For more than four years I’ve wanted to write about the first LP I bought.
Over a year ago I finally squeezed out a first draft. Didn’t really like it and the file sat there on the desktop staring dolefully back at me whenever I glanced around for blogging inspiration.
The second version stripped back some of the waffle weighing down v1.0, but remained stilted and somehow inauthentic. How, after so much music and memoir writing could I not manage to extract something living out of this life-changing experience? My first ever album!
Perhaps the problem was, it was a bigger story than I’d thought and I just wasn’t acknowledging that. So version three created sections—numbered in suitably pretentious roman numerals—to define the essential themes.
Existential Theme 1
The first album I bought was entitled Death Walks Behind You. Being now in middle life, the theme of mortality and its guaranteed endpoint are no laughing matter. On some days, truth be told, it scares the willies out of me. I’m the eldest remaining member of my family of origin; no-one stands between me and the grave. The then/now—life/death arc must be conveyed, regardless of whether it puts everyone off in the first paragraph.
Existential Theme 2
The setting for my introduction to the music of Atomic Rooster was Rod Amberton’s bedroom. Although this heavy rock haven has been honoured previously, it seemed important to pick up on the friendship theme for this story. Connection vs Isolation and all that.
Could I somehow link this piece to the previous Black Sabbath post (the ‘heavy’ link) or another memoir story such as the one on the eclipse of the sun hinting at loneliness? Would this convey the theme? Frowny stuff.
The next section expanded the connection-isolation idea using illustrative Death Walks Behind You song lyrics.
My whole world is so alone
My whole world is so alone
Couldn’t see you’re only me
Nobody else to blame
My whole world is gone away
Been around, stuck around far too long
Run away, hide away, I was wrong
[Sleeping for years]
Seven lonely streets, walking all alone
Never needing no one, always on my own
Since I left the world to live my own way
People I don’t see, no one’s in my day
Lock the door, switch the light
You’ll be so afraid tonight.
Hide away from the bad
Count the nine lives that you had.
Start to scream, shout for help,
There is no-one by your side
To forget what is done;
Seems so hard to carry on.
[Death walks behind you]
Cheerful, isn’t it?
Some as yet to be created (but exceedingly clever) device linking the lyrics and the two philosophical themes to the writer. Even this single sentence is so ponderous it implodes under its own weight.
An alternate fourth section re-introduced Bentleigh Sewing and Records as the shop where the album was purchased second-hand. As there is another story centred on this odd retail establishment, the idea of setting the scene was quite powerful, even though one of the key protagonists, proprietor Jim McManus, must have taken the dust to dust trip long ago.
Something on the music, about now? What about opening with the revelation I recently purchased a fancy US re-issue to accompany my original Australian pressing. As photos of coloured vinyl are guaranteed to lift the mood, this might be a good strategy. Assuming, of course, anyone is still awake by this stage.
When I found out how many versions of the album were released, I felt obligated to include that train-spotterly information just as I now feel compelled to share it.
The UK original was by B&C records, the German release was on Phillips, the Japanese got Stateside while US fans had Elektra. Fontana in France, Phonodor in Israel, while Australian record buyers scored their copies on Interfusion. Repertoire and Akarma have both re-issued it and my ‘Limited Edition’ is on Purple Pyramid. Ten and counting. Oh, and the 2004 CD is on Castle.
When I win the lottery I’ll seek them all out in their countries of origin.
Given Vinyl Connection’s love of album art—and particularly covers utilising ‘fine art’—the cover is begging for some context and celebration. After all, William Blake—poet, painter, printmaker—is the Romantic era dude.
The image, Blake’s Nebuchadnezzar, is as riveting as it is disturbing. The Old Testament Babylonian King, driven mad through his own hubris, is de-evolving into an animal. His beard is long and matted, skin disfigured, fingers grown into talons. How disquieting that his eyes—terrified and appalled—suggest he knows what is happening yet is powerless to halt the descent into bestiality.
For those who might find this something of a downer, you’ll be relieved to hear that old Neb’s insanity was a temporary thing. After some quality psychotherapy, he resumed a normal 5th century BC kingly life.*
After three versions and three thousand words, I came to my senses and realised it was all simply a long-winded way of saying how important and precious the second Atomic Rooster album is to me. And really, that’s all the context needed.
Still, there was a quiver of anxiety as I approached this particular spin of Death Walks Behind You. What if listening with outward pointing ears revealed that I no longer liked the album? Maybe the personal significance of this ‘Genesis’ record would totally obscure any examination of musical merit. Could entering the world of long-playing records and the embedded rite of passage have cast such a patina of dark sanctity over this heavy prog icon it must inevitably descend through the brackish waters of disappointment to ultimately settle in the oozing mud of disappointment? Would it, I wondered, still ROCK?
Find out next post.
* Blake graphic borrowed and adapted from an unknown US religious group unable to spell Neb’s name correctly