They Play Solitaire

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9) Getting A Bande à Part together. Et Bien.

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____Troupe, gang, squad… Some kind of seemingly unlikely group… (Henry has recently suggested the name, A Bande à Part — the title of one of his Godard movies — parce qu’ils etaient a Band Of Outsiders, évidemment.) I still have a hard time getting them to tell me how they got together. Nina helps though. I spent some time, here, cutting out the understandable evasions.
____Evasions. It’s obvious that this world is saturated in pointless, celebrity love-and-fame spectacle, but we’re also sadly lacking in alternatives, so when there’s a Galapagos in the neighborhood, we might want to know how everybody landed there. And the evasions keep our ideals safe. You can’t let your heart say anything out loud, because we all know that will blow away all the odor of machismo and all of the pixie dust. We all know, too, where all the soap operas come from and where they go, so where does that leave the desire for jamming; for getting together and making everything but soap operas happen?
____The win-the-lottery, “you can’t get there from here,” myth and mystification of overnight success may have nothing to do with the true history of any band, but with these guys, if they come out of nowhere, it will be a nowhere that’s with them wherever they go; always has been.
____The prospect of musicians jamming can be a lot like the prospect of a plane ride. The plane ride that comes to mind is probably going to be the industrial strength monotony of commercial airliners, but there are obviously lots of other kinds of airplanes. Some of the most interesting ones might not kill you or get you killed. Even low altitude aerial photography could get boring without frequent surprises …and musicians have to do the same. They also have to be listening for the surprises and ready to say, “Yeah, that’s right and there’s this too,” otherwise it isn’t going anywhere.
____Another probable cause in the prospect of jamming is the ever clear and present danger that somebody is going to play something “wrong” or whole huge plumes of “wrong”-ness. It’s nice when you can say, “I didn’t know I was going to do that,” without having stepped in something. It’s just not as likely. To be able to jam and say, “I didn’t know I could do that,” is almost impossible without making friends with the rudest sounds you can imagine, whenever you can. Why not just think of it as a walk in the park? You aren’t going to have to have an ambulance standing by.
____Beyond that then, there’s just the social problem. How did this Bande à Part get together on these tricky prospects? How did they pull it all together without the remotest possibility of getting paid for it and with a thorough disdain for anything gossip-worthy?
____I usually get through all this with La Bande à Part by way of the art and music; chat about ironies, mostly. I get pieces of the puzzle that way. But this time it does involve some boy-meets-girl romance.
____I had been trying to talk to Jack. Michael and Davie are there. Nina is nearby:
____Myself: “You haven’t always worked by spending a lot of time with raw recordings and working them down to things you do live… “
____Micheal: “No.”
____Jack: “But we’ve been passing audio stuff around for a long time, and somebody’s always making video …with crude audio.
____“Way back, Bobby gave me a video of some stuff he did with Nina and the sound was good. Her own stuff. I overdubbed some harmony, like a total straight duet. Not trading off on the lyrics. Surprised her with a copy and we did that back-and-forth for a while.”
____Michael: “The first time Jack saw Nina, she had two heads.”
____It’s true. I’ve since seen the video. Nina is facing the camera over a piano — a black spinet — so her face is inversely symetrical in a reflection on top. There’s a hard light and the background is black. Every move of her head is upside-down and opposite in the reflection. As she tilts her head with what she’s playing, the angle of her two heads goes right and left. Jack’s vocal part is there, but we don’t see him, which is also a little spooky.
____In the video, backing tracks sound Arabic at first; a dirge of violins and electric guitar; drums; then it’s like reggae, simple, with a Saturday-night-to-Sunday-morning Hammond B3. The drums are on the regular downbeat; guitar strokes on the upbeat; the organ doing fills. Nina’s piano is almost inaudible. She’s singing something about everything blowing up out of control and the Arabic sounds she laid on top are back to insinuate something factional, then they’re gone and it’s straight reggae-style. Jack’s doing close harmony with her alto, but mostly down to tenor, now and then dropping to a little-boy baritone for a few notes.
____I tried to nudge Jack toward anything about meeting Nina in person. Eventually, he just just rattled this off: “There was this problem class. A class I was putting off showing up for. I came in just before it ended and sat in the back ’til the bell and after everybody’s out. Went up to the front and asked for the reading list. The teacher says to get it from somebody in the class.”
____Nina comes closer, inserts: “She’s a tough cookie.”
