Suggested Audio Jukebox:
 Sister Sledge “Lost In Music”
 Duran Duran “Rio”
 Indeep “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life”
 Funkadelic “One Nation Under A Groove”
 Eric B. & Rakim “Follow The Leader”
 Public Enemy “Fight The Power”
 The Todd Terry Project “Bango (To The Batmobile)”
 Dance Conspiracy “Dub War (Chapter One)”
 Foul Play “Music Is The Key (Omni Trio Remix)”
 Björk “It’s Oh So Quiet”
 Red Hot Chili Peppers “Otherside”
 Spineshank “New Disease”
 Simple Minds “Alive & Kicking”
 Tangerine Dream “Love on A Real Train”
 Aphex Twin “Windowlicker”
Where would we be without music? The answer to that particular poser is one I hope never to ascertain. You see, for as far back as my memory can recall, music has been an ever-present in my life. Indeed, while we gestate in our birth sacs, chances are, we’re receiving our primary introduction right there. There are numerous theories as to why playing music to unborn babies is considered beneficial. Some are myths such as listening to Mozart making your child more intelligent but others hold a great deal more weight. While never conclusively proved that this can aid your child’s hearing, it certainly cannot harm. It is here that we apparently learn our first lullabies, bust our first moves, and wire ourselves for sound. Eventually the time comes for us to depart our receptacles and it isn’t long before those keen ears are provided with further musical enlightenment. Nursery rhymes tend to do the trick early on and do a grand job of easing us in with their repetitive melodies. However, it isn’t long before they start to grow old, and it is time for our own harmonious journeys to begin in earnest.
So I got to thinking recently, I haven’t actually revealed my own preferences to my Grue family as yet. Occasionally I may drop the odd breadcrumb and audio accompaniment has long since played a significant part in the Keeper experience but what of my own personal pilgrimage? Thus I have decided it is high time to enlighten you as to the music that played a significant part in first my childhood and later adulthood. This will incorporate numerous different genres as the title of this piece should offer a clue as to my leanings. I am open to pretty much all-comers and believe there is music to suit most mindsets. However, that doesn’t mean that a dose of melancholy will be paired with Radiohead, or annoyance with Slayer. Selecting the obvious may seem like the way to go in these moments but we don’t necessarily benefit from further embracing our despondency and rage. Indeed, it is times like these when I’m more likely to dust off some Duran Duran or anything that can help me buck the trend.
I get that misery loves company and sometimes we have no great desire to feel better, only to wallow in our own despair for the foreseeable. Should this be the case, then we are well within our rights to opt for doom, gloom and the like. That’s the beauty of music, it is entirely subjective, and each of us will have our own personal playlists. That said, there are numerous pitfalls along the way to true musical enlightenment and growing up can present one such stumbling block. It can be hard stating a preference as we start to learn our own identities as image is everything during adolescence and, while certain music is regarded as “the shit” by our peers, other less fashionable examples are simply regarded as shit. I’m sure we’ve all been there, a song comes on the radio which we secretly harbor love for but, due to the potential humiliation of revealing our affection for said song, we dare not make it public knowledge. This is where guilty pleasures come about as we feel culpable for crimes against music and dare not risk being labelled a leper.
As we grow older, things invariably start to change, as our skins begin to grow more comfortable and such admissions aren’t punishable quite so severely. Moreover, should we possess a soft spot for pop music, then time tends to be the great healer. I mentioned Duran Duran as they were once considered little more than audio fluff, and it wasn’t the done thing to reveal your affection for their infectiously catchy ditties, at least, not where I came of age. Thirty years later, their music is celebrated far more openly and, while hardly the epitome of deep and meaningful on the whole, there can be no denying the toe tapping qualities that made them so popular in the first place. Like film, music often requires the perspective that time provides to truly find its audience, and opinions soften as other more current felons take to the stand. By the time we find peace with our own inclinations, admittance isn’t nearly as hazardous a proposition. I try from refrain from stating the following: I know it is wrong but I happen to possess a soft spot for Duran Duran. Instead, I’m more likely to word it like this: In my opinion, Rio was one of the finest pop songs of the eighties. Ownership is everything and it is only then that stubborn barriers can drop.
