My reactions to music are purely emotional: love, hatred or indifference. Music is only important in as much as it affects me and colours my responses to memory, bitter or happy. To me, many ‘important’ album reviews penned by the grown-up equivalent of rampant teenage boys leave me bored. It always seems to me as though the writers of these tomes, pieces, reviews and diatribes on the ‘importance’, have never fucked with the music, never really deeply felt it or made it, let alone lived it. Led Zeppelin, recently hailed as the ‘heaviest band of all time’ by Rolling Stone, spent most of their fertile years labouring on a chain gang of criticism, led by the now venerable and suitably humble publication.
Have an opinion, sure; love, hate, spit on the music if you will, but don’t profess to be important about it. Don’t presume to think that it isn’t subjective, just like art. What matters to me might mean damn all to you, or it might make you think. That’s the beauty, right there; just don’t get all important on me.
My mother owned Led Zeppelin IV and I, II, III. I was a child of the late 70s, nursed on rock and jazz, the smell of incense and sandalwood oil replacing the slightest air of conformity. We grew up among piles of books and records, all available to our wondering minds in houses that leaned to the left, had holes in the kitchen wall, then leaned to the right as my father’s hard work provided us with utter luxury or begging penury. My mother would collect me from school, my young brother wrapped in a poncho tied to her chest, her flaming auburn hair lifting in the wind, hazel eyes kohled to mystery, her afghan trailing in Yorkshire snow. I thought her beautiful.
I knew how to put a record on, how to tune the brown wood-effect amp before I could read, and the words to ‘All Along the Watchtower’ before any nursery rhyme. The first man I wanted to marry was Jimi Hendrix. The original cover for Electric Ladyland covered with naked ladies – aged six, I thought this was pretty cool. The album itself wasn’t bad. I lie; it’s still my favourite. It speaks to me of far-off galaxies, the awakening of my inner life as a child and the sticky content of my early dreams. When Jimi sang ‘My arrows are made of desire…’ I shuddered at night alone and began to understand, vaguely, what it meant. I imagined myself to be Dylan’s princess in the tower, keeping the view, waiting for the riders to come and rescue me. I listened to the folky strains of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ as Mummy explained that there was much more to the song, filled with magical metaphor.
The guitar solo halfway through takes me back to long days spent discovering, given licence to roam her precious records. The old man in the gatefold of IV, to my eyes the hermit from the tarot. Those albums, the smell of the paper sleeves and the universes they contained… I love them still.
Over the years I have disagreed with my mother over many things, but the legacy of the childhood she gave us, filled with music, books and the freedom to create artistically and otherwise lives on. She created an environment where every thought was our own, each question a gem to be treasured, the answer found in music, books or her own mind. We were encouraged to form views and opinions, love and respect music and books, be independent and free thinkers, untrammelled by convention. To this day I walk into a room with confidence; I may not feel it, but she taught me to march this earth with the force of my convictions around me, to the beat of a different drummer if that’s what I thought was right.
As a mother she couldn’t have given us anything better.
So, I don’t care what the critics say. I was brought up to care what music meant to me as a human being, not whether it was commercially viable or self-important.
Good music speaks for itself in the end and that needs no defence. The murder of it will out in the end, for ’tis most foul.