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Guy’s World: From The Mouths Of Musos

There are three different types of learners, broadcaster Sue Scott told me: visual learners, auditory learners and tactile/kinesthetic learners.

Sue, who you may know from such shows as the TV1 weather and It’s in the Bag, taught radio to my Whitireia Polytechnic journalism class.

I was reminded of Sue today when she filled in for Wayne Mowat on what I like to think of as the Mogadon Afternoon Show on National Radio – easy listening sounds of yesteryear and nice soft interviews linked by Wayne’s smooth chocolatey radio voice. Today it was Sue’s breezy tones that caressed National Radio listeners’ ears.

In stark contrast to former Dominion editor and English newspaperman Geoff Baylis, whose tutoring in newspaper practice was as unembellished and to the point as a hard news lead, Sue got to know us with warm, fuzzy, fun exercises that helped us discover what kind of learners we were and helped her to understand us better so she could teach us better. That was the theory anyway.

Sue expressed surprise that the exercise results showed that I, a musician, was a predominantly visual learner. Actually, my auditory and tactile results came in a close second and third. Nevertheless, I too was perplexed that a musician like myself, who’d been developing my ear for years, was a visual person.

Mulling it over in my head, it suddenly became obvious: musicians think in pictures. And rather than talk in hipster jargon, they tend to use ridiculous similes and metaphors, with sometimes hilarious results.

Derek Champion, art percussionist and closet kick-ass rock drummer now living in Vancouver, came out with one of my favourites when we were listening to the Rolling Stones’ Love is Strong from their Bridges to Babylon album. Reacting to a typically obscene Keith Richards Telecaster bend, Derek says “He’s pulling his foreskin back here.” Captured perfectly.

My brother Steve was trying to describe a really flat, characterless jazz guitar tone. “You mean a shopping for sofas at Radford’s tone?” his friend Darren said. “Exactly.”

The name for really raunchy rock n’ roll saxophone is “undie-ripping saxophone.” Once on a gig with my old band The Flanneltones I introduced Steve to the stage promising the audience some undie-ripping saxophone. He was so hammered he sounded more like a kettle on the boil. Somehow he managed to score that night. He didn’t earn it with that particular performance.

My friend and erstwhile bandmate Damon Climo described a messy descending guitar lick he did as “dropping a plate of spaghetti.” Another time it was “dropping a box of blocks.” He said the playing of one guitarist, who had a bad sense of time and a lack of aggression behind the notes, “sounded like a fart in the shower.” Wet and wafty. Another friend I play music with says a certain New Zealand jazz/dance saxophone player he doesn’t care for sounds like “sprinkling water on a duvet.” Musicians have an endless reservoir of this crap.

These are all local examples, but it’s a tendency I have observed in international musicians. Latin rock guitar great Carlos Santana’s interviews are a stream of analogies and platitudes – facile guitarists with nothing to say have “bullets that don’t penetrate paper,” and guys that play too many notes sound like typewriters. Trey Anastasio, of the band Phish, recalled Carlos saying something to him like: “I was watching you play, and the audience were flowers and the music was water and you were the hose.” Sometimes metaphors can get away on you.

Another thing you’ll notice if you talk to rock musicians, if their ears have taken a sustained pummelling from years of gigging, is that the combination of hearing loss and a wide ranging imagination makes for some amusing misheard phrases. For example, my brother and former Head Like a Hole drummer Mark Hamill spotted a guy walking down the street. “isn’t that the keyboardist they sacked,” said Steve. After Mark got over his hysterical laughter, he asked Steve why he had asked him: “Isn’t that the keeper of the rucksacks?”

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