that in my life.
With his leg in a cast, he determined that the band would make their Fourth of July show in Washington, DC, a return to Grohl’s hometown. “I started thinking… ‘I might not be able to get onstage next week,’” he told Entertainment Weekly, “‘but I’m not missing that Fourth of July show, and if that goes OK then we’re just going to keep going.’” The gig went so well the band kept touring, Grohl perched in a specially-designed stage throne.
“I love my job,” Grohl said, “I mean, f–, I’m out there with a broken leg and a plate and pins in a bone and I can’t even stand up, but I still want to get on stage and play, with my family. We’re not breaking up anytime soon, that would be like your grandparents getting a divorce.” There’s no shame in taking it easy after an injury, but if you’re a dedicated performer who lives onstage, you might heal even faster if you don’t. At the time, Grohl epitomized another old cliche — if you love what you do, you won’t have to work a day in your life, even when you have to work with a broken leg. Watch the fall just above and the triumphant return minutes later at the top of the post. Below you can see the reunion with the doctor who held his leg together.
People do not understand how hard a jazz musician works for a living. I’m not putting nobody down, but I’m telling you nobody understands how hard jazz musicians work. Jazz is not big in the US, because the States are too worried about Pac-Man and The Police. — Jaco
When Jaco Pastorius uttered the quote above in a typically entertaining and insightful interview with Guitar World from 1983, he meant no disrespect to the members of The Police. It’s safe to say, in fact, that Pastorius significantly influenced crossover subgenres in punk, New Wave, and No Wave, through compositions like “Punk Jazz” — “a real jazz players stab at a brave new music,” writes Guitar World‘s Peter Mengaziol. In general, Pastorius’ music was “a fusion with energy but without overkill.” He absorbed influences from everywhere, and nothing seemed out of bounds in his playing. “I am not an original musician,” he says in the same interview:
I am a thief…. You see, I rip off everything. I have no originals. Only animals and children can understand my music; I love women, children, music, I love everything that’s going in the right direction, everything that flows… I just love music. I don’t know what I’m doing!
It’s not that Pastorius necessarily thought of jazz as a more elevated form than rock or funk or soul or pop — hardly. He regarded Hendrix with the same worshipful awe as he did Motown bassist Jerry Jemmott, and both equally informed his playing and showmanship. Yet he seemed to feel under-appreciated in his time, and that is probably because he was, even though he was acclaimed as one of the world’s greatest bass players during his brief 35 years, and he radically altered the sound of popular music on albums by Joni Mitchell and other non-jazz-world stars.
But Pastorius knew that few understood what he was trying to do with jazz-rock groups like Weather Report and Blood, Sweat & Tears and in his solo work. He knew he could sell records and sell out performances, but he didn’t care about commerce. (He spent the last few years of his life sleeping on park benches.)
Warner Bros. refused to release his third solo album, Holiday for Pans — a selection of original compositions and tunes by the Beatles, Coltrane, and Alan Hovhaness, centered around the steel drum playing of Othello Molineaux — on the basis that it was “extremely esoteric.” Described by The Penguin Guide to Jazz as “by far the most imaginative project Pastorius ever undertook,” Holiday for Pans received a release in Japan in 1993, but remains unreleased in the US, perhaps validating the bassist’s opinion of his country’s cultural limitations.
The fan-made documentary at the top, Jaco Pastorius — The Lost Tapes Documentary, first appeared “on a somewhat obscure French channel called ‘Realcut’,” notes the site Jazz in Europe. The title refers the interview footage with choice subjects like Marcus Miller, Joe Zawinul, Peter Erskine, Dave Carpenter, and Paco Seri, all shot while the musicians “were on tour in France back in the mid noughties.” In 2008, “the images were definitively lost,” the filmmakers write in their description, only to surface again on a hard drive in a dusty attic last year.
Tying these interviews together with archival Internet footage of Pastorius, the makers of The Lost Tapes Documentary have done an excellent job of introducing the man and his work to a broad audience through the words of those who knew and played with him, and they’ve done so with “no budget, no financial aid or no image purchase…. The people who worked on this project did it voluntarily, out of passion and love of music, and the film will in no way be monetized on the platforms.” Pastorius would have approved. “I don’t want to sell shit,” he told Guitar World back in 1983. “I want to do what has to be done.” For him, that meant constant innovation and change. “I’m not a magician, I’m not a politician, I’m a musician,” he said. “I have no goal. You don’t get better, you grow. I am a musician, and I finally realized it!”
It all took place at this weekend’s Ohio State-Maryland game. Enjoy….
