16 ALBUMS THAT WERE SIGNIFICANT TO ME

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220px-Warmjetsvinyl.jpg9.) My freshman year of college, 1974, my roommate was this cool guy who was a total rock’n’roll freak. He had this huge record collection and we had hundreds and hundreds of rock records lining the walls of our dorm. He had all the ’60s classics, and lots of ’70s prog rock, and all the latest English glitter bands — like Roxy Music and T. Rex — that i had never listened to (he also played guitar in a local Kiss cover band, wearing all the make-up and platform shoes and played gigs at high school dances — Cleveland rocks!!).

Anyways, this Brian Eno album — Here Comes the Warm Jets — was my favorite of his whole collection. Great, well-crafted pop songs, with a zany, almost lunatic, sense of humor, and really innovative and experimental sounds.

So things were going great until mid-way through the school year my roomie had a spiritual epiphany and became a Born Again Christian. He cut off his long hippie hair, started carrying a Bible with him everywhere he went, and hanging out with these straight-laced Christian guys. One afternoon him and two of his Born Again buddies came up to our dorm room and they systematically destroyed everyone of his records, one by one. Because rocknroll was a tool of Satan — the evil one — to lead the youth astray.

So, sadly, I didn’t get to listen to my favorite Eno album anymore after that.

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10.) In 1976, after having flamed out after one year of college, for lack of anything better to do I moved back to my parent’s house in the suburbs of New Jersey, to lick my wounds.

Up to this point the Beatles — and John Lennon in particular — had been my guiding light as sort of the role model of my youth. And they had been with me every step of the way. With each year bringing a new Beatles product — Beatles ’65 and Beatles ’66 and so on, almost like a model of a car that they up-dated every year. And then followed by new Beatles solo albums every year.

But then, by 1976, John Lennon had seemingly flamed out just like me. And disappeared from sight to lick his wounds, too.

So I bought this Lennon greatest hits compilation, Shaved Fish, which, at the time, seemed like the last of the line of John Lennon statements. A wrap-up. So as I listened to it I was also trying to make sense of what the Beatles experience had meant to me. And what it had amounted to. If anything.

And there was this druggy and soporific quality to a lot of the Lennon solo stuff. Compared to the brightness and sharpness of the Beatles stuff. So it really felt, at the point, like the whole Beatles thing had led to a big dead end.

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11.) In 1977 there was all this media hype about the Sex Pistols and “punk rock.” So I figured their record would be a big let-down, like MOST of those media fads turned out to be. This year’s Bay City Rollers, ya know?

But Never Mind the Bullocks turned out to be a great record and lived up to its billing as a bona fide classic. The songs are all surprisingly well-crafted, there’s a great guitar sound, and excellent sonics. And it was completely fresh and exciting. Suddenly it made most of the other rock bands sound flaccid and “corporate” and overly-contrived.

But more important to me, personally, was that Johnny Rotten was my age, 20. And after spending my entire life up to that point living in the shadow of the Sixties Generation and listening to nothing but Sixties re-treads like the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Starship. Finally MY generation had a voice.

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12.) In 1980, age 23, I had the first real love affair of my life. I was just a boy trying to be a man, really, as the song goes. Anyways the woman I was madly in love with was a rock’n’roll freak like me. She would regularly scour CREEM and all the other rock magazine to be up to date on all the latest releases. That’s how hip she was. Plus she was sexy as hell. And she happened to buy the first U2 album, Boy, back in 1980. Before most people even knew who U2 were.

I immediately loved the album. Especially the haunting song I Will Follow (“These eyes make a circle when I call your name THESE EYES”). I still think its the best thing U2 ever did. And when I listen to it, I’m often transports me back in time to 1980, and I’m in her haunted house, sitting in her bedroom, listening to I Will Follow.

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13.) It’s funny how certain songs are like time capsules that take you back in time.

This one takes me back to the summer of 1982. I had moved back to Berkeley, age 26, with this burning desire to publish an underground punk rock newspaper. And i lived with my pal Duncan in his dusty little hotel room in the Berkeley Inn for three months while I worked on putting together the first issue.

And as I’d sit at Duncan’s desk working on the layout pages, I would often play this song, When Kings Come Home, as soothing background music. Its from the album Leo Kottke, Peter Lang, & John Fahey. I had never heard of any of them at the time. . . Duncan had this cheap little record player — one of those things that packs into a box with a little speaker built into it. And Duncan had a bunch of old records, mostly stuff he had bought in the ’60s. Simon & Garfunkle, Joan Baez, that kind of stuff.

It’s weird when I think about it, that I was working on making a punk rock newspaper while listening to this particular genre of music. Anyways, I haven’t listened to the song since the summer of 1982. But I finally managed to track it down on Youtube. So I’m mind-tripping my way back into Duncan’s little hotel room while I listen to this one, one more time. . . .

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14.) In 1984 I wrote a novel, JOURNEY THROUGH THE TENDERLOIN: A Pornographic Love Story (later published by Loompanics in 1996 as a novella in one of their Greatest Hits compilations). It’s the story of this young guy who falls in love with a beautiful young stripper, and the misadventures he has while living in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. It was sort of a device for exploring the dynamics between romantic love and sexual attraction — love and lust — and how they often work at cross-purposes and how we often mistake one for the other.

