December finds me channeling my inner Beatle, and playing a song I wrote for the first Claude Pate reunion. It is hard to believe that we “debuted” this song almost 15 years ago at a concert celebrating 20 years since the founding of the band in the basement of a college dormitory at Iowa State in the spring of 1983. Have I really been doing this schtick for 35 years?
About the song
The song is an unabashed pop rock confection that takes inspiration from the early hits of the Beatles. It comes complete with references to “I want to hold your hand”, “Eight days a week”, “Love me do”, and probably every other Beatles hit you can think of pre-Revolver, along with the many derivative songs that were staples of 70’s AM radio, by bands like the Hollies, the Guess Who, The Razzberries, Bad Finger, etc., that I grew up listening to while the family drove back and forth between De Witt and Bettendorf for my sister and I to go to gymnastics. Lyrically, I even manage to slip in a slight, sideways reference to the Jam, and to my own “I’ll be your man”. When we played this song in rehearsals for the first reunion I referenced the Tom Hanks movie That Thing You Do to explain what I was up to, and Jon Hahn new exactly what I was talking about. I leave it to the more OCD listeners to unravel the specifics of all the various influences and references, which they are welcome to do if they are bored and want to educate me about my hyperactive subconscious.
As derivative as this song is, I still love it, because, well, you know, it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it. The lyric wrestles a little with my complicated relationship with nostalgia. All appearances to the contrary, I am not a particularly nostalgic person, and I was a little conflicted when the first reunion show was suggested. Yes, I collect old guitars. Yes, it turns out I like playing reunion shows. Yes, I like all kinds of outdated music. But I am not nostalgic for these things. I just still like all of them for what they are to me now. It isn’t the past I’m interested in, so much as opportunities to keep friendships and creative relationships alive in the here and now. Relationships with people and music and ideas and sounds and places and…since I’ve come to associate this song with band reunions, and since we have recently been discussing the possibility of a reunion on Facebook, I decided it made sense to record the song for this month’s video. I like to think of this song as a bit of a love letter/thank you to the handful of fans who have consistently listened to my songs over the years. My life would be blue, if I’d never known, never known these days with you! And all your nerdy preoccupations with music.
About prospects for a reunion
Somehow, we will have a reunion sometime in the next year! Or two! At least I hope so. But my life isn’t completely my own, and I never know when some crisis at work is going to demand that I commit to a trip to Uruguay (for a latest example) to give some speech or tutorial on behalf of NIST. This always weighs on me a bit when we discuss setting up a reunion, since friends may want to travel long distances to see us, and I may have to cancel. Generally, I know about crazy crap in my professional life at least three months in advance, but that’s not always the case. The other obstacle is that I can’t quite figure out the logistics. My dream is that we can play a small club, somewhere near Chicago. It would be great to split the bill with the Service, who seem up for it. We will need some place to rehearse for a couple days. We will also need a sound system for rehearsals. And of course, the club will need a sound system and sound man for the show. Who knew it was so involved? We always just did it as kids. Now it feels like quite a production. I intend to keep poking around and reaching out to folks to see what is possible, but I’m feeling like it will probably take a year’s worth of organizing to pull off. Guess I better get started!
About the recording
Doug Smith, my friend, scientific colleague, and the guy that owns and operates all the cool recording gear you can glimpse in the background of my videos, was upgrading all the digital aspects of his studio. I don’t think he planned this, but he needed to replace an aging computer, and things sort of spun out from there. He wound up having to shift recording programs, and as part of that change he had an opportunity to purchase some recording applications that could be bundled and thrown in for a modest extra price. Doug has a soft spot for the recording gear and techniques that George Martin and Abbey Road Studios pioneered back in the day, but who can afford banks of tape machines and giant reverb plates in isolated, subterranean cellars (gosh, I’d like to build one of those reverb plates)? Well, it turns out crazy obsessive compulsive programmers have come up with digital audio models of all that funky, quirky, Beatles era recording equipment. And there is a software bundle, and Doug purchased it, that allows him to set up his digital mixing console and effects to achieve some of the signature sounds of Abbey Road studios. So, for this recording, we processed my guitar and vocal using this software and its model of a giant reverb plate and its funky channel doubling application, which mimics the qualities of a separate tape machine, slaved to the master track, but with randomized small deviations in “tape speed” to prevent perfect synchronization, and avoid coherent interference. It was a perfect match of modern software to a throwback song, and I like the way it all sounds. Keen eyes will also spot that I have a new guitar amplifier. It too uses modern digital effects to provide convenient access to old style sounds. I’m really enjoying it. It is light. It is easy, peasy to transport and use. And it is loud. But I can turn a switch and play it as a ½ watt, or a 5 watt, or a 15 watt, or a 30 watt amp. And it breaks up like a classic Orange or Vox amp in just the same way at all those power points. And it doesn’t have any backbreaking transformers, or flaky, fragile tubes. It’s all transistor. I thought I would never use a transistor amp. But here I am. And I like it. Because I’m not nostalgic. I just like things to sound the way I like them to sound.