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When Keith Richards felt he’d gone as far as he could go with the six-string guitar, he took one string off and played five, a trick he learned from Ry Cooder. These days, the trend is to go in the opposite direction, up to seven or eight strings for highly technical progressive metal compositions and downtuned “djent.” Traditionalists may balk at this. A five-string, after all, is a modification easily accomplished with a pair of wire-cutters. But oddly shaped eight-string guitars seem like weirdly rococo extravagances next to your average Stratocaster, Tele, or Les Paul.
Ideas we have about what a guitar should be, however, come mostly from the marketing and public relations machinery around big brand guitars and big name guitarists. The truth is, there is no Platonic ideal of the guitar, since no one is quite sure where the guitar came from.
It’s most easily recognized ancestors are the oud and the lute, which themselves have ancient heritages that stretch into prehistory. The six-string arrived rather late on the scene. In the renaissance, guitars had eight strings, tuned in four “courses,” or pairs, like the modern 12-string, and baroque guitars had 10 strings in five courses.
Closer in time to us, “the jazz guitarist George Van Eps had a seven-string guitar built for him by Epiphone Guitars in the late 1930s,” notes one brief history, “and a signature Gretsch seven-string in the late 60s and early 70s…. Several others began using seven-string guitars after Van Eps.” Russian folk guitars had seven strings before the arrival of six-string Spanish classical instruments (two hundred years before the arrival of Korn).
Meanwhile, in the hills, hollars, and deltas of the U.S. south, folk and blues musicians built guitars out of whatever was at hand, and fit as many, or as few, strings as needed. From these instruments came the powerfully simple, timeless licks Keef spent his career emulating. Guitarist Justin Johnson has cultivated an online presence not only with his slick electric slide playing, but also with his tributes to odd, old-time, homemade guitars. At the top, he plays a three-string shovel guitar, doing Keith two better.
Further up, some “Porch Swing Slidin’” with a six-string cigar box-style guitar engraved with a portrait of Robert Johnson. Above, hear a stirring rendition of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on an oil can and a slide solo on a whiskey barrel guitar. Finally, Johnson rocks out Ray Charles on a three string cigar box guitar, made mostly out of ordinary items you might find around the shed.
You might not be able to pluck out Renaissance airs or complicated, sweep-picked arpeggios on some of these instruments, but where would even the most complex progressive rock and metal be without the raw power of the blues driving the evolution of the guitar? Finally, below, see Johnson play a handmade one-string Diddley Bow (and see the making of the instrument as well). Originally a West African instrument, it may have been the very first guitar.
In early 1964, there could hardly have been an American teenager ignorant of the Beach Boys. Singing in immaculate harmonies about surfing, hot rods, girls, and root beer — as well as various combinations and permutations thereof — they soon found themselves riding an unprecedentedly high wave, so to speak, of postwar teen culture. On the other side of the pond, the Beatles had been hard at work playing to demographically similar, also-enraptured audiences. In February of 1964 the Fab Four arrived in America, and their performance on The Ed Sullivan Show alone put them on at least an equal footing there with the Beach Boys.
“The next opportunity for your average American Beatlemaniac to see the Beatles perform would have been at the movie theater watching the Beatles’ Washington D.C. concert at the Coliseum on a closed circuit broadcast on March 14 or 15, 1964,” says the blog Meet the Beatles for Real. “This was the first time in history that the closed-circuit was used for a concert. Previously, it had only been used to show boxing matches.”
The direct-to-theaters broadcast also included shorter opening acts Lesley Gore and the Beach Boys, the latter of whose performance was thought lost until its rediscovery in 1998. In the video above, you can see its entire 22 minutes at an audiovisual quality well exceeding most concert films of its era.
Beginning with “Fun, Fun, Fun,” the Beach Boys play a variety of early numbers that would turn out to rank among their most beloved songs, also including “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Surfer Girl,” “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” and “Shut Down.” (“Long Tall Texan” would only be properly recorded 32 years later, with the late country singer Doug Supernaw.) The set even features “In My Room,” whose melancholic break from the surfing-cars-girls spectrum offered a sign of things to come from the group’s musical mastermind Brian Wilson. Unsuited to the stress of stardom, he would recuse himself from live performance the following year. This show thus marks the onstage zenith of the Beach Boys’ classic lineup of the Wilson brothers Brian, Carl, and Dennis with Al Jardine and Mike Love. But as makers of classic albums — and classic albums pushed to heights of ambition by competition with the Beatles — they’d only just begun.