So on to my own personal journey. This started in the same manner as many others; in the comfort of my own boudoir. I spent hours cooped up in my bedroom, blissfully subscribing to whatever playlist was bleeding from my radio, and reciting track after track word for word. Pop music was the most readily available source and the UK Top 40 (which was the British equivalent of the Billboard Top 100), appeared to be the only way to go. I had no concept of the wider world of music as, if it didn’t break into this elite, it was surely not worthy of further investigation. Ignorance was bliss back then and I had no gripes over devoting myself to this particular cause and considering it my deity. On occasion I even went as far as to engage in a little private dance off in the seclusion of my quarters and it was here that I learned how to place one foot in front of the other. Nobody was on hand to tell me that I didn’t possess the moves although I would pay good money to have been a fly on the wall at this time as I’m reasonably assured that I looked utterly ridiculous in my attempt to conduct the rhythm.
It was around this time that my oldest sister hooked up with her future husband and I was primed for the next phase of my musical evolution. I’ll never forget the moment when this Nubian prince first entered my personal space as I strutted my less than funky stuff, unaware of my audience. I believe that his opening remark was something along the lines of “what the hell is that shit you’re listening to?” as he stated his discordance at my shameful soundtrack and his eyebrows said it all in this instance. How could this ten-year-old beanpole be so oblivious to how crushingly pathetic he was? Something had to give and he wasn’t about to watch on as I became one of life’s many musical casualties on his watch. Over the next few months, he became my musical drill sergeant, providing my ears with the necessary tuition by educating me on “real music”. It was no overnight transition as he had his work cut out with this particular white boy but, to his eternal credit, he stuck with it and breakthrough soon followed.
My audio diet consisted of seventies rare grooves, the purple pleasures of Parliament and Funkadelic, R&B when it actually had some game, and a smattering of the Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five for good measure. I was a slave to the rhythm and, had my hair not been so woefully fine, would have committed myself to the cause by way of afro. Alas, for this bandy-legged white boy on the cusp of discovering his special purpose, no dice were forthcoming. That said, I did learn how to get my groove on. Suddenly, my bedroom resembled a dance hall as opposed to a padded cell, as getting my groove on became my first and only priority. Cameo were doing the rounds at the time and, while I didn’t possess any lycra or a bright red nut cup, I grasped my shrink-wrapped junk with purpose and allowed the groove to circulate my exoskeleton conclusively. Homework had never really appealed to me before as learning about Florence Nightingale certainly wasn’t buying me any cool and it felt little more than undesirable obstruction. This school was a whole different ballgame, so much so, that it even went by the name skool. How’s that for edgy?
I was, and will forever be, indebted to him for empowering me to rewire my inner speaker but, sooner or later, the time would come for me to stand on my own feet and take my own strides away from his shadow. You can lead a horse to water but that doesn’t mean it’s going to quench itself to please you. It was time for me to forge my own path and suss out where my own audio sweet spots were. Some people are all about rousing guitar solos, others meaningful vocal, but nothing was as alluring to me as the big bass drum and one particular genre proposed to take on pusher duties. Eighties rap was where it was at and, having already been made aware of its influencers, their souped up samples seemed right at home. Lyn Collins, James Brown, Maceo and The Macks and numerous others were provided with a fresh sheen and propped up by seemingly unflappable vocal. At the time, it was all about possessing the baddest ass in state and reminding any punks in the vicinity that they were about to get beat down. The likes of LL Cool J and Big Daddy Kane took great pleasure from finding new and inventive metaphors for their dominance, while Eric B. & Rakim, and EPMD seduced my receptors with their gruff toned dome nuggets.
As the eighties wore on, Public Enemy gatecrashed the party, adopting an altogether more militant approach to assaulting my senses and reminding me why I should fight the powers that be. My filmic development was running concurrent so Spike Lee took over optical tuition, teaching me all about Black-American History and the hardships suffered at the hands of “white devils”. P.E.’s 1988 long player It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back still remains one of the finest examples of the entire rap movement at its apex and hook, line, and sinker were facilitated in unison as it secured my full investment. Alas, by the early nineties, things were inevitably headed for change and Gangsta Rap reared its head. I deemed N.W.A. perfectly acceptable as they still supplied the breakbeats but other artists emerging during the changeover were culpable of crimes I considered utterly unforgivable. Where were the fat gold chains? Who stole the soul? And why was everyone getting fucking shot? Unless I was sorely mistaken, Funkadelic went to great lengths to convince us we were one nation under a groove. Suddenly we were too warring clans in a lowrider. The magic had died and it was time to jump ship before any caps were popped in my ass.
