Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

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Art, Preservation and the Universal Fire

In the finale of Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451, society is left to rebuild after a nuclear explosion, and each survivor is asked to recall a piece of literature so that it might live on.  I’ve thought about this often since Jody Rosen’s remarkable article “The Day the Music Burned” first appeared in the New York Times last June.  The story provides an in-depth summary of a 2008 warehouse fire at Universal Music which destroyed between 120,000 and 175,000 master tapes of some of the most important music ever recorded. (If you haven’t read it, I urge you to do so – it’s amazing, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking.  I also recommend listening to episode #709 of the music podcast Sound Opinions in which hosts Jim DeRogotis and Greg Kot interview Rosen). 

I won’t summarize much of the article, except to say that the treasure trove of lost recordings can hardly be overstated.  We’re talking about masters from Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Count Basie, Patsy Cline, Chuck Berry, Bo Didley, John Lee Hooker, Etta James, Muddy Waters, John Coltrane, Buddy Holly, Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Joni Mitchell, Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Patti Labelle, Tom Petty, The Police, Sting, REM, Janet Jackson, Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana, No Doubt, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Beck, Sheryl Crow, Tupac Shakur, Eminem, and on and on and on.  Rosen concludes, “…in historical terms, the dimension of the catastrophe is staggering” and that “it was the biggest disaster in the history of the music business.”

I certainly won’t argue that this was indeed a catastrophe, but I think it leads to some provocative questions about the transitory nature of human creations, whether preserving what we create is important, and exactly what preservation means.

Today, we humans leave behind records of our lives like no other generation in human history.  For most of man’s existence, lives were lived and then ended, leaving little behind except for offspring whose descendants now roam the Earth.  Just think of how many people have lived on our planet for whom no trace remains! But now we humans are often obsessed with making our mark and preserving that mark – no matter how meager it may be – for generations to come.  But the reality is this: 1) nothing lasts forever; 2) not everything we create deserves to be preserved; and 3) much can be preserved in a form that’s different from what we’d prefer.

1)      Although we work hard to archive our creations like documents, photographs, home movies and audio recordings, even going so far as to store originals in one location and keep digital copies in another, these are only delaying the inevitable. Not only are tapes, photographs, and documents mortal, but – as Rosen states – so are digital recordings.  As part of an effort to thwart future catastrophes like the Universal fire, many masters are now kept on hard drives, but they may no longer function properly after decades in a vault.  We humans can do our best to preserve our history, but when it comes to photos, video and audio, as of now we have no permanent way to do so.  All we can do is preserve things for as long as possible.  I’m all for doing this.  In fact, I’ve spent a great deal of time tracing my family history, digitizing photos and videos, copying artifacts, etc., so I am by no means immune to the idea of preservation or the potential value it holds, but I’m also not fooling myself into thinking that somehow these efforts make me immortal.

2)     We can’t preserve everything, and we should naturally focus on the most impactful creations.  You may choose to digitize a copy of your grandparents’ wedding photo, for example, but not the photo your baby sister took that only reveals that backs of their heads.  Similarly, with regard to music, one can imagine exerting more effort archiving the works of The Beatles than those of Pat Boone.  But Rosen makes a counterargument:  sometimes we don’t know what art is impactful for years to come.  An artist may not make resonate until his or her work is discovered years later (he gives examples of artists like The Velvet Underground or Nick Drake). 

True enough.  But goodness, choices to have to be made.  Can you imagine if libraries had to house every single book published in the past century in the hopes that someone somewhere will check out an obscure romance novel from 1965?  And maybe, just maybe, over time we’ll come to learn that this particular romance novel actual has merit?  At some point, institutions have to make decisions to let certain things go.  All of us do.  My father is currently making the difficult decision to discard much of his life’s work as a marketing researcher.  He’s got binder after binder stored in filing cabinets in his basement, and while it’s possible that within these hundreds of work assignments there might be something important to note for posterity or even for mankind, is he to die having kept all of his life’s work for his children to manage?  And as his child, is it incumbent upon me to keep it all for the remainder of my life?  I think not.  Some of what we create is going to get lost along the way.  And that’s okay.

