Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Friday, July 22, 2011

My Take on an Old Proverb

As a teacher, it isn't really an issue whether my students know or know not whether they know or know not. However...

  • A student who doesn't try, doesn't succeed, and doesn't care is probably a dead horse, but it doesn't matter. Keep beating him.
  • A student who doesn't try, doesn't succeed, but does care is an opportunity. Wake him.
  • A student who doesn't try, doesn't care, but succeeds is wasted talent. Shame him.
  • A student who doesn't succeed, doesn't care, but tries is dancing reluctantly on someone else's leash. Free him.
  • A student who tries and succeeds but doesn't care is snowing his way through the system. Scorn him.
  • A student who tries and cares but doesn't succeed is a student in need. Help him.
  • A student who cares and succeeds but doesn't try is missing his calling. Encourage him.
  • A student who cares, tries, and succeeds is probably a figment of your imagination, but if he is real, consider yourself lucky. Honor him.
(Should I do one for teachers next?)

Saturday, July 09, 2011

One for Dave: The King of Rock and Roll.

The tail end of the '70s and the '80s decade that followed were a time of big hair and big dreams. (The '90s, on the other hand, were a time of disheveled hair and disheveled personalities. I won't even bring up what came next.) It was an era of stress but also of great creativity, when sometimes violent demands for conformity went hand and hand with a belief that any fantasy could be allowed to take shape. Some products of some imaginations continue to affect us even now.

I have already talked about Dave Robison since his sudden death last September. I've already mentioned how I first met him when he was drawing TIE fighters on a blackboard at a church banquet, and how we came to be friends, close friends, even best friends, sometimes even despite the physical or ideological differences in between. This time I want to focus on the musical arena.

Dave already played trumpet and a bit of piano when I first met him. Almost from the start, when we combined our interest in sci-fi and cartooning and started creating our own, joint story/art universe, we toyed around with the idea of making our own background music. We came up with themes, mainly on the piano, for different races and characters. At one point, we even experimented with recording ourselves playing trumpet and clarinet together with a taped piano accompaniment. However, the biggest leap forward came with Dave's announcement in the 8th grade that he had started to learn bass guitar.

Talented as he was, Dave took to the bass very quickly. It also wasn't long before he became dissatisfied with his first instrument, a rather cheap, used model, and rebuilt it. He also made his own amplifiers. I already played guitar, so it was only natural that we wanted to try playing together, but the only instrument I had available at the time was my dad's classical guitar. Dave was never one to let such things stop him, however, and he made a sort of pickup for me to attach to the guitar so I could amp it. Thus began our first jam sessions (so to speak).

At first our repertoire consisted mainly of Kiss and Judas Priest plus a few various songs we plucked off the radio, but I didn't waste any time before I started making my own tunes. Most of those old songs (thankfully) disappeared along with my first song notebook years ago, but the whole idea of being able to write songs appealed to Dave, and it wasn't long before he started coming up with his own.

His first offering was a song called "King of Rock and Roll". Actually, it wasn't a "song" so much as a tune with the possibility of adding lyrics later. I have to admit I wasn't all that impressed at first. For one thing, I thought the title sounded like something a band on a Saturday morning kids' show would play. It was also a very simple, repetitive number with no musical development. Still, I really liked its main hook, and there were lots of possibilities. While we played around with it, I started coming up with various ideas for expanding the arrangement, and Dave answered with some adjustments of his own. In the end, it wound up becoming a song that was probably two-thirds his and one-third mine with lyrics that were wholly his. I finally got my first electric guitar and amp (a Drifter Les Paul copy and a tiny but potent Guyatone practice amp) the following year, and "King of Rock and Roll" became a staple of our jam sessions. As much as we liked the tune, however, we never got the chance to perform it for an audience.

Before we finished high school, musical and ideological differences together with frustration with our "band's" lack of progress led me to end my partnership with Dave and join a different group. That led to some complications, since we had a few songs we'd written jointly that we still wanted to use. In the end, we wound up accepting joint ownership of almost the entire pot. However, "King of Rock and Roll" was the only song that Dave insisted I not use unless we could do it together. I figured I could give him that much, especially since we were still friends, and we still got together to jam once in a while.

Dave actually got into the field of studio recording before I did, first taking a studio engineering class in college and then getting a multitrack recording setup of his own. At his urging, I started making my own home studio soon after coming to Japan. But again, once I started churning out my own, homegrown albums, he asked me not to touch "King of Rock and Roll" until we got a chance to work on it together. I honored that request. In fact, tempted though I was to do something with the song, I left it on the "pending" list for twenty years. I was even about to suggest we try e-mailing tracks back and forth as a sort of internet studio recording.

But then Dave passed away suddenly in his sleep in September of 2010. Any chance of fulfilling his hope of recording "King of Rock and Roll" together died with him. However, I was determined to make some kind of musical tribute to my friend, something to acknowledge his tremendous influence on my own musical endeavors. "King of Rock and Roll" seemed like the only logical choice. We could never work on it together, at least not in body, but perhaps his spirit could help me as I did the project.

It was definitely a labor of love, one which combined "how it was", "how it might have been", and "how it would be". There were a couple of small but troubling problems with the equipment that popped up; I was able to work around them, but it made production perhaps it bit rougher than it could have been. On the other hand, though my voice was stubbornly hoarse and hard to keep on pitch (mainly thanks to the season), my guitar chops were in far better shape than I'd expected. I also got the opportunity to break in a few newly-purchased pedals. But anyway, from the garage experiments of a couple of naive but eager 14-year-olds to the home studio project of a moody minstrel, with a salute to Dave, I bring you:

The King of Rock and Roll

Listen, and help me keep the memory of my old friend alive.

PS: I should probably point out that no written copy of Dave's original lyrics to this song remains, or at least has yet to be found. I was fortunate to remember most of the second verse plus the last, slow part, but I had no recollection of the first verse at all. Therefore, I made my own based on the original theme as best I could recall.