Saturday, May 4, 2013

No. 397 – Music Must Change

Performer: The Who
Songwriter: Pete Townshend
Original Release: Who Are You
Year: 1978
Definitive Version: The Who, 1979

By my junior year at Wabash, Scott seemed to have a new bootleg every other month, which meant I had a new bootleg tape every other month. That’s how I found this song.

My sophomore year in Dr. Herzog’s house was the first time I had to fend for myself in the kitchen to make my own meals. Usually, that meant a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese (three for a buck back then).

When I moved in with Brian and Todd my junior year, dinner became more of a production. I brought only one recipe to the table: steak supreme. Beth taught me the recipe, and I loved it. It’s simple: slice round steak into bite-size strips, brown it, brown sliced onion in the same pan, toss in a can of mushrooms and mix the liquid from the mushrooms and cream of mushroom soup, add that and cook. Serve over rice or pasta. I still make it with a few slight variations (most important, fresh mushrooms).

Brian and Todd, who were more creative in the kitchen. They got that way from their year of study abroad in Germany and Austria. In fact, Brian brought back a spaetzle grate. You made the batter, put the grate over the pot of boiling water and just zipped the grate back and forth. The spaetzle would drop into the pot and cook in minutes. I began to use that for my steak supreme.

More important, Brian introduced me to my favorite recipe--spaghetti. Brian’s recipe was ground beef, browned; bacon, cut up in small pieces and fried; mushrooms cut into quarters; onions cut into quarters and tomato sauce—mix and simmer for an hour.

I started to make it regularly that year, but I began to change it up within a year—doubled the sauce per a suggestion of Beth, ditched the onions, later added fresh garlic, basil and oregano and, voila, you have Spaghetti a la Will. Matt loved it the next year. It was the first thing I made for Debbie, and the night I made it in my German Village apartment might have been the best I ever made it. I make it every year for the posse up in Wisconsin; in fact, it’s all but required.

I’m an OK cook now. I can follow a recipe, and I have about two dozen solid recipes in my back pocket—most stolen from other sources, but a couple originals. I wasn’t much of a cook my junior year, but that was when I really started to become one.

It also was the year when my music changed a bit. I don’t know where else to bring this up, so I’ll do so here. One night that year I was watching The Tonight Show, and he had this thin, young, black guitar player on. I’d never heard of him before. His name was Stanley Jordan.

As I sat in the Sixties style pea-green living room watching on the small color TV I contributed to the house, Stanely Jordan played the jazz standard Nature Boy, solo—all by tapping his guitar, like Eddie Van Halen if he used that style for an entire song. I had never seen anything like it, and it was so astonishing that the next time I talked with Mom on the phone, we talked about Stanley Jordan. Did you see that? Wasn’t that unbelievable?

I became a huge fan. For the next decade, I bought pretty much every Stanley Jordan album that came out, even when they started to get a bit redundant in the early Nineties. For my 23rd birthday, Scott bought tickets to see Stanley Jordan. Well, really it was for Kenny G. Stanley Jordan was the warmup act. It was amazing. It was just him, playing solo, and you could have heard a pin drop on stage it was so quiet as people just shut up and stared bug-eyed.

Or maybe that was just me. On his first album, Magic Touch, there’s a disclaimer about how what you think you’re hearing is two guitars is really just one. I said to Mom after the show, Stanley Jordan cheats. He DOES play two guitars … AT THE SAME TIME.

I kid you not. He had one strapped on and another on a stand, both tuned differently. He’d play the rhythm on the one over his shoulder and lead on the one on the stand. Scott made a bootleg tape of that show. It’s really tinny sounding, but I used to listen to it all the time. At one point, you can hear me mutter “oh God” in complete reverence and disbelief.

Then, in 1994, Stanley Jordan vanished for a long time to make spiritual music. He’s back to playing jazz now, but I loved how he seemingly pulled down the curtain on his jazz career.

His most recent albums used increasingly more musicians. He even used vocalists on his “farewell” album, Bolero. But the final song on Bolero--seemingly the final song of his jazz career—was a reprise version of Always and Forever that was just him and his guitar, just like how it was my junior year at Wabash. Music must change, and that perfectly closed one door while opening another.

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