____Jack: “Which is no big problem, because Nina is in the class. But we haven’t actually met yet or I could have saved myself the trouble.”
____Nina: “Uh… I think you may have wanted to meet the teacher… “
____Myself: “Sounds real casual… “
____Nina: “They don’t do much about attendance, except grade us down for each day you miss.”
____Jack: “I’d missed every day ’til that first Friday. Four days.”
____Myself: “What were you up to all that time?”
____Jack: “Mostly sitting in Michael’s van down the street, working out music.”
____Myself: “What? Playing?”
____Jack: “Listening. Mostly our stuff, raw. Looking at video.”
____Myself: “Friday rolls around… “
____Jack: “Yeah. One more day and I take a fail. Can’t make it up until next semester, so it was time to try to just get the reading list.
____“So the teacher glances over my shoulder at somebody behind me.”
____Nina as Teacher: “Kastanis. This boy needs a copy of the reading list. Is he worth a few minutes of your time?”
____Jack: “So I turn around. Before the teacher’s done talking, I’ve been face to face with Nina, who still has no idea it’s me.”
____Nina: “I’d forgotten my scarf. I don’t like to go outside without my hair tied up.”
____Myself: “With just the one head… “
____I get a look of confusion from Jack. He’s uncharacteristically flustered.
____Jack: “No. I mean… “
____From Davie, I get one of his annoying, “Don’t we all know,” smiles.
____Nina jumped in: “I’m thinking, this is some guy from my old school who I don’t remember, but he sure remembers me and he looks like he just got up the courage to tell me that he’s in love with me. Then he says, ‘Hi Nina,’ and I recognize his voice. ‘Jack.’”
____(She doesn’t know. How could she not know?)
____Nina: “Then Jack’s into his host mode and he invited me to a jam with him and Bobby and some others, which I had never done before — jam, that is — or ever wanted to, so I said, “No.’”
____Myself: “But you do now… “
____Nina: “I do now.”
____Myself: “How did you get involved with Bobby?”
____Nina: “Band camp, early summer. I started working with Bobby right away, because he can play anything.”
____I turned back to Jack: “You didn’t go to band camp?” He just held his hands out to the side, palms up.
____Nina: “Jack, he don’t play no school music, mistuh Mo-gan-stern.
____“Up until that point, Jack is just this interesting guy who is going to get badly profiled by people who watch too much TV.”
____Jack: “I’m from Virginia Tech, Colorado… “
____Nina: “…and your name?”
____Jack: “Lee Harvey Kliebold.”
____Myself: “This doesn’t sound like high school. I didn’t see reading list handouts until I was in college and I went to a fairly upscale high school.”
____Nina: “It’s one of the honors English classes.”
____Myself: “Wait. Jack’s slacking, and he… “
____Nina: “It’s still part of the warehousing. Give any seemingly bright kids a chance to ’self select,’ as they say, even if the school doesn’t have the wherewithal or the resources. What does it take to make a list and hope we’ll go to the library and read some crusty standards? The teachers can live with that and the admins have covered their asses. Think how easy the lesson plan is. First week: Read. Write. Second week: Read. Write.”
____Myself: “So most of the class just shows up and waits it out?”
____Nina: “It’s not like they’re telling us to be unproductive… They just can’t imagine any way to make things relevant, so they just hope something will click. Sometimes it does. As usual, they don’t make much effort to find out where we might have some untapped energy. The energy they see makes ‘em nervous, of course.”
____Myself: “Or just weary… “
____Nina: “Most people don’t realize that there are clues in the crusty standards. Like, Shakespeare, in Romeo and Juliet, saying that even after the boy and girl are dead, the adults don’t get it.”
____Myself: “He does?”
____Nina: “Yeah. He gives the patriarchs some pointless things to plan in memorial and then tells us, ‘Go hence and have more talk of these sad things.’”
____Myself: “Maybe they’re standards because they have things that keep them bouncing back from ‘un-cool.’”
____Jack: “Catch the wave… “
____Myself (I don’t know why I wanted to pick on Jack): Read our Shakespeare, have we, Jack?”
____Jack: “Enough.”
____There was a pause here, then Nina jumped in: “Tell me you’ve never seen a couple of people do this. I see musicians do it all the time. Two of them — who will say they are “cutting-edge” — will get an idea going and then gradually talk themselves out of it by agreeing that it won’t go over. And they’ve spent their lives establishing what “won’t go over” means. So even though nobody would necessarily even hear it, they put their hands around its little neck and kill it. Not our Jack.”
____Michael: “It’s not like we’re asking for Russian roulette… “
____Davie: “Or unsafe sex.”
____This gave us a pause. Like we all sensed that, from Davie, this was somehow inappropriate.
____Myself: “Well we won’t blame Jack if the audience doesn’t get it. How about the others? Bobby?”
____Nina: “No… Uh… Yeah. Bobby Too.”

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Written by Kenny Mann

06/18/2007 at 4:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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