Nick Mason Interview

In September 2011, I was privileged enough to interview Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason when he came to LA’s Grammy Museum to discuss the coming reissue of Dark Side of the Moon and its accompanying box set. However, I was more interested in his opinions on new and old music, and the presence of technology in popular music through time. This interview was originally published on a site called Get Lit LA that I was affiliated with at the time. 

Lily Armstrong: So, I wanted to start by talking a little bit about drumming. I’ve heard people like Paul McCartney say they thought that, really, what made their music truly exceptional was its drumming. And I was especially curious about emotion in drumming. How are really good drummers able to convey emotion through that instrument?

NM: Um.  Good question.  First of all, I think a lot of the good drumming is about being an ensemble player.  It’s not about just how many gymnastics you can do with your playing.  It’s to do with how you work with the music.  And although time-keeping is meant to be the ultimate, you know, role of the drummer, in many ways it’s slightly … off time-keeping.  There’s quite an interesting belief that there’s a big difference, almost a school of drumming that is the American school and an English school. And the theory behind the English school is that they play — or we play — fractionally, not behind the beat but on the back of the beat.  Will it influence the music and give it a very specific feel?  It’s about the feel that is delivered not only by the actual part that’s played but the actual tempo. That is, the subtleties of pulling the music back slightly and adding to the dynamic of it. And I think that’s probably what Paul was sort of talking about.  You know the most dangerous [member] in a band is someone who just doesn’t know how to shut up.

LA: I can see that being true, I mean, there is a very clear division between drummers like Ginger Baker and Keith Moon and other more restrained drummers who, you know, try to keep time more uniformly, you could say.  

NM: But then, you know, I have some real favorites apart from Ginger, who was such an influence on me. Also Mitch Mitchell’s, Jimi Hendrix’s drummer. I think he’s fantastic and the curious thing with him is there’s almost no one else who’s ever sort of emulated him.  And he had this thing, which was such a sort of partly loose thing, an almost jazzy style of playing that really worked well with Jimi’s music.

LA: Also, I wanted to bring in technology and music, because Pink Floyd did so much with breaking ground in the technology that went into recording, and to this day those breakthroughs are hugely influential. I recently read this story about the band Wilco’s latest single, which is called “I Might,” in which there’s a lyric that ends with the word “brother.” Wilco singer Jeff Tweedy said that when he was in studio, he was trying to emulate the word “brother” in The Stooges’ song “TV Eye,” the way Iggy sings it. And apparently he couldn’t get it right, so he decided to sample him in behind him, and he claimed that “the lyric needed more than I could give it, and fortunately this is the 21st century, so these things can happen.” Do you think that’s an honest use of the kind of technology you pioneered?

NM: Yeah, I mean, I think that there are no rules.  I think [the] only rules that come into play are where perhaps you use enough of someone’s music that you’re actually using their music, if you see what I mean…  But if you just took a particular drum sound or something or just took a beat off of someone’s record, I just see that as being legitimate creativity.  Um I would not be happy with myself sitting here going, “No, that’s wrong, that’s allowed, that’s not allowed.”  I think you do whatever you can to get whatever it is you want.

LA: Back in the 60’s and 70’s, was that the mentality that you guys really went into it with?

NM: The issue of sampling of course is very much a sort of later period thing. No one had even thought about sampling.  I do remember the closest that we came to [sampling] was the Melotron.  And I remember the Musicians’ Union was up in arms at the prospect of orchestras losing their livelihood because of the Melotron, which is complete nonsense, of course, because the Melotron is the most extraordinary instrument. But you’d never think that’s an orchestra, you’d think that’s a Melotron. So, yeah, I think in those sorts of terms it’s very hard to look at how things were then, you know. So much of it was people messing around in the studios. Sometimes people think we were sort of very busy with Loogs and really elaborate instruments.  Most of it was things like, you know, when you listen to George Martin talking about phasing. Basically, it was two tape recorders running with someone putting their elbow on it to slow it up very slightly to get that effect. And there was quite a lot of that sort of trial-and-error experimentation, I think.

LA: Do you think that in some ways, bands today are somehow disadvantaged by having that technology immediately at their disposal?

