0

Iconic Instants in Rock Music

 

guitar

No, not Elvis gets his guitar, or Mick and Keef meet at the Dartford train station, but snippets of sound from within songs, that punters sometimes scramble to identify at quiz nights.

A Hard Day’s Night- the Mighty Opening Chord

Revealing a curious etymology, there was both a film and an album ready to go, but the Fab Four were told that it’d be incongruous for there to not also be a song.

With the title originating in a Ringo malapropism, Lennon composed the track in an evening, and the following day, refined the lyrics with help in a taxi on the way to the studio. The song was recorded in three hours. It starts with untouchable majesty.

George Harrison’s Rickenbacker generates most of the moment, but each Beatle contributes to its revered musicology. As with much art there’s a secretive, unknowable complexity behind it. Instantaneously recognisable, but also mysterious in its alchemy, one academic, Dominic Pedler, dedicates a sizable chunk of his 800-page volume, The Song Writing Secrets of The Beatles, to the chord, and lists twenty-one compositional possibilities.

In one theory Pedler deploys a process called a Fourier transformation: the decomposition of a sound wave into its constitute pure tones- as modelled by sine and cosine curves- to come up with a scientific solution.

But, for me, the tale of this thrilling chord is its cultural potent. It’s both a daring announcement and a promise. Innocent and eager, it exemplifies the Beatles’ giddily evolving confidence in both their music and social power.

That the guitars are slightly out of tune only magnifies the charisma, and suggests a bouncing mid-summer walk along London’s Oxford Street, in the bright, blossoming city.

It’s an aural intoxicant.

Paradise City- Whistle Blower

When Elvis first gyrated his hips on TV, I’m sure that in countless homes the first rock obsessions were also born. A few decades later, in the unspeakable 1980’s, a particular Guns ‘N’ Roses fan from Lafayette, Indiana- Axl Rose’s home, too- began investing time and not inconsiderable money touring the world to claim an elusive plastic whistle.

Of course, he’s seeking a concert souvenir: the whistle blown and nightly thrown into the crowd at the 1:21 mark of “Paradise City” from Appetite for Destruction, the album so beloved by aging leather jackets and Triple M music directors. So far, our trophy-hunter’s been unsuccessful. His cabinet remains bare.

In this moment, there’s juxtaposition at work as the song transitions from its opening section and momentum builds. The anthemic tropes are present, but exhilaratingly assembled: pounding drums, driving guitars, and wailing vocals married to shameless subtexts.

Suddenly climbing above this grind and growl is the simplest addition: a lone whistle blast that invests the song with a military discipline, demanding both band and listener focus and follow. It also evokes the urgent start to a football match when the warm-up is done, and we’re in the huddle together, and it’s just us and them.

It’s a riotous call to arms.

The Tourist- The Mourning Bell

Radiohead’s OK Computer is an album of luxurious, sparkling gloom, best listened to through headphones at midnight. Its themes of nagging horror and emptiness are expressed with pristine melodies that seem to bend out through a Kubrick-like universe.

Once described as possessing “… soaring, operatic choruses, and a towering bridge,” the record is closed by “The Tourist.” Its dramatic context is a pending car crash, and over Jonny Greenwood’s guitar Thom York pleads for the driver, possibly himself, to “slow down” and as we wince against the grim inevitability, the roaring doom, instead we hear a tiny bell. What happened? Was there even an accident? And, if yes, of what ultimate consequence?

Again, TS Eliot is right.

What does this bell denote? Some suggest it’s the ding of a microwave, that millennial symbol of mundane gnawing consumerism; for others, it conjures an ancient typewriter in a nameless attic, signalling how this musical story, and our fragile human story is indeed, finished.

Irrespective, it’s a sonic conclusion of poignancy and uncommon beauty, befitting the preceding 53 minutes of searing maelstrom.

It’s a punctuation mark, but also a prayer.

axl.png

0

Radiohead and me

headphones

I was a tourist, but also trying to be a detective. We ambled over the bridge and looked down at the Thames, making its quiet way towards London. Naught. In the town centre St Nicolas’ Church surrendered no clues, and I wondered what influence the former MG car plant had with its suggestions of status and privilege.

Abingdon is six miles from Oxford, and we were there visiting friends. It’s the birthplace of Radiohead. Following the requisite pub lunch, we took a stroll. While our hosts knew nothing of the town’s famous sons I attempted some connections. Any signs in the market square that could further decode “Karma Police?” Would Abingdon Gaol’s architecture enlighten my reading of “Pyramid Song?”

Of course, my thinking assumed that art is chiefly autobiographical. We often want it to be. But, was mine a ridiculous quest? Having worked for a decade near Kensington in Adelaide’s east, I’d not gained much geographical insight into Paul Kelly’s back catalogue.

