pOp and nOise
"In antiquity there was only silence. In the nineteenth century, with the invention of the machine, Noise was born. Today, Noise triumphs and reigns supreme over the sensibility of men."
Luigi Russolo 1913
I don’t know a thing about music really; the theory, the mechanics of it, the meter, the rhyme, reason nor rhythm but from a very early age, it seemed to be the only form of communication that spoke to me in some concrete but indefinable way. I actually got it, couldn’t explain it to you but I got it. I loved it. It moved me. The mighty "A" chord ruled all. The power chord. All you needed was a hook, a line and a sinker.
Pop Art was good for nose thumbing at a society that deserved every slobbering raspberry but music spoke to me in a more abstract and personal, intuitive way that generated real emotion, where words and pictures have consistently failed. Words and pictures were cool and quite necessary it was music that cut through the part that needed to be translated. Music said the things I could not say. It growled, it moaned, it cried, it was angry or in awe. It gave me the back way in. It was a language that only required you to be open to it, to distinguish it from the background. Music, when combined with the visual and the poetic, is magic.
My earliest memories of music are an old Elvis Presley 78 that my Aunt Thelma had; "I Forgot to Remember to Forget b/w Mystery Train". There was am radio, notably Reece Francis "Buzz" Clifford III’s "Baby Sittin’ Boogie" and another 10 inch shellac disc, owned by my father, of Hank Snow’s "Golden Rocket" from 1950. The mystery of why these specific tracks stand out in my mind is unknown to me, lost in the space time continuum.
My dad was a self-taught flat top flat pick guitarist and country music singer who had lost the middle finger on his left hand in a cabinet school accident. He had taught himself to play guitar a second time after band sawing that crucial digit. He used to play for the singing at the prayer meetings that rotated from home to home each week in the farm community where I began my come uppence. From these gatherings, I remember hearing "The Old Rugged Cross", "I’ll Fly Away" and other common Baptist hymns. Secular music was everywhere when I was a very small boy, country music in its most rural form; washboard rhythms and the thump thump thump of washtub bass to go along with acoustic guitars, banjos, mandolins and the occasional autoharp, jaws harp or harmonica.
I don’t write music or to be more precise, I don’t write musical notation. I don’t read music, though I took it for two years in high school. About all I learned was how to form triads on the piano; never learned to actually play the eight-eight color contrasting keys but could call the notes on the keyboard if pressed. I was there to get my easy "C" and be on my way. I had my introduction to classical music in that class and I have retained Hector Berlioz, Camille Saint-Saens and Holst’s "The Planets". Fair enough, I got my "C". But, I do write songs.
Of course, I had been hearing classical music all my life in the form of loony tunes and merrie melodies but had no idea. In that class I met Richard, a weird mofo’ that was way into Connie Francis and Forrest J Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. He also introduced me to a book called "The Green Nerd" that I have since been unable to prove even existed. Write me at email@example.com
In 1963 Dylan was telling us that the times were a-changing. The Beatles changed everything. Before them there were few pop bands that played their own instruments and wrote their own songs. There were a few, the Four Seasons, the Beach Boys, but they were the rarity in pop music. After the fabulous mop tops you basically had to write your own songs and be able to play them. Well, there were still a few manufactured exceptions. Through the Beatles and the groups that followed, the Brisish invasion, I learned about everyone from Robert Johnson to Sun Ra by tracing their influences back to the source.
I had met Jarvis Barnes, the guy who managed the record store in downtown Newport News, Virginia through the Beatles as well. In fact it was Jarvis or Jai as we knew him, who took me to the Hampton jazz festival where I saw Sun Ra, Nina Simone and Dave Brubeck the first time I ever dropped acid. Different story for a different time. I used to go down to the Record Shop every day at lunch and badger him about any new fab four releases. I was still in high school. This was shortly after the Beatles had exploded upon the world in a big way and records were coming out on Capitol, Vee Jay, Swan, Atco, MGM and Tollie, all at the same time.
I have never had much of an ear for mimicking what I heard on records so from the very first I was writing rudimentary songs in the, I’ve lost my baby and I feel so bad genre. These songs were dirt simple and limited to my ham fisted approach to the guitar.
Ba boom boom; skreeee,
ba boom boom; skrooonk,
la la la la la
ba boom boom: twaaaang
ba boom boom: plooonk
la la la la la
My dad had given me an acoustic six-string to learn on in the neighborhood of my 15th year, hell, who can remember? I learned to vice grip that ill-adjusted fret board in an ill- fated effort to coax electric sounds from its wooden, probably spruce, body. I was developing my vibrato. I was developing my percussion guitar technique. I wanted to rock. I retain that cramp inducing fingering technique to this day. My father said my meager efforts at songwriting sounded like "folk music".
Bob Dylan gave us Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited in 1965. We were on the road to something extra ordinary. The times were really changing.
1967, the year I graduated from High School and 1966 the year I should’ve pitched the mortarboard skyward, were memorable ones for music. Rock ‘n’ roll would never be quite the same after this. The Mothers of Invention had debuted with Freak Out! and in November of ‘66 Texas’ own International Artists had released The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, albums that would be pivotal to my developing an understanding of what rocked and what didn’t in my kingdom. Though recorded in April 1966, The Velvet Underground and Nico was released by Verve in March of 1967.
The impact of these recordings cannot be underestimated, in my own personal rock ‘n’ roll godhead, nor the width and breadth of the genre in general. Another piece of this evolving puzzle was Pink Floyd’s consciousness expanding The Piper at the Gates of Dawn that saw the light of day on August 5,1967.
There were other monumental releases in 66/67; the Beatles’ Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Jimi Hendrix Are You Experienced and Axis Bold as Love, Love Love, One Nation Underground by Tom Rapp’s Pearls Before Swine, all meaningful and life changing recordings. The Seeds, the Sonics, the Music Machine, the Yardbirds, the Pretty Things, the Troggs, the Kinks and garage bands too numerous to name were appealing to an un-named need for raw power, flavor enhanced with humor and melody.
These, along with the Godz Contact High and the The Fugs First Album were forming a latticework, constructed of the sublime, the ridiculous and the bizarre, that would add color and spice to my "taste" until this very day. The permanent green light was given to freak out in the suburbs. I was into pop and noise, preferably in the same song. Landmark examples are 1965’s "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere" by the Who and the Byrds "Eight Miles High" from '66.
A landscape had been created where Cyborg Alpha X-ray with his bag pipes and hurdy gurdy could go toe to toe with Mississippi blue yodeler Jimmie Rogers, while humming Matilda Mother in the key of H and playing Dixie on his kazoo. A scenario had been fashioned where Zappa points and laughs the sardonic fuck you cackle, while feeding the hungry freaks bent pop pancakes without the syrup. The stage was set for a siam cat to have a psychotic reaction and go floating downstream with kaleidoscopic radar eyes and marshmallow pies and oh me oh mys. But, when Elektra Records took a chance on The Stooges in August 1969, the cornerstones and foundation of my rock ‘n’ roll heaven were confirmed and laid. This John Cale produced masterwork would be the most important cut-out bin jewel in the rough of my life. This shit rocks! I feel all right! THIS was raw power. If the Stooges are not the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in history I would love to see your candidate.
Another significant disc from the last year before the seventies that cannot go unmentioned is the Captain Beefheart recording Trout Mask Replica. Don Van Vliet, Bill Harkleroad, Jeff Cotton, Mark Boston, John French and Victor Hayden created a milestone. The influence is still being felt right here, right now, as we speak.