NM: It’s not really a disadvantage. I mean it’s great, obviously, to be able to choose exactly what sounds you want to be able to play with, and all the rest of it, but the biggest problem is: it takes time.  You know, the great thing about few tracks, very few tracks — the original four track recordings and so on — was however hard you tried, you really finished things quickly. Because you had to make decisions. You couldn’t leave it ‘til the mix to decide, ah, how loud the bass should be, because you had the bass on with the drums and [you had to] get it right the first time. All the Beatles’ recordings and certainly our first recordings were incredibly quick because … we could leave those decisions and decide later on whether we wanted the high hat in or out or whatever.

LA: Actually, I was wondering about the amount of time it takes to record an album, and how it’s changed.  A lot of bands now wait four years between albums. And for so long, Pink Floyd was just turning out albums so relatively quickly, compared to that kind of a distance.

NM: Yeah, I’m not sure. I’ve never seen us as being particularly prolific.  I mean, you’re right. I suppose, looking back on it, compared to the four year lay-off or whatever, we quite often did an album a year.  In terms of studio time, I think we only took two or three weeks to do Obscured by Clouds, which was a movie album. But, the fact is, the world is always changing and albums now are less important than live music. Whereas, in the ‘70s, the album was everything. You know, the touring was done to promote the album.

LA: So are you saying that recently, the live performance has become more important than the album or studio recordings?

NM: Well, the fact of the matter is, as a business, music has changed so dramatically that actually live performance is the area where you make money; and the records are slipping all the time. You can’t get away from that so you’ve got an enormous change in attitude where people go off and tour now and it’s generally a year, or a year plus. Our early tours were about three weeks, and that was it.

LA: You kept the US tours pretty short, in general.

NM: Yeah, I don’t know why we did that. When I look back now, I think, ‘That was idiotic.’ Because the great thing about long tours is that you get better at it and you actually really hone the music and get it right and you can develop it.

LA: Yeah, I remember you saying in your book that “Eclipse,” specifically, really improved by being performed live.

NM: Yeah, that’s one of the things about this new release next week, what’s called the “Immersion” version of Dark Side — it’s exactly that. There are recordings from where the ideas were being tried out on the road. And the silly thing is that everyone got sort of hung-up on the business of people bootlegging and so everyone stopped touring and just rehearsed in the studios which is not nearly as efficient because if you’ve played live, you keep working on it. The trouble in the studio, I think, is you wait until you’ve got it right, and then you consider that as the finished article; whereas if you’re playing live, you see whether the audience likes it. You can see whether, in fact, it sits properly in the rest of the music, and that’s what I think comes over a little bit with the Dark Side pieces. They’re quite different than how they ended up on the album — hopefully, they’re better on the album — but you can see the thinking was, “Well, this isn’t quite right like that, and it needs to be changed,” or “It doesn’t work.”

LA: Yeah, I actually was just listening to Dark Side a little while ago, and I was thinking about how the time signature changes on it — like we were talking about earlier. As a musician myself, I really notice differences in time change. How it really creates a mood throughout it, and takes the listener up and down with it.

NM: I think that’s absolutely what we were trying to do, was put a dynamic into the record. At the time, I won’t say it was radical, because it wasn’t. In a way, Sergeant Pepper did that initially, but it was this idea that you don’t have to have everything played at 200 miles an hour, flat-out and loud, and all the rest of it, but you make it go exactly that — up and down in tempo and in volume, really. That makes it more interesting.

LA: Definitely. And then, back to performance, bands like Pink Floyd, and The Who and David Bowie were considered very theatrical for the time, and were doing really radical things onstage compared to what had come before. And even today, the sort of rock show as opposed to the rock concert has become really, really prevalent. What do you think it is about rock n’ roll, and about that sort of music that gravitates to the “big production?”

NM: Well, I think [the main thing] that has driven the bigger production values is that people have started playing bigger and bigger places. You know, when you look back, Shea Stadium was a real wakeup call — it didn’t work. It was an iconic moment in time, but still, working in a proper performance which the audience could hear — it was nowhere! You know, the biggest thing has been the move from theatres to arenas and in some cases into stadiums. In many ways, not many people, I think, make the stadium work for them. I don’t think we ever did, really. I think the arena show we got right, but the stadium show—it was always… never quite reaching, really, as far as it should. I think The Stones really mastered the stadium show, but that just became a bigger and bigger industry, and you think, in the ‘50s, let’s say, or the ‘60s, the rock show was in a theatre, and it would have seven or eight acts on the bill. It was unthinkable that Chuck Berry would do two and a half hours or whatever. He’d come and do twenty minutes and when that’s done, they’d go on and so on. It’s that move from that way. I think that the industry has changed, and the way music is performed has changed, and that’s driven this whole business of production. And it is amazing. Yes, okay, we did a lot of hopefully really good things, but now even a really good boy band will be there with fireworks, and films, and video, and unbelievably good shows.

LA: And how do you think that can affect the music in the show? I know that a lot of acts today cannot perform live, and perform to pre-recorded tracks because the dance is so elaborate, and the show is so big.

NM: The answer at the end of the day is “Do their fans like it?” It’s almost impossible to do the singing and the dancing — that’s some heavy breathing. I think on principle, I am conservative in the sense that I’m not entirely happy with the idea that other people are just using backing tracks. Occasionally, yes, sometimes it’s a good idea. I mean, we’ve done it on odd occasions in order to sync the film properly. And generally, I’d try to design the show so that if the film goes out of sync, it doesn’t matter.

LA: Yeah, I remember in your book, you were talking about how you tried to have a sort of cushion for those sorts of transitions. I actually wanted to share with you a quote from Roger Daltrey from Rolling Stone in 1975 — please don’t ask me why I have a Rolling Stone from 1975. But, he said, “Our audience wouldn’t put up with it if The Who went onstage like Pink Floyd with an incredible light show and stood there like four dead people that sounded great.” I didn’t really know what to think of that one.

NM: That’s a fair comment. You know, that’s part of the reason we put all that stuff up there — because none of us did do duck-walking, or moon-walking, or anything like that. It’s a fair comment…  I’ve never heard that quote from Roger before, but I once said that — well, someone once said that, “It’s becoming so mechanical,” and I said, “We did try to use computers instead of us going on stage but they used to move around too much.”

LA: My next question was going to be about what, I guess you can say, is the increasing acceptability of rock-and-roll. Now you find rock-and-roll songs in commercials, you find increased legitimacy from organizations designed to promote it, and such. And how do you think that’s affected musical output?

NM: I think it’s something I’m not entirely comfortable with. I think the music has been devalued a bit, and I think that if you’re walking around the supermarket now — funnily enough, I was in Trader Joe’s, and it was Led Zeppelin. You know, while people are wandering around trying to choose their granola, there’s Jimmy giving it everything. It used to be muzak. Now, everyone hated muzak, but on the other hand, at least we all knew where we stood: muzak was in the shop, Led Zeppelin was onstage. I don’t feel comfortable with it just being anywhere all the time. I mean, it’s partly because we all have so many other ways of entertaining ourselves. You know, when Led Zeppelin were at their peak, no one had a computer game. And movies — well, we had movies, but they didn’t quite feel as important as they do now. So, I really can’t remember what exactly the thrust of the question was, but—remind me?

LA: It was just sort of “how do you think the increased acceptability has affected the musical output?

NM: I don’t really think it’s affected music. I think most musicians still work. Actually, there are many, many more good musicians around now because kids are learning to play so much better from day one. I mean, my boys took guitar lessons — electric guitar lessons — in school, and drums lessons. If I’d gone to my music master and said “Please sir, I’d like to play the drums,” I think he’d have fainted. d “Could I have some more, sir?” “What?!”

LA: Do you think that there’s a difference between how it’s affected newer acts and older acts?

NM: Well, a lot of older acts have suddenly realized that they can still work. They’ve come back out of the woodwork which I think it terrific. Most musicians work to please themselves. Because you can’t second-guess what the public are going to like anyway. There are a few people who can do that, produce pop songs, but it’s a very unusual ability.  Most people please themselves first and then the public discover them.  But, you know, Jimmy Paige doesn’t sit down and go, “I wonder if the public would like this,” or Keith Moon go, “I wonder if they’d like it if I kicked my drum kit over.” It comes from somewhere else. They’re not really affected by those sort of outside influences. It’s something you’re driven to do of your own volition.

LA: Do you think that drive is what really separates rock and roll from a lot of other types of music?

NM: No, I don’t. I think that theme runs through. I think that people are passionate about music at every sort of level even.  Even country and western, something I know absolutely zero about, but I think the people who are good at it are very good and have the passion. And I think that’s true with creative arts generally; that actors, the same; painters, the same; you have to have this sort of — I mean, the interesting thing with rock music is that you have a slightly different dynamic with so many bands who are successful because they’ve got more than one of those people in the band. Those people quite often spark off of each other and against each other at the same time, but that to me seems to be the sort of unusual element about rock music and why it seems to be, maybe, a little bit sparkier.

