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Posts Tagged ‘John Coltrane’

The first time I encountered Lester Bangs’ writing was in college, when a musicology professor assigned a shit-kicking little essay called “James Taylor Marked for Death,” which, while threatening grave bodily harm to said folk musician, is primarily a paean to the rock and roll atavism of The Troggs (yes, they of “Wild Thing”).  I don’t really have anything intellectually notable to say here, I just wanted to highlight for you the brilliance of this man’s writing, and suggest that you go out and learn yourself just how thoroughly it is possible to experience music.

Here’s a particularly inspired passage from the above-mentioned essay, which is not what I intended originally to quote for you, but, things being what they are… :

“I could listen to Chicago or Santana anytime… I don’t think anybody as crass and commercial as they are could possibly be the Enemy.  My spleen is reserved for Elton John, James Taylor, all the glory boys of I-Rock.  I call it I-Rock, even though I just made up the name, because most of it is so relentlessly, involutedly egocentric that you finally actually stop hating the punk and just want to take the poor bastard out and get him a drink, and then kick his ass, preferably off a high cliff into the nearest ocean.

Matter of fact, if I ever get down to Carolina I’m gonna try to figure out a way to off James Taylor.  Hate to come on like a Nazi, but if I hear one more Jesus-walking-the-boys-and-girls-down-a-Carolina-path-while-the-dilemma-of-existence-crashes-like-a-slab-of-hod-on-J.T.’s-shoulders song, I will drop everything (I got nothin’ to do here in California but drink beer and watch TV anyway) and hop the first Greyhound to Carolina for the signal satisfaction of breaking off a bottle of Ripple (he deserves no better, and I wish I could think of worse, but they’re all local bands) and twisting it into James Taylor’s guts until he expires in a spasm of adenoidal poesy.

EXTRA! TRAGEDY STRIKES ROCK! SUPERSTAR GORED BY DERANGED ROCK CRITIC!! “We made it,” gasped Lester Bangs as he was led by police from the bloody scene.  “We won.”               — Rolling Stone

But fantasies and jokes – none of that is really any good.  If they just don’t seem to be playing your song much right now, well, stop feeling sorry for yourself, scout the terrain and see if we can figure out where to go next.  Because there’s always gonna be something around in the tradition.  But fuck the tradition, I want the Party!” (Bangs 1987, ed. Greil Marcus, pp. 71-72)
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Mighty entertaining stuff, right?  Well anyway, what I really wanted to direct your attention to was the following inspired burst of writing, from a 1971 essay entitled “Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: A Tale of These Times.”  Reading this passage really struck a chord with me, and perhaps it might resonate with you as well:

“…nothing more nor less than a record, a rock ‘n’ roll album…could ever pulverize my lobes and turn my floor to wormwood.  I knew, ’cause I had a brief though quite similar spell of disorientation once over the Question Mark and the Mysterians album!  I was at a friend’s house, and I was high on Romilar and he on Colt 45, and I said: ‘Yeah, I bought the Question Mark and the Mysterians album today,’ and suddenly the equilibrium was seeping from my head like water from the ears after a sea plunge, a desultory vortex started swirling round my skull and gradually spun faster though I couldn’t tell if it was a breeze just outside or something right between the flesh and bone.  I saw my life before my eyes, and that is no shit – I mean not that I saw some zipping montage from birth to that queasy instant of existential vertigo, but that I saw myself walking in and out of countless record stores, forking over vast fortunes in an endless chain of cash-register clicks and dings at $3.38 and $3.39 and $3.49 and all the other fixed rates I knew by heart being if never on the track team unquestionably an All-American Competitive Shopper, I saw litter bins piled high with bags that stores all seal records in so you won’t get nabbed for lifting as you trot out the door.  I saw myself on a thousand occasions walking toward my car with a brisk and purposeful step, turning the key in the ignition and varooming off high as a hotrodder in anticipation of the revelations waiting in thirty-five or forty minutes of blasting sound soon as I got home, the eternal promise that this time the guitars will jell like TNT and set off galvanic sizzles in your brain ‘KABLOOIE!!!’ and this time at least at last blow your fucking lid sky-high.  Brains gleaming on the ceiling, sticking like putty stalactites, while yer berserk body runs around and slams outside hollering subhuman gibberish, jigging in erratic circles and careening split-up syllables insistently like a geek with a bad case of the superstar syndrome.

But that’s only the fantasy.   The real vision, the real freaking flash, was just like the reality, only looped to replay without end.  The real story is rushing home to hear the apocalypse erupt, falling through the front door and slashing open the plastic sealing ‘for your protection’, taking the record out – ah, lookit them grooves, all jet black without a smudge yet, shiny and new and so fucking pristine, then the color of the label, does it glow with auras that’ll make subtle comment on the sounds coming out, or is it just a flat utilitarian monchromatic surface, like a schoolhouse wall…?  And finally you get to put the record on the turntable, it spins in limbo a perfect second, followed by the moment of truth, needle into groove, and finally sound.

