Henry Griggs Rambling
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My Musical Tastes
My Tastes In Music
I love listening to music. All sorts of music: rock, jazz, classical, experimental, blues, folk, world, bluegrass, even early country music. I don't much like the modern country & western, nor do I much care for a lot of modern rock music like rap. And these days, my tastes are leaning more toward early religious music from around the 10th to the 14th centuries.
My taste in rock music is much like anyone else's who grew up listening to rock in the 1970s. Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, The Doors. Good solid rock music. My tastes were fairly predictable until the early 1980s when I started doing radio broadcasting at 4TTT, Townsville's community radio station. After a year or two of doing rock shows, I found that I was pretty bored because it all sounded much the same. A verse, a chorus, a verse, a chorus, a long verse, a short chorus, then end. Boring. And usually it's two guitars and a bass and drums and a male singer. Boring. I started to seek out different styles of rock, and music that was different. And that led me down many paths.
I've seen this same search for something different in many different fields, not just music. It's not just a search for something different, it's a search for complexity, for depth. I can see this in my own life, comparing my habits from ten or twenty years ago to today. I now read books that are more complex and subtle, I prefer films that are complex and subtle, I prefer playing games that are complex. I think that as I get older, I am not satisfied by simplistic versions of things, I seek out the complex, the different.
As an easily identifiable example, consider hairdressers. Hairdressers generally do dozens of boring common-place hairdos every day. They get bored by the repetition of the common cuts and colours. So what do they do? They experiment on themselves, and end up looking like mutated cockatoos. Their search for something different and more complex and more subtle is exactly the same as my search for complexity in music. And we both end up with something that we are happy and comfortable with, but the rest of the world regards as pretty bloody awful.
For a further dissertation on the different types of music appreciators, try this little article from Australian Playboy. I'm not quite sure what category I fit into, but I know it's not one of the Trads.
When I was looking for different music, I started with the slightly experimental rock bands like The Nice, Yes, King Crimson and people like Brian Eno. Okay, so that was basically rockified classical music, or rockified world music, but it was different. It had a different feel, and you have to admit that the classical elements added a complexity to the music.
As I was living In North Queensland at the time of my search for different music, I found it a hard task. Radio was not providing much in the way of what I wanted, as there were only two commercial AM channels, the ABC, and the station that I was broadcasting at, 4TTT. It was the ABC that gave me my introduction to Philip Glass, and while I was hunting down his music, I started to find others that fit his pattern. It wasn't until I moved to Sydney that I was really able to find a lot of new music.
And I discovered the likes of Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Terry Riley, the guys who fit into the so-called minimalist camp of modern American music. And I found the strange vocals of Meredith Monk and Diamanda Galas. Finding information about modern music was difficult at first. One of the most informative books I found was called New Sounds by John Schaeffer. This book was all-encompassing. Not only did it cover the modern music I was interested in, it also covered experimental jazz, world music, classical hybrids, new age music and lots of other varieties. I used this book when I went on buying sprees. If it was in the book, I bought it. This gave me a pretty good selection of sounds to listen to.
This was music that no-one around me was listening to, and this was good. I enjoyed it immensely; it satisfied me in many ways. I enjoyed the music as it was different and it was complex. I enjoyed playing it to others and having them recoil in horror. It gave me that wonderful feeling of superiority that comes from enjoying music that no-one else knows about or wants to. (Again see musical power games in the article in Australian Playboy).
Yes, I know about the differences between classical and romantic and modern music. But when you talk to an audience who sit primarily on the rock side of the fence, then "classical" encompasses all the variations and genres of serious music. And when you sit on the classical side of the fence, then "rock" encompasses all the variations and genres that have flowed on from the rock'n'roll of the 1950s. So I'm using the term "classical" for simplicity's sake.
Classical music was a part of my childhood. I don't think my parents were great listeners to it, but there were always LPs in the house that I could play. I listened to the most popular pieces of the 1950s: Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, Liszt's Piano Concerto, Ravel's Bolero, Beethoven's Eroica, Stravinsky's Rite Of Spring. If the Readers Digest musical section released a classical LP, then I got to listen to it. For this, I am truly grateful. I don't remember all the pieces that I heard, but if it was there, I listened to it.
