(THE TEST OF TIME: Section A)
Part Three of this series left off with getting to the root of all knowledge, and the act of personal discovery to find core elements of pure authenticity as I made the commitment to "make a gumbo".
Gumbo starts with the "roux", for all of you non-culinary types out there. A base of white flour, slowly and carefully browned and thickened in animal fat or vegetable oil; Making a proper roux, in the proper amount, is tricky business.
You've got to get it almost to the edge of utter destruction without actually destroying it. It has to be constantly stirred and watched for up to an hour to get it to that perfect dark reddish-brown, melted chocolate color and the right consistency of thickness, right before it burns. The darker the roux, the richer and more complex flavors can be achieved. It's a gastronomic high wire act.
Burn the roux, and you have to toss not only it out, but more than the
hour of life you spent trying to render it.
The next steps needed to be taken in making my creative metaphoric "Gumbo" was to conceptually identify what is called in Creole Cuisine "The Holy Trinity": Chopped Celery, Chopped Green Bell Peppers, and Chopped Onions.
There's no variation here. These three vegetables go into a Gumbo. They don't call it the "Holy Trinity" for nothing.
But each ingredient must be carefully chosen. They have to be fresh, and chopped to the desired consistency and in the right amounts; at the ready as soon as the roux is ready to go.
They represent "core" or "ground zero" structural concepts.
As I faced the possibility of transitioning from an instrumentalist to having the opportunity to take the full responsibility of embarking on creative and business initiative that would result in tangible output, you know that output will be judged to some degree.
"Throwing it out there into the Universe" has many emotional and character components attached to the act. One of them is courage.
You can not give a tumbling fuck about what people think about your "output", but if you are working in the arena of "Popular Art", its probably a good idea not to ignore the word "popular" either, especially where the "business" side is concerned.
That isn't to say that you have to be guided by popular trends as you make your own "Gumbo". If you get caught in that trap, you're already behind the eightball.
You just burned your roux if you position yourself as a dedicated follower of fashion.
You can shoot for "Elvis" or aim for "Fabian". There is a quantifiable and qualitative difference, and that choice is not without consequence. The measuring stick is just how much bravery you bring to the table as much as how much creative juice you may think you have to offer.
The goal is to stay true to core elemental concepts, and hopefully go way beyond the trend and set it. Raise the bar and obliterate the bell curve as you find the right escape velocity to create a large distance between what you produce from constraints of "the muck of mediocrity".
As I sat in my apartment on Winton Street in 1991 with my entire existence crashing and burning down around my ears, I knew one thing. If I was really serious about taking this on, and all it represented: Creating a "Gumbo" and assuming the full responsibility of making it, I knew in my gut brain that it was "go big or go home" time.
What ever I was going to end up with, it was going to have to stand up against "The Test Of Time".
It was my first and very possibly, my last shot at it; my feeling at the time was that I had better make it count.
You got nuthin' to lose if you got nuthin' left to lose.
This core concept, was going to be part of my "Holy Trinity". It was the first one recognized, and directly relates to the training I received in my tenure in a band called The Works, from the mind of my tutor and mentor of seven years, Ed Hamell.
THE 7 YEAR CAR RIDE: 1981-1988
When I first joined forces with Ed, his first move was to throw a pile of LP's at me to digest immediately. I had already digested most of them. I wouldn't have been in position to be asked to join the band if I hadn't to some degree, but certainly there were mutually recognized holes in my game and knowledge base.
All of those recordings were not only cherry picked by Ed because of what they represented stylistically. These records weren't based on obtuse esoterica to hide a sphere of influence, but on popularity and their place in the world wide musical, and primarily (but not exclusively), rock and roll zeitgeist.
There was only one true benchmark. All of them would stand the test of time, or had already done so. Either that, or would eventually prove to be of timely cultural significance.
I'm not going to go into a long list here. That's up for you to compile and find for yourself if you want to explore that concept. You are in fact, what you eat.
This I can say though: through thousands of hours of car rides, and thousands of hours spent listening, excavating information, reading books, and rooting out anecdotal stories, hundreds of records were deconstructed down to core elements.
The were dissected not only by their overall structure; Art work and graphic design, genre, concept (if any) or conceptual narrative elements, pacing, song structure and structural elements, hooks, instrumentation, arrangements, spheres of influence, production techniques and lyrics syllable by syllable.
Entire careers got disassembled and reassembled to figure out how the watches actually ticked. Who was the producer? Who was the engineer? Where was it recorded? What was the technology available at the time of recording? Who was the manager, and how was that career stewarded? Who signed them? What Label? Who broke them on the radio, and how? How was the team assembled, and how could we find out the backstory on every last one of them?
What was the cultural climate at the time of impact? What was sheer dumb luck, and what was brilliant design?
This was pre-internet days, peep-a-roos. There were no "Search Engines". There was no Wikipedia, and no YouTube to go to. If you really wanted to know this stuff, you had to really commit to finding it out, by any means at your disposal.
These were also the days when Rock and Roll journalism actually meant something. Ed required that you know just as much about Lester Bangs as you did about The Beatles.