 3)     It’s important to note that even without originals, art can survive.  This is easiest with literature, which is why I’ve been thinking of Ray Bradbury’s book recently.  We don’t have the original Torah, Koran or New Testament, but we still have the words, and that’s far more valuable than a first edition (as cool as that would be).  With literature, it isn’t so important if the originals are burned, as mildly tragic as that might be, because literature isn’t a performance.  Copies can easily be recreated.  I argued nine years ago that with the advent of on-line books and the ability to backup entire catalogs of writings onto a thumb drive, censorship is no longer a threat.  Every physical book in the world could be destroyed, and yet nearly every book in the world would remain accessible, a fact that provides a small bright flame of hope in a world that’s recently devolved in so many ways. 

But while one could argue that literature is safe from harm, art and music aren’t as secure, because performances can’t be copied easily (even a painting or sculpture is an example of a performance).  I just read the memoir of playwright Neil Simon, and he talks about many of the amazing stagings of his plays with performances from Walter Matthau, Art Carney, Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashely.  None of these performances exist.  We can’t go back and relive the debut of Barefoot in the Park, because theater performances are ephemeral, just as they have been throughout most of humankind’s history.  But we still have the plays.  We can stage them at a local theater and enjoy them all over again, perhaps not exactly as they were originally intended, but viewed through our own lenses.

Similarly, while we may not have any recordings of Mozart playing the piano or of Beethoven’s works being performed live for the first time, their music still remains.  All you need is a score, and music can be recreated, perhaps not exactly as originally performed, but still providing a lasting legacy that can be reinterpreted by humankind for centuries to come.

Much of the recorded music that we’ve lost or will one day lose can be preserved in much the same way.  Even if recordings are ultimately eliminated, scores will remain, keeping some music alive.  Recordings for which studio gadgets were an important factor will have more difficultly being passed down than a piece of music that stands on its own merits of melody and harmony.  For example, it would be hard to argue that a song like “Yesterday” wouldn’t last even if the only remnant of it was a copy of sheet music (I haven’t seen the movie Yesterday, but I believe the movie indirectly makes this claim).  But a song like “I am the Walrus” or “A Day in the Life” would be harder for future generations to interpret because for these songs the studio was as important as the composition itself.  The recordings were, in effect, performances, and while all performances are subject to decay, those that rely on something other than melody, harmony and lyrics are especially subject to the dustbin of history.

Similarly, a reading of the screenplay to The Godfather might be very fulfilling in the hands of a gifted actor, and one could imagine a revised version of Fahrenheit 451 in which various survivors are asked to retell a movie that they’ve seen for which no known copies remain, but it certainly wouldn’t be the same as watching the original movie.

But that’s the reality we live with.  Our lives are fleeting, and while some of our creations will last longer than others, ultimately all of them are subject to the words of Ecclesiastes, the book that the character Montag is earmarked to preserve in Fahrenheit 451:

There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.

Scoring the film "Preheated"

My daughter Sarah’s animated short “Preheated,” which she collaborated on with classmate Luke Snedecor, currently has over 1.7 million hits on YouTube, which means that my film score has now been heard over 1,699,000 times more frequently than all of my other original compositions combined.  That’s the power of getting behind the right project!

Composing my first score was a challenge, and it’s the existence of digital recording that made it even remotely possible.  How the old-timers Franz Waxman, Bernard Hermann and the like were able to compose and record amazing scores for live orchestras, all within tight budgets and timelines, is mind-boggling.  I simply don’t understand how they did it.  The advent of soft synths and sequencers has opened up the world of scoring to countless composers who may not even know how to play an instrument, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy process, at least not for a newbie; the six minutes of music for “Preheated” took me about three months to compose and record.

Part of the challenge was getting up to speed on four new pieces of software: the new version of Cakewalk (now free!) by BandLab, Native Instrument’s Komplete 11, Passion Flute by Orange Tree Samples, and ProjectSam’s Swing More.  Sarah, Luke and I had all agreed that the score should incorporate jazzy and big-band elements, so the latter two pieces of software really came in handy, though I learned quickly that even really good software has its limitations.  I sometimes wanted more punch from the trumpets and I had to find workarounds to get the sounds I wanted, but Swing More provided me with a great pallet to choose from, and I was particularly happy with the Dixieland music for the film’s end credits.  Passion Flute was perfect for this project – very easy to use and it responded just the way I needed.

Another challenge was timing.  Sarah and Luke needed every minute of available time to complete the movie, so the final rendering of the film wouldn’t be available until just a few days prior to its debut on May 9th.  I clearly needed to start composing well in advance of this deadline, and this fact led to a lot of editing, as I’d complete a section of music only to find that timing had shifted or had been extended or condensed.  New music had to be created or deleted quickly when three or four seconds were added to or subtracted from the film late in the game. 

