Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Why I Smoked Dope as a Teenager

De Selby has triggered a memory. He Comments:
I liked The Monkees, but I used to lie under the old four-legged RCA record player for hours, listening to [Sgt. Pepper] over and over. Even then I knew that those Monkees were not playing in the same league as the Beatles.
In 1967 or thereabouts, my parents acquired a magnificent Danish reading-chair. Padded black leather softened the molded plastic body, the whole Space-Age confection suspended on a gimbal that allowed the thing to spin as fast as you could possibly make it go -- if that was the sort if thing you enjoyed.

Two-three years later, I'd have been about 10. Young Bobby Lightfoot would have been 6 and our sister Pippinella about 8. Here is how we amused ourselves.

I'd get into the Magical Spinning Chair, crosslegged. "A Day in the Life" on the family stereo. (Fisher amp and speakers, Garrard turntable. Pop spared no expense to fill the house with his Gregorian chants and Henry Purcell cantatas.) So we skipped the part about Tara Brown blowing his mind out in a car, and the verse about the English Army winning the war, middle eight, dragging a comb across my head. No, we wanted those knee-weakening reverb-soaked "aaaahhs" that represent the Dream Paul McCartney falls into after he finds his way upstairs and has a smoke.

At this point, I'd signal Bobby and Pippinella. Start it spinning. Accelerate slowly.

...Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire...

...Getting faster...

...They had to count them all...


...I'd love to turrrrrrrrnnnnn youuuuuuuuu onnnnnnn...

OK. It's 24 bars. I didn't know what a bar was, back then, but I could certainly feel the orchestral climb viscerally. Years later, when I bought the CD of the album, I was finally able to pick out Mal Evans' tape-echo-saturated voice counting the bars. But on our scratched-up Capitol LP that part of the signal was long, long gone. But I knew when it was coming...


At this point the chair's spinning like a NASA training exercise, and all I can see is a blur.

Orchestra reaches its peak, suddenly stops -- grab the chair! Stops its spin immediately.


Four pianos, one E major chord, fading into magnificent silence.

One extremely dizzy ten-year-old boy, sitting in a suddenly motionless chair, The Universe spinning, spinning, spinning...

Wow! Cool! Now you try it!

No, Oblivion held no fascination for this little budding Dope Mystic. Certainly not. No identity being built between the natural ecstasy of music and the erasure of the Ego. Naaaah. Not at all.


Bobby Lightfoot said...

Pippinella!!! Yes!! Yes!!

"Fixing A Hole" was th' one that creeped me out! That harpsichord intro is like haunted house music. I thought it was about digging your grave. And goddamn "Kite". That is really, really scary when you're under 8. And that cover- I thought it was a funeral. Creepy, creepy record. Sargeant Pepper is just the deathiest record. When I was little I thought "psychedelia" meant music about death.

We had some European pressing of "Help" where the printing had gone haywire and Ringo's face on the back looked like it was covered in blood. That would be one of my first memories.

And where did that fuckin' *red* plastic spinning globe chair come from??? That shit was totally "Sleepers". That shit was Danish, man. Danish.


de Selby said...

Oh yeah, baby, the erasure of the ego. Makes you feel ten feet tall, eh?

fgfdsg said...

Gotta disagree here. The only good thing my dad ever did for us kids was give my sister and I all his old Beatles records so we wouldn't scratch up his new copies.

My sister no doubt had some attraction to them that helped her interest. For me it was purely the wonderful sounds.

Let's see. I would have been six or so. Rubber Soul backwards I can see they were a good band but they didn't grab me. The White Album onwards is ok, but not great.

Now Revolver, Sgt Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour (released in a weird unique-to-australia record club edition titled 'Magical Mystery Tour And Other Splendid Hits' with Penny Lane, Hello Goodbye, Strawberry Fields Forever, Baby You're A Rich Man and All You Need Is Love added) were the best thing I'd ever heard.

Check it out, this is the cover I grew up with and my favourite of the lot. I had no idea it was a bastardised compilation deal.


And holy shit, look how much it's worth. I should sell that one! See the little dials on the back? That was to mark your preferred treble and bass settings in pen.

Actually "With The Beatles" and "Beatles For Sale" had unique Australian covers too.

I was obsessed with "Through The Looking Glass" to the point of sitting down with a chess board to work out Alice's moves, so 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' grabbed me immediately. That strange unearthly celeste sound that sucks you in.

All of 'Tomorrow Never Knows'. The strong strings and stark images of 'Eleanor Rigby'. To my young ears "Kite" was the sound of a circus. "Penny Lane" let me walk in the sunlight, "Strawberry Fields" made me feel sad and want to be alone for a while.

That strange organ / guitar sound in the intro to 'Baby you're a rich man' that i've still never quite identified and wish I could so I could rip it off. All of 'I Am The Walrus' with it's goofy backing vocals and over the top arrangement. If that wouldn't appeal to a kid I don't know what would.

It's perfect music for a lonely little kid because each song was it's own little world you could escape into, which is why the 'back to basics' approach of 'Let It Be' bored me. Who wants boring old reality?

Hearing that music at that age shaped me, defined the sort of sounds that appeal to me in song, and made me want to make my own.

Hell, in a couple of years i'm buying all three for my nephew, along with Skylarking. I think the barking dogs, bees buzzing, horse noises and ticking clocks will appeal to him.

Maybe I was just a very strange little kid. Still, everyone else was listening to Kiss at the time so I consider it time well spent.

fgfdsg said...

They're cheaper than I remembered:



Kevin Wolf said...

Great post, Neddie. And love your comments, Bobby and Simon.

For me, too, the creepiness was there in the pyschedelic period Beatles. However for me it centered on Magical Mystery Tour, which just fucking freaked me out - but then I guess that was the point. (I was 9 then. Maybe they should have started the record warning label thing sooner.)

Ned, you've brought forth this memory: We bored kids learned a screwed up trick - no idea who introduced it to us - probably my oldest brother.

One kid would take a series a quick, deep breaths then hold it as another grabbed us and did a kind of bear hug. When the kid holding his breath couldn't hold it anymore, everybody would let go. This induced a state of hyperventilated near-pass out that was definitely an altered state. Killed more brain cells that way than I ever will using drugs.

Oddly, I remember doing this once while someone played a Bobby Sherman record cut off the back of a cereal box. I'd say your musical choice was, um, a little better.

Uncle Rameau said...

Florissant, 1965, I was nine, l'il bro' was 7...

I think mom probably parked the Impala station wagon for us, half in the garage, the back half extending into the driveway. Put the tailgate down, bring out the record player with Beatles '65, and call the neighbourhood girls to do the screaming. Stand up on the tailgate "stage" and whang away at cardboard guitars and bongo drums.

That was the closest I ever came to being a musician. Which was closer than Peter Tork got, I think.

Employee of the Month said...

The persistence of memory # 41,326

Parent's Zenith stero cabinet console that could double as Fatty Arbuckle's coffin.

Me about 9 sitting on the floor.

Older sister's Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Lug with the cool echoes and LRLRLRLRLR channel switching.

Scary weird.

The Millionaire Playboy said...

Those Australian covers are so fucked up, in an incredibly cool way. Sorry if I'm enjoying them!

Anonymous said...

The political motif of the magical mysteries is in favor of the whig party.