The Code of Knowledge

April 28, 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of knowledge lately and a conversation I had yesterday really brought home one of my favorite parts about what it means to know things.

At our local farmers market, there is always someone playing acoustic music. When we walked up this week, we saw the performer’s back and I noticed that his guitar looked special. It looked like a Lowden, something I’d never seen up close (only at Richard Thompson concerts), but had looked at online. He had a tuner on the headstock, obscuring the logo, so I couldn’t be sure. We went about our shopping. As we were getting ready to leave and were walking back past him just as he finished a song. I asked what kind of guitar it was.

“It’s a Lowden,” he said. I said I’d thought it was a Lowden, but I’d never seen one up close. And right there, we had each signified to the other that we were members of the same tribe. He told me he was going to take a break in about five minutes and that I could play it if I wanted. I accepted (just to be clear, this is a fabulously well made and VERY expensive guitar. It’s the kind of thing you hand down to your children).

When I came back a few minutes later to play, he handed it to me and I began to finger pick a little. Hearing, I suppose, that I could play somewhat tunefully, he offered me a pick while noting that there was no pick guard (but assuring me that I didn’t look like someone who banged on guitars. Again, more code. He is effectively saying to me, “You can play, and I see that. I’m pretty sure about you, but not entirely sure. Use this, but please don’t damage my very nice instrument.”

After I played for a minute (I took a little solo while the guy who was spelling him strummed), we talked about the nature of the guitar. the neck shape. The sound. I mentioned Richard Thompson playing one (this is more code – guitarists are supposed to know about Richard Thompson). In the end, he invited me to stop by a song circle that has been going on for years and to which all stringed instruments are welcome (except banjo’s, “we don’t want it to turn into a country thing”).

The whole exchange was maybe ten minutes and would be all but meaningless to most people, but for the two of us, it was really cool, and it would not have been possible if we weren’t both intimately familiar with guitars. We both had specialized knowledge that we had spent years trying to obtain. It’s amazing how far that can go toward starting a friendship.

Music Grand Slams

April 17, 2013

I used to write about music here sometimes. I haven’t done that in a long time. But I feel like doing it again and it’s my blog so I’m going to do what I want, just for today.

Recently, Sound Opinions (my favorite podcast) did an episode on musical grand slams. The premise was that a band/artist had to put out four great albums in a row. This sounds like fun, I think, and so I’m going to do it. My choices will probably be more obvious than theirs. Whatever, these are the five I could come up with.

1. Bruce Springsteen (Greetings from Asbury Park; The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle; Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town) – Many people think Springsteen was flawless until after Born in the USA, but I don’t like either that album or The River as much as some others do (Nebraska is a masterpiece, though). But those first four albums, many that’s a way to start a career. I especially love to imagine seeing that band during the first two albums when they were still, basically, a bar band. What would it have been like to walk in on that kind of frenetic energy?

2. The Derek Trucks Band (Soul Serenade, Joyful Noise, Songlines, Already Free) – For a band that I really think is at its best live, The Derek Trucks Band was consistently great in the studio. Indeed, if I wanted, I could add in live albums or extend this list to include the recent Tedeschi Trucks album. Derek Trucks is, I think, musically invincible. He knows so much about music and incorporates so many influences into his music that it just never gets boring.

3. Teddy Thompson (Teddy Thompson, Separate Ways, Up Front and Down Low, A Piece of What You Need) – Though his dad doesn’t make the list (lots of runs of three great albums, none of four), Thompson the younger has started his career with a bang. No one knows who Teddy Thompson is, but he’s one of our favorites in the Linden household. The one time I’ve been able to see him live, he was the opener and just blew the headliner off the stage. He’s a fantastic songwriter and boy, what a voice.

4. Buddy Guy (Heavy Love, Sweet Tea, Blues Singer, Bring ‘Em In) – It took a long time for Buddy Guy to really get going on his recording career, but once he did, he really turned it into something. Sweet Tea is the masterpiece in this run of albums, but they’re all really excellent and represent a period of experimentation that encompassed acoustic blues, deep southern electric blues, and modern R&B. He’s fallen off in recent years, but I’ll always have these albums.

5. The Allman Brothers (The Allman Brothers Band, Idlewild South, Live at the Fillmore East, Eat a Peach, Brothers and Sisters) – I’m giving five albums here because it feels ridiculous to leave the Filmore off, but the original rules require studio albums. Rather sadly, the Allman brothers haven’t done much else for a very long time.

Some things are easy to forget. James turned one a little more than a month ago. Up until then, he had been a baby in all the ways you and I normally think of babies. But he is suddenly not a baby any more. He walks. He talks (a little). He plays with his sister. He grabs things off tables. He is now a toddler.

Toddlers are adorable, but they are high maintenance. Simone, of course, went through this stage, but I had forgotten how you suddenly can’t sit things on tables and how quickly bumps and bruises mount.

And the teething. Oh, the teething.

But it’s really neat, too. Toddlers are more aggravating than babies, but they are also more interesting. James is really starting to have his own personality now. His default expression is one of unsuppressed joy and I can’t blame him if, on occasion, that joy gets derailed by bone cutting its way through his gums.

But maybe the neatest recent development is the way Simone and James suddenly play together, often for a long time. Simone things up all manner of elaborate games and James has no idea what’s going on, but his thrilled to have his sister’s attention. A time will come (and indeed it has already, at times) when they will bicker and fight and annoy the hell out of each other, but what’s happening right now sure is nice.

I planned/still plan to get myself on a regular writing schedule now that various work things have been put to bed. I have lots of ideas. But the thing about having kids is things don’t really go according to plan. Simone got sick and James cut a tooth and then I caught Simone’s cold and all of sudden it’s Saturday and I’ve done very little blogging/writing this week.

Oh well. There’s always next week, and sometimes you just have to wait for it.