Thursday, April 9, 2009

More Music

I used to read a lot of musician interviews and biographies back in the day. I'm sitting here now in my den, facing a wall-long bookcase that's got a few shelves filled with memoirs, life histories and a couple of volumes of Rolling Stone Interviews. In a lot of them, artists mention a watershed moment -- hearing the Beatles, or Elvis, or Chuck Berry for the first time -- when their lives were changed forever. A person has to be of a certain age for that to have happened, since from the early 60s on, rock music became rather ubiquitous.* But people who came of age in the 50s (or earlier) can often point to a moment in their lives when they heard a certain kind of music and were stopped in their tracks.

I've always loved this scene in The Buddy Holly Story (which I admit is a slapdash account of Buddy Holly's life -- one look at the drum kit in this early clip is a good tip off to the sloppiness of the film's Accuracy Police), because it depicts the excitement that people felt when they heard rock (or blues, or be-bop or whatever) for the first time. The energy was contagious.

I came along later, and have always felt like I missed out on something, because I never had that landmark moment. For me, rock music was always there -- the Beatles were making music before I was born and even my parents had a few hip records.

But I do clearly remember when I heard Mott the Hoople for the first time -- specifically, the Mott album. We had relatives in town, which for me was a good thing -- I loved the big family gatherings, when my grandparents would cook epic meals, parental supervision became even more lax than usual, and cousins provided all sorts of entertainment and companionship. Generally, the grownups all stayed over at my grandparents' house and my family's home was turned over to the young people -- my mother would stock the fridge with luncheon meat, condiments and bread, and the cupboard with peanut butter and cereal, and we were on our own. It was awesome -- a kids' paradise.

Anyway, we were hanging out at the stereo... well, actually, I was lurking in the periphery, while some of the older guys were spinning some records... and my cousin pulled out an album he'd brought with him to play for my brother. There was also a neighbor hanging out, and after hearing just the first few notes of "All the Way from Memphis," he laughed while asking "what the hell is this?!?"

I didn't care what it was -- I loved the way Ian Hunter banged on the piano throughout (and especially at the beginning), the swaggering and scolding glam rock vocals, the guitar god solos from Mick Ralphs (on his last album with MtH before leaving for Bad Company), and the unrestrained sax from Roxy Music's Andy Mackay (which I'm pretty sure inspired some of Jon Fishman's later vacuum cleaner solos). I eventually came to appreciate the song's lost guitar narrative, but there on that day, I was drawn in by the raw energy of the song.

The whole album was a thrill to explore. "Honaloochie Boogie" and "Whizz Kid" are pure fun, "Violence," "Drivin’ Sister," and "I’m a Cadillac/El Camino Dolo Roso" have a harder, rocking edge to them, "Hymn for the Dudes" and "Ballad of Mott the Hoople" are breathtaking, and the confessional "I Wish I Was Your Mother" is perhaps the most beautiful song on the album, with some gorgeous mandolin playing from Ralphs and emotional lyrics from Hunter. If you haven't heard it all, you might enjoy checking it out.

And with that (between this and my previous music post, you should now have some sense of where I come from, musically), I think I'll lay off the Ian Hunter for a while and explore something new in my next musical exposition. I bet you can't wait to hear where I land next! ;-D

*I know these experiences did not end after the rock era began -- people were stopped in their tracks when they heard punk or metal or rap or hip hop for the first time (I do, for example, have a specific memory of a party when someone put Rapper's Delight on the stereo), but I don't think later developments gave us as dramatic a shift as our culture saw when rock and roll arrived.


Keera said...

What a delicious peak into your life and your memories! The music that comes to us during puberty becomes so significant, doesn't it. Your post contains the magic that hits us when we hear music that wows us for the first time. You've made me write a long comment. Hope you don't mind!

Like you, I was born a little too late. I delight in movies and documentaries about the cutting edge that rock-n-roll and R&B were at the end of the 50's and into the 60's, also because they parallelled a huge shift in American society and civil rights. It's a nerve and energy it would be extremely hard to sustain or duplicate.

But rock still gets into our lives and every generation has their "sound". I grew up with LPs of hawaiian music, Boston Pops, Lawrence Welk, Eddie Arnold and Nat "King" Cole (all of which I loved and still love). It was pure serendipity that had me exploring the AM band on my little transistor radio one evening, leading me to music and DJ-ing I had never heard the likes of. It was Radio Luxembourg, and I, like thousands of Europeans, grew up on it. That radio station gave me my music. My references and tastes were no longer another generation's; I had found my own.

Mott the Hoople, though they were popular in Norway, never hit my radar, but a number of big names didn't, in spite of plenty of airtime on Radio Lux. There are other songs and performers that to this day that will take me back to my little bedroom in the attic of the old farmhouse we lived in, to a radio signal crackling with the changing weather conditions, songs like Ringo Starr's "Photograph" or Roxy Music's "Virginia Plain". iTunes Store exists only to complete my musical memory. :-)

alice said...

Of course I don't mind a long comment! And I delight in hearing your European perspective. One of the things that interests me about the bios of the British musicians is how they were eagerly consuming every little record they could find from the States -- but then just a few years later, they'd taken in so much that the Yanks were obsessing over every little act that made up the British Invasion. I've heard some about Radio Lux along the way as people who didn't happen to be in the British Isles have told their coming-of-age tales, and it sounds like it was a life-line to so many music fans!

We do seem to imprint on the music that was playing when we were going through puberty and our teen years. I have enjoyed a lot of new music over the years, but nothing really makes me as happy as listening to the songs that made up the soundtrack to my life during high school and college. The only thing that comes close is the music I've shared with Emmie as she's grown up (and a bit of that comes from the catalog of my own coming-of-age).

Keera said...

Radio Lux was how rock invaded Europe. :-) The station stood out because of the format of regular European radio back then, a format that state-run channels still use: Mostly talk and documentary, with music used as breaks since there are no commercials. I don't remember what US radio was like in the 60's, but I know that in the 70's a station was either all talk or all music, a phenomenon that Europe didn't have at that time.

Radio Lux was the only all-music show in town - and it was the only one in English outside the BBC. Radio Lux had a few commercials, the news and weather at the top of the hour, and its English-speaking DJs, who made up their patter on the fly, set the gold standard for radio DJs. For 7 hours every night you got the BBC hit list virtually non-stop. Many Norwegians tell of falling asleep with the radio under the covers. And I can remember that my most impatient time of day was waiting for 7 pm and the show to start. :-)

For me, as an English-speaking foreigner in Norway, Radio Lux's DJs gave me energetic and friendly wit, a breather from the cool demeanor of the Norwegians. (I don't think one will ever describe a Norwegian as "chipper" - not without adding, "how many drinks have you had?" ;-) )

Coconuts & Music : 10,000 Monkeys and a Camera said...

[...] been thinking a lot about what music I should post about next (after some Ian Hunter and then some more Ian Hunter/Mott). Lots of possibilities have been swirling around in my head, but two completely different songs of [...]