Yesterday at work I put on Beck’s Sea Change in the background while undertaking some menial task. My younger colleague (he's about 25 I reckon) and I had the following conversation:
YC: Who’s that?
JH: Beck. It’s his break up album.
YC: Never heard of him.
JH: You’ve never heard of Beck?
JH: What about Loser? You must have heard that song?
YC: I don’t think so.
(JH starts playing Loser)
YC: Oh I think I might have heard this.
JH: What about this one?
(JH starts playing Devil’s Haircut)
YC: Nope, never heard that one.
This made me feel old. However, I’ve often spoken to him about music and his favourite band is the Red Hot Chilli Peppers so I don’t feel too bad. But it did get me thinking about my relationship with music and the musical mentors I have had.
Back in 1993, my world was being rocked by grunge – Nirvana, Pearl Jam and yes, I must confess I even liked the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magic. This was my second year of uni and I’d made friends with this Post Doc in Marine Biology from the US called Dr Rob* (that’s what we called him). He was in his late 30’s and had bought all this music with him from the States because he said at the last minute, he got strangely nostalgic and patriotic and bought all this American music over like the Band, the Stooges, Grateful Dead etc... He introduced me to lots of music and was a very influential figure in my music development.
However, he took total umbrage at my liking of Blood Sugar Sex Magic. One day he came round with all these tapes and cds and did a track-by-track deconstruction of that album. It was devastating to watch. He’d play a couple of minutes of the RHCP track and then pull out the corresponding song from his collection it sounded like. Funkadelic featured largely but I distinctly remember him playing Breaking the Girl and then playing a Jethro Tull (?!) song which was exactly the same. Even I Could Have Lied was a total rip of Maggot Brain. In that afternoon Dr Rob had totally changed my opinion of that album and blown my mind.
Back in 1993, I thought of Dr Rob as a wise old sage of music, a teacher and arbiter of excellent taste. I now see that he was just a guy who loved music and wanted to share it with people with similar interests. Now I’m Dr Rob’s age, I know a lot about music but am constantly learning, finding new music and being exposed to the artists I missed or didn’t understand when I first heard them. Like Dr Rob, my expertise is from just being alive for a while and having an interest in music. I guess I don’t feel so bad about feeling old because my young friend doesn’t know about Beck, it just means I’ve been around longer and heard more stuff.
*Dr Rob was a huge Iggy Pop fan and my favourite story of his was when he saw him in New York. Dr Rob was down in the pit and between songs Iggy pointed at him and said “Hey! Hey you! I like your hair!” and then started the next song. I think that could have been the greatest day of Dr Rob’s life.