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In the documentary Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words, the film’s subject sometimes comes across as a bit frustrated by his cult of personality. One thing he bemoans more than once is that most people know his name but few buy his music. The film itself is also more focused on his interviews than his performances. It didn’t even take day after I published my review (Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words highlights the mind behind the music … and the ideology — a film review) before a friend texted me to ask “Who is Frank Zappa?”

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bowie_blackstar-H151026152736All of music has lost some of its luster today. David Bowie died at the age of 69. Suddenly, the album he released, just a few days earlier, on his birthday no less, makes a little more sense.

“★” (pronounced “Blackstar”). It’s tempting to listen to “‘Heroes'” or “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” now, but play that album in his memory instead. It was a brilliant example of his continued vitality in music. Today it just got more vital with this new layer of resonance. It’s a twist of fate that Bowie must have foreseen considering it turned out he was battling cancer for the past 18 months. Only Bowie could have pulled this off, so kudos to him on his way out of this mortal realm. His last great trick in rock ‘n’ roll.

To repeat his achievements would be redundant, so let’s leave that to the other obit writers. Just jump through our David Bowie tag to understand how important he was to this blog (as soon as I get the vinyl, expect a review for “★” with what is now a clearer perspective than most reviews out there).

No, today this writer will share something more personal. How and why I credit my love of David Bowie’s music for kicking off my writing career.

It began in ninth grade, at a school in the Kendall suburb of Miami called Arvida Middle School. It was 1987. My English teacher, Ms. Stinson, was a wide, round-faced black woman, who was the most intimidating instructor I had in that grade. I remember that classroom being very quiet, and if there were any bullies and smart alecks in that class, they must have stayed quiet too.

One day, we were assigned books to read and then present to the class. Ms. Stinson had a list of famous names on a sheet of paper she passed out to the class, and we were to pick from the list who we wanted our presentation to be about. I sat toward the back of the final row in class, having to pick from the leftovers. I got Janusz Korczak’s book Ghetto Diary. I never heard Korczak’s name until this assignment. Needless to say, I did not feel invested in this topic. I remember struggling to get into the book, which we had to check out from our school’s library. I don’t think I ever read the entire book, just skimmed through it looking for some distinctive bits to regurgitate in class.

Some days later, when it came time to head to the front of the class to stand by Ms. Stinson’s desk, I was rattled with nerves. I had barely a notion how to pronounce my subject’s name, much less any recollection of anything I gleaned in his book. It’s a closed off memory as to what exactly happened. Maybe students laughed at my stuttered, unsure pronunciation of Janusz Korczak, maybe all I could recall from the book was when Korczak spoke with God, as he headed off to a death camp. I might have failed to answer any questions that my teacher asked after that “presentation.” It was a haze and remains so to this day. I just remember how scary Ms. Stinson seemed.

Well, she frightened up until the end of class. Sometime soon after the botched presentation, she pulled me and a few other students aside who didn’t do too well on our presentations to offer us a do-over. This time we could pick the topic. She said to bring a book into the next class featuring a person we wanted to discuss. I had been reading Nicholas Shaffner’s The British Invasion: From the First Wave to the New Wave. I still own that book:

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I brought it to class the next day and showed her the section on David Bowie. “You want to do David Boowie?” she said, mispronouncing his name but with a smile. I didn’t correct her. She suggested I play some of his music to the class during my presentation. The ease I felt after playing the opening part of my cassette of Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture dissolved any stage fright. My curiosity of what Bowie did during that fateful 1973 concert where he appeared as an alter ego in bright orange hair, the brashness of his backing band, The Spiders From Mars, flowed out as I schooled my classmates on Bowie.

At that age I had a pretty clear grasp of who Bowie was and what he meant in rock ‘n’ roll history. I hardly had to cite my source. At about 15 years old, I learned I could be an authority on David Bowie, and I would later go on to review several of his releases for local music publications. Because Bowie’s music over the years was so diverse, featuring influences from Little Richard to Neu!, he opened my musical interests wide, as well.

Bowie’s image, especially in the early ‘70s, played a great part in converting fans. Many speak of seeing him on the BBC show Top of the Pops doing “Starman” in a jumpsuit with that orange mullet and cozying up to his guitarist Mick Ronson. But I got into Bowie via his clean-cut Let’s Dance era via MTV, around 1984. As a young teen, I had Space Oddityonly cassettes and no large-form, gatefold albums to be overwhelmed by the images of him as Ziggy, which was then also used to sell earlier albums like Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold the World. His image, which was so important to his career then, was reduced to surreal, small, square portraits on cassette covers, which had no inner art.

