I am in shock at the passing of Chris Squire. When he announced he was battling acute leukemia in mid-May, my first thought was of my coaching buddy Chad, who faced — and won — a similar fight a year ago. The tall bass player, who had survived the 70s, four decades of touring, more than twenty studio recording sessions and any amount of internecine band warfare was going to win as well, to go back out on the road again, to continue to play amazing and intricate music. And on Sunday, suddenly, he was gone, and I felt a deep, personal sense of loss. Squire was central to my musical education, to my desire to play bass, to the love of live music I had tried to inculcate in my family, and to fundamental harmonics that underpinned a thousand nights of homework. I believe he taught all of his fans to listen to all things a bit more acutely and accurately.
I met Chris Squire only once, five years ago, and so his death is not equivalent in impact or grief to that of a family member or friend; it’s more that a sense of order and consistency has been perturbed. A pillar of my musical universe has been harshly removed, and it is a stark reminder of my own mortality.
I wanted to be Chris Squire after I devoured, in every sense, “Yessongs.” I probably was first exposed to Yes through a Philadelphia AOR station (WMMR or WYSP in the day), and “Roundabout” was a gateway to “Fragile” and to “Yessongs”. That one triple LP had an amazing profound an effect on my musical, engineering and social life, and Chris Squire’s bass playing was, and is, central to the story. My Yes fascination unfolds in typical nerdy fashion: During a summer in Harvey Cedars, our older, significantly cooler and more musically inclined downstairs neighbors revealed their Yes affiliations as well, and suddenly liking progressive music wasn’t as weird. I listened to “Yessongs” incessantly, and believe it spurred my love of live music, and desired to support artists through their tours. “Yessongs” wasn’t a perfect reproduction of the albums; it was something so much more, so definitive a performance, so characteristically Chris Squire leading with his bass. Two summers later, working on a math problem late on a Monday night (to be fair, before the internet and portable music players, you entertained yourself with TV, a book, puzzles/games, or by playing outside), I heard all of “Close to the Edge” tracked on WYSP, and found that combination of math and music abstraction intoxicating. I studied every picture, album cover, or poster I could find, and so wanted to be able to combine a cape, striped trousers, and a full-scale bass. Along with Geddy Lee and Jon Camp, Squire produced a wonderful, rich set of sounds out of his Rickenbacker bass, a guitar that became an unusual object of my affection for nearly forty years. When “Going For The One” was released, and high school buddy Lewis loaned it to me to record onto cassette tape, it was an experience like no other. To this day, the bass parts on “Awaken” and “Parallels” give me chills.
Personally, Chris Squire’s legacy is preserved in vignettes: the first time Ben and I saw him at the Beacon Theater (my first live Yes show, after twenty-five years his deft mastery of, and range of sounds from, the triple-neck on “Awaken” (at the State Theater in New Brunswick); seeing Ben pick up a Rickenbacker bass at Sam Ash and pluck out “Heart of the Sunrise;” seeing Squire’s intense and yet simultaneous grinning countenance driving the band forward; a brief “hello” and handshake backstage at Bethel Woods five years ago; making sure that the Taurus pedals on “Starship Trooper” were the first thing to come out of my Sonos Sub; the outpouring of respect and sincere sadness from his musical peers.
Here’s what I learned from his music: The interesting parts of life aren’t necessarily in 4/4 or even whole measures. Define your sound because it defines you. You decide when to play the melody and when to join the rhythm section. Intensity and precision are important but having fun is required.
Thanks, Chris, for teaching all of us to hear (as Tom Brislin writes) “the bass lines in the background of life.”