Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday 80s Flashback for May 22, 2015

[As Falls Wichata] -- I'm changing things up ever so slightly for this week's Flashback. And it's going to start out a bit sad. But at least I warned you ahead of time and you can bear with me, right? Right! So, here we go.

Today, May 22, 2015, would have been my father's 69th birthday. I say "would have" because I lost him two years ago this very month. He passed away due to complications with his second bone marrow transplant, which had been done in 2010. Some of you may recall reading updates about Dad's final journey, which started around the middle of March 2013 and ran through to his death on May 4. I'm not saying you need to go back and read those posts. Really, you don't. I've done it for you. It's what I do now as Winter winds into Spring.

However, although he is physically gone now, Dad was very much alive in the 1980s, and ever ready to help me with my musical appreciation. I'm sure he was at least slightly worried that I would be hopelessly lost to new wave, heavy metal, or synthpop. He wanted me to be grounded in the classics (er, classic rock) and jazz. And genres that incorporated elements of jazz (jazz fusion, world music, etc.). Read and hear more about my father's influence after the break.

One of the musicians Dad introduced me to was Pat Metheny. Metheny started playing guitar at the age of 13. At 15, he got the attention of jazz guitarist Attila Zoller who saw Metheny at a one-week jazz camp. He blossomed quickly, and found himself with teaching positions at both the University of Miami and then Berklee while he was still only a teenager. Metheny started recording in the mid '70s, working with such artists as Paul Bley, Jaco Pastorius, and Gary Burton. While working with Gary Burton's group, Metheny met keyboardist Lyle Mays who would become a longtime collaborator in duo and group formats. Despite Metheny's modern jazz bonafides, his own style and freelance projects were a little more difficult to nail down to genre. His stretching of jazz boundaries has been described as folk-jazz, jazz fusion, and world music.

Metheny's seventh studio album -- As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls -- was a duet or collaboration with Lyle Mays and it was released in May 1981. I don't think Dad purchased it in 1981. I think he backtracked through Metheny's catalog and picked it up closer to the mid '80s. At least, I know that is the time frame when he exposed me to this particular album. Now, the living room of the house I grew up in was rarely used. It was the nice room. It was for special occasions, like Christmas morning or when company stopped by. And it was the room where Dad's stereo system lived. One weekend afternoon, Dad sat me down in the living room chair that was optimally placed in the midst of all four of the room's speakers, gave me the liner notes of As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, and had me listen to the title track. That was the first time through. For the second time through, he had me put on headphones so I could focus on particular passages.

A few quick notes about this album. The album cover's photo is a nod to Jimmy Webb's song "Wichita Lineman" (which was first recorded in 1968 by Glen Campbell, and is sung from the perspective of a lonely telephone company lineman working atop a telephone pole). The title track of As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls is a 20-minute piece that takes up the whole of the first side of the album (did I mention I'm talking about a vinyl release? Well, I am.). The song title is a reference to two towns:  Wichita, Kansas and Wichita Falls, Texas. And much of the song has the feel of a travelogue, or at least the sense of driving (or riding a train) across a great and nearly flat expanse. And, in places, the percussion seems to mimic the background sound of traveling by rail.

It is those last two items that Dad wanted me to focus on. He wanted to impart to me that music can provide a sense of traveling slowly across America, and he wanted to point out the little techniques that bring about those notions. And so, on my father's birthday, I share with all of you one song from an album that is very special to me because it was special to him. I am nearly always transported back to that afternoon with him when I listen to this record.

So I listened to it multiple times today.

Well, that's all till next week. Dedicated 80s-philes can find more flashbacks in the archives. As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post. And if you like what I'm doing here, please share the link with your friends. If, however, you don't like the flashback, feel free to share it with your enemies.

And if you are on Twitter, and feel so inclined, please +K my influence in Music on @klout.

I'll see you in seven!

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