Monday, March 27, 2006

I'm pledging my time

Okay, here's the deal. I'm bored. I need excitement, I need challenge. And that post yesterday (coupled with the Hornby) made me think of all the things about Rock I've always wanted to say but never quite got around to. So.

Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to declare this Rock and Roll Week. Which means that for the next seven days I'm going to post about Rock. And only about Rock. Not because I have anything particularly important or insightful to say. Not because I claim to be some sort of expert. Just because it's there.

Right. Dim lights. Check. Fish out CD of Blonde on Blonde. Check. Turn volume up way, way, high. Check. Go.

Prologue: A time of innocence, a time of confidences

As any self-respecting Reader's Digest regular will tell you, there's nothing like a good dose of confession. Builds character. Whitewashes the soul. Clears the sinuses. So what better way to get started on a project (well, given that marijuana is illegal)?

Here it is then: Growing up, I almost never listened to Rock *takes pause to let gasps die down; sings along to the ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face in the meantime*. If there was one motif to my teenage years, it was the idea that the fastest way to acquire an identity when you're a teenager- and can't brag about all the stuff you've read / listened to / seen - is to brag about all the things you haven't read / listened to / seen. Or rather, all the things you absolutely REFUSE to read / listen to / see.

All around me people were discovering Pink Floyd, insisting in their high-pitched voices that Comfortably Numb was poetry. I didn't disagree (though even then I'd read enough to know that Roger Waters was good, but he was no Shelley), but figured there was no way I was going to get anywhere by meekly agreeing with this, so with the kind of brittle contrariness that only the self consciousness of being 15 can bring out, I decided to go the other way.

Classical music was the thing, I proclaimed. There was only one Music, and Mozart was its prophet. My head filled with theories about the primacy of absolute music, I condemned the entire 20th century as being a musical wasteland, saving only Stravinsky from the general wreck (yes, even Bartok was sacrificed). The Beatles were all right, but they were childish and derivative; Simon and Garfunkel were exquisite, but that was about the words, not about the music. Everything else was a waste of time [1].

And so, while others were discovering Jethro Tull, I was scaffolding myself with Bach. While other people listened to Santana and the Grateful Dead; I had Mozart. While Other People found their poetry in Dylan, I found it in Schubert. And as for that overflow of angst that everyone else was trying to outshout with Metallica and Sabbath - well, what did you think Beethoven was for?

(I still remember being really mad at the world one day - because the world is always unfair to adolescents isn't it? - and slamming the door of my room shut and working off my rage by listening to Beethoven's Emperor Concerto as loud as my stereo system and the foundations of my house would allow. On the whole, this is not something I regret - for glorious, untamed aggression, I'd still pick good old Ludwig van over anyone else [2]).

Looking back, wryly, it's clear to me that I was completely insufferable as an adolescent (Mom, Dad, if you're reading this, is it too late to apologise?). It wasn't just with music that I was riding my high horse, either - this was also the year that I decided that reading prose was a waste of time - everyone knew poetry was the superior art form, only people who were too mentally deficient to get verse were reduced to reading fiction. (Oh, the philosophers were all right, and one could forgive Shakespeare his prose passages, but otherwise it was poetry that counted. Unless you were an Ancient Greek.). At any rate, for some two years of my life I listened to nothing but classical music (mostly Western, though some Hindustani crept in as well). And when that monopoly finally got broken, it wasn't Rock that broke it. It was Jazz. Reading Toni Morrison and Ralph Ellison back to back sent me running to the record store for Louis Armstrong records, and pretty soon Te Kanawa and Carreras had been joined by Ella, Lady Day and Miles. "Just listen to that", I would tell anyone who was willing to listen, as Armstrong played Swing Low, Sweet Chariot in the background, "how can you not HEAR that that's music, and all this other stuff, all this Rock, is just noise."

*Sound of scratchy old record playing "Hiding in my room / Safe within my womb / I touch no one and no one touches me // I am a rock / I am an aaaiiisland"*

I wasn't always a teenager, of course. Before hormones turned me into an insistent, supercilious snob, I was a nice, regular kid (ya, ya, snort in disbelief if you like - I was) who grew up listening to Penny Lane and feeling a strange sense of kinship to that haunting violin on Eleanor Rigby. Not that my parents have particularly stellar taste in music. Their favourites include such cringe-fest regulars as ABBA, Boney M and Paul Anka. But they're also the reason that I could hum For Emily, when I may find her before I could spell burgundy, the reason that, to this day, I can't ask someone to stop speeding without launching into "Slow down, you're movin' too fast".

