RIP Les Paul

My personal take on his passing
I never knew the man. Yet the news of his passing filled me with a kind of grief I could not understand.

My personal take on his passing

Iconic musician/inventor Les Paul died today from complications of pneumonia. He was 94. His passing has triggered a string of much deserved tributes for a man without whom the recording industry as we know it would not exist.

From the solid-body electric guitar (which some would argue he perfected rather than invented) to multitrack recording and gadgets galore, Les Paul was the Thomas Edison of music. Plus, he was a true badass player who could hold his own with anyone — and did so nearly to the end (as in the video below).

I’m not going to ramble on and on about his many accomplishments. There will be plenty of that floating around the web. Instead I want to take a moment to reflect on how his passing has effected me personally.

I never knew the man. I’ve never even seen him play except on video. Yet the news of his passing filled me with a kind of grief I could not understand. After all, I’ve always been a Fender guy. Then it hit me.

Thoughts of a younger me popped into my mind. There I was, hunched over an old four-track tape machine with countless noisemakers, toys, bits of metal, guitars, wires and effects pedals strewn about my bedroom.

Hours would turn into days as I struggled to build walls of sound out of that little machine and that pile of stuff. With the advent of home computers and MIDI in the mid 80s, my obsession with musical gadgetry grew to new heights. And so did my respect for the man they called The Wizard of Waukesha.

The more I would read about his accomplishment when he was a kid, the more I felt I could do the same, or at the very least I felt I could do something. But at some point in my life, I got lost. Wallowing in miscalculated corporate moves and career derailments, that curious little innovator in me went into hiding.

A side effect of that loss of self was chronic procrastination. I just never wanted to do anything anymore and I’d find ways to simply not do them. “Why do today that which can be put off until tomorrow,” was my motto. For years I worked across the street from Iridium Jazz Club, NYC where Les held court on Monday nights. Each week I would say that I can go next week. And now…

It makes me wonder about all of the things I’ve missed in life thinking they would always be there. Eating atop the World Trade Center comes to mind. So today, as the world of music mourns, I will try to learn how to change and progress from a man who never stopped.

Here’s a video that made me cry today. It’s Les on his 93rd birthday (June 9, 2008) playing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ at Iridium, NYC. It was recorded by someone in the audience, so the sound is not so great … but you will cry anyway.

Thanks Les for still inspiring me. Hopefully the cobwebs haven’t grown too thick on my brain for me to start again.



2 Responses to “RIP Les Paul”

  1. Marcus V
    08/14/09 at 12:00 am #

    I still get chills whenever I hear How High the Moon with Mary Ford. What an amazing mind and talent.

  2. Jack Carter
    08/14/09 at 12:45 am #

    You were right, this did make me cry.

Leave a comment