2009-02-27

Music Hath Charms

It’s been a long, long, time since any new band or piece of music has completely blown my mind, and i’m worried about what that means.

I was put in mind of this topic while discussing with a friend of mine (Ron) (’sup, dude?) a band called Marillion that you’ve probably never heard of, but which he and i both had a fondness for back in the day. Marillion is a band that i’ve followed since 1986 or so, but about which i’ve grown distinctly less passionate in recent years. Their last few albums have all had a number of solid tracks on them, but they've lost a huge amount of the edge they used to have when they were fronted by a berserk Scottish poet named Fish, and even on on the first half-dozen albums fronted by the newer, less berserk, but more evocatively emotive Steve Hogarth (probably up to the excellent This Strange Engine).

But the thing about Marillion is that when i first heard them in the heavy-progressive Fish years, and the first time i heard the “new” Marillion at the start of the angst-psychodrama Hogarth years, the band were like nothing i had ever heard before. Marillion blew my mind. Consistently. Repeatedly. And although i keep trying to find that same energy in the new Marillion and in Fish’s solo material, and though i look in vain for another band to knock me on my ass like Marillion did back in '86, i'm having precious little luck so far. I can still remember the day, with picture-perfect clarity, when Ron brought home the Market Square Heroes 12-inch to our little university-student enclave in Coquitlam and i listened to the 20-minute Beowulf-inspired prog-rock epic “Grendel” incessantly for, like, the following month. I can still remember when i picked up Season’s End at the tail end of a soul-shredding period of emotional and physical exile, when the experience of hearing Hogarth’s “The Space” and the feeling of hearing something that moved me in a way i’d never been moved before.

I can still remember Ron throwing on Queensryche’s Operation Mindcrime a few years later at another shared domicile (Chateau Angst, we called it; hey, it was the 80s) and being aware that as the first notes of “Revolution Calling” shook the windows that i’d never heard anything like this before. Time and time again, band after band, the feeling of never having heard anything like this before.

But then at some point, it starts to slow down. At some point, it stops.

Twenty-odd years after the fact, i’m as dependent on Ron to guide my musical tastes as ever, having most recently been introduced by him to the band Blue October. And i like Blue October a lot, but while they're as good as or better than most anything else i've ever listened to, they're just a little shy of being life-changing as was the experience with Marillion, or the first time i heard Rush (Moving Pictures, fall of 1981, working at 100 Mile Esso with Kevin, another friend to whom my taste in music owes a great debt), or the whole of Dark Side of the Moon (New Year’s Eve 1982; i was a late arrival on the Pink Floyd bandwagon; don’t ask). And even as i hope that there's still something out there waiting to really blow my mind, i worry that maybe it's just a matter of being harder to get knocked on your ass by new stuff the more old stuff you have to compare it to.

I remember when i left home after high school to attend university in Vancouver, i owned a little over one hundred cassettes and albums, which were the entirety of my musical library. I can remember a couple of occasions when i decided to listen to everything i owned, in order by artist and year, a process that took about a week-and-a-half, if memory serves. A quick look at iTunes today tells me i have 1,827 albums catalogued there, and while they're not all full albums, that's still a stupidly huge number.

They more you know, the more you’re aware of how much you don’t know, or so i’ve always believed. However in thinking about it, i realize that it’s likely also the case that the more you’ve come to know the limits of what art can do to you, the harder it gets to keep pushing those limits. And so at some point, the state of rapture you once attained in response to a song, a story, a poem, an image becomes just a marker to remind you how far you went once — and that you’re never going to get there again.