Thursday 29 August 2013

My Life in Music

So I finally find a page on the internet where my writing seems needed, because who doesn't want my entire musical life mapped out in front of them? And those uptight bastards over at Pitchfork have made it an exclusive club; turns out I need to become famous before they let me in. Go give them some page hits anyway. But what are blogs for but ultimate self delusion; so here's my musical life mapped out in the style of Pitchfork's 5-10-15-20 series, only with a slight bit of tweaking due to age restrictions. So don't worry if the below numbers don't seem to be actual stages of life but a random assortment of dates plucked out of the air for writing convenience: because that's exactly what they are.

Party like it's 1999
So 1999 sucked for music? I was too busy turning 3 at the time to notice. Forgive me, I'm not completely sure if this adds up; do children start to form actual proper thoughts at three years old? We'll say they do. A few years ago at school I was asked to sum up my childhood. I simply replied "Abba and trains". I did like trains, and I can remember being pretty knowledgeable on them to; I just don't remember the actual knowledge. I do remember Abba though. Apparently my grandma bought every Abba LP that was released during their hey-day (the 70s) and since I spent a good chunk of my childhood with my grandparents I subconsciously took it all in. I still put Abba on now and again, it's my ultimate source of nostalgia. I can't imagine a more childhood-orientated band. No drugs swindles or messy break-up; everything behind doors was as clean as the music. I always associate them with The Beatles: Abba are like the fab four of the 70s, by which I mean a family friendly mainstream pop act who because of their picturesque view of everything gave me a very optimistic view of the past, and what other band, or living entity in general does that?

"You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life/ See that girl, watch that scene, diggin' the dancing queen"

Pre 9/11 Music 
I always wonder which music my generation will call our own. We're too young to claim music from 2000 and 2001, yet there's an era of music from then that no generation seems to want. The 90s were easy to call; everything segregated by different musical "movements": there was the Nirvana-Pearl Jam grundge movement of the early 90s, then there was Oasis and Blur blazing through Brit-pop in the middle of the decade, and the end of the decade was some juvenile punk/millenium angst bullshit. Lots of S Club 7 cheese floating around; enough to cause a backlash from Radiohead-types who took a more pessimistic look into the future. But my earliest memories of listening to music that was actually just releasing at that moment is the feel-good hip-hop and R'n'B wave of the early noughties. Surely Outkast's 'Hey Ya' is the national anthem of this time. It's not that 9/11 made all music serious, only people stopped tolerating songs that gave out feel-good messages. If the 90s was a feel-good decade; no wars or global warming or recession, all music and movies let people just drift into fantasies; over the top Michael Bay cartoons and Tarantino pulp fictions, then everyone spent the noughties listening to music that was to supposedly remind them of the real world. Lots of political messages and big issue songs, and lots of movies about war and internal struggle. So this early noughties music is my glowing view of innocent childhood. It's was all about the groove and getting high; what other time could have produced hits like Afroman's 'Because I Got High' and R. Kelly's 'Ignition Remix'. It's like people were celebrating the lack of any 1999 apocalypse. This music exists solely unto itself; simple tunes from people who were just making their way; after that no-one believed in anything but second-guessing and being a smart ass. I'll very happily claim this era as my generations music.

"Uh, thank god for mom and dad/For sticking two together/Cause we don't know how"

(Early) Teen Angst: 2004
I listen to Smells like Teen Spirit over and over. I try and unload it onto every poor sap who will listen. The speakers on my computer break and I'm testing them out, put it to full volume although it still doesn't work, then finally get them on and it's blasting full volume through the house. Wakes my mother up. Yet that's the only way to play that song; extremely loud. If you don't it just sounds like the last 20 years, the 20 years since it's release, of boring mainstream rock that owes nothing to any song but this one. I don't even like that song anymore; ever eaten the same cereal everyday until you think if you eat it again tomorrow you'll be sick? That. My dad had Lithium on the computer too so I listened one day and hated it. But I spent a day at school with the tune ringing through my ears. So I decided to listen to their greatest hits; it's the only Nirvana CD my dad has; it's on the shelf in the living were we used to keep a big CD collection; just like the movies and games on this shelf I look through all of them not knowing what they are. I did never listen to more than half of those CDs but those I did listen to went somewhat into shaping my musical tastes. So I'm listening to the greatest hits and apart from Teen Spirit and Lithium I hate every song. What a terrible band. But like Lithium I keep listening to every track, eventually I like all of them. My uncle gives me Nevermind. I still haven't given that back. Before I was 10 I must have had all Nirvana albums: and I mean ALL of them. Not just the studio albums: the compilation albums, the live albums, everything. Needless to say they're my favorite band I can pinpoint this early moment as probably the most important in forming my musical tastes. I thought I was some sort of connoisseur in grundge music despite not listening to any other grundge bands: Alice in Chains was far too scary and I had never even heard of Pearl Jam. I was now officially a fan of rock music.

