What Is and What Might Never Be

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I hope readers will allow me a break from politics. Because it can’t all be about politics, can it?

I’m fascinated by what some call divine providence and the extraordinary circumstances that can result from random chance encounters. I’ll share a couple of examples here, in no particular order of importance.

While clicking on things to watch on Prime Video on one of those perfect “Saturday nights to do nothing,” my wife and I came across the 2014 biopic, “Love & Mercy,” starring John Cusack, Paul Dano, and Elizabeth Banks. Cusack and Dano both play Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame at different ages, and Elizabeth Banks plays the role of Wilson’s late wife, Melinda (Ledbetter) Wilson. Great movie! I highly recommend it, especially if you’re a Beach Boys fan. I grew up in Southern California in the 1970s, so this certainly describes me. 

Read Also: Songwriting Legend Brian Wilson and His Family Pay Touching Tribute to Wife and Mom, Melinda Wilson

By watching this movie, which had escaped my attention for almost ten years, I learned about the random chance encounter between Brian Wilson and Tony Asher, both of whom happened to be at Capitol Recording Studios one day. Asher worked for an advertising agency, writing jingles for commercials, so he was at Capitol to record one. Wilson, of course, was making music for the Beach Boys. As random chance would have it, they both went outside to smoke a cigarette. Neither knew who the other was, but they initiated a conversation for a few minutes. Wilson shared with Asher an unfinished track he was working on. After a few minutes of casual banter, they finished their cigarettes and went their separate ways. That was that. Except that wasn’t the end of it.

A few weeks after their chance meeting, Tony Asher received a phone call from Brian Wilson, who asked him if he could write lyrics. Asher says, Yeah, of course I can. And so, Wilson invites him to come over to a recording studio a few blocks from where Asher was living. Wilson was sitting at the piano, writing music for the album he was working on. That random encounter over a smoking break at Capitol Records resulted in the two becoming friends, and they’d write the song “God Only Knows” and many more after that. What are the odds of this stroke of luck happening? I have no idea, but something inside me says it wasn’t random luck but something more powerful.

That random chance encounter resulted in the musical collaboration that would create several songs on The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” album, which some music critics consider one of the greatest rock and roll albums ever made. Right up there with “Revolver” by The Beatles, Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Led Zeppelin II,” and “Hotel California” by The Eagles.

I’m sure you have your list of albums you’d add to this list, but you get the point.

Speaking of the Eagles and Led Zeppelin: In 1969, when Led Zeppelin was on the first leg of their first American tour, the band played at The Fillmore East in New York City. This iconic venue played a significant role in the music scene. The night of the gig, Joe Walsh showed up with his Gibson Les Paul and told Jimmy Page he had to have this guitar. Page said he didn’t need it because he already had a Les Paul Custom.

According to Page, he knew the Les Paul guitars were very user-friendly since they put out “a lot of level” when you plugged them into the amplifier because they had a double coil pickup. The telecaster he was using had a single-coil pickup. And with the sort of volume that Page was starting to need to put out in live situations with Led Zeppelin, even though he was using controlled feedback, Page said he was finding that his telecaster was starting to squeal a bit.

And so Page tried out Walsh’s Les Paul Standard, and he found that even though he’d get some feedback through the amp and speakers, he could control it more easily. He also realized he could change “the literal note and frequency of the feedback.” Jimmy Page enjoyed playing Joe’s guitar so much that night that he agreed with Walsh that maybe he should buy it from him. Page used it for “Whole Lotta Love” and “What Is and What Should Never Be,” which clinched it for him. It was definitely going to be the Les Paul Standard from that point forward.

When the tour was over, Page used that new guitar he bought from Joe Walsh in the studio to build the guitar sound he knew he wanted to create for Led Zeppelin. His first opportunity was to use it for their iconic second album, which included “Whole Lotta Love,” “What Is and What Should Never Be,” “Heartbreaker,” as well as “Ramble On” and the rest of the tracks on the album. And as they say, the rest is rock’n’roll history.

And so, because on a whim, Joe Walsh decided to show up to a Zeppelin gig in NYC with his guitar in hand, along with a friendly suggestion that Jimmy Page try it out, and because Brian Wilson and Tony Asher both felt like a cigarette at the same time in the same location in Los Angeles, two of rock’s greatest bands would never be the same, and neither would rock and roll.

So it just goes to show you never know what might be waiting for you around the next corner. Or as George Michael says in his moody song “A Different Corner,” “Take me back in time; maybe I can forget, turn a different corner and we never would have met…”

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