Thursday, December 15, 2011
Tinkerer, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief
Les Paul is cooler than everyone that's ever played his guitar.
It's a very specific kind of cool I'm referring to. He was resolutely square, of course. I've known many men like him. Back in the day you could spot them easily. They wore short sleeve dress shirts in the winter and clip-on ties. They had boxy shoes and a bit of grit under their fingernails. They had basements full of oscilloscopes instead of screwdrivers. They were tinkerers.
A tinkerer is a visionary of a very particular kind. The world seems entirely full of "visionaries" nowadays; small H hitlers and amateur Gandhis and everything in between. Read the comments section of any major newspaper and feast your eyes on the ready-made, misspelled manifestos people have on hand for the most mundane of topics. But of course, the peasant's idea of how to be Napoleon is strictly between him and anyone that will listen to him. Napoleon's busy.
There's others thick on the ground that people mistake for visionaries. But screaming at Chinese workers through California accomplices, telling them to make it with one less screw showing, or jump off their factory trying, is not visionary. You're just a wealthy jerk. No, it takes a particular sort of visionary to see what's possible, right now, using what's lying around handy. Practical magic syncretists. Think of Hewlett and Packard in their garage. That sort of thing.
Les Paul invented nothing, or a lot of things, depending on how you look at it. The solid body electric guitar, multi-track recording, overdubbing during recording, various reverb and delay effects. He was actually an innovative and interesting performer, along with his wife, Mary, which is unusual for tinkerers. Lots of luthiers can't play a lick. He's called a pioneer, another word for a guy in there mixing it up on the edge of what's possible when few others saw the potential. I prefer the word "tinkerer." Colt, Ford, Edison, Marconi; lots of others you could name wouldn't turn up their nose at the title, no matter how successful they became as a result of their efforts. I wouldn't, while I was waiting for my sunrise, alone in my shop.