Friday, February 27, 2009

Most Influential Music

A recent poll making the rounds on Facebook asks: What were your most influential albums? Of all the silly, trivial, tiresome polls, this one seems to beg the most thought. I seriously doubt most people could answer that question very quickly (unless you’ve made a practice of mulling over such things, I suppose) and I am certainly in that category. I don’t consider myself much of a “music person”…maybe I am not giving myself much credit here, and I do know that I am victim to my own self-deprecating criticisms as having no musical taste whatsoever…but I do know that I have very strong feelings about particular bits of music. Maybe I just don’t have the spine to stand up and make a case for them?

It’s actually easier to answer that “most influential” question…it doesn’t ask you to make a case for what you think is “the best,” it just asks you to list what made a difference. To me that means good and bad. Here is my list:

The first to come to mind is inevitably A Night at the Opera by Queen. I wanted it for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” of course, and when I got it for Christmas in 1985 (I think), I surely had no idea what a freaky deaky trip I was about to take. It’s an odd album, with a mixture of rock and what can best be described as show tunes, intertwining to create a weird alternate universe both whimsical and slightly scary. I can honestly say that no song has ever terrified me quite like “The Prophet’s Song.” Listen to it with headphones and with a 13-year-old’s still-childish fear of the devil and you will see what I mean. The show tune numbers (“Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon”; “Seaside Rendezvous”) were both peculiar and completely right. It was a soundtrack to a restless Saturday afternoon, nowhere to go, no one to see, overflowing with hormonal rage, and needing this weird balm to soothe the dark particles. Also, Freddie Mercury was the fucking shiznit. There is no one like him…and if there is, they are emulating him.

The Grease Soundtrack is the Word that You Heard. When I was five I went to the movies with my babysitter and her family. Most of the group went to another film (I think Heaven Can Wait) but I decided to go with the Cute Boy of the family, since at the ripe age of five I was already completely Boy Crazy. By the time “Summer Loving” had finished, I’d completely forgotten about the Cute Boy. I was enraptured. I was galvanized. I was brainwashed beyond all hope. For years after, the most beautiful woman in the world was Olivia Newton John. Best singer? Olivia Newton John. Walked on water? Olivia. Newton. John. I eventually got the double album when I was about 7…but in the years between I tortured my mother and perfect strangers alike belting out the best parts in the supermarket, the car wash, the laundry mat…you name it, I sang there. I remember pissily correcting the other 1st grade girls in the bathroom on what had to have been our first day in school when they foolishly sang “You’re the One That I Want” as “wanna wanna wanna want”—I was the dictator of Grease and held it in the highest regard. This song, in particular, was my song:

And then there was Electric by The Cult. I was crazysexymad for that album back in the heated, hectic, thoroughly electrified days of 1988. I went to a party with my friend Jennifer – we were with these guys, but another guy (YES, Liesl, I do remember his name: Ian) stole the whole damn show, making quite a spectacle of himself while this album played. He kind of looked like the lead singer, as it turned out, but while the memory of that fated Hot Guy faded, the absolute twisted energy of this album took hold and it ruled my world, world without end amen, for the most of that year. If asked to name The Band that signified my high school experience, without pause it was the superhot molten CULT. There’s no favorite, but how could you not love:

Duran Duran / Duran Duran (1983 Release). This was the moment where determining whether or not a sampling of music was good or not became nearly impossible for me. In fact, to this day, I cannot say whether or not this was any good. And I don’t think I care to know, either. To me, this album marks the moment in time when I became aware of fame as a source of power and influence, specifically in terms of “teen hysteria” and my own reaction to Duran Duran as an 11-year-old on the cusp of what was to be an awfully powerful siege of hormonal terror. For the record, “my” guy was Nick Rhodes, the redhead. I know, I know. Ironic. And this was the beginning of the end for me:

The Wild Heart by Stevie Nicks is almost impossible to explain. I knew I loved her, but did not know who she was. When I finally found out who she was, all kinds of pieces clicked in place. I was finally at an age when I could research, track down, and get what I wanted (at the Towne West Mall, can I get a what what), so when I realized that this marvelous creature who created “Stand Back” was one and the same with not only the wonderful “Edge of Seventeen” but ALSO the phenomenal “Dreams” and “Rhiannon,” well…what can I say? An idol was born. If you asked me who my true idol was, is, and has always been, I would have to say, without a doubt, Stevie Nicks. She’s absolutely nuts. And she’s absolutely singular. I love her from the bottom of her lifts to the tippy-top of her blown-out, bleached blond hairs. I am only sad that I could not seem to track down the actual video, which made me rush to the TV whenever I heard it come on. Instead, I give you this:

The HOLY FUCKING TRINITY, my brethren!! I reminded my boss of the identities of the Holy Trinity just today, to which he replied VOMITHURLSPIT. Whatever! I love them to the ends of the earth! They rock my world! I will not relent! I will not back down! I will not be moved! The music made a huge impact on me as a child, specifically when coupled with the influence of a succession of teenaged babysitters, but the renaissance (if you will) happened when I started grad school. My life was immersed in writing and my soundtrack was the Best Of compilations of the Holy Trinity:

