Saturday, June 20, 2015

"This Music Won't Last"

Sometime during my teen years I was watching rock/pop music on TV and my mother, a classically trained singer and pianist, assured me this music would never last. It was her way of telling me that she thought the music of little value and that I’d be better off spending my leisure time on other things. We often debated this question. I remember another day when I again was watching TV in the lounge and she came through from the kitchen asking ‘who is that with the beautiful speaking voice’? She was shocked to see a long haired, bearded and bizarre character speaking. It was in fact Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.
I don’t remember really having any sense of belief at the time that the music I loved would last. As I grew older I learned that the pop/rock music of the 60s and 70s represented a radical change from what had gone before, both in terms of sound – they’re had been nothing like it – and the cultural values held by many of its exponents. Long hair and outrageous appearance and on and off stage behaviour was par for the course. As a teenager and early 20 something I was proud that I was part of a new generation that had at least in some sense changed the world. And it satisfied my natural tendency towards rebellion and rejection of my parents’ and mainstream values.
Last night a Facebook friend (who is incidentally also a good friend in ‘real’ life) posted a link to a video from a memorial concert in honour of the pioneer rock band, Led Zeppelin. The video featured a live performance of Stairway to Heaven by Ann and Nancy Wilson. Complete with choir and orchestra I really enjoyed this superb version of ‘Stairway’. But what moved me more was watching the reaction of three of the original members of Led Zeppelin – Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones. Once wild men of rock they were seated in the audience dressed in suits and had it seemed turned into thoroughly respectable old men.
Robert Plant seemed stunned at what he was witnessing. His eyes welled up with tears, and he stared at the performance happening on stage with a kind of ‘what have I done? what did I do?’ expression. But in a positive sense. It was as if he was realising for the first time the beauty and the power of the song he and Jimmy Page had created 44 years earlier. So Stairway to Heaven has lasted and has been enriched and transformed by a new generation of musicians. (John Bonham’s son played drums in this performance.)
My own eyes began to well up as I watched and listened to this wonderful rendition of ‘Stairway’ until I was finally quite simply crying. Crying In support of Robert Plant. As my wife commented I just want to give him a hug. Crying too because I remembered that comment of my mother’s all those years ago and I realised, if I hadn’t before, that the music of my generation has been validated. We weren’t just listening to a passing fad or an aberration in the history of music. We had been part of huge and powerful cultural change that has left an indelible stamp on the world. It did have value.
You could scoff and bemoan the fact I guess that the Led Zap boys are now respectable senior members of the community and wear suits – Robert Plant often performed bare chested for heaven’s sake – but they are no longer wild and provocative young men. They don’t need to be. They, and many of their peers, created music that was the wind beneath the wings of a generation and it is clear now that much of it will outlast them and the generation that is growing old with them.
I felt proud watching this performance that I had made the choices I had, that I had listened to this ‘devil music’ from an early age and I want to believe now that I knew instinctively all those years ago that something huge was happening, and that our music had value. It’s a big call but it felt like it validated much of my life and who I am.
For another example of how another wild man of rock has become part of the musical establishment watch Ian Anderson singing Wondering Aloud with a chamber orchestra.

You were wrong Mum.

8 comments:

Leigh Blackall said...

Not so fast busta! It's only been 40 years, in a century of spectacular violence, technology and upheaval. As a child of your generation, I've become skeptical of the claims. Was the change really that great, or was it mostly the heady product of a sugar induced massification toward the popular, downgrading culture to the beats of sex(ism), selfish individualism, recreational drugs and suedo philosophy, science and pagan mysticism... In another 40 years, who knows, the long arc of history might revisit the boomer narrative and discover it as little more than marketing spin with no followthru.
But compared to everything that come since, I wish I was a full grown in the dawning of Aquarius, so I too could say I there at the end of an age. Instead, I was born to the anti Christs, and grew up drinking and snorting coke to my parent's devil music. Now I live in an age without soul or meaning. It was a stairway to hell.

Leigh Blackall said...

You were wrong dad

Leigh Blackall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alexander Hayes said...

I wonder as to whether Peter Garrett would be found in a similar such audience toe tapping to 'US Forces' at the Sydney Opera House with Regan Harding on drums and Kylie Newcastle on bass. I grew up listening to the generation before the one they would have had me listening to. The likes of ACDC, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, W.A.S.P and Judas Priest on Friday nights giving way to the Dead Kenndy's, The Clash, Black Flag, The Ramones and the Misfits. Rage on TV early Saturday and Sunday introduced me to the new romantics like The Cure, The The and even the likes of Boy George. At home we spun bakelite 45's till we lost the last needle cleaning out cones after school on a Wednesday. The change for me, the absurdity of where we were to where we now find ourselves... came in the networked effect of having an omniscience of the same playlists no matter which (proprietary) device type I chose to subscribe to the service that took money from my credit card on a monthly basis to give me the music I like least to listen to. So...the value in what we see now as compared with that of what a human engineered with a wailing bunch of analogue electronica and stringed instruments singing of world unity and ethereal stairways to heaven bought as tapes from a dedicated architecture called a music shop....well, as time it would have it, Led Zepplin did in fact conjure up many a great night of smokey refrains but I'm certain as night is to day, as my suit wearing is to my present day long-haired Christ inspired garb...I cant imagine shedding tears as much as peeling away the skins on an onion to find inside a pearl of wisdom or two....eyes washed clear...all the better to see beauty where others would have us look further at the ensuing sublime on the horizon. I doubt any of the We Are Satan's People (W.A.S.P) or Slayer or Megadeth will be the winds beneath the wings of a generation, anymore than WoW or Minecraft will be the training grounds for kill by drones to the dulcid tones of Sepultra, Testament or Anthrax. We are surely at the gates to hell however, with our cultured upbringings, our affordances of culture and sensitivity to the needs of others we may still know the difference and in doing so encourage others to see led Zepplin in anything other than suits.

Michael said...

"Whatever happened to the revolution? We all got stoned and drifted away." So sang Skyhooks circa 1973. By then it was becoming clear that the promised utopia wasn't going to happen. I think I need to podcast a response to Alex and Leigh...good to see you guys :)

Michael said...

Google says my response is too long so it needs another post.......

Anonymous said...

You know what, Michael? Alex and Leigh just need a good smack, that's all. Clearly their parents took a laissaiz-faire 70's approach and forgot to teach them some manners. ;-)

rose g

pete said...


Ive always found it kinda funny - that pop music - that completely disposable medium of mega-hit-one-day , cringeworthy-the-next, is STILL being used as some sort of badge of identity.

for example If I say I listen to AC/DC, Cold chisel, Slipknot, and Megadeath - you would make some sort of assuption about the values I hold dear.

You might make a different assessment if I say i listen to Katy Perry, Justin Beiber, Jason Derulo and Taylor swift.

because I once had ambitions of being a half decent musician I looked past the values system that was marketed with the music and concentrated on the music. but the truth is - for a lot of music pr oduct these days the *image* that is protrayed by the artist and song is just as important as the music.

So to ignore the image message in the music is to ignore half of the message.

but I wonder can you really understand the message of reggae without a bong full? Can you really understand a chemical brothers track without checmicals? - Can you really appreciate stage music without a stage?

Michael sees the 70's music as an essential part of the social upheaval of the time. but 70's prog rock couldnt exist without 60's psychadelia, or 50's rock and roll, the Bebop of the 40's, the honky tonk jazz of the 30's - etc etc all the way back to negro spirituals. - I think each generation had their rebels. but it was the 60's and 70's that it was combined with youth culture and mass media and advertising.