A mess of sounds dominated the living rooms and car journeys of my childhood. From my mother, there was Motown, Phil Spector, Stock Aitken Waterman, “production line pop” that I disdained at the time, unable or unwilling to see the glory of some of these manufactured dreams, and apparently disinterested in listening closely enough to discern the differences between one type of industry and another.
The gender distinctions are rather clichéd here, I know, but from my father there was a great billowing cloud of English folk rock that I took in with the nightly readings of Lord of the Rings and eventually grew to love – an alt modernity, tortured and poised and occasionally ridiculous, but with obvious cracks in it to attract an increasingly self-serious young man to fixate on, and enough gravity to keep him there.
As a few painful karaoke sessions have confirmed, my sister is the only member of my family to have matched – and, much as it pains me to say it, almost certainly surpassed – my grandfather’s way with a song, but to my teenage ears she made a huge misstep when she moved away from singing ‘The Great Velario’ and ‘It’ll Take A Long Time’ and started belting out ‘My Heart Will Go On’ style ballads. I was wrong about Motown, but I maintain that I was right about this, and while you can’t blame a teenage girl for wanting to soar away her voice always sounded best when it was blustering against less obvious constraints.
Anyway, I digress! The point is that my dad’s folky tendencies have long been a part of me, but his taste for the lurid virtuosity of prog rock didn’t transfer over to me in anything like the same way. From this distance I’m not entirely sure why – there’s plenty in there for a bookish, AD&D playing goof to connect with, after all – but it took me until about 2007, when I started to get really in to the kabalistically overdetermined compositions of Marnie Stern and Battles, for me to listen back to some of those records and find that I could get on with some of them. This enjoyment has come primarily from the King Crimson and Peter Hammill/Van der Graf Generator axes, and while there’s something to be said for Crimson’s baroque grind as it relates to my contemporary interests – from the aforementioned virtuosos to Albini-rock via Fugazi – what’s clear to me now is that these artists have lot more in common with my favourite folk rockers than I ever realised at the time.
an alt modernity, tortured and poised and occasionally ridiculous, but with obvious cracks in it to attract an increasingly self-serious young man to fixate on, and enough gravity to keep him there
Well alright, but I couldn’t hear it through the noodling, an intensely-learned bombast that was present but maybe not quite so overbearing in every Richard Thompson guitar solo, but which – like the smooth finish of my mother’s music of choice – stopped me from hearing what was actually there for most more than half of my life so far.
Young David needed to hear a very specific sort of grain before he could ascribe worth to music – he was an idiot, basically, but that doesn’t mean he was wrong about his sister’s gift for folk miserablism surpassing her skills as a diva…