So there's been a new application drifting around facebook over the past few weeks where you make top five lists of stuff. Normally, I'm not a fan of lists, or of liberally adding applications. Most of them are fronts for data mining, which I have nothing against per se, but can be a pain in the ass when it happens with insane frequency. But I was intrigued by the idea of listing the five albums, not that I thought were the best quality music ever, but that had the most impact on me as a person - because the internet is exclusively for telling people how awesome you are. And for porn. But that's for another time. I just put the list in my status, because I felt like it. These are albums that introduced me to sounds that I didn't think were possible before, music that expanded what I thought could be done.
Led Zeppelin II.
I never actually paid much attention to rock music until I was 14. I can't quite remember why, as most of my memories before that age have completely disappeared, phenomenally speaking. But I was an anti-social, snobbish nerd who thought he was better than everyone else around him. Puberty's first affects were not so kind to my personality. But one of those Columbia House catalogues came to my mailbox one day, and out of a random flash of curiosity, I ordered some Zeppelin. I can't even remember which Zeppelin, but I ended up ordering them all. And II was the best example of what I came to love at the time, big loud bluesy guitars that I had actually never heard before in my life. Rock wasn't just the pap that I heard on the radio in 1997; it was stirring and visceral. I had never thought of music as having this raw power before.
So when I was 16, I bought a mediocre book about "Alternative Rock," which was where I first learned about bands like The Velvet Underground, The Clash, The Cure, and rediscovered Nirvana. I was a little young for Nirvana when they were active. They were faces on magazines I saw in the supermarket. But of those bands whose biographies I found so intriguing, Joy Division entranced me more than any other. When I found a copy of Unknown Pleasures in a Musicworld in Montréal, I bought it, and listened to it without moving from my seat, my jaw dropped open for 45 minutes in awe at what I was hearing. I had to listen a huge number of times before I even understood what was going on. I felt like I was hearing a suicide's confession, not just in the words, but in the sounds themselves. I knew music could rock and roll, but I never knew it could terrify until now.
Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes
Even though I listed their first complete album, I linked one of my favourite songs from their latest, Dear Science. TV on the Radio, with every song I hear, make sounds the likes of which I have never been able to conceive. When I worked at the Muse, my buddy Anshuman brought in the Young Liars EP, which blew me away in a minor fashion. Then when I bought their first album, Desperate Youth Bloodthirsty Babes, I felt a blitzkrieg running through my brain. Whenever someone asks me to describe TV on the Radio's music, I call it electro-clash-doowop-rock, not because they sought to make this weird hybrid, but because that's the closest I've managed to approximate their otherworldly sounds with the English language. And I speak English very well. TV on the Radio regularly takes me to other planets and planes of existence with their music alone. It does not fit most people's understandings of the universe as a rational, ordered existence that such a band exists. I'm glad they regularly take me to theirs.
Highway 61 Revisited
Probably the most important seminal event in my discovery of rock music was when my mother took me to see Bob Dylan play St John's 2000 seat Memorial Stadium on the Time Out of Mind tour in Spring 1998. I had just turned 15, and was amazed to see what I knew to be a legend in front of me in a shiny gold jacket playing "Mr Tambourine Man." They had festival seating at the time, so I got pretty close to the stage. It was also my first significant bonding moment with Jenn Martin, who is now my oldest friend. Over the past couple of years, Bob Dylan has emerged again as an important role in my writing life, as I've actually started a writing life. His words and his images are a guide for excellence and inventiveness in my own work. There are always new ways to articulate emotions, characters, life, and Dylan shows me that whenever I listen to him.
Everything Must Go
The Manic Street Preachers should not work. They are radical, occasionally cross-dressing, socialists whose songs are visceral poems written without rhythm or rhyme about radical politics, mass murder, suicide, peppered with the occasional cover of Clash songs or "Last Xmas" by Wham!. And yet they do, utter chaos that blends one of the best singing voices of the human race, a consistently rocking guitar, and that same viscerality that first enfolded me into rock music when I was 14. I discovered the Manics when I reviewed their greatest hits collection for The Muse, just after a time when I purposely made myself a cruel, manipulative jerk solely for my personal advancement within the newspaper and in the wider university community. For the sake of my ego, I had made myself into exactly the kind of person I thought was most repugnant. And working my way through their catalogue made for an excellent dialogue partner as I spent my twentieth year re-inventing and re-considering who I was and what I wanted to be. They helped me understand that I should never stop inventing myself.