Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

My First Time

Artists: David Bowie; Brian Eno
Albums: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (DB); Thursday Afternoon (BE)
Source: Bought new

For my 14th birthday, my parents bought me a CD player. That's a common enough occurrence these days, but this was a moment in the 1980s when the Compact Disc was brand new, something only audiophiles & early adopters had even heard of. Up until that moment, I'd had my little boom box and a Walkman for my already-sizable collection of cassettes, and I would play my few LPs on my folks' turntable. Everything seemed fine.

Suddenly, there was this new, unknown thing to deal with. Along with the player, I got a copy of an audiophile magazine like Stereo Review or something, and the cover story was about CD players...and the attendant CDs that went along with them.

Thus, the process began.

I did some reading, and prepared for a trip to the Cherry Hill Mall, where Sound Odyssey had a section of CDs - way in the back of the store, behind the vinyl and tapes. I'd brought along some allowance money to make the buy, and some ideas of what to get: probably a Beatles album (Sgt. Pepper's, maybe?), maybe London Calling or one of the Pink Floyd albums I'd yet to get on cassette.

But these were early days, and the pickings were slim. The Beatles were 5 years or so from making their debut in the new format; ditto for iconic acts like the Stones. The Floyd section was nearly bare, and since I'd never heard a CD, it didn't occur to me to upgrade one of the Talking Heads or Elvis Costello albums I already had.

There was a lot of weird stuff on offer, and much of it was beyond my ken. This was my entry into a new musical world, so the selection could not be made lightly - the discs I got had to matter in some way.

When I realize that it was my 14-year-old self that made the purchase, I'm kind of blown away that the two things I bought were Bowie's Ziggy Stardust album, and Eno's Thursday Afternoon. At an age when I really should have been picking up some of the hits of the day (maybe Synchronicity and Brothers in Arms, or something else from MTV's heavy rotation?), I ended up with a pair of discs that are kind of a microcosm of all of the many, many, many additions yet to come to The Baby Beast.

First Bowie. Put simply, Ziggy is iconic. The opening shot of a new kind of glam pop, the album was already a historical milestone. It had two hits everybody knew - "Ziggy Stardust" and "Suffragette City" - and a backstory that people who cared about such things (read: me) knew inside and out. It would have made more sense to pick up a best-of package like Changes, but I felt like I needed something more important, and this fit the bill.

Eno's disc went in the other direction, being an iconoclastic record that fit into the history yet to be made. Thursday Afternoon is a single, hour-long minimalist piece that Eno made specifically in response to the advent of CDs. Its length took advantage of the elongated playing time of the new medium (no need to fade out for a flip to Side Two), and the quiet, slow evolution of the music banked on the disc's non-existant surface noise. It was something with no discernable melody, no real "fun factor," but lots & lots to think about and discuss.

The third point is one I didn't even know at the time: more or less at random, I'd reunited a classic art-rock team. Bowie and Eno had made "important" music together in the past (really around the time I was born), but that was something I'd learn later.

Since this trip to the mall, I've essentially made the same trip over & over again...going to the record store looking to 1) build up my store of classic/important recordings; 2) dig into secret, eclectic musical worlds that ran parallel (but miles beneath) to the ones aboveground, in search of something new and momentous, or at least just good for a geeky bull session; 3) make connections, real or imagined, between seemingly disparate musical artifacts, looking for the deeper truths that would be revealed. I'm still hard at work on all 3 points.

SISOSIG? If only for personal historical reasons, I'd be loathe to part with either of these discs (though oddly enough, I've yet to buy any more Bowie or Eno in the CD format). I don't listen to Ziggy too often anymore...but that's pretty much due to how much I listened to it back in the day. When it was one of half a dozen discs I owned (i.e., Wish You Were Here and Fear of Music followed these 1st purchases by a few weeks), I listened to every nook and cranny of it. Eventually, it became part of my own musical/historical firmament; I still love it when I hear it, even if it isn't that often.

Thursday Afternoon, on the other hand, has become something I listen to more as time passes. Truth be told, it's subtle pleasures were kind of wasted on my teenage self - there isn't anything that could be considered "active" about the piece until 58 minutes in, when the low end drops out. When I was hearing more of myself in albums by The Clash and Husker Du, an elongated piece of minimal piano, composed visually on a grid, didn't really hit the right buttons too often. But as I've sought more moments of soli- and quietude in adult life, my ears have continually opened up to Eno's disc. It's not only a keeper for historical reasons, but for actively musical ones.


  • I have a cd problem too! jaja
    Your blog is great!
    Visit my blog and if you want interchange links..
    Saludos desde Argentina!

    By Blogger Freak Out, at 4:34 PM  

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