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Portrait Of An Artist As A Young Nerd

I have been listening to music since I was five. My brother and a cousin of ours are the main  responsibles that fact. They were metalheads. On a different level, my father also influenced me with his musical tastes. He was more into the classic stuff, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen and, when he felt like rocking out, the Scorpions. So, in 1983, with the addition of a record player to our household, gone were the simple tapes and along came a few records.

This is a story of five songs that changed my life and made me who I am today (sonically speaking, of course). 

By the way, the picture you see here is me, aged 5, with my brother, aged 13. We are wearing handknit jumpers with the AC/DC logo made by our mother.

Motörhead - Back At The Funny Farm ('Another Perfect Day', 1983. First heard in 1983. The place: Melodia Infantil, Cacem)

The year was 1983. I was five. That means this event took place thirty years ago. I have an older brother who, at the age of 13, had started listening to hard rock and heavy metal. AC/DC and Whitesnake were among the first records in our house. Information was scarce back then and we had to rely on magazines and a weekly sixty minute radio show to know what was going on, hard rock and heavy metalwise.

A name that kept popping up quite often was Motörhead. The description and the photos of the band told about something loud, fast, furious and vile. When we read they had a new record out, my brother and a cousin of ours went on a pilgrimage to the local record shop and took me along with them.

We got to the appropriately named 'Melodia Infantil' ('Child's Melody' in English and a record shop that also sold children's clothes)  and asked if they had any Motörhead records available. Lo and behold, Another Perfect Day was presented to us. 'Can we have a listen?' we inquired and a listen we had.

Even though this happened thirty years ago, it seems like yesterday. The moment the needle struck the record, we were blown away. I don't think the guy that worked there knew exactly what Motörhead was and what he was unleashing through the shop's speakers. The volume was so loud it was almost inaudible.

By 1983 standarts, Lemmy had the most gravel/grave sore throat voice anybody had ever heard and as we went home, we couldn't form an opinion as we were speechless. We just liked it and we couldn't figure out why.

Though 'Another Perfect Day' is not one Motörhead's most acclaimed records, it was through 'Back At The Funny Farm' that we got our introduction to the loudest, meanest, foulest, filthiest power trio ever. God bless Melodia Infantil for allowing us to have a listen at an almost indecent and possibly illegal volume.

Footnote-though he endured years of loud music on the home stereo, my father never frowned or disapproved what we listened to. There was an exception to that rule - Motörhead. (Oddly enough, Spiritualized also gained that distinction!)

Monster Magnet - Cyclops Revolution ('Superjudge', 1993. First heard in 1993. The place: my bedroom, Cacem)

Fast forward ten years. The world had changed a bit. With Nirvana and the Grunge movement, there was an easier access to new alternative and off the wall music. The supposedly freakier, the better. Jane's Addiction, Soundgarden and a myriad of other bands became household names.

Luckily for me, four guys from New Jersey were lumped into the alternative pile of bands that were coming out at the time, even though they stated they didn't listen to music made after 1975. Those four guys were called Monster Magnet.

I read about Monster Magnet in 1991 on an interview promoting 'Spine of God' but it was only in 1993 that I actually heard them. By now, there was a radio station where all things alternative was on air at any given time of day. So, when the presenter said 'And now here's Monster Magnet's latest record with the track Cyclops Revolution', I remembered that interview.

As the song started, the slow strumming of a single guitar and all the multitrack varying speed voice delays behind the vocals caught my attention. The moment everything starts to rise with all the instruments coming into play, you can tell there's going to be an explosion and when that happens, there's a full mountain of sound falling on top of your head and you get blown away by the sheer intensity and energy of the song. The body jolts, your eyes close and you fall into a trance that gives you enough power to take on the world.

I just knew I had to get that record. I listened to 'Superjudge' so many times, it chipped the paint off of the cd. Even though Monster Magnet lost their magic fire in 1995 (at least for me), they still remain one of my life defining bands and that song changed yours truly forever.

Hawkwind - Born To Go (single b-side, 1973. First heard in 1995. The place: my bedroom, Cacem)

Having an older metalhead brother in the 80's, the inevitability of listening to Motörhead is inescapable. Having an older metalhead brother in the early stages of becoming a music nerd, is not so common. As true music nerds in the making, we soon found out Lemmy once belonged to an entity called Hawkwind.

In 1984, Hawkwind released 'Night Of The Hawks', a 12" that featured Lemmy. Thus Hawkwind fell under our radar. When 'Live Chronicles' came out in 1986, it was perfect for us. What better way than a live record to find out about a band that already had an extensive record output? My brother listened to the record. I devoured it. Though nowadays it seems tame when compared to their 1970-75 highlight years, it was the only Hawkwind record I listened to for a few years (partly because you couldn't really find that many Hawkwind records available in Portugal).

Come the ages and, by chance, I had a teacher in high school which happened to be a Hawkwind fan. So, in return of me taping him 'Live Chronicles', he lent me a few Hawkwind tapes of older material. This, matched with a friend of mine who had a double vynil compilation that he had 'borrowed', became my introduction to their Early Golden Years. I must confess it was hard to get into being a part of the sonic attack as opposed to falling victim of said attack mainly due to the fact that the track selection wasn't that great. One track changed all that for me. The song: Born To go. Soon, I was also born to go.