LA: Just about that sheer size of the genre now — there are just so, so many people who are trying to do it and who do do it and in so many different genres that it seems like are popping up every single day.

NM: I think that makes life a bit more difficult. I mean, I think what was easier about the music business thirty years ago is that it was a very channeled system to be successful. It was very channeled.  You needed three cards to get in the game; you needed an agent, a manager and a record deal.  And now, you’re really having to try to sort out a career without necessarily having a record deal, or without having the manager aspect of it. That makes it tougher because, you know it’s hard, it’s much more difficult to get your target audience to listen to you because there are so many radio stations now. In England there used to be one important radio station, that was it. And so once you were played on there — you were sort of rolling.  Whereas now, how many radio stations are there in London? There’s one for every artist, more or less.

LA: We’ve been talking about the last forty or so years of music — What do you see happening in the next forty?

NM: I think it’s very hard to second-guess forty years of music but in the next few years, I think there’ll be changes in the way we download and buy music.  I think it’s a fairly chaotic system at the moment with pirating and downloading and Spotify and, you know, all the different versions and the different levels of quality available and I think that could quite possibly settle down and we’ll find ways of monetizing music so that people can make a living.  Not a fortune necessarily, but more people can make a living out of music.  I think we need the Chinese to produce a great band and some great players and some great thoughts and then suddenly they’ll get the whole business of copyright protection.  I mean it won’t happen until it affects them directly.

LA: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. It’s been a great honor.


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Blodwyn Pig

It seems like while my generation has remembered a lot of music of the 1960s and 70s, the largest genre that has not retained too great a base of young fans is prog rock. You see teenagers with Pink Floyd shirts and Who posters all the time, but when’s the last time you saw one with a King Crimson shirt and a Yes poster on the wall, passionately air-fluting to Jethro Tull?

Well, you probably haven’t. Or at least, I haven’t. Although I manage to associate with a whole bunch of old rock nerds of approximately my age, very few of them have the patience or the stomach for prog rock. I’m not saying I do– not entirely, anyway. But in the right mood, I can really enjoy good prog, especially some of the more obscure (and in my opinion, less pretentious) stuff, especially from the late 60s and very early 70s, before the genre had largely departed from its roots in blues and psychedelic rock.

Jethro Tull’s debut album, This Was, with guitarist Mick Abrahams.

So what exactly is prog rock? For a start, the name is abbreviated from “progressive,” which was supposedly the idea. By fusing the vast majority of possible musical genres, and incorporating jazz, world, and classical influences, it seems that prog rockers hoped to further the very notion of popular (or unpopular) music itself with legendary technical proficiency and infamously long songs. Prog rock was about vision– more specifically, achieving musical vision. It can be interpreted as rock’s most introverted, fanciful side. Even lyrics often dealt with whimsical, fantastical themes, and intricate, dense instrumental passages separated prog even further from mainstream music.

Blodwyn Pig in 1969

Ironically, it is not precisely a prog idol I give you today, but instead, a prog  castaway. Blodwyn Pig came to be when Mick Abrahams departed Jethro Tull in 1968 after playing lead guitar on their debut album, This Was. Apparently, the split was due to both personal and musical differences. Although according to rumor (propagated by Circus Magazine), Abrahams’ split from the group was due to his refusal to work seven days a week, it appears to have been more as result of vocalist/flutist Ian Anderson’s increasing control over the musical direction of the band.

So, after his departure from Tull, Abrahams founded Blodwyn Pig. Jack Lancaster, who often played two woodwind instruments at once, but was officially the band’s saxophonist and an additional vocalist, would also become incredibly influential in terms of the band’s creative and musical development. Andy Pyle, who would later play with Savoy Brown, Wishbone Ash, and The Kinks, was on bass; Ron Berg, who would end up in an incarnation of Juicy Lucy played drums. Famous for their live shows, Blodwyn Pig were in the long run more of a cult success than a mainstream one, and while the two albums they made before breaking up in 1970 charted in the US and UK, the band has unfortunately fallen through the cracks for young fans in recent years despite several reunions through the 90s, and a body of excellent material.

