By Patrick Vecchio
Up until a couple of weeks ago I was having trouble falling asleep at night. Then I bought a pair of killer Audio-Technica headphones.
My iPod’s earbuds never fit properly. I upgraded to a pair of JBL buds, but the fit was no better. I need to hear all of the music, not just a slice of middle frequencies and no top or bottom. Clearly, headphones were the way to go. Now, instead of lying in bed at night, ruminating about damage from the Dopplering past that can’t be repaired, I soak up tunes and quickly nod off. After using them for the past couple of weeks, I don’t know why I didn’t buy a pair of headphones years ago.
Case in point: I’ve been listening to Brian Eno’s brilliant Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy) since the record came out in 1974 (!). Here’s an excerpt from how allmusic.com describes the record:
Eno‘s richly layered arrangements juxtapose very different treated sounds, yet they blend and flow together perfectly, hinting at the directions his work would soon take with the seamless sound paintings of Another Green World [ … ] Taking Tiger Mountain is made accessible through Eno‘s mastery of pop song structure, a form he would soon transcend and largely discard.
The key phrase there is “richly layered arrangements juxtapose very different treated sounds.” Last night, I heard instruments in Tiger Mountain’s “The Fat Lady of Lindbourg” that I’ve never heard before with such clarity: a faint treated guitar at the start of the song that sounds like cats mewling in the basement next door; a single, sinister organ note that burrows into the foundation of the creepy, threatening song. The headphones parked all of those delicious sounds right next to my brain.
For people who listen to music so they can nod their head or tap their toes to the rhythm, or for those who subscribe to the George Clinton school of “Free your ass and your mind will follow,” hearing an obscure bit of treated guitar on an Eno record must seem arcane. But at one point I bought into Jim Morrison’s “the music is your only friend” declaration, and I wanted to know this “friend” completely. Thus, my fascination with Andrew Mackay’s oboe parts on Roxy Music’s Siren or Sonny Landreth’s slide guitar on John Hiatt’s Slow Turning.
Music isn’t just music. Music is life. It’s serious business. In the mid-’70s, Bob Marley’s Rastaman Vibration album pulled me back from planning suicide. At the end of a breakup with a girlfriend in college, I suggested she go home and listen to Mott the Hoople’s “I Wish I Was Your Mother” so she’d have a better idea of how I felt. When I feel adrift in the uncaring universe, David Bowie’s “The Bewlay Brothers” (from Hunky Dory) lets me know there are others in the void.
Sometimes it’s less grim. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of cutting loose. I had a girl walk off the dance floor one time when we were dancing to a Rolling Stones song. I had turned away, and when I looked for her, she had gone. When I found her in the crowd and asked what’s up with that, she said, “I didn’t know I was going to be dancing with Mick Jagger.” When I saw Toots and the Maytals a few years ago, about 10 second into the first song I turned to the friends I was with and said, “I gotta dance” and headed onto the floor, smiling and probably flopping around like an overcaffeinated scarecrow, but I didn’t care how I looked.
Back in early 1975, I knew Bruce Springsteen’s The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle was a great album as soon as I heard that brief horns intro to the title song. Same for the first notes of Laurie Anderson’s Strange Angels. A guy I went to high school with whom I see once every couple of years doesn’t greet me by my name; instead, he calls me “Zappa.” I wore purple tie-dyed shirts in high school on which I stenciled things on the front like “Eskimo Blue Day,” a song from Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers (the Airplane’s last great album). When I was drinking, I used to blow into half-empty wine bottles to hear the echo and then take long slugs standing on one leg a la Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson.
In the last year or so, I’ve had younger friends turn me on to alternative and indie songs—more than I can count. And now I’m starting to dabble in jazz: Miles, Mingus, Adderly, Rollins, Coltraine, Monk. I was listening to a track from Bitches Brew last night and suddenly realized that John McLaughlin may have been Jeff Beck before Beck was Beck. It’s all right there, right in my ears.
Right now, I’m listening to Ian Hunter sing, “The rock ‘n’ roll circus is in town,” a line from Mott the Hoople’s classic, verging-on-brilliant album Mott. In this song on this album about the weariness that stardom lays on musicians on the road, Hunter sings, “Rock ‘n’ roll’s a loser’s game.” Yet in the next lines, he sings, “It mesmerizes and I can’t explain/the reasons for the sights and for the sounds,” and then, in the last lines of the last verse, he confesses, “I can’t erase the rock ‘n’ roll feeling from my mind.”
That’s at least two of us, Ian.
Image Credit: MusicStack