Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The tests I gave him shows no sense at all

I think it was my tenth birthday, I think, when I got my first cassettes. It wasn't that I had no access to music before that, but before that I learned everything I could about music by pilfering through the collections of my parents and siblings late at night and then stay up listening to them on the little clock radio I kept next to my bed*. I'd listen to whatever I could find: the very personal romantic mixes of my siblings, the battered Springsteen tapes that had wound their way through everyone in my family, the CSNY tape that had a wad of gum stuck and hardened over the track listing on the side... everything.
It was still a little while before I'd start buying my own music (U2's The Unforgettable Fire, later that summer), but a family friend always got a kick out of the fact that this little blond kid would be singing along with a bunch of teenagers when they'd sneak out to drink at night. This family friend put together one of the most thoughtful gifts I ever received. I unwrapped it and found three cassettes, the first I could ever claim were my own with impunity. They were all of historical significance, he told me. There was Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, which had spend some 15 consecutive weeks in the Billboard 200***. There was The Who's Tommy, which was the world's first rock opera. and there was The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band. I have no idea what distinction the last one held in this context, but think it had something to do with the production. or something.
Anyway, I loved all of these gifts, and I think I wore two of them out (my history of Beatles ointerest will have to come at another time, but I know I still had that tape when I went off to college). But far and away, Tommy just blew me away. It was this wild epic story that went all over the place, and had these interesting characters, and musically it had everything from overtures to ballads to stones-our rock songs. I know that I had the story very basically told to me around then, though I obviously didn't know all of it. I think I knew tht "The Acid Queen" was about drugs, but I think I was under the impression that "Fiddle About" was about child abuse more then pedophilia. I seriously hope so, anyway. Obviously, I wasn't paying that close attention to the lyrics of these parts.
Anyway, it was an album that just consumed everything I did for like a year. I loved that album and would find new things about it every time I listened to it. While most people I knew had aligned themselves with either the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, I decided that the Who would be my favorite band of all time. It's weird, because while I love all of these groups now, I really hated the Beatles and was impassive at best about the Stones. I think that it's because those two bands I only knew their earliest songs as a kid, where with the Who I knew Tommy and Face Dances, for some reason and worked my way backwards. If doesn't make sense to me, but there you have it.
Anyway, like I said, I loved Tommy. But about after a year or so, it came to me rather suddenly that the whole thing was pretty over the top****. The story was ridiculous (pinball?) and there were a lot of weird, sudden turns in the middle of the story. I soon realized that this wasn't the best Who album. Hell, this wasn't even the best rock opera that the Who did. I should also mention that in this period there were like 5 live Who albums released and most of them playing Tommy in full. It's no secret that the band played this for like 5 years straight and grew to hate it, and I soon understood why.
So one day I put it on a sheld or something and stopped thinking about it. I explored other albums and other bands and other whole genres. and aside from occasionally hearing "Pinball Wizard", I really didn't get that much of it. Until recently, when I was thinking of it and downloaded it on a whim in the middle of my midterms a few weeks ago. And to be honest, it fucking made my week. I gave it a fresh listen or ten, and I really got into all of these things I forgot about ages ago. The little feedback things at the beginning of "Amazing Journey" just run up my spine. Pete Townsend's unbridled sincerity in his vocals of "1921"****. There's the "See me, feel me" callback running throughout the album, just shy of annoying the hell out of you. There's "We're Not gonna Take It", which I've been playing twice a day as loud as I possible can for the past few weeks and going crazy for (that little whisper!).
Tommy is also Keith Moon at the top of his game. It's funny, because everyone else is somewhat subdued on this record. Daltrey is almost sing-talking through most of the record, and never lets his voice off its leash the way he sometimes did. Townsend's guitar is almost subtle, with the exceptions of a few power chords here and there (and surely some windmilling), it's like he's painfully aware that this is going to be a legacy and he can't have fun with it. Entwistle's bass is nonexistent. I think you can here his horn work more than his bass. Entwistly, who was arguably the greatest bassist of his era, is almost absent from this album (he did, however write both "Cousin Kevin" and "Fiddle About", which is appropriately and astoundingly fucked up). Moon, though. His drums are reigned in just enough to let one know what the hell he's doing. If I had a complaint about Keith Moon it's that he seemed to have thousands of distinct rhythms going on in his head at once, and while they lined up, the way he would alternate between them on the drums was confusing to the listener. Here, though, his work is practically cogent. Instead of air-drumming with abandon, I can listen to this and kinda figure out what he's going. It's really kind of a beautiful submission.
So how is it that the band's most well-known and possibly well-regarded album is a duff-job performance-wise for almost the entire band? I don't know. I also don't know how it works, but then here I am writing about it.

I fompletely forgot what I was trying to write about when I started this. I actually wanted to write about the Haden triplets today, but that'll come later. In any case, I guess what I'm trying to do is make a plea for you to go find a record that you were in love with. Maybe, like me, it can be the first record you were in love with. If your'e like me, you probably ran it into the ground and haven't picked it up in ages. It doesn't have to be anything profound or something that even aged well. It can be something that embarrasses the shit out of you. But go get it. download it. Just find it, dust it off, and listen to it. Remind yourself what you loved about it. There are times when I am so sick of rock music that I just don't care about it anymore. This happens more often than ever nowadays. This might be my growing intolerance, but it also might be that sometimes my bearings are off and I fail to remember what it was that made me love this crap to begin with. so go dust off an album that you loved once and give it another shot. Even if you hate it now, I'm sure there's something in it that'll bring a smile to your face.

*While I haven't seen it in a decade, I'm still pretty sure there exists a picture of me asleep and using this clock radio as a pillow, my ear crunched into the speakers. Smart.
**Thinking back on it, my interest in music might well have been an effort to be able to hang out with my siblings and not feel like such a baby of the group. This might explain my continuing interest in music as well..
***According to Wikipedia: "As of 2008, Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon has been on the charts for over 1,630 weeks, or approximately thirty-one years. Consecutively, the album spent a record 741 weeks on the Billboard 200".
**** Much more of this probably has to do with my watching the movie. I remember being so excited to watch that, and then even then knowing that there was never a bigger pile of shit.
***** For some reason I've never really liked Roger Daltrey. It only got worse when I realized he didn't really write any of the songs, or found out that he more or less threatened his way into the band...

wow. sorry for rambling as much as did right ther...


Sarah said...

En Vogue's Funky Divas was my first music purchase. Yesterday when I heard "Giving Him Something He Can Feel" on the radio I laughed hysterically at the notion that this album had such profound meaning for a kid under the age 10. Songs like "Free Your Mind" and "Never Gonna Get It" unknowingly turned me into the feminist barracuda that I am today before I had even left grade school!

Now, I'll certainly dust my copy off.

Great post.

Nelson_M said...

First Albums - Michael Jackson "Thiller" & Prine's "Purple Rain"*

First Casette - Twisted Sister "We're not Gonna Take It"

First CD - Led Zeppelin II

*Traded two years late to my sister for Madonna's "True Blue" - super geigh - my only excuse was I was 7