And I continued to listen to it all through my life. I remember the derision I received at boarding school when I regarded Bach's Brandenburg Concertos as enjoyable as The Doors' Morrison Hotel. I had a tiny little battery powered turntable. All plastic, looked like a lunch box. You opened it up and the lid came off to be the speaker, and it had a small built in amplifier. Primitive, but it worked well. I would have this underneath my bed in the dormitory and play some of the Brandenburg Concertos very, very quietly while lying there reading. I enjoyed it, while also listening to the Doors and the Troggs. It was just music, like the other stuff was music. A different type of music admittedly, but there was no law that said "Thou shalt listen to only one type of music". So I listened to anything that came my way.
When I finished school and went to Uni, I started collecting records in a BIG way. Maybe 80% rock, 20% classical. There was always classical. I knew the names of the pieces and the names of the composers and I could recognise orchestra names and conductors, but I never knew what I was listening to. By that I mean that I could hear a concerto but I didn't know what a concerto was, what differentiated it from a symphony. I didn't know the forms, I didn't know the jargon. Uneducated. I still don't know this stuff, and I have this idea at the back of my mind that one day I will take one of those courses at WEA or TAFE or the local self-help groups on musical appreciation. One day. Until then, I can say "I don't know much about music, but I know what I like". My collection has altered emphasis. It's now about 40% rock, 20% experimental and world music, and 40% classical. As I get older, I can see the rock percentage sliding down the scale, and the other sliding up, with classical having the higher acceleration. Is this a consequence of old age?
I was discussing this sort of thing at work recently, and I made the statement "Life is a process of refining one's tastes". I don't know if someone else said this and I am unconsciously repeating some famous lines. But it is apt. My tastes in food and wine are indeed a study in taste refinement. From Starwine and Porphry Pearl in the 60s to Wolf Blass Cab-Savs in the 90s (some people would say that I'm not refined enough yet, but I'm happy with my current state). From Coon cheese to King Island Brie, from fish fingers to sushi, from tinned Irish stew to laksa. The musical path is more diverse.
On a good night of listening at home, I will range from the Stooges and the Stranglers, through Philip Glass and Steve Reich, Stravinsky and Varese, and then some Tibetan religious chanting, a bit of plainsong, some percussion works and some Frank Zappa. After a little beer, I like slumming it with really raw rough music from the Stooges, MC5, Radio Birdman. After some red wine, I prefer classical. After champagne, I prefer throwing-up music. I keep trying to work out why different types of alcohol influences my choice of music. Beer and rock, wine and classical. Sounds snobbish, but maybe it has to do with complements. Beer complements fish and chips and takeaway food and sushi and Indian food. Wine complements heavy meat dishes and practically anything else. Maybe they complement different sorts of music. Have any studies been made on this?
Modern classical music is strange. It sounds cacophonous. It sounds silly. Frank Zappa released several cds in the "modern classical" tradition, and although I assiduously collected them, I rarely listened to them. They sounded like someone attempting classical music and failing miserably. That was my opinion until I started hearing more "acceptable" composers' modern offerings and they sounded the same. Strange. Cacophonous. Laughable. I keep listening, hoping that one day it will coalesce in my mind and I will get that Aha! sensation when something finally clicks, and things take their proper place in your mind. When the pegs in your mind expand and rearrange and the new thing finally has it's own peg, and it fits. The expansion of your experience to accommodate the new. It hasn't happened yet. Composers like Gorecki are still too new for me. Never mind. I will keep listening, and occasionally suspend my prejudices.
Another area of "classical" music that I have started to explore, is at the opposite end of modern classical. Early Music, it's called. Music before the classical period. Like the 1200s to the 1600s. Composers known as "Traditional" or "Anonymous", or better known ones like Hildegard of Bingen, Palestrina, Lassus, Byrd, Gesualdo. The music is mostly religious in nature. Gregorian chant comes from this period, as does Ambrosian chant. I love this music for its calm and serenity and peace. It relaxes me. Maybe it reminds of my early days in the Catholic Church when life was peaceful and serene.
