Tag Archives: rickenbacker

Thanks To The Boys From The Office

Neil Peart, Rush’s drummer, refers to his bandmates as “the guys from the office.” After all, they’ve been working together, creating together, touring together and building a brand together for more than forty years, and the quintessential working men of rock and roll must have some sense of office space. And so, facing the last three weeks of their last big arena tour, what is implied as the denouement of their touring years, it’s time for some proper acknowledgements.

Thank you for helping me introduce then four-year-old Ben to live music. His first show was during the Counterparts tour, in 1998, and he stood on his seat at the PNC Bank Arts Center until he rocked out just a bit too hard, slipped off the back of the seat and fell between the bench and the seat back. No harm, no foul, he got right back up, without so much as a yelp, and went back to the music. It was the energy of the music, the quality of the show, the musicianship and professionalism on stage that made him a life-long fan. Day one.

Thank you for creating music with thematic elements drawing on literature, politics, history of science, and social awkwardness. “Passage to Bangkok” is less about drugs and more about adventure and geography. “Manhattan Project” was the underlying theme song for Ben’s junior history project.

Thank you for showing that three guys can perform songs of wondrous complexity, through hard work, team work and professionalism. It’s been a benchmark for group dynamics at my office for 30 years.

Thank you for never giving up on your musical, personal or band ethics and dynamics. It sends the right message, and a consistent message. And after forty years maybe even “Rolling Stone” noticed.

Thank you for allowing Ben and me to create our own not-quite-secret language, with “Rocinante”, “Lerxst”, “Cygnus”, “Syrinx” and “hold my sausage” conveying rich context and a shared smile.

Thank you for providing the sound track for a lot of late nights, long drives, difficult problem sets, and most of all, much-needed air drumming breaks. I think I have my air tom-toms oriented in reverse of Neil’s kit, and I can’t time a paradiddle to with any consistency in tempo, but it’s been fun for thirty-five years.

Thank you for never, ever, ever mailing it in on stage. Never. Reading Neil Peart’s show and tour diaries I have wondered if he is too much of a perfectionist, but I realize that the consistently high quality of Rush shows comes from that constant self-correction and criticism.

Thank you for breaking out the twin double necks. The Hemispheres-era poster with the band in flowing shirts, striking a pose (while striking cymbals, no less) is timeless, and to see the scene created live — with better clothes, better sound reinforcement, and better optics — is a life experience. The only thing that’s come close was seeing Michaelangelo’s David in Florence — after years of seeing it in pictures, to stand before the sculpture was awe-inspiring and humbling at once. That’s how I felt during “Xanadu,” decades of listening and watching and vignettes of rock history all composed on stage — while the boys from the office were clearly having fun with it.

Two weeks from tonight I will attend (I think) my 11th and quite possibly last Rush show. It is fitting that it’s the last leg of a 3-month celebration of Ben’s 21st birthday, in Vegas, with trips to Ed Roman’s guitar store and the Bellagio poker room also on the itinerary. Thanks, Alex, Geddy and Neil, for helping me raise a young adult with some good role models.

“Any pain is acceptable if love is involved” — Buzz Bissinger, from “Father’s Day.”

It’s all the stuff outside the office that counts.

Chris Squire, Bass Player

I am in shock at the passing of Chris Squire. When he announced he was battling acute leukemia in mid-May, my first thought was of my coaching buddy Chad, who faced — and won — a similar fight a year ago. The tall bass player, who had survived the 70s, four decades of touring, more than twenty studio recording sessions and any amount of internecine band warfare was going to win as well, to go back out on the road again, to continue to play amazing and intricate music. And on Sunday, suddenly, he was gone, and I felt a deep, personal sense of loss. Squire was central to my musical education, to my desire to play bass, to the love of live music I had tried to inculcate in my family, and to fundamental harmonics that underpinned a thousand nights of homework. I believe he taught all of his fans to listen to all things a bit more acutely and accurately.

I met Chris Squire only once, five years ago, and so his death is not equivalent in impact or grief to that of a family member or friend; it’s more that a sense of order and consistency has been perturbed. A pillar of my musical universe has been harshly removed, and it is a stark reminder of my own mortality.

