Archives for posts with tag: music

i was 13, going on 14 when i decided i knew all that is needed to be known and possessed all the wisdom of the world.   it wasn’t until my late 20s when i realized i was wrong.  i was so full of shit during that decade and a half that it ain’t even funny anymore.  i am sure i pissed off a lot of people during that time.  i still do.  but not as obnoxiously as i did then.

when i was 14, i thought i solved all the great mysteries of the world.  i thought i was a post-communist, post-politics, post-religion, post-everything sage.  i liked engaging my religion teachers (we had to take religion classes in those days, in turkey) in heated and provocative arguments, thinking i could challenge and shake their beliefs.  i would name drop, would fancy myself a philosopher, would come up with a half-assed and half-baked theories every five minutes or so, and argue, argue, argue.

and i would try to write.  in complicated sentences that would go for pages, using new found words i was not yet comfortable with.

and, my first serious piece was on leonard cohen.  can’t really make sense of what i wrote those days, but, i think i wrote something to the effect that “leonard cohen should be listened late at night, when your parents (or whoever is in the house) are asleep, in a barely audible volume, to give him the respect he deserves”.   the piece was about 800 words of pretense and bullshit, and, that was the gist of it.  i think.

then i wrote another piece on why i hated lennon’s “imagine” so much, and, why i thought it was a dystopia, not a utopia.   another 800 words of pretense and bullshit that was widely hated, but, i still think i was on to something there.  but, that is another story for another time.

those days, i was wearing out my copy-of-a-copy “songs from a room” album in an old 46 cassette.  god knows how many times i repaired that tape.

my journey to the “songs from a room” was a rapid one, accomplished through sheer luck.  and, to being in the right place at the right time.

i came of age right after the 1980 coup in turkey.  it was a terrible time, on hindsight, but, when you’re in the thick of it, you don’t realize how fucked up it was.

our apartment was right next to a villa in ankara, turkey, that was once the residence of an executed turkish prime minister.  when i was growing up, it was the indonesian embassy.

the late 70s in turkey were bloody years.  the left and the right fought viciously.  every night the one (and only) tv channel would report on the deaths, executions, bombings, so on and so forth.

and, every once in a while, usually a couple of times a month, one left faction or another, and, occasionally a right faction or another, would leave a banner with a little package attached to it on the embassy wall or fence.

my sister is 10 months and 25 days younger than me.  we could have been irish twins if i was born in january instead of june.

she and i knew a lot about those banners and those little packages.  because we saw tons of them.  we knew which ones only made a deafening noise, and, which ones would really hurt you.

the banners were usually left at the crack of dawn.  and, once they were spotted, our little corner of ankara, so called the embassy row, would become a fairground in no time flat:  first the neighborhood lookers, then the lookers from the surrounding neighborhoods, then the meatball sellers with their portable charcoal grills, then the journalists, and, finally the police.  the festivities would conclude until the police take the banner and disarm the package, or, let it explode if it was only a “noise bomb”.

there really was something called a “ses bombası”, or, a “noise bomb”.  not sure what it is these days.    but, those days, i knew what they were and what they looked like and what they could do.

in the summer of ’79, palestinian terrorists raided the egyptian embassy down the street from us, and took hostages.  we first heard the gunshots and the grenades.  and, then the hostage crises lasted about 2 days.  our neighborhood was again like a big country fair.  street vendors in every corner, people hanging out, watching, waiting for something to happen.  including the child me.

seems so surreal now.  as if all that was in an alternate universe.  sometimes, when i recount those days to new friends, i feel as if i am talking about somebody else’s experience, not mine.  but, that was the world i lived on those days.  and, unfortunately it is still the word millions of children still live in.

then the military coup put an end to all the left-right fighting in september 1980.  the military junta brought in a new kind of terror– persecutions, tortures, summary executions.  most of the left was persecuted, if they were lucky; or killed, if they were not, the academia was almost annihilated, most freedoms were suspended, and a very dark period began.

a few short months after the coup, in december, i was watching the news on our black and white tv with my parents.  after the list of the arrests, the names of the people who jumped out of third story windows while in gentle police custody, etc, the news of a british singer who was killed in new york city came up.  there was a memorial service.  there were thousands of people with shock and sadness in their faces, many crying.  i will never forget that footage.  it really moved something in me.

there wasn’t much music in our home.  both my parents loved music before we were born.  but, once we came around, with their work, with us, with everything, i guess there was no time left for music.  the only music in our house was the songs we sang, the music on tv, and, the music on our old transistor radio that my grandmother listened to during the day.  she preferred the radio plays, but, in between them, there would be music.

