(Last) Weekly Roundup: Total Eclipse Of The Sprezzatura Edition

Let’s start this week with a brief clarification, for those of you who came in late. I never thought it needed saying, but given the content of an e-mail that just got sent to my employer, I suppose it does. The name of this site is Riverside Green, after the drab Columbus, Ohio neighborhood in which my brother and I spent some of our formative years. Most of you get to it via jackbaruth.com, but some of you use jackandbark.com as well. This site significantly predates my association with Hagerty, my marriage, and most of my freelance writing relationships. I launched it as a WordPress blog in March of 2013, almost exactly eight and a half year ago. Since then we have served 4.7 million articles to approximately 1500-2000 readers a day. We served ads for a while, but now we keep the (very dim) lights on thanks to a partnership with Shinola. Thank you for visiting and reading.

I don’t write everything you read here; about two-thirds of the posts are mine. The rest are done by guest and recurring contributors like my brother, Tom Klockau, Ronnie Schreiber, and others. It is fairly common for Tom, in particular, to publish the contributions of other automotive enthusiasts under his byline; when that happens, he identifies that person in the opening paragraph.

All of this has to be said because apparently it’s not obvious from a perusal of the site. For what it’s worth, I assure you that my brother, Tom, Ronnie, and other people who contribute here are absolutely real and not figments of my imagination, nor are they pseudonyms I use so I can write more often.

Good talk. Let’s continue on another topic.

My relationship with Pat Metheny is about as complicated as an entirely one-way thing can be; obviously Pat has no idea of who I am or what I might be thinking about him at any given time. I bought Letter From Home in 1989 and was a compulsive customer of his from then till 2019 or thereabouts. I have pretty much everything he has ever recorded, in multiple formats. Bought all the sheet music. The practice-exercise book. T-shirts, guitar picks. Hell, I bought Zero Tolerance For Silence, a repulsive cacophony of noise that was meant to be a final middle finger towards David Geffen. Have seen him in concert more than a dozen times, including three separate episodes when I caught the same gig twice in a week, at different places. You get the idea.

I was derailed from my all-consuming enthusiasm by a few events. First off was the early iteration of his “Side Eye” tour, which was just sloppy and boring to watch to the point where I wanted my money back. (His keyboard player didn’t know any of the tunes, relying on sheet music but often just comping in random fashion.) Then there was Metheny’s detour into Trump Derangement Syndrome and Black Lives Matter fundraising, which struck me as somewhere between cynical and naive. Finally, there was his tour to Cuba, which came off as an attempt to support and endorse a regime that has been unspeakably cruel to its own people for a very long time. If Pat wants to turn into some kind of late-stage capitalist Castro fanatic who charges $75 a night to watch him noodle chromatic scales in the company of lazy “young lions” whose ability to play “Sirabhorn” is considerably below that of my twelve-year-old son, it’s his call — but I’m not going to support it with my Biden-era dollar. (Now with thirty percent less purchasing power!)

None of that means I won’t listen to Pat’s old stuff. I do that all the time. When my son took delivery of his newest fretless bass, I immediately started drilling him through Jaco’s “Bright Size Life” part so we could play the tune together some day. (Some day this year, so help me God.) There was also very little chance that I was ever going to not watch Rick Beato’s new interview with Metheny, embedded above; I think I waited maybe forty-eight hours after it came out before cueing the audio up for a skatepark trip this past weekend.

At the age of sixty-seven, Metheny is still more or less the person you expect him to be: friendly but reserved, demanding of both others and himself in a methodical and rational fashion, thoughtful to a fault. Some of the sharp edges are gone. It’s hard to imagine this iteration of Metheny dissing Kenny G or firing Mark Ledford from his band for being late to practice (because Led was about to die of heart failure, apparently) or even driving a murderer’s row of prodigy bassists (Pastorius, Egan, Bona) out of the Pat Metheny Group in favor of the dishwater-dull Steve Rodby. In this interview, what you see is more or less what you get, and what you mostly see is a polite Midwesterner espousing the virtues of hard work.