The one bit of software that didn’t cut it were the lead string instruments.  Soft synths manage to provide fairly realistic wind instruments sounds, but the expressiveness of viola and violin are really difficult to emulate on a computer, so my friend Uli Widmaier brought over his instruments, spent an hour recording his parts, and we inserted the real thing for a much better product.

Overall, scoring for film was a hell of a lot of fun, and I’m generally pleased with the final result.  I’m even more pleased with the way the film turned out and the wonderful response its garnered.  It’ll be neat to see where the careers of Luke and Sarah lead and whether this short film will one day be looked back on as the beginning of something special.

 Shortly after “Preheated” was made available online, I received an email from a high school music student asking me to describe the process of scoring “Preheated” for her class project.  In case you’re interested, some of my response follows:

I saw the original storyboards for “Preheated” as far back as last fall, and this led me to first compose the film’s climax, the moving theme in 3/4 when the father and boy work together to light the candle.  I incorporated the same theme for the end credits, but switched to a Dixieland band and changed the timing to 4/4 and modulated the key to give it a fun, bouncy lift.

From there I tackled the beginning motif, which then helped guide the rest of the score.  Luke and Sarah decided that the clarinet should more or less represent the boy, and the violin and viola more or less represent the father.  For the first 30 seconds or so, I established an easy-going introductory tune that includes a 7-note motif that’s used throughout the score:  G G# E D E D C#, first with violin in the opening segment, and then with clarinet as the boy comes into full view.

When the downtrodden father enters the frame, the viola begins with an entirely different theme: a weepy, melodramatic tune to represent melancholy, but the 7-note clarinet motif comes into play when the boy tries to get his father's attention, and once again at the end of the section, this time with piano.  None of the other melodies in the section appear again because this is the only section of the film that has a melancholy feel.

When the boy has an idea to make a big birthday celebration, the music picks up into a sort of flute/big-band Latin piece, but because the boy is constantly met with obstacles, the music has to break rhythm regularly.  These were the most difficult sections for me.  For instance, the curiosity at 0:32 conveyed with pizzicato strings, the curiosity at 1:35 expressed with bass and flute primarily, or the confusion conveyed at 2:30 with piano and bass.  These little transitional pieces of music were challenging.  The main sections were much easier.

The "spooky music" section at 1:57 was originally overdone, and I threw in the 7-note theme again – this time with flute – just to keep the audience grounded.  This isn't a horror film after all, and we wanted to keep things anchored in playfulness.

As the boy realizes his predicament, the tempo increases and the instrumentation gets slightly more complicated to increase the tension as he opens the refrigerator and scrounges for something to cool off his hands, once again using a variation of the 7-note them from before, and culminating in a diminished 7th chord run as he struggles to figure out where to put the melted butter.  The piano does a sort of "ah ha!" moment as he discovers that the recipe calls for melted butter, and then again as he sees the melted butter in the bowl.

The boy seems back on track!  I returned to the fun Latin big-band motif, but the boy immediately hits another barrier, ending the music abruptly, and I used an aggressive flute sound to depict frustration (and to add a dose of comedy).  Once again the boy needs to think for a moment, so I composed a quick flute and piano section, playing a sort of flat 2 diminished 7 interval that resolves to the one chord, a phrase that will be used again when the father walks in to see the mess.

Instead of going back to the same Latin big-band theme, I kept the same feel but changed the melody, altered the time signature to 6/4 and made the acoustic guitar the lead instrument.  I can't say why I decided on this except it kept things from getting too repetitive, and the 6/4 rhythm gave it a sort of unsettled feel, like the boy was going to really have to focus to overcome his obstacles.  Even when he hits barriers within this section, I kept the rhythm going to keep the music from having too much of a start/stop start/stop pattern.

As the boy proceeds, things become more hectic and loud, with a few modulations until the boy achieves his goal of making the cake, and then halts abruptly as the father comes back in the room.  The sheepish looking boy is supported by the same 7-note motif with clarinet.  The father's anger is conveyed with the same flat 2 diminished 7 motif discussed a few paragraphs ago.

So there you are!I hope I get another change to score for film one day, and with any luck, it will once again be for my daughter’s creation.Thanks Sarah and Luke for the opportunity

Paul Carrack's Amazing Feat

Here’s one for you music trivia buffs:  can you name a singer who performed lead vocals on hits with four different musical acts?  If you read the title of this post, you can!  Paul Carrack may not be a household name, but he achieved this amazing feat in the span of a decade and a half all while flying somewhat under the radar and gaining the respect of his peers for his outstanding musicianship.