The book was flawed (because, frankly, I didn’t know how to write a novel). But there are a couple of really good scenes. And a good screenwriter could probably turn it into a really good movie. And I always envisioned this song from the packed! album by Chrissie Hynde — When Will I See You — as the perfect theme song for the movie. It’s this wistful song about lost love, with nice, chiming guitar by Johnny Marrs of the Smiths. I always envisioned the song playing at the beginning of the movie, and at the end of the movie, and bits of it interspersed as background music during the course of the movie.

And maybe one day it will be. You never know in this life.

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15.) This CD, Telegraph Street Music, is significant to me because I recorded it myself. For many years I co-published a photo calendar of the Telegraph Avenue street people. So I thought, why don’t I record a CD of the street people, too. So people could hear them as well as see them. So that’s how this one came about.

It featured some of the prominent Telegraph street characters of the time, like Hate Man, Rick Starr, the Rare Man, etc. And some of the more talented street musicians like Michael Masley, Larry the Drummer, Anthony Bledsoe. Plus Ace Backwords. I’d describe the CD as, half interesting music and half interesting characters. It was the soundtrack of my life for the year of 1994. Literally.

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16.) This CD was significant to me because it was the last album ever bought. Back in 2009 I was working as a Telegraph street vendor, and I always had a big boombox at my vending table, and I’d regularly spin the radio dial in search of cool tunes. There was one hit song back then, Epiphany by Chrisette Michelle, that I really got me. This sort of good-love-gone-bad torch song. I used to listen to the local rap station (not my favorite genre of music) simply because they were the only station that played that song.

Finally, I broke down and bought the CD. And I used to smoke pot at my vending stand and play that song over and over and over (which I was wont to do when I was stoned). Until people would finally come up to me and say: “Ace, that’s a very nice song, but would you PLEASE play something else.” Ha ha. Everybody’s a critic.

I stopped buying records and CDs after that. Because, like most people, I mostly listened to music for free on the internet (It must be tough to try and run a record store these days). It’s amazing how you can find just about any song ever recorded on the internet. But nothing beats actually physically holding an album in your hands while you’re listening to it. That’s the best!

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RECKLESS by Chrissie Hynde; a goddamn book review

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I’m a huge Chrissie Hynde fan. So this is a treat. And just what you’d expect from a Chrissie Hynde memoir. Blunt. Honest. Witty. Perceptive. No bullshit. Straight forward. And pretty entertaining.

It starts out with Chrissie describing her childhood in Ohio, growing up as a rock’n’roll-obsessed kid. She was perfectly poised to experience the full brunt of the Rock’n’roll Revolution (high school Class of ’69, the poor dear).

Every now and then she would question her rock’n’roll obsession, thinking: “Maybe it’s time to grow up. I had two or three of those over the years. The first one was when I dumped my Beatles drawer. All the posters and magazines and paraphernalia, including my Beatles tennis shoes, went in the trash. By the age of sixteen I thought maybe it was a bit childish to keep poring over such mementos.  Thus the purge followed by intense remorse.”

And, of course, she never would grow up.

Then in 1973 she moved to London, England to pursue her Rock’n’roll Fantasy. There are a lot of great accounts of the burgeoning punk scene. She became friends with Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer and many other punk luminaries well before they were famous. Sid invited her to share a squat with some others in a vacant building (squatting is legal in England — you can even turn on the electricity). And took part in other odd moments in Punk History. Sid Vicious took one of her little padlocks and locked it on a chain around his neck. “And I don’t think it ever came off again; not for sentimental reasons — he just didn’t take the key.”

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Sid Vicious in the hospital with hepatitis. (photo by Chrissie Hynde)

She described Johnny Rotten as “shy but funny — troubled, though. A troubled youth” who was “wrestling with his impending fame.” And: “Johnny Rotten was a strange brew. He looked like Steptoe crossed with Joni Mitchell.” Ha ha. Chrissie worked part-time at a cleaning agency cleaning houses. “That agency would hire anybody: I even got Rotten a few jobs with them. Imagine seeing him come through the door to clean your house.” And: “Rotten eventually went on to marry Nora Forster (the only lasting love story to come out of punk that I can think of).” Who would have guessed that?

Then the book goes on to describe her struggles to get her own band together. It never occurred to her that she might become a star. She wasn’t even sure she had any talent. “I just wanted to be in a band and make a lot of noise.”

So it was more than a little overwhelming when her first album become a number one hit. And her second album was a hit, too. She goes on to describe the grueling affects of touring. The drugs, the alcohol, the egos, the pressure. Shortly after the tour ended two of her band members ODed on drugs. Chrissie Hynde had achieved success beyond her wildest dreams. But she would ruefully write: “I knew then that victories were always just the other side of tragedy.”

The book ends there. And we’ll just have to wait and see if she writes a Part 2 about the second half of her life.

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Chrissie Hynde, London, 1979, 27-years-old.

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