Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tonight’s Nightmare, Guest-Starring the Spirit of the St. Louis Blues

Let’s say you hadn’t heard of Alvino Rey until now. It’s okay. I hadn’t either until tonight, but I now know enough to offer a criminally superficial overview of his legacy. Rey pioneered the electric guitar on and off-stage, showcasing his trademark guitar solos whenever he performed but also tinkering with the technology behind the music, even collaborating with names such as Fender and Gibson. Those working in that industry today recognize his importance. Said a Gibson historian interviewed for a Smithsonian article on Rey, “For millions of radio listeners, the first time they heard the sound of an electric guitar, it was played by Alvino.” Now, lest you think his influence might stop with swing nuts and guitar wonks, know that he was also the grandfather of Win and William Butler of The Arcade Fire, meaning that there’s a through-line connecting his midcentury heyday to the weird, artful music being played today.

I don’t doubt people who know more about music could offer an educated opinion about Rey and explain why he’s not as well-known today as Les Paul. I only ended up reading the little I did about Rey because I stumbled upon the following video, which features Rey performing “St. Louis Blues” alongside Stringy, a nightmarish guitar puppet whose face is stretched into a permasmile but who mournfully intones, “I am the spirit of the St. Louis blues. I am so blue. All the day long I am blue.” Also, it’s a creepy robot voice. I kind of think you should just watch it.

Terrifying, yes?

Granted, I’d be hopelessly blue too if I looked like the result of Charlie McCarthy getting drunk and knocking up a ukulele, but the important takeaway here is that not even a misbegotten freak like Stringy can resist the sound of Alvino Rey’s orchestra, which prompts him to twitch his arms and wiggle his feet like he’s suffering a moderate electric shock. Which he may have been.

No, wait — the takeaway here is how standards for creepiness have apparently shifted since this clip was recorded in 1944. No, wait — the takeaway here should be the novelty in Stringy’s voice being supplied by Rey’s wife, the singer Luise King via technology that Rey himself inventedNo! The takeaway is Win Butler marrying his own collaborator, fellow Arcade Fire member Regine Chassagne, opening up the possibility for them to revive Stringy at Coachella next year.

Yep, that’s it. Come on, Win and Regine. You can make this happen.

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