Friday, March 15, 2013

Peter Banks (1947 - 2013)

"All that dies, dies for a reason.
To put its strength into the season."
- Survival, Yes

I remember when I bought Yes' "Fragile" album.  I was at the Record Museum store in Audubon, early in 1972.  I had heard Roundabout on the radio and wanted to know what else was going on.  I took the album outside and pried open the shrink-wrap.  This was the day of LPs, and some of them had amazing artwork.  Roger Dean's cover and album artwork is iconic.  I sat and gazed at it.  When I got the record home and listened, a love affair was born.

Forward to September 13, 1972.  Yes released "Close to the Edge," and being the hip 15-year-old that I was, I had read about the album in Circus magazine.  I invaded the Franklin Music store in the Echelon Mall and asked a clerk if they had the album.  It was in a carton of them below the display rack.  They hadn't put them out yet.  I was the first person in Camden County to have the album. Needless to say, my mid-teen aged mind was blown by the record.
Naturally, I started going backward through their catalog.  I discovered their first two records, Yes and Time and a Word.  They had a different lineup than the two I had bought.  Keyboardist Rick Wakeman had replaced Tony Kaye and guitarist Steve Howe had replaced Peter Banks.  When I heard the first two albums I wondered why they would replace a wonderful guitarist like Peter.  Turned out there were creative differences and such.  Regardless, I thought that Peter had a technique that was closer to the music than Steve's. The band was clearly advancing with Howe, but those first two records have a heart about them that they didn't approach in their later work.
If a band was a football team, the bass player is an offensive lineman, the singer is the quarterback, the drummer is the head coach and the guitarist ... the guitarist is the diva wide receiver.  Necessary, but still must be tolerated because the quarterback can't throw the ball to himself.
The guitarist on those first two Yes albums helped define the progressive era.  I heard a colleague once proclaim that all he did was "play scales."  Scales, schmales - he was a master of the instrument and had a way of blending a jazz feel with rock.  All one needs to do is listen to Yes' version of The Beatles' "Every Little Thing" to hear him at his best.  He could make that Rickenbacker guitar sing.
My kiddie mind was again blown by hearing phrases of "Eleanor Rigby," "Norwegian Wood" and "Day Tripper" mixed-in with his introduction solo.  I had never heard anything like him - and still haven't.  Sadly, last Sunday, he left us, but he left behind a glorious legacy of music.
Today, musicians sample and copy stuff and dub it in.  Once upon a time, one had to develop a feel and play to the music.  Yes was so naive that when they went into the studio to record their first record, Bill Bruford didn't know that you could get a separate mix in the headphones. It was 1969.
When he was "kicked out" of Yes, he formed a band called Flash, who recorded four equally beautiful albums and, in my opinion, rivaled anything Yes did in their heyday.  Regardless of whether or not it was recognized by that bastard mainstream, they were great records and heralded the exit of that progressive era that Peter helped form.
His later work was scattered.  A solo record with Jan Akkerman, a strange project called Empire and some session work.  That's him on Lionel Ritchie's "Hello," albeit uncredited.  He said it was merely showing up and playing the solo and leaving.  A day's work.
At least two of his solo records are worthy of a listen.  "Two Sides of Peter Banks" is unfinished, but the first side is classic.  Akkerman was irritated that Peter released it, but the scheme of Capital Records was that it and Flash's "Out of Our Hands" would be released on the same day, so he rushed it. Such was the state of the recording industry in 1973.  His "Instinct" album in 1994 is more good work.
Anyway - when I heard of his death on Sunday, those thoughts flashed [pun] through my mind.  How a young person could be so inspired by someone he doesn't know and develop a love of music because of a few people he would never meet.  There are people like Peter Banks, Jan Akkerman, Bill Bruford, Keith Emerson, Robert Fripp, and Peter Gabriel who had a great influence on me and the aspect of quality.  To the extent that I find it difficult to tolerate much of what passes as music today.
When they die, a bit of me dies with them.  Fortunately, their recordings, and videos like this can remind us of when they were vital young men.
Click here to see them perform "Beyond and Before" in 1969, with some curious camera work.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Supposing ...

I awoke (abruptly) at 3:00am and found myself thinking back to my high school days.  My thoughts drifted to a geometry teacher we had who would start most of his sentences with "Um, supposing..."  And it wasn't the normal 'um' that some of us use when we are trying to connect our thoughts. This um was a major pronouncement - as though he was proclaiming some monumental thought.
Like that.
The thing I remembered was that we used to keep track of the "um's" and the "supposings" with those hand-written roman numeral charts like I suppose Nero used to use when he was deciding who he would throw to the lions [do not research my historical reference]
Those of us who were in the gang would laugh amongst ourselves and gaze knowingly whenever he would say "um" or "supposing," and laugh harder and gaze more staringly when he would use "Um, supposing" in the same sentence.  That was a real holiday for us.
The shame of it is that, with all the geometry he was teaching us, we didn't learn much outside of the ability to count his um's and supposings.  There was no real world value to be had in that, as I learned later in life.
It got me to thinking (as most of this does) that we often overlook the value of the lesson in favor of the absurdity of the act itself. 
Many times we overlook the significance of the act while we are evaluating the method.  Such was the case this week when the Catholics were choosing their new Pope.  Smoke proclaimed whether or not they had found one, when most of us would have just texted a smiley face.
While the election of a new Pope may have no real world value to some of us, most of the value of it was lost in the people who were busy counting the smoke and counting the rings. As usual, we missed the point.
Um, supposing electing a human to run a religion is really pointless?