I was transfixed by the nightmare it conjured. It was the sound of an acid crazed, speedfreak  crew on the verge of losing control of a crumbling spaceship on its way towards the sun. The thing is falling apart and they still try to manoeuvre it to avoid collapsing into the heart of our galaxy. They were born to go and off they went through space, taking me along for the ride.

As the song twists and turns on the second verse, your body feels like the spaceship, swerving and twisting, reacting to the angular turns that take place, trying to regain control of what is going on.

As the song nears its end, you realize you didn't smash into the anything but you suspect it's not going to be an easy trip because you know danger lurks behind every star, planet or comet in space. Specially because you have Hawkwind at the helm of this spaceship. The truth is, you stop caring and you actually join the crew for the whole journey and you never looked back again.

Neu! - Hallogallo ('Neu!', 1972. First heard in 2001. The place: Kingsize Records, Lisbon)

Once upon a time, there was a record shop in Lisbon called Godzilla that evolved into Kingsize Records. It was there I first bought Dr. John ('Gris Gris'), Captain Beefheart ('Clear Spot'), proper ZZ Top ('Tres Hombres'), Make Up ('I Want Some') and countless others.

It was ran by five guys, each with a specific music genre (hip hop, reggae, punk/hardcore, etc). The rest that didn't quite fit into any genre they called it 'Guitar Music', which is perfect to define a bigger picture about music than the one we sometimes think is much more reduced. You had Guitar Wolf, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Mark Lanegan side to side with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Deep Purple mk I, Amon Düül II, Can and so on. When, in 2001, Neu!'s records were re-issued, where could you find it? That's right, Kingsize Records.

My main man in the shop was a slightly older German guy called Mark. He was a cool cat that would talk about Trans AM and Blue Öyster Cult on the same sentence, sharing the same knowledge, logic and passion about music that I also have. All the while, I was also learning some more about more bands. When it was time to listen to Neu!, he said: 'Get ready because you're gonna love this...'.

The moment Hallogallo started, I was hypnotized. The images that went through my brain were just outstanding! It's the perfect soundtrack for a long car ride. I imagined highways in a mix of speeding slowmotion where colours become distorted and lines appear uniformly in continuous motion. Soft curves that ran smoothly with far horizon hills morphing into overdelayed layers of sound, each reacting to new sounds that came to the fore as the song progressed. The drums, always steady, imposed the rhythm, pulsing the music into forever. True motorika.

When it finished, ten minutes had passed but it felt like ten seconds. I was not on acid and I didn't need to be. Hallogallo is one of the ultimate aural trips that still sends me on a journey I do not wish to come back.

Footnote-Nowadays I have a band and we have a song called 'Kingsize Mark' dedicated to Kingsize Records and my main man Mark Braun.

John Fahey - On Doing An Evil Deed Blues ('Blind Joe Death, Vol. 1', 1967. First heard in 2003. The place: Discolecção, Lisbon)

Somewhere in 2001, I came across the name John Fahey. Unfortunately, it was in the obituaries lists of many music magazines. His name showed up again regularly in 2003 with the release of 'Red Cross'. Even though the internet was available, I was never a big fan of newer technology, always prefering the old ways of scavaging record shops and picking up records either because of the cover or because I read the name of a band somewhere and it stuck to my head. With John Fahey, it was a combination of the two.

It was Christmas time. Looking for presents for my brother, which invariably involve records,  John Fahey's 'Blind Joe Death, Vol. 1' appeared in front of me. By now, me and my brother had gone to the roots of rock and roll and were immersed in early blues like Skip James, Son House, Charley Patton and whatnot.

Now, I knew there was some sort of blues link to John Fahey but when the time came to hear his music, surprise is not an effective word to describe what I felt. On Doing An Evil Deed Blues hit me like a sledgehammer of acoustic sound. It was bluesy but, at the same time, it had a rootsy americana feel to it. True American folk without the protest element so often associated with American folk music. This was definetely no Pete Seeger.

Before I actually gave the record, I listened to it obssessively, over and over again. I just couldn't get enough of it. John Fahey's guitar playing is mind boggling to the point I couldn't figure out if there were any overdubs or if it was all recorded in one go. Sure 'nuff, there were no overdubs, just a few effects and that was it.

Though there are songs I like best (like Variations On A Cuckoo), it was that first one that grabbed me by the balls, proving you don't need a triple stack of loud guitars to be as gutwrenching as John Fahey. A simple and delicate acoustic guitar is enough to bend your mind and open up your horizons. That's what happened to me at least.

I hope this more personal recount on how I discovered some bands didn't bore you. At the same time, feel free to comment and tell some of your life defining moments through music you experienced.

Column made by Carlos Ferreira/2013
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1 comment:

zenthing said...

Hi Paul, thanks for posting this, it was a revelation! I have been a massive Hawkwind fan since I was 13 (nearly 40 years!) And I feel exonerated! I own and love all of your choices apart from John fahey, which I aim to correct


Harry, England