Song of the Broad-Axe Publications

On Andrew Longaker -Russell Block

There was an obvious flaw in the point of view. Andrew is no statue of this single occasion on which I have to write, this script not marble to be broken into a single posture. He is not to an hour confined, nor to a single perspective definitive. The writing must be quieter than a chisel among an audience, tacked in the dim locales of Andrew’s performances, quiet enough not to err in perceiving significance, silent. It would be easy to mischaracterize Andrew and his music, as my drafts prove. Thankfully, I know my people in this world, and they are not indifferent, the responsibility I have to them not a task of indifference either. This essay as well has a responsibility to myself, to pace in this too brief narrative the same quickened locales though which I took steps towards my current course. Not remembering the drives on the Eisenhower to attend, or the walks to the Bridgeport apartment, over Bridgeport’s bridges, when I took my first apartment, nor the drives on the Eisenhower when I returned from Detroit or the West Coast, it would cheapen the earnest shows abounding with the visual and experiential. Through intermittent years, when creatives jump and froth as much as their inclinations and means will take them, I had the frequent privilege of hearing Andrew’s playing, to benefit from witnessing the disciplined practice when I first lived in Chicago, and attending again when my departures inevitably returned me. My characterization comes from that privilege. 

 

Understanding something, at least, personally, it only requires a human element, to make this essay personal, living in other words. I comprise in writing the qualities that are worth sanctifying as I see them. I’ve had the privilege to see an extent of an artist’s life in which difficulties will inevitably arise, and I’ve seen how a person responds to those inevitabilities. No greater education in humanity could I have hoped for or sought than to see these difficulties and response. To navigate those, to persevere through the playing and rhythm, the phrasing, the conceptualization, the lengthy hours of daily practice, the life of getting by doing just that in a Bridgeport apartment, his origins Southern California, the personal history of surfing, the community he comprised around himself in Chicago; the man entire animates the string.

 

At the time I first went to Andrew Longaker’s apartment, I was twenty-one. I had a tobacco stratocaster. I was fond of it, and of my songs I had bootstrapped together for a short-lived rock act. Fezziwig was the name, and a portent of where my mind’s artistic thinking was then at and where it would evolve towards without bandmates. They are strange sensations as I write this, recalling that uprightness of my brash departure from an overpriced physics program to gin the impulse of stage-presence. The impulse eventually swaddled as so few acts of my sort resist. My intention was to take of the guitar’s finish a metaphor for burning out, one I attempted to realize in the songwriting, inclined to act out as much personally too. Failing that approximation of Neil Young and to get by on a little strum of the lyre, the walk of the field, and the great lie down, I sat at a good Steinway and notebooks. They are immaculate objects, demanding enough to comfort through great degrees of human turbulence. Previous classical training at the piano and literature became the twin forces moving through my life, revolved as stars to evidence at their center a gravitational reality without any actual embodiment.

 

At the apartment then, I was an acolyte to the maturity present in the playing of Andrew Longaker and his roommate Kevin Lipa. Theirs was not so deceptive as mine, self-deceptive or otherwise Theirs and their pursuit was an honest account of nature. Although I don’t doubt there was an iota of Stephano’s drunker lyricism and merry tripping or Puck’s musing in rhyme to what I was doing after Brian May became a great influence for me, but one eventually to fall to my wayside. It was in no small part because Andrew’s influence came at a critical time to expand my understanding of what musicianship is, to the eventual detriment of Mr. May. Entering the arena, at least, with no intellectual inclination, I discovered something there, only through showing up. It turns out in life showing up can be the all difficult step, the one where the most is to be learned, and the most obvious. Although the species of our pursuits were similar only in that they took place on the same instrument. The instruments themselves, one a Fender, theirs Gibsons, spelled out relative philosophies, and as for the playing there was no question. 