Some of that hard work seems difficult to understand, honestly, which leads me to the true subject of this column. (At the 841-word mark, which is almost a worse indulgence than the first side of the Pat Metheny Group’s Quartet.) During the interview, Metheny makes the following claims, none of which I have any reason to believe is false or exaggerated:

  • He doesn’t eat on the day of any gig, which almost sounds reasonable until you realize that he often plays four or five nights a week on tour;
  • He takes approximately ten pages of handwritten notes after every performance, night after night;
  • He has never tried any drugs or alcohol, not for moral purposes but because he was disturbed by the effect it had on other performers (all but name-checking Jaco, I might add);
  • He has often spent five hours in a single day playing Falling Grace in all twelve keys.

From previous interviews, I know that Metheny usually practices several hours a day, even on days when he has a gig. He is obsessive about improving his playing, his musicianship, and his understanding of both his own songbook and of the traditional jazz canon. It’s difficult not to admire his approach to music. After fifty years of playing out at the highest level, surely we would all excuse him if he just kicked back and milked his success like pretty much every Boomer rock musician in existence. Yet he remains obsessive about the craft. In much the same way that Ferry Porsche once said that his favorite car to bear the family name was “the next one”, Metheny is always looking forward.

That being said, there is something within me that utterly recoils at the thought of cherishing and prioritizing effort the way Metheny so clearly does. It’s occasionally painful for me to watch him play; the lockstep rigidity with which his left hand assumes various chord and triad positions as his right hand clunks away with the pick upside down just makes me flinch. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Metheny looks physically miserable here, like he is doing the last lift of a bench press pyramid starting at max. I don’t look this unhappy playing “Bright Size Life” and I guarantee it’s much more difficult for a worthless hack like me to fumble through it than it is for Pat to crank it out. By contrast, look how relaxed Richard Bona looks, even as he’s playing at the same speed! Even Antonio Sanchez, who is kind of notorious for beating up a drum kit, looks less stressed out. Metheny wrote the tune, you know!

Alright, so it’s not fair to compare a guitarist to other musicians. Let’s watch Lee Ritenour, who is generally understood to be faster and smoother than Metheny if perhaps about one-tenth as historically significant, play a track at similar speed:

Note, for what it’s worth, that Lee’s band looks totally relaxed as well. I’ve seen a lot of worried faces on Pat’s bandstand over the years, with the unhappiest being Giulio Carmassi. Pat is notorious for making his bands rehearse hard. At one point about twelve years ago, he just gave up on human beings altogether and decided to tour with a robotic orchestra, I shit you not. (This is where my Firehouse Subs story comes from, by the way.) One suspects that Pat liked playing with robots best of all, because they wouldn’t die or let him down in some other fashion.

Clean, sober, and hardworking, Pat Metheny will likely play at a very high level for at least another decade, putting out who knows how many recordings along the way. That being said, I don’t know anybody, even among the most fanatic of Metheny aficionados, who spends much time listening to anything he’s done in the past twenty years. We all bought the stuff, and we all gave it a listen, and then we all went back to “Watercolors” or “Still life (Talking)”. Note that this is also true for other hardworking musicians like, say, the fine fellows in Iron Maiden — but there’s nothing about any post-“Seventh Son” Maiden album that simply reeks of tireless effort the way that, say, Metheny’s “The Way Up” does. As with John Updike in his later years, each successive work feels like the product of more effort and less inspiration at the same time.

I’m no musician, obviously. I’m a writer, about to turn fifty and more than a little concerned about what the rest of my life holds for me. Much like Metheny, I don’t suffer from writer’s block of any sort. This morning I cranked out 1730 words in fifty-eight minutes, and only had to correct two sentences after the fact. But I worry that as I age, I will feel less inspiration, even regarding prosaic subjects like a new-car review, and will be tempted to supply the proverbial perspiration in its stead.

That’s a daunting prospect to face. I understand what my son means when he uses “try-hard” as a cutting insult; for him, the apex of happiness consists of nailing a series of terrifying gap-jumps on the first run without breathing hard. The Italians call that sprezzatura, the demonstration of effortless mastery. It is never truly effortless, at least not in the measurement of one’s lifetime effort; Jimi Hendrix worked pretty hard for a long time before he became Jimi Hendrix, and your humble author spent a lot of sleepless nights learning how to write in faster and more efficient fashion. But it looks easy, and that puts the audience at ease. It’s worth striving for, regardless of one’s chosen field.

