Friday, 28 May 2010

Week 8 - another digression, Flea


I'm a massive fan of Flea.  He's a great bass player, a great musician and full of heart.  Trust me...

Everything you need to know about music is on this vidi.

Not only do you get to hear some sweet music (Flea jamming with Chad), the interview is hilarious to watch. Flea is being interviewed by River Phoenix.  River is clearly tripping out during taping and Flea is probably stoned... but having said that, Flea says some really beautiful profound things.  Everything I do in music is an attempt to emulate this dude.

Here's one of his quotes, "Make sure you're not a victim of a guy who's ALL FLASH AND NO SMASH!"

I suppose it doesn't look like much of a quote... but this simple phrase says all that needs to be said about music.
I'll explain...

When he makes this statement, he's talking about the bass players who are all about technique but aren't really able to make music.

"To be all Flash and no Smash is to not be a good musician."

I had this pointed out to me nearly 20 years ago by my good friend and beautiful trumpet player, Lina Allemano.  I haven't heard her play in awhile but she used to have the best tone and a really natural melodic phrasing. Amazing to hear her play.  An incredible musician.
We were hanging out and I was listening to some virtuosic trombone player.  All chops.  I was floored by the recording but Lina couldn't stand it.
She said something like (and I have to paraphrase, she was much smarter than me), "Is all trombone music like this?"
"Like what?"
"Like they're all trying to prove a point?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, he's just showing off his chops, trying to sound like a trumpet.  Trying to prove the trombone's a real instrument.  But he's not really saying anything.  It's not really musical."
I think I got my knickers in a bunch then.

Because, at the time, I didn't understand what she was on about, but of course, she was completely right.  That player was all flash and no smash.  Musically, he really had nothing at all to say.  It was dead music.  Empty of expression, emotion or heart.   It took me years to hear what she was hearing.  It seems to have something to do with intent.  What's being said or even what's not being said, hidden in the sound.

Listen to Victor Wootan compared to Flea.  Sure Victor has chops that are beyond the beyond but what is he actually saying?  Not much, other than, "look at me now, look at me now, look at me now!"

I remember a drummer showing me a clip of some heavy session dude.  "Check that out"  But all I could hear was stinky cheesy inappropriate music.  Actually, to call it music would be too generous.  Just some knot head showing off his chops.  And some drummers actually enjoy this.  Horrible!  Again, a dude with nothing to say, other than "I am great, I am great, I am great!"  Dead music.  All Flash and no SMASH!

I remember hearing a concert with four trumpeters, one being Arturo Sandoval.  They all sucked except for Randy Brecker.  Brecker was the only one trying to create something resembling music.  The rest were showing off, playing higher, louder, and almost all completely BS, one big massive wankery.  But the crowd ate it up.  It was the worst thing I've ever seen.

Still not convinced?  Well...
Check out Miles.
Everyone blabs on about how he couldn't play the trumpet... but he clearly can.  He was playing bebop with Charlie Parker in his early years, ripping it up.
So, why do people say this?
All I can think of is this.  He wasn't constantly showing off his chops.  He was actually making music and playing what was called for.  Sometimes, extremely minimal.  Extremely simple.  There's some SMASH for you...

I've heard of this classical piano player who was quoted as saying 'the artist must only recreate the emotion of excitement but not really get excited themselves.'  That's just plain WRONG!

How can you make good honest music if you're not being honest yourself?  If you're just acting?  The performer should feel the emotion, whatever the tune is calling out for.  Couple that with one's own life experience and you get something even greater.  And then add other musicians to the mix and the cosmos opens up.

It's all about feeling and communication... it's about being open and honest, being full-hearted, being genuine, being full of intent, being fully aware and fully there.  It's about playing with some SMASH!

"All flash and no smash... you have to have some smash with your flash."

Most profound statement about music ever!

Right.  I'm going to leave you with a few more quotes from Flea.

Da bo.

"And him (Flea's step-dad) and all his friends would come over and they would jam at my house and my mom would cook food and they would just play the day away.  They'd play all kinds of jazz standards and just jam out.  And as a child, my reaction to that was to roll on the floor with hysterical laughter cause it was such a beautiful thing.  And that was the first time I was really touched spiritually by music."

"Still my whole life is based on one day becoming as cool as Louis Armstrong... This real old guy said to me... 'Let me tell you one thing.  Lots of cats they play high, they play fast, they play with all kinds of technique, you see these guys they play every trick in the book, every lick in the book, but no one, NO ONE ever played music like Louis Armstrong.'  And he was completely right... ...every note is just pure beautiful music.  A great musician plays one note and it's a beautiful thing and one note implies that if he wanted to he could play ten billion notes but just one simple note is a beautiful thing."

"I wanna be open to everything... I just love everything that has any soul in it, whether it's the simplest punk rock thing, or the most complex jazz thing or the deepest, dirtiest, greasiest funk thing."

"And if you're going to play at all you have to listen more than you play... and if you don't listen to what's going on around you then you may as well just shut up."

"To expand your mind in spontaneous improvisation, the only thing that you can possibly do to be good at it, besides listening to lots of good records, as far as expressing yourself, is to just always be true to yourself and true to your own emotions... just being direct with yourself and laying your naked emotions on the table for everyone to make fun of or admire or do whatever they do, but you gotta put it out there."

"You can't play good unless you have real love in your heart."

"That's the whole thing, listening to other people and playing with other people.  And you can't ever listen or play with other people unless you love them, unless you have really true sincere love... Because you can't even be angry and have true hatred, which is also an important thing to playing, unless you have real love."

"Little kids are the best musicians, and the best dancers, and the best writers, performers, drawers.  Because they're not thinking or worrying about what anyone is going to think about it. They're just going straight for the expression.  The best thing a musician can be is a little kid."

"Anything is good if you do it with commitment... I make the best with what I've got... I'm not saying that it's great to be an ignoramus, I'm just saying that that's what I am, so I just do my very best with what I've got."

“Above all, just don’t be lame.  Be true and don’t be lame.  Be true to yourself... and just play what you like, the best that you can. And just be yourself as hard as you can and do what you do, as best as you can do it.  If you wanna be pretty and pink like a soft rose growing in the springtime then be that, as pretty and beautiful as you can.  And if you wanna be just the biggest ugliest monster that scares everybody away, do that as best as you can.  If you wanna be a clown in the circus, be a clown in the circus.  If you wanna be a bright golden statue of liberty, then be a bright golden statue of liberty.  But just do whatever it is that you do and be true to yourself and be yourself and just play your hardest and your best.  And you know, always play every note as if it’s your last.  That's what I have to say.  And just really care.  If you really care, then you’ll get somewhere.”


  1. What about the part about being a 'comet with funk warts?' ...that was brilliant!

    Excellent post though, although I am a little sad. You see, I missed my C-grade's birthday. I forgot to call him. Now I'm blue and looking over at a bottle of Double Dragon that's just sitting on the counter.

    --5 minutes later--

    rumble, rumble, rumble...

  2. Trogdor!
    ... "funk warts"... pure genius... lol.

    Crzy Foam Guy rises again! And everyone in the land of the Queen Muskafa trembles and skanks!

    C-Grade doesn't do birthdays anymore, but did get into the Double Dragon for good measure. My Welsh-ness keeps me safe from its side effects...