It was a strange way to get into Bowie: almost purely through his music and only his enigmatic cassette covers to guide the way (there was no YouTube back then, and I went to the library to look at music history books to find pictures of early Bowie). As I traced Bowie back through his back catalog via tapes bought at a local record shop with allowance money, I mostly latched on to the small, weird musical bits like the whooshing, oscillating intro of “Station To Station,” the strange little organ fills that gave “After All” a weird bounce, the muffled, layered, chugging guitar that hardly relented below “Joe the Lion.” I would have never sought out the music of Brian Eno, King Crimson or Faust were it not for David Bowie. I could have never appreciated the music of BauhausSwans or Deerhunter without having taken apart the music of Bowie all those years earlier. He did his duty, and I will miss him till the day I die, too.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2016 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

dj

I must thank my friend Pablo for pointing out this two-hour radio show on the BBC hosted by David Bowie in 1979. He pointed out this post on Dangerous Minds, who credit the find to John Coulthart. There have been several cannibalistic posts that share the link to the two-hour radio show on YouTube and the track list with not a lick of insight into why Bowie may have chosen some of the songs he did. If you want to read the tracklist, you can jump through the Dangerous Minds post (Update: I found a complete transcript of the radio show here). They buried it under the link to the video posted by a YouTube user over a year ago. Here’s the link to the radio show:

I’ll refrain from sharing the playlist because it’s so much more interesting to hear the songs by surprise with Bowie talking about each track before and after he plays them. However, I can’t help but share some of the revelations on the show, being a hardcore Bowie fan in tune to his influences and tastes. At this point in his career, Bowie had dropped the guise of putting on over-the-top personas. He just sounds like a down-to-earth music geek sharing some of his favorite music. You’ll hear him play a record by an early influence, for instance, as he challenges the audience to guess who it might be. He shares the genuinely surprising answer afterward. After revealing the singer’s name, Bowie says, “He had this strange thing where he threw away his rings and all that to become a preacher for a bit, and this was an outcome of that … How he changed his voice like that, he must have given up something else, I think.” It’s a bit of a delight to hear the so-called chameleon of rock ‘n’ roll marvel at another musician who changed up his identity before him.

You can tell Bowie likes some songs he plays more than others. He says of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man,” “I used to love this one” and cuts it short. However, he loves every last note of “For Your Pleasure,” by Roxy Music, calling Ferry’s repetition of “Tara Tara” at the end of the track, “a beautiful gesture.” After playing a Bob Seger track, though, Bowie remarks, “Now, I’m not sure about that one.” Then he admits he played it for the sake of his ego because it has the word “Lodger” in the lyrics, the same title of the album he was on the radio to promote. He also plays a few songs from that album, which had only come out two days earlier, that weren’t necessarily singles from the record. “D.J.” was not among the tracks, but wouldn’t that be too obvious for Bowie?

lodger

However, the lyric, “I am a D.J./I am what I play,” is so accurate. He plays music by former collaborators like Iggy Pop, Robert Fripp (the Crimson piece), Jeff Beck, John Lennon as well as a freaky, kinetic post-punk track from a band called Mars, off an album that Brian Eno had recommended to him. Bowie even plays some songs he covered in the past as well as the future. He covered Bruce Springsteen’s “It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City” in 1975, but his version wouldn’t see release until 1989, as a “previously unreleased” track on the Sound+Vision box set. He also plays a song he would wind up covering way in the future, on his 2003 album Reality.

There are many great tidbits to be found in his wide ranging selection of music that varies from classical to soul to nursery music (no wonder his self-titled debut sounded like that) to punk rock. It’s worth discovering for yourself. I will end this post by noting that it’s quite funny that Bowie had to bring his own Mekons record because the BBC didn’t have it in its library. Like another friend of mine said in this post, “nobody gives a fuck about the Mekons.” That was true even in 1979, at the height of the post-punk scene, but at least Bowie proves he was hip to them.

Hans Morgenstern

If you’re wondering where the still image is from, it’s of course his video, for “D.J.” Watch it below.

And that snapshot of Lodger is my personal copy on my turntable.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

As promised, here’s a note recognizing the reissue of 2010: EMI’s Deluxe vinyl/DVD/CD set of David Bowie’s 1976 album Station to Station. Of course, I spent a lot of this year blogging in anticipation of this release (Bowie’s Station to Station and ’76 Nassau concert streaming online now!,Advance copies for Bowie’s Station to Station features DVD-A,U.S. release date announced for Bowie’s Station to Station reissue,David Bowie’s Station to Station to be reissued in fancy 9-disc package), so I shan’t repeat myself here.

Still, despite a whopping array of nine different mixes of the same album across vinyl, CD and DVD, there remained something missing. Many have argued: why no video footage from the era, but I would say, where was the record store promo only ashtray?:

We got buttons and reproduced promo 8x10s and a fan club pack from the time, among other bonus goodies, after all.

Still, in all seriousness, when it came to the music, there was one thing that flashed “oversight.” On the CD EP version of the album, featuring the single edits of every song on the six-track album, one edit was glaringly omitted: The “Wild is the Wind” video edit. Well, my friend Ray Garcia has re-created that mix using the remastered track off this set. Download it here. Sure, some might say that video was produced during 1980, anyhow, resulting in that edit that came long after the actual album. But some of the “edits” on the EP are a stretch anyhow (the title track reduced to only its second up-beat half?).