so, i had no idea whatsoever who that murdered singer was.  what he meant.  but, seeing the faces of his mourners, i felt that he meant a lot.  and i wanted to learn about him.  my parents told me that he had a band called the beatles, but that was that.  there was no place i could find more information.

so, i started to search the radio to find out more, hoping i would hear his music.  in those days, on turkish radio, there were 4 FM channels– three official channels of the government, TRT 1-3, and a fourth, local to ankara, of the turkish police.

ironically, the police channel, known as the “police radio”, in ankara, was the only one that regularly played western popular music.  it broadcasted after 6 pm till midnight, and, played a lot of rock’n’roll.  thursday nights, at 10 pm, they had the concert hour– they would play a live album cover to cover.  but, the signal in our apartment wasn’t strong, and i couldn’t get it at home (until my parents bought me a better stereo radio/ cassette player a few years later).

so, my only option was TRT 3, which, most of the time only played classical music, occasionally jazz, but, once a week, saturday mornings between 11 and noon, popular western music.   a one hour program named “stüdyo FM” by yavuz aydar and şebnem savaşçı.

saturday and sunday mornings were quiet in our home.  both mom and dad worked hard, and, we didn’t start the day early in the weekends.  so, every saturday morning, i would wake up before 11, go to the quietest corner with the best FM reception in our apartment, and, set up our transistor radio and the old tape recorder and its mono microphone, and, wait for stüdyo FM to begin at 11 am sharp.

i would record the entire show, flipping the 60 minute tape as fast as i could so i won’t lose much.  and then i would listen to that tape over and over again the coming week, until the next saturday morning, when that week’s tape will be recorded over.

i wore that cassette so much, repaired it with scotch tape so many times, until it finally was beyond repair.  that is when my parents bought me a new one.  and, i continued recording and listening.

one saturday morning, for whatever reason, i woke up late.  i wasn’t feeling well.  rushed to my corner, set up the radio, found the frequency, and started setting up the tape recorder.  i had to rewind the tape.  and, while i was rewinding it, this simple, but, to my 12-13 year old ears beautiful and sad, song was playing and i was cursing myself for not being able to record it.  the song ended, yavuz aydar said the name of the song and who was singing it, and, the name he gave sounded so much like “the beatles”.

i was excited and extremely sad at the same time– i had begun these recording sessions to find out about john lennon and the beatles, and, after numerous recording sessions, they finally played a beatles song, and, stupid me has missed out and not managed to record it.

i told my parents, and, my ever thoughtful mom bought me a beatles tape.  it was a compilation.  the beatles 1962-66.  i loved every song.  listened to it a million times.  then she bought me the 1966-70.  cassette tapes were very expensive those days.  not the blank ones– but, the official turkish releases with their cover arts.

those two tapes were my treasures.  i memorized every song in them.  but, the song i heard that morning on the radio was not in them.

those days, free access to western popular music, other than the aforementioned limited radio programming, was difficult, if not impossible at best.  the only exception was the small record stores, mostly down on tunalı street, in my neighborhood, and, some in kızılay, a world away for me in those days.

i slowly discovered three record stores in tunalı street.  i was curious, i was nosy, and i liked talking to people.  so i started spending lots of time after school in those record stores.

most people those days couldn’t afford many records.  especially original prints.  there were tons of turkish prints, but, they too were expensive.

so, the record stores made most of their money from compilation tapes or copies.  their windows were covered with handwritten lists of their hundreds of compilation tapes.  they added new tapes almost daily.  and, if you wanted, they would copy the albums to tapes as well.  one album on a 46 minute tape, a compilation usually on a 60 minute tape, and, two albums or one double album on a 90 minute tape.  and then there was the elusive 120 minute tape– but, i haven’t seen one those days– the record store owners would always say the tape in those long cassettes is so thin that it won’t hold proper recordings and would wear off and go to pieces very quickly.  they would either sell you the tape if you didn’t have one (and, there were cassette tapes for every budget), or, you could bring your own tape and they would copy whatever you wanted on it.  copying was reasonable– with my allowance, i could afford one tape a week.

inside a micro shopping mall called the “tunalı pasajı”, there were two record stores next to each other– jazz, ran by a man named deha, who we simply called deha abi, and, another one called “arşiv”.   arşiv was more balls out rock, where, deha abi was into more eclectic and intricate stuff.

