Nov 072010

I just finished reading Lavinia Greenlaw‘s The Importance of Music to Girls, a memoir of her years between the early ’60s to the early ’80s. She does a very nice job of describing the development of her musical and style interests, and the parallel understanding of her self. In a chapter entitled, “Separation and Contrast,” which starts with a quote by Goethe from A Theory of Colors, she describes this sea change of a clip by The Jam from 1977’s Marc show:

While Bolan lounged on a fluffy pink throne, the Jam posed rigidly – black suits, white shirts, black ties, black-and-white shoes – in front of a plain black background. Clean-shaven, short-haired, and with emphatic estuary accents, the Jam played “All Around the World,” and here was a speeded-up, pared-down sound that I knew could take me farther and faster than any boy in his car. Bolan cooed and drawled but the Jam shouted: “All around the world I’ve been looking for new…” I was looking for new and it lay in such collisions and detonations and two-minute songs, and in a new kind of color.

I was shocked when I watched this clip. What a perfect embodiment of a shift in English music! And one that clearly influenced Ms. Greenlaw’s sense of the world and herself. She describes shifting from an early adolescent world of discos and bright colors to a greater understanding of some of the contrasts in England at that time.

Did you have an experience or experiences like this? Were there music, films, or videos that made you realize that the world was fundamentally different than you thought and therefore your sense of self was as well?

I look forward to learning more about you.


  16 Responses to “Separation and Contrast”

  1. hrrundivbakshi

    Hey, LMKR — dunno about experiences similar to the author you quote, but let me start by saying: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen two and a half minutes of film that so perfectly explains why “punk” totally kicked rock and roll’s ass in the late 70s. The transition from drugged-out Marc Bolan lolling about on his pink settee to the Jam leaping about like a bunch of pilled-up homeless kids is absolutely mesmerizing. Great find!

    (Also: love how Buckler loses his sticks at the end of the tune. Classic live TV!)

  2. ladymisskirroyale

    I loved the clip and was absolutely amazed by Mr. Bolan’s complete lack of knowledge (unless it was put on) of the Jam. That “who is appearing on my show again,” sort of attitude. And the contrast of the wardrobes, the backgrounds, etc. It think the clip is a perfect distillation of a seismic shift.

  3. I tend to think that my musical path, as it relates to my views on the world, is so ingrained and righteous that I’d be immune to seismic shift moments. For instance, when I was first exposed to punk rock I felt like I’d expected it, like I’d been waiting for it, in some ways. As I think about your question, though, one moment that comes to mind is the few seconds at the beginning of sophomore year, after my friend and I returned from a trip to his hometown, where an old high school friend let us raid the mall record store he managed for 10 minutes after closing. We’d grabbed 70 albums between us, taking chances on a lot of music we’d heard about but maybe not heard – and making sure to grab as many double albums as possible! We got back to campus with our huge stash of albums, fired up, and kicked off a massive listening session. The couple of seconds that really stand our are when we dropped the needle on the opening track of Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, the song “Frownland.” It was like Hendrix turned inside out. I’d already been into a lot of left-of-center music, but “Frownland” was the most “out there” thing I’d ever heard that pulled from stuff I fully understood. It wasn’t just “out there,” it was “in here” too, if that makes any sense. It helped me find new territory within myself, at the risk of sounding like a trippy George Harrison.

  4. 2000 Man

    Bolan looks like he thinks that Jam button is from another planet. The Jam looked so much cooler than Bolan, and that clip should have been the end of Bolan’s show, if you ask me. He looks like he just doesn’t belong anymore.

    I’ve been thinking about this kind of shift lately, for some reason. But not so much about the obvious shifts when trends changed, more like the albums that changed the direction I was going in. I probably followed some trends when I was younger, but I think it’s interesting to see the paths I didn’t take and if I ever went back to them. Plus, it lets me listen to some old records that I haven’t played in awhile, and I have to admit, I still like some pretty crappy music!

  5. 2000 Man

    That’s kind of the same thing I was thinking, Mr. Mod. I remember taking Never Mind the Bollocks to a friend’s house for a party, thinking everyone would love it like I did. It was brand new. My friend liked it. We cranked it up and jumped around to it while everyone else left the room and waited until we were done (fortunately, he didn’t seem to notice how much his other friends hated it). Until then, everyone seemed to like the “new to us” music I found. After that, people said I listed to either real good stuff or pure crap, and it was leaning towards the crap. But that’s why I always thought The Sex Pistols were HOF worthy. That record changed everything, at least for me.

  6. ladymisskirroyale

    Maybe the “seismic shift” is more typical in female music-lovers’s worlds?

    I’ve always loved music, and like Lavinia Greenlaw, was raised on classical music and ballet scores. Most new music I was exposed to was through boyfriends, and I aped their music taste for the time that I was dating them. But every now and then, I had the courage to think that what they were listening to was either crap or just not really my thing. I got really sick of the southern rock of one boyfriend to have it replaced by the Led Zeppelin/Pink Floyd of the next. It took me years to start to research music on my own, let alone the guts to stick with my preferences when other people criticized them.

