Music is Memory

There is a daunting amount of stuff available for us to watch and listen to out there in the endless online wilds. Here are a few things that I reckon might be worth turning your ear to.

Faith No More – Just a Man

In my past, there were two main fountain-sources that exposed me to new music. The first was the expansive glory of vinyl kept carefully in the bookcase by the older generation. When you’re a little kid, the broad, detailed canvasses of those record covers are gigantic objects of awe and reverence. I first heard Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Hendrix, J. J. Cale, the Eurythmics, and Devo on vinyl. Even as the compact disk cut sharp and glittering across the lands, my main method of learning about new music from my own generation came in another form. Our mode of communication was a thriving quiet economy of tape trading. I have no idea if tapes have or will become popular again in the repetitive nature of all trends, and I’m not especially nostalgic for the technology now. It had its shortfalls and arse-pains, but crucially, with the invention of the Walkman, you could listen to a cassette without being tied to any location. You created a protective circle with that tape and Walkman, a space that you controlled that blocked out the rest of the world. It was a kind of small sorcery. The other advantage of the cassette, besides making music portable, was that they were stupidly easy to copy. If someone was interested in a particular band, you whipped them up their own version, and Lo! you had converted someone else to Queen, or the Beatles, or Pink Floyd or whatever the hell people were listening to then. It seemed normal back then, but what delights me when I think back to our trading is that it had no financial value as an exchange, only personal value. You took the time to make a copy of music to give someone because they asked, and because you were friends with them, or liked them, or awkwardly lusted after them. The tape-trade exposed me to music I had never heard before, music that blew my tiny little mind and got stuck in my head, becoming part of my mental infrastructure for the rest of my life. The music on my stack of tapes scored all the significant shifts of my life. And it was music that was all given freely by anyone who wanted to take part in the tape economy.

I knew Faith No More before I heard a full album. ‘Epic’ was an omnipresent track then – all playful whining pompousness. An older kid called Neil gave me a copy of ‘King for a Day, Fool a Lifetime’ in the later years of high-school, and it was something else entirely. Patton used choked obscenities for rhythmical punctuation, and his singing ranged from menacing whispers to frantic coughing fits to aspirational climbs to the top end of his wavering vocal register. Faith No More’s capacity to swerve and screech between moods in the same song resonated most for me in the final track of the album, ‘Just a Man’, which goes from sounding like a leisurely bopping lounge song, to an absurd heroic chorus, before dipping back to that slow-bopping stuff again. We even get a muttered soliloquy before the song builds to a fantastic choral-backed peak. Like so much of the album, it was simultaneously ridiculous and profound, and ‘Just a Man’ was about being taunted by things beyond your reach, but reaching out anyway, about the heroic struggle against your limitations and the ultimate acceptance of them. Also, to the younger version of me, looking out the window at night past the street-light and towards the stars, I was  lifted up on the crest of a wave when I listened to the song build and soar. It made me feel something like the sense I get now when I think back on the days of tapes and our economy of music swapping, the blurred shape of a feeling that we might be alone, but there are others glowing with wavering light far out there over the horizon.

Spiderbait- It’s Beautiful

You may know Spiderbait from their cover of ‘Black Betty’. They also did an excellent galloping rock cover of ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky‘ for the not-so-excellent Ghost Rider movie. For Australians of a certain age, Spiderbait is music for a string of golden January barbeques and drunken house parties. This track combines so much of what makes them such a great band – a touch of energy laced on top of pop sweetness that feels emotionally authentic, that reminds you of meeting up with friends long unseen, of enjoying being with the people who make you happy and remembering how good it has been to spend time with them in days gone by.