Actually, I had already been feeding another monkey sly peanuts for years by this point. The house and techno scenes proposed something else entirely; an urban nirvana bereft of white lines and body bags. Detroit and Chicago were most prevalent with regards to the scene’s inauguration and the likes of Kevin Saunderson, Marshall Jefferson, and Todd Terry fashioned the looping rhythms that delighted my sensory conductors. Others soon followed suit and the movement began to veer off in some fairly otherworldly directions around the same time as L.S. and D. became my three favorite letters. Acid House became the tonic of choice in warehouses and even came with its own commercial battle cry. “Acieed” was swiftly set upon by the media and considered pure evil as impressionable minds nationwide commenced to elevate in unison under its very umbrella. Dancing involved flailing your arms about you like a light sensitive squid and I was one such cephalopod. Before I could say “whoa! trippy!” the scene dissolved like an effervescent capsule and it was on to the next short-lived trend.
As the BPMs began to accelerate rather wildly, I mastered the art of busting out some shapes. Dingily lit sweat boxes played host to the next leg of my musical pilgrimage and Hardcore Breakbeat, as it was crowned, felt like a natural progression to me. The slammin’ beats of eighties rap were now accelerated to double speed and accompanied by piercing synth-riffs and all manner of quotable hooklines. “Can’t beat the system? Go with the flow”, “No-one can compete ‘cos I heat like a fireball”, “I think it’s time to make the floor burn” and other suchlike chants were already recognizable, only now they were chaperoned by vastly accelerated hi-hats, snares and that all-important big bass drum. Moreover, it was all about the crescendo and I loved me some of that. The entire congregation would excitedly prepare themselves for the “big drop” and, when it arrived, the roof would invariably be raised from its rickety rafters in wonderful free-for-all fashion. The strobe was on hand to heighten each rush while kaleidoscopic lasers sliced through the mist like glory sentinels.
The pace was relentless as communal body mass would plummet over the course of a few hazy hours and burning out was a distinct possibility. Thus, I took myself an occasional five and perched myself beside the nearest available set of industrial speakers, soaking in sufficient reverb to power me up for my next stint on the front lines. This once bandy-legged fawn was now something of a thoroughbred and I turned up week after week in my bandana, puffa jacket, and fresh pair of British Knights sneakers as I reached for legendary status amongst dense strobes. The erratic lines I cut through the pollution proved mesmerizing to onlookers and this ended up with the ultimate honor being bestowed. I was ushered onto center stage and this was a privilege not to be sniffed at. Should you make the stage, and some would last less than a minute on its pedestal before withering in shame, then you had earned your stripes as a raver. You see, said stage was situated above the smog and there was no longer safety in numbers or anywhere to hide. One false move and it would be the loneliest place on the planet, an ice-laden podium of regret. Not for me, I’d found my place in society, and my subjects were sprawled all around me, grinding their jaws gormlessly but affectionately.
While I stood proud on my platform, it seemed inevitable that I would burn out eventually and my love affair with performance enhancing narcotics ended at around the same time that drum ‘n’ bass began creeping in from the shadows with intent. Things got dark pretty much overnight and this transition was just as unwelcome to me as what had afflicted my beloved eighties rap already. To be fair, I softened over time, as there are numerous high points to this shifty movement, one of which is currently parading in our jukebox. However, for the most part, it was moody and inhospitable, at least, for one slipping worryingly towards a constant state of paranoia. It felt like I had exhausted all musical options at this point so I dedicated the following years to the medium of film alone and considered myself all grooved out. My dancing shoes were at the cobblers being reheeled and I wondered whether I would ever again slip them on my feet.
My twenties were a quiet time for musical inspiration as nothing quite got my adrenaline pumping in the same manner than rap and hardcore breakbeat had and I entered into a lengthy vow of silence. This changed as my first marriage petered out and, as my significant other vacated the nest, I elected to take over the mortgage. Doing so solo would have been financially crippling so I found myself a fellow resident and not one I had any intention of inserting my junk into. It turned out that he drank from an entirely different font than I, having come of age in an environment dedicated solely to rock ‘n’ roll. His inspiration came courtesy of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, in stark contrast to my own motivation. Actually, rap and metal had a long running mutual respect for one another and artists such as Run DMC, The Beastie Boys and Ice-T had occasionally tinkered with such fusion but I was pretty much going in blind otherwise. In my school, it hadn’t been considered acceptable to subscribe to guitar licks, and “metal heads” were as few as they were far between. I didn’t necessarily care what others thought, it just never really appealed to me personally. But I was open to further enlightenment.
