rmal school • Fall 2012
of the melody and arrangement—before I couldunderstand such grown-up things. Is it possiblefor an epiphany to be scored? What is knowledgein a pop song? William Hazlitt: “You know moreof a road by having traveled it than by all theconjectures and descriptions in the world.” I’mnot so sure. (Why am I always quarreling withyou, Hazlitt?) I hadn’t yet journeyed down theroads of infatuation and heartbreak when I rstheard “I’m Not In Love,” far from it; I hadn’teven imagined them sentimentally from my bedroom window. I was puzzling over smiling teases from girls on the playground, my oldersister’s crushes, and countenances that hinted ata language beyond the one I spoke, stumbling words that clearly failed as choral “ahhhs” fromthe radio transcended.
round the time that “I’m Not In Love” was on the radio entrancing and frighten-ing me, my parents purchased a double album,
Te Beatles 1962-1970
. But this was an albumnot by the Beatles, sadly, but by Kings Road,and not on the cheery bright-green Apple labelbut on a label called Pickwick. What I didn’tknow then: Pickwick was a notorious budgetlabel born in the 1950s from the ashes of a children’s music label. By the late-1960s/ear-ly-1970s, president and owner Cy Leslie wasraking it in from issuing compilations mimick-ing the top hits of the year by bands like KingsRoad (other outts included Mirror Image andTop of the Pops).ese albums confound me now. Tacitly of the K-Tel/Ronco era, they ended upon the oors of basements and bedrooms,spun on the family stereo or in private by disenchanted kids who’d been stoked whileunwrapping the album to have a collectionof Top 40 hits. What did we kids know about licensing? About “cut-rate?” About thebottom line? Moments after the needle dropson the rst song—the latest smash by Carly Simon or Bread or Johnny Nash—you know that something’s not right. e timbre of thevoice, the atness of the playing, the squashedproduction conspire within moments to say to you,
You’ve been ripped of
. Welcome toanother adolescent disappointment. What-ever satisfactions that barely-dressed, smiling hippy girl on the brightly-colored front jacketprovided, they were short-lived.
,I’d say to myself, dismayingly watching theturntable spin. Around this time, a group of kids at Saint Andrew’s the Apostle School during recesslinked their hands and danced in a circlecrying, “e witch is dead, the witch is dead!”ey were mocking the memory of an un-popular substitute teacher to whom we’d beenghastly. She’d moved to Florida and, we heard,died there. My friends’ glee made me nau-seous and gloomy, though I likely joined thechanting. I felt a similar nameless misery lis-tening to Kings Road: intuiting the sadness of vulnerable grown-ups, a weakness that all kids witness eventually in the movement betweenignorance and knowledge. Kings Road was a virtual band, comprised of session musicianscobbled together to knock o a stack of songs-per-session, on time, under-budget. As themusicians blued their way through “PleasePlease Me,” “I Want To Hold Your Hand,”“Michelle,” “Hey Jude” (which they dutifully,dreadfully aped for nearly six minutes), “eLong And Winding Road,” and solo tracks like“Junk,” “My Sweet Lord,” and, improbably,the emotionally raw “Mother,” my brothersand I guawed, breaking up at the lame sing-ing and playing, so obviously “
the Beatles!” An earnest attempt at gaming consumersturned into a half-serious aural joke that soonmorphed into something beyond funny, intosurreal wretchedness. Listening to Kings Road,I felt unnamed pity for the musicians even as I was making fun of them.In particular I remember their soft renditionof “Revolution,” the amateur screeching, thecompressed, white fury of Lennon’s EpiphoneCasino guitar reduced to something that sound-ed like the anemic buzz of a malfunctioning electric razor. e ferocious drumming? Over-turned oatmeal canisters struck with pencils.(And out of time, at that.) e performances were hilariously inept, and now I wonderat the premise of such budget LPs: to whom were they marketed? Certainly Pickwick caredmore about moving units than disenchanting kids, but the executives in their boardroomdidn’t consider the eects such albums wouldhave on the gullible. What was meant to soundlike earnest tribute and celebration fell on my ears as desperate and embarrassing. is muchI understood as the album spun around andaround: Kings Road were the weary substituteteachers of pop music.
ntellect confuses intuition,” says Piet Mon-drian. On long afternoons when I wasn’tdown in the rec room puzzling over KingsRoad, I was listening to
Elvis: As Recorded at Madison Square Garden
. At the time I wasn’t a big Elvis fan—no one in my family was, real-
“I’M noT In LovE” IS LESS A TUnE THAn A FIELD RECoRDInG FRoM THEInSIDE oF YoUR BoDY, YoUR HEART CHAMBERS’
.I HADn’T YET JoURnEYED DoWn THE RoADS oF InFATUATIon AnD HEARTBREAk WHEn I FIRST HEARD “I’M noT In LovE,”FAR FRoM IT; I HADn’T EvEn IMAGInED THEM SEnTIMEnTALLY FRoM MY BEDRooM WInDoW.BEFoRE InTELLECT ConFUSED THInGS, BEFoRE I LEARnED IRonY AnDCAMP, I LISTEnED To THE oPEnInG oF
ElviS: AS rEcorDED At MADiSon SquArE GArDEn
AnD IMAGInED THE kInG In THE WInGS, WAITInG,ELEvATInG, TESTInG HIS JUMPSUIT WInGS, LARGER THAn LIFE AS STRAUSS’SoCTAvE-AMBITIoUS SCoRE FILLED THE vEnUE AnD MY HEAD WITH PoMP,MY CHEST THUMPInG WITH JoY, SUnRISE, PASSIon, GREAT LonGInG.