    I recall a grad school roommate who loved Pat Benetar chiding me for trying to recall what label PB was on. She could not imagine why I would be interested in labels, producers, etc. and things other than “the artist.” She was also surprised that I could like musicians who had lousy singing voices but also style. Needless to say, she and I did not remain friends. As I’ve gotten older, my closest friends are those who also love music, and although we don’t have to share the exact same taste, we tend to like it enough to want to talk about it.

  7. I wouldn’t say it’s a male-female thing, ladymiss, just because two know-it-all guys first spoke up on the subject:) I have some guy friends who’ve undergone “conversions” to some degree.

  8. 2000 Man

    Ladymiss, I have a friend that has done that exact same thing, and does it to this day! She has great taste in music on her own (far more varied than me, certainly), but when she has a boyfriend, all that good taste goes out the window and she becomes a fan of Snow Patrol or some other kind of ick. It’s weird, and when they break up, she moves back into the music she likes. She can’t talk about labels or producers, but she plays things by people I’ve never heard of, and some of it gets pretty out there. When we were kids and hung out all the time, she didn’t really seem to soak up the music I liked the way she did with boyfriends (Pink Floyd guy was particularly grueling for me, but Funk guy sucked the most!). With me it was more like common ground, and I liked talking with her about music because she listened to it much differently from me.

    I can really see what you’re saying there, and I bet almost every guy here has never done that. I know I’d never morph into a fan of “somebody else’s favorite songs” (to steal a line I like). I like what I like and if people don’t agree, fuck ’em!

  9. ladymisskirroyale

    So what constituted this male conversion experience? I’d think going to college, moving to a new area, etc. may count.

    Mr. Royale describes “London Calling” as his shot heard ’round the world. He had previously listened to “classic rock” and that album shifted his tastes considerably.

  10. The friend I had in mind, I believe, didn’t get to hear cool, new music until he moved from his small, conservative town to the Big City (for college). Like Mr. Royale, he was strictly a Classic Rock guy until then.

  11. BigSteve

    I don’t know, this clip isn’t hitting me the same way as the rest of you. Maybe it’s Foxton’s hairdo. Maybe after seeing guitarists/bassists jump in the air like that for 30+ years, I can’t help seeing it as an empty cliche. I certainly bought the Jam’s records at the time, but this is hardly their best work, and after all anyone can buy uppers.

    I would not have been a Bolan fan at the time this clip aired, but from where I sit now his reptilian androgyny is intriguing, even if it’s past its due date. He’s a legitimate rock star, and his drugged out languor is more appealing than Weller’s stiffness, which seems to be all bark and no bite.

    Hendrix is the first thing that comes to mind as a game changer, and the Monterrey Pop movie. And then Gimme Shelter showed the nightmare behind the hippie dream. Brothers and sisters, why are we fighting?

  12. BigSteve

    I think maybe one reason I have a different take on this concept is that catching on to new music has generally not led me to reject what I had been listening to before. In 1977 My Aim Is True and The Clash (s/t) didn’t cause me to like Terrapin Station any less.

  13. ladymisskirroyale

    I like Marc Bolan and The Jam. I didn’t post it so much for one artist being better than the other, but more as an illustration of the apparent shift in musical and artistic styles.

  14. I’m not sure if this is right on point, but on the old RTH list we had a discussion about “gateway” incidents which made you realize that there was a whole other world out there other than what was just being served up to you. I recounted my own road-to-Damascus moment, which I’ve copied below. I’m 47 now but I’m still in the band mentioned.

    “When I was a sophomore in high school (78/79), I heard the Rock and Roll Animal version of Sweet Jane on the ride home from school. The driver was flipping around the stations so we missed the big bombastic intro and caught right when they go into the song itself. Up until that point I was a music fan in general, but much more willing to take what was served up to me.

    Something clicked during that song and the next thing you know, I was trying to hunt down Velvet Underground albums in Peaches and Sam Goody’s. Fortunately, I eventually discovered 3rd Street Jazz (an excellent, now defunct record store in Philly) and managed to find imports of their second album and White Light/White Heat to complete the VU collection. 3rd Street Jazz was the source of a bunch of other discoveries (Yardbirds, Nuggets, Graham Parker, etc).

    It took a few years but in my senior year, I quit the crew team, started playing guitar and formed my first band less than a year later. I know that version of Sweet Jane gets goofed on around here, and I can’t recall the last time I listened to it myself, but I’m 42 and still playing in bands because of it (with the drummer from that first band, by the way).”

  15. I’d forgotten about that thread. Thanks for finding your excellent, on-target post!

  16. misterioso

    Although “All Around the World” is pretty far from my favorite Jam song (and, unlike Mod, I like Eton Rifles, also recently posted), I still find the Jam to be a great kick. I am sorry that so many feel that the Jam has not held up well. Obviously, it is “young people’s music” but for me it has not lost its appeal.

    This is only the 2nd or 3rd clip I have ever seen from Bolan’s tv show, and I still can’t help wondering: When he wasn’t incoherently introducing musical performers, what did he do on the show? I mean, did he work with puppets or do sketch comedy or just lounge about on his pink throne?

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