Music lives deep within us, in the marrow of our evolutionary bones, tapping into “this very primitive system,” says British musicologist John Deathridge, “which identifies emotion on the basis of a violation of expectancy.” In other words, our brains are predisposed to hear certain combinations of sounds as soothing and others as disturbing. When we plot those sounds on a staff, we find one of the most dissonant, yet intriguing, combinations, what can be called an augmented 4th or diminished 5th but isn’t quite either one. But it’s much better known by its medieval nickname, “the devil’s tritone” (or “devil’s interval”), a sequence of notes so sinister, they were once banned in the belief that they might conjure Lucifer himself…. Or so the story goes.
The truth is less sensational. “To the chagrin of many a musician wanting to tap into a badass rebel streak in music’s DNA,” James Bennett writes at WQXR, “there aren’t any records to suggest any rogue medieval composers took a hike to Perdition after using this spooky, devilish interval.” In other words, no one seems to have been tortured, imprisoned, or excommunicated for a musical arrangement, all internet assertions to the contrary notwithstanding. But the association with the devil is historical. In the 18th century, the tritone acquired the name diabolus in musica, or “the devil in music,” part of a mnemonic: “Mi contra fa est diabolus in musica” or “mi against fa is the devil in music.”
If you’re already versed in music theory, you’ll find this technical explanation of the “devil’s interval” by musician Jerry Tachoir helpful. In the video above, bass player Adam Neely debunks the myth of the devil’s tritone as an actual curse. But his explanation is more than “one long, ‘Um, Actually,'” he says. Instead, he tells us why the tritone is a musical blessing, and was thought of as such a thousand years ago. His explanation also gets a little technical, but his visual and musical demonstrations make it fairly easy to follow, and if you don’t absorb the theory, you’ll pick up the true history of the “devil’s tritone,” beginning with the Greek thinker Aristoxenus of Tarentum, one of the first to write about the uncomfortable dissonance of a note sitting between two others.
The tritone is what musicologist Carl E. Gardner called a “dependent” chord, one characteristic of tension. We may not register it consciously, but it primes our brains with anxious expectation. “The reason it’s unsettling is that it’s ambiguous, unresolved,” says Gerald Moshell, Professor of Music at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. “It wants to go somewhere. It wants to settle here, or [there]. You don’t know where it’ll go, but it can’t stop where it is.” We hear this irresolution, this “devil” of musical doubt in compositions ranging from The Simpsons theme to the chorus of Pearl Jam’s “Evenflow” to Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Danse macabre,” a piece of music that may not actually conjure evil, but sure sounds like it could if it wanted to.
This week’s Nakedly Examined Music podcast features a discussion of songwriting and social protest with Jerry Casale, the co-frontman of Devo since its formation in 1973.
Jerry developed the idea of “devolution” with his friend Bob Lewis in the late ’60s when attending Kent State University, and by his own account was radicalized to political action by the Kent State shootings in 1970. This took the form of what was originally a partnership with Mark Mothersbaugh to create visual art, but this quickly became a musical partnership as well. Mark had used his synthesizer skills to ape British progressive rock, while Jerry was more influenced by blues, having played bass in The Numbers Band and other outfits. The two started recording independently, bringing in Mark’s brother Bob (“Bob 1”) to play lead guitar and later adding Jerry’s brother Bob (“Bob 2”) to play rhythm guitar and more keyboards as well as drummer Alan Myers. Buoyed by heralded live shows in Ohio that included a particularly idiosyncratic and catchy take on The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” Devo was signed to a major label and released seven albums before coming to a gradual stop in after their album sales declined in the late ’80s given that Mark was doing more and more music for TV and film.
In reaction to the falsehoods that launched the 2003 Iraq War, Jerry recorded a limited-release solo album under the name “Jihad Jerry and the Evildoers.” This work has now been repackaged to accompany the release of a brand new single (attributed to “DEVO’s Gerald V. Casale”) called “I’m Gonna Pay U Back,” written with current Devo drummer Josh Freese and featuring guitars by Oingo Boingo’s Steve Bartek. As Jerry has always thought of his videos as integral to his musical output, this new song features an elaborately storyboarded and textured video co-directed with Davy Force of Force! Extreme Ani-Mation.
This revival of the Jihad Jerry character created to criticize America’s paranoid post-9/11 mindset allowed Jerry to visualize a conflict between Jihad Jerry and DEVO Jerry, in the Nakedly Examined Music interview, host Mark Linsenmayer engages Jerry about what these characters amount to and how exactly irony does (or does not) play into them. It was both a blessing and a curse for Devo that their various militaristic and/or robotic personas were so funny. The humor (and fun danceability) involved in songs like “Whip It,” “Mongoloid,” and “Freedom of Choice” meant they could gain an enduring foothold in popular culture, but on the other hand, they’ve been dismissed as merely jokes. Including themselves in the critique, acknowledging themselves as subject to the same human foibles, allowed them to create minimalist, anthemic songs that had a self-conscious stupidity and lampooned the pretensions of art rock. There was a clear connection between the musical styles that Devo sported and the message of this critique: They could all chant in unison that we are all degenerate conformists and use synthesizers and jerky rhythms to act out our dehumanization.
