Music and Biography
It’s kind of disappointing to realize that no matter how much I care about history, politics and sociology when it come to reading I prefer biography.
Something in me loves to imagine the lives of people and their paths — artists, musicians, rebels, all iconoclasts from every strata in every land.
I’m fascinated with their journeys.
Sunday, I listened to a CD that is new to me.
The first time I listened to them I was hit with the wall of vocal harmony.
I couldn’t help but think of the Beach Boys. The sound was in a certain range of semi-boyish male tonality.
None of the words sank into my brain sponge the first time. I was just puzzled and intrigued by the sounds.
I know nothing of the band other than I almost bought a copy at Starbucks back in the day when I had some loose cash.
I had picked up on a buzz about them. Heard their name here and there but somehow I collected no biographical info on them. Hadn’t seen them on T.V.
I hadn’t had the inclination to check them out on the net prior to finally buying the CD at Target.
I let the music pour out of the box and took it all in as I sat working on my sleepy house needle work.
When I listen to something new I have the immediate urge to consume the related biographical material. That’s what made album covers and liner notes so beloved back in the day. No matter how abstract, it was a form of biography — the text, the images, the art.
The back of this album had a dorky list below each picture of band members listing factoids about them, including their favorite colors.
It was very 16 magazine.
But I was a young thing and I loved it.
Wow, while checking around for the picture of the back of that LP I came upon an obit for drummer Dewey Martin. He’s the one on the bottom far left. Bass player Bruce Palmer died in 2004.
As I listened to Fleet Foxes while stitching I fought the urge to go to the computer and learn who they were. I wanted to make it a game. Let the sounds fill my head and try to glean something, some impression, without knowing anything more than the CD was on the SubPop label out of Seattle.
Because I have a vast catalogue of music in my head I heard possible influences but the landscapes and the sentiments did not seem to come from sunny southern California. Forests, snow, people gathering in a cabin-like home.
It was coming slowly, very slowly into view. The juxtaposition of the young man voices, the Beach Boys harmony and what seem like arcane references to ancient-spaces kept my attention but only heightened the need to know.
I wanted to make a picture, a portrait, from the music. It still eludes me. I like the sound. At times I hear David Crosby-like ethereal vocalizing and the mystical drone that made If I Could Only Remember My Name mesmerizing.
One song is titled Tiger Mountain Peasant Song. Do they know Eno?
Another song is Blue Ridge Mountains. East Coast?
I’m listening now and I still hear a newbie musico Sufjan Stevens orchestral touch. It’s nice and dreamy and earnest, clean and not the product of angst or dark disruption.
The liner note, in CD size, are plentiful but in very small type. Only my craving for biographical info makes me attempt to read them.
“My first memory had always been of me and my mom on a cold gray day down at some beach in Washington, along the Puget Sound somewhere near Seattle.”
But who is writing? The words at the bottom of the liner notes:
Warren Gamaliel Bancroft Winnipeg Harding
April 6th 2008
None of the band members have any of those names.
The liner notes seem to be all about memory. I take that to mean that the recording must be, too.
The liner notes writer speaks of the transportive quality of music.
“Any time I hear a song or record that meant a lot to me at a certain point or I was listening to at a distinct time I’m instantly taken back to that place in full detail. Whenever I hear Feel Flows by the Beach Boys I’m taken straight to the back of my parents car on the way to my grandparents’ place, fourteen, with Surf’s Up in my Walkman and the Cascade mountains going by in the window.”
I’ve now read a piece from Seattle’s The Stranger. They are young. One afraid of being called a hippie. Hmm. Innaresting, as Neil Young would say.
Here’s a Pitchfork review.
Here’s a picture from the Stranger article. Can you guess which one has the hippie phobia? Yes it’s that one.