And Shoot...

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Monday, 14 October 2013

First Impressions (music blog)

I am 9 years old. It is my birthday.

I have been given a cassette player along with a single cassette; a collection of classic 70’s and 80’s rock songs. It is the soundtrack to the TV game show ‘Gladiators’.

My father enters into my bedroom as I play my favourite track from my one and only cassette. ‘I have the full album of this downstairs’ he says casually.
‘What do you mean?’ I ask him in a state of confusion, verging on shock.
‘Bat out of Hell by Meatloaf; I have it downstairs'.
‘The full album?’ I ask, not even sure what an ‘album’ really is yet. I have only ever had one cassette.
‘Yes, it’s other songs by Meatloaf, not just this one’ he explains.

I follow him immediately downstairs and fidget impatiently and he takes forever to dig it out from his gargantuan record collection. He places it in my hands and I gaze down in wonder at the greatest drawing I have ever seen.

I am captivated; a man on a motorbike, long blond hair flowing behind him in the wind (and muscles bigger than even the gladiators themselves) bursts out of a gravestone. My adolescent senses overloaded, I stare entranced at the hero, my new hero, escaping the clutches of a giant bat from under a blood red sky.
‘Can we put it on?’ I venture nervously to my father.

I listen to it religiously. The adrenaline fuelled lyrics, the crashing symbols, the roaring guitars, the sweeping piano melodies. They penetrate my innocent ears drums, permeate my brain and saturate the blank canvas that is my musical taste. It is my first real venture into the world of music and it is one that will shape the very person that I become. Whilst my friends listen in their groups to the latest chart music down at the park, I listen to Bat out of Hell in my room, 25 years late. I pour over the lyrics printed on the album sleeve, trying to make sense of this strange new language.

I am 9 and a half years old.

It is my first day of the new term. We have a new English teacher; Mr Anderson. He asks us who our favourite singers or bands are. It is the start of an elaborate and ingenious ruse (at least to me) to get us to appreciate song lyrics, then by virtue creative writing… and inevitably, of course, English literature. I utterly stun him by announcing that my favourite lyricist is Jim Steinman.
‘Give that boy a flying coconut!’ he exclaims.

Mr Anderson is also our music teacher. He holds me back after the lesson and asks me to expand on my earlier comment. I tell him simply that it is true, Bat out of Hell is my favourite album and that ‘Paradise By The Dashboard Light’ is currently my favourite song (I neglect to mention it’s my only album and that Steinman is probably the only songwriter I know).

Mr Anderson asserts that out of the 520 children in my school, he is absolutely positive that I am the only one who knows who Jim Steinman is. He also tells me that Jim Steinman is one of the greatest song writers of all time and that I am incredibly ‘mature’ for listening to such music.

And there it is… the reward.

This small positive reinforcement by one old man, is all that is needed to lock away my canvas forever.
Paint still wet, isolated but proud, it stands in its sealed display case impenetrable to the other children who will try to paint over it, to the other musical genres that will try to cover it in their graffiti.

Accessible to me and me alone, I will of course add to it, build up its layers, change its brush strokes. From time to time I will introduce new tones and remove many when the passing fad is over. But it’s base colour, that gorgeous blood red and blood orange base colour, will never be eroded. My musical tabula rasa is no more.

Of such small quirks of fate we are all made. Initial exposures and first impressions I believe can count for so much. The first cut is indeed the deepest, to quote another classic.

I am 9 and a half years old and I am changed forever.