Everyone rang in the heralded year 2000 with the final crescendo on the 1990’s obsession with conspiracy theories that was the Y2K bug. Well computer clocks might’ve recognized that it was 2000,but in a lot of cases it was a very different matter on a cultural level. As far as I remember,the year 1990 felt still very much like 1989. It takes some time for a decade to develop an individual character of it’s own. At the same time it wasn’t just a new century that was concluding,but a whole thousand year period. And I felt lucky to be one of a generation who would be entering my second decade of life the exact same year as well. As far as I was concerned the 1990’s as a decade had been culturally,to a degree,a toilet. But if all good things come to an end,so do all bad things as well.
It was rather serendipitous that one of my Christmas presents the year before the world rang in the new millennium was a CD containing two albums by the O’Jays,one of which was 1980’s The Year 2000. That one year had been mythologized almost as long as I’d been alive. Here it was as big as life. No asteroids hitting the Earth,no extra terrestrial abductions,no nuclear war. January 1’st,2000 was just a calm,snowy winters day. That afternoon I put this song into my CD player,with the speakers on,with my mom and dad present. They were preparing things for the general day. I was totally transfixed by the glorious Philadelphia/Gamble & Huff style cinematic soul masterpiece that befell my ears. The trios lead singer Eddie Levert sang of asking that people would unite and love one another “in the year 2000”. This wasn’t a sketch on The Conan O’Brien Show. Listening to this song nearly bought me to tears. While it was itself two decades old,the lyrics exactly reflected my own hopes and dreams that,after the cultural turmoil of the 1990’s that this new century and millennium would bring forth a more open minded utopia for humankind.
Finally a miracle happened in alternative rock culture! This song came out. Never heard of 3 Doors Down. But this song was played almost daily as I had my radio on as I did different modelling projects in the cellar of the home. Every time it came on,I just couldn’t help but nodding approvingly. It was a catchy,very 90’s “alt rock” sounding song musically. But the lyrics told the story of a man who fell in love with an attractive but terribly EMO (and probably mildly suicidal) girl who “looked so sad in photographs” but was very beautiful inside and out. It indicated in the similar manner of a pop song that the secret of beauty is,in some kind of way,believing in yourself. Hearing this song,however many times,helped put a degree of closure to me on some unpleasant leftover cultural business from the last decade of the 20th century.
Debating which Beatle song or album can be a bit like debating which type of chocolate you prefer above all others. If your a genuine admirer Chocolate is Chocolate. And the Beatles are the Beatles. It’s all segments of a broader whole. This intimidating nature of the Fab Four’s recorded catalog kept me from knowing where to start buying and listening to their music. So in one strange surge of spending on my 20’th birthday,I bought the entire Beatle catalog on CD in one fell swoop. There would soon be a man at this record store I got them in called Bullmoose by the name of Wakely,who took it upon himself to befriend me and talk to me about artists like the Beatles. As I told Wakely at that time when I first listened to the song “Tomorrow Never Knows” on headphones on my 20th birthday evening,the effect was very similar to hearing Stevie Wonder’s Music Of My Mind album five or six years earlier. It is still hard to explain what I was hearing. Too focused in arrangement and melodic to be abstract psychedelia. Yet it was music that forced me to keep my heart and mind open listening to it. A truly thought altering experience in how I listen to music itself.
Since childhood my parents constantly played their 45 RPM single of Al Jarreau’s “We’re In This Love Together” around the home. That combined with his theme for favorite TV show of the families Moonlighting had the name and music of this extremely talented singer and eccentric performer around at all times. One day I located a cassette tape of his 1981 album Breakin’ Away at a second hand store. After listening to it,my opinion of Jarreau’s talents were instantly upgraded twenty fold. The reason for this was his vocal version of “Blue Rondo A La Turk”,a classic Dave Brubeck jazz number using the time signature of Turkish rondo’s. Though the lyrics of Jarreau’s version were variations on the phrase ‘melody married to harmony,one and the same” the vocalists ability to interpret the lyrics at perfect speed,pitch and key with this fast tempo and complexly arranged song raised the bar very high when it came to my viewpoint on interpretation of the American popular song. Still overwhelmed by the physical drama alone in what Al Jarreau accomplished with this one song alone.
