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November 06, 1979 - Image 7

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1979-11-06

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The Michigan Daily-Tuesday, November 6, 1979-Page 7
So you can't perform? Fake it!

You've all seen them, strolling down
a sidewalk conducting a silent sym-
phony with purposeful waves of the
arm, or dancing across grassy fields to
a rhythm played just beyond earshot.
They're the poseurs, grasping guitar
necks in mid-air and fingering the
strings across their stomachs, the kids
who walk through dormitory halls with
looks of intense concentration, lips let
out, a proper note or two sometimes,
straining to sound-like someone they've
heard. There are the finger drummers
and the table pounders; there are piano
players with imaginary keys, and brass
sections playing chords from a single
trumpet; there are even those who
scream song lyrics into the air, as if
this would conjure up the appropriate
music to surround them.
I am one of these imaginary
musicians. I'm an amateur
professional, a vicarious performer,
and all the mind's a stage. Much has
been said about the link between
audience and live performer, but few
have touched upon the strange sym-
biosis of recorded sound and attentive
ARM CHAIR rock and roll stars have
a special problem creating the perfect
performance. It is one thing to cue the
clarinet section during Stravinsky's
Firebird Suite. It is quite another to
duplicate a favorite singer's voice, his
words and notes, tone, inflection,
volume, even his British accent, while
tapping a drum part that is never
repeated from one end-of-the-phrase
flourish to the next, and play several
keyboard parts; and still wash the syn-
thesizers up behind the whole piece at
the right time.
Talk about discipline! Keeping up the
illusion that you are actually creating
the songs you hear is tough indeed. Fir-
st of all you must turn up the volume of
the record so that even when singing at
the top of your voice you blend in with
the other members of your groups or
with your partner on stage. (Some
people, it should be noted, just "mouth"
the words to songs,* but the real
showmen among us actually sing
along.) Good illusory singing is
art-only the best can capture every

nuance of a singer's voice, every gasp
and sigh, each cough and chuckle, an
off-beat entrance here, a scream there.
Each time the voice cracks or a word
is spoken, we're there. Lead singing is a
good place to start, too, on the way to
becoming a simulated music man. Try
to remember where the voice strains,
how many different notes are attached
to syllables at the ends of the
lines-each singer has his or her
idiosyncracies. You should pay atten-
tion even to how much and where a
singer's breathing is audible.
IF YOU ARE a completist when it
comes to singing lead in a song, trouble
may develop if a singer's range in a
particular song falls into two or more of
your singing voices (natural voice,
falsetto, or other affected voices). It's
something to have to keep switching
voices but for the sake of the art you
might occasionally become adept at
doing a song which cuts across voice
There are specialties besides lead
voices, of course, and most of them are
just as exacting and exciting.
Background vocals are very popular
for those of you who are not presum-
ptuous enough to star in your own per-
formance. There is a certain pride in
knowing exactly when to come in with
which nonsense word or noise, and of
course there are several voice parts
from which to choose. Dazzle your
friends with the appropriate entrances.
(Clever background singers add har-
monies from later choruses to earlier
ones, so as to appear creative or in-
novative, but this is frowned upon in
most circles).
I've dabbled in background vocals
but my own particular forte is in the
area of percussion. Piling up a line of
books of graduated size satisfied me for
a while, and sometimes I'll still run
down the drum kit I've got balanced in
the air before me. I was even placated
by a pair of chopsticks for a while, but
nothing really matches the interplay on
ten fingers, stroke for stroke, tap for
tap, with a palm, knuckle or fist thrown
in there for special occasions.
THE REAL GOOD finger drummers
have the right to be elitist about their


discipline, for while it can be said that
drum work is of the most repetitious
sort, this only serves to hide the fact
that its variations of performance are
the most subtle. A good drummer has
an infinite array of patterns with which
to hold the same beat throughout a
song, and will vary them throughout at
whim-there's where someone with ex-
tra dexterous digits can really fake it
well. Nigel Olsson does something dif-
ferent at the end of each phrase of the
Elton John song "Curtains" as it fades
to an end for 2 minutes, and to
memorize each pattern in the correct
order is quite a feat.
On and on the list could go. Electric
guitars are far too common as objects
of emulation for the more advanced

