Ram On

In a record store in Ponsonby a couple of days back I was buying yet another long player. For no particular reason beyond the fact that I didn’t have it – oh, and it was a numbered limited edition in a white cardboard sleeve devoid of any information and thus desirable – I was buying a mono pressing of Paul & Linda McCartney’s 1971 much acclaimed, although it took a few years, pop masterpiece, Ram.

I have this record – the stereo version that is, as the mono was mostly unreleased until 2012 outside a few South American countries – many times over. I have three New Zealand vinyl pressings (different labels so compulsory purchases), two US versions, two UK vinyl copies, three times on CD, and a Russian copy for good measure. I may also have an Australian copy but who knows for sure…

That’s sad, huh?

But here I am, 41 years after I, as a mid-teenager, acquired the very first EMI NZ copy brand new on the day of release, buying yet another copy, one that is unlikely to get played more than once or twice, and one that I even hesitated unwrapping from the plastic seal. I was, crushed by the burden of addiction, absolutely unable to resist buying this.

Mostly I don’t have an addictive personality – or so I tell myself. I used to smoke fags but found giving it up easy. Ok: twice. I like a drink but hate the day after which mostly means I self-correct the desire to have another around 1am (when I owned clubs I’d drink water most nights), and have always recoiled from being a slave to any sort of glass pipe or a rolled up tube of paper currency. Marijuana simply bores me – and makes me think everyone is a cop.

I do like chillies a lot. Does that count?

Doing her job, the woman serving in the Ponsonby store suggested I also think about purchasing the vinyl pressing of the new album by Auckland songsmith Lawrence Arabia, because, I guess, there is some sort of stylistic line joining Mr. Milne and the much derided most-successful songwriter of all time. It’s odd, but the same people I know who love the Lawrence Arabia albums (count me in that number) are often vocal in their virulant critical assault on Macca (count me out of that). However – and it’s a mildly important however to an addicted trainspotter like myself – when I listen to an album like the new record, The Sparrow, or the earlier Chant Darling, I hear early wistful McCartney (and almost a dusting of Badfinger on Chant Darling – they were after all hopelessly, as it eventually worked out, but gloriously defined as affectionate McCartney ape-ists).

Hell, he even looks like Sir Paul some thirty five years back. It’s not a bad thing.

I said I would perhaps get the vinyl later but I was attempting to temper my four decade long vinyl acquisition frenzy – my wife tells me I have too many records I explained. Tell her she has too many shoes she said. Quite: well I would if she did but B is throughly reasonable in all such things. I’m the one with substance issues and mine are all round and flat with a small hole in the centre.

She looked at the record I was holding, looked at my almost full customer bonus card and said she’d hold me a copy.

It’s a thing, this having to have. Long ago I became addicted to certain artists and it’s silly hard to let go. The Beatles were where it began, back when I was almost sub-teen. The first album I bought was With The Beatles, then Sgt Pepper and so on. I bought 45s. I bought EPs, and when they broke up I began to buy solo records.

The fab 4 released 13 albums – I own some 500 Beatles records and I know that’s really really pathetic but so be it. But have you seen the Filipino pressing of Revolver with the misprinted lime green cover?

I also have boxes of 7″ singles, picture discs, reissues with injection labels, reissues without injection labels, Record Store Day sets and even copies of all the US Beatles albums pressed on bubble gum.

Happily I stopped buying solo Fabs records selectively as the 7os passed (although eagerly grabbed any promos I saw around record companies) with the exception of Lennon. McCartney kept me until he descended into that dark ugly place after Band On The Run where he meandered around piling sugar on top of cringe inducing drivel, staying there until the end of the 1980s (although I still have every album on vinyl courtesy of EMI – I’ve just never listened more than once to most of them).

Somehow he found a way out of the morass around 1990 and his output thereafter has been pretty decent even if his live performances remain dire.

But it’s not just McCartney. I became obsessive about a bunch of others: try James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Kraftwerk, Miles Davis, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Masters At Work, Larry Heard, Brian Wilson, Paul Weller, (recently) Caribou, Kevin Saunderson, Carl Craig, Joe Strummer, Gregory Isaacs, Lee Perry and a few record labels (Chicago’s Guidance was one, R&S was another).

I’m a completeist on many (not all) of the above.

Which is fine until you hit the inevitable diminishing returns.

I have a friend who is a Lou Reed completeist. I admire him some days, on others I suffer for him.

He was entrapped by the Velvets in his teens, and that was confirmed by the sequence of pretty decent – some might say fabulous – long players from the early to late 70s. However Lou has a way of battering and testing even the most devout. You can tolerate Metal Machine Music if you know Street Hassle is on its way but the level of awfulness in the Reed canon would overwhelm all but the most hardy. And then – when you think it can get no worse – he gives you Lulu.

Fucking Lulu.

My repeatedly violated friend is publicly defensive but I suspect he’s cursing Lou in the privacy of their own room.

I’ve worked out my friend – I’d understand more if he’d had a past history of Class A issues but there are none – who has been, in the real-world, solo since about 1978, is simply in a disfunctional long term relationship that will likely last until one of them expires. And nobody has told Laurie Anderson.

When Lennon was shot Bowie famously hired a full time hitman to go everywhere with him and I understood. As much as I like my friend (and know he won’t harm Lou – although Lulu pushes the boundary some) you do get the tangental scary drift that addiction can add.

He’s not learned to temper his addiction (my friend that is, not Lou – his addiction to his own inflated self worth seems terminal). I temper Brian Wilson. I’m not addicted to The Beach Boys unless Wilson is involved. So no Kokomo or Mike Fucking Love for me, although that heinous Disney covers thing from Brian last year was a pretty harrowing chink in that artifice of armour.

Costello – well yes I don’t know why either. I don’t like him as a person at all, his live persona is all overwrought, he’s entered the duet-with-any-fucker Elton John stakes and those hats are simply ridiculous.

And his records are increasingly forgettable (rather than shite like Lou) – but I buy ‘em anyway and try…

It can be handy when they die. Sometimes artistically they’d long died (Gregory Isaacs) before the flesh gave up but at least the ashes to ashes bit removes the responsibility to care about new releases that inevitably make one cringe. I have tempered out posthumous releases of unreleased material.

Which somehow brings me to David Bowie.

The 1970s were not about punk, the 1970s were not about disco (okay they were, but the good shit – y’know Philly and Salsoul), the 1970s were not about ugly prog. The whole decade really was about David Jones and where he placed things for the rest of us to discover, to draw from and to ape. The 1970s began with Space Oddity and ended with Scary Monsters whereupon Major Tom’s a Junkie. The Sex Pistols were always about David Bowie.

This movie is only marginally relevant to that overstatement but if you’ve never seen it:

And then he went to pieces. His work in the first part of the 1970s defined every element of that whole decade’s rock & roll landscape worth remembering – and then his work in the second part of the 1970s handily defined the 1980s – even though he was mostly MIA for the last part of that.

I don’t care whether David Bowie had a decade long affair with Mick Jagger. What I DO care about is the two of them prancing on MTV to Dancing In The Streets. That few minutes was worse than a dozen Tin Machine albums, worse than the awful Tonight album, worse than the desperate drum’n'bass posturing of Earthling and worse than The Laughing Gnome.

A whole generation, a whole decade, looked on in utter horror. I touched my Baal EP and listened one more time for the hidden message in Rock’n'Roll Suicide, the one that Nick Kent swore was there. But the real message was not that he was fucking Mick Jagger, but that he’d fucked us. How dare he do that?

And I bought it. Of course.

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