THEATER - Lifting Shadows - Rich Wilson
Rocket 88 Books - 2009
In general, I'm not a great fan of reading a lot of biographies
about rock stars. They have a tendency to spend their time in accolades that are
repetitive and eventually boring, not to mention that the ego around it is
ridiculous and then revolves about something sensational or other. There are
many out there that really do not reveal anything about the person, other than
some salacious moment of sex, or some other things that supposedly differentiate
that person from the rest of us.
If there is something very good about "Lifting Shadows" by Rich Wilson, it would be that, at least, he does not quite spend his time in adoration and kissing, and at least allows the quotes to tell the story for him.
In this case, here, while the book is excellent, there is only one issue. Some folks might find that reading this thing is just like a 25 minute piece by the band, and might lose a bit of interest along the way, and then get caught up again in the interest later on another piece of work. But, if you are a music fan, and appreciate the whole thing, from a music appreciation concept, instead of just a "song" that is fit for radio, then this book succeeds and allows you an understanding about a band that is interesting and helpful to those who are "students" of a process, and how to work with the ideas around a process.
This is the side that a lot of rock music does not deal with, and tends to not discuss, because this would be undressing the stars way too much, and probably even show that they do not have that much depth behind it all, other than a clever way with words on top of a note. The Dream Theater way, is very clearly defined how it starts and how it comes to fruition, and it shows in their music, which the biography is very clear on. It makes sense! You know the artist, and that the music is not just about some pyrotechnics of their ability and I find it amusing, that JP and JM even said that one of the things that taught them a lot in their young days, was playing along with the LP's at their regular speed of 33RPM, and then try to play along again at 45RPM, and see if you can keep up, and of course, you find that the whole thing is now something else, and you have a completely different piece of music, and ability to work on. So one could say, that this became their mantra and eventually became what they seem to be best known for, although I do not like to label the music "prog" any more than I like to label it "metal".
There is one other side to this process that is interesting, and something that at times, is capable of throwing off a fan, or their feelings. The lyrics, more often than not, are added later, and this might take away a feeling that would be strictly available at that second of creation/inspiration/improvisation and then something else gets placed in there, and supposedly it adds to the music under it. This has been a long story, that even happened to opera when for a long time it was thought that the librettos (i.e., lyrics) did not fit and were just trying to maximize a moment or two to tell a story that we're supposed to believe in. Thus it is hard to think that when Pink Floyd created some lyrics for their early David Gilmour period, would be the same as the process used later for Roger Waters and "The Wall" when in that instance, it was pretty obvious that the words and the feelings were dictating the music and where it would go. This would suggest that any outstanding lyric portion, would not likely arise in a situation like Dream Theater, and its process of creating the music, which was first defined by the 4 musicians, and only later was the vocalist added to it, and we're supposed to believe that it all fits and works naturally, as it should.
Rock music, is not known for being organic, and improvised and a good process for a creative venture, but it is difficult to state that when a band like Dream Theater can do what they do, time and again, and still do it well. But what may hide the majority of it all, is the unbelievable fact that they are supreme musicians and they are well rehearsed and prepared for what they are doing, which, normally, is the worst part of many rock bands, where there is no depth available for them to fall back on, when things are not going right. Dream Theater can rely on their professionalism and ability to carry on a piece of music clearly, and make the local orchestra look cheap in the process.
I've often said that listening to the guitarist, John Petrucci, that if there ever was a virtuoso in the game, this was it. If he played a violin, he would be a master and one of the best ever. But he plays an electric guitar and no one thinks there is any musical value in that. The electric guitar is just another, newer, instrument that will eventually make itself to an orchestra, with one problem. As happened with the history of the violin, it was originally shown as a solo instrument because of its individuality, and then later, it became something else for the background, when 20 violins would be in an orchestra. Hard to see that happening to an electric guitar, but when one can listen to Manuel Gottsching put together guitar on guitar on guitar on guitar and then some, it makes you wonder, where it will all end up! But the fluidity in the style, and how it is used in Dream Theater is one of the few, pure musical abilities used in popular music (hate that term!), and unfortunately, it gets lost in the shuffle of so many bands, and their very own push to success.
In many ways, after 20 some years, and the amount of work, it is hard to fault a band that has done this much, and is still at it. The book spends time showing you that it is their process of creativity and their ability to translate that first impression into something that they end up using on a song or two.
It is, for all intents and purposes, a rare rock book. If anything, you KNOW, how a process can be created and how you can get results out of it. There is a side of that whole thing that is rarely left behind, and the professionalism and ability that rises out of it is always a valid part of the music and the musician, instead of just being a one shot wonder.
I tend to not duel on the comments and sometimes views they have had on other bands, because it tends to lower them, and we don't know what their process is, but it makes us think that a lot of the music that was created as "heavy" that eventually became "metal" was not enduring and valuable because a lot of the folks involved were in it for the wrong reasons ... like the fame, instead of the music. Thus, when I saw this band with Queensryche a few years back, my first comment at the end of the concert to my friend, was that Dream Theater were musicians, whereas Queensryche was concentrating too much on the star side of things instead of the music itself. The virtuosity was in one place, not the other! It kinda suggests that one was lucky to have a hit song, or album, and that was it! And that is usually the life of the rock musician for the most part.
A nice book, that even explains the artists that did the covers and how they worked, and by accident, it tells you how these people work, which is always a valuable lesson for youngsters when they are learning their craft. Instead of thinking that you have to do this or that, you learn that it takes your own inner vision, and desire to illustrate it that makes it important, and is the deciding factor LATER as to whether you continue or quit and go have a wife and 2.1 kids and work at the local dive or two so you can pay for the car and house.
Good reading, but you have to be appreciative of the descriptions of how work is done, and created. Without this part, you will find the book too long and just like a piece of their music, which is unfair. You and I do not go around saying that Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, or Mozart added parts to their music as filler, or because they wanted to show off their musicality with an inspired solo. I tend to not think of their music as having a "solo", which generally is my respect for rock music as REAL music, and not just a song that is destined for radio, or MTV that we think gives someone their 5 minutes of fame!
You have to make that call and understand that.
And if so, then you will appreciate what a Berklee has to offer, not only these folks but others, whose ability, is way above average and they have been involved in music for a long time. It takes a certain kind of person with a specific care to what they do, to get that far and take it beyond. I still think that Dream Theater is one of those bands, regardless of the changes in their early days, and the most recent one.
You can not take the "vision" out of the work! And when you don't, you learn to live with it!
GO, Dream Theater!
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