During the summer of 2000 my mother began reading a book from the library called My Son Jimi written by Al Hendrix,father of the acclaimed Seattle guitar legend who passed away in 1970. She and I talked a great deal about the book. And how it dispelled many misconceptions about Hendrix’s life and music,in particular his drug use and relationship with his father. I also learned Jimi’s family had reissued his music,presented as the artist himself had wished it to be. The second of these CD’s I bought was Are You Experienced. The song that caught my mind most was the psychedelic instrumental “Third Stone From The Sun”. It was a jazzy,funky and intense musical exploration.Clearly influenced by the Miles Davis albums I was beginning to listen to. The sounds did seem to bleed together. Yet in Hendrix’s approach I didn’t in fact here any strung out musical alliteration from Jimi at all. I heard coherence,imagination as well as a lot of perspiration. It really changed some of my preconceptions about psychedelia as music made when an artist was under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs . And expanded my appreciation of Jimi Hendrix and his commitment to high musical quality as well.
Madonna is one of those people who never ceased to get my attention visually since I first saw her in the music video for “Open Your Heart” when I was six years old. Musically I found her up to the moment post disco dance sound very telling. As the 1990’s wore on into the new millennium however? My respect for Madonna as a musical entity increased a great deal. In particular with the release of her Ray Of Light CD. When this song came out,it was the very first time since late childhood a song compelled me to dance to it with no hesitation. Amid the electronic effects,much of the percussion was provided by a “symphony of Madonna’s” as it were-her voice singing “Music” sampled and re-sampled again and again. As far as I’m concerned,one of the most musically exciting songs she’s ever put her name to.
By this time I had more familiarity with the solo music of Paul McCartney and John Lennon than the breadth of their creativity together in the Beatles. So while exploring this area,I made it a point to seek out some of their earliest solo recordings made while the Beatle era ethic was still in their minds. With the help of my dad,a first generation Beatle fan,I was immediately placed in the direction of this. With it’s watercolor tinted black & white cover,the album did draw me in visually. When I heard the music within I got an entirely new impression of McCartney and who he was in the years right after the Beatles broke up. He is singing of he and wife Linda settling into a cozy domestic existence. And the music is even more imaginative and compelling than his former group in many ways. At this time,my family and I were also trying out a lot of recipes from Linda McCartney’s vegetarian cookbook. So somehow or other,this seemed like something of a soundtrack to all that as well.
Jamiroquai had first been introduced to me by a worker at Strawberries music named Jeb when their Travelling Without Moving CD first came out. Until that time,however it was my mother who was buying all their music with me listening to it as she did. This was my first album I was personally purchasing by them. Interestingly enough the day I went to pick the CD up at Bullmoose music something had overshadowed even this in my life. This album had the grave misfortune to be one of the albums released on 9/11. As I cashed out with this,every employee at the store at the time were gathered around around a small TV that was bought in-all in a trance as the images of the twin towers collapsing were repeated again and again. This haunting and somewhat uncertain funk/electro hybrid made strange aural accompaniment on the way home in the car. Later on,my father and I walked up and down the street. We could cross the streets without care. No one was hardly driving. They were all at home glued to the terrible and repetitive news broadcasts of the tragic events. When I listened to this Jamiroquai album later on headphones,however did put some things into perspective especially as bandleader JK sang of “this corner of the Earth is like me in may ways. Just about said it all at that truly frightening moment.
Miles Dewey Davis II was a very complicated man. Bitter but sentimental, prideful yet vulnerable he managed to transform his difficult personality into how he handled both the musicians he worked with and his horn. During the tumult immediately following 9/11 this album,which I purchased shortly after my grandfather passed away on my 21’st birthday,signified what I believe to be the very nucleus of funk: rhythm in it’s core state. Moving,churning,clapping. It was all here,all at once. It made one want to dance it ways the human body simply cannot achieve. And,at least in me,inspired wildly creative ideas. Long dormant concerns about nuclear annihilation was again on peoples minds as stories of Osama Bin Laden and Al Quida saturating the airwaves. Musically speaking? This album could not have been any better aural counter terrorism act from within it’s passionate grooves.
One day I was listening to the local collage radio station WMEB and they played a song called “Voyager”. I thought at first it was Jamiroquai. Sounded so much like them. But it was a band called Daft Punk,whom I’d never heard of. My father purchased their new release Discovery that day. I was absolutely amazed. After over a decade of continually hearing much of my generation view 1980’s music as little more than a punchline here was a French duo who were rhythmically expanding on the sonic dance/funk adventures of Afrika Bambaataa, Bill Laswell and Frankie Knuckles during that decade. Through every song on this album,they celebrated the 80’s electro-funk revolution with complete admiration and no sense of irony. And I’ve continued to admire them since their commitment to keeping their musical progression moving harder,better,faster,strong!
