When I was about 18 or 19 I read a couple of interviews where the subjects in question banged on about Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica. I was bowled over by their love for this album. I had to listen to it. Imagine my excitement when I got my hands on a copy a couple of months later. Imagine my surprise when instead of hearing astounding music I heard a recording of what seemed to be a bunch of self-indulgent old hippies having a practice session whilst shit faced. It wasn’t the transcendent experience I thought I had been promised. It was, however, an eye opener.
The lesson wasn’t exactly profound. At the time I was mostly annoyed about wasting about fifteen notes on a damp squib when I expected a rocket (and I say this knowing full well in how much esteem that record is held in by some people) but it was a useful reminder that just because something lacks convention, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’ll be worth the effort. On the back of this and a few other similar experiences I began to suspect that although you can learn to admire certain types of music, it’s another thing to love it if it’s something you just don’t feel.
Luckily I learned pretty quickly that this was not entirely true. Some music has an immediate impact on the individual listener and some will never do anything other than irritate. But some music just needs the time to work its magic. When I first heard Drexciya I just didn’t get it. It’s not that I disliked them, but any impression they made was lessened by everything else I was hearing around them. Eventually, through repeated exposure to them, people I respected constantly talking about them, and – perhaps most importantly – hearing them played with enough space and context for the music to do its thing, I fell in love with them. I can’t imagine not loving Drexciya now.
It should be easier, given modern technology and the Internet, to come to conclusions quicker than in the past but I’m not sure it is. the ubiquitous minute long audio clip would have been ten times longer than I needed to know that Captain Beefheart pushed all the wrong buttons, but what about Drexciya? I wonder. Chances are I would a minute of airtime would have done nothing other than lead me to missing out on an important part of my life. At the very least it would have taken me far longer. I also wonder how much great music I’ve avoided because of initial reactions to a short clip?
Not too much, I hope. I’ve a pretty good network going these days; a healthy mix of friends and acquaintances who know their shit, stumbling over stuff online, and recommendations from record store bods keeps me good. Mostly this is no different from the way it’s always been. It’s just faster now, and possibly more complete. Metasplice’s Topographical Interference EP was one I bough unheard, having had a couple of people talk it up to me. For a long while I suspected it was going down the Beefheart road – harsh electronics that seemed to do nothing more than loop back pointlessly on themselves, full of their own cleverness. Unpleasant and self-indulgent.
But then, I’m not sure why, I stuck it on one afternoon and something clicked. I’d listened to it a few times but perhaps had never given it enough space. I could hear the way that everything came together. The grooves I had though non-existent were there, coaxed out from the noise until they came to the forefront. And the noise itself separated into different elements, each falling into their proper place.
We only have a few short years of hanging around on this rock, and there isn’t enough time to listen to shit music. There’s barely enough time to listen to all the good stuff. But sometimes it pays to put prejudice aside and just listen. Even if it the music really is shit, you’ll be one up on where you were before. I told you the lesson wasn’t exactly profound, didn’t I? As for Trout Mask Replica I’ve tried a couple of times over the years to see whether I could fathom what I was supposed to be missing. Nope, it’s still a bunch of wank, folks, but at least I know for sure.