NO MORE HEROES ? by Harry McAvinchey

leonard 1

I’ve been able to see most  of my musical heroes…well except the ones who’d already left this mortal coil before I realised they’d be worth the watching. I’d love to have seen Billie Holliday  or Duke Ellington for instance and I missed the Beatles because they decided to quit touring in my teenage years and they’d never have been able to re-produce that great span of experimental albums live on stage back then anyway .The technology wasn’t up to it.You’d have needed 21st century expertise to reproduce something like “A Day in the Life”  just perfectly . By then, you had to take the Beatles a bit more seriously when they turned rock and roll inside out and shook it like a pillow case.

If they  could dig up an unmouldering Frank Sinatra or  Captain Beefheart when they were in their musical and experimental pomp,  I’d  gladly pay my ticket.  To witness Sinatra’s breath control on something like “Old Man River” is a revelation .The first time I heard it on record ,I could hardly believe what the man just did with his voice .When did he pause to breathe? I asked myself. Was that kind of control even possible? Apparently so. No studio jiggery-pokery there at all. It may not have even been available back in the days of two track and four track recording. He just did it like magic. Then there was Beefheart,  aka Don  Van Vliet ,injecting his love for expressionism and abstraction into something as primal as those old blues idioms. Like Louis Armstrong after a visit to Mars.

 There’s the “July Collective” of musicians who either died on my birthday or in that same month of July, in or around it. It’s a curious birthday gift  to have a  Jim Morrison or an Amy Winehouse indelibly stamp the sunniest day of the  sunniest month with their  shocking early demise at a mere twenty-seven years. I always remember them on my celebratory  day. My birthday wanders from the second day right through Independence Day on the 4th of July. Why not ? My mum said  I was born during the night  into the third day but my dad and my grandfather, possibly in celebratory mood, registered the great day “officially” as the second day. I suppose I was aborning betwixt two days really!! The running joke was that i’d get my pension one day earlier .That’ll not be long coming now.

The list of July leavers includes the “27 Clubbers” Brian Jones and Jim Morrison, but also  Clyde ‘Skip’ Battin, Louis Armstrong, Syd Barrett and several more. Each one of them carries a musical memory for me and all are featured in my record collection and memory.

All our heroes disappoint us at one time or another , of course. Sometimes we’ll catch them on a bad night when they are struggling through a tour with a bad head-cold, Montezuma’s Revenge, or maybe they’ve just gotten too old to cut the mustard anymore. We might pardon them their frailty but we’ll ultimately wish that they were hale and vibrant and in their  glorious pomp again. Glory days don’t last for ever, of course. No matter what we actually say , we still want Van Morrison to look like the moody cover star of “Astral Weeks”. You can do “moody” when you are young and get away with it. It seems romantic, knowing and deep then. When you are some old stumblebum , grumping  and grouching around the stage , you just seem like an old curmudgeon. Hardly a loving cup. Not even a loving spoonful.

 The music is the thing though.

It’s not the light show or the costumes or the dancing girls. My own personal  celestial quartet of creative musicians who have  woven through the decades , consistently surprising, sometimes  puzzling me with the breadth of their work, are Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. I have seen them all in live venues  except for Mr Waits, and although  they sometimes take their experiments to extreme places, they retain the ability to constantly embrace and surprise without bringing on the dancing  girls to cover their asses.

 They are all polymaths of sorts …my heroes. They’ve all dabbled in the various arts .Should it be Dylan with his writing, film-making, painting and metal sculpture. Waits with his film appearances and his theatrical works with his Irish-rooted  wife , Kathleen Brennan, or his “found” instruments adding new soundscapes and textures to his work. Neil Young with his environmental projects , his new pure  sound development “PONO” , his pollution free environmentally safe car development and his own films  and writing.

 Waits and Dylan both borrowed their voices from old blues, jazz and country artists. Dylan, even as a callow boy of nineteen  wanted so much to be an old bluesman like  Skip James or Muddy Waters that he made himself  become that very thing, still performing with his tatterdemalion vocals sending out songs that he used to sing with   a loping feline grace and  cussedness, now  raggedly sailing into the huge forums like riven, breaking galleons of sound but still stopping occasionally , as in a sly doldrum, to croon a perfectly pure vocal of love and remorse.

I’m used to that with Dylan, having followed his errant twists and experimental  turns throughout my life on numerous unreleased bootleg  recordings. Tom Waits borrowed his voice from the great “Satchmo” [Satchel Mouth} jazz vocalist and revolutionary trumpet player , Louis Armstrong. His stage persona would have been cobbled and stitched from Fats Waller, Hoagy Carmichael and a host of jazznik and beatnik performers whom he admired in retrospect.  He invented himself from those old clothes and bones. None of this stopped his songs being covered by Rod Stewart or the Eagles.

The one person who really surprised me though , has to be Leonard Cohen.

I’ve seen everyone from Pink Floyd and  the Rolling Stones to Led Zeppelin, but Cohen managed to trump them all with a four-hour set of perfectly played songs , a knowing dry wit and for such a presumed “suicide’s friend” , a poetic humanity  and joy. All this from same old guy , now on the cusp of his 80th year. Leonard is a poet and a well-respected novelist. Some might think him dour, but at the finish of his Dublin show at Kilmainham Hospital , he doffed that famous hat  and  literally danced off the stage …the old trouper!

I’m off to see Neil Young  in Liverpool  shortly,  as a birthday present from my daughter. I’ve  no doubt that Mr Young and Crazy Horse will not disappoint. Hopefully he’ll not eat a dodgy sandwich before  the curtains open. I’m not expecting Neil to dance off into the wings though. I don’t think he has Mr. Cohen’s chutzpah.

2 Responses to NO MORE HEROES ? by Harry McAvinchey

  1. Patricia Davidson July 1, 2014 at 9:10 pm #

    Like you my hero is the old maestro..i also saw him at Kilmainham, but i saw him at Lissadell in Sligo and he was stupendous. I first heard him in Belfast in July 2009, the first time i knew he existed, now he’s everywhere in my life, his music and poetry entralls..he’s in my car, on my walls and is screen saved on all my computers at home and work, I know i’m a silly old fool, but his words sing to my heart and soul. If you really want to hear the speaking and mesmerising Cohen, try Youtube — ‘Shooting the Breeze’ and Leonard Cohen Prince de Asturias Prize, nite nite

    • paddykool July 2, 2014 at 9:09 am #

      Leonard seems to be like a fine old wine. He tastes all the sweeter as he ages.I think he is even better now in his old age.