These two songs, “See My Way” and “Dear Jill” might be the two best-known Blodwyn Pig songs. You might recognize “Dear Jill” from where it is used as background music in Almost Famous— a movie I have no doubt I will soon post about.

However, my favorite Blodwyn Pig songs (at least so far) are lesser-known. “Same Old Story” is a great, energetic track  more psychedelically influenced than a lot of their stuff. Then “Up and Coming” shows their bluesier side balanced with the technical mastery and complexity that distinguished them as prog rockers, whether they liked it or not.

In short, no matter your opinion (or lack thereof) of prog rock, you will not regret checking out Blodwyn Pig. A great band with a very interesting history, and some fantastic material that shows outstanding range, especially considering their extremely limited output. Three cheers for prog rockers– the ultimate nerds of classic rock. Whenever you can find the patience, you should make their lifetime’s worth of practicing scales count– you won’t regret giving them a listen.

In Defense of The Ramones

They played the same six songs from 1974-1996 on over and over again using approximately four chords for each, and occasionally granted us more than ten lines in a lyric. Their idea of a guitar solo is the same note sixty-four times in a row. And that note is an open string.* Collectively, they have as many addictions and mental illnesses per capita than any cast of Celebrity Rehab. At least we like their leather jackets, and know they can count to four.

They are the Ramones, and especially from an outsider’s perspective, it is admittedly puzzling that so many people like them. I’ve been there– until I really thought about what they were doing, why they were doing it, and where they were coming from, it was hard for me to look past what tended to be rather uninteresting songs and uninspiring musicianship. It’s hard to point to any certain moment I began to understand what in hell they were trying to accomplish, but I came around.

Johnny, Tommy, Joey, Dee Dee (l-r) at CBGB in New York City, 1977

I suppose I must’ve realized that you have to have a lot of guts to onstage and do what the Ramones did– play simple songs. Especially by the late 70s, people had been so conditioned towards complex song form, technical virtuosity, and clean production that in a way, some of them had forgotten about where rock n’ roll started.

Rock n’ roll arguably began with an attempt to create simple music that reached people. It did not turn inward like the blues, but turned powerfully outward. Although the rock of the 1950s seems unbelievably tame compared to what was to come later, it was at the time the absolute most aggressive and most potent music you could find– loud, primeval, and danceable. As the years went on, the criteria for rock n’ roll became vaguer and vaguer, but this crude, simple backbone always remained.

Johnny, Marky, Joey, and Dee Dee (l-r)

Whether it was a conscious choice or not, the former Jeffry Hyman, Douglas Colvin, John Cummings, and Erdélyi Tomás decided to carry rock n’ roll’s primitive flame. On Doug’s suggestion, they all took the surname Ramon from Paul McCartney’s former alias (and somewhere along the line, added a final e) in a showing of unity. They changed their first names too– to Joey, Dee Dee, Johnny, and Tommy respectively. They wore their jeans, t-shirts and leather jackets onstage, scarcely ever took more than two minutes per song, and developed a reputation for arguing on and off-stage.  Their first audience outside of New York City in June, 1976 was to a grand total of around ten people in Youngstown, Ohio.

Let’s examine some of the traits in the paragraph above, one by one.

First, the name change. Ever since the earliest blues days of Black Ace, Pink Anderson, Barbecue Bob, and Leadbelly, the name change has always been important to rock n’ roll. It represents the adoption of a persona, the shedding of a former identity– it allows a personality of the musicians’ choosing. Although the Ramones repeatedly rejected analysis of virtually anything they ever did, the names they chose say a lot. Not only do they dig back into the roots of the music they loved, but there is something in the first names that is classic, defiant, and youthful.

Then, the short songs. Watch this:

Even if you are unfamiliar with the music of the Ramones, you can probably see the sheer power of this extremely basic song– a cover, by the way, of Bobby Freeman from 1958 (although the most famous version of the song is by Cliff Richards)– lies in its pure energy. And pure energy is something that even the staunchest Ramone-opposers must admit that this group had a whole lot of. You can look in depth at what the Ramones were doing musically and write it off for its simplicity, but it is very difficult to write them off in terms of their live performance. The Ramones’ shows were quick and intense. I’ve heard that some of their earlier live sets were seventeen songs and just a little over thirty minutes long. Maybe they weren’t soloing like The Dead, maybe they lacked the performance-art mentality of Pink Floyd or The Who, but the Ramones’ concerts were more relevant to their audience than anything else could be.

