Finite

Randomly—unexpectedly, that is, not everything you're not expecting to see is random, necessarily—some Finite Element came up in my music app.

Bring on the memories.

Finite Element was a band I played in when I was in college. Don't know what "finite element" is? Don't worry about it. Either you took that class sophomore year if you were an engineering student, or you didn't.

A long time ago—2008, we were just children then—I posted Finite Element's live show in 2003 on WEFT Sessions at 90.1 WEFT in Champaign. It contains, in song #7 "You Could Be Mine", my greatest bass riff, a... I'm not sure what it's called. I know in music there is a thing called a triplet, where there are three evenly space notes in two beats, but what I played was five evenly space notes in two beats. It's so subtle, so useless, and I'm so proud of it—it really tied the room together.

Never mind, never mind... the songs that came up weren't even from that radio gig. The songs that came up were from some demos we recorded in Sunil's apartment in 2003. Green Mars—Marte verde—Green Tuesday Records. I think I'll find all that I can, including set lists that I've saved in a folder (why?), for completeness, archive them here. I listened to the songs—more than once. The feeling that remains from that: I wasn't nearly as bad as I thought I was at the time I was playing the music. It's not great, but it's not bad. But I remember it being bad—viscerally remember it being bad. I still remember all the wrong notes. It's so weird. All the wrong notes... here they come... blarghmm... wrong notes.... I remember them all, like cuts directly to the psyche. But when faced with the same music unexpectedly, without being prepared to judge it, the right, or at least interesting, notes far, far outnumber the wrong notes.

How fallible, exactly, is memory? How much does the mind fixate on the wrong things versus the other things that weren't so wrong?

Let's steal some Kurt Vonnegut, from A Man Without a Country:

And now I want to tell you about my late Uncle Alex. He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is. So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

Those songs on WEFT Sessions... that was right after I bought the fretless bass guitar... the one I sold in California in 2015... when I moved my wife to St. Louis when she went back to university and I stayed behind in California until I could find a job in St. Louis, and there wasn't really enough room for both me and the bass to sleep in the back seat of my car on weekends. I get really cranky about this, but no one knows, no one knows. She doesn't know—she doesn't know how I made the money stretch by not spending money, and she doesn't read these posts, and I can hide those facts here in plain sight. I think that's one of the sticky points when I think of that bass: pleasure and pain; confidence and unconfidence; certainty and uncertainty. I don't often think of that bass guitar, but when I hear the sounds, the unexpected doom doom doom sounds of the fretless, and the smooth sliding between notes... I miss it. I remember buying it with Sunil at Guitar Center in some Chicago suburb. I remember playing it. I remember relegating it to oblivion, an artifact from a prior life.

I still run meetings at work, as an engineer, the same way I used to take the microphone on stage as the bass guitarist, not the leader but the... person who could be counted on to take the microphone when someone needed to take it—for example, at The Embassy in Urbana in October 2003:

Finite Element at The Embassy

Again, I'll say: the most surprising thing about hearing our old music is that I wasn't as bad as I thought I was at the time.

What lessons could I learn from that?

What if...

What if the things I'm doing now—today—aren't as bad as I think?

And so what if the things we played were bad? Like when we played the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun" at The Embassy, but the pace got out of control? So what? No humans were harmed in the making of these memories.

I want to find a lesson in all of this.

I'm not feeling much of a lesson, to be honest.

I can't remember how it all got started. Kevin and Sunil and I were all on the same aerospace engineering senior design team... and we played at a house party near where I lived at 5th and White in Champaign in... fall 2002? And where else did we play? The Illini Union. The Canopy Club. The Iron Post. The Embassy. The last week of Record Service (where is that copy of the Daily Illini with us inside the front cover?). Kams. Bits of the old website exist on the Internet Archive: feband.com. It's so weird, in far retrospect. It's almost like we were doing professional work, but I was fixated on the details, and I didn't really notice the big picture at the time. I was practically dying from lack of confidence, but the product spoke for itself. And what does that say about the things I'm doing today? Yesterday? Tomorrow?

Forget about the sun / For you're the only one / Who burns so bright

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *