“This is America: We Call Each Other By Our Last Names Here, Like It’s Military Combat”

Camille Paglia, whom I name as the world’s greatest living female writer, just in front of music critic Amanda Petrusich, is fixated on opposites. Particularly, she tackles Greek mythology tenaciously, and everything, to her, is either “Apollonian” or “Dionysian.” Rock and roll, she says, she likes for its combination, its meshing of these two extremes — essentially, the deliberate and the virtuous (Apollonian), along with the existentially holistic, polymorphous and cosmic (Dionysian).

Just how exactly rock manages to typify the mythological dichotomy, she admittedly leaves a bit up in the air (not being quite the music theorist that she is literary critic), but I fancy it has something to do with the bright major chords, and their flirtation with constant, rapid change, more compact than in classical, to reflect the fleeting presence of blessings in our lives. Harmony, as we see, is capable of spawning self-mutilation of women’s hair (no reported incidents of such behavior before Jimmy Stewart).
The craze over the initial “British invasion” would explain what Ian Anderson’s budding musician John Evans sees as a deliberate sequencing of sociology in ’60’s rock’s early hit making: “‘We found (The Blades) [1] more interesting than the Beatles, they were rebels. Of course, the Beatles had to be marketed the way they were, to allow for the rebel types to come along and that’s what we really latched on to. That’s where we got the beginnings of our “surly” image at the time.’” [2] Like, imagine if the Beatles had not only written “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (I’m more partial to humanistic remonstrances like “We Can Work it out” and “Hey Jude,” ahem), but also been leather-donning motorcyclists, grabbing girls with their arms and dipping them on flashy dance floors? There might be more than one image today of “’60’s riots.”
The other variable here of course is appearance of musicians, and we all know the Beatles were no slouch in this department with their mop tops of shiny hair, but to examine things musically, they were not known for their visceral or unorthodox methods — solos, quirks such as the flute’s appearance, jams, and other theory-irrespective PHYSICAL ACHIEVEMENTS to which guys might be more inclined to cotton. As we all know, there isn’t a dude in his 60’s today who didn’t once upon a time revel before “Moby Dick” on acid.
So this “surly” attitude detailed by Evans above would seem partly just a jealous response to the Beatles’ success and praise, but partly in perfect jibing with their music as well, which stepped outside the accepted proverbial “box” in manifold ways. But, it could be that any chiding of the press, or implicit or explicit eschewing of extant “normal” behavior exhibited by the Tull in their embryonic days, were just as much a RELINQUISHING of power as an ASSUMING of it — like stepping into a disguise in order to avoid godhead status.
This brings me to one of the two primary subjects of this post, Jeffrey Hammond, whose name presumably spawns the song title “A Song for Jeffrey.” “A Song for Jeffrey” happens to be a really jazzy tune, one of my favorites, a staple of my old Kazaa collection [3] which featured basically just an insipid smorgasbord of hits like “Living in the Past,” “Locomotive Breath, “Aqualung” and “Cross-Eyed Mary” et. al. I would fall in love eventually with the LP proper Stand up, but that’s a story for a different date.
Anyway, in light of the general trend of these singles to have emerged on the band’s fourth album or later, I was surprised to today learn that “A Song for Jeffrey,” an ode to a member who quit before the band started, according to Anderson “because he didn’t want to be a rock star,” appears on debut This Was, the band’s first album. And what I found interesting was that being British, despite supposedly being “rebellious,” Anderson simply calls his friend “Jeffrey,” whereas Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo dubs one installment “Lewis” for departed band member Mike Lewis, again at the earliest point possible, on New Wave Hot Dogs, the band’s second album and first after Lewis’ only tenured installment Ride the Tiger.
Yo La Tengo are an American band in essentially the middle of roughneck culture, New York-area New Jersey, but whose music relies way more on delicacy and natural band male/female democracy, than it does on “raw power,” per se, to use an Iggy Pop expression. Kaplan’s immortalization of “Lewis” in said song is as if military, but the music itself fits the overall YLT bill of mellow reflectiveness. The song’s lyrics themselves deal with an on-foot tripping excursion taken in the middle of the night, the sort of full-band bonding I’m sure is hard to forget, and the ensuing decision to come back home and “lay back on the couch and watch TV,” and to me this seems microcosmic of the song, and the band’s catalogue as a whole, it’s music to “lay back on the couch and watch TV” to. But since they’re doing it in America, where to do nothing is actually relatively “rebellious,” they strike a certain nerve in us, behooved toward emerging as classic, which by all accounts they are.
[1] The Blades is the original name of Jethro Tull.
[2] from Passion Play / The Story of Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull by Brian Rabey.
[3] Kazaa was a favorite site for free music downloading circa 2003.
[4] see [2]

Leave a Reply