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 .
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 ).
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. 
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.
 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.
 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?
 I maintain to this day that Here Comes the Sun may be the most sublime and joyful song ever written.
Categories: Personal, Music