Jihad Jerry, i.e. Jerry wearing a theatrical turban and sunglasses, was given a specific backstory involving escaping Iranian theocracy, determined to use music as a weapon to fight prejudice and ignorance everywhere. Whatever the virtues of this character as a narrative device, it was a marketing disaster, raising ire both with American conservatives and with Muslims who felt they were being mocked, and so the character was retired in 2007. Jerry’s Nakedly Examined Music interview discusses “The Owl,” a track written during Jihad Jerry’s initial run, which confusingly has Jihad Jerry (a character) speaking narratively through the voice of a superhero character “The Owl,” who threatens physical violence on all boorish, selfish American evildoers. Now, given that there’s a character named Nite Owl in Alan Moore’s comic Watchmen, which is explicitly about the mental instability of those who appoint themselves the moral and physical guardians of society, it would be natural to think that irony is playing ask thickly in this new portrayal as it was for the Devo “smart patrol” characters, but in this interview, Jerry urges us to take the critique at face value, as a straightforward condemnation of American arrogance. Does the critique land better without the explicit self-incrimination? Or is the fact that Jihad Jerry is obviously a joke, the Owl as a superhero is obviously a joke, and the fact that we’re talking about characters talking through characters give Jerry Casale enough of a framework to be able to launch very direct attacks without being dismissed as shrill or condescending?
The latter portion of the interview turns to a lesser known Devo track “Fountain of Filth,” which Jerry says he wrote with his brother Bob Casale (who passed away in early 2014) during the recording sessions for Devo’s most famous album, 1980s Freedom of Choice. The song (in the form presented in the podcast) was included in the Hardcore Devo: Volume Two CD in 1991, and was performed live for the first time as part of the 2014 Hardcore Devo Live! tour. In Jerry’s introduction to the song in that concert and in this interview, he describes the “fountain” as all the misinformation and other commercial garbage that makes up much of American media. However, the lyrics of the song are ambiguous: “I’ve got a hunger that makes me want things… Nowhere are we safe… from the appeal of the eternal fountain of filth.” Like one of Devo’s well-known songs “Uncontrollable Urge” (written by Mark without Jerry), this could be a song not actually condemning the temptations, but laughing at prurient hysteria about temptation, i.e. a firmly ironic missive. The technique here is most likely irony that cuts in all directions: One can condemn the overreaction while still condemning the thing it was a reaction to, and a prudish fear of sexuality and full immersion in it are two sides of the same degenerate (i.e. “de-evolved”) coin.
The interview concludes with a 2016 single attributed to Jerry Casale with Italy’s Phunk Investigation that explicitly states this totalizing condemnation/celebration: “It’s All Devo.” Again, the song was released with an elaborate, evocative video, in this case using the art of Max Papeschi and direction by Maurizio Temporin.
When it comes to encores, most musicians like to slate in a guaranteed crowdpleaser to send the audience out on a high. Conventional wisdom holds that an encore should be short, and change the mood created by the piece preceding it.
Classical guitarist Ana Vidović takes a different approach.
For the last few years, she has concluded most concerts by taking audience suggestions for the piece that will take it on home, viewing it as an opportunity to make an extra connection with fans:
It’s like a gift to me, also… sometimes I get nervous because I don’t know what they will ask me to play and I may not have practiced that particular piece, but you know, whatever! I think it’s just more of a gesture of appreciation. Of course there’s a connection through music, but obviously we don’t speak to each other.
The live audience for her March 2021 appearance at San Francisco’s St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, above, was unusually small due to COVID-19 protocols — just a few staffers from the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts, an organization that brings the world’s finest acoustic guitarists to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Their applause was enthusiastic, helped by St. Mark’s excellent acoustics, but it feels thin in contrast to the wall of sound that would greet a musician of Vidović’s caliber when she performs to a packed house.
If you have any encores, please feel free to ask. No, seriously, requests! Hopefully I practiced it … Richard?
One of her listeners promptly suggests 19th-century Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz‘s Asturias, originally written for piano and now considered one of the most essential works in the classical guitar repertoire.
Although she has been known to politely decline if she’s feeling too rusty, on this occasion, Vidović obliged, and beautifully so.
The complete program, which includes her customary healthy dose of her childhood favorite Bach, is below.
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