Beyond that, this set also includes one of Bowie’s most famous concert performances from the time, at New York’s Nassau Colosseum: on CD and vinyl. The vinyl actually does sound better than the CD, I found, as the CD sounded quite over-modulated, and the vinyl indeed sounded better on headphones. Though I never received the set as a promo from the label to review the vinyl here, I did get a cool consolation prize:

There were more cool reissues in 2010. There was high praise thrown about for Bruce Springsteen’s The Promise, featuring a whole second album’s worth of outtakes as good as the original album (studio outtakes were also sorely missing from the Station to Station reissue), including several DVDs. However, no vinyl.

If ever there was a runner-up to the Station to Station reissue in my book, it would be King Crimson’s 6-disc set of their debut 1969 album, In the Court of the Crimson King. It not only did it feature an array of studio takes of the music, but also a DVD audio with live video footage from the time and even a very rare mono mix for radio stations only taken off a vinyl record from Robert Fripp’s own library. Later on in the year, they even followed up on this release with a vinyl release on 200 g vinyl that sounded amazing. The box also even had buttons and a reproduction of the gatefold LP, as it was a 12-inch size anyhow. Here’s a look inside the box at how the discs were presented:

Very cool. Get it while you can, as it is a limited edition that seems to be selling out fast.

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)


Adrian Belew and Tony Levin in King
Crimson in Buenos Aires at Teatro
Broadway. Photo by Max Pierrot.

Finally, the third and final part of my interview with Tony Levin. As one of progressive rock’s most esteemed bass players, there could have been many more tangents to take during the interview, but I only had so much time. Levin, after all is much more than a sideman. He is one of the great innovators on the bass in the world of progressive rock. He also has his own catalog of solo and collaborative work, which can be found on his website. But I had my own curious questions of his work with King Crimson that continues to this day. On to the interview…

I caught you in Buenos Aires with King Crimson.* I had a chance to interview drummer Bill Bruford and saw some amazing shows at the Teatro Broadway. Are you still a member of King Crimson?

As usual with King Crimson we find different ways to do everything, so the status is not what it would be in a normal band. I don’t know how to describe it. I’m not fully a member, and I’m not out of the band. I mean most bands, frankly, if you’re not touring and recording with them then you’re not in the band anymore, but in this case, Robert assures me, Robert Fripp, and I actually believe him, that I’m kind of on reserve duty, and I will be called up to active duty some time, probably in the not too distant future. I don’t know if there’s a chance of me doing some work this year. I don’t know quite what’s going on right now, but typically with Crimson, I get busy with other things, when I don’t know what they’re doing, and then when they start doing something I kind of have to wait . . . so I would describe it as: I’m the fifth man in a four man group, whatever that means. I think there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll be doing something with them in the near future.

Mind if I ask some King Crimson stuff I was always curious about?

Not at all.

On Three Of A Perfect Pair you are credited as playing synth. Do you recall what songs you played synth on?

No, I don’t remember the songs at all. What I do is (I have a synth actually here on the road with Peter, too) I have a simple synth with bass sounds, and I never play it for a whole piece, but sometimes I kind of fashion a part that’s a back and forth of eighth notes between the bass and the synth or between the stick and the synth. The more I accent certain bass notes with the synth. So it’s completely used in conjunction with the bass, not on its own. It’s very hard to pick it out on the record because really I just use it as a “texture difference” from the bass.

For instance, on “Man With An Open Heart” I can’t tell if you did that with a bass or a synth.

Yeah, I know. I’d have to listen myself to try and figure it out.

And as far as Beat goes, how much of that record was influenced by the jazz of the Beat Generation’s age?

I think a lot of the lyrics were, and that was kind of the inspiration point, but musically we weren’t actually thinking about that generation at all. We just kind of were using the vibe of—especially Adrian [Belew]—was using the vibe of that generation as the inspiration for the names of the songs and the lyrics.

“Requiem” has a certain John Coltrane influence. It sounds like what Coltrane was doing at the end of his career.

It could be. Well, it’s hard to say. I mean it was nothing conscious, but we did that at the end of the album, having done the rest of the album, and it was totally improvised, so maybe it was similar. There was nothing specific said about that.

So you guys don’t like listening to music when you’re working on albums?

Not really, no. In fact we try not to listen to other music.

One day, in Buenos Aires, I could have sworn I saw you in a crowd taking pictures of a pair of tango dancers in a plaza. Do you remember ever doing that?

Yeah that would have been me! In fact, one or two of those pictures are going to come out in my book, which I hope to finish by the end of this year. It’s about my travels in nineteen years on the road with King Crimson and those are mighty good pictures. You’re right, it was me. Yeah, that’s funny.

So you’re planning on releasing a book?**

I can’t promise a date, cause I’m pretty slow at these things. I hoped to have it done a year ago, and I didn’t, but I have great photos from back in 1980, when I started in King Crimson, and they say not to release them all is a [unintelligible]. I don’t know what the title will be but it will be all my photos and journals from the years on the road with King Crimson.

Do you still take lots of pictures?

