Gypsy of a strange and distant time
Thursday, October 10 2013
Though some people thought it was a lazy or overly-literal choice, I loved it when Breaking Bad ended with a scene overlaid with Badfinger's "Baby Blue." It reminded me of why I liked rock (classic or otherwise) from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Music from that period had a good combination of ernestness with casual trippiness. If you go back as far as 1965, musicians have short hair, wear matching suits, and if they're white, it's obvious they're trying to sound black. If you go too far forward (1975 and onward), glossy overproduction intrudes and you can hear a focus-group consensus in the lyrics. For the most part, there was no alternative rock in this period; everyone had to work within the system, and that system (for me at least) only made æsthetic magic for a few golden years. One of my favorite bands from this period is the Moody Blues. They were my favorite band when I was teenager just discovering rock and roll, something that was cemented when I discovered that the neighbor's house where I house/dog/babysat had three or four of their early albums in their collection of vinyl. I actually discovered the Moody Blues through their post-classic-period song "the Voice," which stood out amongst the other pop music getting radio play in 1981. I didn't have much money as a teenager, but I managed to save enough to buy all those classic albums in vinyl (as well as Long Distance Voyager and the Present, though the increasingly vapid synth-heavy production killed my interest in their subsequent work). That music was one of the things that helped me survive an adolescence of isolation and extreme alienation from nearly all of my peers. I remember listening to "Tuesday Afternoon" on a crappy battery-powered tape recorder on the reforesting lower slope of Pileated Peak (38.099349N, 79.130187W) and feeling both deeply sad and inspired at the same time. It didn't matter to me, chasing the clouds away.
So today as I tooled around on my computer doing the usual things, I also watched a few Youtube clips of the Moody Blues performing live. Over the years I've watched a number of such clips, but they're usually deeply disappointing. There was a fashion in those days of performers "performing" "live" over a pre-recorded track, and the vocals might be the only thing absent on that track. I am so intimately familiar with all this music that I can hear this immediately when watching these clips, and the whole thing comes across as fraudulent. I understand the technical problems that the Moody Blues had to deal with: they liked to lay down many more tracks than they had musicians, and sometimes they even worked with orchestras, and it's impossible to perform that sort of thing live with any degree of fidelity. But that's the thing about live music: fidelity matters much less than grit and authenticity.
So you can imagine my delight when I stumbled upon some Youtube clips of the Moody Blues performing live at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. In these clips (which the Moody Blues themselves only recently became aware of) are fully-authentic live performances. It's great to see the classics I know performed with such energy, honesty, spunk, and imperfection. Take, for example, their performance of "Gypsy". Lead vocalist/guitarist Justin Hayward is a skinny, sensitive young man who rather reminds me of Kurt Cobain. He participates in none of the inter-song banter, but he plays his guitar and sings with the kind of effortless charisma that is essential to rock and roll. And then come the harmonized wails, with bassist John Lodge sounding girlish and dissonant in falsetto. It's beautiful and mesmerizing in its glorious imperfection. And then there's the mellotron, doing the best it can to be an orchestra-in-a-box as it pushes against the noisy, chaotic limits of analog technology. I could watch "Gypsy" over and over again, which is something I definitely did today.
It also renewed my perennial interest in the mellotron, which I've surely written about before. I've never been too clear on how exactly a mellotron works, but I found a few good Youtube clips today. One featured Mike Pinder (the Moody Blues' keyboardist) showing how the mellotron works. A mellotron is a bunch of tape loops dangling precariously over rubber rollers, each asking to get twisted, tangled, or worse. But for the most part, when you hit the keys on the keyboard, those tapes are pulled evenly across a tape head to play a sample. Pinder's description wasn't as useful as a mellotron breakdown recorded by an aging musician hoping to sell his.
One of the most perplexing things about the Moody Blues is how exactly they came to be the psychonauts that suddenly appeared in 1967 with the release of their album Days of Future Passed. The album immediately preceding that was called the Magnificient Moodies and mostly consists of unremarkable covers of American Blues and R&B. They actually had a number one song from that period called "Go Now," but it has all the hallmarks of forgettably-derivative early-1960s British pre-Invasion. While it's true that John Lodge and Justin Hayward were not yet members of the band at that time, Græme Edge, Ray Thomas, and Mike Pinder (the mellotron guy) were, and they later showed themselves to be as enthusiastic about psychonautics as anyone. It actually wasn't very long ago that Gretchen and I discussed this issue in the context of the Beatles, and in that case it was obvious what had affected the change: psychedelic drugs. Still, it's hard to get my brain around the fact that three fifths of the guys who performed "Go Now" in 1966 went on to perform "House of Four Doors" in 1968.
Today, for whatever reason, was a pseudoephedrine day. I used the resulting mental focus to begin work on a housing for a number of electronic items I would like to place high in a White Pine near the woodshed. This housing will need to be transparent to radio waves while protecting the electronics from the rain. The thing I ended up building was a small peaked roof measuring about sixteen by 20 inches. I should be able to attach a number of things just beneath this roof and expect them to survive fifty feet up in a tree. The devices I plan to install in this housing include a DECT 6.0 repeater (to extend the range of the household cordless phones), a WiFi-capable webcam with pan and tilt, and perhaps remote-controlled outdoor light.
For linking purposes this article's URL is:feedback
previous | next