Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Guilty Pleasures

My music listening has been nostalgic lately. The very first LP I purchased (used, from a friend) was “In-a-Gadda-da-Vita” by Iron Butterfly. I still have the vinyl record in my drastically downsized collection, but I decided to purchase the CD when I saw it on sale at Collector’s Choice Music. The title song is still an enjoyable piece: good solos, the polyphonic organ, the "tribal" drums (with the bottom heads removed from the toms) and the way the riff holds the long piece together but not to the extent that it becomes tedious. Here is the whole shebang, lights and all: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xbtw9b_iron-butterfly-inagaddadavida-long_music
The song makes me wish that Iron Butterfly had written more such extended pieces, similar to Traffic.

During my teen years I liked another, less famous piece in the “psychedelic metal” genre, “From a Dry Camel” by Dust. I also purchased the LP (with its macabre photograph of bodies in catacombs) from a friend. The cryptic but suggestive lyrics are more interesting than the Iron Butterfly epic, but I enjoyed the plodding, camel-like first and third sections, while the middle section rocks. Someone put the song on YouTube, with the grim album cover: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ru7whay-nhs

And one more album that I liked in the early 1970s, an even odder bit of psychedelic music, “666” by Aphrodite’s Child. The group’s leader, Vangelis Pappathanasiou, was later known for his “Chariots of Fire” soundtrack. The songs “Babylon” and “The Four Horsemen” received airplay on KSHE-FM, my favorite St. Louis station which also played Dust and a good variety of other groups. This album is, on the whole, strange--but then, the book of Revelation is strange. The song entitled with the infinity symbol consists of a woman (the notable Greek actor Irene Pappas) repeating “I was, I am, I am to come” for nearly six minutes in stages of agony, hysteria, orgasm, and finally elation. A website, http://www.vangelislyrics.com/aphrodites-child-666-the-story.htm, provides background. Here’s another link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=selfqEH-JnY&feature=related

“To do ‘then’ now would be retro, but to do ‘then’ then was very nowtro, if you will,” says a character in A Mighty Wind, referring to the outfits that his group wore in the Sixties but which seemed unsuitable in the 00s. Other music that I’ve been playing recently is more “nowtro,” specifically Jeff Beck’s recent albums. But Beck was one of those artists of which I was aware at the beginning of my interest in music, the early 1970s, after groups like Cream and the Yardbirds were gone but I was peripherally aware of the music as I was listening to prog-rock, psychedelic metal, and early heavy metal. Beck’s recent material like "Live at Ronnie Scott’s" and "You Had It Coming" connects me back to my earliest musical discoveries without being so nostalgic.

Listening to psychedelic music made me think of the notion of “guilty pleasures.” A few weeks ago I read Chuck Klostermann’s essay, “Not Guilty,” about that cliché. He thinks the notion “somehow dictates that … people should feel bad for liking things they sincerely enjoy.” A book like The Encyclopedia of Guilty Pleasures assumes, without saying so, that there is a “universal taste” that we somehow violate if we like things such as gumball machines, or cheesy movies like Road House, or people like Evel Knievel. Although he distinguishes these kinds of “guilty pleasures” with those that are ‘technically’ guilty---having sex with strangers is his example--that is something different than simply enjoying everyday things that somehow aren’t as lofty as reading James Joyce (“Not Guilty,” pp. 277-281,” in Chuck Klostermann IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas (New York: Scribner, 2007).

I think we fall back on the notion of “guilty pleasures” because people can be “funny” and react disapprovingly to things that really don‘t matter to them. We don’t want to feel defensive. One time I saw a friend in a local grocery store, and I commented that I usually go to a different store (about the same distance from my house). “Why would you go there?” the friend said, as astonished as if I'd told him I was wearing dresses from now on. He was just in the habit of reacting strongly to things he didn’t immediately understand. There are, of course, many people like that.

Playing "In-a-Gadda-da-Vita" may be a guilty pleasure in the technical sense, if for instance a fire truck is approaching and you're blasting the music and following the drum solo on the steering wheel! Otherwise, what fun to revisit some ol' favorite music until one gets into the mood to listen to other things again.

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