first i made a nuisance of myself in the record stores.  loitering, bothering people.  asking stupid questions.

then, slowly, a few of the clerks and owners started accepting me as a fixture after school.  and, they started schooling me, including deha abi.

they were there in that record store all day, listening to music.  their’s was my dream job those days.  mind you, these were small stores in little shopping centers.  usually about 100 square feet, or less, crammed with records and cassettes wall to wall, with a few posters, a few music magazines,  one or two turntables, an amp, and a pair of speakers.  thus, my music education began.

first i went through the entire beatles catalogue.  i would sit there for hours, and they would spin me record after record, telling me tales of the beatles and the evolution of their music.  then, they would play me the artists that inspired the beatles.  and then the artists inspired by the beatles.  it was pure bliss.

[i never found that song that i listened to that saturday morning though- a few years later, i heard it somewhere else and realized, embarrassedly, that it was actually the “new york mining disaster 1941 by the bee gees.  i never liked the bee gees that much, and, when i found out that the song that turned me to the beatles was actually the bee gees, i hid the fact like it was a nasty VD.  oh, well…]

in our neighborhood, there was also an “american library”, ran by the now defunct United States Information Service (USIS).  i got my membership card when i was 13.  there, in tandem with my aural education at the record stores, i delved into the rolling stone magazine and rock’n’roll encyclopedias.   i started learning back stories, musical connections and heritages, etc.  i would read and read and read, and then run to the record stores, and beg my teachers until they let me listen to what i just read on paper.

it was a wonderful time.  like i said, i was lucky- i was in the right place in the right time and met the right people.

i escalated from the beatles to the kinks and then to pink floyd.  i don’t know how it happened but my first pink floyd album was “the final cut”.  i memorized the entire album.  in our english lit classes in junior high, i would recite the lyrics.  then came the rest of the floyd, then hard rock, and then, a thankfully brief period with prog rock (the archetypical ankara record store owners/ clerks loved prog rock– i tried, but never did).

music, that once drizzled in once a week on saturday mornings, started flooding my life.  it was sheer bliss.

one day, i walked into one of my record stores, and, they had a customer i had never seen before, and, he was listening to a really soft, acoustic record.   the singer had a baritone voice, and, was singing about a girl named nancy.  that was really not my style those days– i was listening to “the piper at the gates of dawn” that week, but, the song moved me a lot.  the grown ups in the store told me that the singers name was leonard cohen, and, the song was about a girl named nancy who committed suicide.  i bought a copy of the tape there and then.

that night, and for nights and nights, i listened to “seems so long ago, nancy” and the rest of the “songs from a room” over and over again.   trying to understand and transcribe the lyrics.  that was another one of my past times, transcribing the lyrics as best i could.  when i failed, i would run to the record store, and, copy the lyrics by hand from the album liner notes.

i realized these were not ordinary lyrics.  i did not understand most of the symbolism and the references.  so, when i saw that customer who was listening to cohen when i first heard him again, i started pestering him.  he told me everything that he understood, with the references, and, then i ran back to the american library to read and to read and to read.  that’s when i read the old and the new testaments.  that’s when i started reading poetry and about poetry.

i was a ferocious reader.  my hunger for books were as insatiable as my hunger for music.  and i loved to write.  in 7th grade, in our literature class, my teacher, having taught me at 6th grade as well, assigned me remarque’s “all quiet on the western front” in fall semester for my book report.   apparently he liked (or, most likely humored), all the excited bullshit i came up with in the report, he assigned me marquez’s “one hundred years of solitude” for the spring semester, warning me that it was probably to immature to assign me that book.  to this day i am grateful to him for that assignment.  i went back to “one hundred years of solitude” many times again since then, and, in each reading, i found something new to laugh or cry at, or, something new about me or my life that did not really resonate with me in earlier reading.  but, again, this is a different story for a different time.

so, the third time i saw the guy he turned me into cohen, i was better equipped, had listened to more of his albums, and was full of half-assed theories after half-assed opinions.  the man, like my literature teacher, humored me.  he ran an almost no budget music zine and asked me if i would like to write something about cohen.  would i?  does a fat baby fart?   so came forth the monstrosity i started this tale with.  about listening to leonard cohen in low volume after your parents go to sleep.

[then he asked me if i wanted to write something else, and, i wrote the abovementioned article on why i hated lennon’s “imagine”, and, that was that.  he never asked me again.  like i said, the article was hated by all of the perhaps 30 people who read it.  but, i still think i was on to something there]

leonard cohen’s poetry resonated deeply with me.  first, the raw emotions.  then his paradoxes, his symbolism, his references.  and, finally, his humor.

that’s around the time when i decided that i knew all that is needed to be known and possessed all the wisdom of the world.  i knew my lyrics.  remember, i was the guy who memorized the entire lyrics of “the final cut”.

i knew my dylan by heart.  i thought dylan was the pinnacle of lyric writing (and, he really is as good as it gets), but, leonard cohen was different and much, much better.  

first “nancy”.  how he described her.  how he described how he used her. how he made you feel her solitude, her facade.

then the “famous blue raincoat”.  a letter to a friend/ foe.  love and hate and gratefulness together.  “thanks for the trouble you took from her eyes/ i thought it was there for good/ so i never tried”.  signed “sincerely, l. cohen”.  how could someone write so well?  how could someone feel such conflicting emotions at the same time?

that’s when i had an epiphany–  an epiphany that changed my human interactions, the way i felt about myself completely:  we all feel conflicting emotions at the same time.  and, i was not the only one mixed emotions.  trust me, that kind of epiphany means a lot to a teenager.

but, most songs, till cohen, were too two-dimensional.  they were black and white.  cohen was grey.

that changed a lot since then.  cohen inspired many songwriters.   you will hear cohen tones and motifs in U2’s best album (in my opinion) “achtung baby”– such conflicting emotions.  and, when you read up on the making of the album, you will find cohen right in the middle.  you will hear cohen in nick cave, tom waits, elliott smith, radiohead, nirvana, you name it.  he (more so than dylan), took song lyrics from one or two dimensional to three, and, to the grey.

dylan liked surreal and avant garde symbolism and references.   cohen went biblical and visceral.  both had the same self-deprecating humor.  cohen was more sincere and humble.

i breathed in everything they did, but, cohen always resonated with me more frequently.  there is some dylan i cannot live without.  but, i cannot live without all cohen.

then the ’90s rolled around.  i betrayed cohen with first the screaming trees, then solo lanegan, nirvana, etc.  first i wanted loud, then i wanted more cheerful, then i wanted more complex.  people always say cohen is dark.  he is.  but, he is also light.  with his humor and hope.  but, i wanted pure cheer.

the beatles, floyd, stones, kinks, clash, radiohead, hendrix, purple, zeppelin, television, talking heads, waits, dylan, simone, zappa, beefheart, lanegan, screaming trees, nirvana, james carr, junior kimbrough, otis, cash, and everything in between.   i listened and listened and listened throughout the 90s.

but, don’t know why, didn’t go back to cohen.   every once in a blue moon i would hear cohen somewhere and smile.  but that was that.

then, one night, i was watching a nick nolte film called “the good thief”.  and this beautiful song started playing in the soundtrack.  and i immediately recognized that voice.  here was cohen, with a new song, singing about how the ponies ran, how the odds were stacked, how he was turning tricks, and how deep a thousand kisses were.

i fell in love all over again.  got the new album, got the live albums i didn’t have.  and never neglected him since.

i am 46 now.  the traditional length of a one single album.  and i still read ferociously and listen to tons of music, new and old.  i assume, or even impose, the teaching method of my record store owner/ clerk friends, playing song after song, mostly without finishing them in their entirety, to my friends.  i still read whatever i can find about music.  still search after the back-story of what i am listening.

i am not as obnoxious as i used to be, but, still manage to piss of people on a daily basis.  but, now, it is a little more intentional, and lots more fun.  i am still arrogant, but, have a little more to back my arrogance.  at least now i am aware that i don’t know all that is needed to be known and possess all the wisdom of the world.  i don’t write in long sentences any more.  i try to use words that i am comfortable with.  don’t name drop or pollute my immediate environment with half-assed half-baked ideas and theories any more either.  i bake them behind closed doors before unleashing them on unsuspecting victims.

but, i still prefer to listen to cohen late at night.  when there is no one around.  when i can have his music all to myself.  or, on headphones, as personal as it gets.  that never changed.

despite all my pretentious writing when i was 14, i guess i had one valid point– cohen’s music is very personal.  it is a form of meditation, a form of reflection. and not in a soaked in tofu new age bullshit way.   i learned his music that way, and, through his songs, i learned a lot about myself, my limitations, my emotions, humility, humor, and life.  he makes you think, dream, and ponder more than any other musician i know.

yesterday he passed.  as it goes, we are all born to die, and live to die.  you live however you want to (or can) live, and then you die.  when your time is up, your time is up.  and his time was up.

