I was originally inspired to play a Rickenbacker bass by Paul McCartney (in Wings) and Chris Squire, of Yes. Given my very-public POP leanings (File Under Pop Vocal, anyone?), most people wouldn’t guess that I’m a closet Prog Rock fan, or that my very first concert I saw was Yes, at the SUNY Geneseo student union (for $1.00, w/student ID!) in 1971.
But I LOVE Yes, and especially their gifted bassist Chris Squire, who passed away this weekend at the age of 67. Squire was the only member present on EVERY iteration of the band (and why they aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is beyond me!).
I was lucky enough to see them again in concert several times over the years, with the most recent being on a 100º day at the Artpark in Buffalo a few years ago on their Fly From Here tour. To see Squire perform live, was like attending a master class in bass playing. His agility and inventiveness redefined the instrument for several generations of musicians, myself included.
He was also an equally-gifted singer and writer, and his background vocals and compositions were as much a part of the Yes sound as his landmark bass playing.
The most striking – and maybe telling – quote in Jason Fine’s wonderful piece on Brian Wilson in the new Rolling Stone is this:
“Sometimes, Wilson wanders upstairs to his music room, but he gets easily discouraged. “I can’t write a song to save my life,” he says. “I sit at the piano and try, but all I want to do is rewrite ‘California Girls.’ How am I gonna do something better than that? It’s a fucked-up trip.” “
He does not write songs anymore. Period. I’ve suspected as much since all the hype leading up to the Beach Boys’ That’s Why God Made The Radio came out three years ago. At that time, it was reported in several places that all the songs were revived from writing sessions Brian had done with then-producer Joe Thomas in the late-90s. I now suspect, given Brian’s own assessment/confession, that the songs on No Pier Pressure (his new solo album), were also all written years ago, when he was still able to flex that creative muscle.
Which brings me to Joe Thomas, Brian’s co-writer and co-producer. I’ve asked commenters on the community board at BrianWilson.com, why there is so much resentment for him? Most people just like to dismiss him as “The Wrestler,” (a previous occupation, I’m told) or “Auto-Tune Joe,” or – derogatorily – “he’s a very good manager.” Is there some major expose on Thomas that I’ve missed? Why is he treated like the second coming of Dr. Eugene Landy (the antagonist in the Wilson biopic, Love & Mercy) to Brian’s career?
I recall reading long ago that Thomas, when working with Brian in the 90s, would keep the tapes rolling the ENTIRE TIME Brian was recording, or even working through ideas in the studio. Then at the end of the day, those tapes would be spliced up, to save the better bits for future consideration; the audio version of mining for gold, if you will.I think one could make the argument – and I’m making it here – that without Thomas’s friendship and attention to Brian’s creative process in the studio, we would not have That’s Why God Made The Radio or No Pier Pressure today. He saved and mined those musical bits into the now-fleshed-out songs we have today.
In my mind, Thomas in an enabler of the best kind. Like a Renaissance patron of the arts, who enabled Michelangelo to create his art, Joe has enabled Brian to continue to make “new” music.
And for those who endlessly bash Thomas for heavy-handed production and supposed-artistic manipulation, consider the alternative: no Thomas, no Beach Boys’ 50th anniversary reunion album and no new solo album. Again, period!
For the sheer joy those albums have brought all of us, I welcome Joe Thomas! I only hope he has even more musical nuggets stashed away, so that this beloved artist we all cherish, can continue to make records despite the fact that, as he says, “I can’t write a song to save my life.”