 

Andrew Longaker is capable of vocalizations on the instrument, a quality like that of tongues fallen on a room, vocalizations that are and were then a high order of communication and enviable if even its language took time for me to appreciate. It would be a quality I learned to produce at the piano in my own manner, one founded on an authenticity present in Andrew’s playing. It was challenging at first, not the least because it demanded of me first to realize, through the insistence, from him and Kevin, my capacity to listen was lacking. Andrew is proud of this mutability, claiming to, of course, have listened to Wes Montgomery and the ilk of great jazz guitarists, but producing sometimes the inflection of the trumpeters derived from long study with recordings. Sometimes, in his hands, his guitar makes a clicking almost, assisted by the circuitry, that I could piece back to the drum sets I heard through the speakers of their apartment, specifically to the raw sound of wood on the rim in the breaks drummers take. When in the Duke Ellington I often heard those, it wouldn’t be something I thought about Andrew’s playing until time spend listening accreted in me, and it’s a quality that contributes, both in those recordings and in Andrew’s playing. There are many false jazz musicians who prefer a rhetoric of jazz as the point entire. While I’m sure it would be an easy accident to indulge, it says everything about Andrew that he manages to avoid this, to say he manages to be a musician and play music without playing musician. 

 

Ultimately, although I believe in these understandings, and many more I get in their colors of the live performance I could never translate, I could do nothing more to convince more than the music itself does, and so it can only be my task to reflect the same capacity for sentiment about Andrew in writing as I understand from Andrew’s playing. In other words, I must do the music service, service to all the quality that catches on the fingertips, catches in the controlled action of the side holding the plectrum, in the parable and the theatrics of good art not wanting in his musicianship. The difficulty a good writer has in appraising the other mediums, that of paint, and that of the note, is that the writer won’t be content without a body serviceable as the work it appraises. We will find out about myself. It compounds the difficulty that music cannot do the same for writing that writing claims about music. Always Nietzsche’s capacity in this regard is taunting to the writer. As a pianist, I am set to practice the quality of the bow in the left hand parts of Chopin’s Nocturnes and sing in the right; and so, I do not change modes; I don’t modulate, to practice doing a service Nietzsche could. I only take now the left hand I write with from the keyboard and attempt the right. 

 

Once I made my unpublished return to Chicago across Rubicons, I hosted a kind of writer-mystic and friend of mine from time I spent in New York coffeehouses writing the second novel of mine. It is a deliriously consumptive book called :B That this person and the subject of the essay should encounter only seemed appropriate. I had not been to an apartment show of the sort at which they encountered in two or more years. This writer-mystic is astoundingly slow to move, a bird on the wire taughtest concerns that occupy man, sitting upon its middle, apart from all company, as though waiting for an effect of gravity to lower it and the bird on it to the earth, if, though, this largely went unnoticed during his day job stocking at a Greenwich Village grocery store. This writer-mystic was clearly attenuated to the experience beyond an average first time listener’s presence. So this infrequency stretched among others on the floor of Andrew Longaker’s Bridgeport apartment, listening in the dim room at night to Andrew’s solo action on a Gibson he’s played since before I met him. Exactly the music produced the amplifier as it was played. 

 

When done, when people stood and mingled again, the writer-mystic expressed an appreciation of music, a significant expression. As we learned to watch in this writer-mystic friend of ours, so slow to move, any expression of change, we learned to appreciate the significant. Such an expression of change belied a whole new world of experience. For those voluntarily blind to the world, it takes a significant realization for them to see after. It takes them finally coming to understand what they’re looking for exists amid the world they wrapped a bandage about themselves to make void justly, and that’s what Andrew’s music did for him. On the floor I’d like to know which of them he saw in listening, if it was Van Gogh’s room in either order, or Rembrandt’s night watch. Unlikely the Blue Guitarist came to mind considering the mystic’s temperament. Or perhaps most fittingly, as it pertains my curiosity, I would like to know if it wasn’t the Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp we approximated there. No one would find out. For, the slow-moving are slow to reveal. Down no stairs, we exited when the night was through.

 

It has been a story of leavings while we creatives were then at our most migratory, if now we still don’t feel we have found the place to properly provide for our production and appreciation. This essay now expands into surfing as Andrew’s life has expanded back into surfing by virtue of leaving his place in Chicago for a return to Los Angeles, where he grew up with the lifestyle. Most people I know of the intensity and rare devotedness required to maintain an art form manage to curtail that to a single place or that exclusively of its origin. I put most of my dedicated time into writing novels, but came up against the reality of how far those will go without the uptake of effort for the distribution beyond their writing and submission to agents. I then had to take up that effort myself in a manner that doubtlessly distracts from the practice of writing. I was skeptical when I heard about Andrew’s return to surfing, but I know that the power inherent to creation has a hard time curtailing itself to one thing. Although it may seem more natural for a writer of novels to go into playwriting, producing those and a journal, who could say my undertaking isn’t half-baked or hopeless except for the trying? In my own acolyte experience with the hobby, I found there is a rustic’s quality to the lifestyle, an intimacy with the world almost like a farmer, in fact more like Shakespeare’s rustics than Prospero. Honesty is a different variety of authority than dictate. Honesty cannot control nature, it can only be given as second-hand as any weather by the shepherds in Bohemia and the third act of The Winter’s Tale. It could never be advice for Lear in the storm, for it is not foolish, nor entirely noble.

