It goes without saying that I want to go away on Marc Bolan’s flying saucer. Take me away to an alternate universe of sex and glitter. Bolan is offering to rescue you from your mundane life; music will make you free, it will make you cool, it will take you to a higher consciousness. It’s a promise of redemption through creativity. Or just being a libertine if you’re not the creative type. That’s really all rock music ever had to offer, its one big idea; self-expression as sea change. Can we thank rock music for the way we understand our identities today? The idea that who you are means something. Create yourself and you create the world.
Kris Kristofferson pays tribute to his fellow outlaw country singers; Johnny Cash, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, men of a dying breed. Outlaw country doesn’t really exist anymore. Those guys were glamorous because they weren’t; they led lives more interesting than fiction, with music being a sideline to help finance all the booze. Of course they were all also toxic trainwrecks who poisoned their bodies, sabotaged their relationships, and alienated their children.But a moral story is not a fun story. In a fun story the going up is always worth the coming down.
Watch Cat Stevens be adorable and full of optimism. If the whole ‘chugging towards a better future’ message grinds on your cynical nerves, you must be very immune to charm. Granted, the idea of a future-bound train of peace is better suited to a children’s show than as a grownup anti-war commentary, but that shouldn’t make it less charming to grownups. Also I doubt that it’s intended as any kind of a serious commentary. He’s just saying that peace is nice and we should be aiming for it. In fact, don’t think of it as a protest or anti-war song or a political message of any kind; you should just think of it as an invitation to personal optimism; try to make the world a little bit better than you found it, and good things will come to you.
I’m still waiting for the day when I drop acid and watch Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii. That seems like a very necessary thing to do in life. In the meantime, it’s still a film worth watching again and again. It’s Pink Floyd at the height of their powers, and that’s enough to make for a fascinating document. I like all the footage of ancient artifacts and arid landscapes, but that’s not really the point. You could say that the act of playing, without an audience, in the middle of a ruined city represents something about the band and their spirit of innovation, as in, you know, they’re just playing just for the sake of pure artistry, man. Or you could be cynical and say it’s just a visual gimmick. I’m leaning towards the former; you rarely see so much joy in pure innovation and creativity and just playing for the sake of it. You also didn’t see much of it again either, not after the big hits started coming. Maybe success didn’t curtail Pink Floyd’s innovative ambitions, but it definitely put a damper on their sense of joy and their unity as a group.
One of the most regrettable things in David Bowie’s career is that he didn’t make any videos during his Man Who Sold the World/Hunky Dory phase. The resplendent locks and man’s dresses were well photographed, but apparently he didn’t perform much that year. When he did get around to making videos for the albums he was already in full Ziggy regalia. I doubt that Bowie himself regretted those decisions very much, but it’s always pained me as a fan. It was a rare lapse on his part, especially since he was just coming into his own with the whole visual iconography thing. Still, be grateful for what you do get. The pretty things are going to hell, he would inform us in 1999, taking a decidedly different point of view.
Learn all the things things that Ian Anderson hates about Christianity in general and the Anglican church in particular. To that end, Aqualung is your resource. It contains many of Anderson’s thoughts about the shortcomings of society and the Church. My God, Hymn 43 and Wind-Up all explore what Anderson considers to be the unhealthy state of spirituality within the confines of organized religion. As he sees it, the church does nothing but stand in the way of true spiritual understanding. It exerts too much control over society, allows for too many abuses of power and leaves no room for real seeking or questioning. That like a lot of heavy stuff for a rock album, but evidently in 1971 people were more primed for brain food in their music; Aqualung became (and remains) Jethro Tull’s most popular album.
No conversation about gifted women who careen into an early grave because they can’t live with themselves is complete without Janis Joplin. Sometimes that conversation focuses so hard on being on a bumpy ride to hell, it begins to overshadow the part about being gifted. Joplin didn’t exactly leave behind a huge library of work, and after so many years, there’s not much left to discover. It can seem like the handful of hits are over-familiar oldies radio fodder, just another cheap touchstone for boomer nostalgia. But it’s still striking to see the sheer ferocity of her performance, even in the antiseptic environment of a TV studio. She reminds us why we remember her. She was somebody who really didn’t have any better place in the world except on stage.