A life in music - Part I
As I finally decided to devote myself entirely to expression, to be precise through music and prose, I spend most of my day practising guitar and meeting people I could play with. Frequent conversation topic between fellow musicians is our taste, the way it developed and what did influence it so far.
Instead of providing a sterile and boring list of songs or bands, I found of more interest to write a more thorough retrospective of the music I like, I liked, or I may like in the future.
I'll be honest to you and I won't exclude guilty pleasures and the terrible, distasteful mistakes I went through. I thank you for your attention, dear stranger from the Internet or dear friend I linked this page to!
Note: I realised this post to be quite long, so on top of each chapter you'll find a boring list of songs in case you are lacking patience.
Childhood, or the dark ages
As a child, I haven't been much exposed to music, nor have I shown any particular interest to be honest. The first musical memory I recall is around eight or nine years old, when I fancied some cassettes my dad used to listen no while driving: Dire Straits, The Shadows...dad rock at its finest, that's it. Most of it was pure instrumental, no voices around. My dad plays guitar and piano. He always played the same ten songs over and over again, that possibly led my mum to hate his artistic attitude, and hindered mine as well because albeit surrounded by musical instruments, I never felt attracted to them.
I wasn't until ten that I first sat in front of our piano. We had a digital piano, whose keyboard was way easier to tickle than an upright's one. I barely played any melodies, just chords. I always had a strong sense for (western) harmony, way less for melody. That's why I still suck at singing. Nobody ever sang at my place, I mean a proper song from commence to coda, not radio sing-along. That shouldn't be a clue for the merriest family, but this is a story I'd rather not bore you about.
I learnt some common pop progressions myself (the trite I-vi-ii-V for instance), funnily enough without playing any song in particular. Just the chords. Should I have strummed those chords instead of playing them on the piano, for fuck's sake!
When I was eleven, I started what we in Italy call scuola media, the last three years of basic education before going to high school. Now that I think, why don't they teach music at every school level, and for many hours? I mean, why on Earth would I want to know the capitals of all countries of the world, if I am not ready to busk around their streets! They spent actual time telling us how the virgin got pregnant without fucking, instead of teaching me how to play in drop D. Never mind, I figured out myself you bunch of useless morons.
We had a cool music teacher at the scuola media. I would say he was one of the few cool things I experienced during those three years. We had to carry a melodica (or and electric keyboard, the luckier of us), that served as a saliva repository for many of my mates. Oh boy, we definitely abounded with lack for musical sense. After the patient man taught us the basic elements of rhythm, melody, harmony and notation, he asked us to compose a piece or a theme, or four mere bars of anything, and to deliver that once back from christmas holidays. Most guys came with elementary monophonic melodies, some of them decent I must admit and enough to outclass the entire vaporwave scene. I was instead very proud of my properly harmonised minuet hembrion in A minor, nothing too fancy but yet enough to get an explicit praise from the teacher.
I would puke if I would listen to that thing again, for the record.
Mellon Collie and (What's the story?) Morning Glory had just been released, and I was digging J.S. Bach. I played the Fugue in D minor BWV 565 initial theme over and over and over, on my cheap Casio keyboard. Slowdive were releasing their last album (to that date), Chuck Shuldiner's Death their best one. In my living room, they played Richard fucking Clayderman.
With twelve I started taking piano lessons. It was once a week, and my parents suggested that a neighbour and friend of mine could have joined me. Few things make little sense as sharing private lesson time with another student, mostly because well, you may want to learn different things, and at a different pace.
My piano classes weren't a particularly happy time of my life, possibly because back then I couldn't name particularly happy times of my life (from a prepubescent child of a western middle class family perspective of course). I mean they moved a non-null degree of interest in me, and I am still thankful for the bare minimum keyboard dexterity and the music theory foundation. But I wasn't dreaming about anything! Not about a song or piece to play, not about a girl to play for, not about to live a life on stage. I was playing because alright, they were paying me this weekly lessons, would have been a waste not to do the exercises.
Man, let me tell you something: to exercise without a goal is the very definition of time (and money) waste. I went through the all more-than-a-hundred Beyer fucking exercises, and I couldn't play anything even remotely interesting for myself! Plus, we didn't have a proper piano at home, so all the effort that I put on the digital keyboard was useless when I smashed against the cheap yet hard ivories of the one we had at the music school.
