Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

12/11/2009 (1:46 pm)


I’m in a musical mood, but couldn’t make up my mind which of several pieces to post, so y’all get to choose: two classics and a marvelous modern guitar composition.

First is Steely Dan from their Steelyard “Sugartooth” McDan (and the Fab-Originees.com) Band tour in 2006, playing an updated arrangement of “Do It Again.” There are lots of things not to like about Steely Dan — the main guys are reputed to be thoroughly unlikeable, their lyrics are always seedy, raunchy, and depressing, and even the name of the band is a completely tasteless reference I won’t explain — but musically, they’re about the smoothest funk in the rock world, and among the best musicians. The opening shots are of Dan Fagin on keyboard, the rhythm section, and Walter Becker on strat (guitar), and Fagin and Becker are the two mainstays of the band over the years, the rest mostly being studio players. However, on this cut the lead is sung by Michael McDonald, whom we know from the Doobie Brothers and from solo work. McDonald actually sang and played with Steely Dan from about 1974 onward. This song is about how one’s sins keep recurring, but counter-thematically, they’ve altered the changes at the end of the chorus and added some truly fine breaks, especially Keith Carlock’s drum fills at the end. This is the first time I’ve watched these guys on video, and I’m surprised to discover that the fine Telecaster guitar work I’ve admired over the years is not Becker’s, but that of Jon Herington (and that it’s not a Telly, it’s a Gibson semi hollow body.)

Next is Cream from their 2005 Reunion Tour, playing the old blues standard “Sitting On Top of the World” at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Cream was always at their best playing the blues, in my humble opinion, although “White Room” sticks in my mind as one of the finest examples of studio guitar work from the 1960s. I play bass guitar, and Jack Bruce is one of my prime influences as a player. The instrument he’s playing is a Warwick, and it’s my next instrumental purchase (I’ll go for a 5-string); I think the sound is fabulous. I’m sure there are blues players all over the US thinking that there’s no way a bunch of wrinkly, old, skinny, white gits from England should be able to do blues this well, but… they’ve still got it.

And finally, Kaki King. It was her hands that did all the fabulous tapping and hammering guitar work in the 2007 film August Rush, so I looked her up on YouTube. I would not call her the best technical guitarist in the world, or even anywhere near that, but her compositions are fascinating and original, and her interpretations of them are compelling. This was recorded live at Tower Records in San Fransisco in 2004, and it’s called “Neanderthal.” It was probably recorded on a small portable digital camcorder, not a professional camera, but the sound system they used was clean, so the sound is far better than the video. Enjoy.

11/24/2009 (5:51 pm)

Raise It Up

This clip from the 2007 movie August Rush features a song called Raise It Up. I like the emotion of the song, so you get to hear it.

If you haven’t seen August Rush yet, it’s worth seeing. A pair of musicians couple and produce a child, then fate separates them. The orphan, called Evan (later renamed August Rush), is a musical prodigy, and knows by faith that his music will call his family back together. It’s Evan that you see wandering into the church in the clip, which makes the song about orphaned kids that much more powerful in context. The story has strong elements of Oliver Twist, with Robin Williams playing a musically-minded Fagin, but the entire first half of the film plays like a self-important, overly serious version of Seredipity. It’s in the second half, as soon as Evan/August picks up a guitar and starts tapping and hammering, that the film takes off, and the music soars. The composer, Mark Mancina (who did the music for The Lion King), highlights themes from ordinary street noise throughout the film, and then we start to hear those themes in August’s music as his talent begins to develop. He brings them all together at the end of the film, when young August conducts the Juilliard orchestra playing his original composition, hammering home the movie’s theme: music is everywhere, you just have to listen. The script writers take themselves far too seriously, striving for profundity, falling short, and sacrificing plausibility and coherence in the process, but the music more than makes up for it.

The little girl with the amazing pipes is Jamia Nash. She was 10 when the film was shot.

06/26/2009 (12:37 pm)

It's Still Here

I found this on The Anchoress this afternoon, and had to post it myself.

The kids on this video began singing to their mother, who was in a coma from a head-on collision. Eight months later, here they are on America’s Got Talent. Listen:

Ironically, what we’re seeing here is both the best and the worst of America. The virtue at the heart of the story is the children singing to their mother, and to others in the hospital. The vice is the pit into which talented children like this might fall if they take the media-amplified adulation to heart. The recent death of the immensely talented, immensely troubled Michael Jackson highlights this ugly downside to American consumerism; he bought the entire glittery package, and attained the peak of stardom. What did it profit him, in the end? He died young, twisted, in trouble, and alone, an object of pity.

Ultimately, America is about people hitching what little they have to the grace of God, in order to bless the people they love, like these kids did. The fame, wealth and adulation are just icing, and you can die from eating too much icing.

The inmates may be running (and ruining) the asylum for now, but the heart of America is not dead. It gives me hope that what we’re facing is not death, but chastisement. The true America will rise again. God bless America.

05/01/2009 (6:34 am)


This is Phil Keaggy playing bits of two original compositions, called “County Down” and “Shades of Green.” It gets a little crazy around the 4 minute mark when he starts using the looping equipment, and he actually changes the tuning of his guitar while playing the piece, from DADGAD to DADGBE; kids, don’t try this at home. The whole thing is a truly amazing performance. The video is just shy of 10 minutes long. Enjoy.

03/05/2009 (3:07 pm)

Take a Break

Chick Corea (piano), John Patatucci (bass), and Dave Weckl (drums) at the Montreaux Jazz Festival, July 2007, playing Corea’s classic composition “Spain.” This is what happens when men pursue excellence within their given callings; each of these guys is among the best ever at what they do. Heaven will be better, but until I get there, this is about as good as it gets.