Friday, November 27, 2009

Blood on the Rooftops

For years I skipped this song.

I heard the intro and thought: "An acoustic guitar playing on and on, it must be some kind of mix-up; this is not Genesis. Probably some Spanish acoustic singer which they accidentally put on this tape. So I went on to the next song of Wind & Wuthering, Genesis' second album with Phil Collins on the lead vocals.

It was my second Genesis album after hearing "We can`t dance" a few 100 times, and it is still my favorite. It has got something magical about it. Something you just can`t touch. A fifth element. For those first years however I kept skipping track number 6 - completely clueless of what I was missing.

I can still remember the day when I kept on listening, passing the 1 minute mark.
Tears came to my eyes. It was the most beautiful piece of music I ever heard.
When listening to the lyrics I always get vivid images in my mind.

A family is sitting in front of a television in the middle of winter. It's warm and cozy inside their home. Outside it's dark and snowing. Snow piles up on the rooftops while the moon is shining bright. It's a cold night.

The family is captivated by the images displayed on the television. It's five past eight in the evening. The world's news is on the television. After a segment about local politics and people complaining about a new tax being implemented the topic switches to a third world country.

War broke out there a few months back. People are suffering. Thousands are on the move, trying to get to the border of their neighboring nations. Many however do not make it. Images of corpses are lying on the side of the road. Rotting, nobody has time to clean them up.

In the meantime the family is enjoying a cup of hot chocolate. The news jumps to the next topic, an important foreign statesman is visiting their nation. They can barely remember the images in the previous news topic. And why should they? They see those images almost every week. They have gotten used to it. Accepted it as something that just "is".

The tube creates distance, and as soon as their favorite comedy show starts they have forgotten all about what they have seen. There's Blood on their Rooftop. It stains the white virgin snow. The ugly truth of a society that is becoming increasingly individualistic - or are we just becoming numb?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dr. John's Gumbo

"You can even smell it, a smell like it has been in a bookcase for a very long time", said the Belgian girl to me when I was heading back to the South and was examining my catch from the record fare. It does smell it's age. Recorded & produced in 1972, this record is more than 36 years old. It doesn`t only smell a bit like mold, it even looks a bit moldy from the outside.

I paid about 10 euro's for this record, and while examining the record in the train I`m wondering if it was worth it. The cover is beautiful - The doctor is standing in front of a large wall, portraying an industrial-farm landscape. The back cover shows him lying on several bar-stools in front of "Yudda's Yummy Hamburgers Hot Dogs" - A little hamburger place. When opening the the record the inner sleeve is even more impressive. It has a slightly greenish quality, displaying the doctor from head to toes - dressed in a nice suite and a top hat. With the bad lighting it is however hard to see if the record has a lot of scratches yes or no.

I start reading the insert. It starts with an intro from the Doctor himself what moved him to record this album. Dr. John is born as Mac Rebennack in New Orleans. From the early 1950's he started working as a studio musician in New Orleans playing the guitar and piano. He worked in the studio where Shirley & Lee, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Professor Longhair and Heuy Smith recorded their records. Later in the sixties he started to record his own material - Gumbo is his third record.

The record is filled with New Orleans classics from the 50s and 60s which have been re-recorded by the Doctor and his band. And how. "Iko Iko" starts the record off extremely catchy. I don`t get the lyrics (They seem to be based on Creole), but the music speaks for itself - It's a great mix between "Dixieland, Rock & Roll and Funk", as the Doctor describes it. The only thing I know is that it is catchier, dirtier and swings more than anything coming from the British Isles in the past decade (European music most of the time is very straight-lined).

The song that blew me of my feet however was "Big Chief"; The organ that runs through this song is just amazing. It's unlike anything I`ve heard before and again as catchy as hell. The song is funky. It's hard to stay still during this song. It also sounds like the musicians had a lot of fun playing these song - and the record is in perfect condition - so it all sounds as clear as an ice cold winter morning.

"Mess Around" displays the Doctor's excellent piano skills, he himself describing his solo at the start of the song as "radiating the adiating". The piano is on fire, that's for sure. In his liner notes he tells that this song was written by Ahmet Ertegum for none other than Ray Charles. It would have fitted Ray perfectly. Up tempo, one big celebration.

The second side starts of with "Junko Partner". Described in the notes as "the anthem of the dopers, the whores, the pimps, the cons. It was a song they sang in Angola, the state prison farm and the rhythm was even known as the "jailbird beat". Dudes used to come back with all different verses. The hard-core dopers couldn`t wait to hit the street after their release so they could score again.

"Six months ain`t no sentence
One year ain`t no time
They got boys in Angola
Doing nine to ninety-nine"

Meaning they had no intention of reforming even before the beginning their sentence. It's a song all New Orleans bands had to play: kind if a Calypso-oriented rhythm with Cajun dialect."

The Doctors excellent piano playing accompanies the record right to its end. It's one of the most enjoyable records in my collection (definitely entered my top 10 of favorites - out of more than 300 classics now) - and I can recommend it to anyone who loves music. It was my best 10 euro's spend in a long long time. It's living proof that great music goes beyond the notion of time.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Utrecht Records Fare 2009

This weekend I will attend my second records fare in Utrecht, and I am really looking forward to it. What hidden gems will I discover this time? Will I finally find that one record I have been looking for the past years? What new old music will I discover?

Why did I start buying records in the first place? It started just before I went to India. I wondered around a flea market and saw a bin with some records in it. Rummaging around it I found one which caught my interest: The first record of the Dire Straits. Sultans of Swing was the track I recognized. The seller only asked 1 euro for it. And so my current collection was born.

As a music lover, records are for me a cheap and easy way of getting to discover great music, great music of any age. With an average price below 5 euro's its even worth to take risks. You for instance buy an old Santana record for 2 euro without knowing any of the songs on it. You play the record and find out it is an extremely musical light jazz album. Or you stumble on a record from Ry Cooder, a guy you know as the father of the Buena Vista Social Club, and find out he's one of the best guitarists ever. Going to a records fare is like a big adventure into a treasure cove for me; you never you what great piece of music you`ll find. Some people might not find old music relevant in this day and age - but for me a good music is timeless. Listening to the first record of Devo or an early Lou Reed can be just as exciting as listening to the debut of the Japandroids or the latest Dirty Projectors or TV on the Radio album.

So what will I be looking for at the records fare? I`ve been looking for the debute from DEVO for more than a year now; Apparantly the band really has a cult following since I`ve yet to see it anywhere. "Blue" of Joni Mitchell would also be a nice addition. Thanks to the Dirty Projectors I`m really getting into the Talking Heads. Perhaps I can also find the debute of Roxy Music? And what am I still missing from David Bowie? And what about Old soul records from Marvin Gaye, James Brown and maybe Lee Dorsey or Otis Redding? Minnie Ripperton - I still need to find the record that made her famous for a reasonable price. Dr. John also created some extremely catchy music and some early stuff from Van Morrison would also not be bad.

I wonder what my budget will be?