Yet I still wonder why I went for Nirvana. You can almost spot Nirvana fans; I took guitar lessons in middle school and the Nirvana fan there was a girl who I remember for wearing all black and looking like the definition of rebellion. I don't think someone could point me out as a fan of Nirvana or for that general vibe. I was actually pretty popular at school when younger. Now I'm more an outcast. Because y'now, people: what a load of fuckers. But thinking back I don't have the same lonely-and-bullied-kid-seeking-solace-in-kurt-cobain sob story that most have; I just liked the music.

"I found it hard, it was hard to find/oh well, whatever, nevermind"

2006: Rock & Roll is back? 
To give some clues as to pinpointing the exact date we're talking here; on my Limewire playlist, the service I used at the time to download vast amounts of illegal music, had on it a song called 'scummy'. When this song was released as a single, where it became a big hit, it was renamed to 'When The Sun Goes Down' and confirmed the rise of the Arctic Monkeys; the first band recent enough for me to follow from the start. They're the best band of this time, for the most part lacking the same generic nature that I hate about most other modern bands. Their music would fit in with almost any era of rock. When they first appeared they were a unique creation; a combination of Alex Turner's London-rapist style lyrics and very punk learning-it-as-we-go guitar work.

Another band, maybe not as respected, but no less important to me, is Nickelback. They really have went downhill lately haven't they? You say you don't know, that you've never given a band like Shitelback enough thought to actually ponder any ups and downs the band might have went through. Well as someone who was very proud to tell of my love for Nickelback (Cringe) I can tell you full well that yes they have went downhill. They've went so far downhill they've plunged straight-through the ground, straight past Coldplay (used to like them too) and are plummeting straight for the center of the earth. Hopefully it's uninhabitable. But that does show that at one point they were flying high; like all 21st century bands they have done no experimentation or brought us any innovations and they have kept that misogynistic rockstar pose that everyone thought was banished away in the 90s (so much for forward progress) but when they weren't sucking up to the mainstream they gave me my childhood template for modern rock. Which meant lashings of 'How You Remind Me' and 'Rockstar' on endless repeat.

My opinion of this moment in rock is like two opposing forces pushing against each-other. Looking at it as a wisdomous music critic I must say this music is horrifically bland. Following on from the three-cord rock of the 90s and inspired by the simplistic tunes of Nirvana, this rock is recycled from the past but without any of the emotion or inspiration which made those older bands so good. But, but... ah fuck it; I love this music. Or at least it has a glowing halo above it's head protecting it from any negativity I might throw it's way. I grew up buying albums by Red Hit Chili Peppers, Snow Patrol, The Kooks, Foo Fighters and Keane; most represent a misdirection from 90s which was all about dark emotions and self-indulgence; this music is all meant to appeal to the mainstream, to be played in stadiums and fit the standard bill of what "rock music" is; by which I mean none of the people involved in these bands were of the Jim Morrison drugs-sex-rock-n-roll ilk of rockstars, they either pretended they were or just buckled up and stayed clean. Not exactly a bad thing, but most likely the reason for my determination to find bands that acted the complete opposite.

"And what a scummy man/Just give him half a chance
I bet he'll rob you if he can/Can see it in his eyes,
Yeah, that he's got a driving ban/Amongst some other offences"

The Spotify Years (2009 and onward...)
I know I'm supposed to be keeping it in the generation but it was my granddad who discovered Spotify. Reading all these PC magazines he found it before it was cool (Which makes it better, right?) and I got sucked in. So my musical discoveries have been mostly a muddle since then. Only they partly haven't since during these years I was said to hate older music, was said to have heard a Beatles album at a family get-together and exclaimed all their songs sounds the same, and thought of my inkling with bands like Alice in Chains and songs which I would classify as "vietnam music" as making me a far stretching man of music. It's strange to think of this time because even though I took ever chance to cut it down; I listened to as much modern pop as I did rock. And few pieces of older music.

Which makes this the only era in which I can properly report on the modern music of the time. This was when music stopped sounding enhanced by machines and just started sounding like machines. Trademarks of this era include songs which ended with a high pitched "Jasoooooooon Derulooooooooo" just to make sure you knew who was singing, incase y'know, MTV forget to put the titles up or something; the beginning of modern artists trying to seem down with the moment, usually by utilizing twitter, internet speak and very poor dance moves; and lots of women, all apparently inspired by Madonna and Britney Spears (If only people could take other sources of inspiration) which has lead to a swarm of Katy Perry, Rihanna and P!nk, who you'll be happy to admit are pretty decent as long as your the same age as me and didn't grow up in some musically elite family, as well as spawning lesser demons such as Nicki Minaj and Selena Gomez. Yet I listened to it all, and enjoyed most of it. The music here starts to blur together but I'll choose OMG by Usher to sum up this time perfectly; it's a title derived from text speak, lyrically it's a by the numbers love song that has no self referential elements to Usher whatsoever, it's sung in auto-tune and lacks any live instruments, just computer work and a solid beat. Thing is, I enjoy this song; I will clarify: if asked to list my favorite films I would place Captain Ron very high purely for nostalgic reasons, yet asked my favorite songs OMG wouldn't be near, not even though it's attached to such a great time in my life.