However, it was also a sensible quest, for music is more meaningful if we can somehow make its birthplace enchanted. Landscapes might matter, even for Radiohead, whose existential songs are devoid of setting.

Driving home from Oxfordshire I acknowledge that from a wholly unremarkable village, a remarkable band emerged, as we’d hope.

*

Indeed, it was commuting up Kensington Road past Norwood into Paul Kelly territory (I taught two of his nieces) when on Triple J I first heard “Paranoid Android.” After, Mikey Robbins and The Sandman linked it to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I devoured as a teenager. References to Douglas Adams’ cult novel are infused across the record.

I was spellbound, apprehended by the song’s circuitous, multi-part structure that also announced Radiohead’s dominant theme: the horrors of modern life. They continue to explore this with gallows humour and compelling soundscapes. Perfect through headphones.

That afternoon I bought OK Computer.

*

Arriving in Singapore my wife and I bought smartphones, onto which I uploaded my CDs. I then rambled about that hot, teeming islet, accompanied by some beloved collections, which both isolated me and somehow welded me to those equatorial streets. Now, back in Australia when I put on Exile on Main St, Belle and Sebastian’s Tigermilk or Vampire Weekend’s Contra I’m walking through the thick heat at Robertson Quay.

Great albums present discovery and rediscovery as every track enjoys periods of personal high rotation in which it becomes the favourite. I like these evolutions in my explorations of an artist.

A few Octobers ago, around our Phuket pool, I played OK Computer. Horizontal on my sun lounge I became enamoured with the final song. The waltz-tempo and cathartic rhythm of “The Tourist” deliver a telling full stop to this record of splendor and portent. After a ferocious guitar solo, it closes with a single note struck on a triangle. Superb.

I also recall eating pizza by that pool when a neighbouring family leapt up and scattered. An emerald snake had appeared at their feet, and startled, it slipped hastily over the pavers and climbed a palm. We peered up at it, hanging green on a frond, fifteen feet up like reptilian tinsel. Could a frightened snake populate a Radiohead song? Feature as a symbol of contemporary alienation? Don’t be silly, I thought. Have another heat, the Chang’s getting to you.

*

In a distant Port Pirie winter, we lit a backyard fire and sat about it in black coats. The grey smoke phantomed around and through us while we drank shiraz and stories and music. It’s the year PJ Harvey released Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, but what I remember from this evening is Radiohead’s second offering, The Bends.

I remember “Fake Plastic Trees” and aside from the consciously tautological title I love the soaring atmospherics of the guitars, although now Radiohead hasn’t been a guitar band for two decades. Throughout, Thom Yorke invests his vocals with vulnerability, and this matches the dread and defiance of the lyrics.

The next afternoon I bought The Bends.

*

1993 in a forgotten pub. “So, what do you think about that British band Radiohead? You know that song, “Creep?”

I replied. “Not much. Reckon they’re a one-hit wonder.”

Oops, but who can tell? Radiohead’s debut, Pablo Honey is a turgid mess, and proposes no capacity. However, about this time a blonde leg-spinner took 1/150 in his first Test…

*

I subscribe to Spotify because I love suddenly recollecting a song, and then hearing it within seconds. As a streaming service, it’s brilliant. Nevertheless, it worries me how the artists receive miniscule royalties, such that their yearly dividend may only allow a band to huddle naked around a can of flat Fanta.

I do prefer an artefact: vinyl, CD, even a cassette, but visiting the local K-Mart with three discs by the execrable Pink isn’t worth the free parking. I remind myself to buy a turntable, and return to that dear friend, the past.

A Moon Shaped Pool is the record Radiohead promised to make all millennium. When everyone’s asleep I sometimes listen to “The Numbers” through headphones. Concerning climate change, this track exquisitely combines fragile metaphor, guitar, and tinkling piano. I love a string section, and the urgent stabs accentuate the ominous themes.

Given their form I hope Radiohead continues. The menace of neo- conservativism and dire planetary health means there’s still much for them to ponder.

hitchhiker

3

Killing the Mockingbird: Recollections of the 1997 Bulldogs and Crows Preliminary Final

sandy

Saturday, 20th September 1997. Half-time in the preliminary final. The Crows are getting paddled by seven goals.

I take a nap.

*

A soap opera fledgling, Greg Fleet swiftly enraged the nation. His Ramsey Street character had dispatched Daphne, like a Cairns cane toad, by expertly running her over with his car.

Later, he was strolling along a Melbourne street when a Truth headline screamed, NEIGHBOURS STAR TELLS: ‘MY HEROIN ORDEAL.’ Shocked at his public shaming, Fleety’s initial thought was, Oh my God! I can’t believe it. I was on Neighbours.