Lots! Yeah, now I take digital. I used to take black and white film, but I still take lots. In fact, I just up-dated my website with photos from yesterday’s rehearsal. They’re very up-to-date. I should have shots from tonight, pictures from tonight’s show, up by the middle of the night tonight at tonylevin.com. If you ever want to see what’s going on in the tour—whatever tour I’m on—I’m pretty good about up-dating it.

Are you documenting this current tour? Will anything special be done with the photos?

Lately, I only shoot digital in color, and I pretty much just use it for the website. I’m kind of distracted with that. Someday I think I’ll regret I’m not shooting film in black and white anymore, but that’s life. You can’t do everything, and I really enjoy the immediacy of being able to present the audience with a photo of them. I take pictures of the audience every night, and I know from their cheering I know a lot of them go up on the website.

Who’s the better actor you or (old time band mate and session drummer) Steve Gadd?

Actor? I would say we’re both pretty bad. We were both playing ourselves, in the movie [One Trick Pony], and I thought he would be better at acting like himself than I was at acting like myself. Don’t ask me why. It sounds like a pretty easy job, acting like yourself, but I thought Steve was particularly good at it. I don’t think I’d want to see either of us in a part where we’re not acting like ourselves.

So you’ve watched One Trick Pony?

Actually, I probably never sat and watched the whole thing, by the time I finished touring to promote it, it was already closed in the theaters, so I got a video copy of it. I’m not sure I ever sat all the way through it, but I enjoyed making it, though, and I like everything Paul [Simon] does.

*In 1994, I interviewed Bruford as King Crimson warmed up the then new double trio format for the recording of 1995’s Thrak. One story that resulted is a piece that appeared in Florida International University’s student-run newspaper, “the Beacon.” Someone actually transcribed it for the KC fansite Elephant Talk. It can be found here. The other story, on King Crimson itself, appeared in a regional Florida music scene called “JAM Entertainment News.” It cannot be found on the Internet, but maybe I’ll provide a scan of the original document, if there is demand for it.

**Levin did release a photo book entitled Crimson Chronicles Volume 1, the 80s in 2004. On his website, Levin promises a book chronicling the 90s KC sometime in the future: “The photos have been printed, but it might be some time until the book is ready. (!).”

The interview continues…

Read Part 1 (on recording with Peter Gabriel)

Read Part 2 (on touring with Peter Gabriel)

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Thanks to DGM Live (King Crimson’s website) for linking directly to these series of posts, my full-length interview with King Crimson bassist/Stick man and stalwart Peter Gabriel sideman Tony Levin. See my prior post for Part 1 of this 2003 interview with this innovative bassist. And so it is on with Part 2 of the interview, Levin on his time on the Up tour…

How long have you been on tour for the Up album?

We started rehearsals last August [2002].  We did warm-ups last September.  We toured the States November, December.  We toured Europe in April, May and now it’s June, and I think that’s going to be it, although you never know.

Why return to the US for a second tour?

I didn’t ask Peter.  I don’t really know.  I know it’s a different kind of show because we’re not doing big arenas, so we don’t have the huge stage above us and the thing built– although we are adding some different material, and we’re also using some different staging ideas of Peter’s.  Actually, we haven’t done them all yet.

What’s this live show like compared to the last Up tour?

It sounds a lot better being outdoors with no ringing.  The trouble with arenas is it’s good to see a special show, but the sound is awful.  Here outdoors people are already commenting it sounds great.  They can hear everything.

How’s the live presentation of this tour compared to the last Up tour?

Huh. . . (he sighs) Golly!  You know, I’m typical of musicians.  Once I’m on the tour I don’t really think about the last one, so it’s hard to think back. I think it’s similar in that there’s quite a bit of spectacle and the spectacle is mixed in a way that Pete is very good at, with real human elements, so the people in the audience don’t feel like they’re seeing some kind of circus.  They feel involved in the show.  They feel like he’s speaking to them directly. That’s partly because he’s in the middle of the arena and it’s part because both he and Robert Lepage, the show designer, are very good at keeping the show human and communicating well.

Beyond the addition of “No Way Out,” how has the set list changed?

We’ve added “Don’t Give Up.”  Actually, I think it’s going to change from night to night, too.  I know we rehearsed “Darkness,” but we haven’t done it and “Grieve” we rehearsed, but we didn’t do that.  Give me a minute to run and get a set list while we’re talking. . .

What songs do you like to perform and why?

One that I enjoy the most is “Mercy Street,” but I don’t actually have a difficult bass part or a bass part that’s particularly up in front, but we do it in a very different way than we used to.  We all sing on it.  There used to be pretty minimal background vocals.  Now it’s really quite a vocal song, and it’s just a very good moment.  When we did it in the round stage some of us sat on the edges of the stage and revolved—Oh, WOW!

What’s going on?

Well, something pretty special, although not show-related unless I drink all this liquor that showed up behind stage.  Good golly!  That’s great.  Someone sent back three bottles of Fernet Branca a very unusual drink that I particularly like…So I’m still walking toward the set list.  But anyway, so that’s the special thing, but now that we’re on the normal stage, of course we’re not revolving, but I’m pretty sure we’ll sit in the front.  But anyways, it just works as a special moment in the show, and I particularly like that one.  I like all of the pieces.  There are none that I haven’t had a lot of fun doing.