REO Speedwagon

For the record, if we are viewing the Trinity as a triangle, Journey is the bottom left, REO is the bottom right, and Styx is at the top. I MAKE NO APOLOGIES. I love these bands without question. Their music brings back a flood of positive memories (if not positive influences) that informed my writing and reawakened something inside me. It made me realize that it was OK to embrace where I came from, what I saw, and who I was. To others, who cares what this music means…to me it’s like an expressway to the past. A sweet ass sampling, in order:

That fucking Shaun Cassidy album, not sure but I think it was this piece of crap. Hey, they said most influential, did they not? And this one is my biggest LESSON: Never Let Your Cousin Talk You Into Shit, Ever. My cousin Tanya managed to talk me into getting this album instead of Grease…believe it, it happened. To my credit, I was six and could hardly have stood a chance against my older, beautiful, blond, blue-eyed, perfectly feathered cousin. Bitch! This album made me understand the value of music. It also taught me that there were mounds and mounds of putrid shit out there. Here’s a tasting for you!:

Jude’s King of Yesterday was a lovely reawakening of old values. His music feels like the purist of pop to me, unfettered by pimping pretense and all the usual pathological self-awareness that seems to poison so much of modern music today. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that angst begets art, etc. etc., but there is a point where the toxicity chokes the artistry and you just have to drop the headphones. Sure, Jude gazes at his navel, too, but there’s a sardonic twist there, too. It is a delicious aperitif.

And, of course, there’s Ta-Dah by the Scissor Sisters. There’s an odd duality to a person in a bad relationship. You live and breathe in the relationship with no outward sign of distress…you travel, kiss, tell jokes, laugh. Things are fine and quite normal. And when they are not? Well, there’s that other side, the dark and mist-cloaked undertoad that lives to dream of any and all elsewheres…anywhere where he is not. This album came out during my relationship. The ironic twist was the fact that we’d heard of them when we were in London…a huge trip for both of us…they were playing at Trafalgar Square while we were staying right down the street. I remember thinking: What the hell is a Scissor Sister? Now I know…and on both levels. Ta-Dah is something to behold, but this song always rang a too true bell with me:



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your taste in music! Well. Okay. Maybe not so much REO speedwagon and I preferred David to Shaun by leaps and bounds. C'mon! He was so much cuter!!

Points of interest:
-I love Grease but not nearly as much as Lorilee, it's like her personal theme album.
-One of Sage's mostest absolutest favoritist songs in the whole, wide world is "Renegade". Isn't she fantastic?
-Duran, Duran is NOTHING to be ashamed of!
-The whole famn damly LOVES Scissor Sisters and we sing along in the car.
-Who doesn't like Queen? F them if they don't!
-I remember when we met we both had a thing for Stevie. It assured me that you were kin.

8:13 PM  
Blogger Flushy McBucketpants said...

It's miraculous that you turned out to be the god-fearing American that you are today.

That is quite a list. Though the only albums I could also see myself also owning are Queen's and Jude's. We are worlds apart otherwise. Still, this seems to be fairly wide-ranging in terms of tone and content, which is cool. Though your cheese-ranking is high. On a scale of cream cheese (being a cheese impostor and therefore the least cheesy) to Camembert de Normandy (which is, i hear, one of the stinkiest cheeses around, and therefore the cheesiest), your list ranks a gorgonzola.

My list would include:

Michael Jackson—Dangerous
Kris Kross—Totally Krossed Out
Green Day—Dookie
The Presidents of the United States of America—The Presidents of the United States of America
Weezer—Weezer (blue)
The Rentals—The Return of the Rentals

You may notice there's a split—pre-discovery of rock and post-discovery of rock and that all of the rock albums on this list were released between 1994 and 1996. It makes me wonder if the influences were the music or just adolescence. While I feel my cheese factor is pretty low, ranking maybe a gruyere, my angst factor ends up being pretty high. Between the self-loathing and sad-sappiness of Green Day, (early) Weezer, and The Rentals, I give myself three-and-a-half Angela Chases out of five. (What? My list doesn't include NIN, Nirvana, or Marilyn Manson... now thems is some angsty shit.)

12:05 PM  
Blogger Shiny said...

I certainly could have gone on...but I got tireds.

Shi-shi, I don't remember the Stevie thing...that was 800 years ago, you know. OK, 23. I may have to breakdance a back spin if I ever see Sage rocking out to "Renegade." That, or I'll just burst into tears of joy. Note to Self: Next blog entry is a bulleted list of "Things That Will Make Me Burst Into Tears of Joy."

My cheese factor, Buckethead, is never in question. I am QueenCheese, if you will, and proud of it. I would be interested to know why each of your choices was influential. Esp. Kriss Kross and also is that where you learned how to dress yourself, Boba Fett. SMOOCH.

2:00 PM  

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