And my father's all time favourite record is still Abbey Road - he's heard that damn album so many times that he remembers every word, every riff by heart (it's not like Hey Jude, where, truth be told - sorry Dad - he's still a little confused about the order of the stanzas) and insists on proving this by singing five seconds ahead of the Beatles, as if trying to beat them at their own game. For as far back as I can remember, it's been a ritual in our house that when Ringo finally takes off on The End (you know - that bit that goes: "Are you going to be in my dreams Tonight" dat dat dat dat dat dat dadadada dat dat dat dat dat dat....) the stereo system has to be turned up to full volume so we can all sit in awestruck silence appreciating the majesty of that moment. I used to find this embarassing - now I can't listen to that bit without feeling the urge to reach for the volume knob. [3]

At any rate, it's not as though I didn't have the background to turn into a serious Rock fan (I'm not even mentioning my uncle here, who spent a significant part of his time back from the Institute trying to convince me, his six year old nephew, that Credence Clearwater Revival were Gods, and whose scratchy old tape of Wish You Were Here was where I first heard Shine on you crazy diamond). If I decided I preferred Wagner to Deep Purple, the fault is entirely my own.

What finally broke through this denial of mine, was, fittingly, Dylan. When I first started listening to Dylan, I told myself it was only for the poetry - I was interested in the lyrics, not in the tunes. All that stuff about Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot in the captain's tower. That was what I was in it for. But before I knew it, I was singing along lustily to Tangled up in Blue, and had spent an entire morning playing One too many mornings over and over, without really registering any of the lyrics except "you're right in your way / I'm right in mine". From there it was only a logical step to Baez, and then to Joni Mitchell (Hornby writes: "who with a pair of ears that work doesn't love Blue?"; the first time I heard that voice singing "I wish I had a river / I could skate away on" I cried). And then Cameron Crowe directed Almost Famous, and the minute I heard the opening line to America I knew I was hooked and quickly ascertained that listening to Tommy in the darkness with the sound turned up high really can change your life. Almost a year of being obsessed with Robert Plant's voice followed, and a month of shouting 'Aaaqua-lung' under my breath (ah, the shock of familiarity, hearing Bach in such an unfamiliar setting) and after a long period of diluted denial, of arguing that I was only into Rock because it gave me something to listen to in the background - after all, you can't work with Eine Kleine Nachtmusik playing - I finally had to face the fact that I really, truly, cross my heart and hope to die loved this stuff.

Okay, so I'm not the biggest Rock aficionado around. As heh heh never tires of telling me, I'm hopelessly stuck in a time warp, listening to bands that hit their peak thirty years ago (that's not entirely true, though - the fifth most represented band in my collection is R.E.M - and I own pretty much every album of the Cranberries; hell, the other day I even got around to listening to the White Stripes - there may be hope for me yet). And if you really pushed me to it I would still pick the Unfinished Symphony over Stairway to Heaven, still choose Kind of Blue over Masters of Reality. It's just that I've finally figured out for myself what the intrepid duo of Lennon and McCartney were trying to tell me on my parent's living room couch all those years ago - that categories don't matter, that what counts is only the way the music feels inside you, the connection, the recognition, the transcendence. Strawberry fields are forever. All you need is love. Lucy's in the sky with diamonds and the fool on the hill sees the world spinning round.

And all those years that I missed out on this stuff? Ah, but I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now.


[1] The only other piece of contemporary music I was willing to admit, grudgingly, had some merit was Tracy Chapman's self titled debut album. Even my young arrogance wasn't up to taking on Talkin' Bout a Revolution.

[2] I remember being surprisingly unsurprised when I finally read Clockwork Orange. Didn't everyone see that Beethoven was fundamentally about hostility? Why was this Burgess guy making such a big deal about it?

[3] I maintain to this day that Here Comes the Sun may be the most sublime and joyful song ever written.

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dazedandconfused said...

oh goodie! rock week!

What about Moby, as someone brought it up a couple of days back?

I thought you left a lot of things unsaid, then :)

dhoomketu said...

So does that mean if you read Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch, you might start following football?

Btw, not that it's directly related, but someone I met yesterday was convinced that you are married, after reading your blogposts.

Falstaff said...

d&c: no, no. I deny all knowledge of any creature called Moby - the only one I know is a white whale and we haven't been on a first name basis ever since he refused to call me Ishmael. So there.

dhoomk2: I think you've got the causality mixed up here - I don't like the music because I like Hornby, I like Hornby because I like the music. Also, please, I live in the US now, we call it soccer.

