Tokenism, Advice, And The Skies of Jamaica
If Lee Perry had popped up last week I wouldn't have Little Anthony and the Imperials singing 'Better Use Your Head', but the absence of one in favour of another worked well because yesterday Scratch appeared, so I bagged him too. Record tokens are such fun, and frustrating too, as I said to a friend on the 'phone on Sunday. I told him that, like money, they sure do burn a hole in my pocket. I mean, I trade in music that doesn't make the grade and immediately scour the racks for something that, hopefully, does. If I can't find anything there and then the presence of the tokens, looking like Monopoly money, sit on the shelf above my desk and beg to be spent. They're useless for anything else but music which Record & Tape Exchange has to offer, but that hasn't stopped me imagining a scenario whereby offer them to the assistant behind the HMV counter. A Big Issue seller might take them, but the local barman wouldn't, and neither would the newsagent, sadly.
With £23's worth of tokens last week, I looked for something new that appealed and found nothing so, instead, I picked up two soul compilations for £6 and £7, plus Fripp and Eno's No Pussyfooting for 7. The fact that just £3 was left annoyed me slightly because I like to get the maths right and utilise the full amount when possible, even if that means going to such extravagant lengths as adding a pound or two of proper money. What I was looking for was Lee Perry's Born In The Sky. I looked optimistically, knowing that the chances were roughly fifty-fifty. I had to be there around the time that some no-taste journalist committed the unimaginable act of taking one of his promo for-review copies into the shop. How else could it get there since it hadn't yet been released?
This combination of lucky timing and lack of taste seemed unfeasible, when I thought about it, but these elements do sometimes align themselves, I told myself. As it was, the £20 was two-thirds well spent since the soul compilations are top notch, whilst I wouldn't recommend the Fripp and Eno compilation to anyone, unless that someone has a taste for long tracks consisting of, you know, kind of 'ambient' drone from Fripp's guitar and Eno's synth and tapes. I thought I might like that kind of thing until I heard it, but the joy of tokens is that any experimental buy that doesn't work also doesn't amount to proper money being wasted.
I'd rather have bagged the Scratch compilation by exchanging those tokens, in an ideal world, not being exactly loaded, but when I saw it yesterday, there in the display case, and with a measly £3s worth of tokenism left, I still whooped for joy (inside, of course, although I've been known, in the past, to whoop out loud at finding a rare gem amongst a box of 50p jumble sale offerings - oh, my crazy youth).
Need I mention the fact that Born In The Sky is just fine and dandy? Dare I assume that you know this will be the case anyway, and that you too desire the object that now sits on my desk? Maybe. But such is the variation in this thing called 'taste' that I cannot take anything for granted. I could imagine you as someone who doesn't own one Lee Perry production, and try to figure out how such a condition could arise. OK, you don't like reggae full stop. Fair enough. That's the only reason I could think of to account for the absence of a Lee Perry record in your collection. That and maybe you're so young that you've not long been on the road of record-buying. In which case, here are some tips:
Don't waste your time ploughing through bargain basement bins because The Collectors have bagged everything these days and probably know one of the shop assistants, who lets them see new arrivals before they even hit the racks whereas, once upon a time, long ago in another, less cut-throat market, hidden treasures for small change were up for grabs.
Don't buy anything just because it cheap. You wouldn't spend £10s on it, and 2 won't make it any better.
Befriend an old person, like myself, and ask them for recommendations. We've wasted so much money and may feel generous enough to help you to avoid doing the same. On the other hand, buying rubbish may be an essential part of 'learning'.
Buying albums that are up-to-the-minute and popular with critics as well as offering state-of-the-art technological sounds and 'cutting edge' attitude is all well and good and exciting, but only for three weeks. You won't be playing them a year later, though, unless you're the kind of person who actually treasures something like a goateed Mexican breathing heavily accompanied by blips, drones and random beats. You might also be the kind of person that will grow up to find endless pleasure in a Chicago house tune or the jangly guitars and grammar school poetry of four boys from Swindon. Good luck.
Just because it's in the shop window, don't assume that it's any good.
