Sunday, February 5, 2006
Never Going Back Again
I'm a bit obsessed with Lindsey Buckingham lately. Tho they were popular when I was in high school in the late '70s, I never paid much attention to Fleetwood Mac until recently (I guess I did own "Rumours" in LP format back before the Civil War). But their popularity being what it was, and with my interest in music, I ended up being very familiar with everything they did that got even a little radio play even when I didn't pay particular attention. And a few of their songs had kind of lodged themselves in my enthusiasm when I wasn't looking, apparently.
Some 20+ years later--a couple years back now--I bought a 2-CD compilation of Fleetwood Mac's greatest hits on a whim and began paying a bit closer attention. It's easy to sit down and focus on something already familiar to one, and it's a joy for me to find things like this that bear close scrutiny. So often I'll run across a song on the radio from this time period--one I had forgotten about--and I'll have a flood of nostalgia and an immediate temptation to jump online and buy it. But even before the song is over I find myself sated and my memory refreshed as to why I didn't own the tune already. I'm good for another decade or two.
Well, tastes change, and our sensibilities evolve, and sometimes things have slipped thru the cracks which we might, on second thought, have rather retained. Anyway, here I was listening anew to an old group. And what I discovered, like a revelation, was that it's really only the songs of Lindsey Buckingham that get under my skin.
More specifically, though I like his writing best as well, I'm really taken by his guitar playing. On the FM recordings the acoustic and semi-acoustic parts are complex and self-contained, sounding much more detailed than the more typical guitar-army approach of a soaring monody of the lead rock guitar part supported by one or more strumming rhythm players. (There are exceptions to this, I know, in people like Paul Simon and Leo Kottke and Adrian Legg and John Mayer and even some of the amazing stuff by Eddie van Halen; but it's still the template which most acts follow.) Whatever he may lack in what we usually look for in a lead guitar god, he more than makes up for it in musical substance at his instrument. Even if he were overdubbing with himself, I reasoned, it's still a more complex, piano-like approach to the instrument, which is a good thing to my interests.
Having focused in a bit on this discovery--I tend to be a bit obsessive about musical matters--I purchased a DVD of their live quasi-reunification performance from 1997 called "The Dance," so I could watch them play. And I was amazed to continue my little revelatory musical discovery as I watched his playing up close. The first impression is that he looks quite unschooled, with a technique that seems entirely self-taught. And that would not necessarily be an asset if what he was playing was not so damned interesting. But he uses his right hand in very unorthodox fashion--thumb and three fingers, no picks, lead melodies strummed backward with his middle fingernail--and I was a little surprised to see that what I thought might be overdubbed was, by way of this unorthodoxy, played completely live. And he typically sings over the top, usually without dumbing the playing down. Now, it's no great thing to hear of a self-taught musician, and if there's a lesson I've learned again and again it's that a good musical ear is about 60% genetic (or more) and there are very, very talented people everywhere whom nobody seems ever to have heard. And rock & roll is the ultimate avenue for nonconformists and individual geniuses. But in my experience Buckingham occupies his own space. With this odd picking style which is part bluegrass and part ragtime and part lead guitar and part rhythm guitar, he is not made of the usual stuff. It doesn't hurt that he seems to exude the aura of an eccentric genius.
I ran past BrianAlt a couple weeks ago the question of whether there were other people like Buckingham whose guitar playing I ought to pay attention to, and nobody came immediately to mind to him. And so I'm happy to run the question past a larger audience (by a factor of two or three) and see what the net scoops up. I read somewhere that he taught himself in an attempt to imitate the playing of the Kingston Trio, a group with whom I'm totally unfamiliar except by name, so that's a good place to start.
Comments are most welcome!