My kids aren’t into albums, it seems.
I was enough of a music geek at a young age to sense that the album, as a collection of songs, was an art form to rival a novel.
They were (almost always) written, assembled, sequenced and illustrated for some kind of reason, which could be discussed and debated years after the fact.
(I think repeated listens to Sgt. Pepper’s as a boy taught me this. This was back in the mid-’80s, when it was still a thing for pop critics to label Sgt. Pepper’s the best album of all time. From them I picked up the aura of albums as self-contained, deliberate works. After that it was a short step to Tonight’s The Night, Exile on Main Street, Court and Spark, and a thousand other long-players with their own unique personalities.)
As far as I know, my older son — he’s heading into high school this fall — doesn’t really subscribe to the mystique of the album … or the CD, or the download, or whatever form in which music gets consumed these days.
He has a couple of CDs, Rush’s Moving Pictures probably foremost among them. But a discussion of the album as art form would leave him completely cold, I imagine.
I’ve written before about the difference between pop geeks and average music listeners, and how the average listeners might have it better than the obsessives who like to pick apart every single detail of their favorite recordings.
Could be my son has fallen on the other side of the divide … which might be just fine in the long run. I don’t want to force him into musical obsession. If he goes there, I want him to develop an interest and sort things out by himself.
I can dangle the occasional signpost, though, just for fun.
Last night, while I was cooking dinner, I put on side three (excuse me, side C) of Flight Log, a Jefferson Airplane best-of collection that I bought in my sophomore year of high school — when I was not tremendously older than my son is now.
It’s still probably my favorite compilation album. From romantic ballads to songs of interstellar exile to filthy back-porch blues, it collects everything that made the Airplane family circus so entertaining. Original editions also have a lavishly illustrated booklet that goes a long way to explain the Airplane ethos.
(Flight Log, I’m sad to say, was rendered “obsolete” in the CD age by at least one JA box set. Bollocks. Sometimes you don’t need four CDs littered with outtakes to grasp the soul of a band. Sometimes two thoughtfully chosen LPs do the job just fine.)
Anyhow, I was pleased to see my older son come in from shooting hoops and spend a couple minutes sitting intently in front of the stereo.
He might have been reading the booklet. Or, he might have been digging the tunes. Or maybe he was admiring how the entire package came together as a statement of purpose.
Either way, I hope his hmm-what’s-this? moment introduced him to something he didn’t already know or hadn’t already thought about.
One of Side C’s rampaging highlights is “Milk Train,” a Grace Slick feature originally from 1972’s Long John Silver album.
Grace gets all het up about a wayward but good-lovin’ man, while Jorma Kaukonen’s lead guitar and Papa John Creach’s violin spar for control of the space she leaves. It’s a nice biting piece of rock n’ roll from a band that didn’t have much left in it at that point.
Not sure what my son thought of it — there are plenty of hmm-what’s-this? moments embedded in the song for a young teenage boy to chew on. (“Dad, what does ‘Some men are absolutely rigid’ mean?”)
Maybe I’ll let him sort that out for himself as well.