It is critical to understand where the Ramones were coming from– dull, middle-class Queens. All of the original members were outcasts as children and as teenagers for one reason or another. For them, as it has for so many, music became an escape. They were playing for people like them, bored kids who wanted something to do, and were fed up with the kind of canned culture they were so often being fed. The Ramones never really claimed to be anything more than they were: a rock band that was depressed by politics and was looking for a way out, looking for a good time, and looking to be loved by the people they were playing to. The Ramones never rejected their roots, from their oft-admitted love of older music to their essentially anti-glam stagewear.

Even the squabbles are typical– rock n’ roll is a very angry genre, and frankly, much of the time, the Ramones were very angry guys. They made a choice not to hide their fights from the fans or the press. Nor did they travel to the other end of the spectrum, as they felt as though bands like the Sex Pistols that were purposefully offensive and radical were phony. While some could say that the Ramones were just as (if not more) inauthentic, it is true that they never denied where they came from.

Lastly, the failed gig in Ohio.

Today, we think of the Ramones as rock stars, but that was not always the case. Especially within the United States, their success was frankly rather limited. In order to survive, the Ramones had to work very, very hard, touring and gigging almost constantly. For years, the group depended on their t-shirt sales for most of their income, as their airplay was relatively limited (especially early on) and their record sales were none too fantastic. The band’s 1979 It’s Alive concert recording got as high on the American charts as the Ramones would ever get– number thirty-eight.

For more than twenty years, the Ramones did what many were afraid to do– write and play music as raw and simple as that which decades earlier had spawned the very beginnings of rock n’ roll. No matter what we think of their music, the Ramones were a band that did their own thing for their own reasons– something we should really  admire. Anyone can speculate on the band’s technical capabilities, but the impact they had on the music after them was (and has continued to be) absolutely huge. From Punk, to pop, to alternative rock, you can probably find hundreds of acts that count The Ramones among their influences.

Four borderline delinquents from Queens turned absolute legends– a classic rock n’ roll story.

*That’s in “I Wanna Be Sedated.” I didn’t believe it, so I counted.

Led Zeppelin II

I’m incredibly fickle towards Led Zeppelin. I would be lying if I said that some of their songs don’t absolutely kill me, or that their musicianship as a whole isn’t some of the best rock n’ roll has ever seen, but in all honesty, I generally fall more on the side of Zeppelin listener than Zeppelin fan. This morning though, I realized that my rather complex opinion of the group can be summed up quite nicely just looking at their 1969 LP, Led Zeppelin II.

One plus: Led Zeppelin mastered a certain kind of rock song that was tricky and simple, balancing the riffy and virtuosic. Some of the best songs on this album, like “Ramble On” get much of their power from their turns– the flawless transitions from a mellow section into a percussive, riffy chorus that don’t break the motion of the song as a whole, staying cohesive while presenting a unique and nuanced song form. “What Is and What Should Never Be” is another great example of this. Out of a floaty verse with shimmering slide guitar and sublimely phased vocals rises a heavier, pumping chorus. In some ways, I suspect this is what I enjoy most about Zeppelin– something that truly did set them apart from other bands of the era, or since.

But then there are the blues songs. Between the so-called “Lemon Song,” “Whole Lotta Love,” and “Bring It On Home,” we can see some of the most egregious instances of Zeppelin stealing from the bluesmen they claimed to admire. We’ve heard all the stories about their nasty habit of lifting entire songs, nearly word for word– and we’re not talking about something as simple as the Smokestack Lightening riff– on this album alone, we’re talking about the backbones of songs– “I should’ve quit you, baby, long time ago,” and “I’m gonna bring it on home, bring it on home to you.” Even the first lines of “Whole Lotta Love” are paraphrased from Willie Dixon.

Now I haven’t tested this myself, but I would imagine that if you put a sample of people in a room, and played them a little bit of any of these songs, and proceeded to ask who wrote them, they would come up with the names Robert Plant and Jimmy Page a lot sooner than they would come up with Sonny Boy Williamson, Wille Dixon, or Howlin’ Wolf. Zeppelin were (and are) massive stars– their names are more recognizable, especially to the generation they were writing for, and the generations who followed them. But if they claim to be so influenced by these terrific musicians that have become somewhat obscured through the years, why not at least credit them for their own work? I’ve heard Plant and Page cite the tracks I’m talking about as “homage.” That word implies respect and reverence, and frankly, I don’t know if I see either of those in utter plagiarism. At least they got sued.