Now, I think it’s a gorgeous song, but do you ever get tired of playing “In Your Eyes”?

No.  I don’t.  Generally, on a really long—we used to tour for years, so when we’re on a really long tour you get tired of some of the material, that’s for sure.  But not the really good pieces, and this tour’s all good pieces, plus we’re not touring for a couple of years, so I don’t think I’ll get tired of anything. OK, I’m on stage where my set list should be and it isn’t there!  OK, we’re doing “Red Rain,” like we did.  We’re doing “Secret World.”  “Games Without Frontiers” we have added.  We’re doing that.  We didn’t do that in the regular tour. “Don’t Give Up” we’ve added.  “Tower,” actually the full name is “The Tower That Ate People.” We’re doing that.  We’re doing “Shock the Monkey.” “Come Talk to Me,” which on some shows we did and some we didn’t.  Those are the new ones that we’re doing tonight, but by tomorrow or the next show, things could have changed.  We could have added more newer pieces or newer or older pieces.  We did rehearse quite a few.

Did you even do “Shock the Monkey” on the Us tour?

Oh, on the Us tour, yes.  Last year we did it a couple of times but only a couple.

Hopefully you’ll do it when you come down to West Palm Beach.

Yeah!  I think, unless we do something wrong, it’ll still be there.  Unless we’ll do it badly.  I’m looking forward to going there.  It’ll be fun.  I haven’t been in Florida for quite a while with Peter.

How do you think Melanie is working out?

Um, great.  It’s a pleasure for us, not only having her sing and stuff, but I’ve known Melanie since she was a little girl, and, um, every band has a different energy depending on who’s in it and what they bring, and it’s great having a younger energy around and while we’re on the road.  There are a number of things that are great.  Also, she’s a great person, so it’s pretty neat having her.

Do you remember the day she was introduced to you as part of the band?  What did you think?

That’s a good question, but I’m afraid I don’t remember.  I’m sure you could get interesting answers to that from people, but I can’t remember when that was.  I think I heard it before the tour that she would be doing it.  Sorry, I don’t remember exactly.

Who’s the live drummer this time around?

Ged Lynch.  He’s done a lot of work with Peter in the last few years, and I did know his playing because two years ago we did a show in Seattle, a WOMAD festival, with kind of the same line-up, in a way, and Jed was the drummer, so I know he’s a very good drummer.

He’s on the record too.

I think so.  Playing both drums and percussion.

So what happened with Manu Katche?

Nothing happened to him. Just Peter chose to tour with Jed.  I don’t know why, really.

Remember when you did World Diary?  They were impromptu jam sessions in hotel rooms and stuff, right?  Have you thought about using more current portable recording technology and doing another one?

I have thought about it.  My first plan was to follow that up with two other albums in the same vein, going around the U.S.  I particularly avoided U.S. musicians [on World Diary].  I wanted to do it around the world, but not in the U.S., and I thought it would be nice to travel around the U.S. in my Harley with just my bass on my back or the Stick and visit musicians and just do records in their town.  So I was going to do that, but somewhere along the line I got busy with other ideas of what I might do for another album.  Lately, I’m enjoying writing in a more compositional way, in a less collaborative way, where I pretty much write the song out completely and then bring in musicians, so I’m sure I’ll go back at some point to a collaborative kind of thing.  Maybe go back to do that.  It was fun, but I wouldn’t mind doing that again.

The interview continues…

Read Part 3 (on King Crimson and more)

Read Part 1 (on recording with Peter Gabriel)

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

After my recent lengthy review on Peter Gabriel’s new release, Scratch My Back, I started feeling a bit nostalgic about the old PG days. The last published piece I wrote about my all-time favorite progressive rock musician came around the time I met the man backstage after a show on the Up tour, in West Palm Beach, Florida. I got his autograph on the then new CD, and that was pretty much it. I kind of felt stupid talking to him for such an impromptu moment as he signed paper plates for these annoying Brazilian chicks and another fanboy who brought practically every PG album for him to sign– even Genesis’ the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. I even offered Gabriel my service to hold his cup of tea as he signed the ephemera, but I still could not come up with much anything to say.

As much as I wanted to interview Gabriel for a piece in Goldmine during the release of Up, I was really there to meet Tony Levin face-to-face, as that is who the label offered for an interview, and I was quite cool with that. The opportunity to chat with Gabriel’s longest lasting band member gave me a great opportunity to glean some insight into their long-lasting relationship.

<!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:””; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;} p.MsoBodyText, li.MsoBodyText, div.MsoBodyText {margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”; font-style:italic;} a:link, span.MsoHyperlink {color:blue; text-decoration:underline; text-underline:single;} a:visited, span.MsoHyperlinkFollowed {color:purple; text-decoration:underline; text-underline:single;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} –> This interview was conducted via phone on June 6 and 8, 2003, while Peter Gabriel was starting up his second U.S. “Growing Up” tour on the West Coast.  I believe the locations were San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively. Levin was very gracious about talking with me about his work with Gabriel since 1976, over the phone, during one of the tour stops leading up to the West Palm Beach show, where Levin secured me some nice seats and a backstage visit. He has been one of the nicest rock veterans I ever had the pleasure to interview, and I want to share my never-before published, full Q&A with him (Goldmine published an abridged version for their Prog rock issue from October 17, 2003).