I should thank Naxos for their fine collection of Early Music, and for their pricing policies.
In the last few years I have seen a lot of live music. Performances that spring to mind are The Cramps at the Dee Why Hotel, Dread Zeppelin at the Dee Why Hotel, Page and Plant at the Entertainment Centre, Philip Glass at the Opera House, Tori Amos at the State Theatre, Radio Birdman at Mona Vale, and Laurie Anderson at the State Theatre. I got a lot of pleasure from some of these performances, and I had a few disappointments along the way. The most enjoyable of those mentioned would have been Dread Zeppelin. Even compared to the performance of Page and Plant, Dread Zeppelin won easily.
Seeing all these shows, and experiencing the good and bad elements, has confirmed me in my current choice of live music. With pub bands you have to put up with drunks around you, standing up for the whole show, being crowded and pushed around, being deafened by an over-enthusiastic mixer, and coming home stinking of cigarette smoke. At the Entertainment Centre, you need a pair of binoculars or you pay huge prices for your tickets (sometimes both) and you end up watching a giant television screen while your ears bleed.
Nowadays I go to the Opera at the Opera House as often as I can afford. It affords me the most pleasure for the least amount of money. I get to sit down fairly comfortably. I'm not jostled by young drunks. I enjoy the music very much. I get to have a beer in nice surroundings several times. I enjoy it more than any of the other musical forms of entertainment that I have tried. I enjoy the music, the colour, the stories, and I enjoy the snob value. Although the snob value is losing ground, as more and more people admit to being in love with opera.
Anne and I get to about four or five operas a year. This year has been a mixed bag. Verdi's Otello, Britten's Albert Herring, Wagner's Flying Dutchman and Verdi's Falstaff. The only dud note was The Flying Dutchman. Usually I enjoy Wagner immensely, but this one was pretty much spoilt by setting Barrie Kosky onto it. He did for the Flying Dutchman what he did last year to Nabucco - he stuffed it.
Drums and percussion have always been a source of intense interest to me. Early memories of classical performances and those wonderful great kettle drums pounding. And then rock influences with interminable drum solos from lousy heavy metal bands, plus wonderful moments like In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and Santana drum solos. I loved the drums. Percussion, whatever you want to call it. In the background, I knew there was drumming other than Western drumming, but I never got to hear much of it. In the 80s, I tried to buy some cds on the Japanese drumming. You see pictures of mostly-naked, oiled, brown Japanese beating the hell out of these monstrous drums.
In 1995, I had a good look at modern percussion when Anne and I went to the Town Hall and saw the premiere of Carl Vines' Percussion Symphony with Synergy. I was enthralled. I've now got the cd of that. It's pretty good.
But it wasn't until Anne went overseas in 1996 that I had a really good bash at percussion. John and Anne, neighbours of ours, invited me over for dinner. During dinner, we discussed music. Lots and lots of music. And the name Synergy came up. Percussion group, sometimes plays with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Anyway, John had been invited to a workshop the next night. He wasn't going to go, but when I got enthusiastic, he decided he would go and take me too. So we did.
It was a short affair, only two hours. We went to their office/rehearsal studios/home in a warehouse in Ultimo. The leader of the group gave a one hour talk about the drums and drumming. They had just acquired a new drum. It was an absolute monster, a huge drum with a diameter of about four feet. They had it made in Tasmania. Anyway, the show was about taiko, which is the Japanese drumming. When I heard this, I was really thrilled because I love that incredibly muscular, powerful Japanese drumming. After the talk they got one guy out of the audience and showed him how to play the big drum. He needed to get into a martial arts posture to belt the drum, and we all thought it was a bit of posturing, but when he finished belting it, he said that if he hadn't been in the posture, he would have hurt his back because of the force needed to belt the drum.
