Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sick again

Yes I am - a cold I think (as opposed to H1N1). Whenever I am in this condition - mopey, lacking energy, sniffly, vaguely sorry for myself - I dig out a few staples.

Neil Young, Dylan, Lennon and Eels make up the soundtrack on this occasion. Maybe it's the sloppiness and worldweariness of Tonight's The Night that suits my mood best. Open up the tired eyes and climb the ladder to that helicopter day indeed!Side two in particular does it good with the superbly elongated Albuquerque cranked up real loud, and Tired Eyes with it's advice and bullet holes amid a cocaine deal that goes sour. Woagh!

This was the first Neil Young album I ever bought. It was in a Queen Street music shop's 1975 remainder bin. I was 15 and had no idea what I was about to listen to. Up to that point it was a steady diet of Beatles, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Rory Gallagher, Jimi Hendrix. Note the paucity of sensitive singer songwritery types in my diet back then.

The TTN cover gives some clues - black'n'white, bleak, bleary, blurry. Sunglasses deliberately disguise expressions. Neil looks like he's emerging from a drug fog. When I eventually got to the music it was stripped down, slurry, druggy and...honest! Wough. This was something of a revelation to me - going through my own teenage male foggy years as I was - I wasn't sure what to make of it. It certainly wasn't a pretty time.

The album gave me the chance to explore some of the bleaker margins of rock's back pages. I finally bought John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band - having shied away from it thinking it was all screaming and non-music (like Life With The Lions that I also got about that time from Marbecks). Dylan's Blood on the Tracks was another acquisition at this time. First I taped a version after borrowing a copy from the Central City Library. Then I had to own a copy.

These three are my holy trinity - honest to a fault, bare to the bone, and wound revealing. They're perfect when you're sick.

They have been joined by only one other album in the years since - Eels' Electric Shock Blues - an extraordinary group of songs about death (like the other three - Young's death of Danny Whitten/Bruce Berry, Dylan's death of a marriage, and Lennon's death of a dream). In E's case it's both his sister and mother. It's a harrowing album about Elizabeth's suicide and also his mother's death from cancer, but, and this is the kicker with each of these albums - amazingly, it's got some great songs.

If you can suggest any others to fit with this company I'd love to hear it. They must be soul-bracingly honest, sparse in their instrumentation, raw of sound and thematically make sense over the whole album. A tall order. For that reason the following albums, while brilliant, don't quite make it in this company - Springsteen's Nebraska (not about him), Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono band (thematically she touches on the miscarriage but it's not sustained over the album), Springsteen's Tunnel of Love (too ornate), Jackson Browne's Running on Empty (not bleak enough), Nirvana's In Utero (that thematic thing again - it's certainly bleak enough, raw enough, and honest).

Key tracks - Idiot wind (Blood on the Tracks), Borrowed Tune (Tonight's the Night), My Mummy's Dead (John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band), 3 Speed (Electro-shock Blues).

Here's one of them - Dylan at his pungent, poisonous, spiteful best:

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