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“remembering distant memories and recalling other names…”

I’ve been thinking a lot about music. Why I listen to what I listen to and write what I write and hate what I hate and don’t trust what I don’t trust.

And to quote my guru….”remembering distant memories and recalling other names…”

albumsThat first Beatles record. Records plural, actually. It was the Red and the Blue double albums. I was about 10 and must have been a very good boy because Santa left ’em both under the tree. That year I had a bad flu and Christmas morning found me lying on the couch, delirious with fever….alternating between chattering teeth and sweat-soaked blankets. You know the drill. Somehow I rose from the dead and put “Paperback Writer” on the living room stereo, and my fever broke.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Music could raise the dead. It was a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

There was something about those Brits though. Beatles. Stones. Kinks. Who. Faces. Glorious noise and great accents. If you didn’t have a cockney accent rock magazines banished you to 1 star oblivion. Like every other shot-and-a-beer teen I had my Rolling Stones phase (learned that 5 string open G tuning Keith used and felt like the cock of the walk) and my Led Zeppelin phase. By that time I’d heard the tale of blues-men selling their soul to the devil….and one look at Jimmy Page in “The Song Remains the Same” convinced me that he was probably the guy with the clip-board. Whip-thin, eyes heavily lidded…dressed like a Star-Trek villain…he looked preposterous. But you couldn’t take your eyes off him. He was such a force that nobody ever held him accountable for “Dazed and Confused”…..which is extraordinary when you think about it but…well….whatever. Robert Plant was the original Derek Smalls passing through the airport scanner with a vegetable down his pants…and nobody ever held him accountable for that either because there was no such thing as airport security in them days. Such were the strange days of the 1970s.

Strange Days indeed. I read that hilarious Jim Morrison book when I was in 8th grade and swallowed every word of it, even the part about him being part god, part misunderstood Rimbaud. I tried in vain to find one of those long, loose white shirts with the shoelace threaded through the neck…..although I drew the line at the leather pants…not willing to take punches in the face for my new flame. It wasn’t until I actually bought the album “American Prayer”, in which a drunken Lizard King recites what sounds like random pages from the dictionary that my love for the Doors passed from Morrison to how fucking good and unique his band was. Manzarek and Kreiger are the only reason I can still listen to the Doors now. Morrison reminds me too much of how fat Val Kilmer got. It’s depressing.

I spent the summer of my 16th year devouring the Who and Pete Townshend…a love affair that has hit some black ice (“It’s Hard” anyone?) but has never died. “Quadrophenia” was my first Who record….and still remains an endless source of fascination all these years later, mostly because it reminds me of what it felt like to be a teenager, a topic which remains an endless source of fascination for a man rubbing up against the inner thigh of 50. Townshend was the first person who made me want to play the guitar….or at the very least stand in front of a mirror and pretend to play the guitar. Until such funding could be caged, however, a tennis racket would have to do. I never truly learned how to play “The Real Me” until a few years ago, but you’d never know it if you saw what I saw in that mirror all those years ago. Rock and roll never forgets, and neither do I.

One of the all time great rock songs is barely 2 minutes long and is about not knowing to say. “Can’t Explain” is sorta what all songwriters are up again. We have no idea why we feel this way…..but are forever attempt to articulate it anyway. If we can’t find the words we reach for the melody. And if that doesn’t quite do it we can always turn it up to 11 and hope for the best. When I was in college I heard this band called REM, and they took articulation to places it had never been before. I can still listen to “Sitting Still” and “Carnival of Sorts” and dance to their stuttering melodies and sing along to words that nobody really knows because they are utterly intelligible. But it didn’t matter. “Murmur” and “Reckoning” and “Chronic Town” changed lives. I know this because they changed mine. REM were as good a rock and roll band as our nation ever produced….and I shudder to think what synthesizers and the huge drum sound of the 80s would have done to my brain-stem without their musical antidote.

And then Cobain blew up the world with those 4 chords and all the pretenders grabbed their hair-spray and ran screaming from the room. Pretty heady stuff for a mixed up kid from a dead town who never believed a word of what all these strange people were saying about him.

He was listening to REM when he died. Trying to decipher rock and roll.

In a bit..


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. December 1, 2015 at 6:57 pm


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