Monday, March 20, 2017
The end of reality
These days I find myself locked up in writing ear-worms, a situation that I didn't previously imagine would be one I'd define myself with. I'm not obsessed or anything but I'm finding it important, an internal nag of a situation. It's something I want to pursue, understand and infect myself and others with. Then at some point make money from my ear-worm farm. Like those plastic ant and worm farms advertised on faded grainy print in old American comics. They looked both dirty and wonderful and no one considered the possibly serious consequences of farming ants in your Scottish bedroom.
I'm not sure either why ear-worm pursuit would make me think of Third by Soft Machine. There are no hooks or pretty tunes here. Back in 1971 it was regarded as cool and sophisticated to listen to them, for me it was struggle. It was bleak. I didn't really get it, no ear-worms (though the term had not been coined) just a kind of smart noodling (though that term hadn't been coined). It was a time when few if any of today's recognizable terms had been coined. Soft Machine were not groovy either, nothing was because it was a manufactured term that belonged to the establishment. I first saw them on some BBC2 film where they were playing at the Albert Hall. During their set up I saw one of their hairy, groaning roadies wearing a T shirt stating "stamp out reality", it was a pivotal moment. I wanted that T shirt, I also wanted to stamp out reality because that somehow meant something. Eventually I bought their LPs.
I told my art teacher Miss Wishart about it all, she just smiled and returned to the back room for a fag and a Nescafe fix. Now I was at sea, I didn't like Soft Machine with their thick glasses, fringes and intellectual personas, also no catchy tunes or ear-worms. No songs. They were if anything too progressive for my tastes. I understood why Kevin Ayers had fucked off and why now they were featured on BBC2 in black and white (only in my house). They were in the Sunday Times colour supplement bracket, they had been absorbed. Little if any reality would be stamped out here, they'd just play on, long jazzy improvisations and eventually the audience would become one of (smarter, well dressed) elite students and middle class, chattering seekers of aural wallpaper. Too progressive for a reactionary like me, but I could never admit to that. I didn't much like wind instruments either at this point or Jazz festivals, white shirts and cigarette smoke and arty poems typed up on type-writers.
The question became: would I like their music if it was played by a power trio, all guitars, fuzz, feedback and wah wah? I probably would so I was prejudiced against what I saw as archaic instrumentation and jazzy snobbery. I was a hypocrite and not confident enough to be clear about what I didn't like to my friends or myself. It didn't occur to me that I was perhaps being an inverted snob, it still hasn't. As for stamping out reality. Well that never happened, that is unless you count disappearing up your own arse as seriously stamping it out. Eventually I did return to this world and slowly I forgot about Soft Machine but I still have some fractured but lucid memories to share. This isn't one of them.