# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Miscellaneous - August 2009

  by Lisa Torem

published: 28 / 7 / 2009

Miscellaneous - August 2009


In 'Rock Salt Row', Lisa Torem will be debating each month with a different writer about a moment in rock history and its impact now. In its second episode, she takes an Aldous Huxley quote which gave the Doors their name, and asks Malcolm Carter if rock music can ever really change perceptions

Two Writers Season One Historic Rock Moment There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” This quote is by author Aldous Huxley, (1894-1963), the British author of ‘Brave New World’. But Huxley didn’t coin the aforementioned phrase- in 1954, author William Blake wrote, “If the doors to perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, “infinite.” It took the sensuous, sinewy Jim Morrison, the 60-70’s demi-god to fully explore the cultural affectations of these references – Morrison’s group, the Doors, played the “perception” game with the audience. LISA Did you have pre-conceived notions before listening to the Doors? Has similar rock-influenced music altered your original perceptions? What exactly alters your perceptions when it occurs? MALCOLM I have to admit that I am old enough not to have had any pre-conceived notions about ‘The Doors in 1967 when their debut album was released and I would’ve heard their music on the radio, but trying to recall those times now actually makes me feel sorry for music fans who were born after the 70s. They have access to so much information about bands and the music they made from years gone by that it must be difficult not to have pre-conceived notions about how a certain band should sound. I’m not saying I’m familiar with the music of every band from the Doors onwards, but being there when this music was originally recorded makes for a completely different appreciation of it than for one hearing it for the first time since its conception. Sadly taking the Doors as an example is asking for trouble in a way. Morrison, due to his early death, has been elevated into some type of God-like figure. I’d be the first to admit that he had all the makings of a major rock star. The looks, the voice, the way he could command a stage; he appeared to be one of those born to be a star. To a teenager hearing him for the first time back in 1967 he was mysterious and certainly, for us kids in England, the Doors were creating a sound that we hadn’t heard before. To be fair they made some outstanding music prior to Morrison’s death in 1971 but would they be so admired today if Morrison wasn’t sadly taken from us? I’m not sure what kind of shock value a song like ‘The End’ would have on say a street-wise 13 year-old in2009 but for a teenager growing up in a leafy street in England in 1967 it was not only shocking to hear Morrison say those now-famous words, it was wildly exciting. One of the differences, of course, was not only were times more innocent back then, but the fact that we were totally unprepared for it. No-one had told us that the music was as affecting as it was. We were hearing this new music more or less at the same time as the music magazines were writing about it so it was a new discovery for everyone. LISA ‘The End’ was edgy and sinister and glamourized death. I understand you calling it “thrilling” – but it was also foreboding. I also have to argue that Morrison’s music would still stand up despite his early demise. I can’t believe his pre-mature death would in any way minimize his contributions to rock. I do agree that more access to information makes us less susceptible to owning our own judgements. Of course, mind-altering substances and music that encouraged the use of these substances played an important role, but still it’s important to ask how does perception influence our taste in music? Do we prepare ourselves to like what we’re about to hear? MALCOLM It’s been well-documented that Brian Wilson, John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix composed some of their best work while allegedly under the influence of mind-altering substances and listening to say ‘Good Vibrations’ or ‘Purple Haze’ it’s easy to accept that. Never having been in their shoes I’m obviously unable to say if certain artists would have written such bold musical experiments if mind-altering substances weren’t being consumed. But being little more than a kid when these initial forays into psychedelia were written means that I was listening to this music in a totally innocent frame of mind. As the years have passed I’ve realized that this was a very good thing, although I didn’t know it at the time. My young mind knew that this music was meant to open up new worlds, break down the walls and show you the truth, yep, open the doors of perception. By being too young to have access, and maybe the courage, to experiment with chemicals like the aforementioned authors I just had the music to free me. And it did – the music really did get me high. By that I mean that it made me feel good, it gave me a feeling of euphoria without having to consume anything, not even a beer. In my mind I could feel where these musicians were coming from, what they were feeling even, all without having to resort to taking any type of substance to get me there which shows just how powerful music is. So whatever those particular artists had used to open up their minds also opened up mine but I got the better deal, years down the line, I, hopefully, still have most of my brain cells intact. I’d like to think that I don’t have any pre-conceived notions when listening to new artists. There’s a song by Taylor Swift whom I’ve read a lot about recently. I thought she was some new country music discovery with very few pop leanings - pure country was the impression I got - and there’s nothing wrong with that. What I’ve just heard was an obviously young girl singing an extremely catchy well-produced pop song quite well and it’s still going round in my head tonight. It’s not the kind of thing a man my age should like I’ve been told so many times. Why? Because it’s the work of a quite attractive young girl or it sounds like her music has no real substance? Because only music lovers of Swift’s same age could appreciate it? I can honestly say that if I hear another song by Swift that is as strong as that one I will probably buy her album and enjoy it more than the last Oasis album as well. Swift won’t make me feel like I’ve taken some mind-altering substance that will take me off on a mystery tour while listening to her - her music won’t expand my mind or affect the way my life is heading - but it will make me feel good for the 2 or 3 minutes I listen to it and maybe a little longer. So even though I try to keep an open mind when listening to new artists I am affected by what I’ve read and what others say. So, don’t be too influenced by what others say and don’t give in to peer pressure. LISA That’s a good point about your fear that some will scorn a “man of your age” for listening to Swift’s music. I recently saw a documentary about the Jonas Brothers and had the same momentary reaction. “Don’t I have to be eleven to like this music?” I had memorized most of the lyrics by the end, of course. I was accompanied by two eight -year -old girls and an eleven- year old boy who kept sinking slowly down the back of his seat. Gender and age can certainly restrict our choices if we allow it. . John Cage, Igor Stravinski and Yoko Ono were initially treated with dread then later celebrated for “being ahead of their time.” Do you need to mentally prepare for music that initially feels disconcerting due to an unconventional tonality, language or dynamic? MALCOLM I think we all mentally prepare for “unconventional music” because it’s in a foreign language or because it’s pushing boundaries. I moved to Sweden some years ago and knew little about Swedish music other than Abba or Ace Of Base. I wasn’t so much afraid of giving the music a chance - it was more of not being able to understand the lyrics. I have to shamefully admit too that, as good a singles band that Abba were, I felt that nothing would touch me the way that British or American music did. First I noticed that the lyric thing didn’t really come into it, a good number of Swedish bands sang in English anyway and those that did sing in Swedish influenced me to concentrate more on the melody or the feeling the song conveyed. LISA Aha! MALCOLM In my local Swedish record store, I found more of the Americana type albums I loved and a wider selection of jazz and blues albums than any record store in my English hometown ever had in stock which led me to check out Scandinavian bands and opened up my eyes to the fact that Sweden has some brilliant young bands making original music from every genre. Being a 60s freak I also started to check out bands that were popular here way back then and was amazed at how brilliantly the Scandinavians and the Swedes in particular were at the type of psych-pop that was popular in England in the 60s. It opened up a whole new world of music and a whole new batch of albums to buy. Sometimes I must, however, miss out on good music by having pre-conceived ideas of how it will sound. Antony and the Johnsons is one artist / band that I almost unbelievably missed out on. For something like five years I had made attempts to actually avoid listening to anything bearing that name. Their album covers were trying just a little too hard to be “arty” or different and I’d read so many reviews that made the music they produce sound like hard work. While most reviews were positive, there was this underlying feeling that someone somewhere was trying very hard to cover up that fact that this was music that was trying hard to push barriers. But, I also got the feeling that certain people wouldn’t stand up and say it was a bunch of unmelodic rubbish disguised as art. Then one day I heard ‘Hope There’s Someone’ and I was hooked. I went out and bought all the Antony and the Johnsons records I could find and wouldn’t want to be without them now. At least I was prepared to give it a chance once I heard that Antony was an exceptional vocalist. I had ‘The Crying Light’ playing in the car earlier this year when I was driving with a friend who is not the greatest music fan in the world. The look on his face when he heard Antony and the Johnsons for the first time was priceless - a look of shock, disbelief and surprise. I got asked to change the CD. “You’ve got to give it a chance,” I said and succeeded in keeping the CD in the player. That evening my friend suggested to the others that I had finally lost it and had they heard this awful music by Antony and the Johnsons that I was listening to? It was all said in a light-hearted way but still brought home that people can be almost offended by music they don’t understand. I just shake my head and hope I don’t ever get that blinkered. I made sure that whenever this friend was with me in the car that week that Antony and the Jonhsons were playing in the CD player. By the end of the week my friend was actually pressing repeat on certain songs and actually knew the track order better on the CD than I did. After he returned to England he called, “That CD you were playing all the time? I kind of liked it in the end. What is the best album to start with?” Turned out he ended up buying his first Antony and the Johnsons album that very day and plays it a lot. Job done. LISA Yeah, Malcolm. Locking the poor man in your car with the