When Alex Lifeson released his solo album, Victor, in 1996, my life was approaching an important crossroad. Some of its songs were enormously thought-provoking and helpful; so I guess it should be no surprise that I returned to it when I began thinking about ending the Salon. What was surprising to me is how my preferences have shifted.
Lifeson is generally considered the most easygoing and playful of the Rush trio, at least as far as the public eye can see; so the opening line of Don’t Care—“Shut up and turn off the light”—likely provided a sharp shock for fans. It certainly sent a warning that this was a darker effort than anything Rush had done. The bluntness is unrelenting throughout the disc, and is well matched by the dense, driving music. Even the positive songs, such as Promise, push. And that is ultimately what I like so much about Victor.
Promise is the song I turned to years ago, and was very helpful in getting me to turn off the path I’d chosen to that point in my life, and to embark on a radically different course—which included becoming a pro-freedom activist. And while it still holds magic, other songs speak to me more urgently now: Start Today and Sending a Warning, and the closing song, I Am the Spirit. The instrumental Mr. X is another favorite, starting gently but bursting into a driving rocker that showcases Lifeson’s axe chops. Lifeson doesn’t sing any of the songs, leaving that to guest vocalists; but he does provide speaking centerpieces to two songs (and there are rumors that his altered voice is “Esther” in the raw romp Shut Up Shuttin’ Up). Ultimately, Victor is one of a select few discs I can thoroughly enjoy at many levels every time I hear it—no need to skip songs or tune out my attention. And, as before, doing so has helped me make my new promise.
Speaking of tuning out attention, it is of interest to me that despite the steady airplay over nearly all my years of listening to rock radio, I never tired of hearing Tom Petty, with or without the Heartbreakers. Even though many of the songs are straightforward—one would not be faulted for labeling some simplistic, even—and Petty’s voice and style are distinctive in a way that can be positive or negative, the overall sound is classic American rock. Lately, when I’ve faced a long session in the kitchen, I’ve gotten out both CDs I have. Their Greatest Hits (which has been put out in two nearly identical forms, save sound quality and the last song—compare them before making a purchasing decision) is pure pleasure from beginning to end; but then I feel the same way about Full Moon Fever, too. Deep with hits, most of the other tunes are gems as well. Zombie Zoo is an especially fun one because I’m a big Electric Light Orchestra fan too.
A dear friend gave me The Last DJ, and while I want to like it, I have a hard time with much of it. Having turned my back on radio and mainstream music nearly a decade ago myself, I understand some of the bitterness Petty has for the recording industry. But casting DJs as heroes doesn’t dovetail with my experiences listening to radio stations during a couple of periods of frequent travel across the country in the 80s and 90s. Far from being “the last human voice”, the morning drive-time schticks and “twofer Tuesdays” were every bit as formulaic and vapid as the playlists. Thus, Petty’s lament seems both a little late and misfocused to me. Dreamville strikes a surer tone, Like a Diamond is a hair’s breadth from Petty at the top of his form, and Can’t Stop the Sun is similarly achingly close to being a classic Petty anthem. If only he would have saved some of the passion in Joe for these two tunes ... Even so, Petty remains true to himself, which makes him worth hearing.
While I enjoy a lot of good rock and “near-rock”, my heart remains firmly stuck in the 80s, in that exuberant, androgenous era of pop metal, hair metal, and hard rock. Since I didn’t see MTV except in rare glimpses, I honestly didn’t care what color lipstick Bret Michaels wore or how teased Dee Snider’s hair was: it was the rebellious, pro-individual lyrics and kick-ass music that earned my affection. A friend’s reminder some months back sent me into a prolonged retro phase that has me expanding my thin disc collection with YouTube vids—and it started with Twisted Sister’s anthem I Am, I’m Me. We have few of their discs, and from them it appears that Twisted Sister is much better live than in the studio. Still, I like Come Out and Play: the opening track, campy cover of Leader of the Pack, I Believe in Rock & Roll, and Be Chrool to Your Scuel are why. Big Hits and Nasty Cuts gets about the same attention as Live at Hammersmith. The sound quality isn’t the best, especially compared to today’s standards, but the discs nicely capture the energy of their shows. And even though I don’t have the bandwidth to fully enjoy The House of Hair online, I will probably regularly visit it to help remember more metal blasts from the day.
A few people have asked me if I listen to classical music; the answer is unequivocally yes. The problem I have with writing about classical music, however, is that much of one’s enjoyment depends upon the performance—orchestra, soloist, and even conductor can make an enormous difference to a piece. And the truth is, some of my favorite pieces are no longer in my possession because I’ve forgotten (or never knew) those details—all I know is the versions I’ve heard don’t hold a candle to the music of my memory. Thus, much of what I listen to is not what one is likely to hear on the classical music radio station.
I recall liking Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suites, and thought I had a copy of it. All I have is one snippet on a classical compilation disc. What recently captured my heart is Grieg’s Slåtter—peasant dances that he reworked for piano. I came across them while exploring Classic Cat—and a better way to explore classical music I cannot imagine. I have vague memories of my maternal grandparents playing music from their native countries (Norway and Sweden) for me when I was a girl; though I don’t think I ever knew what those songs were, my first listen to Mountain Dance [MP3] brought those memories out of hiding. I’ve downloaded several Jensen and Breemer pieces from there, with many more remaining. The clear simplicity of the piano weaves its magic across songs running from sprightly to melancholy and elsewhere; complex rhythms, variations, and a fondness for the mid to lower register are all enjoyable to me. This is very pleasing music for listening to, not as background music but to relax and enjoy for its own sake.
The free music I’ve downloaded has sparked a passion for more Grieg. Thus I face a pleasant dilemma, that of which to purchase first: Grieg: Greatest Hits is a serious temptation; but then so are Norwegian Dances – Ballade – Slåtter, Complete Solo Piano Music, and Lyric Pieces, that last being performed on Grieg’s own piano. I believe I can safely predict all will eventually end up in my collection, and I look forward to exploring them.