February 17, 2013

Low Spark

As a teenager I would write random stuff thinking it was poetry.  It was not of course, it was just a brain stretching out and trying to get itself wired up for the work to come.  I am supposed to be writing something else, so I won't have time to properly write up this thing on Traffic's "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys", so I'll leave it in this condition, resembling in form at least the sort of documents I was creating in that era...

Used to listen to this on headphones at the college music library, instead of studying Liszt, waltzes, partitas...

Wikipedia article

Dynamics prefigure Stop Making Sense concert but in one song, from a single heartbeat (Dark Side of the Moon) to multiple rhythmic and melodic climaxes


recitative with chorus and syncopated march on the verses
dynamics like hills, crest and then downhill on "profit he's made on your dreams"

lyrics correct, something that was in the air, seminal and urgent, powerful (Low Rider, 1975, WAR another fusion band, too good to be consistently popular, as worthwhile as any jazz of the era)

can't dance to "Low Spark" but you can't not move to it
tai chi like slow motion
Get knocked down put on this song - relentless, zombie-like undertone
Hello my name is Steve Winwood, you killed my father...

fades in and fades out, comes out of silence and returns

rebellion becomes establishment and the old forget who they were when young ("hope i die before i get old") but this song is still true...Winwood can still sing it without being ridiculous and I can still hear it and feel it (not the inaudible-to-grownups bell of Polar Express - "children playing with toys")

can hear it as long as my heart is beating

experiments w silence (Kind of Blue)

Getting in...
original (remastered) with piano
Santa Monica '72 with bongoes

Playing with form and voice...
with the Dead in 2003 ("Dub Side" version, good when Dead-ified)
Winwood solo on Clapton tour

Not widely covered (just hangs the vocalist out there)
Hard to get it all right, tasteful but demanding, spell broken by one wrong step

Two Allman-inspired southern jam bands also try, mostly successfully...

Widespread Panic, with a vocalist up to the challenge, does fine with it
Government Mule also creditable

Risk never fully avoided of self indulgence in the solo sections in back half of song, but GM gets this right with conversational (Duane-like) guitar solo in the register of the human voice, connective rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic tissue

Some guy named Capaldi had a completely different take, that maybe makes a little clearer the connection to American folk tradition (and the synthetic pop of the 70s that put old songs of death and suffering on tv, accompanied by saccharine string arrangements) but muddles the song in my mind not least because of the read-across to "John Barleycorn Must Die".  Heresy, since he co-wrote it, but without the vocal capability I think this shoehorning into traditional forms diminishes it, or maybe to be fairer, leaves some of the potential unrealized.

But that is not Capaldi's only try - this other one obviates the need for commentary:

Written as a meditation on a kind of energy, something in the air...if not a celebration, certainly not an elegy - but it is a good elegy

Final verse
Don't worry too much, it'll happen to you, as sure as your sorrows are joys...
The spirit is something that no one destroys

and this i believe


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