It started when I was small. As happens.
My dad gave me music.
He listened to swing band, big band, jazz. He used to come home in the wee hours and, as quietly as a drunk person can, put on the records he cherished. I still have them. The sound of a needle on vinyl, crackling through speakers still gives me a thrill and can wake me from the soundest sleep. I’d sneak downstairs and we would swing dance in the living room. Or I would practice my charleston, lindy hop et al while he would pull out his sticks and drum along with Gene Krupa.
I was the only human I knew under the age of 30 who knew of Glenn Miller, the Dorsey brothers, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Louis Prima (as a musician and not just the voice of King Louie from the Jungle Book). Who knew all the words to most songs from a bevy of classic musicals. Singin in the Rain was my dad’s favourite, Victor Victoria was/is mine. We shared a love of the grand production, such as in An American in Paris where all the music was done by Gershwin. My earliest piano stylings were a result of his genius. I still haven’t learned all of Rhapsody in Blue. Working on it. But at 17 minutes long and filled with key changes from one page to the next it’s pretty involved.
I didn’t realize the music I grew up on wasn’t contemporary until I was of an age to start looking through the record collections of my parent’s friends while visiting. I first heard Led Zeppelin at my godparents’ house. He shared a birthday with my dad and the year I turned 12 we partied there. The music was familiar, I was well versed in the blues but there was a blatant sexuality to it which my pre-pubescent sensibilities latched onto. I declared to my mum that if I was ever going to fall in love with two men at the same time, it would be Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. She responded that I was about 4 years too young and 20 years too late.
From there, I fell down a musical rabbit hole. My world pretty much exploded. I would hitchhike downtown and go to the record shops, poring through stacks looking for the ones that appealed. Asking everyone, “who is this?” when I heard a song I liked and writing down names of artists and albums in the writing book I always had with me.
Janis will always have a place in my “gives no fucks” heart. Screaming loud, drinking hard, falling in love with no apologies, she was the blues singer I wanted to be, including the poetic New York Chelsea hotel Leonard Cohen seduction scene. But preferably without all the sad dying by myself in a hollywood hotel room.
T-Rex had a sass to him that I never quite understood, it seemed to come so naturally. I almost came to blows with a friend who insisted that David Bowie is the king of glam rock and while I fucking LOVE David Bowie, he lived long enough to span a number of genres. Glam rock was all Marc Bolan ever really got to try on. And holy fuck did he wear it well.
There is nothing I can say about Patti Smith to cover how important she is to me. “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” Some moments you never ever forget. The first time I heard that? Yeah.
Marianne Faithful blew my mind with her raspy voice and 80’s anthem to everyone you’ve ever wanted to tell to “Go fuck yourself and die. Seriously.”
When I discovered her music from earlier times, her sweet voice, innocent demeanour, I sought out her history. She’s more interesting on her off days than most people are when they’re on fire. Her song, the Ballad of Lucy Jordan
made me decide at age 13 that I would definitely see Paris, from a sports car with the warm wind in my hair before I turned 37. I did it at 29.
What can I say about Talking Heads? They’re in a category of quintessential all on their own. My aunt, who I idolized when I was 10 and she was 36, had a small apartment with plants and cats and records (the first time I’d ever heard Talking Heads), cool hangings, tons of books and a futon when grownups had beds. I decided I wanted all of that. I wanted to be a cool bohemian like her. At age 30, when I moved into the first apartment I’d lived in on my own, no roommates or lovers to share with, the first record I played was Speaking in Tongues. I had arrived. 6 years before her and just as bohemian as she ever was.
Because of Patti Smith, New York in the late 60’s/early 70’s was the place I had decided I would take a time machine to most readily. The Velvet Underground just confirmed my wisdom.
This song, Venus in Furs, also sent me down a literary rabbit hole that took me to many new unthought of and wondrous places it’s likely best not to mention here. That’s a post for another time and place.
PJ Harvey was the girl I wanted to grow up to be. Still do kinda.
Saucy affair with Nick Cave included, of course.
Nina Simone has been my constant. My high priestess of soul spirit guide and all around badass belt it out cause who gives a good god damn fairy godmother. She’s got swagger in her voice like no one else. There are many blues women that I love (I share a birthday with Billie Holiday), but Nina has a special special place.
And if Nina is my spirit guide and Janis is my drinking buddy and Patti is my inspiration and Marianne is my caution and PJ is my humanity then Amanda Palmer is my dark cabaret piano sisterfriend. I’ve known and loved her since the days of the Dresden Dolls and don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks of her. I think she’s fucking awesome.
Typically in my life, I’ve worked jobs where no one sees me unless I fuck up. As a lighting tech, a boat mechanic, a roadie, background waitress, if everything is going smoothly, no one would really notice I was there unless they were looking.
How many amazing front men would have only been great and not incredible but for the stellar backing band they had playing with them? Probably lots.
Booker T and the MG’s did gain a certain amount of notariety on their own, but for a long time, they were (one of the first racially integrated) house band for Stax Records, who produced names like Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Bill Withers…a who’s who of Soul musicians. I could dedicate a whole other post to soul music, it’s one of my favourites. But my last shout out has to be for the guys in the back.
Green Onions is certainly their most famous, but my favourite of theirs has to be Sunday Sermon. Booker T was most known for playing a B3 Hammond organ but in this he’s atypically playing a piano, which is the instrument I love the most. And the subtlety of it is glorious.