Children’s Records

March 3, 2007

NOTE: This slow descent into madness began with a glass of wine and ended at a bottle and a half. I think it shows, hopefully amusingly, by the end of the post ~ July 2011

They (I think they being the advertising firm that handles Axe Body Spray) say that smell is the sense most tied to memory. That may be so, but I still insist that sound is the sense most tied to emotion. Think of the sound of an alarm clock and you feel either dismay or anxiety. The sound of a purring cat conjures either feelings of calm or annoyance. You hear the sounds of cooking in the kichen and you feel anticipation for a good meal, or dread of awkward social interaction. The point is sound is a mnemonic device tied to the heart.

With this in mind I began to think of the records I was indoctrinated with as a child. By “child” I mean a young person somewhere between maybe six and ten years old. I’m talking about the records my dad played me that introduced me to the idea of rock’n’roll and singers and music. It struck me, as I began tho think about it this week, that it’s a short and very strange list. And I am positive contributed to my development into a young adult and has influenced me in various ways for my entire life.

King Crimson: Court of the Crimson King (1969)
To me this will always be the most amazing album ever recorded. Plain and simple. It gets no better than this.

That’s a pretty bold statement. Especially about a proto-prog album by one of the proggiest prog bands that ever progged. The thing is they rocked. For exactly one song. “21st Century Schizoid Man” remains, in my mind, the most amazing single recording ever and the template for everything I’ve ever tried to accomplish musically. That drum beat in the breakdown, I just realized this week, is the same ridiculous jazzy backbeat snare rhythm I fall back on every time I sit behind a kit. They put a fuzz box on everything. Another thing I realized this week there’s sax on that track. I always thought the whole song was Fripp’s guitar but it’s the sax run through a fuzz pedal that makes that wall of sound. Really, everything’s fuzzed out, even the vocals, and that’s the beauty of the song. When you think of freaky psychedelic space rock, this is what you’re thinking of. It’s like Floyd and Sabbath and Coltrane stuck in a blender.

Strangely, the rest of the album is faery-rock. But I dare say better faery-rock than Led Zep ever accomplished. Plinky guitars and pretty flutes and songs about moon-children. What a strange time. Where did all that imagery come from? Bolan mined that shaft until it was dry too. I think the lyrics to “Schizoid Man” reveal a little of the origin of all the hippy-dippy dreamscape stuff.

Death seed
blind man’s greed
Poets’ starving
children bleed
Nothing he’s got he really needs
Twenty first century schizoid man.

I figure the late 50’s-mid-60’s was when people figured-out the industrial revolution really was a bad idea. That’s being said from a place of privilege, of course, having reaped the benefits of an industrialized society. But when I go to the North End of Nanaimo, I think the song has a message that’s as valid today as it was nearly 40 years ago. The thing is, it’s 40 years too late.

Leonard Cohen: Song of Leonard Cohen (1968) and Songs of Love and Hate (1971)

AMG reviews the first album thusly: “A breathtaking and perfect debut, Songs of Leonard Cohen marked the emergence of one of the most enduring, unique, and brilliant voices in popular music. Led off by the gorgeous “Suzanne,” previously a hit for both Judy Collins and Noel Harrison, the album is an exposed nerve, a Fellini-esque parade of losers, victims, and fallen angels. Brittle and unforgiving, tracks like “So Long, Marianne,” “Winter Lady,” and “Sisters of Mercy” are unflinchingly honest and desolate; the subdued beauty of the songs’ spartan backdrop only adds to their force — Cohen takes acoustic folk, for so long a musical expression of empowerment and hope, and bleeds it dry of all its redemptive qualities. A masterpiece of perversity and pain.

What a thing to do to your child… Furthermore, AMG say this of Songs of Love and Hate: “Songs of Love and Hate is one of Leonard Cohen’s most emotionally intense albums — which, given the nature of Cohen’s body of work, is no small statement.” It’s almost like my dad didn’t want to distract me with the spiritually and emotionally ambiguous Songs From a Room (1969) and just went for the gusto — or jugular.

Truth be told, all these albums were all part of a buy this stereo get 10 LPs free deal from my parents’ first year of marriage and their first hi-fi system when they lived in Peterborough, Ontario. But I still say, these are the albums they picked and these are the albums they played for me.

