My metal-loving and -practitioning brother-in-law (who just became a father — congrats, Brian!) sometimes uses a word that I’ve always understood but hadn’t learned to fully appreciate until this weekend.
Technically speaking, I’ve known the definition of the word “riff” for years. As an awkward early teenager milling about the guitar store, unsuccessfully giving off the vibe that “No, of course my mom didn’t drive me here,” wanting to touch and play everything but not wanting the other millers-about to know how few chords I knew — riffiness was everywhere. In that situation, you are the riff and the riff is you. People are loudly showing off their “Crazy Train”s and their “Enter Sandman”s — the phrases everyone’s ears know. I can remember feeling jealous about not being able to play those riffs. It didn’t matter that the slightly older teenagers playing them didn’t write them. The power of the riff endures, no matter who is doing the conjuring.
At the time, it seemed like that power was magical. Like the person who wrote the phrase tapped some vital life force or attitude and injected it into the notes to make them bigger than the sum of their parts. And I think there will always be a part of me that believes that. But this weekend, as I was listening to the new Budos Band album Burnt Offering for the fifth or sixth time, two things struck me: