While living and working in Edinburgh in 2008 I set out to write one million words in 366 days... but only managed 800,737.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Rock'n'Roll Rebellion

Yesterday I listed six songs that were big amongst my circle(s) of friends back when I was eleven and twelve. The list is, however, slightly misrepresentative. I wasn’t just into rap. I was, like almost everyone else at Ross Intermediate, impressed by TLC’s ‘Waterfalls’, Mariah Carey’s ‘One Sweet Day’ and Montell Jordan’s ‘This Is How We Do It’.

There is still a gulf between these artists and the ones I listen to now (according to my LastFM profile, the top five from the last six months are The Kinks, Warren Zevon, The Tragically Hip, The National, and Shearwater; that is, melodic, thoughtful, rock music).

The first reason for the differing taste is quite obvious. The National and Shearwater weren't around last century. Of the three artist above that were, I had only heard the Kinks when I was twelve, and that wasn’t on 2XS, the station that me and my peers listened to, but 2ZA (“the hits of the sixties, seventies, eighties and today”). The Kinks were for people of my parent’s generation, or older! Eleven and twelve is an impressionable age, and you can only like what you’ve heard. If I was hearing Dr Dre and Bone Thugs and The Puppies, and that’s what my peers were hearing and talking about, it’s no wonder it seemed important.

But even then, when I didn’t really know why I liked what I liked, I was being exposed to the music I would shortly adopt as my own. And it is these minor flashes of rock’n’roll amid my r’n’b years that stand out now when I look back with a nostalgic agenda:

* watching Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York during lunchtime in room 12, aged 11. I don’t remember why or even how this came to be, just watching Kurt Cobain looking miserable and hurt and the opposite of bling (though we didn’t know that word back then)

* my dad turning off the radio halfway through The Smashing Pumpkin’s ‘Disarm’ because he couldn’t stand Billy Corgan’s voice (aged 12)

* buying Pearl Jam’s Ten on cassette for one dollar from friend who won it on a radio competition (aged 12)

I would not listen to Pearl Jam or Nirvana or, to a lesser extent, The Smashing Pumpkins in earnest until I began high school, but the seeds were there before this change in scenery.

Of course, the change in scenery should not be understated. I moved from a medium-to-low decile co-ed intermediate school that had hoodies as part of the school uniform to a much stricter single sex high school where classes were streamed according to academic performance. As a result, my social circle took a jump up the socio-economic ladder, for better or worse. Suddenly, my friends were into Jean Claude Van Damme movies and The Stone Temple Pilots.

I can’t say for sure, but if you took schools and friends out of the equation, I think I would still have gravitated to grunge and post-grunge music at the age of thirteen. I was after that vein of rebellion that has run through rock since the fifties, and I got it in grunge. The rebellion was not political, but generational. Rap and R’n’B at the time was a more aspirational (I want a lot of cash and bitches) or looking down from the top (I got a lot of cash and bitches) or rebellious in that kind of racial / political way that I couldn’t relate to. But a song like Lithium, or Unglued, or Creep (by Radiohead or STP but not TLC) sounded like I felt, or how I thought I should have felt. It said: the world is shit but I have no answers. Most of these songs didn’t even acknowledge a world outside your bedroom door.

My entrée into rock coincided with my first CD player (a gift for my thirteenth birthday) and therefore my first CD purchases. This coincidence has a lot to do with why my iPod has virtually no hip hop music, and why I can feel more nostalgic about Richard Marx and Savage Garden (i.e. the most watered down decedants of Van Halen or The Beatles) than Snoop Dogg and Warren G.

Six Songs From My Early Days of Rock Appreciation

* Interstate Love Song – Stone Temple Pilots (my first CD was STP’s Tiny Music My second was the Space Jam soundtrack. When I got around to buying Purple, I knew my loyalties were here rather than with R. Kelly or Busta Rhymes)

* This Is A Call – Foo Fighters (a noisy, nonsensical gem)

* Fell on Black Days – Soundgarden (probably still in my top ten songs of all time, even though the lyrical content no longer speaks to me as it did when I was a shoe-gazing fourteen year old)

* Grind Alice in Chains (dirty, dirty music that can’t resist a Staley/Cantrell harmony in the chorus – the genius of AiC)

* Black – The song that, when I came around to playing my one dollar Pearl Jam cassette, stuck me as both sad and angry, but still beautiful)

* Talkshow Host – Radiohead (“I want to be someone else or I’ll explode”, nuff said)

A lot of the YouTube videos I’ve linked to above are for acoustic versions of the songs rather than the original. Partly because these are quite well known songs and I wanted to mix things up, but also because I really like these versions. This speaks to the next development in my musical tastes: the move away from loud, angry, (commercially successful) alternative music to something more nuanced...

Which sounds like a dissection (and playlist) for another day…

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