Hey Google, play some 60s rock!
I don’t usually listen to music when I’m writing; I can’t concentrate because I’m either listening to the lyrics or sitting back to admire the funky melody. But I’d taken timeout the other day, just to chill. “Hey, Google!” I said. “Play some 60s rock.” Google duly obliged and within seconds I was tapping my fingers and singing the words to some obscure Manfred Mann number. How is it that after fifty-odd years I remember every word? It’s crazy that it’s been there, lying in wait for the right prompt to come along and set it free. Music can do that; it can stick in your head and resist all attempts to shake it free. And it’s often the worst of songs that linger, like… No, I won’t even go there in case I dislodge some annoying song like the Macarena and end up singing it all day. (D’oh!)
Anyway, it got me to thinking about how music shadows life. It’s always there somewhere, either up-front and centre or playing in the background. It’s like the backing track to your very existence. Think back through the years, even to childhood, and there’s usually a song or two that stand out as significant memories. Does your chewing gum lose its flavour on the bedpost overnight? Now, that was a classic for a young boy with a fossilised collection of gum stuck behind the bedhead. Mum didn’t like it. It’ll tangle round your tonsils, twist from left to right, does your chewing gum lose its flavour on the bedpost overnight?
I have three older brothers who blazed the trail before me, so my appreciation of music was well and truly entrenched by the teenage years. Everything was groundbreaking through those years, and so many artists were going in new directions and making an impression on me. I remember watching Roy Orbison singing Pretty Woman. The performance had such an effect that for months after, I donned sunglasses and wore black, even when going to bed. I sang songs into a hairbrush using his baritone style while watching myself in the mirror looking cool as. That was where my musical ambitions finished. The endeavour was there but the rhythm wasn’t. Music evolved quickly during those years. It was such an exciting time for someone with eclectic tastes; I didn’t know where to turn or who to follow next.
As a Liverpool boy, The Beatles were naturally kings of the strings. They had so many truly great songs, it would be hard to pick out one in particular, but I definitely thought we were going to change the world when we grew our hair and sang along to Love, love, love. It was the late sixties when I met the love of my life; like most teens of the era, we lived for music, booze and dance. I recall us crammed into the Victoriana Club in Liverpool, a tiny venue with wall to wall people, and live music every night. There was barely room to get the band inside. We grooved there to Marvin Gaye live, singing: I Heard It Through the Grapevine. It was like having him in our living room.
Like most teens, I didn’t yet know what I wanted to do with my life. So when The Graduate came out in cinemas, I identified with Dustin Hoffman’s restless and confused spirit. The songs of Simon and Garfunkel that accompanied the film echoed my own feelings of uncertainty, and still bring to mind the crossroad decisions I faced at the time. There are other important songs and artists that reflect my teen years and cause me to remember those days. Songs like Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up In Blues, Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog, and Cat Stevens’ Wild World.
With the days of youth fading fast, David Bowie’s Life On Mars marked the preparations for our wedding, (Perhaps it was an omen.) and life was never the same again. In the early years of married bliss, Elton John’s Yellow Brick Road hardly left the turntable, and I could only look back on the good old days of Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting with nostalgia. Every song on that album reminds me of our first steps at building a home together. And who could forget the house parties and everyone dancing in a line to Saturday Night Fever in the back yard?
Who could forget the house parties?
John Lennon released Starting Over as we prepared to leave for Canada. It seemed an appropriate song to mark a new life abroad. Not long after arriving in Canada, we bought a new turntable and our very first new album was Men at Work’s Business As Usual, not realising that one day we would live in the Land Downunder, and it would virtually become our theme tune.
There soon came a time when the music that marked important events were not always of our choosing, but those of our kids. Metallica, Iron Maiden and Slayer reverberated from the bedrooms, and though I do like the occasional heavy metal session, I have to admit we started looking for homes that would take the kids on a permanent basis. Heavy metal became the staple diet and I began to think that the devil had moved in-house. I recall waiting outside a theatre in Toronto for our son who had gone to a Metallica concert. The doors opened, spilling the exuberant, bare-chested crowd onto the street where they mobbed our car, jumping on the hood and banging on the roof, screaming Seek & Destroy, and, Kill Em All, with all the accompanying facial expressions of angry young men. (I knew we weren’t going to die, really I did.) Thankfully things mellowed at home as the kids discovered Pink Floyd, Guns & Roses and Bon Jovi, and other more moderate forms of music followed. Dark Side Of The Moon accompanied many a camping expedition, and Life Is A Highway played on every road trip across Canada and the States.
Life is a highway!
Life in Australia had a different rhythm and an Aussie flavour, as we embraced all things unique to the big Southern Land. We immersed ourselves in all the classics, like Sounds of Then, Flame Trees and Beds Are Burning. Once again, our kids had their own favourites at the time, from bands like Green Day, Tragically Hip and The Offspring, but soon it was their own songs and their own music we were listening to, songs written and performed by our own kids, like Six Degrees and Sandalwood by Paper View. Music is in their blood and will be as important to them later when they look back and put together their own compilations to mark their paths through life.
So what’s in the background now, you may ask? What new gems are marking this phase of life for me? Well, the eclectic taste is still there, but there’s a leaning to mellow and melodic. You’re more likely to hear Sam Smith or Ed Sheeran than Five Finger Death Punch. I guess it’s an age thing. As for the tracks on my life album, I hope there’s plenty more to come before I reach the final tune. Maybe the needle will slip on the turntable and I’ll be forever waiting for the album to end, or maybe it will just skip to the beginning and start all over again. I could live with that.