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Bron Yr Raur

June 2, 2013

Overheard on the way back from the farmer’s market from an elderly woman in a white sun hat talking to an elderly man in shorts and black socks, both sitting behind tables at a stoop sale that no one was browsing: “Consumer confidence is at a five-year high.” Apparently.

In the gutter at the corner of 9th Street and Prospect Park West: A small taxi-yellow card printed with black letters reading VODKA MARTINI. No phone number, address or email. Person, place or thing?

On my stoop, a bedraggled piece of paper reading: RESPECT YOURSELF. Know when to walk away and choose HAPPINESS.

* * * * *

I’ve been giving myself an all-weekend immersion course in Jimmy Page’s “Bron Yr Aur.” As I was breaking down the process in my head, I had to go back and read this post, because “Blackbird” was the last song that obsessed me like this. And I was glad to read it again, because even from the perspective of another piece of music, it still describes the process of learning it really accurately. I made it through the ninth blackbird. I’m not quite ready for other blackbirds yet. I can’t play Bron Yr Aur fast enough to keep up with Page. Interestingly, it sounds like a rather different song at a slower speed. I like both songs, but it takes a minute for me to map what I’m playing onto Jimmy Page’s version.

I’m not sure what it is that makes for an obsessive song. It’s got to be moderately challenging, but needs to have enough that I can get my hands around quickly to keep me going. It has to have a hook, usually a chord progression that attracts me. It has to feel good under my fingers (although I confess that after a weekend of guitar-playing, nothing feels too good under my fingers and I have worn a grove into the middle finger of my left hand).

And it can’t just sound good, but somehow the way my hands put the piece together match the sound in my head so that I feel like I’m building the piece myself. This is not something that happens with every song, although you’d think it would. Often playing a piece feels fairly mechanical. Bron Yr Aur in particular didn’t seem to be a good candidate for something that sounds like it feels. It uses an unusual tuning with three strings tuned to Cs in various octaves that causes some counterintuitive patterns. In a number of cases, for instance, patterns moving from low to high strings don’t sound from low to high, but from low to high to low again. But somehow it all works. It feels like it sounds. It sounds like it feels. It’s a good song.

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