Friday, 24 September 2010

Why The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart are better than Led Zeppelin

There has been many positive moments that have pathed the way i listen to and appreciate music. The first time i played This Charming Man for example. It was a WEA reissue on 7" vinyl. I found it in a bargain bin in Woolworths for 20p. I was fifteen years old.

At the time, i was just ticking bands off. I bought it so i could listen to it and have something to talk about with the 6th form lads i used to hang around with on a Friday night. And something to talk to the 6th form girls about of course.

I remember puting it on my plastic all in one 'hi-fi', the record being bigger than the grey plastic turntable, puting the needle on the end of the thin plastic arm on to the groove and being...i'd like to say it was like seeing god or discovering myself as a person, but i just remember being a bit frightened. A good frightened. Its been said true beauty is terror, and the different melodies weaving in and out of each other, the way it suddenly all stopped and started again and THAT opening line, it just floored me. I remember playing it again and again, trying to work out what was going on and why i was so drawn to such strange music. Caravan by Inspiral Carpets this was not.

But i digress, i have a million such memories, all of them beautiful and stored in its own honey tinged glow in the back of my mind.

But it was two negative moments that have stayed with me. That have shaped me like a line in a circle of crop. The first one was seeing the Sex Pistols live. They had reformed in July 1996, and played The Phoenix festival two months after my nineteenth birthday. Being a kid into music, the Pistols were almost untouchable, something of legend up there with the Beatles and the Who and all the rest of the Mojo hall of fame, the bands that you had drilled into would never be touched in your life time or that of your children. And, almost unthinkably, i was going to see this myth, this testament to youth, power, politics and art in the flesh. Was i excited? Just a bit.

But they were awful. Fat and middle aged, they put the painting of Dorian Gray on the stage rather than the man. 'Rotten' called us hippies, then we would boo him. Then they butchered another classic. Then again. Then again. Like the junk yard dog in Stand By Me, it was the first time myth had gone up against reality and lost. And it hurt.

The Second, and most damning, was in book form. I went through i minor obsession with The Doors, initially triggered by the (actually awful) Oliver Stone film and then crystallised by the Danny Sugarman book No one Gets Out Of Here Alive. Its still a great book, a byword for gentle myth making, a tale told with the right mix of love and awe. And of course with Morrison being dead i couldn't blow it being seeing them old and boring, they would forever be framed, young, poetic and exciting. Its a laughable book to some, dumbed down and lumpen, but to a 15 year old boy in a quiet tiny town, it meant the world.

I was talking to an older friend about how much i loved it, and he recommended Hammer of the Gods, the Led-Zep bio. I look back at that, and wonder if that moment has done me more harm than good, and its the latter. Just.

I got bored by the constant justification of the bands art by the number of tickets sold. I was disenfranchised by Pages 'dabbling' with satanism. By the time i got to the part where he kidnaps and fucks a 14 year old girl, a tale told with such reverence and glee that this should be his ticket to some sort of rock and roll immortality, i felt sick to my guts. But that moment, on my bed at my parents house, sunlight illuminating the blue curtain as i lay on my belly and read, would hold me in good stead. I would not be fooled again.

What i learned by that episode is what i liked about music. Not what Johnny Marr calls "Harley Davidson rock", something with purity and heart. Bands and writers who perform to exorcise and communicate. Basically, people with more brains than cool and more fire than skill.

My favourite example of this is the song Try Again by Big Star, a song that takes the major theme of not fitting in or being comfortable and in your own skin, being continually chased by demons, and doesn't scream it in pain, but sings it with a hush in quiet, defiant acceptance.

"Lord ive been trying to be understood
And Lord ive being to trying to do as you would
But each time it gets a little harder
I feel the pain
But i'll try again"

A song that proves you don't have to scream to be heard.

These days, the best example of this is by a band called The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. On first listen, their LP is a full of effervescent, fuzzy songs of joy. But chip a little deeper, and you see words sung with, and about, quiet despair.

"Now you're someone says you re no one/strange teenager/you'll never know/death at 19"

"i cant stand to see your picture/on the dresser where i left you"

Songs about making mistakes, not fitting in, being afraid by love rather than consumed by it. Songs of romance, lust and shy danger. These are the songs of my life and of yours. I'm not living on a prayer. Ive never been welcomed to a jungle. I don't know what a radio ga-ga is.

But the POBPAH and Big Star songs, like countless others, were written and performed by shy misfits and the kids who didn't make the team. Written not to impress or self fulfill, but because they had too. This is their gift to you, and this is a whole lot of love thats fucking right.

No comments:

Post a Comment