Listen to everything before you buy it and if the shop that's cheaper doesn't have the facility, listen to it in the more expensive one, then buy it in the other. Spend whole days listening to stuff in different shops and buy nothing, this will annoy the assistants, but make you feel superior (then you can buy the one thing that you did like some other day, in another town, so that no-one recognises you as the person who came in the other day and heard the CD but didn't buy it, which must mean that you're stupid, indecisive, or walked into the shop with no credit card or cash).
Buy 'Giant Steps' by John Coltrane and never, ever, sell it because one day, if not now or tomorrow or next week or even next year, you will appreciate it's magnificence. It's called making a sound investment.
Buy what you like. Even if you find you don't like it. You have to buy rubbish as part of the learning process. You will never stop buying rubbish (as I know all too well), but the experience helps to develop your bullshit detector and, as Hemmingway said, you need one when writing. You also need one in life generally, so the development of yours with regard to music will also attune your senses to bullshit in the world, therefore proving that buying music can be essential to your personal development as a good person. Some good people hardly buy music, but you can go one better than that by appreciating Lee Perry and being good, sussed, tasteful, and intolerant of bullshit.
When you get old enough to have a long-term relationship with a woman and you've got a nice little home together, don't tell her how much you spend on music. She will begrudge what she sees as excessive extravagance when the money could be spent on things for the home (like a new set of glasses or cushion covers). These things are far more important to women, which is why they become sensible and mature way before males. It's also why they don't know the name of that Lee Perry track that you're playing them, and don't care.
If you happen to be a girl/woman, you might be the kind that is as mad about music as boys/men, in which case, I salute you, and would ask for you're phone number if I wasn't already in love and living with The Best Woman In The World. Listening to Sinatra songs will increase your tendency to say things like that, which is good, because it proves that you can be romantic, and ladies like that. They don't like saddo trainspotting blokes who spend their whole lives in record shops and have dedicated far more time to tracking down that elusive Captain Beefheart album than dressing themselves well or applying face cream. You do not want to end up sad, lonely, and badly dressed. Having more records than most of your friends is no compensation for such things.
I wish you well on your 'journey into sound'. You have roughly 15yrs-worth of record-buying experience in which to develop Good Taste. You will waste a lot of money, be frustrated, bored, and give up on it all several times. If, by the time you reach, say 35-to-40, you have not got Good Taste, don't worry because you won't know it, although you will be part of the problem, rather than the solution, and you don't want to be in that position, do you?
Gwen and Rae's soul tune suggested building your house on a strong foundation. The Upsetters' rhythm section applies the maxim to full effect, allowing soloists to add Easy abstract shapes in melodic form to each 'building'. Born In The Sky contains several Upsetter tracks which are at once earthy, whilst floating somewhere Up There amongst the clouds. 'Goosey Version', 'Roll On', 'Prove It', and 'All Combine Parts 1 & 2' hit several G spots at once - cerebral, sexy, solid, they send tiny tremors of pleasure through my ears and into regions which only they can spark into life. Memories of crombie-coated early teenage years cruising fairgrounds and dancehalls for fun come flooding back. But most of all, the instantaneous thrill of the sound right here, right now, rejuvenates my belief in music.
In keeping with tradition, this compilation features lesser cuts which take their place due to the presence of Scratch rather than musical merit. You might find Dread Locks Faye's 'Back Wey' pleasurable, but to me, it's a very average slice of toasting. As for Susan Cadogan, I never could stand that Minnie Mouse voice on her big hit, 'Hurt So Good', and 'Do It Baby' hasn't changed my mind. Of the other vocal tracks, the two Ethiopians tunes are great, as is 'Ungrateful Set' by The Versatiles, complete with it's stunning dub. Perry's own 'Bury The Razor' brings things forward to another production phase, a more mellow, finely-tuned electric bath, as opposed to the rhythm showers of earlier days. The dub, though, enhances the bass to create something akin to what you hear coming from passing cars today, blacked-out windows rolled up, extravagant sound system thundering at sub-sub levels.
Just when you thought you didn't need yet another Lee Perry compilation, this comes along to remind you that you do, whilst wondering, perhaps, how much more gold remains to be discovered on treasure island.
© Rob Lo 2001