What Is There To Say?

And could it be that Jimi Hendrix is actually underrated?

What is there to say? I like music. If I could I’d make it. I once got dumped because I got up to change the CD during what was apparently a highly sensitive moment. It, the dumping, happened years later—but I always knew what it was.

In 1981 Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica is moved from New York City to Madrid. With Guernica out of the way, Duran Duran’s rise to power is assured. We had it good. I especially had it good—a nine-year-old boy sitting on the edge of a revolution. When Simon Le Bon crawled on the jungle floor, I crawled with him. When Simon said, “Ooooh,” I said, “Ooooh.” One year later, Brian de Palma and Al Pacino complete shooting on Scarface. I ride my bike to Sound Warehouse to buy a Men At Work tape. And so it goes.

Five years later, at the age of fourteen I heard “Black Dog” which means Led Zeppelin, and my two-year love affair with bands like The Who, Jethro Tull and The Jimi Hendrix Experience was ignited. “Classic rock” just sounds so accusatory. At this point in the story—I actually don’t remember what happened, but for some reason I became despondent. Love made me despondent. It was love. And so I discovered the blues. For the next two years I followed the blues, wherever it took me—from the Mississippi Delta to the howling streets of Chicago—right up to and until the following math equation: white boy + new driver’s license = rap. Then upon further consideration, it was back to the blues, then hip hop, then back to rap, briefly (more just to annoy hip hop) followed by reggae, and then ska (more just to annoy Island Records).

In college, a guy named Jeremy Atencio told me to see A Clockwork Orange. I did. And the next day, I signed up for a course on Beethoven, which I failed. If there would have been a way to worse than fail, I would have done that. In fact I think at one point my professor even tried to have me barred from the classroom. Or certainly his office. This would be the ironic part of the story if I were now conducting the New York Philharmonic.

My second year of college was about two things, the alcohol I was about to consume and alternative music—Pablo Honey, Blur, Smashing Pumpkins. I was into pretty much what I was supposed to be into for dorm life. I even listened to Rage Against the Machine for a couple of weeks. In fact, I remember once stumbling back to my futon-sized dorm room and promptly falling asleep with scarcely three feet between my ear and about forty watts of Zack de la Rocha’s personal views. I may have even been face down.

I had a problem. I had several, but this was one. Then I learned of a tiny music store off-campus called Toonerville Trolley. They could help people like me (or so the fold-out ad in the student paper seemed to imply). After hearing my symptoms, the guy set me up with some Clifton Chenier and Professor Longhair and soon I was my own person again, or Clifton’s. But two weeks later I belonged to Cake. I had fallen. I went back to old TT and signed on for the full rehab course. For six straight months I was allowed nothing but pre-1950 Calypso and Lenny Bruce live concert performances. Then it was the Stax Volt Rhythm and Blues box set, an Isley Brothers anthology and more Zydeco. And it’s been mostly smooth sailing ever since.

I must also add, parenthetically, I have pretty much been obsessed with Bowie from age 17 onward. But not as obsessed as Tim. What do you think of when I say David Bowie Fan Club, or “get your davidbowie.com email address” or “I can’t come to your wedding because I’m driving to the Meadowlands to see Bowie— for the fifteenth time?” I think of Tim. And then I think of Dave Hickey, for some reason. But then Tim again. After college, I made the mistake of more school, which meant white toast and regressing into a state of just buying whatever the radio wanted me to. In fact, let’s just not even talk about that time.

But then about two years ago I experienced an amazing revival in personal taste—not mine—but while I was away it turns out some of my friends were making some really good decisions: Magnetic Fields, The Pixies, Blonde Redhead. And eventually, those decisions had all found their way onto my hard drive. (I would have an iPod except for I don’t.)

Over the last few years, I have simply added “their new CD’s” of the various groups I believe in, as well as unearthing Stereolab (well, it wasn’t so much a discovery as it was Tim saying, “Hey, you should try Stereolab”), Air (Tim), Belle and Sebastian (Tim), Pinback (Justin, Tim’s brother, although Tim likes to say, “What the ____? Who do you think told Justin about them?”), Stereo Total (Sarah), Fiery Furnaces (Todd), Animal Collective (Scott). And of course, even I know you’re supposed to buy every new Radiohead album that comes out, like, right away. Pretty much your basic story.

And Piglet said, “Wait, I thought bad things happened when you let other people tell you what to listen to. And now you’re saying—I’m so confused. What are you saying?”

“Get a life, Piglet. Get a life.”

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