GUITAR-NERDINESS RATING: 10/10
SELF PROMOTIONAL PROPAGANDA: 8/10
Halfway through my Sunday afternoon talk with Broadway guitarist Alec Berlin, I returned to an aside that he mentioned while describing particulars of a certain number: the fact that he played both Guitar 1 and Guitar 2 books during the run. He said it wasn’t that common.
AB: I did the Guitar 1 chair when I went to Berkeley [the original production] and I came back here [when the show went to Broadway in New York] and they gave the Guitar 1 chair to another guy [Michael Aarons] and I ended up doing Guitar 2 chair then the other guy left the show at some point so they just moved me back to Guitar 1.
Playing The Song “American Idiot” Correctly
The opening number and title track of the album/show is a quirky one because it includes a chord [as does the intro to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit] played by letting go of the fretboard with the fretting hand. Think of it as a sort-of stylistic guitar slang. The sound is very unique-to-guitar and gives a brief dissonant and unravelled effect. The open strings of a guitar are tuned E, A, D, G, B, E and a chord made of up those notes could be notated in a variety of ways depending on the range of strings actually hit. All of them would make something like A9(add4)/E. Sometimes it’s simply notated with x’s or indicated as open strings. In this case, the notation refers to something that seems like more of a substitute for what’s happening than an actual representation of the notes being played. We talked about this chord during our conversation of Eb tuning:
Alec Berlin: I mean there’s also that whole… [plays “American Idiot”] – You know that chord that they play all the time?
Aaron Doerr Fellow Musician: Ya the… the open strings. And it’s listed as just half-step up power chord. But it’s the open strings right?
AB: It’s totally that, it’s not a half-step up power chord.
ADfm: Ya…so who – like when you notice things like that – first of all, was it written in your score that way?
Ya, it was.
Okay second of all, did Billie ever see that?
Ha – It was so weird like, he didn’t really look at the music like that –
ADfm: He never looked at it?
AB: He didn’t look – he wouldn’t get – so… Someone else wrote the orchestration – Tom Kit did the orchestration… Billie like, they all came to many different performances you know. They were there for weeks – Billie was in the show at a certain point – So essentially when things started getting close there was one day when we got to rehearsal – this is when we were at Berkeley – suddenly Billie jumps onstage and was like, ‘Hey, can we talk about something real quick?’ and he grabbed a guitar and like, we just went song by song through the whole thing and so we got to that part I was like, ‘Hey Billie it’s just this right’ and he was like, ‘Ya’ and he played
it for me – AT me even – and he played it just the open strings. So I felt like once I got it directly from him that’s the way I can do it.
We were trying to be as faithful as possible to the way the music was recorded. There were a few small incidences where there were transpositions made to accommodate singers and things like that but by and large it’s a faithful representation of the music. I mean if you listen to that record everything is composed – the guitar solos are very composed you know?
Novocaine, Ink and Vacuums
Alec Berlin: That’s one thing I tried to play along with: I would – the Guitar 2 chair plays the solo on Novocaine –
Aaron Doerr Fellow Musician: Ya, our theatre took that part out! LOL
AB: What the whole Novacaine scene?
ADfm: The whole solo. I’m so pissed. [Additional solos from the Guitar 1 book have also been removed since this initial cut]
AB: Oh yeah I don’t blame ya. I mean that’s a really cool part – fun to play. And like at a certain point, maybe two or three months into the Broadway, run I was just like, ‘I’m gonna play what I wanna play,’ and I just played a solo there. I did my own thing. I sorta based it on what’s on the record but it was ninety percent my own thing. And the problem is, you know, what you play is not only like- there’s other people who are depending on hearing it a certain way: The choreographer, the stage manager’s gotta make certain lighting calls –
ADfm: Maybe even some of the actors depending on how they rehearsed it –
Totally. Like… you’re not doing anything in a vacuum.
So I got told- it was very understandable I’m not trying to say it was confrontational at all- they were like ‘You gotta really stick to the ink,’ and you know, that’s the nature of the gig. You know you’re in a tricky place where if the music says ‘play it a half step up- that one chord- you know that’s what your job is: to play what the music says. But on the other hand, there’s the composer right there LOL trying to get you to play… like, he’s answering questions on how to properly all these tunes.
ADfm: And there’s a slash chord in “21 Guns”… It’s like… the chord that hits on “twenty one guns…”
AB: 21 Guns that’s [plays song over the phone] that’s that one right?
Um I mean I think the rationale behind calling it A5/E is it’s a very piano-oriented way to write that voicing. Like, if the first chord is F and then the next chord the bass drops down a half-step, that’s not gonna sound pretty you know? You have [playing guitar] E over F… I mean if the F power chord is F over C and then it’s… E & C – that’s what it is [plays transition]. I think that’s all that’s going on there… I just don’t think they use a chord like A5/E.
ADfm: I don’t either I think they just – it’s a power chord and then they let go of the bass string when they play the power chord
We wrap up our forty-two minute chat and he made sure I knew he would answer any more questions I had anytime. [Really cool.] It feels good to get confirmation of my intuition on some of this – from a pretty good source in this case – and good to nerd-out on guitar music for a while with a pro.
My goal with this show – one that I’ve been looking forward to performing for quite a while – is to play to the best of my ability a faithful representation of the recording, work with the cast and crew to propel the action and story on stage, and supply a Green Day punk-rock energy to the rest of the band, actors and house, because Green Day.
AMERICAN IDIOT runs March 3-26, 2016, Thursday through Saturday evenings, all performances at 8:00 p.m., at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, three blocks east of Grand, in Grand Center. March 3 is a preview. Click here for directions.
Tickets will are on sale through Metrotix outlets, including the Fox Theatre box office. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students/seniors on Thursdays; and $25 for adults and $20 for students/seniors on Fridays and Saturdays. To charge tickets by phone, call Metrotix at 314-534-1111 or visit the Fox Theatre box office or the Metrotix website.
HIGH SCHOOL DISCOUNT: Any high school student with a valid school ID can get a $10 ticket for any performance all season long, with the code word for each show, which will posted only on New Line’s Facebook page. This offer is available only at the door.
EDUCATORS DISCOUNT: New Line offers all currently employed educators half price tickets on any Thursday night, with work ID or other proof of employment. Not valid in connection with other discounts or offers, available only at the door, and subject to availability.
MILITARY DISCOUNT: New Line offers all active duty military personnel half price tickets on any Thursday night, with ID or other proof of active duty status. Not valid in connection with other discounts or offers, available only at the door, and subject to availability.