 

The line a surfer takes feels to be individual entirely, liberated from the immaculate pedigree that writing cannot shake off in its course. It is part of what gives the sport an astounding velocity and expressiveness. In listening to Andrew on the bandstand, he traverses the combo not entirely unlike this surfer. Only the abstract entity of potential navigated is unlike water’s definitiveness. It is an entity of potential his guitar is only superimposed on or underlining but one that could be taken anywhere and anywhere can be gone across it. Waves are no manifestation of human consciousness, allowing on their surface what is strictly possible. In more senses than I could detail, music relates to surfing, each an account of nature, risky because everyone has an individual responsibility to perform incredibly, to keep from drowning too. Ergo honest, ergo it is suitable for Andrew to do. Ours is a time of standing upon chaos, and the practitioners willing to risk are honest and the only ones for whom I can attest. What could be more democratic than the retaining laws of water’s each part?

 

Traveling myself, I played on a poorly tuned grand piano at a Nashville YMCA. I was playing Schumann’s Davidsbundzlertanze, a series of compositions vaguely related to a fictionalized brotherhood of artists whose pre-Weimar humors personify the pieces, dedicated to a descendant of Goethe, apparently a spiritual member to this league of David via ancestry. Producing in my own framework the white-gold realization of its tones in the second piece, it did not break, but clarified into a realization. I die. The cylindrical qualities of limbs, as I saw them, that play the keys, animated by long practice become no longer known to the world nor to myself. Limbs to joints, joints to musculature over knuckles, and everything down to the last crook of a finger and breaths between the felt and string, it goes. All my experience, any traveling, hopes, loves, they end, such that the unrecognizable comes on in an overwhelming quantity. So grossly blunt was this spark that it makes me believe deeper in a life like Andrew Longaker’s, a life I hope I understand. I assume Andrew is owed hours in eternity. There’s no one responsible. Perhaps there was an agent who dawdled some seconds of decisions away about Andrew, or perhaps a club let delay a proposition Andrew made to perform there. I couldn’t know such things. 

 

It ends up at my apartment, where a host gathered after a play of mine staged. Overall though this too is an image on the earth to be overwhelmed, I was ecstatic to have the company. At the piano, I know I’ve entered into a powerful territory when I come face to face with an instance of my past, places in New York I walked through in such a state of destitution it riddled my brain as if life anchored itself, there in the worst possible place of my existence. When they return at the piano, I feel the strange relief that has become an addiction of fracturing across the two-hands. Sometimes I vocalize an approximation of some girl I love in the emotional excitement of a higher register and the through the greatest figurations man has ever composed, finery enhancing that person’s great significance in my mind. Or, I hear myself somewhere in between. I’m sure I wasn't thinking much as we sat around. Public or semi-public performance I haven’t had enough experience in to escape a kind of personal frenzy. In a conversation before going to the piano, with a mutual friend of Andrews, we talked about meeting Andrew for the first time and that almost offending insistence that suggested the listening wasn’t being done well enough. Impossible, it almost seems, because of how foundational it would before the years after. I was playing Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody #2 from the score, and in the ornamental run of the 24th bar, to hear behind me Andrew say simply “Nice, man.” He had never actually hear me play the piano. I realized. My time in Chicago was intermittent, and anywhere that I had a piano too far from public transit. And although I wasn’t thinking much, I can hope I did something to sanctify that sitting for the people still there. It’s something I hope to offer people going forward, of course understanding the past. The final thing to be said is that for this reason, to me, Andrew is an important person, a man who has seen enough not to interfere when a simpler course can help his fellow lay stores in for tomorrow. He’s someone I can be glad started years before me, so that I can be self-assured in the good of doing the same for anyone to come along a few or many years after me.

From friends at the Black Ensemble Theater: Comedy Night at the Black Ensemble Theater, October 9th

Photography by Connor Walsh, photographer featured in the Rialto Books Review vol.000

Photography by Connor Walsh, photographer featured in the Rialto Books Review vol.000

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