Throughout the summer of 2001 my mom was buying copies of Jet and Ebony magazine. Between them and watching Oprah on TV occasionally the name of Alicia Keys continued to pop up everywhere. She was constantly being described as this musical troubadour a classically trained pianist from New York with a biracial back round and equally in love with the music of Donny Hathaway and Beethoven. It was saturation pre-promotion that rivaled only the treatment Bruce Springsteen had in the early 70’s. What really happened was that when her CD finally came out I bought it and felt,as good as it was,her musical ambitions and the recorded results never truly came into focus somehow. And still haven’t fully really. Seems as if she has been torn from the get go between pursuing music as art,and music as stardom. Those same tiresome 1990’s cultural questions re-emerged again. Only this time they came with a talent who was admirable and capable enough to be worthy of somewhat more well rounded critical assessment.
For some unknown reason in 2002,it seemed as if every time I was on a car ride with my father a song from this Jazzanova album called “L.O.V.E ,You And I” was on something of a feedback loop in the car stereo. It actually got to the point where every time a CD player was turned on I expected to hear that loop of the Five Stairsteps singing “something’s missing,could it be love” that begins this song. I don’t think that my opinion of this song being played constantly was shared by the person who first introduced the song to me. But all the same,it somehow became THE song for my life that year.
In the first year I was living on my own with my first lover,it was my first experience with genuine poverty. Didn’t actually know how I’d gotten involved in such a life. But while picking up cans and bottles for spare change on our walks in the early winter of 2003,both of us agreed their needed to be music in our lives. So as I was only recently just acquainted with the internet,I discovered Amazon.com while using the free computer at the local library. I was looking up Passport,a European jazz fusion band ;ed by saxophone player Klaus Doldinger that my father introduced me to a year before with his vinyl copy of their Looking Thru album. And this cover leaped out at me. I ordered it,and it arrived by mail. It was the very first CD I ordered in this fashion. Musically it’s one of the most captivating albums I’ve ever heard. Released in 1983 it’s combination of electronica,jazz/rock and Steely Dan like funky pop made a huge impact on me. In particular the title song of the album where the bands singer Hermann Weindorf sings “when the man in the mirror starts to look kind of strange/the fever is over it’s time to make a change”,it seemed very much like cautionary words to the needlessly difficult life my lover and I were subjecting ourselves to at the time.
One day in 2004 my lover informed me that another same sex couple like ourselves that he knew had invited us over to a dinner at their home. While their,one of the men who invited us was getting rather drunk. And his attitude towards his lover and the two of us was fast declining. Trying my best to socialize with them as best I could in the middle of this man’s drunken delirium,I noticed he was playing Talking Heads Remain In Light-one of my favorite albums,in the back round. There’s a song on the this poly rhythmic new wave afro funk album called “Seen And Not Seen”. It’s David Byrne singing about a celebrity having plastic surgery. Since it was made in 1980,Michael Jackson probably. When I suggested this to our drunken host,he responded “No,I think that song is probably about Quincy Jones”. Even though the host intended that remark as being the height of off putting condescension,I have never ceased to have found said remark hilarious beyond belief.
As stated in an earlier blog here,I was very heavily exposed to the music of George Duke by a musician/DJ who shall go nameless here. One of the albums he managed to find online and put on CD was the 1974 Duke album called Feel. Still only available on very rare vinyl off of eBay and such at the time,I listened to this CD over and over again. In particular was a song called “Yana Aminah”,sung by the Brazilian vocalist Flora Purim. It was a song of sublime beauty as she sang of “what you hold in your heart is forever”. No matter where I was during autumn 2003/winter 2004-be it trudging down to sweep basements at the local theater in sub freezing temperatures for “work fare” to earn food stamps,or going to the library to explore the internet this particular song was either hummed or sung by my quietly to remind me sunnier times were always there if you looked for them. The world was a problem,with Operation Iraqi Freedom resulting in slaughter after needless slaughter. And my life was in a complete limbo. But the music never stopped being there no matter what.
…To Be Continued