Everywhere in the older Chinese writers he encountered praise of music as one of the primal sources of all order, morality, beauty and health. Hermann Hesse
I was lying in bed; it was around midnight. I was listening to some AM station playing alternative stuff, late night radio, songs they wouldn’t allow on the pop daytime playlist. The radio had a good clear speaker. It was turned very low so my parents couldn’t hear anything. Plus, my younger brother was asleep in the room’s other bed. It was 1970. I was eighteen. I’d be off to college next year.
I was righteously stoned. Killer bud. Wrecked, we used to say. The sound that came out of the radio looked – yeah, looked, it was probably opiated hash I’d been smoking – like a little stage with tiny performers in perfect proportion. This guitar starts playing, a simple rhythm riff, catchy as hell. I started getting into it. Then the guy starts singing... but it wasn’t really singing. It was this off-key talking thing, a singer couldn’t sing worse if he tried and I thought it was some kind of joke. I mean, I loved Dylan but despite what people said, Dylan could actually sing, he was never as tuneless as this, not unless he wanted to be.
But I got caught up in it, and listened with more than my ears. I started listening with my feelings, for lack of a better way of saying it. I let my mind’s judgment slip off – if you want to call it listening with your heart that’s ok, close enough. And this guy, with this raspy sing-talk thing started connecting to me. I plugged into his voice, the little voice coming from the speaker, the little guy dancing on the tiny stage telling a story about rock and roll and a girl’s life being changed by it and finally I got it. The solid heart of the guy was coming through clear as a bell. This was a real story he was telling, telling honestly. I sensed it came out of the city, some tough place – any fake emotion was stripped away, there wasn’t a bad note, every off-key note he sang was perfect. It took my head off, a big kind of epiphany, I realized in that instant music was whatever you made it into.
It didn’t have to have harmonies or perfect rhyme; it didn’t have to be only notes on a scale; it could be bent and twisted, distorted, spoken, played simply and directly. It could be raw and what really mattered was the honesty.
What I didn’t realize in my revelation was that punk music had been born. DIY, indie alt, whatever you want to call it. I’d just heard the Velvet Underground.