Pat Metheny has no idea that I’m alive, and he never will. But if I could sit down with him, as Rick Beato did, and presume to offer him some unwanted advice, it would be this: Stop working so hard. Give yourself a chance to breathe. You might find your original self again, the kid who wrote “Bright Size Life” in the first place. You know what strikes me about the contrast between Metheny’s and Bona’s solos in that video above? How much air Bona leaves in his solo. The space between the notes. Was it Miles who said that music is in that space? I don’t know, and I’m too lazy to find out.

* * *

Last week, for Hagerty, I wrote about the new Countach and an alt-universe Car Twitter take on an electric Mustang.

72 Replies to “(Last) Weekly Roundup: Total Eclipse Of The Sprezzatura Edition”

  1. Ryan

    Until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t been on Twitter in ages. That GT-e article is a little too real.

    “Weird car Twitter” really seems to not care for cars.

    • Jack Baruth Post author

      The easiest way to understand it is this: you get into auto writing and realize that it is 100% a public relations shell game directed at every step by the automakers. You can deal with this by trying to change the system, as I’ve been doing since 2007, or you can play along, be a clown or puppet, then channel your rage into edgy political bullshit that just happens to mirror the politics of your handlers in PR. That’s what Car Twitter does.

      • CitationMan

        The groupthink of today’s automotive “lifestyle” journalists is so banal. It doesn’t matter what the vehicle is, it’s always the same commentary. One would think they’d tire of it.
        The GT-e article was great, all that was missing was the Junklopy writer’s service animal.

        • dejal

          As time goes on, I’m letting most of my subscription go. Most read like Madlibs when I was in grade school. Then the obligatory political stances (ANY) and I tune out.

          I like reading about old cars more than new. I have a ton of magazines (I don’t throw them out) on old cars. A story about an old car, 10 years from now will still be as legit as the day the story went to press. I’m about done with Hemmings though. They are recycling cars and people now. They just did a story about a guy being a brand ambassador for BarDalh. They covered the same guy and same car 5-6 years ago. At this point they are mailing it in and hoping no one notices.

      • Crancast

        Automaker PR teams hate cars? Must be just a touch better at hiding it, pay check and all.

        The Mach-E future look was timely. The first GT deliveries last week and underwhelming time at the drag strip, not a good look for Ford and no response either. Have to imagine a few more clicks made their way to your future look than normal. Perfect color choices.

        • Jack Baruth Post author

          They don’t hate cars — well, some of them don’t — but they are all rabidly liberal, to the left of Trotsky.

  2. John C.

    The electric Mustang article was fun. I can definately understand the critique of auto writers that they write strangely similar reviews that come to weird conclusions at odds with what the automakers were trying to demonstrate but spot on with their political consensus. I am glad you can spot it among the current practitioners. Some readers could also spot the trait in previous generations.

    Recall for instance in the 1970s when Mercury did a series of commercials on how soothing, quiet and relaxing the ride of the big Mercury was despite the decay going on in the outside world. One ad with a diamond cutter was so popular it was spoofed on SNL. Yet if you went to a car mag, hoping they would tell you with hard data and expert opinion whether the Mercury really did what it said better than the competing Olds or Chrysler, an answer is not what you find. Instead you have pictures of the car being driven at some bizarre listing angle by some uniformed pinko who is just trying to get the wildest picture of the brand new car right before the brand new radial tire peels off the brand new rim. Somebody with the mature success to be in the market for a new Mercury will understand the attempt to scam from someone that hates him, his success and his choices. There is nothing new in any of this.

    • Jack Baruth Post author

      Oh, I think that’s an unfair comparison. Larry Carlton has written maybe five songs in his whole life, the most popular of which is a pastiche of “Peg”. And he can’t carry a band by himself; I saw him play a show in Nashville twelve years ago that absolutely confirmed his limitations.

      On the other hand, he has done a lot of really memorable solos on the fly.

