By Devon “Doc” Wendell
As a songwriter, you want to avoid the obvious comparisons in popular culture. People try to tear you down and discredit you if you try to emulate Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. More than anyone else, these men brought popular music out of the mundane and anti-intellectual and gave the masses permission to at least attempt to be modern day musical poets.
I remember attempting to discuss this with Lou Reed while I was a student at NYU over 23 years ago. Lou snapped “Leonard Cohen is great but he’s not rock n’ roll!” I couldn’t agree more but to me that’s what set Cohen apart from the others. He didn’t fall back on blues changes, doo-wop, or revamped country music. His earliest recordings were folky but it was still Leonard Cohen’s music; a distinct and beautiful category it it’s own right.
Poetry has always been a dark and often deceptive presence in my life. I studied Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Yeats, TS Elliot, William Blake, and on and on. I of course gravitated towards the “darker” and more introspective stuff. I loved that voyeuristic aspect of Leonard Cohen’s writing. I never felt Suzanne was actually known by him. She was observed through desperate, obsessed and gloriously curious eyes. Days without sleep, watching her, studying her, neglecting the self. I too have been there to near death with drunken scabs and delirium tremens. That pleading insanity was there with me in “I’m Your Man.” The case must be made to her or that awful energy turns inward, eating away at common sense and a restful mind. The view from below became sacred with a resounding “Hallelujah.”
I know it all too well. The terror wells up in my body as I try to recall her name and face. What lead up to the fall? Why so far down? I wanted to see all that I could without danger but it never goes that way. And then there’s the disfigured, disintegrating and disgusting world outside that needs redemption. “The Future”, as Cohen painted it is a reality we’ve all seen too clearly. “They say “repent”, I wonder what they meant.” Yes. I feel it right now at this very moment; trapped like a caged rat in it’s center with little air.
But we wanted it darker and so Leonard Cohen heard us from his “Tower Of Song”, took a look at the cards and turned the mirror on us all. “If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game.” One last gasp before departing from this place. “I’m ready my lord”, said in a state of exhaustion and vulnerability. This could be the national anthem for many like myself today. A final look outward and a farewell inward. “They’re lining up the prisoner and the guards are taking aim.”
By Devon “Doc” Wendell
When I think of Bob Cranshaw, I think of the warmth and precision of his bass playing. He created these grooves that were so precise, imaginative and funky that they would become a part of your life forever. I first heard Bob’s playing on Sonny Rollins’ classic album “The Bridge” when I was in junior high school. Then came Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder”, Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge”, Grant Green’s ” Idle Moments”, Nat Adderley’s “Sayin’ Something”, Dexter Gordon’s “Clubhouse” and Hank Mobley’s “A Caddy For Daddy.”
This list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. Bob was one of the most prolific bass players to emerge from the late ’50s and he brought his instantly recognizable approach to every project that he took part in.
Bob’s bass style was a drastic contrast to the aggressive and frenetic work of Paul Chambers; Blue Note’s other major session bassist of the ’60s. Bob had a very personal touch. He was the anchor. He could do more with fewer notes that most could do with the full dozen. Bob would bookend a groove and lock in with the drummer, creating more space for the featured soloists to explore freely. There was this wonderfully dark sparseness and sense of dynamics to Bob’s bass lines that were just relentlessly soulful and true.
I met Bob Cranshaw in the summer of 1996. My musical idol Sonny Rollins performed a free show outside of Lincoln Center in NYC. I knew that Bob had been with Sonny since the first annual Playboy Jazz Festival in 1959 and was on so many epochal Rollins recordings since 1962. It was exciting to see that chemistry between these two giants; a chemistry that had changed and grown over the years as they both changed and grew. I was seated near the stage and when the show ended, I approached Bob and told him how much I admired his work. Bob was gracious, humble and wise; all traits that existed in every note and groove that he played on that bass. He talked about music and his journey being a constant process of learning, growing and giving. This meeting had a profound effect on my thinking and spiritual state of being as a musician. Bob wasn’t the kind of player to think that he had arrived at some point of perfection. The growth happens every moment of every day with openness and hard work. That’s quite a lesson, one that I remind myself of all the time.
It’s no surprise to learn that Bob Cranshaw played a significant role in The Musicians Union and was of constant service to others around him. I felt that genuine warmth and kindness during our brief encounter over 20 years ago. This was a great artist and person who left behind a phenomenal legacy to be studied by countless generations to come.
For those of us who live for this music, it’s very difficult to witness the disrespect that the mainstream media shows by ignoring someone like Bob Cranshaw upon his passing and when he was living for that matter. I do what I do as a writer because The Grammys aren’t likely to do a tribute to Bob Cranshaw this year (or ever) but I’ll keep on doing it because what Bob gave me on that hot summer day outside of Lincoln Center was priceless. Rest In Peace Bob Cranshaw and thank you from the bottom of my heart.