The Return of the Son of
Thoughts From The Beach

By Beppe Colli
Aug. 17, 2010

Due to a series of semi-random factors - some pieces of conversations I heard coming from people sitting nearby at the beach; a few newspaper titles I eyed here and there; also, a few articles I actually read - I happened to think about Husbands And Wives, a Woody Allen movie from about twenty years ago; and especially, about a specific scene that's very important for the development of the story narrated in the movie and which I will describe in a minute, after giving readers a tiny bit of background.

The character played by Sidney Pollack (whose profession in the movie I can't really remember, but I'm pretty sure it must be either lawyer or University Professor of some sort) has just split (but only temporarily, as it turns out later) from his wife, his new flame being a much younger girl called Sam, an "aerobics trainer". When he meets them walking together, the character played by Woody Allen can't help but declare his puzzlement about his friend's choice, given her low IQ and unrefined taste (he calls her "a cocktail waitress").

So we come to a crucial scene: at a party given by some friends of his, the young lady (unfortunately) champions astrology, discusses signs, and the fact that more killings occur in the nights of full moon. We see her puzzlement when she notices that "so many cultured people appear not to know about such elementary facts that anybody knows to be true". Let's now have a "freeze frame".

It's precisely at this point that viewers (and now, readers) have to ask themselves what to make of the knowledge gap that exists between this "aerobics trainer" and Pollack's friends. More precisely (and let's not forget that here Allen has organized his material in a way that we are supposed to sympathize with the young lady, especially when one considers what's about to happen in a moment or two): Is the knowledge she possesses one of an "inferior kind"?, that is to say, a "non-knowledge"? Or what we have here are two different kinds of knowledge, each equally valid in the eyes of those who believe it?

It's still the old dichotomy (wider and wider with each passing day). On one hand, all we have in the world at this point (medicines that heal us, clothes that dress us, airplanes that take us somewhere) is the fruit of science and its technological applications. Unfortunately, as we all know so well by now, the world science describes is not very "hospitable". The logical consequence being that: the richer our life gets thanks to science, the stronger our desire to believe in something that's "non logical".

Which, adopting a "sociological" point of view could bring very positive results, for instance making it more difficult for people to develop hysterical neurosis, or choosing mass suicide as the only rational solution. However, though it's perfectly understandable that one considers those who believe in macrobiotics with a certain degree of "sympathy", it's only at our peril that we forget about the unavoidable consequences of these beliefs, when widely held. For instance, the prospering and proliferating of those "industries of beliefs" whose intentions and motivations are a lot less innocent and naive than those of their clients.

While sunbathing, I happen to chat for a bit, by cell-phone, with a good friend of mine. We share our views about Diane Birch's recent album, Bible Belt, which we both happen to like quite a bit.

We both agree that the album sounds fresh and lively - which is even more surprising when one considers that the album's "raw ingredients" are quite well-known (a fact which makes this album an even stranger beast in today's panorama). We don't appear to agree about the way drummer Cindy Blackman uses time, my friend being not terribly enamored of the way she "pushes" time.

This for instance - which appears here only by way of conscious design - could appear to prove those who argue about the unavoidable existence of different "points of view" that we can never indicate as being "right" or "wrong", with the "multitude of equipollent opinions" as an unavoidable consequence, to be in the right. Astute readers, however, will notice that the two "opinions" discussed here are about the same "fact": that Blackman appears to (consciously!) "push the time". And this is a "neutral" fact whose existence we can easily ascertain, simply by using a metronome.

There are still aspects pertaining to taste left to consider, of course. But well before this, we have to examine the relationship between "beat placement" and narration in a song. And here I immediately think about an old article, which I decide I'll look for as soon as I get home.

The article in question deals with the relationship existing between the "metronomic time" of a given song and the way a drummer builds what s/he sees as the "appropriate" groove for it. After a brief search, I found what I was looking for in an old issue of US magazine Musician (it's the issue no.128, June 1989).

The title of the article is Michael Blair: Time (subtitle: A noted drummer reflects on how important it is where your beat is placed).

Blair divides the field in three sub-groups: Behind the Beat, On the Beat, and Ahead of the Beat, showing the complex relationships thanks to short, but in-depth, descriptions.

His chosen tracks appear below. Interested readers are invited to look for the complete text on the Web (good luck!).

Behind the Beat

Song: One Love Stand from The Last Record Album (Little Feat, 1975)
Drummer: Ritchie Hayward

Song: Chewing Gum from Spike (Elvis Costello, 1989)
Drummer: Willie Green

On the Beat

Song: If I Fell from A Hard Day's Night (The Beatles, 1964)
Drummer: Ringo Starr

Song: Fast Car from Tracy Chapman (Tracy Chapman, 1988)
Drummer: Denny Fongheiser

Ahead of the Beat

Song: Take It As It Comes from The Doors (The Doors, 1967)
Drummer: John Densmore

Song: I'm Gonna Love You, Too from Parallel Lines (Blondie, 1978)
Drummer: Clem Burke

(Unfortunately, I got news of Ritchie Hayward's death while I was writing this piece.)

As it often happens to me when I look for an article in a bunch of old magazines, I find myself re-reading this or that. Here I hope that the cover image which appears below is clear enough to give an indication of the scope of this magazine (in this issue there were long excerpts from an unpublished Mingus interview from 1976; while among the drummers profiled in the pieces announced by the title in the lower right were Jim Keltner and Pheeroan akLaff).

For about fifteen years (the 80s, and the first few years of the 90s) Musician was the perfect example of a magazine which offered great variety, depth of thinking, balance sheets well in the black, and a circulation that, in different times and circumstances, oscillated between 150.000 and 250.000 copies (Musician was also sold at newsstands).

The fact of writers being adequately remunerated for pieces (and reviews) of quality had two preconditions: a) lotsa ads (from record companies, obviously, but also from makers of musical instruments, amplifiers, mics, studio stuff, and the like); b) a literate, passionate audience who asked for in-depth articles, reviews, and interviews; which meant that, when necessary and appropriate, artists of some renown were openly criticized - which must have been a risky move when it came to those very ads.

What happened to the industry we all know. But what appeared to vanish in the air was that type of audience - and the deep, long attention spans they were capable of. The listener that a magazine such as the old Musician needs is of the attentive, selective kind; one that's maybe not so knowledgeable about the causes and implications of a given fact (to use the same for instance given above, a drummer who "pushes the time", and the effect of that on the song), but who easily "gets" the thing by "feel".

And so, at this point in time, we have no real choice left but fasten our seat belts.

Beppe Colli 2010 | Aug. 17, 2010