      • John McMillin

        Last night I again tried to make it through the “Side Eye” album, but I failed. As a keyboardist, Jame Francis is a fine bassist, but I hear little that’s melodically coherent, let alone anything as deliberately structured as a Lyle Mays solo. The disappointment landed hard when I heard the band in Seattle at the beginning of the tour. As they struck up “When We Were Free,” my happy feet locked into one of Pat’s most powerful and soulful grooves, until I thought, “What about the solo?” Francis played an assortment of ornamental filigrees and harmonic puzzles that could never match up with Lyle’s majestic solo on the original, an oceanic wave that crests to a soaring crescendo. Let’s face it, Pat’s original formula of rippling guitar work over Lyle’s rich, complex, syth patches was a sound never heard before in music. It touched a nerve in our still-pliable souls, and that moment isn’t coming back for most of us. Meanwhile, Pat “continues the research,” to borrow one of his favorite phrases.

        Almost all of Metheny’s 20th-century albums are among my favorites. But now that you mention it, more recent ones are more hit-or-miss. The Orchestrion was an unexpected, fascinating project that only he could have done, and some fo the tunes are quite listenable. The Unity Project had its moments. (You mention Caramassi, the hardworking multi-instrumentalist. Are you aware that he recorded a complete cover of “First Circle,” playing everything himself, which convinced Pat to give him the job? He was having a good time on tour, I think.)

        Of all the recent releases, “Road to the Sun” is my strong favorite. It’s what acoustic Pat would sound like with eight hands and 25 strings, with four elite classical guitarists performing his score. Have you heard?

        The aspects of Pat that make him a great artist can also make him difficult to follow over the long haul. He shifts style and tone and approach, so his album catalog is as variably sweet, tart, sticky or nutty as a box of chocolates. He hires sidemen who can and do overshadow him on the bandstand (Potter, and, more so, Antonio). He’ll go a long time — four years, 2015-19 — without releasing anything at all. But we stand waiting for the next project, which odds-on will be amazing.

    • yossarian

      larry carlton’s contributions to other peoples’ work can’t be overstated. both steely dan and joni mitchell did their best work with carlton.

    • Trucky McTruckface

      Steely Dan is generally about as jazzy as my musical tastes get, so I’ll second this opinion. I’m most familiar with Pat Metheny from Joni Mitchell’s Shadows and Light live album; I thought Carlton (and Joni for that matter) accomplished more with less on Hejira.

      I don’t think songwriting credits or band-leading ability is the be all and end all of evaluating guitar chops. Some of the best players I’ve ever heard were glorified sidemen.

  3. ThirdOwner

    “The space between the notes. Was it Miles who said that music is in that space? I don’t know, and I’m too lazy to find out.”

    I recall an interview with Bill Evans where he mentioned his early days with Miles, getting advised (from memory): “leave some space between the notes, and maybe some music will come out”.

    Bill Evans, in contrast to Miles Davis, did not turn cantankerous and self-important toward the end of his life.

    • Jack Baruth Post author

      That’s poor phrasing on my part, haha. There are 2,322 articles on the site, served a total of 4.7 million times. Like the McDonald’s burger.

    • jc

      I’d take any of the following:

      Robert Johnson
      John Lee Hooker
      Les Paul
      Chet Atkins
      Earl Scruggs (yes, he was a hell of a guitar player, too)
      Emily Remler
      Albert Collins
      Freddie King
      James Blood Ulmer
      John or Bucky Pizzarelli
      Herbie Ellis
      Robert Fripp
      Charlie Christian

      and the list goes on and on.

  4. jc

    Well, I’ve listened to Metheny’s stuff for 40 years or so, and I have to say that very little of it has impressed me as anything other than higher-end “smooth jazz”. That “ooh-ooh-ooh synthesized “vocal” pad he slathers over so many of his recordings just adds a whole additional level of cheesiness to the whole thing. The very idea of Pat Metheny criticizing Kenny G for playing bland cheesy overproduced stuff struck me as a particularly ridiculous example of pot-and-kettle.

    As someone who loves jazz from King Oliver to David Murray and Arthur Blythe, I have just never gotten the adulation people shower on Metheny. No question he’s a highly skilled musician, but the material? Well, I’m very sorry, but it’s BORING. Jazz for people who don’t actually like jazz but want to buy records from the “jazz” aisle.

