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Daddy Wrall tells me I absolutely have to write about our experience in New York last night. He often encourages me to write about what we are up to, and though I usually intend to do so, time and subsequent opportunities to, you know, do stuff, prevent me from sufficiently genuflectling. (Did I use genuflecting correctly? Remind me to look that up later.)
This experience, though, is worthy of struggling through a series ofiPhone keyboard typos and putting down on the digital page. You see*, last night, in celebration on Sammy Bananas’ birthday, we attended a concert by the immortal and unparalleled Larry Graham. First some house-keeping: sadly, Sam was unable to join us for his birthday celebration. He’s currently on tour in Europe, where we hope and trust he’s safe and happy and generating a fanbase for Telephoned of Beatlesesque (or at least Ahaesque) proportions.
*Larry is reknowned (at least in Miss Fairchild, you see) for copious and unwarranted use of “you see”. We love him for it, and sprinkle all imitations with this verbal tic.
Needless to say, having not been invited to Europe, we decided to spend ten hours on a bus to get as close as possible to one of heroes, Larry Graham and his band Graham Central Station. The show was at BB King’s in Times Square, which unfortunately has tables and all kinds of strangeness. There would be no mosh pits, and I don’t know what they made those tables from, but I can’t believe that music didn’t turn them right to splinters. It melted my face and fried my laptop, but those tables survived. Must be made from wooden asteroids or something.
On the bus down, there was a good amount speculation about what Larry would and would not play. We knew that he would have to play his biggest solo hit, “One in a Million You” and assumed that there would be at least one extended Sly & The Family Stone medley. During the show, I correctly predicted that “I Wanna Take You Higher” would close the night, not difficult to do if you were at Woodstock or have seen the film and know about Larry’s feelings about that concert.*
*In his instructional video, Larry Graham’s Funk Bass Attack, Larry humorously leads legendary drummer Greg Errico wig his questioning about “the best concert experience he had ever had. Greg initially names another show at the Fillmore (I think), but Larry says something like, what about Woodstock? Isn’t that the best show you’ve ever played?
In sum, though, Larry far exceeded our expectations about what he would play. The band marched into the audience from the back of the room, playing “Entrow” from the album Mirror. The crowd spontaneously began to chant, “G-C-S! The baddest group from East to West!” They continued with James Brown-worthy supertight transition into “We’ve Been Waiting” and from there to “Ain’t No Fun To Me”, the Al Green song that Larry sings on the first GCS album. He hit ever subtle moment that we’ve come to love, with exact replications of each melisma and ad-lib. The precision was incredible. We sang along like we have so many times listening to the record, except this time, instead of other folks looking at us like we’re crazy, they sang along too.
Before Larry had started I was in the restroom with a bunch of dudes from Paul Schaefer’s CBS band and we were all singing “Hair”, which, wouldn’t you know it, is the GCS son that Miss Fairchild plays once in a while. The dudes were older and bigger than me, and when I joined in, they laughed and were surprised I knew the song. Just another moment that represented the joy and wonder in that room last night.
While we were waking for the show, one member of our party made a comment about Prince showing up- trust me, we had discussed it, too- but spilled his drink when doing so calling over the waitress.
“You see those two huge bodyguards over there? Yeah, that’s Prince.”
Holy cow. Prince. Yeah, we’ve seen him before. Were closer to him, even. But he was onstage then. This was Prince, seated not twenty feet away, bobbing and dancing just like you hope he would.
He did get on stage and it was almost distracting. Larry played “The Jam” while Prince was backstage getting ready, and everyone knew the moment was coming. Larry ha to do some damage control while playing and he ne’er missed a note. Incredible poise. Incredible smile. Incredible energy. A spectacle. An inspiration. A hero.
So yeah, Prince came out and they played “Thank You Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin”. I actually preferred Greg Errico’s guest spot on (of course) “Dance To The Music”. His pocket is so different than the other drummer on the show.
Larry: thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
I had to do it. I just had to give it to ’em. Larry Graham. The Captain. Ambassador of hope.
