Friday, April 21, 2017

Old Time Rock 'n' Roll... or not

When I post in here, I tend to rabbit on about either my writing or my cover art. Today, given the subject is "nostalgia", I thought I'd sidestep and talk about my musical work.

I was a teenager in the 80s, and as a result, most of my formative years were spent listening to music that was heavy on sonic experimentation, filled with strange conceptual lyrics, and more than any period beforehand (probably afterward), highly reliant on visuals. This period was all about the "now", which is as much due to me suddenly looking kind of grown up, but without any of the rights or (especially) responsibilities of adulthood. But this is not a blog about the 80s and how good it was or wasn't.

I bring up all of that to give a little bit of grounding for the true element of this blog. My favourite bands in the 80s were mostly British. I didn't mind the keyboard experimentation stuff that was going on, but I still favoured more rock-based music, though it was all stuff that was pitched at a commercial audience. I was no ground-breaker then, nor am I particularly now. The only exception to that would be the Pixies. I stumbled on to them in a record shop in Sydney, in April 1988, when the staff were playing "Gigantic". For the first time in my life, I bought music impulsively, snapping up the "Surfer Rosa" album within two minutes of hearing the song. The band was, and still is, seen as ground-breaking, though of course they had their wide range of influences, many of which dated back decades. This is, though, not a blog about that part of the 80s, nor the way 90s grunge grew directly from it.

I bring up THAT salient point to show how we sometimes need a little bit of a slam sideways in order to rejig the puzzle pieces inside our minds. It turned out, I really didn't like that album the first dozen or so times I listened. The song that caused me to buy it was an anomaly, given it was the only one on the album featuring Kim Deal on lead vocals, and the only song that was not written by Black Francis (I believe he was given a co-write credit on Gigantic). The more times I listened, though, the more the album grew on me. It's decidedly not a pretty album; not in concepts, or performance, or production. Not in artwork and photography (apart from the stupendously lovely naked breasts of the model, as visible here...). No, it's not pretty. But it's a thing of beauty.

All of these little intro points are stepping stones toward what I'm really talking about here. And that is how, for me at least, the further I move away from my actual day of birth, the further back my tastes and interests reach.

In 2007 I joined a band here in my home town of Brisbane. The band was called The Medicine Show, and it was directly influenced, stylistically, by 19th Century prison songs, talking blues, old time country and the canon of the mighty Tom Waits. We played music which most Australian blues bands didn't like, because we weren't just regurgitating a 12-bar pattern with verses that began with "woke up this morning". We incorporated found objects as percussion. And we were loud and dirty and loud.  Plenty of times we had people comment they were surprised there were only three of us on stage.

My point (yay, I finally have one!) is that it was joining that band which completed the nostalgia puzzle for me. Through that band I became an active listener to music which I'd only had a passive awareness of. And it flowed through into our look and even more so into the videos I made. With only one exception (Dig Deep), our videos contain archive footage or home movies from decades ago. Heck, with a couple of the videos (Dogs Get Nothing and, I think, Bad To The Bone), I included some 8mm film footage my parents took on their honeymoon in 1966. (I didn't use it, but they had some footage of the Sydney Opera House while under construction).

Anyone interested in viewing our little self-indulgent trip down nostalgia lane is more than welcome. The videos are here. If you see 'em, I hope you like 'em!


  1. Really interesting post, Willsin! :) I'm always intrigued to hear about how a person's musical interests shift throughout life, and there's nothing like those moments of discovery (both when they strike like lightning and when they develop over the course of multiple listens).

    I'm really intrigued by the idea that as you get older, your interests reach farther back. Maybe that's from having had more time to learn and more historical perspective?

    And as a fan of blues, both live and in recording, this line made me laugh:

    "regurgitating a 12-bar pattern with verses that began with "woke up this morning""

    In any case, I think you and Jeremy should talk. He's got great stories about his own band adventures. :)

  2. This is an interesting look (or sound) into your past, Willsin.