Like most weeks, Friday’s wonder post is the easiest to figure out with both what I am going to say, and the musician that embodies that quality for the band. It is a rare treat that the story also aligns with the song title. And if you read these enough, you might guess the player I focus on the most is the Bass player – and this week you would be right. But I am already ahead of myself – one of my Values that is less helpful is being “Restless” – racing ahead and never being happy with where I am. It is what made me a great Youth worker at church, and an even better recruiter…
… I probably got into Youth work when I helped with a Lock-In as a parent. It is an odd custom where we would have the kids come Friday afternoon, and spend the night at church. We would plan games, movies, often a service at midnight., and of course breakfast the next morning. Anyway, planning activities and games was something my parents Valued for their college-age group when I was little, so it was no wonder I picked that mantle up. It also fit my twisted sense of humor to hide during “Sardines” and scare the hell out of the kids jumping out of the shadows and yelling BOO at the top of my lungs.
John Pastorious was born in Pennsylvania to a Finnish mother and a father who was a Jazz singer and drummer in 1951. The family moved to near Fort Lauderdale when he was 8. Florida suited him, and his brother nicknamed him “Mowgli” because he loved the wonder of leaping from tree to tree — shirtless. Like his father, he played the drums until he injured his wrist playing football as a teen (13), bad enough to need surgery. He switched to playing bass, and played upright like every other self-respecting bass player… until the humidity of Florida cracked it, and he traded it for a 1962 Fender Jazz bass – which at the time was not really that important an instrument. “Real” bass players didn’t play electric…
… Leo had “helped” bass players by adding frets to make their notes more “precise”. John didn’t really need or want the help… so he pulled the frets out with pliers (and some of you are remembering Eddie Van Halen – yep… same creativity). Oh – and he did it 4 hours before a show. It worked, but the “holes” needed filling. Again – no problem – he poured epoxy all over the fretboard and “sealed it”. The result was a very smooth surface, very “bright” compared to the wood on an upright or any other bass for that matter. It is now known as The Bass of Doom, and called the “electric fretless bass”. And yes… I have one.
But that was only the start – he wanted to completely change the way Bass was seen in the band. He wondered why it was normally Valued for being in the background with the drummer, and holding down the rhythm. Does that sound like Mowgli? No – he wanted the Bass to be out front and be as creative and involved as the other “lead” instruments – sax, trumpet, keys, etc. And he also wanted to dazzle the audience, so he would put down talcum powder on the stage so he could dance like James Brown, and flip in the air… WHILE playing amazing Bass riffs.
I loved working with teens, from coaching Soccer to being a Youth worker, they always challenged me to be … real. That is the Value that is most important to young people as they are coming of age. They can smell a poser a mile away, and while that can be intimidating, I encouraged many of my friends to give it a try. Each asked – why me? Most didn’t think they were worthy of the work, that they needed more accomplishments. Nope – the Value they need the most, particularly as teens, is someone that can show them that… it is not easy being an adult. That the things they see that are incongruous are exactly that. And most of all, that you can be an adult around them when their own parents literally can’t. I had to duck and weave through the minefield of not being in the group my own teens were in, and “mostly” succeeded… I hope.
I will save the rest of John’s story for Sunday as I wrap up the week. For now, he picked up a name in his teens – a baseball umpire he admired named Jocko… and then when it was misspelled, he liked it, and it stuck. You know him, or should, as Jaco. He completely reinvented the way the bass is played, and to this day, is the only member of the Down Beat (Jazz’ Rolling Stone) Hall of Fame that played electric.
Wonder about the odd sound that is laced throughout this amazing piece (… and in yesterday’s…). and about what you can be doing for the next generation. It is no wonder that they have taken so many blows this last year, some of the most important for forming Values. Welcome to…. Teen Town.