volume turned up! You fought to the death for your musical convictions – though I wouldn’t mind having a “row” with that friend of yours! They say you shouldn’t discuss politics and religion at the dinner table – music may well fit into that volatile territory. It’s easy to make harsh judgments even after a five- minute exposure to a new genre. I first heard hip-hop and dismissed it as being too raucous and filled with unnecessary expletives, but then an artist “spoke” to me about my personal life experiences, I softened realizing that hip hop is as explosive a genre as folk was with Dylan back in the day – though taken up a notch. I just listened to a jazz-based band last night which incorporated rappers between the avant-garde musings. They enthusiastically interacted with the crowd and I finally “got it.” Not all rappers are misogynistic anymore than all drummers are tone-deaf! Once listening to a concert of Indian rajas, my mind drifted. I assumed the concert would finish within forty minutes. With no intermission, the music sounded like an endless muted din. Finally, I tuned in to my distractability and heard patterns emerge, then reemerge like Andy Warhol’s famous soup cans. The Tabla player had chops like Starr. The Sitar player trumped Harrison. Soon I was hypnotized by the very beauty that had earlier encased a restless spirit. I researched rajas and the similarities to American Jazz are startling. MALCOLM As with Antony and the Johnsons I put up with a lot of criticism over the years for liking what my friends and family call ‘Indian restaurant music’. When I first saw Brian Jones and George Harrison playing this weird Indian instrument named the sitar it wasn’t only the sight of Jones sitting on the floor playing this strange-looking instrument that stuck in my mind. The sound coming from the sitar was the most beautiful I had heard. This, of course, led me to check out Ravi Shankar and, although I still can’t name any of Shankar’s pieces from memory, I still love that sound. I have to smile to myself that people feel that one as great as Shankar should be dismissed as ‘Indian restaurant music’. I find that Shankar’s music has the same effect on people as jazz does - it can’t be instantly absorbed. A chorus doesn’t appear after 90 seconds and hit you round the head - so what’s the attraction? Well, music should, and can, make us happy, make us want to dance, reflect on lost loves and chances and mostly we rely on these talented musicians to put into words and music those emotions we all experience but can’t express ourselves. Many people turn to music to hear someone else singing a song about them. It brings comfort, makes us feel less alone. I recognize that jazz and Ravi Shankar take some time to appreciate. During these stressful times we, however, live in we no longer make the time to discover new sounds that do take time to fully understand. People don’t want to make that extra effort to discover what might eventually give them so much pleasure. LISA “Indian Restaurant Music?” How ironic. ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ garnered numerous Academy Awards this year for its brilliant soundtrack. Some was Bollywood pumped-up, frenzied dance, but I believe it reached a whole, new audience. Give it time - maybe American and British youth will be playing air sitar. MALCOLM Jazz is a genre that one appreciates more with age, but I honestly feel that jazz can be appreciated by any age group. But with mobile phones whizzing messages from one room to another in the same building we are at the risk of our younger generation never having time to discover what a rich musical history there is. It’s also fascinating to discover that musicians I admire like music I wouldn’t have guessed they listened to. In some ways then I have pre-conceived ideas of what my musical heroes would like and now that I have thought about it - how ludicrous is that? I interviewed the exceptionally talented, Australian singer/songwriter Perry Keyes a few years ago whose songs are like short stories about familiar characters set to the most amazing melodies and he mentioned he liked Mike Skinner from the Streets. This amazed me because musically they sound nothing alike. But he opened my eyes to the fact that lyrically they were covering the same ground despite being on different continents. I started by thinking I had no pre-conceived notions of how I expected music to sound and have just realized that I even have pre-conceived ideas of who my musical heroes should like! LISA Yeah, I interviewed Loudon Wainwright III who said he loved Thelonius Monk. which was so out in left- field. I never expected a guitar-playing balladeer to go there… Once I went to a Jazz club with an acquaintance who was a Buddhist Monk. We approached the dimly lit cavern - jazz standards blaring. Lao told me he hadn’t ever heard this type of music before. At first, he fidgeted and seemed extremely disinterested. Meanwhile, I drifted away to, ‘A Night in Tunisia’, played by a blasé pianist, cool bassist, gyrating tenor saxophonist and euphoric drummer. This being a familiar tune which I could play – badly – I recognized the comp chords, melodic jumps and intricate runs careening around the bridge. I felt guilty for dragging this English student of mine to a seedy hole in the wall, although he had insisted on hearing some real American music. But, suddenly, I saw a sandaled foot peeking out from under the orange saffron robe. Not only peeking out, it was tapping furiously. We both smiled. He was from Vietnam and I was American, but the lingua franca was Be-Bop, allowing his perceptions to embrace something outside of his culture and experience, he exalted.

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