Then they showed us how they rehearse the drum pieces, and then they gave a brief performance. The rehearsal was really interesting, seeing how a percussion group rehearses without instruments. The performance was staggering. It started with the three guys sitting in front of these small Japanese drums. They used sticks with a two inch diameter. And they beat the shit out of the drums. On one of Zappa's You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore cds, his drummer wails about beating the shit out of the drums. Well, that was nothing on this. They pounded those drums in complex rhythms and patterns. The noise was fierce. Two of them continued on the small drums while the leader went to the medium drums and he came in on them in a frenzy. The volume soared. The woman then started on the brass bells, and the other two guys joined the leader on the medium drums while he attacked the big drum. The volume hit very high levels.
It was great to see because it wasn't like a rock drummer just belting his drums. It was ritualistic. It was physical. It was powerful. They sweated. The gestures were ritual, with arms going up and down in grand gestures in unison. During the talk he showed us how the exaggerated hand gestures actually added to the sound and the volume and the feel of the sound. They pounded away and pounded away and my chest boomed and sounded with the drums. The sound was so intense. And then it finished on a truly huge burst of sound. Most of the audience had had trouble breathing for the last fifteen minutes because of the volume of sound bursting over them. But we clapped and staggered around getting our breath back. We were more winded than the band. They pointed out to us all the posters and pictures that were on the walls. When they started, they were all straight and aligned. Now they were all crooked and hanging at crazy angles. The unused drum boxes had moved, wine glasses had fallen over. The percussive quality of the noise had moved everything.
I enjoyed it so much, because I was familiar with it. I have heard the Japanese drumming before, and really enjoyed it. But the complex rhythms and patterns that they were using were familiar to me through Frank Zappa and Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Zappa because of the complexity of his music, the polyrhythms he uses, and his insistence on drummers doing it right. Steve Reich because he works with percussion. Philip Glass through the gamelan flavour of his work. I loved it.
Synergy already have one cd available of the taiko drumming, and I've now got that. They say that they'll have another out in 97. Plus I've got a cd of the Japanese drumming. You need to wind the amplifier up really loud to get the feeling of the drumming. When I brought the drumming cds home, I put them on, wound up the amp and felt the pounding wash over me again. When I stopped after fifteen minutes for a break, I discovered that Anne had been yelling at me for fifteen minutes to turn the noise down. She likes drums, but in their proper place behind some guitars or an orchestra. I like drums up front and very, very loud.
In the meantime, I've had a lot of little things that opened me up to percussion. There was the Ryko cdrom Surf This Disc, which showed me lots about the world music and the percussion that Ryko have. And their World Music director, Mickey Hart, drummer for the Grateful Dead. On the strength of that cdrom, I started collecting Ryko cds. If it had Ryko on it, I bought it. And I ended up with the Diga Rhythm Band, with Mickey Hart and some really neat percussion. Plus King Sunny Ade. And then I found two books by Mickey Hart about drumming and percussion. Drumming On The Edge Of Magic, and Planet Drum. These really opened my eyes to percussion and drums and the music. And gave me a huge list of music to try and hear and/or acquire.
In 1996, there was an all-percussion concert called Beat It! at the Sydney Town Hall. There were performances by many groups, including Synergy, Waraba, B'Tutta and Nightflight to Venus. It was a marvellous evening, showing a wide variety of drumming and percussion styles. Synergy performed the piece that I saw them rehearsing at the workshop. Beat It! is expected to become an annual event, one that I intend to see each year.
My favourite composers/performers are (in no particular order):
Of course, I like a hell of a lot more music than just these people, but they are the ones I listen to more than anything else. I listen to Zappa and Stravinsky more than the others because both have such a large and varied amount of work. The others all sound samey, so I only listen to them when I'm in the mood for something specific. With Zappa and Stravinsky, there is something for every mood. Downers and uppers, and things for serious listening, and happy things for kids, and bits of jazz, and bits of musique concrete, and all sorts of things. I've got so much Stravinsky and so much Zappa, that just listening to my favourite bits takes a huge amount of time, and discovering new favourite bits takes the rest of the time. There is always a little bit of leftover time to listen to new stuff.