What then occurs is so often anticlimactic that it drives a rational man to the depths of despair.  Bah!  The whole musical world is packed with simpletons and charlatans, with few a genius or looney tune joker in between…

I realize that this sounds rather pathological – although I never thought so until laying it out here – and this Freudian overtones are child’s play, I guess.  But what I don’t understand is what it all signifies.  Don’t get the idea that my buying of and listening to records per se has always been marked by such frenzy and disorientation, or even any particular degree of obsession and compulsion.  It’s just that music has been a fluctuating fanaticism with me ever since – well, ever since I first heard “The Storm” from the William Tell Overture on a TV cartoon about first grade… and hearing for the first time things like John Coltrane and Charlie Mingus’s The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady and the Stones and feedback and Trout Mask Replica.  All these were milestones, each one fried my brain a little further, especially the experience of the first few listenings to a record so total, so mind-twisting, that you authentically can say you’ll never be quite the same again… They’re events you remember all your life… And the whole purpose of the absurd, mechanically persistent involvement with recorded music is the pursuit of that priceless moment.  So it’s not exactly that records might unhinge the mind, but rather that if anything is going to drive you up the wall it might as well be a record.  Because the best music is strong and guides and cleanses and is life itself” (Bangs 1987, ed. Greil Marcus, pp. 11-13).
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Anyway, if you ask me, that’s some pretty white-hot writing, and it’s pretty much exactly the kind of thing I was thinking about recently when I wrote this post.  It seems to me that although Bangs never uses the word ‘nostalgia’, his phrase “the pursuit of that priceless moment” is a way of getting at the same sort of thing.

The anthology of Bangs’ writing from which these quotes are drawn is available here, and surely loads of other places.  Good music writing, I think, can approximate (if not quite surpass) the experience of good music, and music writing rarely gets better than this, so check it out.

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Hello, friends.  I hope that you are well, off in your corner of the internet.  Things are off to a bit of a slow start this Monday morning at Spinal Tapdance HQ, as your humble narrator recovers from last night’s heavy metal ass-kicking courtesy of Dream Theater and Iron Maiden.

Dream Theater’s opening set was relatively short and to-the-point, dealing mostly with the harder-edged, less progressive tracks from their most recent albums (“As I Am,” “A Rite Of Passage,” “Constant Motion,” and “Panic Attack,” with a tasteful rendering of “Home” providing the only real “epic” track), with only “Pull Me Under” closing out the show to great acclaim from the old-school fans.  Jordan Rudess on the keytar battling John Petrucci’s guitar wizardry was manna from heavy metal heaven, and James LaBrie busted out some of his gruffer vocals to suit the no-nonsense material.  Killer stuff from one of the most universally-talented bands in all of music.

Iron Maiden, of course, was IRON FUCKING MAIDEN.  I know there’s been quite a lot of grumbling ’round the internet about the setlist for the current tour (of which Chicago was the second-to-last stop).  Many folks have complained that the set is too focused on Maiden’s post-millennial output, which is absolutely true (only six of sixteen tracks would likely be considered “classic” Maiden), but I for one thought the set was fantastic.  It basically goes without saying at this point, but Bruce Dickinson is perhaps the most energetic frontman in the history of metal, and his theatrics and humor presumably won over even those fans who were less familiar with Maiden’s post-reunion-with-Bruce output.

Here’s what they played (which has two alterations from what was posted on Iron Maiden’s official tour website, but I think this has been the case throughout these U.S. dates):

1. The Wicker Man
2. Ghost of the Navigator
3. Wrathchild
4. El Dorado
5. Dance of Death
6. The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg
7. These Colours Don’t Run
8. Blood Brothers
9. Wildest Dreams
10. No More Lies
11. Brave New World
12. Fear of the Dark
13. Iron Maiden

Encore:

14. The Number of the Beast
15. Hallowed Be Thy Name
16. Running Free

Obviously, it was the classic tunes that elicited the most drunkenly exuberant response, but several of these newer tracks came off really well live.  “No More Lies” was especially improved; I actually really dig the song on Dance of Death, but it’s a bit too long (like many of the songs on that record) and labored.  Blast that tune in the sweltering summer heat to thousands upon thousands of metalheads, and it’s one hell of a shout-a-long.

I know there’s been a fair bit of griping, too, about the first single to be released from Maiden’s upcoming album (The Final Frontier), “El Dorado,” and yeah, I get it.  It’s a little weak for a single, and Bruce’s vocals sound a bit strained (we can only hope that it’s an issue of mixing, especially since his vocals were in stellar form last night).  Thankfully, though, in a live setting, the band sped it up significantly, meaning that the choruses came and went quickly without grating (as they do in the recorded version).  I still can’t quite jive with “Benjamin Breeg,” but basically everything else went down a real storm.

All in all, a magnificently entertaining performance by a completely unfuckwithable, world-class band.

Also contributing to the need for recovery was my (admittedly odd) decision to blast Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz at extreme volume while driving home from the concert.  Anyone out there who’s been losing their shit lately to the double-drumming acrobatics of the metallic likes of Kylesa and Melvins (w/Big Business) really ought to check this out right quick.  Coleman’s take on free jazz isn’t as mesmerizingly dense as Coltrane’s Ascension, but the greater sense of space allows the lightning-sharp communication between the two groups (Coleman is billed here as leading a ‘double quartet’, with one group mixed in each speaker) to come through like the inerrant voice of God striking down the wayward and the unrighteous.

I’m off to continue nursing myself back to health after nearly overdosing on pure rock fury.  Have a pleasant day, and hey, why not play some Iron Maiden while you’re at it?

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