    Let the flamings begin!

    • ThirdOwner

      I suspect his criticism is so intense because the difference is so slight. (sorry, Jack – yes, I’m exaggerating). My impression of the linked Bright Size Life track was “balls-less”. I did like Bona’s playing though.

    • CitationMan

      jc, I agree with you, and I wish the “jazz aisle” still existed. My guess on Metheny’s lack of creativity is simply that he is older. In general it seems that this happens to most artists. His work regimen does not appeal to me, but I’ll bet if he stopped for a year, his creativity isn’t magically going to reappear. The other way to look at this, Kenny G produces similar output without all that extra work. Who’s the fool?

  5. jc

    Oh, one more thing about the Kenny G/ Pat Metheny dust-up:

    Pat was raging about Kenny G’s “sacrilege” of “defacing” – WHICH recording? Only the VERY CHEESIEST, lowest-common-denominator thing Armstrong ever did. “Hello, Dolly” comes across with an Albert Ayler-like level of uncompromising artistic intensity, compared to “What a Wonderful World”.

    Trust me, it’s not the same thing to do an engine swap, lowering, and neon lights underneath, to a 2006 Chevy Malibu as it would be to a pristine 10,000 mile 1953 Corvette.

    • Ronnie Schreiber

      Speaking of Louis Armstrong, the Kosofsky building, where his musical career started, was just destroyed by Hurricane Ida. Armstrong worked for and was more or less adopted by the Kosofsky family as a kid and they loaned him money for his first real horn. Later the building was a music store and hangout for New Orleans musicians. In tribute to the Kosofsky’s Armstrong wore a Star of David pendant.

        • Ronnie Schreiber

          Thanks for the correction. In the spirit of JB’s post I was too lazy to look it up. I personally believe the Armstrong/Karnofsky story is better documented than the Elvis was a Shabbos goy story.

          • stingray65

            I’m sure the PC crowd will think this video is an example of cultural appropriation, but somehow it seems appropriate.

          • Disinterested-Observer


            Is that more or less appropriation than Billie Holiday singing an Abel Meeropol song? Honestly no idea, but it seems to me that this is one of the few areas where intent, as opposed to outcome, matters. As Linus might say about a pumpkin patch, they seem pretty sincere.

          • Ronnie Schreiber

            I was going to mention Strange Fruit, but Porgy and Bess would work just as well as an example.

            Here’s a trifecta of cultural appropriation, a band made of gentile Dutch klezmer musicians (called Di Gojim, love it) playing a song called Yiddish Blues, written in the 1920s.

  6. Rick T.

    I confess to knowing next to nothing about Metheny. I could only watch about a minute of that video. It’s almost too painful to view. Is he on the spectrum somewhere?

    Contrast that with this video with Atkins and Knopfler which I’ve viewed a number of times. It still gives me pleasure. I have read that true mastery is never letting the technique show which the audience will appreciate.

      • Ronnie Schreiber

        Nice playing but it’s shame they had to ruin my mood with Imagine. It’s a pretty melody but a quintessentially stupid song. Lennon’s Working Class Hero is a much better millionaire-rockstar-with-angst song. Speaking of Lennon, are you familiar with Jealous Guy? I’m partial to Donnie Hathaway’s version.

    • Eric L.

      Hmm, not hardly as interesting as Erlend Oye and Eirik Hasalastname! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_k-22rkyyT8

      Did your guys lead the entire audience to wander around the venue while they covered someone else’s song? No.
      Did your guys make mouth trumpet noises in the last track? No.

      And that’s why Erlend’s gone on to record an album with the ~best~ only Icelandic reggae band, whereas this “Chet Atkins” fellow is dead.

      And, even now that He’s Old, Erlend and Eirik’ve still got it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdv5n_Qgiw4

  7. yossarian

    i always thought that metheny’s best work was with lyle mays. the pinnacle being “as falls wichita so falls wichita falls.” i will say that the concert i saw from the “american garage” tour was among the best i’ve ever seen and i’ve seen a lot. jaco on the other hand was in a league of his own…

  8. stingray65

    How about a guy who plays his guitar upside down because he was left handed and was given a right handed guitar? This link is an interesting analysis of Dick Dale’s pioneering technique.

