I can remember the very first thing that made me want to write about music, the very first experience. It was a school assignment. Sixth Form Journalism - and we'd get these weekend assignments. One time we'd have to do a lifestyle feature on a living grandparent, or interview a pet or whatever. A mate and I made a fake radio show one time too - that was fun.
We made all the stories and spliced in a few bits and pieces from some of my tapes. A group of Chinese jugglers was visiting the school at the time so we concluded with a 'light' story about that. I used the intro from Santana's live album, Lotus as the "interview" - no translation. One nerdy girl in the class felt the need, when it was played to everyone, to point out that this interview was in Japanese. That was all part of the joke I thought...
Anyway, as would seem fair, given that result, it is the only time I've been left in charge of a radio show. A pass-mark on that assignment doesn't seem to open any doors 20+ years later. And nor should it.
It was probably my favourite class in high school though and the assignment that sealed the deal for me - the one I'd waited all year for, it seemed - was when we were told to write a review. We had the weekend to hand in a review - TV show, film, book, album...anything that grabbed us. Old or new. We just had to have a go at writing our version of a review.
So I spent my Sunday afternoon putting together around 600 words about Lou Reed's live album, Rock'n'Roll Animal. At 16 I was obsessed with Lou Reed. I was buying up his albums on trips to Auckland - no internet back then and unreliable ordering from Hawke's Bay's music stores. It was all about the Big City visit; such excitement. And Rock'n'Roll Animal was my favourite. The big hook was the version of Sweet Jane - for the couple of years before I heard Rock'n'Roll Animal I only knew a truncated version of this song. It kicked in with the riff and a wave of applause - and then I heard the full version, all eight minutes. These guitars setting up the song - I'd write about the duck and weave of these guitars, I'd borrow phrases from the music magazines I was reading, stacks of old issues of Rolling Stones and Creem and then the Guitar Worlds and Rip It Ups of the day. I tried my best to squeeze every line I liked - or rather, type of line I liked - into this review/assignment.
Years later when I watched Almost Famous for the first time I winced at the bit where he struggles to pronounce the word 'incendiary' - knowing that I'd done that sort of thing; taken words I didn't really know, but knew to exist in and of the rock-writing idiom.
Some days when I'm sitting here thinking about to write - nearly 1800 of these posts behind me - I think back to that Sunday afternoon when it meant the world to me to be sitting there trying to cram some of my thoughts down onto the paper, burying them in with the music, blurring the lines of my life.
There's never been any doubt from me that it was that very moment that I decided I wanted to write about music. And then of course there's been doubt ever since that moment - every day. The narrowing of options. The number of doors closing. The legitimacy of it; whether it counts for anything, the fact that - ultimately - it doesn't mean a thing. We can't all be curing cancer or building the roads but indulging this whim is so far from either and not close to anything of much value really. Certainly not in a monetary sense. And clearly that's never been the focus.
And then yesterday I'm wondering what to write about - every day now I'm wondering what to write about - and I read the news that Dick Wagner has died. I hadn't thought about Dick Wagner in some years. But there was a time when he meant very close to the world to me. There was his playing on Welcome To My Nightmare and Billion Dollar Babies - my two favourite Alice Cooper records. And before that, in my world, there was his playing on Berlin. That was the album that had really made me a Lou Reed believer. I'd heard other records before that but that was the one that created the obsession. And then of course Rock'n'Roll Animal. And that's Dick Wagner playing that intro, with his tag-team guitar partner, Steve Hunter. They were the boys from Alice Cooper, on loan to Lou at exactly the right time. And though I never thought to include Wagner and Hunter in any of the lists of Best Guitarists I exchanged with friends - back when our idea of a great party was watching the wrestling and a Hellraiser film or two - they were part of that gateway drug. They were a big part of the sound and feel that was so inspiring at the time.
So it was sad news to read about Wagner's death. It seems his last few years weren't any kind of fun - a whole range of health issues there, a slow, sad decline.
But I thought about the joy that his playing brought into my life. Something he could never know. And what a gift that is - to touch so many lives.
In happier news you might remember me gushing about an album that I couldn't name a while ago. Some of you correctly guessed that it wasn't the new Shihad record and was in fact the upcoming album from Jakob. Well that cat's out of the bag - fully - now. You're all in for a treat come mid-October...
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