TOURIST DIES OF THIRST is a memorable newspaper poster too. It’s on the yellowing wall of Adelaide’s Exeter Hotel. I smile every time.

It’s an ageless boozer. Resistant to infantile trends, (Irish pub folks?) it’s a rollicking temple for cups and conversation. There’s nothing to distract your entourage from its tasty project. No TV, no TAB, no pokies. But there’s music. Thoughtful, eclectic music, with entire albums pumped into the front bar.

If I could design a pub, it’d be the Exeter.

*

The night before the Crows and Bulldogs clash. Our mate Chris is emigrating to Queensland to work for a software company. So, to mark this, we dine on curry and Kingfisher lager, and then gallop across to the Exeter.

Dawn’s closer than dusk. Only Nick and I remain, our Doc Martins moored to the floorboards. He’s from a farm in Shea-Oak Log. We met in school. Years ago, we saw the Rolling Stones at Footy Park.

As always, we talk cricket and travel and bands and film, and our discussion arrives at Harper Lee’s autobiographical masterpiece, “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

Lizard was a heavy-metal mad, Axel Rose-haired kid. I taught him in Kimba and he read the book, reckoned it was about the only one he’d ever finished. In his Cannibal Corpse way Lizard often mislabelled it, “Killing the Mockingbird.”

Atticus Finch. Is there a more inspirational dad in literature? He’s metonymous for courage. I wish the Australian cricketer Aaron Finch was nicknamed “Atticus.” But, of course not. Can you imagine Tubbs and Slats explaining this? He’ll always be “Finchy.”

Over and through our Coopers, we ponder the novel’s last lines, admire their uncomplicated elegance. They’re among the finest words printed. After the rush of the climax, and Bob Ewell’s demise, we’re left with a painterly scene of love, a world profoundly restored

He turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.

Radiohead’s then recent release OK Computer played in the Exeter that evening. I love the cinematic melancholy, and the immaculate alienation. I’m a fan of lengthy, multi-sectioned songs, and “Paranoid Android” is superb. There’s venom in Thom Yorke’s

Ambition makes you look pretty ugly
Kicking and squealing gucci little piggy

The album is additionally embedded with references to the cult novel “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!” How excellent is this? Satire, existentialism and guitars!

Despite its anguished doom, OK Computer becomes a happy soundtrack for me. Living in Hertfordshire, we listened to it once before enjoying Terry Wogan’s wine-soaked Eurovision commentary. In his brogue he noted

They’ve got four languages in Belgium and they’re singing in an imaginary one. The essence of Eurovision.

We laugh at the songs, and are bewitched by the geopolitics. It was 2003, defined by the charming nadir of England’s nul points.

I remember Triple J first featuring OK Computer. On breakfast, Mikey Robins and the Sandman considered life’s unknowns

Sandman: I’ve often wondered what it would feel like to be a woman.

Mikey: Come here.

Like gates clanging in a prison movie, the Exeter finally shuts. Nick drifts to his Hutt Street townhouse and I taxi home to Glenelg.

*

Rampaging Roy Slaven famously spoke of playing golf with Seve Ballesteros. As an ornament to rugby league, fishing, cricket, horse racing (he piloted Rooting King), and pig shooting, he is peerless. Roy’s vanquished are “hopeless pillows” or “mooks.”

Obviously, the big man from Lithgow was towelling the Spaniard. Without warning, Seve walked quietly over to his opponent’s bag and went the bushman’s hanky all over Roy’s clubs. Standing “ashen-faced and tight-lipped,” Roy then turned to his caddy and said, “You know, there’s something I just don’t like about this bloke.”

*

I wake during the last quarter, wander out to the lounge, flick on the TV, and see Liberatore’s snap on goal. He jumps haughtily onto his team mates, fists a-pumping. The result’s a formality, the remaining time, an irritant. His Dogs are home.

But I know what Atticus Finch would think. I remember what Roy Slaven said.

And the goal umpire signals a behind. Premature exaltation. The braggadocio is scorched.

The quarter’s been goalless, and we’re down by four straight kicks with ten minutes to go. As the bride’s still asleep I choose to endure the ending. It’ll be a Saints and Bulldogs decider.

On the siren, car horns hop in our windows, zigzag over Jetty Road, and vault about the esplanade like acoustic exclamation marks! The wife stirs.

Having spent the match in a torpor, Darren Jarman contributed three majors. He was learning to love final quarters.

With its lengthening afternoons, pledge of an enriching, outdoorsy lifestyle, and barbeque bouquets freewheeling about like sociable phantasms, late September’s always been good.

Just then, it got much, much better.

ex