I’m listening to the fIREHOSE discography this week. Only fIREHOSE. All week. Doing this, I discovered a promo CD Watt put out called Big Bottom Pow Wow. It’s got a few fIREHOSE leftover songs and in-between spiel about the bass. This is what’s written on the cover: Interchords featuring Mike Watt, Cris Kirkwood, Flea & Les Claypool (via phone) talking about bass and what it means today. You can listen here at corndogs. Kirkwood kinda flips out. To give you an idea of what they talk about, at one point they bring Don Quixote into the conversation and while Watt thinks Sancho is the bass to Quixote’s guitar, Kirkwood thinks its the donkey.
I was talking about bass with a guy that came into the library the other day. He played a Fender Jazz, American. He had a little gold Fender Jazz hanging from his neck. While I should have been working, I talked with him for a while in front of the music section. No bass books, only really bad guitar books. We talked about the bass and he had a very open mind about how it fits into any kind of music. There’s no right way, it seems to be an instrument that everyone’s trying to figure out. What is it supposed to do? You can’t just follow along with the guitar chords, but even he said sometimes that’s needed. You gotta find your moments. Other times, let the guitar keep up with you, you run the song. I think this is a very different approach to the bass than in the past, which is what Watt and the boys talked about on that CD 15 years ago.
The library has zero books on the history of the bass guitar and obviously not the philosophy of bass, though it’s littered with guitar books. The bass gets no respect. I think a philosophy of the bass book would be a great book. I could collect different philosophies of the bass from different bassists in different genres, time periods. Gather everyones personal bass histories. The idea of how the bass should be used has changed drastically in all different types of music from jazz to rock to even the electronic equivalent of the bass in techno/house/dance music. I’m going to do many different parts in this, but this is my study of the bass, beginning with myself and then looking at why I was given the freedom to choose my bass style. I’m at the apex I believe.
The Bass, Part 1: Adam Says Stupid Things
My experience with the bass goes back to middle school. One of my friends Greg played bass in the school jazz band. I had no idea what the fuck it was. I had never played an instrument other than my 6 week run at the trumpet and smashing on my mom’s piano and making beautiful noise after my sisters would stumble through the same ole songs again and again. I remember making fun of Greg for not playing guitar. I called it a bass (pronounced like the fish). It was white with a white pick guard. When I watched the jazz band play in our gymnasium, I couldn’t hear anything he did, so I made fun of him some more.
Skip ahead to high school and again in a gymnasium. I was a sophomore. A bunch of seniors had a band the school let open a pep rally. As we left, this asshole kid, I don’t remember his name but he was hairy, said, “That guy can’t play bass. He was using a pick!”
I said, “Yea, you can’t do that!” trying to be cool.
He said, “So you play bass?”
I said, “No, but I know enough that you aren’t supposed to use a pick.”
Absolutely idiotic. To this point, I had seen one bass up close, Greg’s. My town didn’t have a music store. I had never even seen an electric guitar up close. The only bassists I knew were the guys in Korn, Limp Bizkit, Rage Against the Machine and Primus. I don’t think I paid close enough attention to the bassists in the videos to see if they used picks or not.
One year later. My friend Joe tells me he’s starting a band. He’s got a Gibson Les Paul (which I later dropped and cracked the neck) and I’ve got nothing. He tells me I’m the bass player. I need to get a bass. That Xmas I get my mom to buy me a bass. I think it was one of those Xmas/Birthday combo gifts I was good at negotiating. My birthday is 5 days after Jesus.
So I get a wood stained huge tanker of a thing with an amp. A knock off Fender P-bass. And it begins with me learning “Mudshovel” by Staind.
Don’t worry things get better. The bass songs that most influenced me most on my journey to now on the way. And no, I’m not going to post fucking Staind.