After work today, I went to the first event in Wesley Stace's (John Wesley Harding's) "WAMFEST" for this year. WAMFEST is a remarkable musical and literary event that takes place at Fairleigh Dickinson University every year. You can check out the WAMFEST blog here.
This event featured Alejandro Escovedo and his band, rock critic Dave Marsh, and superstar producer Tony Visconti. The whole event was amazing--Escovedo is an amazing musician, and I say that as someone who is not a particular fan of his genre, which is sort of a rock/country kind of thing. (That may be unfair, but take it as a loose interpretation). He was produced by Visconti, who spoke about the production process with Escovedo, and compared it to the experience of producing acts like David Bowie and T.Rex. If Escovedo did a very simple tune live, Visconti explained how he would suggest certain chord changes to Escovedo to bring out the chorus and other features of the song, to make it less like a song with "campfire chords". They played two different versions of the same song, to demonstrate how they sounded pre and post production. It was fascinating.
There was a question that I wanted to ask Tony Visconti, but they took 3 questions, and there wasn't time for another. I wondered how easily he could switch between genres--from Marc Bolan's initial "hippy" phase, to the electric glam rock, to the R&B of Bowie's "Young Americans", to the music of someone like Alejandro Escovedo. I didn't get to ask him, but my friend and colleague Harry suggested to me that a good producer is probably a good facilitator. They should be open to what the artist is doing, and go with the flow. Suggestions ought to enhance the sound, not totally change it to something inauthentic.
They ended the event with a rendition of "All the Young Dudes", which you may remember as the hit song for Mott the Hoople. This was an emotional choice for me, as this song makes me cry. Since I've driven home, I've debated whether or not I should publicly say why. I've concluded that I should, as it's an excellent illustration of how music has an impact because it is associated with much bigger things, in spite of its original intention. Literature can have a similar effect, but sound can make a world of difference.
I will start by telling you that "All the Young Dudes" reminds me of my brother, even though I have no memory of my brother being a particular fan of this song, or ever playing it in my presence. My brother died of AIDS at the age of 23. It's funny to even mention that, as we were strictly instructed to remain hush-hush about the cause of death (which ended up being complications from pneumonia). The reason I was given was, "there are people who would burn our house down if they knew." To which I say with all great sincerity, to such people, if such people are out there: Fuck you and go to hell.
"All the Young Dudes" is clearly a song relating to gay culture, and there is a sadness to it, as it definitely has a minor key in its notes. Thank God they didn't have an organ or other synthesizer there, because if I heard the synth part I really would have lost it. Being of a somewhat "English" temperament, I'm rather embarrassed by public displays of emotion. I'm not interested in carrying on in front of others.
As I mentioned, my brother never showed an affinity for this song. He liked the kind of disco/techno music that was being played at the Palladium and Studio 54 in the early 1980s. I think my association with this song must have come from a documentary, or some event, where I heard this song and connected it with him.
But it's bigger than just him. I don't tend to dwell on death. To me, to mourn a person too long is an act of selfishness. (I apologize if I offend anyone with that statement). I feel that if I care about the person, I let them go, and let them move on. I say that as a spiritual person. If I hang on, then they may hang on for my account. There's no reason they should do this. I need to contend with my own void, and use it as a learning experience.
It's more about the bullshit he put up with as a gay man coming out in the early 1980s. About the prejudice and intolerance shown by his job, and even by members of our family. The lasting impact this has had on my mother, which has had a lasting negative impact on family relations. It was destructive in many ways, and did not need to be. It was because people are stupid and fearful and prejudiced. That makes me sad and angry. I include myself in this, because I am human and not immune to bad behavior. The song has a bit of fight to it, and I suppose it makes me think of fighting prejudice, and loving yourself in spite of the fact that society does not accept you. The fact that society is this way makes me cry. Freedom is something I value above all else, and I don't like to see others limited or deprived of it, for reasons spoken or unspoken.
So, if I read this over, I say "Wow". One song reminiscent of one event remembered vaguely triggers a whole world of symbolism and association. That's how powerful the unconscious is. I don't think about these things every day. But it's clear that they still affect me.