In other words it was this period of my life I became a music snob: a huge one! Eventually, if your interested in music, the large world of music out there will be opened up to you, but until then you find the occasional band because the singer was married to Kurt Cobain or because your dad has their entire library of CDs. The Prodigy, The Beautiful South, Hole; all of them fueled the idea that I had heard all great music; that other than those oldies; Elvis and The Beatles and the like, all too old now to be relevant or in any way enjoyable today, I had heard everything, and was able to know for fact that the modern pop of the time was all rubbish that didn't stand up to the classics.

I believe the first real musical discovery I would call my own was Cream. You probably won't recognize them but you'll recognize the guitar riff from 'Sunshine of your Love', everybody does. It was them and Jimi Hendrix. There was something unique about these artists, not only because they were older than the other bands I'd listened to but because the vibe they gave out: manly and self-assured. Their sound was heavy, like a wall of sound coming at you. At the other end of the spectrum to modern rock. They were all about technically crafted guitar work and psychedelic lyrics.

At that point I thought I was to spend the rest of my life hunting down obscure records from unsuccessful bands in the hope of finding a gold mine, because what else was there?

"So don't mind me if i repeat myself/These simple lines be good for your health"

January 25th 2013
It was The Royal Tenenbaums that did it. In the quirky Wes Anderson flick there's a moment near the beginning, a real end of an era moment, when Luke Wilson lets his pet bird fly free, and the musical chant over the top was amazing. At the time I wasn't even sure if it was a real song, maybe just some inspirational music put together for the movie. Turns out it was 'Hey Jude' by The Beatles (Obviously not the actual Beatles playing, that's far too expensive for any movie production). I didn't know they could sound like that, so that day I listened to the only Beatles we had in the house: a greatest hits collection called 1. All the songs were in chronological order which put me to a shaky start with their early hits, but it was with 'A Hard Day's Night' that the whole thing finally clicked. It was the same catchy riff and pop hook that all rock music has had through the ages. Kurt Cobain was a Beatles fan and I saw that music in Nirvana. Having a big interest in music and listening to The Beatles has the same effect as being a film fan and watching Citizen Kane; it's a giant medium sized bookmark. The Beatles didn't invent rock but they took rock n roll from the 50s and classic blues guitar work and created a template for all music since. They dabbled into so many different genres of music and were part of so many musical movements that all other music seems to just stem out of The Beatles.

Oh and I'll use this as a chance to thank Spotify for not signing The Beatles; it brought me back to my childhood where I went through and collected the complete discography for some artists. And from then it's all a blur: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Velvet Underground, Joy Division, The Beach Boys, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Guns 'n' Roses, Radiohead, Kurt Vile, The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Stone Roses; everything. I'm not saying I've heard everything, or even a small percentage, but I feel like it's all been opened up to me. I'm that astronaut at the end of 2001 flying through the infinities of possibilities and colour, all of them passing through me at once.

And it was once this all opened up to me and I could finally see musical history and all it's influences and connections and the early roots of everything new that I felt like I could finally claim modern music as my own. I could finally hear it and not look down on it; I see what other generations had and when I listen to new music it doesn't have to prove anything, doesn't have to stand up to what I imagined was there, it simply is what it is. So I started listening, turns out modern music got good; the pop machine is still in the crapper but thats good; this new brand of music may not be some politically charged fight against the powers that be but they shine like aluminous paint around the black heart of the corporate machine. Kanye West is the best of the modern artists, his whole life is one big performance art and his performance as an ever-exploding ego carries over to the music; very ambitious and all consuming. Daft Punk had a big comeback with Random Access Memories, a future classic, and The Prodigy look to be on a comeback to; so that's techno sorted. Arctic Monkeys, with the singles that have came out of their upcoming album, have escaped the trap that their early success put them in, and from Arcade Fire to Florence and the Machine to Taylor Swift, everything seems like it's going to be alright.

"Jenny said when she was just five years old/There was nothin' happenin' at all
Every time she puts on a radio/There was nothin' goin' down at all, 
Then one fine mornin she puts on a New York station/You know, she don't believe what she heard at all
She started shakin' to that fine fine music/You know her life was saved by rock 'n' roll
Despite all the amputation you know you could just go out/And dance to the rock 'n' roll station"

No comments:

Post a Comment