The middle Obamicon is based on a photograph that Daddy Wrall has hanging in his studio. The far right photograph comes from Sammy Bananas’ studio. I do not have a Larry Graham watching over me while I record, which, I’m realizing more and more, is a situation that needs to be quickly rectified.
Though the Captain’s music may not directly influence the latest music in Fairchildland, there is no doubt that his music has become integral to what we do. When Wrall records a vocal take, he need but glance upward to know if Larry is giving him the nod of approval, or the little chuckle that says, “try again, son.” When Sam isn’t sure if his beat has quite the right bounce, Larry is there to say, “that’s good. Now, pop your collar” or “I’m watching you Banana man. You’d better make me proud.”
It’s clear what’s missing here. How can I possibly know if things are going right when I’m doing endless guitar takes for “Soda Pop” and “(Gimme That) Welcome Back”? Without Larry’s reassuring gaze, or stern eye, I’m prone to reckless decision-making and self-doubt.
The Obama “Hope” poster that we all know embodies the re-assurance that we’re all looking for from our next president. Shepard Fairey, the creator of the “Obey Giant” campaign, touched on something simple and profound with his artwork, and whether the caption reads “hope” or “progress” or anything else, there’s a sense of change is coming. In the picture to the right, the one that Fairey produced for Time Magazine (um, obviously…) we don’t need the words. The dollar sign look in Obama’s eye is inspiration enough.
All day yesterday, I had whatever Chris Matthews had in anticipation of this inauguration. Not until I woke up did I finally have that feeling that something’s about to happen.*
*This is common for me. Whenever something big is afoot, I have a hard time getting properly excited for it. Not until it is upon me, or very nearly upon me, can I fully realize how important the moment or event is.
Let’s face it: we’ve all been looking forward to January 20, 2008 for a loooooooong time. Since the moment George W. was “re-elected”, we’ve been waiting for today. To take this day and turn it from “George Bush is out! Day” to “Barak Obama is in! Day” is a huge feat in and of itself. I mean, wow.
None of us know for sure if Barack Obama is going to change our world for the better, but for the first time I can remember, we’re all hoping like hell that he can. I was watching CNN with the sound off yesterday and I realized that I’m almost interested in all the fluff pieces about the Obama family moving into the White House, and picking out a dog, and Michelle’s fashion sense. I’ve never been interested in this stuff before. But now, I feel like I want to know what it’s like to become president of these United States. I feel like we’re all in this together– learning how to be president, learning how to make the changes to make this a better world.
So, the Obama presidency is our presidency. With this one, we picked the guy we wanted, and he got the job, and now we get to see what happens.
And we get to do stuff like this:
A few years back, our good friend Daddy Wrall got his hands on a very rare and wonderful video of Larry Graham on The Don Kirchner Show. Actually, I think it’s called Don Kirsher’s Rock Concert,* though that is neither here nor there. The show is set up to look like an actual concert, though it is taped in the studio and there is no audience. Presumably, they add applause after the fact, but I wouldn’t know for sure. Why? Well, that’s where it gets interesting.
*I’m telling you, I’ve been spelling that guy’s name wrong for years. Not just in this post. I could have sworn that his name was Kirchner, but a quick internet search indicates that it’s definitely Kirshner. Now I really want to look at Wrall’s video case and see if that, too, is misspelled, because I have been led astray somewhere, and I want to know where.
The tape that Wrall owns is not edited. It’s just the raw tape of Larry and his band performing, with all of the dead time in between, including discussion about monitoring, false starts and yes, fake banter with the audience. After the first song, “Can You Handle It,” Larry is pretty well winded by his intense performance, but by the time he is ready to introduce “One in a Million You,” (the hit song from his most recent record One in a Million You) he has to actually pretend to be winded.
Larry does a lengthy verbal introduction of the song where he talks about “Can You Handle It” being a serious song, but “One in a Million You” being serious in a different way. It’s fantastic and heartfelt. When he’s done, though, his keyboard player doesn’t play the musical introduction correctly*, so Larry has to stop him and tell him where and how to play the part. Tthey start the song again, but he also has to introduce the song again to keep the transition clean. Since he was happy with his initial introduction, Larry tries to make this one similar, talking about “serious songs” and things like that. The keyboard player messes up again. After a few tries, he eventually gets, it, but Larry’s intros have gone off the deep end. The introduction to the song that the show ends up keep includes Larry saying something like, “we’d like to continue with a whole ‘nother kind of serious music. This is my hit song from my record One in a Million You and the song is entitled ‘One in a Million You’**.”