Anyways. Leonard Cohen. I’m eight years old listening to “Master Song” and “Teachers” and how my folks thought this wouldn’t influence me in my development is pretty perplexing to me.

Violent videogames, sexy Much Music clips, psshhah. If you want to screw your kid up, play them Leonard fucking Cohen when they’re 8 years old. That’s a whole level of romanticism and despair a good deal beyond your usual Top 40 fare. I’m pretty sure that “Famous Blue Raincoat” is the song I sit down to write every time I sit down to write a song. And I fear “Teachers” will prove to be my autobiography.

I met a woman long ago
her hair the black that black can go,
Are you a teacher of the heart?
Soft she answered no.I met a girl across the sea,
her hair the gold that gold can be,
Are you a teacher of the heart?
Yes, but not for thee.I met a man who lost his mind
in some lost place I had to find,
follow me the wise man said,
but he walked behind.I walked into a hospital
where none was sick and none was well,
when at night the nurses left
I could not walk at all.Morning came and then came noon,
dinner time a scalpel blade
lay beside my silver spoon.Some girls wander by mistake
into the mess that scalpels make.
Are you the teachers of my heart?
We teach old hearts to break.One morning I woke up alone,
the hospital and the nurses gone.
Have I carved enough my Lord?
Child, you are a bone.I ate and ate and ate,
no I did not miss a plate, well
How much do these suppers cost?
We’ll take it out in hate.I spent my hatred everyplace,
on every work on every face,
someone gave me wishes
and I wished for an embrace.

Several girls embraced me, then
I was embraced by men,
Is my passion perfect?
No, do it once again.

I was handsome I was strong,
I knew the words of every song.
Did my singing please you?
No, the words you sang were wrong.

Who is it whom I address,
who takes down what I confess?
Are you the teachers of my heart?
We teach old hearts to rest.

Oh teachers are my lessons done?
I cannot do another one.
They laughed and laughed and said, Well child,
are your lessons done?
are your lessons done?
are your lessons done?

Credence Clearwater Revival: Green River (1969) and Cosmos Factory (1970)

First of all, CCR released 6 albums between 1968 and 1970. Two a year on average. Why don’t bands these days release albums so frequently? Oh right. Because there’s too many second rate bands signed to too many second rate labels. CCR were signed to Fantasy which was a pretty progressive label — as far as wide reaching labels went in those days, perhaps only rivaled by Elektra at the time (these were the Matadors and Sub-Pops of the day) — and in spite of touring constantly managed to blast out 6 solid artistic triumphs in a row.

I think it’s safe to say that “rock bands” have about a five year shelf-life on average and the reason today’s bands don’t have the cataolgue their predecessors do is because they get maybe on album every 18-24 months (on an indie or major label). That’s 6-18 months past their best before date. The reason for this is because is the 80’s marketing gurus cracked the video-code realizing that rock-videos made it possible to market your investment longer than possible just on touring visibility, magazine spreads, radio-play and the odd TV appearances.

Strangely, since record sales have been taken out of the equasion (thanks to downloading), and no one cares about rock videos (so tired), and theoretically music product distribution (thanks to the internet) has been made easier, bands haven’t reverted to their pervious rate of recorded productivity. Chances are every idea that Arcade Fire had previous to Neon Bible was gold. Two or three albums of demos for Neon Bible probably would have garnered at least one stellar effort. Maybe they would have learned quicker where they were going wrong. Is Merge to blame? Are the Arcades themselve to blame? We all know “rock is dead” but when you’re living in the End Times you really want to hold on to something.

But… I digress… CCR. Speaking on a more personal level, Cosmos Factory was the album that caught my attention as a wee lad. And I’m speaking of two things:

1) The art work. Sure Green River didn’t even have text on it (fuckin’ rites!) but Cosmos formed, for me, what it meant to be a 20-something hipster living on their own. It’s some kind of weird theatre-camp nightmare. I mean, what the fuck is Tom(?) doing on that bike? In those tights? I think it might be the worst and, for me, most magical piece of graphic design ever. It expresses a band’s “I fucking give up I’m just fucking tired and we’re tired and take the damn picture we’re just trying to record this damn album” attitude. Which is forgivable given their recording and touring regiment. I never did live in that artists’ commune loft. Thank god. But I still kind of want to.