As part of my effort this summer to fill in some of my many musical blind spots, I’ve been listening to songs I’d forgotten about over the years, or songs I knew only by title but not by artist.  Part of this search exhumed the hit “How Long” by Ace, composed and sung by Paul Carrack – a great tune that’s still played from time to time on the radio.  I knew nothing about the band, but after looking them up and digging around a bit, it didn’t take long to find a short interview with Carrack, the introduction of which contained a stunning revelation: that Carrack had not only sung the Ace hit but had also sung lead on Squeeze’s radio mainstay “Tempted,” the Mike + the Mechanics hits “Silent Running” and “The Living Years,” and a solo song I’d forgotten about (and that currently isn’t available on Spotify), “Don’t Shed a Tear.”  That’s five hits with four different musical acts.  Added to this impressive repertoire are stints with Roxy Music (he played keys on my favorite Roxy album, Manifesto), Clapton, Roger Waters, plus over fifteen solo albums, and you wind up with an amazing lifelong musical career that wasn’t consumed by the pitfalls of fame.  If I had to write my own ticket, a life like Carrack’s would have to be in the running.

I’ve searched a bit online and paged through my Billboard book of hits, and as far as I can tell there aren’t any singers who have matched Carrack’s feat.  I thought Steve Winwood, Paul Rodgers or Eric Clapton may have matched the achievement, but unless I’m missing something, none of them did despite reaching a level of fame that far exceeds Carrack’s. 

Hits with four different acts.  Add this little nugget to feed the souls of music nerds everywhere.  All hail, Paul Carrack!

Record Night Returns: the Recently Departed

Music fans everywhere have been ruminating for a while about how difficult these next twenty years are going to be, as our rock and roll heroes leave Planet Earth just in time to avoid the developing catastrophe that will be the latter half of the 21st Century.  But upon further reflection, we really don’t have to wait to feel the pain because the last decade has already been rough.  I hadn’t realized the extent to which we’ve lost our musical brothers and sisters until last week, when Record Night festivities resumed at the Wall of Sound in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.  A dubious crew gathered to honor those artists who died within the last decade.  Songs were celebrated, drinks were consumed, and mistakes were made, as noted below.  But even avoiding the obvious casualties – Michael Jackson, David Bowie, George Michael and Tom Petty (until the very last song) – there were a staggering number to choose from.  True, we reached pretty deep with some of these, but that’s what makes these types of outings fulfilling. 

Without further ado, celebrate with us as we pay homage to the recently departed.  My apologies for any errors.

Southern Nights – a twofer tribute of singer Glen Campbell and songwriter Allen Toussaint.  We also played a bit of God Only Knows, which was unfortunate
Massachusetts – Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees
Glory Days – Clarence Clemons of the E. Street Band (though, sadly, no saxophone on this song!)
Fool for the City – Craig MacGregor of Foghat
Drown in my Own Tears – Pat Dinizio of The Smithereens
It’s the Singer Not the Song – Jimmy Jamison of Survivor
I Was a Teenage Werewolf – a twofer of Lux Interior of the Cramps and producer Alex Chilton
Beyond Belief – producer Geoff Emerick for this Elvis Costello and the Attractions song
Starrider – Ed Gagliardi of Foreigner
Dreams/Zombie – Dolores O’Riordin of The Cranberries

It should be noted that in the midst of these record selections, one could hear Kevin uttering while checking Google, “That sucks!  I thought he was dead!”  Such is the competitiveness of song selections on record night.

Peaceful Easy Feeling – Glenn Frey of The Eagles
Home and Dry – Gerry Rafferty

This has been my favorite song for the past two weeks.  I’ve played it perhaps twenty times and figured out the unusual chord pattern on the piano.