songsters, but encourage anyone you
see blindly clutching at the air above
his left shoulder and at his stomach-he
could break away from such an opiae of
the masses to the delicate movements
of the acoustic guitar, and onwards.
Bass playing is on the whole too sim-
ple, or used by failed electric guitar
players to try and show the gentility that
supposedly rests behind their grubby,
low desires to take the easy way out and
play that electric guitar. But they don't
fool us purists. Keyboards are OK, but
problems arise in distinguishing the
mechanics of playing a grand piano
from those of working the mellotron or
ARP Farfisa. Most non-existent
keyboard players miss these differen-
ces in their performance, and it come
off flat and lifeless. Likewise, really ef-
fective synthesizer playing takes an
imaginary technical degree for an ef-
n fective display of the dark pyrotechnics
of a fake performance.
ON THE FRINGE of the silent
showmen we find those who have
tackled such often ignored instruments
as the flute, saxophone, trumpet, and
other traditional fare. Though it may
seem elementary, some people take. to
wrongly holding their clarinets off to
the side, or putting both hands along the
same side of the flute, or even pulling
that trombone slide just a bit too far. I
know one person who almost gave up a
lifetime's joy as a private tnusician, so
crushed was he to learn that there are
only three fingers' worth of keys on the
standard trumpet.
Then too there are those who go in for
the exotic or ancient instruments.
Masters of the lute, mandolin, harp,
nakers and tabor, glockenspiel or
marimba are a special breed of home-
bound troubadour. Newly electrified
versions of old instruments are crop-
ping up all the time. It is easy for a
general practitioner in our craft to fall
behind in the new techniques, and the
styles currently in vogue.
So where does that leave you, the
bewildered beginner, standing center-
stage in the vast domed concert hall of
your head, dressed in leather or sequins
or a fancy suit (but never in all three)
and surrounded by thousands of dollars
of silent sound equipment? As a service
to you future mock musicians and
microphone mimics, I wish to present a
guide here to some of the toughest and
most interesting voices in current rock

music. This should set you on your way
to a long career as a performer of the
most authentic imitations around.
FREDDIE MERCURY and the rest
of the queen crowd used to be a real
challenge to the vocal chords, so check
out one of their first four albums for
something to imitate. Freddie goes in for.
theatrics and extreme melodrama to
the point of satire. Freddie and Queen
are famous for a cappella openings,
heavenly choirs, and piercing falsetto
harmonies, and this can tax even the
most quick-tongued performer.
Mastery of the exaggerated gasps and
operatic screams is a must. Queen,
with all it's heavymetal trappings, was
a hard act to follow. So to speak.
On the other hand we have Jon An-
derson of Yes, whose naturally high
voice never quite loses that air of in-
nocence. Imagine yourself a cosmetic
butterfly whose high-minded lyrics
must mean everything to the world, and
you can capture the sound of Jon An-
derson in performance. It's sometimes
tough fitting all those syllables into the
melody line of a Yes song, I know, but
with practice you should be able to get
them all in-and in the right order, too.
Think sweetness, lilt if you must, and
sing with a sort of half-asleep urgency.
We come full circle again to a mean,
down, and dirty kind of voice from Ian
Andersonif Jethro Tull. Prerequisites
for this imitation include abilities to
make your voice come from deep in
your throat and sound very nasal at the
same time, crack your voice at all
significant words, and drag the ends of
words out indefinitely for all manner of
musical notes, snorts, growls, and a
chuckle or two. The situation is par-
ticularly complicated by the fact that
Ian plays the flute, and is wont to per-
form all of the above whilst
simultaneously soloing on his in-
strument. Whistling the flute and
humming the tune at the same time
isn't easy ...
TO MASTER Neil Young one must
sound a little groggy, or have just
finished crying. Also tricky is trying to
match that occasional off-key note Neil
somes up with.
Neil Young's one time partners,
Crosby, Sills, and Nash, on the other
hand, create close three-part har-
monies out of voices a bit earthy if true
to pitch and key. Imitating the trio is a
fine occupation for idle hours, although
a complete performance necessitates
playing each of their songs three times
ina row.
Gaddy Lee of Rush sounds most like a
spayed gerbil, or perhaps a hamster
who's been kissed on the groin.
Steve Miller is the only singer whose
every breath is audible during his
songs. A warbly voice and 60's San
Francisco hippie-type lyrics complete
the effect.
Paul Simon sounds like a sort of
mellow person of unknown foreign
origin, or possibly an American Indian.
Joni Mitchell is just about the only
female singer worth attempting to
imitate, as it requires more than just a
pretty voice but real style. The
melodies of some songs are a bit
reminiscent of each other but the lyrics
are the kind we music re-makers
look for to quote other people in letters
when we can't perform for them.
NEXT: "How to keep track of the
single, studio album, and live album
versions of the same songs." Plus:
"Singing along with those who can't:
Bo' Dylan, Mick Jagger, Bruce
Springsteen, et al."