And WHAT???!!! Moi? Married!!?? Did they not read the post about Sabbathals. Or all my other scornful references to married people? Aaargh! (I suppose there's no chance that this person wasn't young, female, single and incredibly hot, is there?) Aaarrghhh!

dhoomketu said...

No, actually she was all of these (do not now go forth and ask what I was doing in her presence). She also thought that you don't drink.

See, you need to quit tea, as I was saying.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Dangerous stuff. Sets off a chain reaction.

Never been a Stones fan. I take it you don't find Don McLean as inspiring. Or the soaring rasp of Billy Joel in full flight. As long as you don't count van Halen, Adams and Aerosmith in your pantheon ...

Must come back to this.


Crp said...

Ah Credence Clearwater Revival... I played in a rock band called "Saras nowater survival" in my first year of college. It was a tribute to our water starved hostel Saraswathi (*not* to CCR, which we all hated).

Re: ABBA et al. I think that's the curse of our generation -- 70's parents :)

The Soliloquist said...

i like readin the comments to your posts more than the post itself.. All your writing seem to spark off a good many discussion...

Heh Heh said...

hey. i was going to respond to your post on rolling stones, and stupid blogger refused to let me upload my comment.
i'm gonna post on it too.

Falstaff said...

dhoomk2: Aaaahhh! I can't believe this. I never thought the day would come when I would be accused of being too SOBER. Sigh.

JAP: Wait, wait - there's a whole week of posts to come. I'll get to McLean, I promise (who I do love) as well as to Knopfler and co. I can't say I'm a huge Billy Joel fan. There are songs of his I absolutely love (I am one of those insufferable people who spent weeks researching every phrase in We didn't start the fire) but there's a whole bunch of stuff that I don't care for much.

crp: Aw, come on - what's wrong with CCR? I like them. And yes, this ABBA thing is a serious jinx.

soliloquist: Thanks. to be honest, I enjoy it more too.

heh heh: Ya, there was something screwy about blogger yesterday - did you know I typed out this entire post and then it refused to let me post it. I had to save it as a word document and then post it an hour later.

At any rate, looking forward to your posts about this

ozymandiaz said...

You were quite the precocious little prick, weren’t you? Excepting for some hard core metal all of my rock collection is older. Like wise when the worm turned for me it was classic rock, Floyd, Zepplin, Deep Purple, Sabbath and the likes that rocked my world and still do. Odd you named two of my favorite albums in Kinda Blue and Masters of Reality (representing two of my favorite artist/groups).

Tabula Rasa said...

Interesting that you appear to group jazz with classical rather than with rock. Any ideas why?

MockTurtle said...

The problem with falling backwards into Rock (notice I spell it with a capital 'R' like you did, to empathize with your subconscious awe for the genre) is that you elevate it to an art form that it is not.
Rock is life. Every song that my iPod shuffle spits up at me brings back partially buried memories - Dead's 'St. Stephen' reminds me of my first girlfriend, Ozzy's 'Mama I'm coming home' reminds me of a coffee shop in Manipal, Floyd's 'Dark side of the moon' reminds me of smoking in the doorway of a train to Delhi, Aerosmith's 'Eat the rich' reminds me of a bad car crash I was in, BOC's 'Don't fear the reaper' reminds me of a drunken motorcycle trip from Mysore to Ooty, Megadeth's 'Trust' reminds me of rum fueled brawls in college cult fests... I could go on forever. I never anayzed the songs for their artistic or lyrical merit. They just fitted in and were a part of the scenery.
If you don't grow up with Rock, you shouldn't try to compare it with classical music or jazz or poetry or any other form of art you grew up with. That's not what Rock is for. The artists here are usually a bunch of drug addled working class Brits who put their thoughts to music. You can relate to them, but shouldn't try to put them up on a pedestal and study them (unless you're a 17 year old groupie).
@d&c: I brought up Moby earlier to poke a little fun, but to be fair it's not like he's the Spice Girls or something. Google his lyrics, some of them are decent.

Ludwig said...

> Dangerous stuff. Sets off a
> chain reaction.

One tends to agree with J.A.P. This is a very dangerous post. Other "How I Learned To Stop Listening To 'Sexy Sexy' And Love 'Abbey Road'" type of posts will result.

> And my father's all time
> favourite record is still
> Abbey Road

Your father sounds like an eminently sensible person. And if 'Abbey Road' is his favourite, and he has an internet connection (with decent bandwidth) he will either love or hate this. Depending on what he thinks of sacrilege and iconoclasm and so on.

> I maintain to this day that
> Here Comes the Sun may be
> the most sublime and joyful
> song ever written.

There's hope for you and a place in the Martinist-Lennonist Worker's Paradise that is coming (in the) hearafter.

