Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Les Paul: The Players Player

How did he do it?
-Phil Ramone upon hearing Les Paul for the first time

Here's what I look for in artists of any stripe and people in general; enthusiasm. I don't mean blind fellowship. And I don't mean the frivolous, flip attitude of the casually hip.

So let's say I learn about or even meet someone who has enthusiasm. Well, there's actually a sub-class of that group who take it a step further.

These peeps are the creative types, the ones who are somehow imbued with an authenticity. Kinda like what Stacy Peralta was getting at when writing about Jay Adams being an original, an archetype.

And so it is with Les Paul. I'm writing about LP here because I've just seen the American Masters doc, The Wizard of Waukesha, and it reminded me of when I briefly flirted with my first love (music) by playing (piano, then guitar).

Now, among musicians Les Paul is revered; among guitarists he's a legend; and among creatives, inventors and the like, he's in the hall of fame. For he was "the man, the real deal, the original, the first. He is the archetype of our shared heritage." (Peralta on Adams)

His inventing the famous sound on sound dual-head Ampex is one of those ground-breaking moments in human history that forever alters things. Indeed.

But on the popular front, he's on center stage with his world-famous Les Paul solid body guitar. From Allman to Beck to Page and even Jimi (who dabbled with one while straying albeit momentarily) from his beloved Strat, the guitar occupies a special place in music history. Along with the Strat it is without a doubt the most coveted rock instrument in the world.

Les Paul and Mary Ford's music may not suit everyone's tastes; it's corny, homespun hokum. But so is the Carpenters. (Richard Carpenter has a meaty piece in the doc, bowing to the master) But musicians all know how great the Carpenters and Richard in particular were.

At the top of this I said that there were certain people in this world who take enthusiasm to another level, and clearly I had Les in mind. But there's a scene in the film that speaks so clearly to the love of creativity, the pure fun in doing creative, artistic things. LP is walking through one of his and Mary's old homes where, freed from the drudgery of the studio due to LP's sound on sound innovations, they used the natural acoustics of the house; the hallways, the bathrooms... and LP walks in the hallway and reminisces about stringing cords and wires here and there and everywhere, and the look on his face is one of total satisfaction, just fun, like what Welles said about a movie set: "It's the biggest, best erector set ever."

It's tragic to live in a time like this, in a pr crazy world where lame, mediocre and at best just run of the mill crap passes for "deep" and "amazing." Kids these days. (And we haven't even mentioned Tal Farlow, who's also still alive. Talk about a monster.) Yes, Les Paul's music is forgotten, but his mark is forever, whether "they" know it or not. His passion, nee, obsession, creative genius and just outright determinism put him in that special, exclusive club. He is one of the titans upon whose shoulders others stand.

Boy, they were something else, weren't they?

-Bonnie Raitt, on listening to LP & his beloved Mary Ford