August 11, 2011

All along our days

For far too long, it seems, I've been staring at a blank piece of paper with no particular inspiration to write. That's not to say that I've not written anything at all, but as someone who takes an active stance against both the endless commentary of microblogging and the rather relentless accumulation of what Mr Zuckerberg rather zealously describes as "friends", and yet who subsequently poked her nose into the whizbang new replacement that xkcd so accurately termed "Not FB!", the more short paragraphs, or even shorter one-liners, that I dash off there through such convenience the more it rankles that I'm serving a network in precisely the manner I never intended, and even worse, not spending time here. Here is where I'm supposed to write about stuff: the music I listen to, the trips I make, the thoughts I have. And yet it's that convenience of not writing a lot that is half the attraction. Of course, both this site and New Social Network are of the same parent so my allegience is already misplaced; but my time and my energies are drawn in other directions too much.

Progressive rock, as a genre, was tied strongly to the new technology of the day, and sought to combine musical styles in new, unthought of ways, through the raw talent of hairy young men. But to carry on performing 30 or 40 years later the product of those early years is not properly progressive, as much as it may pay the bills. It's regressive rock, Mister Emerson. Music evolves even within bands, but other artists of the time made a conscious effort then and now to change as much as possible and to always look forwards, experimenting constantly with influences both personal and prevailing, which is why Wendy Carlos tried out reinterpretations of classical pieces and moved onto microtonal composition and ambient records and scores, and why Rush has taken itself from bluesy hard rock to full blown sword-and-sorcery prog to intertwined sythesiser rhythm heaven to grunge and back to hard rock. More than ever, and perhaps not entirely unconnected with one too many setbacks, I'm becoming aware that I'm not the progressive, forward thinking, forward living creature I want to be, ought to be. It's as though I'm stuck in the past, somewhere, whence my life ... stopped. Sometimes it feels like I've been a passenger, slightly disconnected from the world around me and forever mindful of what once was, as though I haven't achieved all the grand plans in my head while the rest of me makes a good enough go of everything. One might be forgiven for thinking that has all the signs of a mind and body always busy doing and being, never taking enough time to reflect; a whirlwind of ideas never fully realised and filed away in the corners of the memory, or yet another notepad and sketchbook.

My day to day thoughts are no longer full to overflowing with a singular goal, and perhaps that's the problem. I can write, if I put my mind to it, and if I have something to write about. And therein lies the paradoxical beauty of constructing entire paragraphs about it.

I ought to be writing about the ongoing task that is the repair of the rusting piece of junk in my garage that serves as a reminder of both a more foolish and cheap me and the event that still haunts me two and a half years later. At the same time the more recent stablemate, old enough practically to be its Mother, has never properly settled in, forever sounding just a little too notchy on the downshift; unappealingly loud to the idle, with a muffled raucousness in neutral; it's the whisper of a clonk when taking a handful of front brake. The increasing eagerness to ride after taking so very long for that confidence to return is being tested sorely when one is always afraid that something else will go wrong. Gentle and infrequent commutes in the dry and the wet cannot build confidence in a rider, nor of her steed. The project to return the big machine to the road has become a black hole of time, money, enthusiasm, and misplaced ratchet straps. I fear that only when the lazy twin finally coughs into life after sleeping so soundly will that spark return. Meanwhile I carry on raiding the parts counters, electronic and bricks-and-mortar, and chip away at the work that remains. By the vice a new pair of those massive forks sits shiny and reassembled, gaiters scrubbed clean, stanchions polished, while the patient sits ever longer propped on its hydraulic jack and, canted over slightly because its fairing frame is twisted, its huge innocent eyes look forlornly towards the workbench.

I ought to be writing -- indeed I made a plan, subsequently ignored -- about trips across to Glasgow to explore the canal and the railways and the River Kelvin, and to meet friends for lunches and a 30 mile cycle here and there. To take the train through lands unknown, to stations rarely tried; the girl with wheels awaits alone the company her counterparts provide. A social gathering certainly, with a participant at once athletic and effusive, yet tired and shrinking. "Friends" is perhaps the wrong word in this particular case, or at the very least perhaps, not the best word; while "acquaintance" fits the situation, to me it still carries a more impersonal overtone than I feel is desirable. At any rate, a guiding hand to what is still a relatively new community will inevitably mean more exposure to newcomers who, with the occasional exception, by definition one doesn't know. Forever welcoming and meeting becomes taxing to those whose energies are recharged in quiet. But simultaneously the sheer need for small doses of that company is a driver that I find difficult to ignore and also difficult to act upon.

Inasmuch as today I'm lacking inspiration, we'll finish with a joke. Actually we won't, not because I have no joke to tell, which is in fact true, but because these were the toe-curlingly cringeworthy words of a lecturer whose name I would have to look up, and, sounding not a million miles away from Seven of Nine's flat instruction, "Fun will now commence", which I intend never, ever to use. The need to put something down on paper however began several days ago but was prompted today by the desire to put into words some thoughts on one of the loveliest pieces of music I've ever heard. It's not another damn prog thing, is it, I hear you ask? Yes, it is, although strictly it isn't Yes. After the first Relayer tour in 1975 the band faffed around for a time, each member working on a solo project. Alan White made Ramshackled, Patrick Moraz made I, Steve Howe made Beginnings, Chris Squire released his tour de force, Fish Out Of Water, but unsurprisingly it was Jon Anderson who stole the show with the beautiful Olias of Sunhillow. Although radioio and tend to play one or another individual song from Olias, to me the album only works as the whole. Anderson may or may not have had help from Vangelis, and may have been completely out of his mind with the concept and the harmonies, but his outlook on life -- then as now -- of the sharing of love and happiness was so carefully wrought that the narrative often becomes another musical instrument in the production. It's the textures of the music I find so appealing: unlike Wakeman, Anderson didn't simply wheel in the old Mellotron for the flutes and violins we all know and love; his toned sounds were mostly the gentlest synthetic kind with a flute-meets-string-meets-oboe, along with his trusty acoustic guitar and beloved harp, and only occasionally did he bring in the rasp of a Moog on sawtooth with the filter cranked up. Anderson layered percussion upon multitracked chants of himself in the vein of We Have Heaven, with accents of glockenspiel and bell trees, all wrapped up in lots of echo. But it's the melodies themselves that are so absolutely gorgeous. Late in the album, Moon Ra segues into Chords, into Song of Search, and the exposed flutey string plays a simple, slow, slightly ethereal line, accompanied by a just-audible stethoscope heartbeat. Bum ... ba bum ... bum ... ba bum. The quiet of the piece is in such contrast to, and so well timed after, the rousing climactic Solid Space and the majesty of Moon Ra and Chords that one is caught in sudden reflection while the music washes over and around. The last minute and a half of the album is a reprise of sorts, with just the sparsest of arrangements that finally bade the listener goodbye as though the music was floating to the sky itself.

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