This is Part One in a series of three blog postings that I have decided to break the interview up in, and it focuses on his work with Peter Gabriel in the studio. Part two will be all about playing live on the Up tour and related questions, and part three focuses mostly on his work with King Crimson and other tidbits he shared with me about his photography and acting. So, without further ado…

You’re probably the most consistent Peter Gabriel sideman.  What keeps you coming back to work with him?

Well, first of all, I’ve done lots of different music projects.  I’ve done a lot of touring and a lot of albums, but Peter’s consistently my favorite thing to do, so it’s not a matter of just me coming back.  It’s actually—if I had to choose between Peter and anything else, I would choose Peter’s tours.  The reason of that is a combination of them being really good music and really fun and Peter being a great guy, and so he kind of attracts good people, so it’s nice to be around, even in addition to the music being really great.

What are Gabriel’s recording sessions like?  Did you have to be handy for 10 years straight for Up?

They’re different than anybody else’s, that’s for sure.  First of all, I’m only involved in part of it.  I come in early, when we’re doing what’s called the rhythm tracks, and Peter generally has an idea of the song, maybe not completely worked out, and we spend anywhere from a few weeks to a month doing an album worth of rhythm tracks.  And then it goes through a process that really takes longer and longer each album.  It takes years, and Peter fiddles with it and sometimes brings in other rhythm section elements and then, when the final product comes out, I’m as surprised to hear it as anybody else because it has very little to do with the version I heard in the beginning, and often I’m still on it . . . so it’s an interesting process really that Peter goes through.  More than knowing what he wants at the beginning and going directly there is kind of a process that takes him quite a while, and I’m only involved in the early stage of it.

How do you feel about this, for your creative sake?

I’m fine.  First of all, I’m very used to it.  This started this way in, golly, 1976  (laughs).  I should be used to it by now, and also I do a lot of albums that are done different ways, and what I focus on is bringing what I can musically to the project and really becoming a fan of the music and contributing from the bass-end of things.  I don’t really get so bothered about the process itself and the way it’s going ‘cause that’s not really my domain, unless I’m the producer, which is pretty unusual.

How much direction does Gabriel give you when you play your bass parts?

It varies a lot.  Sometimes he’ll have a bass idea that’s pretty good, and I’ll just do it, and sometimes it’s an idea that I’ll modify and make more bass-player-like, and sometimes it’s an idea that I’ll kind of go against, and I’ll try something different and sometimes we’ll compromise.  Sometimes, in the end, we’ll go back to his own idea.  Sometimes he likes what I do completely from the first note and just says, “I love that, keep doing that.” It really varies quite a bit.  I certainly am open to his suggestions because, like many people who are musical and who aren’t bass players, he gets ideas that a bass player wouldn’t normally think of, and I like to use him as an inspiration for coming up with unusual parts.  But I also—for me as a bass player, the part has to have some kind of bass-ness to it.  I don’t know really how to describe that in words, but if it doesn’t really move my body in a certain way, then I’m not as happy with it as I’d like to be, so I keep kind of moving towards the part that just kind of organically works for me.

Is that bass opening for “Don’t Remember” yours?

I think it’s just mine.  It’s a Stick part.  It’s this unusual instrument, the Stick, where I can play bass parts that have bigger jumps than on a normal bass and a little bit of a different timbre– much more attack than a normal bass, so that was a typical stick part of mine.  But other parts. . . “Sledgehammer” was my part, on a fretless bass, but “Don’t Give Up” was a part that really he worked out on a drum machine, but it kind of almost had pitches, so he played me this drum machine part, and I said, “Well, that’s a great bass part.  Let me just put the notes that work to that,” so, really, in a way it was three-quarters his part.

What about the beginning of “No Way Out,” on the new record?

“No Way Out” has three different basses on it.  That’s a good example of why I don’t know what the record’s going to sound like till it’s done. One of them is mine, playing an electric up-right bass, but then two other basses, with different players [Danny Thompson on Double Bass and Gabriel on Arpeggiated Bass] were added later.  I’m the beginning of the three.  I’m not sure which is the guy that comes in first.  I forget.  It’s been so long since I did the track.  But I know I have an issue when we play that live—and I’m about to play that live for the first time tonight—about which of those three parts to pick out to play.

How did you first get into playing the Chapman Stick?  What lead you to it?  When was that?

When I first heard about it, which was about 1975.  I heard there was this instrument you play by hammer technique, and then it’s kind of like a bass but different, and it appealed to me because I like unusual music and unusual instruments, so I got it right away, and I’ve been playing it ever since.

And you didn’t play it at all on the first Peter Gabriel album, right?