A third point– Zeppelin’s solos, which in my opinion can be used for good, or for excess in equal capacities. I will begin by saying that I have a large amount of patience for solos. I really do enjoy a solo that adds to a song instead of detracting from it. In my opinion, it is not as much about notes per second as it is about the way the solo fits into and enriches the song. Furthermore, I can say with some confidence that the solo break in “Heartbreaker” is an excellent example of how to make fragmented and sloppy solo stop a powerful driving rhythm dead in its tracks. The incredible momentum built in the song’s first half completely disperses with this forty-second guitar solo, which would not be nearly as annoying if it contained any fraction of the energy present in the rest of the song.

However, it is not as if I believe Zeppelin’s solos are all bad. For instance, “Moby Dick,” which does leave the structure of the song behind during its extensive Bonham drum solo, however, the solo in question does more to retain the song’s energy than Page’s does earlier in the album. Instead of relying on the residual build of the song, Bonham’s solo provides its own build. When the riff comes back at the end, we are led to it– it is not left to the listeners to find the song’s drive again on our own.

Probably my favorite element of Led Zeppelin II is the range of dynamics present within its forty-one minute running time. From the aggressive leadoff of “Whole Lotta Love” to the melty, euphoric “Thank You” (aided in part by bassist John Paul Jones’ delicate Hammond organ),  to the rhythmic intensity of “Moby Dick,” it is not an album that treads lightly, attacking not one, but many genres with vigor. Voted near the top of many a greatest album poll, Led Zeppelin II is clearly a worthwhile listen– not a perfect album, but nothing really is.

A Pataphysical Introduction

You might know me.

When you went to see Ringo, Paul McCartney, The Who, Ray Davies, Robbie Krieger, Ray Manzarek, Roger Waters, Jorma Kaukonen, Hot Tuna, Zero, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Jefferson Starship, Country Joe McDonald, or CSN sometime after the year 2000, I was that one girl under thirty.

You might have seen me in a bookstore, frantically searching for the autobiography of a musician that people my age shouldn’t have heard of, or despondently looking up from some music magazine because I found a mistake in their Pink Floyd article.

If you’re over a certain age, you might have stopped me on the street to tell me I looked like everyone you went to high school with. That is altogether possible. On the other hand, no matter your age, I might’ve stopped you, because you were wearing a terrific band shirt, and I had to applaud your choice.

I’m Lily, a representative of the next generation of rock n’ roll highschooler. “Obsessed” is a weird and loaded word, but I will say that the music of the 1960s and 1970s (SOME of it, anyway) has shaped me and my life an unimaginable amount. Listening to it and studying it ties with writing as my greatest passion. So that explains the blog. The music I hope to discuss here has kept me going for over half of my life, and I don’t believe it will ever stop, so instead of bombarding people who don’t want to hear about it, I’ve decided to channel my rants into this thing for the world to see.

I am willing to say with a relatively straight face that I have a lot of knowledge. Obviously, at sixteen, I wasn’t there, but I try to do everything I can to learn about the music I love– the stories behind it, and perhaps even more interestingly, the people. I love to track entire countercultures, entire movements, from their nebulous beginnings  to the bitter end– provided there is an end. I learn dates, addresses, the hard facts. I’ve managed to interview some survivors from the scenes I love– musicians, and others– and I will post my interviews with them on here too.

While I am sure this blog will be heavy on the things that I find inspiring, wonderful, and amusing, I will not shy away from the sizable portion of rock history that is brutal, disgusting, and vicious. Which brings me to my next point:

This will not be a blog for pure fangirling. Don’t get me wrong, there are many songs that have moved me to tears, and many artists who I absolutely cannot ever get enough of, yet I also plan to talk about things I don’t like. I hate having uneducated opinions, and I have many of them. This will give me an opportunity to, for instance, defend my dislike of ABBA outside of just stating it– something I have not, as of yet, done all that intelligently. I might talk about modern music too. When I feel I’m qualified, I’ll try to say something you haven’t heard.

So that was my Pataphysical Introduction. If you recognized that reference to the wonderful unclassifiable-jazz-psychedelic 60s group, The Soft Machine, I hope you’ll read on. And if you didn’t, I encourage you to read on all the same.