After a couple of years, I started taking an additional hour of music theory and solfege, in order to go through the theory exam. The teacher was a blonde harp student in her early twenties, named Giada. Sorry Giada if I never cared much about the seven clefs, I was too busy adoring your minute and little shy preraphaelite figure, that your husband should be ignoring right now as you correspondigly do with the harp gathering dust in the corner of your living room since years. I do not believe much in matrimony but I can close an eye for you, in case you want to start a new life in art with me.
Dance, dance, dance to the radio: the high school years
I didn't get much in touch with contemporary popular music until 14, that is to say 1998: yes, my age peers were already obsessed with the summer hits, some even dug deeper, while I was still in my bubble of boring piano exercises, classical and baroque music, living room muzak and dad's limited Stratocaster catalogue. At the end of the scuola media, me and Gian Matteo, a good friend of mine, bounded our friendship way deeper that what it already was. We know each other since kindergarten, namely since three decades now. I started writing this from his living room by the way, for he was giving me hospitality.
He was much already into music. He did take piano lessons, with way more commitment and result than I had, and extensively listened to pop and rock music, sometimes of questionable quality I must retrospectively admit. He recorded tapes from lent CDs, and listened to the radio all day through, with the huge Sony hi-fi equipment he had in his room, one of those spaceships with triple CD charger. Yes, twenty years ago it was quite a luxus to sport a multiple disc piece of equipment at home!
The music we listened to was 99% pure crap. It was top 40, but they were songs! People playing and saying something in three minutes! That was enough to infect me, to let me crave for every possible new act and record everything on tape, for there was no other support for us common mortals. Yes, you had to wait for the speaker to announce the song you were waiting for, to hit the red button right on time, and to press it again just before the radio station jingle kicked in. Et voilà, dozens of tapes piled up with the cream of the crap of the latest nineties/early noughties.
Rock music didn't hit on me immediately. Yes, some track here and there, but my first addiction was for eurodance music, namely for this song. I won't go deep into such flirt, is it enough for you to know that every Friday night I presented a (fictional) radio chart program of my fav 30 dance songs, whose order I listed carefully on a notebook that should still be around in my old room somewhere. It would probably have been a ugly blog with podcasts if I would have made it nowadays.
All those simple and derivative tunes (which I by any mean could see as such back then) were outshone by some works of higher quality, for instance by Out of the Blue, written by Ferry Corsten when he was 26. It was perhaps the tune that changed his life, as it did mine as well. He received acclaim for his work and went on a long streak of blissful tracks, remixes and collaborations. I had no idea how to call that sound made of uptempo beats, dreamy synthesizers and almost no vocals, as opposed to most eurodance songs. I soon found out it to be trance music, and it went straight to rank one of my fresh developing musical taste.
I think I am still able to list out all releases from 1998/1999 to 2003ish over all labels of the time. I won't go much deeper in this topic because it would drag, it is enough to know that while the girl population of my school was equally courted by grungy flannel shirts à la Seattle and metalheads, I was living for a niche electronic scene set mostly in Benelux and Yorkshire. Was kind of hard to talk about my favourite music without the chance to provide any meaningful examples, you won't argue.
While trance music wasn't making me popular, it woke up in me the desire for playing again: I had stopped taking piano lessons because I was completely disconnected from what I was taught at the moment, but then I wanted to write my own trance anthems! But how come? Well it wasn't the stone age, I had a shiny Pentium II on my side where I installed a copy of Reason and sequenced my first tracks. No it wasn't shining by any means, it was subpar even by the standards of the time (your phone is 10 times faster, to give you a comparison). But to write the first basic drum patterns and basslines opened a whole new world to me!
I couldn't open more than three or four instruments at time, for my equipment was too slow. And that constraint was the secret that made me write a track a day, because there wasn't room for anything more to add. Nowadays you can have virtually infinite tracks / takes / undos, but that's a whole different story. I don't know where most of my juvenile tracks are at the moment, and that makes me kinda sad because quite a bunch did really kick ass.
The dream was to find a singer that could give sparkle to my instrumental masterpieces, like Sarah McLachlan for instance. You may wonder about the outcome of the search. Not that I put much effort in it, to be honest.