I brought it to those sessions.  It was pretty new, and I actually showed it to the producer [Bob Ezrin], and he had me put it away.  He didn’t even want to even hear it.  I do remember that.  But I played it on the tour of that album for one piece called “Moribund the Burgermiester.”  I remember playing it a lot on that tour, and on the second album I was playing it pretty exclusively.

What gave you the idea for the funk fingers?

It’s a long story, but I can tell it quickly.  It started from a piece of Peter Gabriel’s called “Big Time” where on that album, So, I asked Jerry Morrota to play with his drumsticks on the bass while I fingered it, seemed like a good idea.  And then a year later, when I was doing the touring I was trying to play that part with just a drumstick in my hand.  I had to practice it a lot, and, as usual, just like now, I was practicing and Peter Gabriel walked by me and said, “Why don’t you figure out some way to attach two sticks to your fingers,” so that’s what that was.  His idea really, and then we fooled around, my bass tech and I, really for a year with different size sticks and different lengths and things like that till I finally got so I liked it.  Then I called them “funk fingers” just for the fun of it.  It ended up on this tour I was playing them quite a bit.  For most pieces I’m playing the funk fingers.

And what’s the advantage of playing with them?

They’re more percussive.  That simple.  There are a lot of disadvantages.  It’s hard to hit the right string.  I had to practice a lot with them to get used to them, but once I’m used to them it’s very percussive, which for some things it’s really good.  I wouldn’t play them on every piece.

So, I heard Peter’s on to the next album, have you done any work on it?

I’ve heard that too (laughs).  I know nothing about it.  I know we did a lot of tracks for the last album, so there are plenty of spares, but I know nothing about it.  You would think being on the road that we talk about that stuff, but actually we don’t.  I don’t know what’s coming next for him.  I know that he’d like to release another album before another six years go by.

In the press kit it says that it’s supposedly called I/O, and he’s set to release it in a year and a half or something like that.

Oh, really?  Well, there you go, as usual you know more than me.  I’m usually the last to find out about these things, but then sometimes what you hear isn’t going to happen anyways, so…

The interview continues…

Read Part 2 (on touring with Peter Gabriel)

Read Part 3 (on King Crimson and more)

After my recent lengthy review on Peter Gabriel’s new release, Scratch My Back, I started feeling a bit nostalgic about the old PG days. The last published piece I wrote about my all-time favorite progressive rock musician came around the time I met the man backstage after a show on the Up tour, in West Palm Beach, Florida. I got his autograph on the then new CD, and that was pretty much it. I kind of felt stupid talking to him for such an impromptu moment as he signed paper plates for these annoying Brazilian chicks and another fanboy who brought practically every PG album for him to sign– even Genesis’ the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. I even offered Gabriel my service to hold his cup of tea as he signed the ephemera, but I still could not come up with much anything to say.

As much as I wanted to interview Gabriel for a piece in Goldmine during the release of Up, I was really there to meet Tony Levin face-to-face, as that is who the label offered for an interview, and I was quite cool with that. The opportunity to chat with Gabriel’s longest lasting band member gave me a great opportunity to glean some insight into their long-lasting relationship.

Levin was very gracious about talking with me about his work with Gabriel since 1976, over the phone, during one of the tour stops leading up to the West Palm Beach show, where Levin secured me some nice seats and a backstage visit. He has been one of the nicest rock veterans I ever had the pleasure to interview, and I want to share my never-before published, full Q&A with him (Goldmine published an abridged version for their Prog rock issue from October 17, 2003).

This is Part One in a series of three blog postings that I have decided to break the interview up in, and it focuses on his work with Peter Gabriel in the studio. Part two will be all about playing live on the Up tour and related questions, and part three focuses mostly on his work with King Crimson and other tidbits he shared with me about his photography and acting. So, without further ado…

You’re probably the most consistent Peter Gabriel sideman.  What keeps you coming back to work with him?

Well, first of all, I’ve done lots of different music projects.  I’ve done a lot of touring and a lot of albums, but Peter’s consistently my favorite thing to do, so it’s not a matter of just me coming back.  It’s actually—if I had to choose between Peter and anything else, I would choose Peter’s tours.  The reason of that is a combination of them being really good music and really fun and Peter being a great guy, and so he kind of attracts good people, so it’s nice to be around, even in addition to the music being really great.

What are Gabriel’s recording sessions like?  Did you have to be handy for 10 years straight for Up?

They’re different than anybody else’s, that’s for sure.  First of all, I’m only involved in part of it.  I come in early, when we’re doing what’s called the rhythm tracks, and Peter generally has an idea of the song, maybe not completely worked out, and we spend anywhere from a few weeks to a month doing an album worth of rhythm tracks.  And then it goes through a process that really takes longer and longer each album.  It takes years, and Peter fiddles with it and sometimes brings in other rhythm section elements and then, when the final product comes out, I’m as surprised to hear it as anybody else because it has very little to do with the version I heard in the beginning, and often I’m still on it . . . so it’s an interesting process really that Peter goes through.  More than knowing what he wants at the beginning and going directly there is kind of a process that takes him quite a while, and I’m only involved in the early stage of it.

