Taking a break from a flamewar on ILX about how all people who "travel extensively without much money" must be trustafarians...
Another Baby Silvertooth quote. His words bounce around my head, because I'm curious to find out about the people who make music that I admire. How do they approach it, is it instinctual or is it intellectual, or both? Analytical or Experimental? (Well, it's a curious word, that one, because in a musical sense, it's supposed to mean free, no boundaries, all over the place, chaotic, uncontrolled, when actual Scientific experiments are incredibly ordered and controlled affairs.)
I've been trying to think about the very beginnings, the genesis, the origins of my own musical experience.
Being Musical is something I've been all my life. I can't remember learning how to read (I learned to read so early) but I can remember learning how to read music, the coloured orbs and the scribbly lines suddenly matching up with the coloured stickers on my recorder, and Eureeka! My life would never be the same. (Especially since I developped a terrible habit of cutting class to hang out in the music room.)
It was Maths Granny who encouraged my musical development, taught me "Oh When The Saints Go Marching In" on the gigantic Hammond organ that dominated her flat. My dad, also, was musical - I can remember a few sessions with his Kay guitar (I loved it because it had my intial on it) and his Beatles songbook. He would hold the chord shapes with his left hand, and I would strum and sing.
There was church choir. My mother insisted with her indomitable will that there should be a girls' choir, her utter tonedeafness blinding her to the conventional wisdom that girls' voices don't sound as pure as boys', and it was there that I fell in love with the sounded of blended female voices. There were piano lessons, which I loathed and refused to practise until I discovered Improvisation. Violin lessons, flute lessons - so many lessons, but I could never be disciplined to stick with anything.
I can remember the turning point, as a rebellious, troubled 15 year old. I was in hospital. Can't remember which session - I always seemed to be in hospital, or being threatened with being put in hospital, for suicide attempts, running away, drinking, refusing to go to school. I've never told anyone this before. A local community theatre group decided to put on a production to entertain the nutjobs. It was Fame
. Yeah, I wanna live forever, and all that crap. I was MESMERISED. Not because it was good, but because it was SO rubbish; I was outraged that *this* was the depiction of the creative urges that were ripping me apart. (Maybe that latter part is hindsight.)
I snapped back to life, I made up my mind to get better, get released, get OUT, talked to my therapist and announced that I wanted to play the bass. Why bass? I dunno. Blame Sid Vicious, blame John Taylor, blame Kim Gordon and Kira from Black Flag. I got a part-time job to pay for the thing (with the encouragement and help of my father, who was just delighted that I'd found a reason to live again) and a book of tab. The bass was soon switched for guitar after Joining A Band. (A gang of tough Albany girls who were into "Duran Duran, the Ramones and The Fabulous Stains" - I'd tagged along to an audition as moral support for a friend, and walked off with the group.)
Of course, having said I could play guitar, I then had to learn to play the thing. It took a two week holiday on Lake George, stuck in a cabin because it rained most of the time. I had my dad's Kay guitar, and the old Beatles tab book. I knew how Beatles songs were supposed to sound, and I knew what the scribbly black notes looked like on the page. I twisted and contorted my fingers into all kinds of knots until the sounds that came out of the guitar were recognisable as Ticket To Ride
, Norwegian Wood
It was like learning to fly. More important than learning to read, or learning to walk, or learning to drive, or anything. Nothing else in my life could possibly compare. My guitar went *everywhere* with me for the next few years.
I knew I could write songs, even before I'd done it, because it had to be just like those old improvisation sessions on the piano. In the old parlor, under the watchful eye of my mum's Chagalls and my dad's books on physics, I sat with my new bandmates, holding the guitar, tremulous with excitement. It was completely silent, in the way that that old house could sometimes be, except for the ticking of my dad's ITT clock (given to him for some accomplishment at work or other, it told the time all over the world - a fascinating thing to children with relatives in all those far-off places). I picked up on the beat of the clock, read my bandmate's scribbled lyrics, and suddenly it sprang into three dimensional life, a tune, harmonies, an arrangement.
It was rubbish, a sentimental 16 year old's Bo Diddley rip-off, (Boy, you know what we could be (come on, love me) - so why don't you love me like you should? (come on love me)
but it meant something indescribable to me. It was like the first time I took LSD - it opened a door in my head, that I could never close again. The songs found me, no matter where I was, or what I was doing, the songs would come and pester me, wrap themselves around my head like those old tales from Catholic School about souls in Limbo, waiting to be born. I know it sounds like the most pretentious thing in the world, but it was no longer a case of *wanting* to be a musician or a songwriter or whatever, it became a case of *having* to be.