he finished his journey gracefully, like bowie did less than a year before him.    he said and sang that he was ready.  listen to his farewell album, “you want it darker”, or, read this wonderful new yorker article/ interview that was printed a few months before he passed if you don’t believe me.

he was 82 and his time was up.  that’s is unavoidable.  when your time is up, your time is up.  i hate cliches, but, i can’t avoid this either: what he left behind is immortal.  what he left behind is such a magical ouevre that it has the almost mystical ability to resonate differently with each listener.  a magical public body of work that is as personal as they come.

rest in peace mr. cohen.  and forgive my transgressions against you when i was young and foolish.  i betrayed your genius and elegance with my convoluted and pretentious prose.

but, i never stopped loving you.  you are in me. like you are in millions upon a millions.  and, i became who i am partially because of you.

and, for everything you have given me, and for everything that you will continue to give me, thank you very much.


a. beskardes

ps. i know “hallelujah” is over played. so is “dance me to the end of love”. or “everybody knows”.  still, listen to them.  and, it is impossible for me to say what my favorite cohen song is.  but, if you haven’t heard them yet (which is unlikely if you bothered to read this), here is a list, in no particular order, of what i would have played you if i had a record store today, and you stumbled in, asking about leonard cohen:

to all the haters, or the uninitiated, or those who never really listened to mr. zimmerman’s songs with the attention they deserve. and, especially to ms. anna north, whoever she may be, who sparked a minor controversy by penning a poor op-ed piece in the new york times captioned “why bob dylan shouldn’t have gotten a nobel”, and then proceeded to list names de jour who should have been honored instead of dylan– names who will never stand the test of time, and, are only relevant for their political stance, personal histories, or some other gimmick. which, unfortunately, sums up the fashionable literature of 2016. ms. north was moronic enough to write:

“The committee probably did not mean to slight fiction or poetry with its choice. By honoring a musical icon, the committee members may have wanted to bring new cultural currency to the prize and make it feel relevant to a younger generation.”

really? awarding the nobel literature prize to dylan, who is over 70, will “make it feel relevant to a younger generation”? if bieber, with his mesmerizing poetic lyrics was awarded the nobel, yes, maybe she would have had a point (also, such a travesty would have meant, explicitly, “human evolution is complete. now let’s all hold hands together and jump from the grand canyon like lemmings”). come on ms. north, get back to 2016, from wherever la-la land you’re at.

dylan always saw himself as a poet. he even got his name from dylan thomas, arguably the most important welsh poet. his poetry started symbolic (rimbaud, verlaine) with a touch of the beats (ginsberg was a regular companion for the longest time), and, slowly evolved into his own brand of mayhem.

and, his poetry, aka song lyrics, are analyzed and studied like poetry. don’t take my word for it– ask any grad english lit student or look at modern poetry anthologies.

and, his poetry transcended generations and decades, and, always caught the zeitgeist. his poetry not only moves, but also revolts. he is not afraid to take chances and shed his own skin, change his style, world view, philosophy, and everything in between. i can’t say that for any modern poet today– most just preach to the choir of critiques, and, are only relevant for their political stance, personal histories, or some other gimmick..

yeah, he is known foremost as a musician– but, if dylan was only a musician, and not a poet, he wouldn’t be dylan. he would have been yet another musician. i know tons of people who can’t stand his voice but listen to him for hours and hours because of his poetry.

dylan is not a singer/ songwriter (a term i despise)- he is a troubadour (and also a raconteur, but that’s another essay for another time). a troubadour is a singing poet. writes poetry, and sings it. with its roots from andalusian arabs, in its latest reincarnation, the style actually goes back to the ancient greeks. it is a form of poetry.

with dylan, i always think music is actually incidental to the poetry. music is a medium to relay and sugarcoat the poetry. when the poetry changes, the music evolves with it– from simple folk to rock to experimental. in the true troubadour way. just like leonard cohen (who i believe writes better poetry, but was not as influential and diverse as dylan- attributes the swedish academy goes gaga over), or like tom waits.

very few still read poetry. since the late 19th century, poetry lost its allure, relevance and resonation with the masses. but, troubadours like dylan, cohen and waits sugarcoat poetry with music and enrich the masses. even that, by itself, in my opinion justifies the nobel prize for literature.

and, coming back to you ms. north, whoever you may be– if the younger generation would really listen to dylan, hell, it would probably be the only true poetry they will encounter in their lives, other than what was shoved down their throats in high school. face it, no one really reads poetry anymore.

at any rate, before complaining, one should pay attention to the man’s poetry. my favorite dylan album of the last few decades is “time out of mind”. take a listen to “not dark yet”, linked below. but, really, really listen to it– the word plays, the allegories, the visualization, the mood and the atmosphere— you will see a poet at the top of his game. and then, if you have the time, compare it with keats’ “ode to a nightingale” (which it is often compared to). then come up with your own verdict whether or not the man is a poet…

bowie’s back in berlin, and with a new song (first in 10 years) for his 66th birthday. way to go old man– you’ll still be glam, fighting the buff and sadistic orderly to have your hair spray back (and the community room tv on MTV, rather than the matlock reruns & lotto results all the other residents are insisting on), pounding the out of tune piano of the music room like a late-stage parkinson’s jerry lee lewis, humming old t-rex tunes, paying for a disco ball for the recreation room and convincing your senile shipmates that the best bingo is strip bingo under the flickering lights of the said disco ball, and grabbing the ass of your geriatric roommate’s 17 year old granddaughter and/ or grandson, when you’re 80, smiling your huge smile with your contraband viagra pill stuck between your two front missing teeth, relying on his alzheimer’s to escape the beating you rightfully deserve, kicking it around carelessly and in style in the nursing home…

just finished reading “love goes to building on fire“, penned by a mr. will hermes, a music critique for the rolling stone and a contributor to NPR, entertainment weekly, etc.  i read hermes’ record reviews in the past and some were really good.  he is not one of the “fun” critiques who you read even if you don’t care for the music they’re reviewing– those select few are an endangered species:  good writers you just read because you want to read ’em.  rob sheffield used to be one.  now he is trying to be the malcolm gladwell of pop-culture.  not so much fun anymore.  or tony rettman and moe bishop of vice.  or like anthony lane reviewing films for the new yorker– even if i don’t care for the film he is reviewing, i still read anthony lane because he is anthony lane.  same with eileen jones of the exiled.

will hermes belongs to the other school of critiques– not really funny, lacking an original unmistakable voice and any original criticism; they instead rely on their encyclopedical knowledge and utilize it to make musical connections.    you read them only when you need to know about a certain band or an album.  you read them for information with no expectation of fun or enjoyment.  alas, they serve an important purpose– pure information and musical associations & history is sometimes precisely what you need.  and most music critiques fall (or file) into this second group.

mr. hermes, who interestingly is named after a famous scarf maker, is a prime example of this second (and predominant) group of critiques.  the depth of his music knowledge seems infinite.  he can probably make a 3-step association between the creaking of your kitchen floor and pre-bleach michael jackson.  a walking, talking google of modern music.

but, unfortunately, he is not fun to read.   as simple as that.  he is as fun as a public radio DJ.  very knowledgeable but scared of his own shadow; opinionated, but in a very inoffensive, politically correct manner.  he is where he should be– he belongs in post-1980 rolling stone and NPR.  who, incidentally, if was writing for this blog, would have consistently fallen under the “circle jerk” category.  that’s why NPR is fitting– it is the biggest circle jerk of all things considered on this planet…

buildings is a very noble undertaking– a play-by-play musical history of the new york scene in the ’70s– specifically between ’73 and ’78.  the book’s full name is “love goes to buildings on fire: five years in new york that changed music forever”.  it has tons of information, trivial facts and anecdotes but it still fails for three simple reasons, first objective, second slightly and third purely subjective:

1. because mr. hermes picked a narrative style that doesn’t fit him and one he simply cannot pull-off; and

2. because the music that came out of new york, with a few minor exceptions, was pure, unadulterated shit…  but he got the title right– that shitty music coming out of new york really changed music forever (for worse); and

3. because he has a huge crash on patti smith.

let’s start with the criticism on style first: mr. hermes tries to tell his story (and information) by personifying the events and anecdotes.  he attempts to do this by using present tense while describing anecdotes or background stories.  it is a good technique to draw the reader into the heart of the story.  a few random examples:

“Patti Smith walked to Electric Lady Studios from her apartment at 107 MacDougal Street on September 2.”