Are there any 'great bands' left nowadays? Any that come even close to the Greats? Am completely tuned out of contemporary rock (is there such a thing?) but must confess some partiality towards 'No Doubt', they seem to be the only ones big enough and close enough to 'Big Band'edness (incl. flings between band members and so on).

P.S.: 'crp', if you're reading this, who are you? Self Saras. Remember the 'Nowater Survival' vaguely, so must've been in my time, but can't place exactly which batch of loonies pulled that one off.

Crp said...

>> P.S.: 'crp', if you're reading this, who are you? Self Saras. Remember the 'Nowater Survival' vaguely, <<

Can't reveal my name on the blogosphere due to some complicated reasons but I was from the batch of '99 (CS). You can mail one.elled.lama at gmail ... but wait. Wouldn't it be more fun turning this blog into an old boys' reunion portal ? Eh Falstaff ?

Re: the band, we started off with classic rock but soon drifted to jazzier stuff. I for one haven't looked back since ... but I hear one former bandmate is still rocking with some outfit in Hyderabad.

I still listen to rock but definitely not as much as you folks.

Peace out you hippies :)

Cheshire Cat said...

His initial initials were i.m. Remember 'im?

Crp said...

Right. All the disreputable facts of my life can be obtained direct from the Cat's mouth (and vice versa. Remember that, CC.)

Never would have thunk Falstaff's a two hop acquaintance. Small world.

Falstaff said...

Oz: yes, I was. Though as my parents point out, it's not clear the past tense applies.

tabula rasa: Yes, it is interesting, isn't it? Too much Wynton Marsalis, you think? Or too much Gershwin?

The truth is that I don't think of jazz and classical as being that similar - it just sounds that way in the post. (Western) Classical, Jazz, Rock and Hindustani / Carnatic are my four main music categories, that I think of as being distinct from each other. To the extent that I see them as being related, that effect is probably strongest between Jazz and Indian Classical.

Mockturtle: I don't agree. I think Rock (at least some of it; oh, and the capital R is entirely deliberate btw - it's not about awe, it's because I'm talking about a phenomenon) can be Art (just see the next post). As for connecting particular events in your life to music, I give you Hornby (okay, okay, I know it sounds like i'm infatuated with the man, but it's just that the quote is so apt):

"if you love a song, love it enough for it to accompany you throughout the different stages of your life, then any specific memory is rubbed away by use...There's a Gypsy Kings song that reminds me of being bombarded with plastic beer bottles at a football match in Lisbon, and several songs that remind me of college, or ex-girlfriends, or a summer job, but I don't own any of them - none of them means anything to me as music, just as memories, and I didn't want to write about memories. That wasn't the point. One can only presume that the people who say that their very favourite record of all time reminds them of their honeymoon in Corsica, or of their family chihuahua, don't actually like music very much. I wanted mostly to write about what it was in these songs that made me love them, not about what I brought to the songs."

Ludwig: Thanks for the link - I did actually see the first one on your blog. I'm pretty sure Dad will love it, though there's a risk he'll be focussing too much on the music to pay attention to the action.

Great bands today - I'm going to let other people answer that (heh heh?), though if you're looking for screwed up inter-band dynamics, I give you the White Stripes - calling yourself brother and sister when you're actually married has to be pretty high on the f***ed up relationship scale.

crp: about turning this into an old boy's portal - be my guest. I'm still a little unclear how this post helped you figure out the two hop acquaintance bit, but yes, it is a small world.

Tabula Rasa said...

Nice -- I would make exactly that same pairing myself.

I was thinking about these categories and the underlying dimensions this morning. Jazz and classical would probably go together best on an axis labeled "I (the listener) am different from you lot." (Which seemed to be an underlying motif in your post :-) Rock and classical would probably go on an axis called "Performed to replicate original" (as opposed to jazz, which is based on the idea of improvising and hence being different each time -- as is Indian classical). Completing the circle, jazz and rock would go together on an axis denoting recency of vintage.

Crp said...

>>I'm still a little unclear how this post helped you figure out the two hop acquaintance bit, <<

I thought ludwig was the hop (got that impression fom your poetry blog) ... evidently I was wrong.

Anyway, keep up the good work ! I am frankly amazed at how you manage to put up posts of such quality everyday.

Mr. D said...

I like your Here Comes the Sun thought.

A friend bought me a 3 CD Peter Tosh boxset. It's extreme, full of anger and all, and Tosh cranks it out by the barrel. But somewhere in the middle of Disc 2 is his cover 'Here Comes The Sun'. And it sure does, then.

Then he goes and does some parody of the lyric and spoils it.

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