29 March 2006

Going Underground

At Notting Hill Gate there was a French guy with an amplified guitar singing a note-perfect rendition of "Stairway To Heaven." I know certain of my friends will want to blacklist or browbeat or thrash me about the head for saying this, but it was actually kind of touching.

Of course, full disclosure is in order here: although not originally a Led Zeppelin fan, once I had taken enough LSD, I became a rather earnest one, once travelling a thousand miles by train from Rome to London to see them. On another occasion, extremely drunk and sitting on a bridge somewhere in Montreal, I translated the entire text of "Stairway" into French and sang it repeatedly for the bemusement of passersby. However, my passion for the Zep passed as quickly as it had developed once the LSD supply ran out. It wasn't exactly like the old Grateful Dead joke (Q. What did one Deadhead say to the other Deadhead when they realised they'd run out of dope? A. "Hey, man, this music sucks."), because I could still hear some merit in some of their more ethereal goblins-and-wizards works, but the last time I went to see them, circa 1976, without benefit of drugs, I turned around and walked out after about 20 minutes.

But I digress; my next Underground musical interlude came at Tottenham Court Road, where the incredibly annoying blues-rocker and his pseudo-band were, as always, inflicting his mindless, repetitive wanking on the public at a volume that carried through the entire station.

I say "pseudo-band" because from a distance it sounds like a full-fledged bar band - as in, you'd have to be really drunk to want to hear it - but in reality, it's just one dork with a tape machine, a big amp, and a guitar tuned firmly in the key of cliché. I really, really hate that kind of endless, mindless boogie; I hated it the first time I heard it in the 60s, when one of our chin-stroking pothead mates whipped out some new blues record just after we'd dropped acid and whisperingly confided, "Check this shit out, it's got some really tasty guitar licks."

I don't have a lot of firmly held opinions about guitars or licks, but one principle on which I firmly draw the line is that neither of them should ever be "tasty," and that people who suggest they are should be at risk for having their tongues cut out. Anyway, the train arrived quickly for a change - I assume God was in his heaven looking out for me, and that he can't stand that blues-rock shit either - and soon deposited me back at Notting Hill Gate, where the "Stairway To Heaven" guy had been replaced by an Eastern European ESL student delivering a tortured rendition of the John Lennon chestnut, "Imagine."

Now there was actually a time - yes, once more drugs were involved - when I enjoyed this song, too. I even remember it eliciting a tear or three during the vigils after Lennon fell victim to Jodie Foster's one man army, but it's not a song that's worn well. Its mawkish sentiments are not only infantile; they're grotesquely at odds with the real-life behaviour and attitudes of the guy who penned them. "Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can," he has the nerve to demand; this from the guy who bought a multi-million dollar apartment for the sole purpose of storing his wife's fur coat collection. And every time that infernal tune gets played, which probably happens somewhere in the world as often as I breathe in and out, that awful wife of his collects another dime or so toward her next fur coat or, worse, another record of her hideous experimental "music."

But that wasn't even my main point. What I wanted to say was that I'm entirely in favour of the new policy which allows buskers to perform on Underground stations rather than sending the police after them, which used to be standard policy. But I'm not so in favour of allowing them to bring in huge power amps and simply play along with pre-recorded sound tracks, which is what most buskers are doing these days completely drowning out the few who try to go the old-fashioned acoustic route. Okay, I'm old-fashioned, too, but I'd like to see it limited to unamplified instruments and live music only. There'd be room - sonically as well as physically - for a lot more musicians, and when it sucked - which it often will, at least you can get away from it by moving around the corner.

And I was about to wrap that up until I thought of the crucial flaw in this theory. Actually, it's twofold: in the entrance tunnel to Tottenham Court Road, someone who, if I weren't trying to avoid being intemperate, I would call a moron, holds forth with an extremely loud conga drum. Completely unamplified, and completely annoying. Secondly, if the Potatomen were ever to be resurrected under the streets of London in our old, semi-acoustic streets of Berkeley style, we'd be using a slightly amplified (12 volt battery only) bass, just enough to be heard but not enough to bum anybody out.

So I take it back, most of it, anyway. Potatomen and Brent's TV-style bands can play in the underground. John Lennon interpreters and blues-rock wankers are sentenced to be strangled with their own guitar strings, and "Stairway To Heaven" guys will be judged on a case-by-case basis. Them's the new rules; put me in charge of the Underground and I'll have it sorted out just like that. Next thing you know, I might even have the trains running on time.

1 comment:

peter said...

I always thought it was:
Imagine no possession...
Like about pot possession laws.