But I found a music companion not living online at least! Guess he was the only trance expert around, besides the few I tried to erudite about, and he was into producing as well. We met quite often with Marco, and we wrote a lot of stuff together in Reason under the Miramar vs. Moonwave monicker. I was Moonwave, because Ferry Corsten was also Moonman and blabla. Hell, we even released a digital single some years ago, check it out!
I then discovered a lot of other cool electronic acts: the trip-hop scene of Portishead, Massive Attack and Tricky, the breakbeat/big-beat/rave stuff from the Chemical Brothers, Prodigy, Moby, Underworld, or Faithless. But I had no idea who Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream were yet, for instance.
Before I forget, very important to mention is the key role that the Internet played in this story: my finances could not feed my continously developing music needs, so an alternative way to get stuff was due. Lending circles were a thing, but I already ripped / copied all interesting CDs from friends and friend's older siblings. Beginning of the noughties, first online escapades were just fresh air to me. Half an hour to download a song, just to discover it was the wrong one: you surely had to dig every single file you got, for you couldn't get more than a couple of a day! The first mp3 I ever downloaded was Try, Try, Try by the Pumpkins by the way.
It's Only Rock 'N' Roll (But I Like It)
My interest towards rock and roll was growing slowly but at steady pace. My first big love were The Cranberries. One may argue that they would not be the first pick when coming to rock and roll, but there is no need to argue, especially with a fifteen years old. I loved Dolores'1 voice, and the cheap-car-stereo-system production of their latest album to date, Bury the Hatchet (1999).
Then it was Oasis' turn. I couldn't understand what most of the songs were about, for my english was yet elementary (and for I was a sweet summer child), but the music kicked ass so I started my journey into Gallaghers' realm. It is not over by the way, as I am learning their guitar catalogue at the moment.
For my 18th birthday, my friends organised me a surprise party, at my place. Albeit I hate surprises and parties, that one was great. A finest display of love from my beloved ones, that made me ignore the presence of invitees I couldn't stand. Ah, while all my schoolmates got pricey and useless stuff for their first adult birthday, I received the best present I ever got: two tickets for the Oasis gig in Rome that summer! And a copy of Be Here Now, for I already owned their first two albums.
Two tix meant I had to invite a girl to come with me. I did, but she said she couldn't. With all chance she wouldn't, but my interest in the topic is way faded out now. I invited Gian Matteo, for he was/is my best friend and the biggest Oasis fan I knew. It was my first concert, and what for one!
Outside of the radio and MTV, it was bloody difficult for me to find new music. I couldn't afford new records, still had no internet access, and my acquaitances were broke as me as well. I occasionally borrowed CDs from schoolmates' older siblings, but I didn't go much further than that.
Once I was zapping over Viva Zwei, the alternative rock spinoff of Viva, the german mainstream music channel. You could find great music there, at least for the TV standards. What I found was an australian band singing in a grungy way. I decided that song was the most beautiful song ever, and I stood day and night in front of the TV in order to record it on tape. OK I DID NOT STAY THE WHOLE FUCKING DAY AND THE WHOLE FUCKING NIGHT IT IS JUST FOR NARRATION'S SAKE YOU PICKY MOTHERFUCKER. Were we saying. It was Ana's Song from Silverchair. I got then the whole Neon Ballroom (1999) - on cassette! - and I found it great, yet too extreme on some passages. What a sweet summer child, I was.
Alternative rock. Alternative to what? To dad rock? To psychedelic rock? To the Velvets? I didn't care much, basically because I wasn't aware of any possible alternatives to that, and I started getting into Placebo, Muse, Garbage, Hole, even first Coldplay album was great.
The other big rock act I had the biggest (ongoing) crush for, were the Smashing Pumpkins. First tune I heard was Stand Inside Your Love, single for the upcoming album Machina, end of 2000.
In the fall of 2000, Corgan and fellow Pumpkins did play a concert at the Palaghiaccio di Marino, a few kilometers far from my town.
In the fall of 2000, I had no fucking idea, who the Pumpkins were.
They disbanded for the first time a few months thereafter.
I didn't know I would have had other chances to meet Billy in the future.
1: as I am writing this I received the news that Dolores just passed away. I just feel myself shattered, may you rest in peace my friend.