Rendered Fat Content


Paul Gauguin: Jean René Gauguin (1881)

"… not a slave to precedent nor an idiot to improvement."

For me, nothing seems sadder than a tribute band, one dedicated to reliving some heyday on stage. I respect original work, but seeing a late middle-aged troubadour replay their pubescent angst on a stage seems just as sad as Lawrence Welk's orchestra seemed in their later days: dated and then some, unappreciable. Their easy mastery no longer resembles talent or skill, but clearly came as the result of ad nauseam repetition. It was always a wonder that those band members could stay awake through the chorus of most of their tunes because they knew their parts too well to produce a credible performance, which must seem like discovery to really work. They seemed to most need some strategy to just let bygones become bygones. Their performances most reminded their audiences of the absolute the necessity of retirement.

I carry vestiges of these feelings about performing my own compositions, though I have not been vainly repeating the same old songs for generations.
There remains, though, vestiges of my own pubescent angst showing through the stories and what were once genuine discoveries have become recapitulations over time, far distanced from their original passions. I am capable of just going through the motions and also able to lose my way without any obvious provocation. I'll be playing along when suddenly I cannot quite remember the next change, often because I draw from my muscle memory which seems easily disrupted whenever I attempt to think my way through. One second of inattention can leave me completely disoriented. The chord changes and accompanying riffs along with the lyrics more or less manage themselves. I'm more witness than actual instigator now, better off not getting too involved, but needing some involvement if only to produce some sense of immediacy rather than simple reminiscence.

Preparing for this upcoming house concert, though, I feel the need to not merely reincarnate or even just reanimate these tunes. I'd say they need renewing, but they seem more in need of simply Newing first. Later, after I've been successful at Newing them, I might consider renewing them, but this horse belongs before this cart. Whatever state these venerable compositions held just after reincarnation seems in need of a little updating. I've, for instance, learned some new chord patterns since I composed most of the songs, and some clearly benefit from just a little bit of reconsideration before performing them. Others have shifted their meaning while hibernating, and demand at least a little reinterpretation. Two needed transposing. All this work amounts to Newing the originals, even though it might render them kind of unrecognizable when compared with their original performances. So much the better.

I pray that my house concert will not degrade into nostalgia. I'd prefer that it seem more forward-looking or at the very least current, not dated. Lawrence Welk's band would often, it seems, take some current hit and rearrange it. You know, something from The Doors but played with a bossa nova beat, heavy on the trombone. Their results were reliably regrettable, but then they were never Newing, but olding, I guess, reinterpreting current as if it were really retro, even though Fred Astaire would never have agreed to dance to anything written by Jim Morrison. There was a Lawrence Welk style though, an imprint that band left on every song they ever performed. It was not always dated and was once the very essence of wildly popular, before it over-stayed its welcome. Still, that band remains one of the top ten or so in the history of popularity. They out-sold almost everybody except, I suppose, the Beatles, even The Doors.

I, fortunately, don't face such stiff competition. I compete only against myself, if I chose to compete at all, but it remains important to remember that I could always lose even when I'm my own opponent. I am fostering a certain openness to difference as I prepare for this performance; not a slave to precedent nor an idiot to improvement. A few touches here and there should freshen my performance. However ancient the tunes, in performance they simply must be present, looking forward and not just transporting backward. Most of the audience will have never been exposed to these tunes before. Me, neither, if my Newing works as expected.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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