Un­easy lis­ten­ing blues

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View -

WHAT goes through your mind as you pon­der whether to buy a par­tic­u­lar book, go to a par­tic­u­lar movie or buy a par­tic­u­lar mu­sic al­bum? Th­ese are choices that press upon us: time and money be­ing lim­ited, very few of us can af­ford to read, watch or lis­ten to ev­ery­thing that may please.

Ob­vi­ously, pub­lished re­views and rec­om­men­da­tions from friends in­flu­ence our aes­thetic choices. And they can be use­ful in the neg­a­tive as much as in the pos­i­tive: I tend to find I en­joy any movie de­rided by the film crit­ics at The Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald or, for that mat­ter, The Week­end Aus­tralian .

Let me stress, th­ese are per­sonal pref­er­ences and we should not even at­tempt to build an ob­jec­tive scaf­fold around them. What is in­ter­est­ing, how­ever, is to pon­der our own cri­te­ria for aes­thetic choices and how they over­lap, or fail to over­lap, with other peo­ple’s.

Think­ing about a book pur­chase or a night at the cine­plex fur­nishes a leisurely ver­sion of aes­thetic cri­te­ria in action. But there is a ver­tig­i­nous ver­sion, in which ev­ery choice is a mat­ter of life or death and must be made with light­ning speed: I mean the process of ma­nip­u­lat­ing the ra­dio dial while driv­ing the car.

I leave home about 9am and while I am driv­ing to work, from outer north­ern Syd­ney, there are ef­fec­tively two choices avail­able to me on the ra­dio: Bob Rogers on 2CH and Ron E. Sparks on WSFM, both play­ing a mix of great­est hits and golden mem­o­ries. ( There, he’s blurted it out: he en­joys lis­ten­ing to pop mu­sic in the car, not Ra­dio Na­tional or Ulysses read aloud by Gabriel Byrne.)

Rogers is a Syd­ney ra­dio vet­eran who is fi­nally start­ing to sound like the 82-year-old he is. But never mind. It’s all about the mu­sic and Rogers plays an ap­peal­ing mix of ‘‘ great­est mem­o­ries and easy lis­ten­ing hits’’ ( the 2CH for­mula) from the 1950s to the ’ 70s, with oc­ca­sional for­ays into the ’ 80s.

Sparks at WSFM (‘‘ good times and great clas­sic hits’’) owns a valu­able piece of broad­cast­ing prop­erty, the ‘‘ Clas­sic 9 at 9’’. That’s right, nine songs from the one year, back-to-back, with no ad­ver­tise­ments and just a light com­men­tary from Sparks, in­clud­ing a few per­ti­nent de­tails about the year in ques­tion.

How good is that? The an­swer is: very, but only up to a point.

The Clas­sic 9 can come from any year be­tween 1960 and 1989. One of the most im­por­tant and rigid rules in this par­tic­u­lar ver­sion of aes­thetic roulette is that there is no year later than 1979 that yields a clas­sic Clas­sic 9. ( Don’t ask me why the great­est pe­riod of pop­u­lar mu­sic known to hu­man­ity co­in­cides ex­actly with the start of one decade and the close of the next, be­cause I don’t know.) This means that at the end of the 9am bul­letin, as soon as the newsreader an­nounces what Sparks’s year will be, the driver’s fin­ger needs to be hov­er­ing near the dial — OK, it’s not a dial, but you know what I mean — to make a po­ten­tial rapid exit.

Now, if Sparks’s clas­sic year is, say, 1973, there are rarely any fur­ther is­sues, for it is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to put to­gether a Clas­sic 9 from 1973 that is not drip­ping with qual­ity for its en­tire du­ra­tion. ( Again, don’t ask me why, but I’m pos­i­tive it has noth­ing to do with the fact I was 18 in 1973.)

Sure, while Sparks is rolling out the hits from 1973, Rogers might drop his nee­dle on to Layla , or The 59th Street Bridge Song ( Feelin’ Groovy) , or Ge­orgie Girl, or Peace Train, or Lit­tle Bitty Tear or even Lis­ten to the Mu­sic . You will miss it, and this will be a great pity ( though it’s more likely you will miss Vo­lare or Que Sera, Sera , which will be less of a pity).

But mean­while you will be lis­ten­ing to a lineup such as: You’re So Vain ; Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door; Bad, Bad Leroy Brown , Rocky Moun­tain High , Stuck in the Mid­dle with You ; Smoke on the Wa­ter , It Never Rains in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia , Killing Me Softly with His Song and Angie . This means guar­an­teed bliss, all the way from the up­per north shore to the Har­bour Bridge.

But what if the Clas­sic 9 is from a less rolled­gold year than 1973 or even strays into the ’ 80s? Then you are in the aes­thetic equiv­a­lent of speed chess, hav­ing to make rapid-fire de­ci­sions that could mean big wins ( you de­cide, slightly re­luc­tantly, to bail on Rhi­an­non and score Poke Salad An­nie ) or big losses ( you de­cide to ditch Croc­o­dile Rock and find your­self lis­ten­ing to Ev­ery­body Wants to Rule the World ).

Here, too, there are some rules that come in handy. For ex­am­ple, the open­ing chords of any­thing by John Farn­ham, Phil Collins or Bette Mi­dler are a sure cue to change ra­dio sta­tions: there is lit­tle chance of find­ing any­thing worse else­where. Con­trari­wise, you can sink back into the driver’s seat and re­lax as soon as you hear Char­lie Watts hit that cow bell at the beginning of Honky Tonk Women, the open­ing chords of All Along the Watchtower , the start of It’s a Long Way to the Top or Lit­tle Red Corvette or any­thing of that or­der. Sure, there is a chance you may be miss­ing some­thing just as good on the other sta­tion, but you won’t be miss­ing any­thing bet­ter be­cause there is no such thing.

Then there is the op­po­site predica­ment: a song that is, well, easy enough lis­ten­ing, but just on the cusp of where there is likely to be some­thing more ap­peal­ing on the other sta­tion. Good ex­am­ples of songs in this cat­e­gory would be Starry, Starry Night , Theme from Fame or any­thing by Joe Cocker.

A fur­ther level of re­flec­tion af­forded by this process is the dif­fer­ence be­tween one’s pref­er­ences to­day and at the time this fine mu­sic was recorded. Back in the ’ 70s, I re­garded AC/ DC as mu­sic for numb­skulls and Cat Stevens as mu­sic for girls, but now I love them both. On the other hand, I was proved 100 per cent right about the Sex Pis­tols be­ing a nov­elty group and David Bowie be­ing a hope­less wanker.

Nev­er­the­less, mu­sic in the car is high-stakes poker and, as my left hand hov­ers over the rel­e­vant but­tons while my right man­ages the steer­ing, I some­times find my­self sur­prised at my own choices or frozen with sheer in­de­ci­sion. On such oc­ca­sions, I am in­clined to con­clude that, while I may know a lot about art, I don’t know what I like.

rearview@ theaus­tralian. com. au

Il­lus­tra­tion: Jon Kudelka

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.