I wanted to be Chris Squire after I devoured, in every sense, “Yessongs.” I probably was first exposed to Yes through a Philadelphia AOR station (WMMR or WYSP in the day), and “Roundabout” was a gateway to “Fragile” and to “Yessongs”. That one triple LP had an amazing profound an effect on my musical, engineering and social life, and Chris Squire’s bass playing was, and is, central to the story. My Yes fascination unfolds in typical nerdy fashion: During a summer in Harvey Cedars, our older, significantly cooler and more musically inclined downstairs neighbors revealed their Yes affiliations as well, and suddenly liking progressive music wasn’t as weird. I listened to “Yessongs” incessantly, and believe it spurred my love of live music, and desired to support artists through their tours. “Yessongs” wasn’t a perfect reproduction of the albums; it was something so much more, so definitive a performance, so characteristically Chris Squire leading with his bass. Two summers later, working on a math problem late on a Monday night (to be fair, before the internet and portable music players, you entertained yourself with TV, a book, puzzles/games, or by playing outside), I heard all of “Close to the Edge” tracked on WYSP, and found that combination of math and music abstraction intoxicating. I studied every picture, album cover, or poster I could find, and so wanted to be able to combine a cape, striped trousers, and a full-scale bass. Along with Geddy Lee and Jon Camp, Squire produced a wonderful, rich set of sounds out of his Rickenbacker bass, a guitar that became an unusual object of my affection for nearly forty years. When “Going For The One” was released, and high school buddy Lewis loaned it to me to record onto cassette tape, it was an experience like no other. To this day, the bass parts on “Awaken” and “Parallels” give me chills.

Personally, Chris Squire’s legacy is preserved in vignettes: the first time Ben and I saw him at the Beacon Theater (my first live Yes show, after twenty-five years his deft mastery of, and range of sounds from, the triple-neck on “Awaken” (at the State Theater in New Brunswick); seeing Ben pick up a Rickenbacker bass at Sam Ash and pluck out “Heart of the Sunrise;” seeing Squire’s intense and yet simultaneous grinning countenance driving the band forward; a brief “hello” and handshake backstage at Bethel Woods five years ago; making sure that the Taurus pedals on “Starship Trooper” were the first thing to come out of my Sonos Sub; the outpouring of respect and sincere sadness from his musical peers.

Here’s what I learned from his music: The interesting parts of life aren’t necessarily in 4/4 or even whole measures. Define your sound because it defines you. You decide when to play the melody and when to join the rhythm section. Intensity and precision are important but having fun is required.

Thanks, Chris, for teaching all of us to hear (as Tom Brislin writes) “the bass lines in the background of life.”

Chris Squire’s Progeny

I’m still kind of reeling from the announcement that Chris Squire of Yes is being treated for leukemia. Squire’s bass playing basically powered my engineering education at Princeton; I’m pretty sure I completed every physics, electrical engineering or math problem set listening to Yessongs, Relayer, and Going For The One. His bass was equally at home as a melodic voice (Heart of the Sunrise, Perpetual Change) as it was nestled in next to Alan White in the rhythm section. My love of all things Rickenbacker stems directly from Squire’s choice of axe, and I’ve even modeled capes (truthfully: while getting into trouble in departments in which I had no business at Nordstrom) playing air bass.

The news is amplified through a 3-course plate o shrimp: It’s been just about a year since my ice hockey coaching friend Chad beat his leukemia into remission; I’m just getting proficient enough on bass myself to appreciate the dexterity and musicianship required to pound out some of those Squire bass lines; this week, Progeny, a 7-show collection of 1972 Yes concerts was released in a nicely packaged and Roger Dean-enhanced boxed set. Progeny is effectively the early leg of the 1972 tour that produced Yessongs; it’s a bit of Phish show catalogue of the Fish in his favorite element.

Yessongs may be one of the single largest musical influences in my life. It was, at the time, the most expensive record I had purchased (the original vinyl is a triple LP). I copied Roger Dean’s artwork repeatedly; I studied the packaging as a musical history codex. It’s a safe bet that my love of live music is a by product of the crowd noise, energy and gentle melodic liberties of that recording. Progeny, indeed. And sincere hopes that Squire is able to beat his leukemia and continue making music that spans decades.