Link Wray, the Church of Noise and other delights (May 25, 2001)

In response to a discussion about ‘crones’ and some other things]

I was wondering, is there a male equivalent of a crone? Should the men of our generation look forward to becoming a grumpy old man, on the order of (take your pick) (a) William Frawley as Fred Mertz, (b) William Demarest as Uncle Charley, (c) Redd Foxx as Fred Sanford, (d) Burgess Meredith as Mickey the trainer from “Rocky,” or (e) Walter Matthau as anyone? For myself, none of the above sound particularly appealing, but one lives and learns…at the moment, the example of Link Wray sounds a lot more appealing! ; 0

I saw the Linkster back in the `80s (of course) at the Paradise in Boston (where I saw so many other musicians that mattered, starting with Elvis Costello on his first US tour back in December `77, when I was a green 18-year-old college sophomore (one critic back then said Costello “looks like Buddy Holly after drinking a can of STP oil treatment”), through the years to Blondie, Kirsty MacColl, Marianne Faithfull, Melissa Ferrick, and yes, Jane Siberry. I like a lot of different stuff). Brother Wray was *opening* for Robert “Red Hot” Gordon, which nicely illuminates the workings of the Music Biz right there: Robert Gordon was OK, but he was a skillful revivalist with a current hit record; Link Wray was the real thing. But at least the clueless audience got to experience Link’s wradiance first-hand.

I appreciate Carrie’s provocative questions and enlightening insights; when you talk about music, it’s always helpful to have the viewpoint of someone who produces as well as consumes the product. (Carrie, I promise – I’ll pick up a copy of your latest CD on my next trip home, since I’m really interested now) ; – )

My own Lightbulb of Affinity flashed brightly at these particular questions of hers:

<<Is it an unorganized religion for those of us who find it spiritually moving when so little of organized religion does? Is a voice for our despair, or a reason for hope?>>

On the second question, I concur: it can be both (sometimes within the same song!). And, I agree, music gave to many of our generation the spiritual sustenance and sense of community they sooner or later found lacking in the hollow rituals of the Officially Approved House of Worship of their youth. I’m thinking of the concertgoing experience in particular, which has its own codified rituals and traditions to match nearly any organized religion’s (holding up matches and cigarette lighters at particularly transcendent points, to name just one).

Museums have also been said to fulfill the function that churches did a century or two ago, and some works of art have had powerful effects on me (if momentary ones); but for me, it’s the musicians who are the real priests and priestesses of our increasingly secular age (since people have the same need for spirituality and Meaning they’ve always had). The shaman/priest effect seems to hold true whether we’re talking about a speedcore/grindmetal god in a stadium in New Jersey, or a cabaret chanteuse in the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan, or a 23-year-old woman with an acoustic guitar at an open mike night in a coffeehouse in Madison, Wisconsin (only the security detail, cover charge and dress code varies).

I couldn’t imagine life without music; I think it would be unbearable. Sometimes it’s the only real solace I can find. It’s far from an original observation that so many of the musicians (or any `creatives’ in general) who brighten others’ lives suffer from depression themselves, sometimes with tragic consequences. To take the most recent example, the cabaret singer and freelance writer Susannah McCorkle, an intelligent, enlightened, accomplished woman of 55, suffered from chronic depression to the point where earlier this month, the only way out she saw was through the 16th-floor window of her Manhattan apartment building. (There’s a follow-up article on the NY Times website for those who care; no, she wasn’t a Late Boomer, but I think it’s relevant to recent topics of discussion here nonetheless)

Sorry to be discussing such a downer of a subject, but in life the darkness sits next to the light, as anyone who’s reached our semi-advanced age has (presumably) discovered by now. Since audiences perceive singers/artists in general as priests/priestesses/enlightened ones showing them the Way, it hits particularly hard when one of them, be it the aforementioned sophisticated cabaret chanteuse or the lead singer of Nirvana, decides to take the easy way out (which is anything but easy on the fans, not to mention the family and the friends and the lovers).

Singer-songwriters can definitely help us by holding up a mirror to our lives and helping us articulate our emotions, and by making us realize that We Are Not Alone In This. But I think the very best thing they can do is, through their work, and sometimes their actions in the world, to act on us as an internal agent of change to bring us around to our better selves.

I have some more things to say in this vein, but at this point I should certainly take my turn in the corner after Carrie for talking too much and disrupting nap time, so for now, au revoir and amen, y’all.

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