Our planet is held together by bass players. Guileless, a little bit mysterious, endearingly dorky; if they know what’s best for them they’ll be lurking in the shadows next to the drummer. Variations include the singing bass player, the wild art freak bass player, the unshakable wall bass player, the phantom bass player (the Doors), the lone psycho (Joe Preston/Thrones), the spazz (Tim Bogert), the prolific session player (Carol Kaye) and the gentleman-ham (Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris).
Perhaps it’s the bass’ all-encompassing nature – the grey fuzzy forcefield that lays down a constant and reassuring foundation, “holding it down” cosmically for our freaky trebly ways -- that feels so jarring when it steps out into the spotlight. Don’t you know you’re supposed to be a subliminal, looming presence? A flashy bass player admits too much the truth that s/he is running the show. To be too good is to be a shameless wonder. But if you have the skills you can get away with anything – except sweating, of course.
Transgressions: a bass that is too big, unwieldy, unusual (headless), too many strings, too expensive, futuristic, superfluous. We seem to be uncomfortable with too much attention being drawn to the bass itself. Flashy guitars are merely sight gags. Flashy basses are a threat to the hierarchy of the rock band, where each thing has its rank, sonically (its place in the mix) and visually (to avoid visual overload or confusing the audience, everything must be sorted and prioritized). Has there ever been a naked bass player? No. Slap bass: a '70s delicacy, so easily abused. Slap bass, as a noise, calls attention to noise-making itself... noises like crumbs trapped in your bra.
Taste is an issue with bass, more than other instruments. More seems to be at stake, so what is considered “good taste” for a bass is narrow: John Entwistle, Jack Bruce, Jack Casady, Lemmy, Tiran Porter, Toody, Cliff Burton, Flea, Kim Gordon, Tom Petersson, Bootsy Collins, Mike Watt, Noel Redding, Suzi Quattro, Dusty Hill, John Doe, Kira, Steve MacDonald, Phil Lynott… We know what we don’t like: the Seinfeld theme: slap crawling up your back like a demon.
Through it all there is the mystery of bass, the invitation to righteousness, a dainty flicker of a razor in the candlelight, the plunge into wrongness, a breath away.