      • Ronnie Schreiber

        Leo Fender literally blew out an eardrum at a Dick Dale show.
        Dale wanted more and more powerful amplifiers and Leo was happy to accommodate him so he could test new designs. While attending a Dale show, Leo was not happy with the way things sounded with a new amp so he went to fiddle with the amp just as Dale hit a chord at full volume.

    • JMcG

      I had a great friend who found an old guitar when he was around 10 years old. It only had the two highest strings left, the B and E. He tuned them to where he thought they sounded good, which ended up being C and F. Later, when he got a guitar with a full set of strings, he kept the two high strings tuned that way. Plus, he was left handed.
      He had the most incredible sense of pitch I ever witnessed. He once pulled an old organ out of a dumpster. I went over to see him a couple of days later and he was playing the intro to Led Zeppelin’s Into the Light note-perfect.
      I don’t think he’d ever played a keyboard before.
      He was, unfortunately, too easily hurt by the world. He ended up drinking himself to death a few years ago.

    • yossarian

      not to take anything away from dick dale but both hendrix and mccartney are lefties who play righty guitars. and yes, mccartney does play guitar. listen to the opening of paperback writer if you doubt it.

  9. goose

    Pat Metheny’s synth guitar sounds like he has mastered playing the wind with his sphincter…adding copious amounts of reverb

    I much prefer stuff by Kenny Burrell etc

    • Jack Baruth Post author

      “Even without a clear risk to their life, people felt obliged—not just for the sake of their career but for their children, their friends, their spouse—to repeat slogans that they didn’t believe, or to perform acts of public obeisance to a political party they privately scorned.”

      • Cleek

        Ol’ Fred called it in the back in the 19th Century.

        “ In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.”

    • Panzer

      The Atlantic is weird.
      So much of it is anti Trump bullshit, but occasionally you get well thought out articles like this one.
      Though that may have something to do with the author in this case. Applebaum is a bit of a ‘beltway insider’ and all that entails, but she is the wife of one of Poland’s recent foreign ministers and she wrote a fantastic work on the mechanics of how Socialism was imposed on central and eastern europe after WW2.

  10. hank chinaski

    Jeez, what a tease. I can’t imagine what sort of email would require a response like that.

    Besides, everyone knows that it’s the comment section, not the content that is written by Jack’s many sock puppets.

    • Jack Baruth Post author

      I can tell you in the comments because I doubt this particular disturbed individual will read this far into them:

      Hagerty was targeted by an allegation that I broke into someone’s house and stole their manuscript of an unpublished book on a Fifties-era classic automobile so I could then become rich and famous by using my pen name “Tom Klockau”, to write a story on it. And yes, we had to take the allegation seriously, it’s an insurance company.

        • Jack Baruth Post author

          It’s fairly astounding… if I squint while playing bass I lose half of my slap tone! And he can really groove.

          That whole band is on fire. Yes, it’s smooth jazz, but I don’t think that’s a capital offense. The ugly secret of music is that people like to enjoy it.

  11. DougD

    Saw Metheny once on the rotating stage at Ontario Place, early 90’s. I confess I don’t quite get his music, or the whole striped shirt thing, but he sure can play. Personally I’d rather be bad at 20 things than really, REALLY good at one thing so you won’t hear Beato interviewing me anytime soon.

    But I thank you for introducing me to Zero Tolerance for Silence. Wow! That’s quite a statement.

  12. KoR

    This should probably be reserved for NEXT whenever’s recap of your work, but my god the piece on the Talisman and a lost love was fantastic. Read like only the best Springsteen songs listen.

    Heartbreak ain’t kind, and suffering for what you will never hold again is among life’s worst experiences. Sorry, man.

  13. Jeff Winkelhake

    Kenny G yo sold a hell of a lot more records and likely got a lot more chicks wet than Pat ever will with that damn sax. Not saying it’s great jazz but gets the job done.

  14. Pingback: On My Watch List, I Guess – Musings from Brian J. Noggle

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