One of my very favorite things is songs about antiquated modes of communication. I love to be reminded of times when people used to sit around waiting for the postman to arrive. You could realistically spend weeks to months in anticipation before you finally realize that your crush is just not that into you. If nothing else it makes me intensely grateful to be living in an age where you can enjoy the instant gratification of having the person you like ignore you in real time. The more things change though, the more they stay the same. Being ignored by your crush is something you and your grandmother can bond over, because I guarantee you she still remembers that time Josef from the next town over stopped answering her letters. Maybe he died in the war, maybe he’s just not that into you.
Do you want to watch an ambitious satire of the way we live now, circa 1973? Well, don’t watch O Lucky Man! It’s a terrible movie. But it does have an outstanding soundtrack by Alan Price, and I’d say that the songs pretty much make all of the points the movie wanted to make, but it doesn’t take three hours to make them. Capitalist society is a target, because or course it is. The funny thing being that in hindsight capitalism was just getting warmed up and looking back at a satirized 1973 it just looks as quaint as all get-out. But yeah, modern life is dehumanizing and every human emotion can be monetized and the military is evil and big corporations want to turn you into a human guinea pig – literally!
If neither Bobby Dylan or Timothy Leary has been able to guide you to the enlightenment you seek, your quest is surely doomed. Who else could you possibly look to? Pete Townsend, for his part, was all into Eastern mysticism at this time, and it influenced his songwriting. (Although, you have to give it to him, not nauseatingly so.) The seeker, therefore, is probably himself, and probably partly a portrait of others who know they’re missing something but aren’t sure what that something is or where to find it. That thirst is a pretty common condition, which leads different people down different paths: to the nearest church, to schools and libraries, to psychedelic drugs, into the woods, or, if they’re a particular combination of over-privileged and gullible, into the arms of huckster gurus. (Townsend’s guru Meher Baba, was, as far as I know, the real deal, not a charlatan.) They’re all different ways to somehow understand the world a little bit better and learn how to be a better person. Which is about as simple and direct a message as will fit into the simple and direct medium of a three-minute rock song.
David Bowie may have been struck by inspiration watching his Middle Eastern neighbors in his Berlin neighborhood, but he really didn’t need to look as far as Arabia to find double lives and secrets. He was living in Berlin! If any city is haunted by generations of secret-keepers… Bowie certainly found the culture of the place to be simpatico to his own state of psychological unrest. The music he made there reflects states of manic energy, episodes of paranoia and depression, shards of hope and romantic longing, and, as always, diverse call-points of underground art and Hollywood fantasy. “Heroes” is a weird and bleak record in a lot of ways, but its highs balance out the koto instrumentals and fog horn-like saxophone solos, and it manages to go out on an almost humorous up note. It was escapist, and right, to evoke a Hollywood fantasy of mystery-shrouded Arabia, after a relentless journey through the secret life of West Berlin.
Yes, life is indeed very much like a frantic carnival, and you are a helpless aquatic mammal with no legs desperately performing tricks to please a cruel and fickle ringmaster through no fault of your own. A good metaphor right there. See, this is why I’m a lifelong follower of Jethro Tull. The J-Tull fan will always be rewarded with clever phrasing and inspired imagery. Putting on a Tull record is like returning to a favorite book. It may be a sustained storyline or a series of vignettes or loosely connected theses but it will be a literary experience as much as a musical one.
“One day we change from children into people, one day we change”
Grains of wisdom from Marc Bolan. Amid the songs about wizards and magic and Rarn, Bolan had some real good life advice. Ride a white swan, for example, baby, can’t go wrong. Bolan’s vision was unique, even in a time when loopy mysticism was on-trend. Nobody else on the scene tried so lovingly to marry rock music with folklore. In the end, that marriage failed, partly because the wide-eyed wonder of the 60’s became the cocaine-eyed dystopia of the 70’s, partly because Bolan himself grew out of his interest in pastoralia. But it was a thoroughly charming, and thoroughly more innocent, moment in pop culture.
Any excuse to just listen to Roxy Music for the rest of the day. Starting with the incomparable first album, of course. What a powerful introduction, from the winking, gaudy throwback aesthetics to the off-kilter romanticism within. I’ve been listening to this record all my life and I’m still not sure what it’s saying. It may be saying that every love affair is like a suit you step in and out of, and life is a series of impressions to write about. Or it could be saying that glamour is a cheap salve that barely covers your wounds and does nothing to protect your vulnerable heart. You can be walking around bleeding on the inside, but at least you look – and sound – great doing so. Or it may be that there is nothing underneath the lace and velour and the poses you strike are everything you are and all of your feelings are just a performance. It may be all of the above, if you’re truly versed in camp and irony.