Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Assertions and Contradictions: Just spooling here . . .

Robert DeNiro has become a thoroughly unimpressive actor. He plays himself exclusively now. The man who, after becoming famous for playing a mobster and a boxer, took the role of Rupert Pupkin? He is no more.

Meanwhile, I would still pay $50 to see Gene Hackman read the phone book. If there is an actor who has the potential to be the next Hackman, it's Kevin Bacon. He can be charming, smarmy, cool, serious. In Mystic River, he and Fishburne stole the show for me. (Robbins, who I almost always like, and Penn, who I almost never like, went over the top. Penn, in particular, doesn't have the range to play anything other than himself. See DeNiro, above.)

There are too many rock-and-roll guitar solos to number, but only a handful of them are absolutes. Here are four: Scotty Moore on Elvis's "That's Alright Mama"; James Burton on "Hello, Mary Lou"; Paul McCartney on "Taxman" (listen to it and think "Jesus, this is less than a year after they cut 'Drive My Car'!"); Keith Richards in an altered state on "Sympathy for the Devil."

An even harder thing for a guitarist is to lay off, to sit in the pocket while someone else gets the spotlight, but still play obviously spectacular guitar. Buddy Guy did this for Junior Wells on the Hoodoo Man Blues record. More recently, Primus's Larry LaLonde did it for Les Claypool's feature-instrument level bass playing.

Speaking of bass, listen to Cream's famous live take of "Crossroads" (it's the Winterlands version, I think). Listen to what Jack Bruce does when Clapton starts to solo: his left hand starts fluttering up the neck of the bass, and the bottom falls out of the song. It's a textbook example of what a bass player shouldn't do. When the guitarist jams the accelerator, the bassist needs to hold the wheel steady. I'm not a big fan of Cream, but Bruce should horsewhipped anyway.

By the way, Clapton is by far the most overpraised guitar player ever. Except for Jimmy Page, maybe. Of the three Yardbirds who went on to guitar god status, nobody could touch Jeff Beck.

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