Creep – Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots
Thank You For Being a Friend – Andrew Gold
Say It Isn’t So – John Spinks of The Outfield
The Cover of Rolling Stone – Ray Sawyer of Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show
Touch and Go – a twofer of Keith Emerson and Greg Lake of – in this case – Emerson, Lake and Powell
Knocking at Your Back Door – Jon Lord of Deep Purple
Burning Bright – Roger Ranken of General Public
20th Century – Shawn Smith of Brad
Saturday Night – Alan Longmuir of Bay City Rollers
Looking Around – a twofer of Peter Banks and Chris Squire of Yes
Love at First Feel – Malcom Young of AC/DC
God Only Knows (again!) – this time with Daryl Dragon of Captain & Tennille
Snortin’ Whiskey/Boom, Boom – Pat Travers
Call Me a Dog – Chris Cornell
Flying Cowboys – producer Walter Becker for Rickie Lee Jones
Livin’ Thing – Mike Edwards of ELO
Queen of the Night – Whitney Houston
Be Like That – Matt Roberts of Three Doors Down
People are Strange – Ray Manzarek of The Doors
Think – Aretha Franklin
Might Mighty – Morris White of Earth, Wind & Fire
Ride My Seesaw – Ray Thomas of The Moody Blues
I Go Crazy – Nick Marsh of Flesh for Lulu
In the Dead of Night (Presto, Vivace and Reprise) – a twofer of Allan Holdsworth and John Wetton of UK
I Can Feel Your Heartbeat – David Cassidy

Note: Paul thought it was 10cc!

To Be With You – Pat Torpey of Mr. Big
Getting Closer – producer Phil Ramone for Billy Joel, who was playing not 30 minutes away at Miller Park
Space Station #5 – Ronnie Montrose of Montrose
Jammin’ Me – Tom Petty

That was all we had time for, but there were others we could have chosen, most notably the aforementioned superstars, but I was ready to go with George Martin productions, songs co-written by Jerry Lieber, Chuck Berry, etc. were it not for a two hour drive home awaiting me.

There will be more heroes to fall, as there must be.  Hang on tight, music fans.  It’s going to be a rough ride.

Joe Jackson at Thalia Hall (again)

Joe Jackson has been busy lately.  After not one, not two, but three tours supporting his very strong 2012 release, Fast Forward, he immediately took his band consisting of bassist Graham Maby, drummer Doug Yowell and guitarist Teddy Kumpel to a studio in Boise, Idaho (the location of last summer’s final show), and quickly recorded an eight-track album called Fool.  It too is strong, and at last night’s return to the fabulous Thalia Hall in Pilsen, Chicago, he and his band played five tracks from the album along with a selection of other songs spanning four decades to an enthusiastic sold-out audience.

To commemorate Jackson’s forty years in the industry and to mix things up a bit from his previous tours, the band highlighted tracks from four other albums from four different decades, though two of them were way too predictable: Look Sharp from the 70s, Night and Day from the 80s (those are the predictable ones), Laughter and Lust from the 90s and Rain from the 00s.  It’s these latter two along with the six newer tracks (one from Fast Forward) that made the evening interesting, along with a rendition of “Steppin’ Out” that mimicked the original recording to perfection, including a glockenspiel and Jackson’s Boss DR-55 drum machine whose “club beat” was used in the original.

All of the musicians were excellent and given various moments to shine, though Jackson took more solos than I remember from previous concerts, including one from his once-ubiquitous melodica.  But it was drummer Doug Yowell’s high energy performance who really sole the show.  Animated, forceful and dexterous, Yowell blew me away with the beginning of one of my favorites, “Another World,” when he managed to play the drum beat and accompanying cowbell and timbale beat simultaneously.  My drummer son and I turned to each other with mouths agape.

The biggest surprise of the evening was the final track from 1991’s Laughter and Lust, the moody tune of resignation to love, “Drowned,” along with the opening – and closer! – “Alchemy” from Fool.  That’s right, Jackson both opened and closed with the same song under dim, red lights.  I loved it, if only because it meant that we didn’t have to hear the band end with “Slow Song” again as they had repeatedly since 2000.  Adding “I’m the Man,” “Got the Time,” and Steely Dan’s “King of the World” were welcome crowd-pleasers near the evening’s end, and the new song, “Fool,” was among the most exciting songs of the night.  Jackson pointed out that it is sometime the fool – or jester – who makes life sane (“If you lose your sense of humor, you’re fucked.”) and the song’s playfulness seemed contagious to the four musicians on stage.

All in all it was a great concert.  Jackson continues to use an iPad teleprompter for his lyrics, which is a little odd for songs that he’s been singing for forty years, but hey, if that’s what the guy has to do to keep touring, then I’m all in. I’ve seen Jackson perform eight times now, and this show ranks in the top three for sure. Keep ‘em coming, Joe!

Copyright, 2017, Paul Heinz, All Right Reserved