In the 80s in Townsville, I was a bit of a band groupie. I followed the local Townsville bands around, watched them perform, recorded them, photographed them, and I took notes. I needed to take notes because the bands formed and unformed and mutated, and people came and went, and I wanted to remember who had done what. Townsville was a place that promoted local bands and it was a hotbed of activity and my notes soon became quite large and quite unwieldy. So I reorganised them into a mini-encyclopedia of Townsville bands and kept them in that form. I showed this to the bands and got lots more information and I kept it up to date. I also did some research into the earlier bands, and I did lots of interviews.
During the move to Sydney in 1988, I lost all of my original notes, plus about a year's worth of the notes that I kept on disk. It was the usual story: inadequate backups and a firm trust that the prime disk would always be perfect. Oh well, I learnt a lesson. Anyway, when I got to Sydney, I shoved what was left of my notes and mementoes into a box and forgot about them until 1995 when Richard Martin conspired against me and told Chris Spencer about them.
Chris Spencer runs Moonlight Publications, a small publishing company that specialises in recording the history of Australian rock music. He publishes lots of small booklets about artists like Billy Thorpe, Russell Morris, Brian Cadd, as well as full scale books like The Who's Who Of Australian Rock. If you like Oz Rock, you should buy this book at least. If you can't find it in your local shops, then write toMoonlight Publishing
P.O. Box 5
Golden Square VIC 3555
Australia and ask for a price list. His books and booklets are excellent reference material, and well worth being on every Oz Rock collector's reference shelves.
So anyway, Chris Spencer contacted me and asked if he could obtain my notes. He wanted to use them as part of a series on regional rock. I cleaned up what I had left, and shipped them off to him. I heard nothing for ages, and then one day a parcel was left on my doorstep. Inside were four copies of this great looking little booklet called Cuttin' It In Townsville. All my notes were there, no-one else's. My book. What an ego boost that was. I couldn't stop grinning inanely all day long. I know it's not a novel, and I know it's not a real book with a hard cover, and that it has a limited audience. I know all this, but I don't care. I've been published. I've got a published book out there.
Since it was published, I've been expanding it a bit. There were parts where I referred to bands breaking up because of drugs, and bands breaking up because of the intra-band sex, and all sorts of things like that. I had assumed that only some of my notes would be used, and that Chris would pick and choose and clean it up. Not so. And the reaction to those bits has been pretty wild. I've had phone calls where they've said "You said such-and-such, but that was nothing. Here's the real dirt...". So I've been adding to the book, and doing some interviews to fill in the gaps. Maybe next year there will be a second edition. And a libel suit to go with it.
If by some remote chance you want a copy of this booklet, write to Moonlight Publishing at the address above, and ask for it by name and send along $6. That gets you the booklet, delivered. If you weren't in the Townsville rock scene in the 1980s, then there probably isn't much point in getting a copy. You had to be there to appreciate it. Better still, you had to be to be out of it.
In the late 1980s in Townsville, I helped form a band called The Cunning Linguists. I sang. Well, I was the vocalist and attempted to sing. It was a normal sized band, with a vocalist, lead and rhythm and bass guitars, and a drummer. We practised like hell for weeks and I certainly learnt a lot from that. I even got to the stage where I was almost getting the rhythm of the songs. What songs did we do? It was a pretty limited repertoire, mostly old favourites like Gloria, All Day And All Of The Night, the Cramps' Can Your Pussy Do The Dog? and Satisfaction. We did the simplified versions so I could cope.
And we actually managed to perform twice in Townsville in pubs. We even got paid. Both times, the result was horrified silence followed by an immediate exodus to the bar. Which made me decide to enjoy other people's music, and leave the making of it to those capable of it. I still have the audio tapes of both those performances plus photographs of the event. Once, just once, I started to listen to one tape, and it was so horrible that I couldn't bear to finish it.
I have since transferred those tapes to audio cds, and listened to them again. When the band plays and I don't sing, it's not bad. When I sing, oh my god, it's horrible.