Friday, 27 April 2012

Queen - Now I'm Here

Looking through my motley collection of vinyl singles the other day, it struck me how different were their reasons for being there.  Some sit there anonymously as if I’d never bought them at all and they had just sneaked in by chance during a dark night, yet others are full of pride and bursting to tell their story.  One of those eager storytellers is ‘Now I’m Here’ by Queen.

In the early 1970s I had become a fully fledged album buyer after spending much of the late sixties amassing a small, yet top quality (ahem) singles collection but as I became a student at University in the autumn of 1974 the restrictions of a student grant (remember them?) meant that in order to satisfy my rampant music possession syndrome urge I had to reduce myself yet again to a singles buyer.

This was a pain in the backside yet it did lead to my purchase of Queen’s ‘Now I’m Here’ in early ‘75, which if memory serves, was the first Queen record I ever bought.  Now, the second issue I was faced with was this: not wanting to uproot my beloved stereo system, I didn’t have a record player with me – only a tape player and a load of LPs hastily transferred to cassette the previous summer.  True, my first year room mate had brought with him an ancient autochanger-in-a-box, the sort of kit that every sixties teenager owned in order to annoy the older generation with the new-fangled beat music.  But it was his, not mine.

So the reason this single has its very own back story is partly because it didn’t get played very much…until I went home for the weekend, that is.  In my first year, I went home for a weekend once or twice a term.  Of course this didn’t happen at all after the first few terms as life away from home became infinitely preferable to life at home but that’s another story and probably one that everyone knows.  I always managed to arrive home about midday on the Friday when the house was empty, all occupants still being at work or school and this was the moment that ‘Now I’m Here’ came into its own.

My own prized stereo system still sat in my room and I cranked it up to ‘11’ to play my still pristine Queen single.  It’s a great rock number in anyone’s book but at deafening volume in an empty house it sounded sublime.  You could even play a bit of air guitar and leap around without anyone seeing.  This is what teenage years were made for.  Brilliant.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Music and the Loss of Community

One of the inevitable consequences of age is that reflection follows.  Now that the popular music genre we call Rock ‘n’ Roll has staggered past its fiftieth birthday, television is awash with retrospective documentaries about this band and that time and so on.  In particular I have just watched a three part documentary tucked away on BBC4 about the attempts of British bands to crack the vast American market from Beatles in 1964 to the New Romantics of the 1980s.  All fascinating stuff, especially the bits where you try to work out who is being interviewed by matching up the fresh faced youths in the archive film to the ravaged face of the interviewee.

But more than anything else, I came away with a sense of loss for a musical community that seemed to exist in the 60s and 70s and has now dissipated.  Admittedly, because of the nature of the programme subject matter, most of the band names were British but the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the Animals in the 60s together with Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, ELP, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd in the 70s are known to a generation of music lovers on a global scale.  Throw in the American contributions such as Neil Young, The Beach Boys, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan and so on and you have a community of musicians that is part of the life of everyone of a certain age.

When I converse with my Blogosphere Buddies throughout the world, it is obvious that those of us of a similar age have much in common whether we live in the US, the UK, Australia, Canada or even the non-English speaking countries in Europe and beyond.  For those of us born in the 50s and 60s when the musical community was much smaller than it is today, there are common touchstones that allow us to converse easily and understand each other.

I’m not convinced that this sense of commonality exits today.  Having rashly opined that many of my fellow bloggers have a common past, when it comes to today’s music, we have very little in common.  When I read blogs containing reviews of recently released music, I very rarely know of the artist, let alone the album itself.

Music today is a vast industry comprising numerous genres and sub-markets.  Unless you are Lady Gaga or Adele or similar there is no real global connection.  Most artists today work in a niche of hardcore fans, despite the efforts of the internet.  The singles chart, such as it is, is an irrelevance, changing almost wholesale week by week.  There’s no (adopts slightly nasal Fluff Freeman voice), ‘ and … moves up 6 places to number 27’ type jostling for position over several weeks – you get in, shine for a week and are gone.

I wonder whether today’s generation will be able to reminisce about the music of their youth en masse like we can?  I rather suspect not.