Monday, 20 February 2012

I need older ears

If you are reading this, then you are probably alive now. And being alive now is a pretty desirable state of being really. Not only are you alive now, but you also are reaping the benefits of being around at the absolute most recent moment in creation, with all its myriad layers of technological, cultural and scientific progress.

However, it's not all such a good thing. New technology spoils the old and changes your way of life, for instance. Anyone can get by without smart phones or Sky Plus boxes, of course. You can do so indefinitely without ever even feeling like you're missing out. But should you ever have one, that's your lot. There's no going back. Technology has ruined you.

Culturally, too, we live on thin ice. However much you might enjoy a film or an album, nothing exists in isolation. As new things emerge, they make what was once revolutionary and brave appear to be commonplace, reducing the impact of the great and the good.

My friend Ed has a revolutionary theory of child rearing. Should the day come that he ever has a child, he says, he plans to raise them exactly how he was raised - just two channels on the TV (no commercial television allowed), terry nappies and a mangle instead of disposable, lard - the works. This, he argues, is the antidote to the kind of maniacs who bring up their children to have everything that they did not or could not have themselves. I like Ed's theory. I think it is far superior and simply bound to reduce the number of - in his words - ghastly, spoilt, children with their own Formula 1 racing unicorns and Maori face tattoos.

I think I would like to embrace it myself were I ever to father some sort of small version of me (god help everyone). But I would like to focus particularly on the cultural. I would, specifically, like to use it as an experiment. Because I have too-new ears. When I was born, the 1960s were already a decade in the past. Not for me listening to groundbreaking music and thinking "where the HELL has that come from?". When I first listened to something like Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, for example, my thoughts were, "what a good record. I like those songs". It's cultural importance and impact, all its revolution and innovation, ruined by decades of progress.

Damn you to hell, progress. You make everything worse, sometimes, kind of.

I would raise my child on a strict diet of music from the 1950s and early 1960s. Maybe even some dreary old toot from the 1940s too, why not. Then, I would slowly and at the same pace that things developed in the real turn of events, introduce things like Little Richard, Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry. A few years on, The Beatles. I want to see their eyes light up and their brain neurons firing in all different directions agog at the new possibilities.


I know that The Beatles are not a lot of people's cup of tea. But I wonder if perhaps this is because their innovation has been undermined by every single imitation and technological advance since. They can't have the same impact any more.

This is not to say that they are not still important. I believe history will record that The Beatles are the only thing rock 'n' roll ever produced that genuinely changed the world, whether you like it or not, whether it was based on acceptance or reaction against. And luckily, I am still capable of imagination to try and listen to their records (I really am only interested in the records, that is their legacy) in some kind of context. I'm still able to have mindbending moments of clarity where I can envisage the kind of explosion from SPACE they must have been at the time. Luckier still, some of the records are even still a mile ahead of anything that has come along in the 45 years since.

Which brings me on to Revolver. Revolver is the album that frequently tops favourite album polls, not just of the Beatles catalogue, but of everything ever. I have always been unwilling to rate it as such, simply because I just can't accept the song Yellow Submarine (which has always annoyed me) being on the greatest thing ever made. However, on New Year's Day this year, walking to Hove through the human wreckage and the rain, I had something of a brainwave. A brainwave of such power that it's even made me think I should try, somehow, to learn to love the song Yellow Submarine.

Because the first four songs on Revolver are simply extraordinary, the most dazzling thing you could ever really consider from a pop group. A baffling array of funk, orchestral quartets, hazy folk and traditional Indian music. A magnificent collection of lyrical wit, verve, sadness, druggy psychedelia and mysticism. These things shouldn't work together but they do. It is bewildering and frighteningly magnificent. That's just the first four songs... there are 10 more (nine of which I like), culminating with John Lennon rewriting the entire rules of what was possible (and, potentially even expected) of popular music as an artform with Tomorrow Never Knows. Remember, too, that at the time they recorded this that the oldest member of the group was just 25 years old and that the studio technology just analogue four-track magnetic tape. It defies belief.

That it happened at all is wonderful, a spectacular series of fortunate happenstances. That I was born afterwards and therefore was able to hear it all is an extra stroke of good fortune. Mind you, it doesn't stop me wish that I had slightly older ears, mind you. Even if it were just for 35 minutes.

1 comment:

Megan Belcher said...

I often wonder if, when the Beatles were creating and recording their albums (particularly Revolver and Pepper), they felt the same kind of tingling energy that I experience when listening to them... if they turned to each other and said "Fuck, do you hear that? That's the sound of culture being shifted; of history being made." Did they foresee both the immediate and the lasting impact and influence of their creations? For all the remixing and remastering and autotune and CGI and HD and THX and every other technological "advancement" ... nothing, nothing comes close to the POWER of a Beatles album as they started to unfold, finding new depths of creative expression whilst breaking the boundaries of traditional art and music. Bravo for a fabulous post about really important points to ponder.

P.S. Your doodle is going to make those "pube" stats skyrocket.

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