Everybody from Al Jolson to N.W.A. got put under that microscope. Top 100 "All Time" lists were debated vociferously. One of my favorite exercises was the "Career and Output" face off. Madonna or Bowie? Go! Little Richard or Chuck Berry? Go! Springsteen or Dylan? Go! Andrew Loog Oldham or Brian Epstein? Go! The Clash or The Pistols...and Where Do The Replacements fit in? Go! Brian Wilson or George Martin? Go! Roy Thomas Baker or Mutt Lange? Go! Prince or Michael Jackson? Go! "Exile on Main Street" or "Sticky Fingers"? Go! Sam Phillips or Leonard Chess? Go! Lou Reed or Iggy Pop? Go! Dick Clark or Don Kirschner? Go! Berry Gordy or Thom Bell? Go! Lenny Bruce or Richard Pryor? Go! Robert Johnson or Muddy Waters? Go! Johnny Cash or Hank Williams? Go! Jerry Lee or Elvis? Go!
This went on for seven years, and it was like going to a Master's Program of Rock and Roll, Songwriting, Career Management, Street Fighting, The American History of Humor, Criminology, Sociology, World History, Industrial and Technological History, Military Planning and Theory, Advanced Poetry and Literature, Media History, Advanced Marketing and Economics all rolled into one, every time that extensively touring car door opened and I set my foot in it.
Crossing intellectual swords with Ed was like stepping willingly into a running Waring Blender set permanently on "Puree".
These debates could get very heated, but in the end, it hardened and cured your knowledge base like carbonized steel.
We were unified as one, however. Brothers in arms, shoulder to shoulder in the same foxhole, discovering the conceptual strategies in all areas, deployed in the past and present. Hopefully in that process, we would find a unique mixture; one of our own for a common purpose aimed at a collective future.
We wanted to make history.
Or rather he did, and I willingly enlisted myself under his leadership and guidance.
No matter how arcane a factoid was or how it came to light, all of that knowledge had to answer to that one parameter and be housed under a singular umbrella of a concept.
The Test of Time.
In the end, as I look at The Works retrospectively, the band basically went through four phases in the time I was a member; A Springsteenian start, a Clash like turn to the left, a more current for the times 80's English Glam sensibility due to personnel changes and the influence of MTV and emphasis on visual information, and sort of petering out with a more punkish direction and ultimate vision of Ed's that the band, at that time, had difficulty in tacking to and following.
That last turn, due to the economic and sheer physical grind that The Works represented and the fact that we all were growing up and developing diverging strategies on how to acheive the common end goals, was probably one of the main factors for Ed to decide to close the final curtain down on that particular project.
We thought we were pretty slick, but all of those transitions seem a bit sophomoric and forced today. We were young, and we were learning the trade, trying to run through identifiable shapes, "periods" and image changes, and keeping the music and presentation fresh over a grueling seven year period; following the chameleon template defined by Picasso and The Beatles, refined by David Bowie and Neil Young, and copied rather ham-fistedly but quite successfully by Madonna.
That's an over-simplification, but you get the general idea. Cut us some slack. We were kids. We may have been miles ahead of the curve for the provinces, but for the world stage, we were a little behind that eightball.
We built a loyal and supportive tribe. We made some great music. We had a blast has we lived a very low rent bohemian, yet truly Bacchanalian lifestyle, and made great friends. We were downright inspiring to many folks. We walked the walk as we talked the talk, and paid the price dearly for doing so.
And personally, I walked out with the education of a lifetime. I'm proud of every note I ever played in that band and what those notes represented, under the guidance and tutelage of Ed.
Ed was on the right track, however, and has spent the years since refining that original knowledge base and the implementation of it for his following and very successful solo project, "Hamell on Trial". Unencumbered by the constraints of having to deal with other humans in a band and everything else that goes with that, he was able to make calibrations and changes much more nimbly, as he continued to hone and pressurize his coal into his own personal vision of what a diamond should be.
Just as my treasured friend and teacher had done, when my turn at bat came up, all that I had learned was going to be deployed somehow.
In search of my own personal statement and spin on the "Holy Trinity" of a future creative "Gumbo", one thing was certain.
"The Test Of Time" was going to be my onion. I didn't know exactly how that would exactly manifest itself, but it was going to be there. All I had to do was discover it.
(Stay Tuned For Part 5: Finding The Authentic Onion)
All Dosages will eventually connect, for those that are following the entire cycle.
For those that aren't, here's one quick recommended read concerning Ed Hamell and just one of many of the lessons I learned from him:
033.) "On Rhetorical Devices, Influences, and Making Art "Popular": The use of rhetoric as a velvet rope and associative strategy 1981-2011
Also if you'd like to learn more about "Hamell On Trial", here's his web address:
I also highly recommend his interesting take on his "Works" days, which can be found here:
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"You may shoot for the stars and end up in a back alley behind Pluto, beaten and bloodied, but at least I dare to dream, and that’s better than being Earthbound, mired in the muck of mediocrity.
I judge my forward progress and success by the crushingly epic nature of my failures.
The more epic the crash, the more I’m convinced I must be doing something right"
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