As I get older, I’ve changed in lots of ways. One of the big ones is that I try to slow my life down a little bit. I love staying at home, playing with my dogs and hanging out. My days of running around with my sons, chasing after soccer games, trying to make Patrick’s gigs and squeezing all my household chores in between are over. I’ve become a home body. My chief luxury is listening to music while I paint my figures.
And I don’t listen to music the same way either. I take chances on artists and genres in a way I didn’t 35 years ago. I was pretty arrogant in those days. There was what we call classic rock now, i.e., the music I grew up with, and crap. Little R & B, no country, my music collection was like a one horse town, and that horse was brown and that’s it. I’m willing to take a few more chances, and I’m even willing to pay a few more bucks to take the chance. Especially if it is the music you’re supposed to like.
The music you’re supposed to like. You know what I mean. The ones that are sort of foundationally important to understanding the genre we call rock music. You’re supposed to like Elvis. You’re supposed to like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. You have to like Dylan. And what about the Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin? How many of us can say we honestly enjoy everything on this list. There are many folks I know who love the Beatles from the Sgt. Peppers era and later, but don’t care for “She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)” Others are die hard Elvis fans of his music from the ’50’s but don’t really know his 70’s stuff. I confess that I’ve never figured out Dylan, though I keep trying, and I’ve come to believe the Grateful Dead must have been a great live band, and the record companies never quite figured out a way to capture their live energy.
The music you’re supposed to like. it brings me to my story. One day I met my friend Tim in Tacoma for coffee, with the understanding we were going to hit the record stores after their Sunday opening. We met at Valhalla Coffee, a place I highly recommend. While I am not Starbucks averse, Valhalla has by far the most flavorful coffee I’ve ever had. After we discussed the current state of our favorite baseball teams, we finished off our Americanos and headed across the street to Rocket Records.
I confess that this was my first trip to Rocket Records on 6th Ave. It’s a shop that’s been open for years, I’ve known of its existence, but never been there. It was not my favorite experience. There are lots of great records there. But I fear the owner, whom I spoke with a couple of times has–hmm, how can I put this. He knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. The vinyl is spendy, the condition is okay, and the covers aren’t the greatest. But I spent a good deal of time looking–mostly for records less than $10, Hipgnosis covers in really nice shape. Didn’t see many. But I did wander across a copy of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn. I wasn’t having much luck with my objective and felt committed to distribute my dollars equitably, including Rocket Records, so I coughed up the fifteen bucks the store was asking (it was on sale!!) and continued with Tim on my way. We finished our rounds, I took the record home, together with other ill-gotten gains, and headed home.
And there the record sat, neatly filed away in the K’s after Carol King, and before Led Zeppelin. Until Friday night. I was poring through my albums, trying to update my collection when I ran across it and decided I would listen to it as soon as possible, pulled it out and laid it on top of my turntable. And yesterday I listened to it.
A couple of quick words of preface. I don’t know Kraftwerk. I know they are German. I know their records are highly thought of as progenitors of electronica, with influences over everything from New Wave synth-pop, to today’s dance pop, and just straight electronica. I am not a consumer of electronica by and large, but i”ve listened to some Tangerine Dream, and Global Communications, and I even own a copy of Random Access Memories by Daft Punk, what’s not to like? Not only that, but I have a broad perspective and know that Kraftwerk is music I’m supposed to like. It was daring and experimental, widely acclaimed, and was the 1974 wave of the future.
I have a personal paradigm when it comes to music: there is no good music or bad music, just the music you like and don’t like. And I just didn’t like Autobahn.
This record seems to about creating sounds, largely from synthesized sources, but not entirely-there was a flute and some other traditional instruments out there, to make a musical experience. Part of that experience was about layering different levels of sound to create textures, which I thought was interesting. But one of the problems I have with it is the way I process music. I am a melody person first. I hear that first. If a song isn’t melodic, I have a hard time enjoying it. It’s my chief excuse for not embracing rap (but I’m okay with Macklemore,) or some of the more aimless noodly prog rock-some Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Yes seem pretty aimless and formless, self-indulgent and noisy. No. Autobahn had a few melodic moments, but not many. It seemed to me working with the sounds was the most important thing.
Autobahn seemed very experimental to me. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but it seemed like a half-baked idea. We’ve got this new stuff that has the potential to do amazing things, and look this is what we did. Unfortunately what Kraftwerk did on Autobahn, I couldn’t relate to.
It also feels a little dated. The synthesizer parts at time feel clunky and underprocessed, for lack of a better way of describing it. And that’s probably because the technology today has had 40 years of upgrading and improvement, for better or worse, and in 1974 they were working with miniMoogs.
There are lessons in this. One is you pays yer money and you takes yer chances. I have little collections I’m building, but when I’m out shopping, it’s also important to step outside my comfort zone and try something new. It usually works out, but sometimes it doesn’t. It also doesn’t mean I won’t try more electronic music. But I may do a bit more research. It’s always possible to access music on Spotify before I buy it–though I continue to believe streaming music is a form of theft.
So I’ll add Autobahn to the music I’m supposed to like–but just can’t quite find my way there. It will stay in my collection, and maybe a friend will come over and ask if I have any electronic music, and I’ll grimace slightly, try not to roll my eyes, and we’ll throw Autobahn on the Rega and call it good.