I’m going to be 55 years old this year, and being the sort of music-obsessive nerd that I am I separate my life into musical epochs centered around particular records.
1. 1964 — watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan at my grandmother’s house with my whole family. My mom — a talented composer, among other fine qualities — insisted we all watch. It’s hard to imagine how that affected everyone then — even my Grandmother thought it was something remarkable.
2. 1966 — I saved up my allowance — for a long time — to buy the Beatles “Rubber Soul” — I got the mono version because it would have taken me another week to get the extra dollar for the stereo version. In my mind the sound of that record — uncluttered and dark is inextricable with the visual image of a dark wood, like mahogany, which of course for me was ‘norwegian wood.’
3. 1970 — the dual shot of Grateful Dead’s “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty.” Forget the Deadheads, the tie die, the bloated, sad death of Jerry Garcia. The Dead crystallized the moment, but with something that will always remain mysterious and deeply American. I wrote an essay for Little Village about it that almost but not quite captures how I feel about these records.
4. 1974 — I don’t know how exactly but I discovered — or rediscovered, it was music that was in the air in my house — John Coltrane & Thelonius Monk. In particular a Riverside re-issue called “Monk/Trane.” Jazz is a fickle thing, that works best in the moment, as it’s being played, but I learned every note of those records, and the version of “Abide With Me” — arranged by Monk but without his piano, still makes me tear up.
5. 1977 — A banner year of “Never Mind The Bollocks It’s the Sex Pistols” and “Talking Heads 77” — I tried to play the Sex Pistols record for my dad, a symphony conductor, and he made it about 3 minutes. He just left the room, shaking his head.
6. 1983 — REM “Murmur” The first few REM records were landmarks in American Music. Like the Dead, they rather outlasted their moment — nothing after “Life’s Rich Pageant” really stuck with me.
7. 1988 — My Bloody Valentine “Isn’t Anything” — as unlike REM as a band could get, a pure, abstract, lovely roaring noise. To the whole “shoegaze” movement this album and “Loveless” basically exhausted the genre before it was fully explored — they just couldn’t be topped. Their influence is immense, and pops up in the weirdest places.
8. 1991 — The Swervedriver EPs on Creation, beginning with “Son Of Mustang Ford.” A lot less punk and a lot more rawk than MBV, Adam Franklin’s songs and the blazing arrangements thereof were impossible not to listen to over and over.
9. 1994 — Two poles of the same universe Aphex Twin “Selected Ambient Works II” and Richie Hawtin “Recycled Plastic” Aphex Twin made music that was like a series of empty rooms that were each haunted by a different ghost. Richie Hawtin’s “Spastik” was an Ars Poetica of pure Rhythm. These two records and a slew more started a headfirst dive into electronic music and led to my own attempts at music production. In an echo of the spirit of 1977, this was homemade DIY music that gave a million people the idea to do it themselves.
10. 2004 — The World Of Arthur Russell. I’m a guy who grew up in Iowa, playing the cello. Arthur Russell was a guy who grew up in Iowa playing the cello. I was aware of “Is It All Over My Face” from club parties, but this album crystallized his genius. I’d give a lot to make a track as transcendent as “In The Light Of The Miracle” or “Go Bang.”
11. 2006 — Burial’s self-titled debut on Hyperdub — I can’t believe it’s been 6 years. Again, someone much imitated since then, but never equalled, except by his subsequent productions. A gateway drug into the world of Dubstep and the whole crazy universe of UK Bass music.
Since then… not sure. I listen to so much new music it’s hard to pick out anything as epochal as these records. And maybe it’s something you only really see in retrospect.