See, this is the thing. Record corporations (as opposed to record companies) figured out working your acts to the bone didn’t work out so good for people like Joplin, Hendrix, Morrison, and to an extent, Fogarty. People burn out, sure, but sensitive arteests but up. By the time1970 rolled around the Beatles had proved that the constant tour/record/tour regiment began to be a an exercise in diminishing returns. Sure John, George and Ringo would agree, in retrospect, The White Album should have been their swan song, but there was so much gold to be mined yet.

As far as corporate rock goes, none of this matters much. (I mean, let Britney, Blink 182, Nickleback and I haven’t heard them yet but, Good the Bad and The Queen do what they want). But as far as indie-rock goes all of this matters at lot. I can’t help feeling that the first Arcade Fire record was a lot like the first CCR record. I mean, it was 3 years ago that last Arcade Fire record came out. Two thousand a fucking four. I mean, think about where you were, personally, in 2004, Not that long ago but so long ago. The people who run Merge know how fast life moves. I know Mac knows — listen to his music. What the fuck is going on in that camp? Why didn’t Arcade Fire put out a 7″ a month for all of 2006? I’m sure with their name it would have been financially viable and then in 2007 release a 12 song cd.. But I don’t work there, whatever.

2) “Up Around The Bend” fucking rocks. My point is, look at the cover of Cosmos Factory and listen to “Up Around the Bend”:

“Bring a song and a smile for the banjo, better get while the gettin’s good,
Hitch a ride to the end of the highway where the neons turn to wood.
You can ponder perpetual motion, fix your mind on a crystal day,
Always time for a good conversation, there’s an ear for what you say.”

Arlo Guthrie: Alice’s Restuarant (1967)

It’s still absolutely baffling to me that my dad might play the title track of this for me and expect me to not end up some kind of counter-culturalist. I mean, sure, it’s cutesy and coy… but the whole thing is about squatting and fucking the system. My dad once said to me he didn’t find the end of Easy Rider that tragic because he “didn’t like hip-pies that much”. But I always though he was in-line with the basic ideals and maybe it was hip-sters of that era he had a personal beef with. But that’s between him and his, I figure.

The Beatles: Abbey Road (1969)

Paul sucks. And by this I mean between 1964 and 196-fucking-9 he sucks, Or rather, previous to 1969 and the Abbey Road sessions he sucks. Certainly post White Album he sucks. Why those other three dudes didn’t kick him out when he brought up… well any of the songs that were’n’t fucking Raffi staples like “Octopus’s fucking Garden”… I guess they were mates and that’s cool. He was newly wed and you have to expect he was wasn’t as cool as John with his transcosmicyokolove. Linda was a nice wee blond lass, yes, but we all know John had a line on “craxysexycool” long before People (or US or whoever) had a line on it (thanks only to C. Love).. Regardless. Let It Be was another “after the fact” amphetamines and quaaludes disaster of Spector’s latter productions. But Abbey Road (recorded but not released after) was just plain… bad. There’s songs you can hold your nose and nod to like “Polyethlyene Pam” but really it’s all crap.

And I think as much as anything I took away from my parents’ record collection it’s this:
Music=commerce =crap,

It seems like the cliché of all music clichés, but it’s true. Steve (at Fascinating) said to me today “I have the new Arcade Fire you could have.” Street date is Tuesday. And I laughed. And I felt silly, because I was laughing because I’d heard that it sounds like Springsteen. Now, Srpingsteen (22 years ago) is rad. But “like Springsteen” sends off warning bells. For one, Springsteen’s use of xylophone was inspired in 1975 but Bloc-Fucking-Party use it now. All right. I liked (past tense) that first Bloc Party album, but jesus… Xylophones? Stop reading old NME‘s already.

I jest. But really… 32 years ago. What’s going on now? 32 years?

The last really exciting music I scroll back to is Pavement. Pavement? That’s a wake up call… What’s been happening for the past decade? Interpol had some interesting singles. But Interpol should have been the Rolling Stones to the StrokesBeatles. This has probably been said, by other “music journalists”, but jesus-h-christ… what the fuck happened? I mean seriously…

My point is Abbey Road taught me, before I bought into all the mass-marketing bullshit, that counter-cultural icons are bullshit. The Buzzcocks=The Beatles=Bernstein=Bartok= …


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