Who was that guy?

I was listening to “Upside Out” (mostly to try and get to the point where I won’t forget lyrics in the middle of singin’ a tune) and I was struck by something: listening to some of the playing and writing on the recording, I have no idea who that guy was.

In an attempt to explain, I’ll use one example. There are these aggressive bass solos (on “the Price”, “She’s So Heavy”, “Wish You Were Here”) that seem so far removed from the way I play that to my ear it sounds like a different person. I mean, I know it was me, I have memories of playing those tracks, but listening back to them, I don’t feel that I could play like that guy (the previous me is the guy I’m referring to).

I started to wonder if other musicians go through this, and I recall an Allan Holdsworth interview where he claimed he can’t listen to his older recordings because of how bad he plays on them. To me, when I listen to any of his recordings, he always sounds like Allan Holdsworth. I wonder if other folks listening to me, whether from this most recent Coincidence Machine CD, or an old Piltdown Man recording, just hear me as sounding like me (Jimi Durso), even though to me these various eras sound like very different people.

On one hand, I know that I’m not that person. Shunryu Suzuki once said something to the effect that the person you were a year ago is dead, the person you were yesterday is dead. To believe that the person you are now is the same person who was in your skin yesterday is a fallacy. But at the same time, there is a consistency that we hear in others (like I was saying about Holdsworth).

I can’t say i have any explanation of this effect, but it does present me with a conundrum: do I try to play these songs like that guy on the record? Or do I just play them like the guy I am now? I expect that I’ll have to do the latter, since I am the guy I am right now (well, not anymore by the time you read this), but will that be a disappointment for those in the audience who are expecting the guy on the record, and instead get me? Or, if this discrepancy between that guy (the one who did the record for me) and the me of the now is only something I’m aware of, and the audience just hears some semi-permanent “me”, no matter what stage of my evolution that I’m in, then I’m making a big post out of nothing.






  1. Bob

    What would you do if it wasn’t your own material that you were playing? Play it straight or interpret it your own way?

    Look at it this way:

    Scenario I. Jane Guitarist gets up on stage to play Free Bird. (Or Freebird, depending on your frame of reference. Look at that – three sentences in and we digress. Four sentences in and we ramble.) She can choose to play a straight cover, if she’s a good guitarist. No matter how good she is, Jane will still sound like Jane covering Lynyrd Skynyrd. The audience will hear Jane play Skynyrd and think, hey, Jane’s covering Skynyrd. And they’ll either like it or not, based solely on Jane’s performance.

    [Those audience members who will pan Jane, or Jane and the Backup Band, for not sounding note for note like Skynyrd are peasants best suited for attending Tribute Act concerts only and should be discounted as outliers. And treated as such.]

    Scenario II. Jane Guitarist gets up on stage to play Free Bird. Having only brought her didgeridoo this evening, her performance will be more of an interpretation or arrangement than a cover. She’ll sound like Jane playing Skynyrd on a didgeridoo, and the audience will like it or not, based on Jane’s didgeridoodle capacity and their approval or disapproval of her interpretive skills. If anything, kudos to Jane for sheer bravery.

    Scenario III. Jane Guitarist gets up on stage to play All Along the Watchtower. Whether Jane plays guitar or hurdy gurdy, she has more leeway for creativity here. AAtW is a modern standard, so Jane can play ala Dylan or ala Mathews or ala that Jimi guy, or ala Jane. The audience may or not play Let’s Spot the Influence while they listen, but in any case they aren’t expecting Jane to sound exactly like anyone in particular. As Michael Hedges said, “that was Dylan via Jimi via Oklahoma”.

    Scenario IV. Jane Guitarist gets up on stage to play Jane’s Own Song. If an audience member really, truly expected to hear it sound just like on the CD, then s/he should have stayed home and listened to the CD, or gone with the peasant to see We Are Jane (the totally awesome Jane cover band), or caught Rush circa 1989 when Rush sounded like their CDs are were a complete bore in concert. Jane can play the song straight or re-interpret her own song.

    I recently saw Jennie Abrahamson opening for Peter Gabriel, and she commented before playing, “These songs tonight sound nothing like they do on my album.”

    A listener needs to recognize that a musician cannot NOT sound like the musician he or she is at the moment the music leaves the instrument. The musician needs to recognize it also.

    • jimidurso

      Hey Bob,
      thanks for your well-thought-out response. It’s interesting that you brought up Rush because, much as I am a huge fan of theirs, one thing that always disappointed me about them was that their live shows were just attempts at recreating the album experience. I always liked the groups like Hendrix or crimson, where the live show was a departure from the album and something you couldn’t go home and hear (though when I saw Crimson on the double trio tour, they disappointingly attempted to recreate the album. In Bruford’s autobiography he says that at this period Fripp was looking for “quality control” in the performances and thought this was how it could be achieved). I have an uncle who used to always praise the tie he saw Styx as being the best concert he ever went to because live they sounded just like you were listening to their record. This didn’t (and still doesn’t) make sense to me. But I guess as a performeer I’m going to play what I like and figure that it will go appreciated by people like me, and those like my uncle will end up at Styx concerts.

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