Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Your dad is cool, and you know it.

Sure he’s balding. He makes awkward jokes around your friends, and his mustache is so shoddy it’s gone past ironic and straight into creepy. But your dad isn’t as lame as you might think. Though his tastes now tend toward talk radio, there was a time when your dad listened to good records. I swear. These days he may balk at Belle and Sebastian or giggle at the Go! Team, but once upon a time, he was the man.
For instance, way back in 1971, the Rolling Stones released “Sticky Fingers” and, as your then grade school-aged dad can attest, it was ridiculously good. Long before they toured megadomes with prices measured in limbs, they were five louts with noisy songs and dirty minds. The album starts with “Brown Sugar,” a song that, while questionably intolerant, is certainly incredible. “Sticky Fingers” hits a ragged peak with “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” wherein Keith Richards’s warbled guitars meet a drunken horn section in what sounds like seven minutes of the Yarbirds jamming with Miles Davis on hiatus. Though the album is packed with Stonsian nastiness (at one point, a cordial Mick Jagger offers to leave “dead flowers on your grave”), the band chose to end the album with “Moonlight Mile,” a song with heartfelt lyrics and lilting strings worthy of Burt Bacharach that is so emotionally jarring, it inspired the teary Jake Gyllenhaal movie of the same title. As an added bonus, the Andy Warhol designed cover art was trumpeting homoeroticism eons before Morrissey made it hip and Franz Ferdinand put it on the radio.
Moving on, in 1977, your high school-aged dad just might have stumbled upon “Low” by David Bowie. While an album recorded in communist East Berlin and produced by shiny-headed weirdo Brian Eno might seem daunting at first, “Low” is actually a work of genius. Somehow, in the course of 11 songs, Bowie manages to squeeze everything cool about his past work – the unabashed drugginess of “Space Oddity,” the blue-eyed soul of “Station to Station,” etc – into one cohesive album. The song “Sound and Vision,” with its rollicking guitar and subliminally menacing electronics, is reason enough to shell out whatever ludicrous amount of money is demanded for the rerereremastered version of the album on shelves.
Older and wiser, your collegiate father, circa 1982, probably picked up Elvis Costello’s “Imperial Bedroom.” Costello was long billed as the “angriest man in pop music,” unfairly pigeonholed into the category of new-wavers who tried way to hard to make mothers angry. Thus, in an attempt to prove he meant business, Elvis got with Beatles producer Geoff Emerick and holed himself up in one of the few studios large enough to house his ambition. The resulting album is not only the best of his career (no small feat), but rivals what Emerick did with those other guys from Liverpool. The record begins with the foreboding swirls of “Beyond Belief,” where Elvis likens his word to “the canals of Mars or the Great Barrier Reef,” and finally concludes with “Town Cryer,” the album-closer to close all album-closers. With “Imperial Bedroom,” Costello did what few could do before; he transcended disposable pop without succumbing to the perils of prog-rock – unlike, say, Rush.
So never mind his gut and affinity for M*A*S*H reruns, I know your dad is cool. Just ask to see his records.

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