Saturday, 11 October 2008

What's Not To Like?

When I consider the matter objectively, I can understand why most people do not enjoy listening to 'Trout Mask Replica' by Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band for pleasure, even occasionally.

If you've never heard it, it is almost impossible to describe.

I have played it to very few people. I struggle to contain the urge to share this wonderful thing with every sentient being on the planet, but experience has shown that most people simply do not like it, and even though it was not put here to make people put their hands over their ears and run away, that is the effect it seems to generally have.

When the Wild Man's other half was expecting our first-born, I would wait until she was asleep and play "Trout Mask Replica" fairly quietly so as not to wake her (and be made to turn it off) in order to educate the baby in the womb, having heard that babies recognise and enjoy sounds they are familiar with once they are out and doing.

It worked in his case, and middle-sized one claims to enjoy the Great Man's oeuvre as well, although she would probably prefer to listen to Alvin and the Chipmunks, or the rather fine Chuckle Brothers album recently posted at the Cheeze Factory.

Among the artists and bands I love who I perceive as being popular are Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin - yet I have close friends who would slash their wrists rather than listen to a single song by any of those. Then there are acts such as The Ramones, Half Man Half Biscuit, Teenage Fanclub and many others, where most of those I have met who have heard them seem to either love or at least like them.

Even though I dislike almost everything she has recorded and regularly wish that she would go away quietly and enjoy her money, I can understand why Madonna is popular, just as I can see why so many artists whom I also actively dislike, such as U2, Genesis, The Police, UB40, any hip-hopper or rapper whom anybody has ever heard of, or Mariah Carey appear to give pleasure to improbably large audiences.

They just aren't for me, and while I'm sure most of them are perfectly pleasant people it would probably surprise them if somebody like me did claim to enjoy their music.

Where it gets tricky for me, as a supposedly open-minded music-lover, is when so many people whose opinions I respect enthuse about music which not only do I simply not get, but which sends cold shivers down my spine, brings me up in goose-bumps and occasionally makes me feel actually slightly nauseous, like... (can I bring myself to say the word?) YES.

I really do regard that band with a loathing almost bordering on insanity, although I have no idea why, and when they played at Glastonbury a few years ago I went to see them just to see if I could have been that wrong about them.

As soon as they started playing I concluded that, no, I had not been wrong about them, and had to get out of earshot as quickly as I possibly could.

I really couldn't bear it.

I have sat down in a relaxed state of mind, more than once, to listen to Joni Mitchell, The Grateful Dead, Van Morrison, Gram Parsons and others, because one day I expect/wish/hope that my brain will suddenly switch on to it and I'll suddenly find enlightenment from a corner of the exquisite tapestries I have it from good authorities that each of them weave.

Of these, only Joni Mitchell sends me racing every time almost immediately to the off button, the others just wash over me leaving no impression at all. What is so strange to me is that (apart from Joni Mitchell) I don't even actively NOT like them, it is as if their songs aren't there for me to even formulate an opinion about.

[If any of you kind readers disagree with me, and I very much hope that you do, please suggest something accessible by any of the above in comments, I promise I'll listen to them, even if I've heard what you suggest already.]

As you may have worked out, I've spent a long time mulling over the question of musical taste, and then I find myself wondering about the handful of bands which are just so absolutely adorable that it is perfectly obvious that everyone in the world would fall in love with if only anyone ever got to hear them. And when I play them to people they instantly agree, and then they go off to convert other people.

Jonathan Richman, for example. Some of his more recent music is not as accessible as his earlier stuff, but the man radiates joy and those who have watched him live on a particularly good night wouldn't hear a word against him.

I adore the band Even As We Speak.

They came over to the UK in the early 90s from Australia, their music got played a lot by John Peel, and they toured the country to almost empty halls.

The night they played the Jericho Tavern in Oxford there were fewer people in than I'd ever seen turn out there for a band before, but everyone in there adored them.

The crowd was thin enough that when Mary Wyer - their lead singer - asked who had heard their John Peel session earlier in the week, she was able to easily move among the audience picking out all of those (including me) who had raised a hand and physically drag us up on stage to do backing vocals on one of the songs.

I love their songs, I love Mary's voice, and if there was any justice in this world they would have been able to not only make as good a living as they wanted to at it, but been absolutely enormous.

This is their only album, "Feral Pop Frenzy", released on Sarah Records in 1993.

Apart from singles by the band, that label never released anything which comes close to it. Unlike "Trout Mask Replica", this record was put here to make people very, very happy without having to work especially hard - and it works unquestionably for me every time I hear it.

I bought it on LP and CD, but even with that blatant attempt at chart-rigging it still sank without trace and has been unavailable ever since. This is taken from the CD, at glorious 128.

Tracks are:
1. Beelzebub
2. Beautiful Day
3. Falling Down the Stairs
4. Zeppelins
5. Anybody Anyway
6. Love Is the Answer
7. To See You Smile
8. Straight as an Arrow
9. Squid
10. One Thing
11. Sailors' Graves
12. Spirit of Progress
13. Cripple Creek
14. Swimming Song
15. One Step Forward
16. Drown
17. O.G.T.T.

It's here

This is the cover, right click to save.


Marcus Matsuda said...

I take it you're a relative admirer of "twee" or "anorak"?

I've met many individuals during my relatively short time on this planet (twenty-six years, to be exact), and many of those whom I've encountered and shared my musical preferences with hold this particular genre in high disdain, dismissing it as too "lyrically morose and musically saccharine" or "simple; my kid sister could do that."

I think part of the appeal -- to some -- is the starkness, the amateurish aesthetic that's usually the forte of many of these acts.

Along with Even As We Speak, bands such as Tiger Trap, Beat Happening, The Haywains and The Vaselines helped capture these emotions and perfect pop(ular) sensibilities onto record, and while others were more successful at their respective trade than their contemporaries, the results were usually the same: sloppily-played, simplistic yet highly accessible ditties that still stand up to the test of time.

This is an excellent album, and one that's still in heavy rotation years after I purchased it (some eight years ago, shortly after graduating from high school); it's nice to see others greatly admire something that you yourself hold in high esteem on occasion.

Speaking of maligned artists, there's a certain performer whose immense talents I greatly admire (R&B/Soul/Gospel act Tata Vega) who many seem to find grating. I've heard everything from "she sounds like Chaka Khan on helium" to "Yvonne Elliman meets Koko Taylor" -- the later gives me a chuckle from time to time.

Well, it's been nice sharing my thoughts with you regarding this post, and before I take my leave, I want to wish you all the best with this weblog and whatever else life happens to throw into your general direction. Take care, my friend.

Wild Man Mikey said...

Thank you for your kind comments! I'm not particularly twee or anorak, but I like a good smile! Thanks also for your recommendations - I will seek them out and give them a listen. Hope to meet you again :-)

Marcus Matsuda said...

You've earned a great deal of respect from me, that's for certain -- your taste is impeccable.

If you'd like to check out a few Tata Vega records, the following is a good place to begin:

Cannot wait for your next entry. Until then, stay safe!

michaelDUSTdevil said...

i'd better give this a go then!... oh!... you have to give GP by Gram Parsons another go... songs like "Kiss The Children" just crack me up... Mxxx

Wild Man Mikey said...

Oky doky, I've got GP on CD somewhere, I'll dust it off and give it another listen. Thanks for popping by!

michaelDUSTdevil said...

i'm rather enjoying the What's Not To Like... thank you!