Stephen King

Back to the Future!

It’s time to check in on the hologram industry. If you’ve missed this technological advance in musical performance, I wrote about it last year and predicted that it would lead to: a possible revival of the over-the-hill Rock genre, save the electric guitar, or maybe even launch an all out Skynet-style nuclear attack. Of course, I’m not the only person with an opinion; writers, critics, players and fans are weighing in on this controversial topic…and others are just showing up to watch it.

I had reported in my original post that late metal rocker, Ronnie James Dio’s hologram had rocked the Pollstar Awards, and by all accounts, it was…something. Tour plans were and are in the works, but first “He” had to go back on the drawing board. Kewl! Other stars like Tupac Shakur, who appeared at Coachella in 2012, have already had their moment in post-life stardom…or Stardom from Beyond the Grave! Sounds like a horror movie…and it is! This past spring the late Roy Orbison toured England, at least his hologram did, with an orchestra to boot! Amazing! (No the orchestra was not a hologram) Given Roy’s lack of emotion and movement when performing, he was a good choice for a hologram because most people were not be able to discern they were actually watching technology instead of the real thing. Have a look-see below and judge for yourself! I can’t believe it’s not Roy!

But FEAR NOT!…er other music lovers. This technology is taking the world by storm and no musical genre will escape the tendency and temptation to take what was once a great thing and reduce it to…wackiness and approximation. In January of this year Maria Callas, who died in 1977, returned to Lincoln Center to bellow out the arias from Carmen and Macbeth. Writing in the New York Times, Anthony Tommasini related:

“It was amazing, yet also absurd; strangely captivating, yet also campy and ridiculous. And in a way, it made the most sense of any of the musical holograms produced so far. More than rock or hip-hop fans — and even more, you could say, than fans of instrumental classical music — opera lovers dwell in the past. We are known for our obsessive devotion to dead divas and old recordings; it can sometimes seem like an element of necrophilia, even, drives the most fanatical buffs.”

So I guess that means that by 2025 Washington DC or New York City will be home to the Necrophiliacal Center for the Performing Arts because this new industry has nowhere to go but UP! The Bizarre World of Frank Zappa will tour by the end of the year and will feature big stars like Steve Vai and Warren Cuccurullo. This gives whole new meaning to the phrase ROCK IS DEAD, doesn’t it? Well, yes and no. After all, this is a conglomeration of a whole bunch of advanced technology making this happen and we love technology, don’t we kids? Even regular old music (that stuff hardly anyone plays anymore) needs a whole bunch of technology to function in today’s market…. ’cause that’s just how it’s done. The world has embraced this new way of doing things; it has pulled technology to its collective bosom and said, “Yes! (eargasm) this is for me!”

There are some people who just aren’t onboard though. While some of these people may be [Haters] or trolls, there are others who have well-reasoned arguments and legitimate concerns. One such argument (from the inside no less) is that this whole thing is just a cash-grab by people who are no longer capable of really earning it the old-fashioned way, by playing music. (Pfft! Who does that anymore? Anyone?) Another, similar type of argument is that it may be disrespectful, and that could also true. After all, nobody knows what Ronnie, Roy, and Tupac would’ve wanted….well they say they do, but CaChing! My well-reasoned argument against is that there are generations of people out there who aren’t Baby Boomers and these people are really tired of Baby Boomers and their old people smell and personal concerns. I have no idea why people still turn out to see REAL, LIVE (sort of) bands that average 60-70 years of age. I mean seriously, you don’t have anything else to do tonight? Look at this! (It’s really terrible!) I sense a lot of anticipation for the official last Baby Boomer to bite the dust, but if this technology takes off, they’ll be around forever! Not just forever, but FOREVER. Reminding you, yes you, you stupid Millennial and Generation Z, that you don’t know what hard work is, your music sucks and you’ll never be as great as Generation Woodstock/Punk Rock.

So the deeper ramifications of this whole thing become clear. The tech industry is putting this hologram rock together and even though the technology is gimmicky, it’s still early days. Think what the internet was like early 90s. Or before. Imagine where this can go and then it’s not about what’s possible any longer, it’s all about what people will accept. Would everyone go along with creating a digital Pet Sematary? Where anyone can come back and be recreated? If they can do it with Jimi Hendrix or Prince, why not Grandma? Or your true love who was killed in an exploding blender accident at the tender age of 25? As Leonid Bershidsky writes in the NY Post:

“Also, I’m not sure there’s such a thing as an artificially recreated emotional connection. I’d rather remember real conversations with a deceased friend than try to have new ones with a bot trained on his words. And I suspect watching an undead rock hero would be less satisfying than seeing old footage of his or her performance….Perhaps people living today should be asked to put a check mark on a form, next to the one for organ donations, to specify whether they’re OK with being revived as bots and holograms. I’m sure a lot of musicians would do it, and then their fans would know.

The future holds many awesome and terrifying possibilities and holograms are just one avenue. Think of some of the bad things that could come back. Hitler? My God! The Adolf Hitler 2022 World Tour! Live at The Necrophiliacal Center for the Performing Arts Why not? Have you ever read Pet Sematary? Or watched the movie? Yea, okay, so the movie wasn’t very good even though Herman Munster was in it. But hooo! Scary! It’s a scary idea! Stay tuned!

