Back to basics

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Today was March fourth. Let us for the moment ignore the pesky little U in the word “fourth.” (What is it, an English holdover? Who the hell are they to tell us how to spell our words? We’re not their subjects.) Without the U, it becomes “March forth,” a homophonic factoid seized upon with delight by the local NPR station.

So my drive to work was filled with marches. I like some marches. Some of the English composers, for instance, have written some lovely marches. Good old Percy Grainger. Good old Gustav Holst.

And then there are the American marches. Ya ask me, we should have taken a cue (get it? A cue? Mwah!) from the British. They could teach us a thing or two.

(Which is it, Jessica? Do you want English spellings or English music? Make up your mind!)

Okay, I’ll go with the music. I far prefer English marches. The harmonies, the variations, the musical colours—all far more pleasing than the oom-pah rot we got from John Phillip Sousa.

Perhaps you like Sousa marches. If you are an American, they may stir feelings of patriotic pride within you. That’s nice.

If you are a tuba player, unless you have a very rosy attitude, you do not like Sousa marches. Not only do you have to play a horrid blundering downbeat motif, the sheer epitome of monotony, you have to play it while marching a sousaphone. Sousa strikes again!

A tuba is a lovely, exquisite, noble horn. A sousaphone is a bulky monstrosity that wraps around the neck. It plays hell on the lower back and it’s impossible to tune. All your labour and musical practise flies out the window when you don that wretched hunk of metal.

Fortunately I also heard a lovely guitar ballad today, which more or less assuaged the insults done to me by NPR: as if the Sousa marches weren’t bad enough, they had to bombard me with speculation about today’s primaries. Just tell me the news after it happens, folks, please. Though really I think I’d rather just stick to the music if it’s all the same.

I care about the news. I care about current events. But for the past, oh, six months or so, I’ve been tuning most of it out. Sometimes I just need to duck my head in the sand. This is not the height of civic responsibility, I grant you, but it’s my solution for combating information overload. I have recently resumed my on-again, off-again habit of skimming through the New York Times in the morning—but please, let me take it slowly, bit by bit. Give me too much news at once and I’ll just retreat again.

Back to music: I was kvetching about the poor, misunderstood tuba players. All you flag-waving blue-blooded American patriots who love your Sousa marches—well, listen to what you will, but please don’t infer that tuba players are only capable of playing heavy downbeats.

(If you would like to infer that horn players are only capable of jaunty syncopated responses, that’s fine. Horn players are a conceited lot. They need to be taken down a notch.)

We bass players are important. We’re the, er, the bass of everything. We’re nobody’s favourites; we often go whole symphonies without playing a note; we’re not very sexy, unless composers (like Ralph Vaughan Williams; have I said how much I like the English composers?) take pity and deliberately write a showy piece for us. But our role is essential and honourable; it’s a shame that no one knows us.

I posed this hypothesis to the folks at work. They agreed. None of them could name any tuba players. This is a HORRIBLE miscarriage of our American education system.

None of them could even name any bass guitar players. A discussion ensued, in which we tried to think of popular rock musicians who played bass. We failed, utterly and abjectly, we failed.

Who played bass for Pink Floyd? Not a clue.

Who played bass for The Who? (“Uh…not Pete Townshend.”)

Who, for the love of God, who played bass for the Beatles? I mean we had a one in four chance of getting that right—one in three, really, everyone knows Ringo played the drums—and still we didn’t know.

“Bet you can name everyone from Led Zeppelin except the bass player,” said Assert-y.

“There’s, let’s see, there was Jimmy Page, and John Bonham, and…”

“And Robert Plant.”.

“Right, right, I knew that. And…”

We had to look it up.

“John Paul Jones!” said Assert-y, after a visit to Wikipedia. Thing is, I actually knew that at one point. In eleventh grade US History, I remarked to myself that the dude from Led Zeppelin shared a name with the naval hero of the Revolutionary War (in which we won independence from English spellings), he of “I have not yet begun to fight” fame. That little coincidence formed a wrinkle in my brain, way back when, and STILL I couldn’t remember the name of Led Zeppelin’s bass player.

How very sad.


10 responses »

  1. Okay, that’s freaky… I’ve had this itch for the past few months to try to learn bass guitar, but I haven’t actually splurged on buying one yet.I played the trumpet in middle school… holding that thing up was bad enough for my gimpy arms! I can’t imagine a tuba or anything bigger, whew…

  2. the lesbrarian

    Cara, Makes sense to me. Just as the bass players are the dogged, loyal, under-appreciated backbone of musical ensembles, so are the Tech Services workers in the scheme of libraries. Sounds like you’re drawn to the role.

  3. We in Tech Services are the spine of the library, and no one hears about us unless we blow our own horns. Just like bass players, I guess.Cara – go for it! Splurge!

  4. I know you’re not a Metallica fan (or not much of one) but there’s several extended bass solos in their early works. Kill ‘Em All’s Anaesthesia for example – if you want to hear a few secs of it.

  5. Ah, how could you not know GEORGE HARRISON!!! my favorite Beatle.

  6. The Queen of Claremount

    Your mom’s cool. I’d like to meet her.

  7. Gene Simmons from Kiss….I know he was bass, and possibly lead singer. It does happen..but point made it’s not normal and he had to really, really really go out of his way to get attention.

  8. eleemosenary archivist

    As much as i abhor political & personal hypocricies given so much coverage in recent news,one now risks current events marginalization by not checking in at yr site. New talents disclosed in music appreciation reportage added to a pleasant day out on the Jamestown road rancho. Was,however(don’t digress!),prompted by upcoming 12th of April anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s birth as mentioned in an editorial a 95 year old friend wrote.. Mebbe a suggested readin topic for promoting judeo-Christian tolerance of outsiders..even Tuba players who like Sousaphonists.. Get this guy an editor{editress?}out-4-now EA/tgb Bass player:Jorma Kaukonnen

  9. Mom!Paul played bass! George was lead guitar.John Entwistle for The Who. Noel Redding for Jimi Hendrix. Adam Clayton for U2. Derek Smalls for Spinal Tap. Geddy Lee for Rush. Berry Oakley and Allen Woody for the Allman Brothers. Bill Wyman for the Rolling Stones. Phil Lesh for the Grateful Dead.Lead singers get the girls. Lead guitarists get the reporters. Bassists are the bridge between rhythm and tonality, and create the foundation for the rest of the band, and their fans don’t even remember their names.Tuba players, unite! You have nothing to lose but your sousaphones.

  10. And EA: Jorma played lead guitar – most brilliantly on Embryonic Journey. Jack Casady was the low man on the Airplane.


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