Book review: Bob Wiseman – Music Lessons
Have you ever wondered if playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in F sharp major, Keith Jarrett’s “The Windup,” and the Macarena have anything in common? Or what makes Mr. Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody #6, Moana, and “Watermelon Man” by Herbie Hancock so special? Okay, I get it. You’re just looking for tips on making cheese, kombucha, and hummus?
Bob Wiseman’s new book, Music Lessons, addresses all of these topics – and more! While he may have at least one answer in mind, be prepared to take a turn down a few avenues of response. In running monologues that are akin to a one-person tennis match, Bob plays devil’s advocate with himself. In one breath, he is asking the audience if he should play more songs and, in another, lambasting someone for asking permission from the audience to continue. Depending on the situation, everything is good or bad to someone, and neither conclusion is wrong. What’s the point in having someone on the other side of the conversation when you can already consider all angles or find bits of unexpected wisdom in a dustbin?
A vulnerable look at his multifaceted relationship with music as an independent Canadian artist, Bob recalls a time in university when he encountered a record by pianist Cecil Taylor that changed his life. Reading this passage reminded me of when I was in university and a friend lent me a copy of Bob Wiseman’s Presented by Lake Michigan Soda. Every night that week, I stayed late at the guitar shop where I worked so I could blast the album on the store speakers. The sounds on that album blew my mind. At the time, I didn’t even realize the context of Bob’s contributions to the fabric of Canadian music (a few of the acts he has played with include Blue Rodeo, Barenaked Ladies, By Divine Right, and Ron Sexsmith) though all that really matters is how his musicianship and compositions challenge listeners to turn on their ears.
Sometimes political and always personal, this book may disappoint readers who are seeking a definitive how-to guide for the music business. It doesn’t seem like Bob would mind disappointing these readers, however, and might even encourage them to rummage around in someone else’s dustbin for advice about how to “make it” as a musician. More esoteric in nature, Music Lessons is written in digestible koan-like snippets that shine a light on Bob’s curated thought subscriptions and draw attention to the balance of his high-interest memory bank. Much like practice, it’s no fun to cram this reading all into one night. In the way that I return to songs, I know I will find myself periodically opening this book, happily aware of creating new connections each time: Herbie Hancock plays Joni Mitchell, Zappa plays the Turtles, Harry Nilsson plays Randy Newman. Neil Young is singing in the road with Paul McCartney, Sun Ra is singing in space with June Tyson. Everything is everything. As Bob says, “if you don’t listen, you can’t get it.”
Bob Wiseman’s book, Music Lessons, is available for purchase wherever books are sold, or from these links:
#nerdalert: I found myself wanting to listen to each song that Bob Wiseman mentions, so I created a YouTube playlist to accompany the references as they appear in the book. Enjoy!