Playing the bass card

In some of the worst news to have hit the music world in recent months, legendary bassist Carlos D has quit Interpol for pastures new. Perhaps what is most exciting about this news is that anyone could care less about a bassist leaving a band.

His exceptional sense of style (any man who wears a gun holster on stage is clearly awesome) combined with Interpol’s reliance on his menacing bass lines meant that he was an integral part of fans’ perspective on the band.

His departure from the band was covered in a way that would place Carlos’ departure at a similar level to Robbie leaving Take That; bloggers fell over each other in their eagerness to pronounce this “the end of Interpol.” Carlos was one of the few of that rare breed, a bassist with charisma. But why does everyone seem to think Carlos lies outside the norm? Why are bassists so boring?

Whilst I have a level of musical understanding that would make Ringo look as talented as the rest of the Beatles, I would imagine that a lot of it has to do with the perceived simplicity of the instrument. To my, admittedly ill-educated, perspective playing bass seems to be little more than thumping a string in time with the drummer.

And as Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers has proved, when it comes to bassists, no one likes a show off. Whilst critics fall over themselves to praise the likes of Hendrix, Marr and Richards, it is rare we see a “Fifty Greatest Bassists” list in Uncut (or any of those other magazines that are stuck in 1975).

Unfortunately it seems this will be a self-perpetuating cycle, one in which journalists have not been particularly helpful. I must admit that being told I have to interview the bassist brings nothing but disappointment. The common perception is that the bassist won’t have anything interesting to say because he’s really not that important to the band.

We (or perhaps I) assume that the bassists don’t have any real input into the band; of course the songwriters are surely going to be the lead singer and the guitarist. Well, except Paul McCartney, and everyone knows he’s the best Beatle. Yet with the odd exception, most bassists are remarkably unmemorable. Even in the most famous bands, the bassist often fades into obscurity, or in the cases of many legendary bands (The Rolling Stones, The Kinks) an interchangeable crowd of session musicians.

But despite the plethora of boring bassists in so many bands there remain some who rise above the milieu. Possibly the don of bassists with personality is Peter Hook. Not only did he help to define the music of Joy Division and New Order but he did it with a loud mouth and “attitude.” Hooky’s always worth a quote and, as loath as I am to use the phrase of a thousand drunk students, he has great banter.

It’s just a shame that there are so few like him and Carlos. Mr Dengler is a great loss to the lineage of charismatic bassists, what a shame that so few are like him.