Wednesday, 6 February 2019

HUMAN WRECKAGE

Mind the (Generation) Gap

More often than not there is music playing here at the Crooked 9. I cannot imagine our lives without beautiful noise. Its sources vary. Sometimes it’s selections from our library of compact discs and vinyl. Sometimes it’s Ann practicing her violin for her season’s concerts. Sometimes it’s the radio, the dial always tuned to CKUA, Alberta’s public broadcaster. A visual representation of our listening habits would be a pie chart divided into imperfect thirds and quarter notes.

CKUA bills itself as accessible or interactive radio. There’s an app of course but the hosts of its various shows actively solicit listeners’ comments and suggestions via e-mail during their airtime slots. This aspect of engagement is the flip side of the dusty glory days of rock ‘n’ roll radio when as a fanatical teen I repeatedly tried to call deejays even though I knew I’d never get through. I’d been groomed for crushing disappointment though because the lady on ‘Romper Room’ never saw me through her magic mirror after my half day of kindergarten.

Last week the host of ‘Midmorning Mojo’ asked her audience to let her know which albums we knew by heart, backward and forward, the sequence, all the lyrics.

I thought: Gee, your show’s only three hours long and it would take me all day to type up a spreadsheet as I’m a little rusty with Lotus Notes. And how would you like it sorted? By year of release or alphabetically and then chronologically by artist?

Ann said, “Did you hear the question?” I replied I had and that it seemed a tad inane. Ann said, “Not really. Think about all the people we know and how they listen to music, especially the younger ones.”

Rock music these days resembles its fan base, a bit long in the spooky tooth. The obvious sign of its decline is the demise of the album format, the long playing record. Sometimes I think Ann and I are the last CD consumers in town. While it’s true that vinyl has staged a modest comeback with music buyers, I believe the black circles in their ornate sleeves generally constitute hard copy souvenirs of the enclosed digital downloads. I liken modern vinyl to the concert programs I used to buy at shows during the seventies.

Around 50 years into my existence, as rock music petrified into a subgenre, a popular song became known as a jam. The modern jam is a different beast from the Allmans, the Dead or Phish extending and exploring their songs on stage. Still, the term fits to a certain extent as a contemporary hit tends to be a collaboration of many writers and a canny assemblage of beats, samples and Auto-Tune tweaks. A song that did not chart, was not released as a single, is now described as a deep cut which to me implies filler.

Applying these terms retroactively to classic albums denies the totality of the long player. Young Americans, Bowie’s excursion into plastic soul becomes two jams and six deep cuts. The new language is absurdly irksome though indicative of how music is experienced in the 21st century. Consider a Bowie fan around this date in February, 1975 when Young Americans was originally released. The lead single had already been released to build anticipation for the entire (and more expensive) album. He or she had access to a stereo. There was the ritual of removing the cellophane and dropping the stylus on side one, track one. The sleeve and the liner notes required study. The record had to be turned over and then replayed in its entirety, after all this was new Bowie.

Now, consider the Bowie-curious in 2019. He or she has a laptop or a digital device about the size of a package of cigarettes, opposable thumbs and ear buds. They don’t buy recorded music on physical media. They rent a futuristic form of it, different delivery systems. Perhaps ‘Fame’ piqued their interest, perhaps because of the John Lennon co-writing credit. Why multitask through the seven preceding songs when they can scroll right to the track even if it means skipping ‘Win’ and ‘Fascination’? Who cares about the cover art when it’s the size of a thumbnail? Once, an album was a complete package, from the song sequencing to the graphics. This type of context no longer matters.

I thought: Gee, maybe the deejay didn’t pose such a dumb question after all, but instead one for the ages. The long and short of it is different strokes for different folks.

Copies of my latest novel The Garage Sailor are still available and ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

SAINTS PRESERVE US

Saturday Afternoon at the Baby Boomer Golden Years Lodge

The time is the not too distant future. Tea and light refreshments are being served in the common room of a seniors’ residence. Folks are playing cards and board games or staring slack-jawed into space. Emotional support animals make their appointed rounds. Three hunched elderly men, Hughie, Dewey and Louis, are huddled together in the corner, partially obscured from hovering staff members by a large potted plant. They are in deep conversation. Their walkers are tangled up.

Hughie: My youngest son dropped by yesterday for his annual visit.

Dewey: That ne’er-do-well?

Louis: WHAT NEVER SWELLS?

Dewey: Keep it down you deaf bastard. Read my lips.

Louis: BEAD YOUR SLIPS?

Hughie: I told you he’s dyslexic, Dewey. Anyway, my good-for-nothing failure of a son may’ve been redeemed. He brought me 20 cigarettes, a gram of weed and a six-pack of beer. I say we go up to my suite and party like it’s 1979.

Louis: FARTY.

Dewey: Do you need changing again? Shut up. Never mind.

Hughie: He also made me a new fangled mix tape of the Stones and Led Zep. You just press a button. He showed me how.

Louis: WHO?

Hughie: Them too.

Dewey: Zep rules, man.

Hughie: No way, dude. Stones all the way. They were better than the Beatles. I think they’re still touring.

Louis: STILL WHORING?

Dewey: Christ, Louis.

Hughie: Cover your mouth when you speak, that’ll mess with what’s left of his mind.

Dewey: That Zep album, the one with the windows on the cover, that one was monumental, man. Better than anything the Stones ever did. And that guy, the dead one, was the greatest drummer ever.

Hughie: Not a chance. The Stones began that four-album run with, uh, I forget, in whatever year it was and culminated with, uh, that double set, the grey one with the postcards inside.

Dewey: The Zep album was grey too. There was that song on side three or maybe side four? About time travellers and some Indian province? That one.

Hughie: So what do you say? I say we go get wasted and listen to the old songs.

Dewey: What about Louis? He’s deaf as a post.

Hughie: He can read though, can’t he? We show him what’s playing, what we’re listening to and he’ll hear them in his head. Probably at maximum volume.

Louis: HEADS UP! ORDERLY!

Dewey: Damn! Louis, shh!

Hughie: Everybody look dozy!

Orderly: Gentlemen. How has your social hour been? It’s almost time for your naps. Don’t forget this evening’s entertainment is the film Flashdance.

Dewey: Oh, Christ, wow-wee.

Louis: BOWIE? I’M ALL IN. LET ALL THE CHILDREN BOOGIE!

Orderly: Is Mister Louis okay? What’s he on about?

Hughie: Oh, he’s fine. Inside joke. Help me up, please? The three of us are going back to my place.

Orderly: For you and your friends, Mister Hughie, it is nap time.

Hughie: I suppose it is. Give me a hand, will you?
    
Copies of my latest novel The Garage Sailor are still available and ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.