Sunday, March 14, 2010

Big Brother Is Listening For You

The Song Remains the Same:

There’s this song that I like.  Do you know it?  It kind of goes like…well, I can’t sing.  But the words are about…well, I forget.  But you know which one I’m talking about, right? 

Why, of course!  What, am I a mind reader?

And mind reading alone wouldn’t cut it, since when you did read that mind, it might be blank.  You would need something stronger.

But isn’t it great when our friends attribute such magical powers to us?  It’s like when they ask you if you saw that movie they loved.  You know the one, right?  Of course, they’ve forgotten the title.  (I spend my life trying to forget the movies I hated.  How is it that they forget the ones they loved?)  It’s the one with that guy in it. 

Oh, yeah.   That one. 

As dumb as this all sounds, it appears that I’ve lowered the bar even further, because there really is this song I like - I know the title and how it goes.  It’s not that I don’t remember what song it is.  I just don’t remember which song it is (although “Pictures of Matchstick Men”, “The Mighty Quinn” and “Hurdy Gurdy Man” are among the usual suspects)  And it’s important because this song has an usual history for me. 

Most people I know have a system for judging music.  They:
  1. Listen to a song
  2. Decide that they either:
    1. Like it
    2. Don’t like it.
That’s pretty much it.  It’s a simple system, really.  And I occasionally use it, but not for this song. 

Around the time I turned forty, this song went from the Hate It column to the Like It column.  This isn’t unusual – our tastes do change.  Songs that first sat in one column move to the other, and vice versa.  It’s just a matter of running the song through the system again, only this time you get a different result.

But the weird thing about this song is that, when I turned forty, I admitted to myself that I liked it, and probably always did.
So why would I lie to myself and tell myself I didn’t?  Well, it was because my big brother didn’t like it.

No, not the well-respected, fifty-ish family man who's a year older than me now, but rather, the nine-year-old (but still a year older than me) then.  Now, as smart as he is, and was, perhaps I shouldn’t have been so beholden to his opinion.  So, after thirty years, I came to the inescapable conclusion that I had no reason to dislike the song other than the fact that a nine year old boy disliked it.  In 1966.

But by 1997, I was ready to come out from behind my brother’s nine year old shadow, and begin to think for myself.  A somewhat less than inspiring coming of old age story, I’ll admit.

And who knows?  Maybe even he likes the song now.  If I could remember which one it was, I’d ask.

Mom's Listening, Too:

I’m not saying that it took me forty years to figure out my own musical tastes, and suddenly throw out all the records my brother liked.  It’s just that my experience with this song is a good example of how you can think you’re having your own thoughts when you’re really having someone else’s.

In the early seventies, my brother and I stood united on all the crucial musical issues of the day (Grateful Dead vs. Led Zeppelin, Allman Brothers vs. Led Zeppelin, Beatles vs. Led Zeppelin, etc.).   But there were isolated episodes when I wandered off the righteous path.  So I guess my own thoughts were starting to form…

Elton John: Tumbleweed Connection
I seem to remember getting a less than enthusiastic reaction to this one.  Being an Irish household, it may have been that all non-Beatle Brits were suspect.  I know that my mom wasn’t happy that I spent my allowance on it, as the following primal scene attests:
Mom:  What happened to all your money?
Me:     I spent it.
Enter, two younger sisters, as Greek chorus, to provide moral support, to my mom as it turned out.
Mom:  On What?
Me:     An album.
Greek Chorus Younger Sisters: A sharp intake of breath, in unison.
Mom:  What album?
Me:     Tumbleweed Connection
Mom:  I prefer his first record.  How much was it?
Me:     Three dollars.
GCYS:Very, very sharp intake of breath.  In unison.
(Everyone blacks out, as all the oxygen has been sucked from the room.)

Emerson, Lake and Palmer
I went through an ELP phase (72-74), which didn’t sit well with my brother’s Allman Brothers phase (72-present).  Those Brits again.

Kinks: Everybody’s In Showbiz

I could see the look of disappointment in his eyes.  (It wasn’t hard.  He was calling me an idiot at the time.)  After all, there were so many Hot Tuna records to get, and so little money.  My first Kinks album, and one of the weaker ones, as it turns out.  Brits, too, but big drinkers, and so, honorary Irish.

Advice to younger siblings sharing a room with older siblings:  Don’t play side two of pre “Born to Run” no-name Bruce Springsteen’s “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle”, while getting ready for work/school.  Your older sibling was out late last night, and is still trying to sleep.

Pre-E-Street-Band-no-name Nils Lofgren’s self titled solo album, and to-this-day-still-no-name Elliot Murphy’s “Aquashow”.  For some reason, these two records really got on his nerves.  Maybe Nils was a little too bouncy/hooky for what was his more boogie/jammy taste.  Elliot’s voice was a little nasally, but his attack is right out of “Blonde on Blonde”.  I’m still a bit mystified.

Warren Zevon’s (or to my brother, Warren Zero) first record.  I admit that I got it because it was produced by Jackson Browne, who my brother thought I had a crush on.  Warren’s voice is a bit husky and awkward, but the songs are great.  His version of “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” demolishes Linda Rondstadt’s.
Crazy Horse’s first album, with soon-to-be-topic-of-Neil Young’s “Tonight’s the Night”, Danny Whitten, and repeat offender Nils Lofgren.  One song in particular annoyed the hell out of him, with a vocal by who knows who (it sounds half Danny/half Nils, but with a head cold), run through a phaser of some kind.  He thought they were saying “Finkelstein” (I does kind of sound like that) but the actual title is “Beggar’s Day”.

1977 and So On:

I think by now he’d given up on me.  Besides, we were both working and could buy whatever records we wanted.  I guess, in retrospect, his focus on the tried and true allowed me to go off the deep end.  I’d spend hours in the cutoff bin bringing home stuff like Earth Opera (because Peter Rowan was on it), and Nektar (because I liked album-long suites), while he filled in the West Coast catalogue.  In all, it was a good balance.

But I can’t leave well enough alone.  As adults, we’d exchange Christmas presents, and I couldn’t resist getting him CDs – Eno and Roxy Music being the most egregious examples.  (Jesus, more Brits.)  Then I went the burned CD route.  Best of Crazy Horse, anyone? 

And So Forth:

But since the whole point of this blog is to turn you on to something you haven’t heard yet, I will be going back to retrace some of my steps.  I expect to find a few times where I went wrong, but hope to find a number of instances where I went right, because there are a lot of great records out there that I think you’d like to know about. 

What was that song, anyway?

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