It’s hard to believe that in 1972 Cat Stevens’ albums were the kind of bestsellers that nearly everyone went out and bought. I mean, that’s hard to imagine just logistically, because in their day they had to physically walk to the record store, in the snow, and it was uphill both ways. But also, it’s weird to think of a time when it was guileless thoughtfulness and gentle melody that floated people’s boats. Songwriters like Cat Stevens still exist, people who want to write about love and finding meaning in the world. But being thoughtful and spiritual and positive-minded and just nice is not what you’d call the dominant aesthetic. Maybe it’s because our times are more troubled than 1972 was. The early seventies were all peaceful and golden, right? RIGHT??
“The sunshine bores the daylights out of me”
The Rolling Stones are strung out in the south of France, and the strain is starting to show. Leave it to those degenerates to turn a glamorous and idyllic life into a crawl through the gutter. Legend has it that Villa Nellcote had been requisitioned by Nazis during the occupation, and the outlines of old swastikas could still be seen on the basement walls. (It’s now owned by a Russian oligarch.) That lends Exile on Main St. an appropriate touch of evil. 1972 may have been the last time that The Rolling Stones still seemed haunted by devils, before they turned ‘dancing with Mr. D’ into high camp and appeared dangerous to nobody but themselves and their familiars. Of course, The Stones’ orbit continues to be marked by tragic death and inexplicable acts of survival, but nobody worries anymore that the corruption will somehow rub off on their children.
Grab a clean hankie and prepare to experience Rocket Man in a whole new light. In 2017 Elton John (in partnership with YouTube and others) held a contest for filmmakers to create original music videos for some of his most famous songs. This was one of the winning entries, created by Iranian refugee Majid Adin, based on his own experiences. And, yeah, you’re gonna need that handkerchief. Obviously, you have to have grasped that the song is a metaphor for loneliness and alienation, but you may have never thought of it as a metaphor for a more real and down-to-Earth right here right now human experience. In its own time, aka 1972, this song was kind of critically dismissed as an attempt by Elton John to ride the then-happening trend of songs about space and being from space and being alienated out in space and making a show of your alienation while wearing flamboyant shoes. (Harry Nilsson had a comical take on the theme with Spaceman the same year.) However, that’s really unfair to Elton John. He had his own reasons for adopting glitter rock aesthetics, and his glam persona has carried him far beyond any possible accusation of merely being trendy. Secondly, Rocket Man may cover the same tracts of space as Space Oddity, but Elton’s performance owes nothing to no man. Elton John may be flamboyant and dramatic – even tacky – in his sartorial tastes, but as a singer and musician, he’s full of empathy, soul and emotional nuance. This is a great opportunity to really appreciate an often-overlooked classic.
“Rock on!” is the simplest directive for life. Just keep on keeping on, living your rock star life, being your most rocking self, doing what you do. Totally meaningless yet totally inspiring. That’s kind of also the T.Rex credo. T.Rex isn’t music with a message, except for one of hedonism and fun aka ‘rocking’. T. Rex rocked in the firm belief that rocking is what gets you through; rock to live, live to rock. That’s a simple philosophy, it’s easy to follow, and right down to it, it’s all you really need.
Happy freaking holidays, I guess. Nothing says festive like Ziggy Stardust. All that soul wrapped up in all that glitter. David Bowie is the gift that keeps on giving. David Bowie is my emotional support spirit animal, for lack of a more nuanced wording, and it’s performances like this one that show why he still fills that role for so many people. On a very serious note, though, for those of you not having a festive holiday time for whatever reason this year; you’re not alone. You’re not alone and you’re wonderful.
This is it, this is the trouble with Harry. He was too bloody brilliant for his own good. You can’t immediately see it, but this is a great illustration of the duality between Harry Nilsson the serious artiste and Harry Nilsson the big silly self-sabotaging goofball. First of all, Harry had the voice of an angel and the ability to write songs like this one, which sounds like an old standard that somehow never made it onto the soundtrack of Casablanca. But this song is not from Casablanca; it’s from an album cheekily titled Son of Schmilsson, and later, the soundtrack of a Dracula movie directed by noted Hollywood visionary and film icon Ringo Starr. And therein lies the trouble with Harry: besides his notorious alcoholism, he was undone by his own inability to take himself seriously. If he could just keep writing and singing beauties like this, he would have had a career of solid gold. But he wanted to costar (co-Starr?) in Son of Dracula with Ringo, he wanted to record an old folks’ choir singing a novelty song about bed-wetting, he wanted to have a screaming contest with John Lennon that ruptured his vocal chords, and eventually, he wanted to retire from music entirely. Which, ok, that last part you can’t blame him for: he quit drinking, raised a lovely family, became involved in political activism and seemed pretty happy about it. But so many of his career choices were just so foot-shootingly misguided, you feel aggravated on his behalf, angry at him for being one of those people who sabotage their own best potential.
This should be everyone’s first glimpse of Roxy Music. Being the opening of their first album and of one of their first television performances, for many people, it was. It laid out the Roxy Music mission statement pretty clearly; weirdness as a glamorous pose. Eclecticism and eccentricity weren’t new to rock music, but they certainly needed sexing up. Roxy Music did that. Bryan Ferry in gold brocade, leaving chem-trails of sheer glamour. What a fantasy. That was about the most exciting thing an impressionable child could see, now as in 1972. If you were like me, you knew you had to ditch your life and go live in that world. Or at least invest in some baroque garments. Try queuing up Roxy Music videos when you’re dressing up for the night. You should feel inspired to march out into the underworld armed with nothing but bons mots and glitter.