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…
For an inspirational message we played The Broadcast (from Wings’ Back To The Egg). It’s probably the only time something from that album was played on radio in New Zealand – pity it was a fake show, huh.
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 – several thousand 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. Never been my strength. On the good days I don’t worry about whether writing about music is any sort of ‘strength’. I just do it. Put down some thoughts. Aim for an emotional response. Engage the critical faculties.
Then sign off. And start again…