Lester Bangs changed my life. Well, he at least cemented certain things I’d been feeling for a while back when I was a youngster, rabidly devouring tracts of Pop culture. I can still remember so clearly picking up a copy of the first UK printing of the Psychotic Reactions book in the big Waterstones that was opposite Glasgow Central Station. It was a regular haunt in those days, and I would spend so long there looking through books as I whiled away the time whilst waiting for my trains home. In fact I spent more time there than in any of the record stores.
The Lester Bangs book really caught my attention. All of his words made so much sense. I thought it was like reading a massive fanzine, it was so excitable and wonderfully irrational. And at that time I was getting into a lot of the music he had written about too – I was bored of the ‘indie’ scene and was exploring more of the past. So all that stuff about the Count V was just so spot on. And the Velvets and Lou, of course. That article about Astral Weeks, well it just blew my mind. Even more so than the record, and that’s saying something. Then there was that awesome piece ‘James Taylor Marked For Death’ which was ostensibly ‘about’ The Troggs but was so much more. Didn’t he throw in references to Dharma Bums and Franny And Zoe? Those details were important, for those were things at the centre of my universe then.
More than anything though reading Lester Bangs made the boundaries between cultural choices so much stronger. ‘James Taylor Marked For Death’. That said it all. We really did hate all that stuff. All that late sixties and early seventies LA schmaltz. The sensitive singer-songwriter shtick. The Eagles. Crosby, Stills and Nash. Neil Young. Young and stupid, that was us, and proud of it.
Looking back now I wouldn’t have it any other way. You need to define boundaries when you are young. They mark who you are and more importantly who you are not.
What is most interesting as you get older, however, is not how those boundaries dissolve, but how the connections between what you love and what you once hated become clearer. Looking back now, for example, it seems inconceivable that I should have been so turned on to the sounds of Love and The Byrds and yet not seen the links out to the wider LA scene. Or rather, not so much them being invisible as my dismissing them as irrelevant and uninteresting. Then again, maybe I only see them as interesting now because I’m an old fart. It’s entirely possible.
Of course I started getting into the wider LA scene connections some time ago, when I started digging up all those Millennium records and following the links. Those were great times. That period of discovery was so enjoyable. I was answering some fanzine questions yesterday, and one of the questions was about my influences. My response was something along the lines of the appeal of the journey of discovery being the biggest influence. That and the connections made between and through books, records, films, art and most vitally, the people I’ve come across these past twenty or more years. It’s those little bursts of pursuance that really matter, when you and your friends find you’ve been digging the same things and you bounce references around, opening new avenues for each other.
You come to realise too that the content itself is a bonus. It’s the process of the journey that really matters the most. That, and the sharing of experience.
The content of my recent listening journey has been really great though. I never thought I would say that about something like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. For CSNY were one of those most despised of groups when I was younger – beloved of the long haired bores who valued musical aptitude above all else. There was a guy in the art school when I was young who loved CSNY. He was the same guy who poured scorn on my beloved Weekend records, saying they were not ‘real’ jazz. Missing the point. I always thought those kinds of musos were really good at missing the fucking point.
Of course a part of me hates the fact that I have been loving CSNY now. Yet there is something seductive in that whole Laurel Canyon scene of the late ‘60s and anyway, life is too short. Besides which, I realise I have loved so much of it for so many years. The Mamas & The Papas, John Phillips and Denny Doherty’s solo efforts, Arthur Lee, The Byrds and Gene Clark and Chris Hillman in particular, the connections out to Gram and the Burritos. The Turtles. And who knew that Mark Volman was in the Mothers Of Invention after the demise of The Turtles? Well, loads of people, obviously, but it was new to me. It still doesn’t make me want to listen to Zappa though. There are limits, after all.
I admit too that digging the likes of CSNY is not a terribly ‘indiepop’ thing to do, and therein lies a great deal of its appeal. I was listening back to a recording of the interview I did with Lawrence a few years ago, and there is a part where he is talking about the end of Felt and the start of Denim. He talks of how he had become a part of a scene by default, and that really he didn’t like it at all, didn’t feel a part of it. That’s what ‘I’m Against The Eighties’ was all about. I can understand that. It’s also tied up in the tension between wanting to belong to a scene and yet being determined to stay the outsider.
I like the idea, however, that there are nevertheless parallels between that whole singer-songwriter shtick and some of the indiepop groups. That whole introspection thing, the ‘sensitive’ song disguising an underlying thrust of sex and drugs. Because let’s face it, Pop is at its roots about sex; about being a conduit for social interaction where the primal urge is for forging relationships. The difference is that people like Dave Crosby and Neil Young never made any pretense about wanting to be enormously famous. As much as anything, it was about selling millions of records.
Of course not everyone sold millions of records, and if I am honest I have been digging a lot of the obscure material more than the million sellers. So yes, I have listened to the first Eagles records but have been more turned on by The Poor. And for sure, it is Bernie Leadon’s previous form in the Burritos that continues to appeal to me more than anything he did with Frey, Henley et al. And as much as I’ve been getting into the first Neil Young and Crazy Horse set, it’s the Rockets collection that has burned me more. Or what about the Horses’ eponymous 1969 album that Rev-Ola salvaged over four years ago? And that 1971 Joey Stec produced Twin Engine set? I had forgotten that Clarence White is on there, and it really is a glorious sound; a link between the country-folk-rock world and the power pop of the likes of Big Star and The Raspberries.
Anyway, that’s my guilty secret at the end of 2007; how I turned on to hippie sounds and loved what I once hated. I’d recommend it to anyone.