“His prophecies were you”
One minute and twenty four seconds of Tyrannosaurus Rex. That’s almost not even a full song. No, but trust me, it is an experience. I think that perhaps with the early Tyrannosaurus Rex albums, the songs don’t work so well out of context. The famous T.Rex albums that followed were a parade of hit singles, but this was a very different animal. The early albums need to be taken in as a whole. The songs flow together, and not one of them is anywhere near being a hit single. They may strike you as strange, especially alone like this, but they grow on you. You can’t help being charmed by Marc Bolan’s world, with its light mysticism and fantasy.
If you’ve only ever heard this on the radio, you may be missing out on the bizarre freakout that is Tommy. The Who’s hit single still pops up a lot on those radio stations that claim they play anything, but it’s barely a trace of the weirdness from whence it came. The mother album was weird enough – a rock opera about a deaf, dumb and blind pinball prodigy loosely inspired by the teachings of Meher Baba. It was a mountain of terrible ideas pulled off through sheer conviction, birthing the concept of concept albums on the way. But was that enough for The Who and their vision? No, they had to have their vision visualized, so they made a movie, with schlock auteur Ken Russell. That’s when things got really weird. You can enjoy it a lot more if you think of it less as a feature film and more as a very long music video. Also if you’re drugged to the gills. It’s certainly a feast of surreal images, and unexpected guest performances of various quality (Tina Turner, thumbs up; Jack Nicholson, not so much.) Ann-Margaret earned herself an Oscar nomination, presumably for the scene where she’s doused in baked beans. Roger Daltrey was not nominated for any awards, despite being very limber and blue of eye. Elton John’s guest appearance is another highlight. Sir Elton is no actor, but that’s not what the role requires. It’s the perfect Elton John cameo; it suits him both musically and aesthetically. It’s exactly the perfect collision of talent that could only happen in the musical wild west of the mid seventies, when movies of concept albums could get made and earn awards.
Where does this fit into Marc Bolan’s cosmology? Firmly on the elves and talking animals end of the spectrum, where Bolan explored childlike and whimsical realms of fantasy. In the face of history, it’s clearly the strutting rock songs about cars and babes that hold the place of honor. That’s what people respond to, and that’s where Bolan’s legacy lies. But the fey charm of the Tyrannosaurus Rex years has its own appeal, though it’s obviously not for everybody. It’s for people who never grew out of loving The Wind in the Willows, who like to get lost inside their own heads and see little faces in the trees and imagine the inner monologue of every animal.
Leonard Cohen died two weeks ago, the latest light to disappear into the death vortex that David Bowie appears to have torn open in the fabric of the universe. You can view that as a string of particularly bad luck or as the beginning of the rapture, but you can’t write off the loss. Cohen was 82, a very respectable age to exit the mortal plane, but his voice was still vital and he had attained a position among his fans not unlike that of an evangelist. (A very carnal one, obviously.) People came to his concerts to hear something elevating and left with a feeling of having been anointed. He had become, for a certain subset of people, a somewhat reluctant spiritual leader. He may have argued that he was merely a wordsmith who happened to strum a guitar, but the power of his delivery spoke otherwise. As one of the greatest poets of our time, he very rarely felt the need to reach for other people’s words, but of the few covers he did record, he chose wisely. His performance of the European standard La Complainte du Partisan – an ode to the heroism of the French Resistance – is one of the most moving things he’s ever recorded. His live performance is even more powerful, though typically of Cohen, delivered gently and with subtlety. Cohen was a modest man, but he was a transporting performer, and he knew it. His final series of concerts, which must have been exhausting for a man of any age, were a blessing and gift.
“Thought of you as my mountaintop, thought of you as my peak…”
When I think about my personal cache of great love songs, an awful lot of them are by Lou Reed, and this one is way up there on top. Reed is one writer who really knew how to press all the emotion buttons; from righteous anger, jealous rage, and drugged-up swagger to self-doubt and regret to this, the most rueful and tender love. For me, as a fan, the knowledge that Reed was actually a monumental jerk in his younger days, well, it makes the music even better. Lou Reed wrote as a man who knew his own dark heart, and struggled with it. That gives his work a complexity that people with more cheerful worldviews just don’t have – and who among us can claim to be cheerful and well-adjusted all the time? Maybe not everyone will admit it, but we all know our own dark hearts. We know that sometimes, we’ve been monumental jerks, and we all have that one person who walked away from us because of it. I know I can relate to a song by an asshole who knows he fucked up a lot more than a song by a well-adjusted guy enjoying his happy marriage.
I think this one is interesting because it marks one of the rare instances in which The Beatles turned to the blues for inspiration. They were rather unique, among a sea tide of blues based bands, for not being in the least bit a blues based band. The Beatles were unrepentant pop lovers, who leaned on the rockabilly of Elvis and on the far less cool basis of pre-rock popular music. They didn’t care very much about pretensions of authenticity and somewhat looked down on those of their rivals who had them. I’m sure that element of purity helped them maintain their undeniable toppermost position in the rock pecking order for as long as they were a unit.
The Beatles really are the gateway drug for children to become rock fans. If this isn’t the stepping stone between nursery rhymes and headbanging, whiskey-swilling, pill-popping, promiscuous depravity, I don’t know what is. I mean, look at me. I used to be an innocent child who loved wholesome things like Alice in Wonderland. Then I started listening to The Beatles. Now I take drugs two or three times a week, and engage in meaningless sexual encounters with men I’m not married to. For all intents and purposes, I’m a fallen woman, and it’s all thanks to these guys and their deceptively simple tunes about octopi. Thanks, Beatles! Without you, I’d be a goddamn normie. I, and millions like me.