I don’t fire up the big stereo much anymore.
Maybe the music got small, maybe I love the easy access on my computer, but the acquisition of a killer stereo used to be the primary goal of an adolescent male. It came before the girlfriend, never mind the automobile and the house.
You used to go to the record store, come home with a bag of records, slit the sleeve, grasp the record by the edges and place it upon the turntable. And when you dropped the needle this harmonious sound emerged, one that instantly made the world ALL RIGHT!
Oh, you remember the first time you heard the intro of "Gimmie Shelter". Hell, they don’t even EMPLOY that kind of subtlety anymore. Some exec somewhere would say there’s not TIME, that we live in an instant gratification society. I say if that’s so, how come kids can play the same fucking video game for twelve hours straight? ADD generation, bite my ass.
The ritual continued even with the advent of the CD. We were scammed into believing it was perfect sound forever. Eventually we learned it was compromised brittle sound, and the discs you didn’t want for long, certainly not the new stuff, which NEVER came out on vinyl. But some of those earlier tracks, we liked the clarity of CDs, we wanted to hear elements obscured by decades of dust, by tonearms too heavy for the vinyl, by records overplayed into oblivion.
And then there was the VOLUME! You didn’t have to worry about squeezing the notes onto a flexible disc that might freak out and bounce the needle. No, with CDs you could LOAD IT UP! You could get a volume heretofore unknown. Frequently sans not only subtlety, but bass. Yet these newly-remastered classics on CD, you could crank them to such a volume that they squeezed out EVERYTHING else. At least that’s what I found with Van Halen’s "Best Of Volume 1".
I had to own the debut. Really, is a collection complete without "Runnin’ With The Devil"?
But that original disc, it was WORSE than the vinyl. As a matter of fact, they might have used the same EQ. It’s almost unlistenable.
But this first greatest hits album, arriving free in the mail via Bob Merlis in late 1996, this was something else. This was all cleaned up. This was a way to make fourth quarter MONEY!
The disc begins with "Eruption", and then goes into "Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love". How many times did I hear that on L.A. radio? It sounded dark and dirty, like the clubs Van Halen paid their dues in.
Then the apotheosis, the aforementioned "Runnin’ With The Devil". Arriving like a freight train, right through the JBL speakers, each one of which was larger than the complete STEREO of a member of the younger generation. There was a level of satisfaction in this new disc that I hadn’t gotten previously. I felt like that guy in the Maxell ad, with his hair blown back, with lines around him like an R. Crumb character.
Next came "Dance The Night Away". OH, the swagger of the intro, how does Eddie get that feel, that TONE! Sure, Dave’s lyrics were more stupid than usual, and the backup vocals were too sixties cheesy, but there’s a joy in this record absent from EVERY Justin Timberlake track. Van Halen didn’t have to dance to get laid, didn’t have to perfect its look. The sound ALONE was enough to get girls to unzip their pants. THAT’S the power of rock and roll. You don’t have to rap and tell the girls they’re whores and should submit, you’ve just got to RIP and the babes want to come in your bus.
And I’m enjoying the CD, and then I HEARD something.
Imagine your Spanish teacher freaking out, right in front of the class. You’ve got a test, it’s in a fucking FOREIGN LANGUAGE, and you haven’t studied. And you’re dreaming if only ALIENS inhabited this woman, took her away, you’d be saved. Well, that’s what happens in the intro to "And The Cradle Will Rock…"
This one I wasn’t that familiar with, I didn’t own the album, it wasn’t played endlessly on the radio. Oh, of course I KNEW it, it just wasn’t in my DNA, it wasn’t imprinted on my brain. But suddenly, INSTANTLY, it was. I felt like I was fifteen again, living in my parents’ house, RAILING AGAINST THE WORLD!
You don’t have to live with the ‘rents to feel oppressed. Hell, all you’ve got to do is turn on the TV. There you’ll find people better looking than yourself, winning at this phony game we call America. You turn, you look for your world.
Today said world is so obscure, so irrelevant, that most can’t relate to it. Sure, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah may have a career, but I won’t even bother to print all the e-mail stating that their music SUCKS, that they’re amateurish, second-rate. Why does indie too often mean SHITTY? I’m waiting for the GREAT shit to be indie. "And The Cradle Will Rock…" is great shit.
Oh, it’s not for everyone. I played the track in my car one night on a first date and it was promptly over. The woman covered her ears, she lost her cool, she liked me, but not THIS MUCH!
Yes, our music used to draw a line. Were you WITH US or AGAINST US! Rap did this to great effect, for a while, before it became a joke.
Then again, Van Halen was ALWAYS kind of a joke. That’s why we loved the band so much. Eddie was as talented as they come, and Michael and Alex were more than serviceable. But what about this Jim Dandyesque front man, DAVID LEE ROTH? With the karate kicks, with the over the top lyrics.
He was straight out of the Catskills, via Pasadena. He was a tummler, a Jew who didn’t worry about convention, who seemed to be walking a fine line, between seriousness and FUCKING WITH US! He had personality. And we’re drawn to characters. American Idols are not characters, otherwise you can’t WIN, you’ve got to play by the rules!
There are no rules in rock and roll.
There are too many rules in society, too many games. And every once in a while I get overloaded and the only thing that gets me through, squeezes out all the bad feelings, all the frustration, is MUSIC! Records like "And The Cradle Will Rock…"
I was driving to Rhino, I had two podcasts planned. But enduring a phone call from someone who just didn’t get me, I blew my top. Wanting to come through for someone, I insured I was going to LOOK BAD! Fuck, why couldn’t I have just given her what she wanted, a couple of quotes, which she already had written in her head?
I was so pissed off, I was bouncing off the walls of Warner’s Burbank office. When I got into the studio, I had to be taken away, I had to hear a song, I had to hear "And The Cradle Will Rock…"
You can hear the resulting podcast at: The Lefsetz Letter: Van Halen or subscribe in iTunes (keyword: Rhino).
Maybe I reveal too much of myself, maybe I swagger, maybe my voice goes too high, but this is what life and music do to me.
Meanwhile, that old quote, "to thine own’s self be true", always rules. That ultimate article? I looked like a prince, I was quoted before James Taylor. Sacrifice your identity, give them what you think they want at your peril.