It was late at night and I was driving home from work, driving smoothly over the flyover that was lit up like a tarmaced roller coaster in the dark. The road was clear and empty, the air was cold, and the stars shone brightly above. In short, it was beautiful. For the first time since I had started driving I understood what the freedom of the road meant. It was just me and the machine, cocooned in a nest of startling music. I was listening to Sonic Youth’s 1995 album Washing Machineand I had the last song on the album playing on the CD player, a 19 minute magnum opus titled The Diamond Sea. It was getting deeper and deeper into the trance like guitar work of Lee, Kim and Thurston, where I could hear the undercurrents of the bass notes, the swirling effects of the chorus shimmer, and the delay of the treble notes slowly build and build. The feedback mounted and at times almost over-powered the car itself. I was lost in a revere of beauty that these musicians has sucked me into.
Then suddenly, and without warning, those few lead guitar notes hit, penetrating the noise jam and instantly heralding a new direction in the song. It almost knocked me sideways in my seat. The guitar scratching started in earnest, and the incessant dissonant roar of the feedback curled in and over itself. It was beautiful. A wake up call.
Recently I’ve been re-reading chapters of Michael Azerrad‘s Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, a delightful and eye-opening book documenting and discussing the impact of the underground scene in America, which has lead me to re-discover some of my favourite bands and helped uncover new ones mentioned only briefly in passing in the body of the text itself (such as Glenn Branca). I also recently ordered a copy of Azerrad’s 1993 book ‘Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana‘, and I am currently holding a copy of Kim Gordon’s recently released autobiography, ‘Girl In A Band‘. Suffice to say I am looking forward to rediscovering both of those bands, their influences and their backgrounds. In short I am looking forward to learning something deeper about both the music and the musicians behind the music.
If you need me I’ll be found curled up on the bed listening to, and reading about, some of the most important bands to me.
Owing partially to my love of bands such as Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and Nirvana (along a whole host of others including The Jesus Lizard, Mudhoney etc.) I recently got my hands on a new electric guitar, the wonderful Fender Jazzmaster Modern Player. It is a cheaper model than an American Jazzmaster (by half!) but a step up from the cheaper Squire models that Fender also produce. I love the beefy yet brittle sounds that the humbucker pickups produce and I adore the offset body, something that is slightly different from the normal Stratocaster or Les Paul guitar bodies. It fits comfortably against my own body and it isn’t a guitar that is afraid of a good thrashing during the throes of emotive playing.
The Jazzmaster guitar is, of course, now a marker for slightly alternative rock bands after it failed to be marketed to jazz musicians in the late 50’s, but this is a versatile guitar and I’m having a lot of fun trying different tones and techniques. It also looks particularly beautiful so I’ve been having fun trying to photograph this legend of a guitar. The following photographs are shot on a 1963 Pentax S1a camera with black and white film.
The hardware. Photograph by the author.
Headstock. Photograph by author.
High notes. Photograph by author.
Jamie. Photograph by author.
Jamie II. Photograph by author.
The physicality of music. Photograph by author.
If the photographs are used elsewhere please credit as appropriate and state the author of this site as the photographer.
I will always remember taking a gamble on that plain black CD with the band name emblazoned in silver on the front. I’d heard of them sure but I did not really know them, know who they once were or what type of music they produced. It looked intriguing and interesting. The one word that crept up in my head as I handled the CD case and looked for a clue as to what sounds I could expect was the word reverence. The CD looked like a reverent artifact to a much loved band.
I got it, put it in the blue and white plastic bag and took it home to be played on my brother’s big old black ghetto blaster, the kind that if you put on top of your shoulder your back would sag due to its hefty weight. The jangle of those first harmonic notes shivering into a chorus of raw vocals and grinding guitar had me hooked. I loved the album, the band and the music. Have done ever since I guess. I delved deep into their music, original albums, back history and influences, read the biographies and dug a bit deeper. Times I should have spent writing essays at school were spent learning about their musical equipment. They got me through some hard times. They will get me through some hard times again.