Jackrabbit Slim? Who is this guy from Mississippi who looks like he shaves
once a week, too young to have released two albums? Who is this
singer/songwriter with a perfect complexion and a pudgy nose? Who is this
jackrabbit with a rough, slightly southern voice, playing guitar and harmonica,
and writing songs that reflect some thought?
He is 24 year old Steve Forbert, alias Jackrabbit Silm, the title of his
recently released second album on Nemperor Records. Judging by the sound of
Forbert's music, you can bet no one will be asking these questions much longer.
The critics raved about Forbert's blend of folk, country and rock-a-billy af-
ter the release of his debut album, Alive On Arrival, in 1978. Paul Nelson of
Rolling Stone said he'd bet anything that nothing in the world will stop Forbert.
This seems quite possible. He's already developed a strong New York following,
and this new album, plus a bit of touring, will surely broaden his audience.
FORBERT'S SONGS unite his Mississippi roots with a street-wise slickness
that has become popular since Springsteen became boss. He picked up the
slickness playing in New York city bars. But Forbert is more sensitive than
Springsteen and his song writing shows it.
In "Tonight I Feel So Far Away From Home," Forbert's voice carries
honest emotion. This tune, from his first album, is the most moving written by a
male vocalist since Jackson Browne's "Here Come Those Tears Again."
FORBERT'S LYRICS are fresh, and more importantly, original. He has a
witty way of suggesting a "take it as it comes" outlook on life.
"Complications" is one of those witty tunes. It's a tongue-in-cheek anthem
to the hassles of everyday life. There are complications "in your mind," "in
your footsteps," "in the wind," and "in your lifetime." They're "everywhere."
In "I'm In Love With You," a ballad with a country tinge, Forbert reveals
the poetic line "I'm a worn out sail on a sidewalk sea." Now that's really in love.
Then there's "The Oil Song," a little tune that must have been thrown in at
the last second. In a folk song manner, Forbert gives us a brief history of oil
spills from the Argo Merchant off the Nantucket Shoals to the recent leakage in
Mexico. This is Forbert's bid at commenting on the absurd abuses of our en-
"Romeo's Tune" is the most energetic song on the second album. It's
cheerful and crisp, and has the sound capable of making it a hit single.
Next there is "The Sweet Love That You Give (Sure Goes A Long, Long
Way)" with an exciting horn arrangement. The horns in this song would fit well
in a Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes tune.
The Shoals Sisters, the backing female vocalists, lend their talents to "Say
Goodlbye To Little Jo," giving it a definite rockability sound and undoubtedly
marking Buddy Holly as an influence.
Most noticeably absent from Jackrabbit Slim (when compared to Alive On
Arrival), is Forbert's outstanding harmonica playing. The only mouthful we get'
is on "Sadly Sorta Like A Soap Opera," and that's the highlight of a rather
mediocre tune.
Jackrabbit Slim isn't a perfect album, but it is better than most of today's
popular music. Forbert is a new talent still growing, still searching for what he
considers his best music. With Jackrabbit Slim, he has expanded the limits of
what he can attain. This is one good album for 1979, and an even better follow-up
to a successful first.
Meanwhile, I'll take those albums and put them right in there with my
Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Springsteen, and Jackson Browne albums. Albums that
-seem to give you someting more than just music.


*ra3r, LI 3ub


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