“Saturday night, March 15, Felt Forum, early show.  Al Green is falling apart onstage.”

see– he is trying to make you visualize the scene.  like i said, it is a good technique.  but it is a good technique in the correct hands.  mr. hermes doesn’t have the chops to pull it off.  he should have sticked to dry writing instead of throwing in random paragraphs reading like bad, bad fiction…  then i would have had no qualms with his style.

but, the way he is switching between his tenses, and with his cheap shots in new journalism, he completely turned me off, making me seasick.  mr. hermes ain’t no tom wolfe  and buildings ain’t the “the right stuff”– but that was precisely what mr. hermes aspired to write and failed miserably in his attempts.

if he sticked to his regular writing style, which is dry and informative, with its breadth of information, buildings would have been a great book for those who want to know more about ’70s new york music scene.  but he simply had to go third-rate tom wolfe wannabe on us and it literally funked up the book for me…

which brings me to my second (and subjective) criticism of the book– its content.  no matter how well mr. hermes could have written buildings, this criticism would have stood.

i’ll repeat myself: the music that came out of new york, with a few minor exceptions, was pure, unadulterated shit…  and that shitty music coming out of new york really changed music forever (for worse)…

the book consists of five chapters, one for each year it is reporting on.  and each chapter alternates constantly between six major musical styles: rock, jazz, early hip-hop, new york salsa, its evil offspring disco and avant garde music.   he worships each style and it is all flattery– there is no criticism here.

avant garde music– i don’t get it.  call me stupid, ignorant, whatever, but i don’t think there is anything to get.  unless you dissect it with someone who “knows” or you read a monographs on what you’re listening to.  it is finnegan’s wake without the genius.  at least, even though finnegan’s wake is next to impossible to read cover to cover, if you shuffle through it randomly, you’ll find sentences (and sometimes paragraphs) of sheer genius.  what i feel about avant garde music, on the other hand, is similar to what i feel about conceptual and performance art.

just like conceptual and performance art, if you find the right guide you’ll find moments in avant garde music to make you exclaim “ah!”, but that is about it.  it is just a scam like its “art” counterpart– it makes every pseudo-intellectual cream his pants because they’ve been told they should cream their pants.  it is “good” because it is weird and is hard to understand.  it is “genius” because it requires learning a backstory to make sense of.

i once asked a composer friend, who is also a renowned professor of music, what he made of avant garde music, which he taught to his students.  he simply said “i only listen to it because i’m expected to listen, know and write about it.  but i never listen to it because i want to listen to it”.  enough said…

nicholas payton recently wrote “jazz died in 1959”.  i fully concur.  what is left is “post-modern new orleans music” as he calls it. i love jazz.   and i respect the musicianship of them modern guys, from chick corea to herbie hancock, but i simply don’t like their music.  i find it overproduced and lacking soul.  preach me all you want on mahavishnu orchestra, weather report, yellowjackets, chuck mangione, whatever– it is all overproduced soulless musical calisthenics.

give me ellington, give me gardner, give me miles, monk and coltrane in the 50s, give me django, give me bix, give me gillespie, give me the bird, give me goodman, i’m in heaven…   give me anything modern, ie. after a love supreme, for five minutes, and i’ll confess to the kennedy assassination.

hermes canonizes all the ’70s jazz, with its overproduced fusion nightmare with jazz flutes.  he has a few nice anecdotes about miles and monk, two of my heroes, but that is about it.  that 70s fusion will not stand the test of time and was terrible, terrible music.  i don’t want to hear it, i don’t want to read about it.

early hip-hop– i was happy to read about it.    kool herc and his clan– those were some of the best parts of the book for me.  but then hermes ruins it all by coming out with his boy crush on jay-z and ruins it all up…  cool hip-hop died with eazy muthafa e…

don’t even get me started on the new york salsa.  i like brazilian music, i like spanish music, i like cuban music, i like west african music.  but i hate new york salsa with its shrill trebles and beat-box rhythms.  it is an abomination.  furthermore, it begat disco.  case closed, fire up the ole sparky, read new york salsa its death sentence and get it over with.

disco is the worst thing that happened to music.  started mostly in NYC, thanks to homegrown salsa, and ruined the entire 70s and the 80s, leading up to techno and other assorted crap.  before disco music was a social force.  in the heydays of disco and its resurrection in electronic dance music, the force diminished.  disco and electronic dance music begat yuppies.  disco and electronic music cut the brains of the youth in half…  and mr. hermes glorifies disco.  i’m not even sure if a more detailed statement against disco is necessary here.  res ipsa loquitur…

that brings us to what i know best– rock music…  70s rock, in new york city, was shit with a few minor exceptions.  good rock was coming out of elsewhere, not new york city.  granted, there is television with marquee moon, one of my favorite albums from the 70s.  there is also talking heads’ ’77.  two albums mr. hermes raves about, and rightfully so.  i occasionally play ’77 at my parties and many people who heard it for the first time think it is a new band with a new album.  it is that timeless.  ditto on marquee moon– verlaine was a genius…

hermes also raves about springsteen and born to run, again rightfully so.  and of course dylan’s divorce masterpiece blood on the tracks.  two albums i can’t live without.