It happened pretty organically as I returned home from work one day and dashed to the kitchen to prepare a pipe of my new drug of choice, Cannabis, while my house mate kicked back to some Red Hot Chili Peppers. With a sedate buzz now firmly in place, I slumped on the sofa, and Otherside secured me in its crosshairs as it proceeded to wash over me. To say that this song resonated strongly would be akin to suggesting that my primary outing as a fully fledged masturbator made my knee tremble. Indeed, even now, it remains my personal darling of the Chilis. Moreover, it opened the floodgates for various other artists as O.C.D. kicked in and I familiarized myself with decades of rock history. My knowledge would never be as extensive as that of rap and its origins as I had missed many a trick and it happens to be a rather vast genre, to say the absolute least. However, my aptitude for cherry picking assisted me in unearthing numerous diamonds in the rough and, within weeks, became fully immersed in the metal scene. Never being one to dip a timid toe in, I instead cannon-balled into it full pelt. This meant dying my hair flame red and discarding my skinny fitting attire in favor of massively oversized baseball tops and ill-fitting denim, weighed down with silver chains. If you’re gonna do it right?
During this period, I developed a penchant for DC sneakers and also purchased my first and only skateboard. My grungy attire wasn’t ideal for hurtling downhill at speeds of 20/MPH+ and I almost garroted myself on my own spiked choker each time I spectacularly bailed. Indeed, plummeting to asphalt like a sack of wet shit was a regular occurrence and I recall one particular nosedive as it resulted in a fairly severe elbow injury that left it resembling the head of a goat. Needless to say, my tenure as a skater was as brief as it was agonizing but my love for the metal still endured and I carried on riffing for several years before eventually stagnating. It felt time for another metamorphosis and, with the far more all-encompassing mindset of my early thirties now firmly in place, I began to openly embrace music from any source available and declare myself jack of all trades. Of course, being an eighties child, I headed back there post-haste and reacquainted myself with popular culture.
The likes of The Police, Depeche Mode, Simple Minds and The Cure became mainstays in my iPod shuffle list, while albums such as Paul Simon’s Graceland, Fleetwood Mac’s Tango in The Night, and Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required were revisited with a far more open mind than previously. Pop music felt fresher than ever and I also paid another visit to my old friend electro while I was at it. Feeling like I had now travelled full-circle and arrived back there with a higher plane of consciousness at my disposal, the revitalization was immense. This entailed opening myself up to every flavor available and precious few imparted a sour aftertaste. Many regard the likes of classical music and folk as unfashionable in the extreme but there was absolutely no repulsion here towards either. Only two styles left me cold and I’m assured that even they could be pleasing in the correct environment. Jazz never seems able to make its mind up and just feels a little too ad hoc for my personal palate, whereas reggae is too laid back for one reared on more energetic fare and only ever intriguing in its more vibrant ragamuffin incantation.
A quick mention must go to movie soundtracks as there are plenty I hold dear. John Carpenter’s synthesized wizardry is the whole reason I have a Yahama DX7 knocking about in my attic and his Escape From New York theme still plays on perpetual loop in my mental jukebox to this very day. Goblin were also dominant in horror, with Italian maestro Dario Argento taking full advantage during his heyday and, should you mention Risky Business, then Tangerine Dream’s Love on A Real Train will sound before I can slip on my gym socks and sunglasses. Audio plays a tremendous part in the overall cinema experience and, having recently had the pleasure of Blade Runner on the silver screen for the first time and having my ears seduced by Vangelis in Dolby Digital, I know all about the good old-fashioned neck tingles this can administer.
Nowadays pretty much anything is fair game and it isn’t unheard of for me to switch between Tracy Chapman and Aphex Twin in the blink of an eye, before hurtling full force into Megadeth. Then, just as my finger begins to hover over PRESS THIS RED BUTTON TO TERMINATE PLANET, I double back for a spot of Enya to soothe my soul. There is good and bad in every musical genre, plentiful diamonds strewn across acre upon acre of stinking manure. Being a cherry picker, I am happy to tiptoe through the tulips, sidestepping any precariously placed land mines along my path. I’ve been far happier since my quest for cool reached its conclusion as an opinion is something to cherish and should never be determined by general consensus. It feels good to enjoy this art form with the same lack of prejudice I did as a wide-eyed boy and, while my legs no longer resemble two dangling threads of cotton, I never did fathom the whole growing up deal anyhoots.