Phil Gyford


Wednesday 9 July 2003

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One of the few writers I used to use Byliner to track was Greil Marcus and his ‘Real Life Rock Top 10’s on Most music writers seem to drain music of all excitement just by writing about it, but Marcus doesn’t lose a drop. He can describe a track by someone I’d normally dismiss out of hand and after a paragraph I’ll be hunting the MP3.

So I was sad when the columns dried up earlier this year. However, thanks to a keen-eyed Byliner user, I’ve discovered he’s continuing the theme over at City Pages, ‘The Online Music & Arts Weekly of the Twin Cities’. So Byliner can track him once again. Splendid!


Marcus can't be bad if he encourages you to pick up things that preconception made you not want to listen to. I remember trying to decide whether to read Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus, in the end I bought England's Dreaming by Jon Savage. It was a well documented account of a particular era but he was not able to communicate effectively what was so good about the music of the time. He managed to kept well concealed his passion for the music, a passion which presumably fuelled his need to write the book in the first place. This put me off reading any other commentaries on a subject that was important to me.

Writing about music is quite difficult, at least for me, trying to communicate the meaning or meanings in records is very hard. In his long walk across Europe in the thirties, Patrick Leigh Fermor in "A Time of Gifts" finds his classical education coming up to haunt him. With almost each stride he recites some verse or poetry. I found on long walks that it is popular music, rather that the written word, that comes into my head. There are not many songs which I can recite word for word, but my favourite tunes I can do a good job of recreating (quietly) when I am on the go.

If you can remember where you were the first time you heard a track/ record, if listening to a track/record always brings forth a memory of what you were doing at a particular time in your life then you can say that it has made an impact on you. Doesn't have to be a record you like, just one that evokes a place or a time.

Walking home from a day in the pork pie factory. Factory - Bruce Springsteen "End of the day factory whistle blows....." Walking into Bush House in the Strand for another days work, Career Opportunities - The Clash "Do you wanna make tea at the BBC do you wanna be do you really wannabe a clerk". Running the Morpeth to Newcastle on New Years Day
Tunnel of Love - Bruce Springsteen. Going out into a big swell in the North Sea in winter with surf board I hear Neil Young and Crazy Horse playing Love to Burn. The first time I heard Pretty Vacant, I came out of a tent in a startled rush so I could get closer to the radio. At the time I was 6 miles from Inverness on a raspberry picking holiday.

I don't claim anything for these tracks, just that I can link them to indelible memories. In each case the music was subordinate but complimentary to the activity itself.

I've found that the format of the music and its means of reproduction has a big impact on how or what I remember. I used to spend hours listening to vinyl. As each record played I would hold the album cover in my hands. This way you became familiar with all the track names, their order, and all the people involved in the album. With tapes you spent less time looking at the cover, less time reading microscopically small lyrics and more time listening to it on the go, in cars, trains or buses. I never got to know tapes quite as well as I did albums. Pre recorded tapes or compilations were even worse for remembering lyrics and track names. With the advent of CDs you got the flat sound, you could no longer say "Side 1 is better than Side 2". CDs encouraged a tendency to refer to and remember tracks by their number or order rather than their name. It also encouraged you to dip in and out more rather than to play the whole thing through. With MP3s I find I don't make as much effort as I once did with albums. They don't represent the same financial investment. Difficult to tell if this marks "the death of the album", probably not. With MP3s, the music, at least for me has to compete with the noise of the computer and the other activities that invariably accompany my time at the desk. Its a long way from lying on your bed and studying the album cover.

Posted by Richard Hyett on 11 July 2003, 12:28 pm | Link

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