Having never had siblings I always feel a little awkward with Elise’s brother. On one hand I completely identify with him, because he’s dragged around to adult-stuff all the time and all he really wants to be doing is reading or playing a video game. On the other, what could some twenty-something year-old have said or done for me to cheer me up on all of those occasions of my youth?
Elise and I brainstorm sometimes about finding him some cool teenagery hobby; she had batted around drumming and web design for a while, but neither really went anywhere. So, imagine our surprise last night when Elise’s mother remarked as we approached her truck, “You’ll have to squeeze into the front; the bass is in the back.” Apparently Elise’s little brother (who, incidentally, is now about as tall as we are) got an electric bass over the summer.
When we returned to our house the four us us sat around chatting and catching up and, much as I’ll play guitar through any conversation just for the sake of playing guitar, out came the bass. However, it was out of tune from bouncing around in the back seat. Tuning isn’t a problem in our house, considering Elise and I are both in-tune-freaks and own four tuners between the two of us.
While her brother proceeded to tune up and noodle I fetched a guitar with broken strings and fixed it up. Once I was restrung I began to quietly follow along with his noodling. I thought I recognized the song, but I wasn’t sure. Not wanting to embarrass him, I waited until Elise and her mother headed upstairs to examine something in the bathroom.
“Is that ‘Seven Nation Army’?”
“Yeah, but internet tabs are always wrong,” he grumped.
“Yeah, they suck. It’s better to trust a site that specializes in one artist, especially for bass, because random people never really know what positions or techniques a certain player tends to use. Do you know what Occam’s Razor is?
He gave a half-wince of understanding.
“It’s the idea that the simplest explanation is almost always the best one. So, the simplest way for that bass player to play the song is probably the right way to play it.”
(Elise, passing through (or was it later?) commented: “Yeah, like Dave Matthews will always play something in in the most obscure possible way, but Ani will will do it the easiest.” I smirked, and inexplicably failed to also include Joni Mitchell in our comparison.)
“Well, let me hear it.”
He did, and it became apparent that there was a slightly easier and more-correct way to play it. And, since Jack White isn’t necessary a king of bass-playing technique, I didn’t really have qualms about changing up the positions to make it a little simpler.
“Hey, hold on, I have that record.”
Over to the CD collection I bounced, and back I came with Elephant. We listened to the song and i immediately realized that his riff was transposed by a fourth (effectively, a string) – easily fixed. And, then, ten minutes after playing a bad internet transcription in the wrong key he was playing along to the song! I pointed out the quick walkup at the end of the verses and then improvised some chords to accompany him (since the whole song is almost all bassline and guitar solo).
Elise and her mother came down at about this point, both looking somewhat bemused at the White Stripes jam that has sprung up in our living room. Later he told me the other song he was learning was “Money.” I told him I had that too, and that I was impressed, because it’s notoriously in a weird time signature. I put it on, but just listened; my brain doesn’t have the higher level functions required to count upbeat guitar stabs in 7/8. He was pretty good at it.
(Aside: Elise, her brother, and their sister all have ridiculous natural musical aptitude, which always makes me wish I had grown up in more musical family. More musical, I mean, than lip-synching Madonna into hairbrushes and sporadically breaking out into “Let The Good Times Roll” in the kitchen, both of which traits came from my father’s side.)
I’m really happy to have found a connection with Elise’s brother, and even happier to have gotten to be the cool older kid instead of the unspeakably geeky one, if only for once. Before he left I tabbed out the version we worked out and slipped it into his bag along with a copy of Elephant and White Blood Cells.
I bet I would have been a cool older brother.