Music and Auld Lang Syne

After four obstinate years of accepting that my LP record turntable was dead as a doornail, I suddenly felt the urge to try and bring it to life once more after setting up my stereo all over again in the old house. And then…serendipity.

I am still not sure exactly what I did to make the turntable start working again. It was the usual male response to anything that doesn’t work: unmitigated blind and uninformed meddling. I fiddled with the stylus and changed some settings on the amplifier which managed to get sound from the headphones. I changed some more settings on the amplifier and suddenly there was a distorted sound coming from the speakers. Fiddled with the stylus some more and… success. I had earlier purchased the new stylus online, off the internet, and had assumed that it was a dud or that I had made a mistake and ordered the wrong model. For some inexplicable reason, or perhaps from pig-headed arrogance, I simply ignored my old record collection, only played CD’s on my stereo and did not try the turntable again for all of those years.

Words simply cannot express the joy felt from listening to some of the old records again. Sipping a glass of good red wine, I was transported back to cathartic times: high school, university, flatting in inner Sydney, playing rugby league in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, backpacking around Europe, singing Country and Western at the Capertee Hotel, performing on stage with the blues band in Bathurst; ah, the memories.

Like just about every other human being on the planet with hearing, there are certain songs indelibly etched into my consciousness that habitually remind me of places, people, and events. Including of course, past loves and relationships long lost, unrequited and/or disastrous.

The best and truly most exquisite quality of music is its power to emotionally transport back to a specific time or person, and the ensuing feelings that in your mind will always be associated with a particular song or record. Just a few bars of the first track on David Bowie’s “Hunky Dory” LP and I am a university student again, headphones on and back in the upstairs listening room of Fisher Library, University of Sydney. Listening to the album “Cold Fact” by Rodriguez and it is not long before I am drifting off into fond memories; I’m twenty years old again, standing in the rain on the doorstep of the flat in North Sydney where the gorgeous Jo lived and feeling the heartache of when we parted. To hear those famous song lyrics about the coloured girls going do, do- do, do, do, do-do from Lou Reed’s song, “Walk on the Wild Side” and suddenly I am watching Lou Reed on stage at the Horden Pavilion, Sydney, with my friend Laurie, who later became addicted to heroin. When I hear the song “When You See a Chance, Take It” off Steve Winward’s solo album “Arc of a Diver”, I cannot help but picture myself in a bedroom in Kensington, London, breaking up with my beautiful and gentle girlfriend of that time and reliving the whole, shameful scene once again. Whenever Boz Scaggs’ FM radio perennial, “Lido Shuffle” comes onto the airwaves, I am back in the front seat of my team captain’s car on the way to another rugby league match in the sunny beach suburbs of Sydney, with warm sunshine on my face and the smell of liniment in my nostrils. Hear any Hank Williams tune and I see the interior of the Capertee Hotel and the smile of a pretty, young darkhaired girl. Listen to the brilliant Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Cold Shot” and I am on stage with the boys at “The Tavern” nightclub in Bathurst, on the long weekend in October 1995- what a fabulous night.

That night in the old house was an extraordinary night of music and memories.

At some stage during last night’s journey into past sensibilities I just had to play the LP record “City to City” by Gerry Rafferty. Most people recognize the second track on that album, the hit song and FM radio favourite, “Baker Street”. It has that killer sax intro by Raphael Ravenscroft that is also the lead break after the first and second verses, combined with a screaming guitar solo by Hugh Burns after the middle eight- a brilliant arrangement and mix. I have always felt a strong connection with that song.

I was working as a barman at the Café Royal at Piccadilly Circus, London, with an older Spanish guy called Pepe. He told me a story about when he used to work as a waiter in a famous Chinese restaurant on Baker Street (the name of the restaurant escapes me right now). He remembered Gerry Rafferty coming in for a meal every now and then. He also told me about the rather large and muscular doorman who was a habitual womanizer and heavy drinker. The doorman liked to tell everyone how he was looking forward to the day when he would stop fooling around with women, make some real money, and move on. He used to tell anyone who would listen how some time soon, he was going to buy some land… give up the booze and the one-night stands… and then settle down, in a quiet little town, and forget about everything. I have always wondered if the doorman ever achieved his dream, and if he knew that the song “Baker Street” was written about him. I wonder what happened to that boozy, womanising doorman. I wonder if he sits in a little cottage somewhere in the English countryside, late at night, after his loving wife and young children have gone to bed and listens to that record while wearing a big, fat, satisfied grin on his face.  Or is he a lonely, broken man who could never give up binging on alcohol or chasing after women and who habitually travels the pubs of Britain, drunkenly bragging about how a famous song was written about him to people who do not believe his story or know the song?

I think it would be interesting for someone to write a series of personal short stories that were linked with famous songs. For instance, I feel sure that everybody who has ever enjoyed music and has also been in love, would have a story to tell that is associated with a specific piece of music and a special person. I bet that everyone has a song that reminds them of a special time, event or person in their lives.

Pepe also told me a funny story about when the “Rolling Stones” came into that same restaurant on Baker Street to celebrate a birthday. The newly arrived Yugoslav waiter who was serving them all night, did not know who they were. The waiter became so concerned over the expensive champagne tab that these dishevelled looking young louts were rapidly building up, that he refused to bring them any more bottles. The waiter could not comprehend that people who looked so unkempt could possibly have that much money to spend. Pepe took the waiter to the Stones’ table and explained to him who the group of young ruffians were, right in front of them and much to the amusement of Mick Jagger and the boys.

The waiter was mortified.

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