Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Richard is Stranger than Ruth?

Playing right now: Nothing, and I'd like to play the new Jason Adasiewicz album, but if I did, I wouldn't get this entry done. My discman died without advance notice on Christmas and I haven't had a chance to replace it yet, which blows because now more than I ever I'm ready to have it playing constantly when I'm coming and going from work and on when I'm on break.

When I was is high school, I had a two-fer of Robert Wyatt's solo albums Rock Bottom and Ruth is Stranger than Richard. I discovered Soft Machine after finding a slightly beat-up but still playable version of their Third album right before Christmas during ninth grade. And I was told Rock Bottom was a must-have by a friend of my brother's, so I eventually snagged the double-album with absolutely no regrets.

During college the Wyatt record disappeared, in one of those situations where you don't notice it being lost for about six months. Maybe even longer. I think I took it to my jazz show at WPTS (Pitt's radio station) - along with Soft Machine's Volume Two, Kai Winding's Dirty Dog and Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra - and left the bag somewhere either during or after class. When the copy of Dirty Dog showed up in the new bin at Jerry's a few months later, I had a sneaking suspsicion that that was where I left it. I knew it was my copy because it had a dot sticker and a hole punched in it in a noticeable spot. The store had given me so many breaks in that I didn't feel right telling them the ridiculous story that I just recounted here. I bought Dirty Dog without ceremony and chalked the loss of the others up to absent-mindedness.

A few years ago I got Rock Bottom on CD, but only this week did I get a disc of Ruth. (A friend made me a cassette dub about 10 years ago, which kept me satiated in the meantime.) I was surprised to discover that the original sides one and two had been reversed from the way I played them. It always seemed to me that side one started with "Soup Song" and side two had the "Muddy Mouse" suite. Not on the Thirsty Ear reissue. It kind of makes sense because the version of "Song for Che" make a more triumphant ending to the whole set, while "Muddy Mouth" (no typo there) concludes the album by slinking mysterious off into the evening.

But when did this happen? Did Wyatt want the sides to be ambiguous? The cover did list the titles on opposite corners of the back, but I'm pretty sure they went with Sides one and two - or three and four - of the album. The entry doesn't make any reference to this. My cassette dub went with my original idea.

I listened to both of those albums so often in high school that they're imbeded in my brain. I think I tap out the beginning to "Solar Flares" at work a lot, imagining the cowbell tempo when I'm stationed at my metal table. During one of those space-outs, it occurred that the riff of the song must be a loop. What a relief to know that Gary Windo didn't have to play that bass clarinet ostinato over and over and over again.


During the holidays, I was really hit with a bout of nostalgia for Christmases past, specifically for my high school years. I thought by now I would've blogged at least once during the holidays about them, but a check of the archives came up empty.

In Christmas 1981, I was a freshman in high school, just starting to discover punk rock, but still very much into '60s psychs (not garage rock, but more popular versions of psych) and some art rock. That Christmas Eve, my brother John came over to stay the night and he brought a pile of records: Rip Rig and Panic's God, Killing Joke's Almost Red EP (J had convinced me to buy their second album the previous summer) and some crazy-ass band called the Birthday Party, who I thought had a song called "200 Music Girl" until I realized that the first character in the title was a "Z" not a "2." To give an indication of where my head was at the point, I got a mail order package that day that had Moby Grape's Grape Jam and Talking Heads '77 in it. (The Soft Machine album I mentioned earlier was still in heavy rotation.)

My musical tastes where taking a seismic shift that night. One month later I'd go to Jim's Records with Johnny and buy Echo and the Bunnymen's Crocodiles and he'd get the Birthday Party's "Release the Bats" 45. A few months later, I'd start tuning into WYEP and Buck Bryce's jazz show would become my wake-up music as I got ready to deliver the morning paper. Oh yeah, I also bought Joy Division's Closer over Christmas break too.

I was wondering why this particular Christmas was in my head so much, and then I remembered that it was the first year without my two great aunts, who I would always visit, as they leaved around the corner from us. They were actually my mom's aunts and a trip there was the equivalent of a trip to most people's grandmas: running around their apartment, eating goodies and watching tv. One aunt died the previous summer and the other died the day before Thanksgiving. Without their apartment as a refuge from home (but still a safe haven) suddenly I was forced to deal with the rest of the world, in this case more music.

And another thing: that Christmas I got King Crimson's Discipline from my other brother Tom. I remember asking my folks (Santa Claus, that is) for that album and the Go-Go's' Beauty and the Beat. When I woke up that morning and got neither, I was pissed. Then Tom got up and gave me the Crimson one, and I was happy again.

Next December, I'll talk about what happened during Christmas of 10th grade, 1982.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post. I'm about a generation behind you, and I'm always a bit envious of people who got to experience early 80s post-punk as it was happening. Thankfully when I was a teen we had shoegaze and madchester coming from across the pond, and lots of great indie rock at home, so I was able to absorb those in "real time."