How do you feel about this, for your creative sake?

I’m fine.  First of all, I’m very used to it.  This started this way in, golly, 1976.  (snicker).  I should be used to it by now, and also I do a lot of albums that are done different ways, and what I focus on is bringing what I can musically to the project and really becoming a fan of the music and contributing from the bass-end of things.  I don’t really get so bothered about the process itself and the way it’s going ‘cause that’s not really my domain, unless I’m the producer, which is pretty unusual.

How much direction does Gabriel give you when you play your bass parts?

It varies a lot.  Sometimes he’ll have a bass idea that’s pretty good, and I’ll just do it, and sometimes it’s an idea that I’ll modify and make more bass-player-like, and sometimes it’s an idea that I’ll kind of go against, and I’ll try something different and sometimes we’ll compromise.  Sometimes, in the end, we’ll go back to his own idea.  Sometimes he likes what I do completely from the first note and just says, “I love that, keep doing that.” It really varies quite a bit.  I certainly am open to his suggestions because, like many people who are musical and who aren’t bass players, he gets ideas that a bass player wouldn’t normally think of, and I like to use him as an inspiration for coming up with unusual parts.  But I also—for me as a bass player, the part has to have some kind of bass-ness to it.  I don’t know really how to describe that in words, but if it doesn’t really move my body in a certain way, then I’m not as happy with it as I’d like to be, so I keep kind of moving towards the part that just kind of organically works for me.

Is that bass opening for “Don’t Remember” yours?

I think it’s just mine.  It’s a Stick part.  It’s this unusual instrument, the Stick, where I can play bass parts that have bigger jumps than on a normal bass and a little bit of a different timbre– much more attack than a normal bass, so that was a typical stick part of mine.  But other parts. . . “Sledgehammer” was my part, on a fretless bass, but “Don’t Give Up” was a part that really he worked out on a drum machine, but it kind of almost had pitches, so he played me this drum machine part, and I said, “Well, that’s a great bass part.  Let me just put the notes that work to that,” so, really, in a way it was three-quarters his part.

What about the beginning of “No Way Out,” on the new record?

“No Way Out” has three different basses on it.  That’s a good example of why I don’t know what the record’s going to sound like till it’s done. One of them is mine, playing an electric up-right bass, but then two other basses, with different players [Danny Thompson on Double Bass and Gabriel on Arpeggiated Bass] were added later.  I’m the beginning of the three.  I’m not sure which is the guy that comes in first.  I forget.  It’s been so long since I did the track.  But I know I have an issue when we play that live—and I’m about to play that live for the first time tonight—about which of those three parts to pick out to play.

How did you first get into playing the Chapman Stick?  What lead you to it?  When was that?

When I first heard about it, which was about 1975.  I heard there was this instrument you play by hammer technique, and then it’s kind of like a bass but different, and it appealed to me because I like unusual music and unusual instruments, so I got it right away, and I’ve been playing it ever since.

And you didn’t play it at all on the first Peter Gabriel album, right?

I brought it to those sessions.  It was pretty new, and I actually showed it to the producer [Bob Ezrin], and he had me put it away.  He didn’t even want to even hear it.  I do remember that.  But I played it on the tour of that album for one piece called “Moribund the Burgermiester.”  I remember playing it a lot on that tour, and on the second album I was playing it pretty exclusively.

What gave you the idea for the funk fingers?

It’s a long story, but I can tell it quickly.  It started from a piece of Peter Gabriel’s called “Big Time” where on that album, So, I asked Jerry Morrota to play with his drumsticks on the bass while I fingered it, seemed like a good idea.  And then a year later, when I was doing the touring I was trying to play that part with just a drumstick in my hand.  I had to practice it a lot, and, as usual, just like now, I was practicing and Peter Gabriel walked by me and said, “Why don’t you figure out some way to attach two sticks to your fingers,” so that’s what that was.  His idea really, and then we fooled around, my bass tech and I, really for a year with different size sticks and different lengths and things like that till I finally got so I liked it.  Then I called them “funk fingers” just for the fun of it.  It ended up on this tour I was playing them quite a bit.  For most pieces I’m playing the funk fingers.

And what’s the advantage of playing with them?

They’re more percussive.  That simple.  There are a lot of disadvantages.  It’s hard to hit the right string.  I had to practice a lot with them to get used to them, but once I’m used to them it’s very percussive, which for some things it’s really good.  I wouldn’t play them on every piece.

So, I heard Peter’s on to the next album, have you done any work on it?

I’ve heard that too (laughs).  I know nothing about it.  I know we did a lot of tracks for the last album, so there are plenty of spares, but I know nothing about it.  You would think being on the road that we talk about that stuff, but actually we don’t.  I don’t know what’s coming next for him.  I know that he’d like to release another album before another six years go by.

Iin the press kit it says that it’s supposedly called I/O, and he’s set to release it in a year and a half or something like that.

Oh, really?  Well, there you go, as usual you know more than me.  I’m usually the last to find out about these things, but then sometimes what you hear isn’t going to happen anyways, so. . .

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)