The brilliance of this statement is that, unless you can watch the whole sequence of false starts and introductions, what Larry is trying to say with “a whole ‘nother kind of serious music” is mostly lost. In fact, the audience of the show probably had no idea exactly what he was talking about, because they didn’t get to see the original speech about “Can You Handle It” and “One in a Million You” being “different kinds of serious”.***
*We had an impromptu karaoke session the other week while we were recording, and part of that session including me flubbing the intro to this particular song, over and over, until we realized that I was making the exact same mistakes as the guy from the video. It was uncanny. I say: Krang.
** You thought I made up that particular sequence of words. Well, I showed you.
***As always, I am not jabbing Mr. Larry Graham. I would never dream of questioning one of our unquestioned and unquestionable heroes. The man is a legend. If I were doing these introductions, my statements would likely become so obtuse as to move beyond the realm of humor and into the realm of paranormal. In that moment he must have thought that like him, we all heard what had come before, and could glean from his shorthand what was being said. All that said, watching him towel off and start these intros with “Phew!” as if he had just that instant finished playing “Can You Handle It”–not to mentioning thanking the fake audience–is pretty darn funny.
I bring this up for a reason. Are there different kinds of serious? Staying with the Larry Graham motif, on “G.C.S.” from his second record Release Yourself, his clavinet player Hershall “Happiness” Kennedy says, “this is Hershall “Happiness” saying ‘smile and be serious’.” Well, if that doesn’t say it all…
You can be serious and have fun. I’m all about that. Recently, I went for a walk with my old friend Jeffrey from my college days. Just before I went, I was talking with a common friend and when I mentioned Jeffrey, he said, “Jeffrey is so freakin’ serious, man. Like, it’s okay to laugh.” For the record, those two things are not mutually exclusive. Jeffery is a self-made man. He has his own publishing business, and working for himself, he must feel like he needs to work all the time or consider himself failing. While we were walking together, he had to take the last fifteen minutes or so to talk to a business associate, and though that a was a bummer on our time, how could I deny him that?
We elevate those with ambition and focus. Look at how we treat football coaches who ignore their families to spend nights watching game film and preparing for their weekly games. Actors and musicians are expected to, and brag about, working 18 months straight without a day off or a night in their own bed. College kids talk about all-nighters as though they are badges of honor. We all feel the need to do more, be more, fit more into our limited time.
I can relate to these things as much as anyone, as I always want to maximize the time that I have available to me to do anything. When we have a working weekend, I used to never factor in down time. How could we give up a few of our oh-so-limited hours together? Sam and Wrall are as ambitious as me, but thankfully I’ve learned from them that it’s okay to play a little karaoke Larry Graham and Richard Manuel instead of EQ-ing the synthesizer on “Soda Pop”*
*Oh, haven’t heard of that one, have you?
I recently learned that some people I work with consider me to be too serious. Like Jeffrey, I take my job and my life seriously and I do want to maximize my opportunities here. But being serious is fun. Doing a good job is fun. Reward isn’t a measly check from ASCAP, or the mediocre health benefits from a the day job, but the actual, in the moment feeling of a job well done. (Cue cheesy motivational speaker music.)
There’s a book called Education and Ecstacsy by a man named George Leonard. I read it in college on the recommendation of a very good friend. In the book, Leonard talks about how the intrinsic joy of learning is far more powerful than any extrinsic reward we can offer someone to learn that thing. Finding that you know something you didn’t before, or can do something that you couldn’t before gives us a literal feeling of ecstasy that receiving an ‘A’ never can. That’s why Miss Fairchild makes music. The joy of creating something that itself can bring joy is a double whammy for us. That’s why we can ‘smile and be serious.’
There’s no other kind of serious to be.