Music Monday: Charlie’s Unpredictable Rhythms

My Dance Background & Unpredictability

1987_dance_performance
(the darkest blue legs in the middle of the stage are mine. Freshman year. 1980’s dancewear scariness)

I got lucky when my family moved to Michigan. There was a middle school that was part of the Michigan “Magnet” program. Abbot Middle School had a music-dance-theatre emphasis and even though my local school sat just down the street from where I lived, I took a bus to Abbot Middle School so I could get dance and vocal training and experience.

I had been choreographing dance pieces for fun since I was a young kid, but it was at this school that I got to choreograph on assignment and perform my numbers for other people. I also got to see other the other kids’ pieces. That is where I realized I had an intuitive sense for dance choreography, at least in one aspect — an aspect I realized was not a natural instinct for everyone: predictability. Or, rather, being unpredictable.

The other dancers in my class always repeated each 1-2 count movement on the other side of their body for counts 3-4, and then repeated the sequence a second time.

Right then left — again — right then left. (snore).

I preferred to keep the audience on constant alert so they would never know what I was doing next. Sometimes I would repeat a movement for three counts, but then do something totally unexpected on count four. I would often run a sequence beyond or just short of the standard 1-4 count or 1-8 count rhythm.

Red Hot Chili Peppers

I like the unpredictable and it’s the unpredictable, constantly changing guitar of John Frusciante that most stirs me in the song, Especially in Michigan, on the Stadium Arcadium album, which I blogged about a while back. I also mentioned the song, Charlie, in that original blog post. Charlie — a song about imagination and anything that happens to be your own personal inspiration — has the most unusual, unpredictable, tricky and complicated rhythm.

the Tricky and Complicated Rhythms of Charlie

First off, a disclaimer: I learned to count music for piano, singing, and dance. It’s been years, though, since I’ve had to count music and I’ll be honest — I don’t remember how it all works anymore. In the last fifteen years, the only motivation I’ve had to count music is to figure out how to count the musical timing of this song, Charlie, because it’s so unconventional.

To start with, there seems to be a regular 4-count rhythm for Anthony Kiedis’s lyrics, for the bridge and the chorus, and for the end of the song. As far as I can tell, Flea’s bass timing seems to be a 4-count, as well.

But Frusciante’s guitar goes nuts, playing its own rhythm. And somehow, while his guitar rhythm is totally different from every other part in the song during the verses and the beginning (I can’t even count his guitar parts because the rhythm seems to change mid-sequence), the song is somehow cohesive.

At the same time, Chad’s drum beat, while more conventional than Frusciante’s guitar, sparks its own surprise on every other fourth count. He drums a beat on the 2nd count, plus every other 4th. What about that missing 4th count interval? Chad hits it an eighth of a count later, every other time. Basically, he uses an even-note syncopated rhythm except for every other 4th beat, where he switches to an off-beat syncopation.

Unlike a lot of experimental or unusual songs, Charlie still has a great hook, so it’s unique qualities don’t sacrifice its ability to implant its melody into your psyche, or to capture a wide audience. It’s an absolutely captivating song from a band that, I still insist, is one of the most talented bands of all time. And totally unpredictable in the most endearing way.

* * *


Ella Publishing Co. has nominated me as one of the nine Most Influential Scrapbookers of 2010. You can learn more about this award, the nominees, and the blog tour at ellapublishing.com/misa or ellapublishing.com/blog.

Please help me honor my fellow nominees by visiting their blogs throughout the week. You could win one of 100 cool prizes! Click below to say hello to today’s spotlighted bloggers.

First to the Ella website…

and then to the blog of the first highlighted nominee…

Leave a Reply

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