Given how much of my waking life I’ve spent listening to Chris Squire, I should probably have something lucid to say on the occasion of his death.
I really don’t know much about the guy, though. During my growing-up years in the provinces, I never managed to come across a book about Yes, or find any one-on-one interviews with Squire. No videos, either — there was no YouTube then.
(I did catch Yes on the small screen once, when the late-night In Concert TV series devoted an episode to a show from Yes’ Union Tour of 1991. By then I had already seen them in concert, not once but twice … enough to preserve a few of my own memory-snapshots of a tall dark-haired man moving in rhythm, hunched over a bass guitar that was being robbed of its full power by the venue’s limited acoustics.)
In the Internet age, I’ve never bothered to do much further research. I still enjoy the records Yes concocted in the ’70s and early ’80s, but I’ve never felt driven to read deeply about them.
And while their history has been rich with lineup changes and interpersonal friction (remember the line from “Leave It”? “We have the same intrigue as a court of kings”), somehow it’s never risen to the level of commonly retold rock n’ roll lore.
So, unlike some musicians whose colorful personal histories are legend, Chris Squire lives in my memory simply as an instrumental voice — a quicksilver growl, punching its way to the forefront of a crowded band to simultaneously drive the rhythm and comment on the melody. (I have always loved bass players who could do that.)
I’m developing a love-hate relationship with backstory at this point in my life; I find myself wishing I could hear some of my old favorite records without knowing what went into them.
The old Yes records come pretty close to fulfilling that goal.
I have no idea what led them to make Relayer, for instance; I don’t know anything about the state of Jon Anderson’s marriage or Patrick Moraz’s bank account at the time. I only know it’s a challenging, fascinating album that sounds like no other mainstream “rock” record I know, and deserves more credit than it gets.
The night I learned of Chris Squire’s death, I put on a bootleg recording (it might be a legal release at this point) of a Yes concert at Jersey City’s old Roosevelt Stadium in June of 1976.
The music was thick and tangled and melodic and sprawling and punchy and unpredictable and soothing and ambitious, all by rapid-fire turns. Squire’s bass lines ran effortlessly through it all, leading and supporting, roaring, stuttering and jumping.
And after maybe 20 minutes, I decided I didn’t care if I never learned about Chris Squire’s life or read backstage anecdotes about what kind of person he was.
That magnificent low-end roar is all the story I have ever cared to know.
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I suppose I’ll toss in one other random Chris Squire story, such as it is, from my high school days.
I knew a kid who was really into music — he ended up making a career out of it, working, I believe, in live bands for Disney for a while.
Anyway, he hated Chris Squire’s bass playing. As an avid Yes fan, I took the opposite tack, sometimes baiting him in jazz-band practice by playing whatever Squire riffs I could muster in between songs.
He also hated Angus and Malcolm Young of AC/DC: He was into musos like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, and thought the Young brothers were Neanderthals. As an AC/DC fan, I took the opposite side of that argument as well.
And so it was that I used to defend one of rock’s most talented and innovative bassists, and two of rock’s least talented and innovative guitarists — occasionally in the same conversation.
Teenage tastes make strange bedfellows.