Not To Touch the Earth

Taking The Doors music one step further (remember, this all started with Johnny Ramone or wait, was it Jimmy Page?) let’s talk about Robby Krieger. He’s never been thought of as one of the powerhouses of electric guitar (he’s rated #76 on Rolling Stone‘s Greatest Guitarists list). Yet, he was/is quite the capable guy and unlike most of his peers from that period, or ever, played fingerstyle instead of using a pick, or plectrum if you will. Originally trained on flamenco guitar, he moved on to learning bottleneck, folk, rock and even a bit of jazz, with Wes Montgomery and Larry Carlton named as big influences. In the process he helped The Doors become one of the most popular bands in America and to this day they are considered one of the best American bands ever. Though he wasn’t a virtuoso he played many an interesting guitar part and wrote music that had a huge impact on the popular musical landscape (his song Light My Fire has been covered 974,322 times or something). The LMF solo is a great example of a guitar in the DORIAN mode although that’s only 1 way to imagine it. I wonder what Robbie was thinking. It has a very 60s sound (in a good way). Obviously the above clip of Spanish Caravan, which incorporates musical ideas from Asturias (Leyenda), written by Isaac Albéniz, highlights Robbie’s flamenco abilities and when combined with Jim Morrison’s lyrics and the band’s penchant for drama, a very exotically beautiful song emerges. Below is a classical interpretation of Asturias (Leyenda). (Sharon Isben is pretty impressive, isn’t she?)

I think of Robbie and The Doors as playing primarily textured music with an ever present theatrical edge and very jazzy tinge. Since Ray Manzarek functioned as a keys/organ/piano/bassist instead of the standard bass player this was (and is) evocative of Wes Montgomery and others from the jazz age with a guitar/organ/drum lineup. Musically anyway. None of those trios had Jim Morrison for a singer, but the interesting thing is, Jim was a crooner (ala Frank Sinatra) so maybe The Doors were the second best (after various Miles’s lineups) jazz band of the 60s? (haha) I’m not seriously suggesting that any more than I was serious that Led Zeppelin was the best jazz band of the 70s, but obviously The Doors, along with Zeppelin and The Allman Brothers (and The Dead) did a whole lot of listening to and a whole lot of incorporating of various jazz elements into their ostensibly ROCK sound. The Doors sound was cold and weird and sometimes (when the organ was the dominant riff of the song) they evoked the nightmarish possibilities of a Clive Barker/Stephen King horror psychotic carnival band. Having an eye for theatrical presentation (Jim Morrison was a film student and heavily influenced by The Living Theatre) helped turn many of the band’s performances from the earliest days into a very strange trip on the dark road at the end of the night. But even without those elements, when the band sat for televised, no-audience sessions (because their performances had become a little too extreme, at least in the eyes of the authorities) they constructed a uniquely dynamic sound with what was already an established type of band line-up. The line-up is still popular in jazz and is especially suited to more intimate surroundings as shown in the following clip.

A few years ago I explored the history of one song, The World is Waiting for the Sunrise and tried to illustrate its evolution as “name” players performed it over a span of almost 60 years. I thought it would interesting to do the same thing with one of the prettiest (if slightly insane) songs The Doors ever recorded, The Crystal Ship, which was one of the songs the band mimed on American Bandstand, the America’s Got Talent of yesteryear.

Obviously a HUGE part of the band’s appeal was Jim Morrison’s presence vocal delivery. Keep in mind this clip is 47 years old — this isn’t some shoegaze band from the early 90s. The Doors put out a whole lot of emotion and feeling in this song and no one has ever completely matched their brand of seductive danger and weirdness. How might one try to capture some of that feeling in a solo guitar piece? Well…this first example recalls Robby Krieger’s flamenco influences or, possibly one can almost hear some José Feliciano or Django Reinhardt in it, something like Django’s song Tears perhaps.

The point is not to focus so much on the playing, although I think it is very well done. While it is not as fiery nor does it have the virtuosity of most of Django’s work, the song (like the harmonic structure in Tears) is very satisfying to play and listen to and more or less arranges itself. A very accessible structure, a haunting melody, supported by various harmonic elements that are reminiscent of either Morrison’s voice or Manzarek’s keyboard and variations throughout that can be improvised or not depending on the mood of the player. It doesn’t have to be played the same way every time. Yet the tone of the guitar and some of the harmonic inventions make this much more than a verbatim cover. Here is another version done a bit more simply, but just as well in a more traditional fingerpicking type of way. Notice that this player’s interpretation doesn’t take as many liberties but throws in a couple of nice moves. I love the Fmaj9-Fmaj thing. Artistic license but done in a way that completely fits with the arrangement he has put together. Very cool. Also note that none of these players are famous, but that is the beauty of Youtube and world-wide connectivity.

If you would like to learn to play either of these arrangements, both players have been kind enough to either put the music as is the case with the first version here, or a part by part walk-through for the second starting here. Finally, here is a third version that is a very stylin’ jazz archtop thing. Notice the rhythm change and all of the melodic and harmonic inventiveness not found in the other versions. Great stuff! But also notice it is no longer very haunting — the song has lost all of its quiet insanity. The tune is peppy and has the same bounce as Girl From Ipanema maybe. But, as with the other performances, it IS the same tune and the limit of where it’s going depends only on the arrangement and the player.

I have been listening to more music from the 60s and 70s lately (hence the recent posts), but as you can see, I am interested in how people today interpreting this music. I have been messing around with my own interpretations of various things and there is something about music from this period that lends itself to this type of experimentation. Perhaps the same could be said for any period of music, but there was so much experimentation and blurring of styles during this era that sometimes the songs just naturally fall into whatever mood you want to make them. Try it for yourself…You might find that thinking like an arranger and arranging your own versions of material can make you a better all-around musician in the process.