but these are exceptions.  good rock was not coming out of new york city in the 70s.  it was coming out of UK, it was coming out of elsewhere in the US.  bowie, clash, sabbath, costello, gang of four, buzzcocks, zappa, purple, floyd, the list is endless, leading up to joy division and then taking a very different turn.

suicide was decent but punk was really coming out of merry ole england, not CBGB.  CBGB is where it landed.  X was the first great american punk band and they came out in 1980.

hermes has a boy crush on them, but spare me the ramones.  they were nothing but a glorified party band.  like cowboy mouth (ironically also the name of the sam shephard play he performed with patti smith) in the 90s. a precursor to the hairbands of the ’80s.   just entertainment.  just a few opportunist boys who saw room for themselves in the CBGB scene.  they won’t stand the test of time.  that’s why they’re a frat-party staple now.

lou reed– what about lou reed?  his post velvet underground work is shit at best.  a few good songs, rest is worthless.  and this is coming from a velvet underground fan…

television, talking heads, springsteen and maybe some suicide– these were pretty much the only keepers that came out of the NYC rock scene of the ’70s…

which brings us to patti smith– i really tried to like her.  as i am writing this, i am listening to horses one last time to find some redeeming words.  but the words won’t come…

patti smith was (and still is) an opportunistic scenester.  hermes has a big crush on her.  like most rock critiques have.  the male of the species has a crush because she was the quintessential female rock star– easy wet dream material for any horny rock loving boy of the 70s.  women critiques loved her because she was the one feminist voice of 70s rock.

but her music was (and still is) shit.  patti smith is nothing but a glorified cover artist.  there, i said it.

she tried to break into the scene as the female reincarnation of jim morrison. she even tells tales of crying over jim morrison’s grave.  granted, her poetry was as bad as morrison’s, but ole jim had the very musical the doors.  patti did not.  jim was a true rock star, patti was a scenester channeling a rock star.  if patti was able to find herself a the doors, she may have pulled something off.  and she tried with verlaine, among others.  but she failed.

even her first major hit was a cover of gloria, a song jim morrison made his own.  and her best song was “because the night”, actually written by springsteen…

hermes even drops a shameful jewel when he is writing about patti smith’s final set in CBGB, where most of the songs are actually covers,  “[she played] the Who’s “My Generation,” which has been part of her repetoire for so long, she’s really a co-owner of it”.  “she’s really a co-owner of it”– my ass.  hendrix is a co-owner of all along the watchtower, otis redding is a co-owner of satisfaction, van (not jim) morrison is a co-owner of gloria, and talking heads is a co-owner of take me to the river.  dylan, jagger/ richards, and reverend al green wouldn’t object.  but i would like to hear what pete townshend would say to patti smith co-owning my generation.  yeah, right…

patti smith is the ultimate opportunistic scenester– starting off with bad poetry and worse acting, she found her niche as a pseudo-feminist jim morrison– without the balls (and i am not saying this in a sexist way)…  her music had no balls.  it was just the right music for the right opportunistic time.

she was a party girl who saw an opportunity and took it.   like nico before her, but with stronger constitution and better con skills.  joan baez would probably be a better analogy though…  same shit, different decade…

she became a drooling icon of horny boys (and hornier male critiques) and a role model of feminist rocknrolla girls.  all part of the master plan for the production “patti smith”.  she is still milking it like the elder feminist rock star– her recent album trampin’ broke out her new persona– as the elder but more sensitive feminist rock star.  the con never ends.  and she just had to include gloria again in the deluxe CD set– just to play it safe…

the male critiques who creamed their pants in the 70s simply by staring at the record sleeve of horses for five minutes ate trampin’ up and the female critiques beatified her as the joan of arc…  but, if you take a step back, ignore all the rave reviews and actually listen to her oeuvre, it is just shit– some barely talented musician playing to the choir…

and this brings me to my conclusion and the best tidbit i got out of buildings:  apparently johnny rotten of the sex pistols said about patti smith and her performance “see the hippie shaking tambourines: ‘Horses, Horses’. Horseshit”.

“horses, horses, horseshit”– it sums up patti smith in three simple words– i can’t agree more…

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