Geelong, 1971, Melbourne 1974
My eldest brother didn’t own many records.
If my memory serves me well, the albums he listened to were by The Beatles, a rebel country songwriter, some Dylan and Clapton, a little art rock, and some English pop by a red-headed protégé of Elton John.
Or, to put it another way, his entire record collection was:
With The Beatles
The Silver Tongued Devil and I by Kris Kristofferson
Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The White Album
Concert for Bangla Desh with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and friends
All Things Must Pass by George Harrison
Loving and Free by Kiki Dee
Islands by King Crimson.
And that was about it, as far as I can tell.
There may have been a Leonard Cohen album, for my brother wrote, amongst the 40 pages of poems we found:
…The words of timeless poets, and the unsurpassed lyrics
of Cohen, Kristofferson, Harrison
Can never come near you.
The sculpture of ages
And the art of civilisations spanning millenniums
Can never capture the memory of you.
You standing, framed simply by a fresh spring day.
How can I express simple joy, soaring elation?
How can I express you? What can I say in words?
Mark mentions Arlo Guthrie and Bob Dylan in one poem, and early Fleetwood Mac in another:
..Order a coffee and sit alone
Listen carefully but don’t hear a word.
Eighty cents change, pour on the sugar.
Stare at the pictures on the juke-box revolving
Some song’s playing that’s supposed to be ‘in’
Fleetwood Mac would sound better, so I get up.
Put twenty cents in the machine but the buttons don’t work
Press on the song three times, stir an empty cup.
Pick up my coat, back into the wind
Through a snooker hall, a dark lane
Past the speech night I missed…
And much as Mark liked The Beatles (and music in general), he knew – way back then – there was a limit:
…Give me some respite from these people carrying
around transistors in the city. Piped music, muzak…
…Will the top forty and these Beatles weekends never end?
A job, yeah, stacking cardboard boxes, a tie, forty dollars…
I’ve still got some of the records. I don’t know what became of The Silver Tongued Devil and I and All Things Must Pass, but I’m partial to occasionally playing the Concert For Bangla Desh triple album (well, the Dylan side, which is still great) and Islands by King Crimson.
King Crimson were an art rock band, a long way from The Beatles and Kris Kristofferson. And a million miles from Kiki Dee.
I only listen to tracks 2 and 3 of side 2 of Islands. Everything else is too arty for me, too screechy, too noisy. Too much going on. And maybe that’s the point of Prelude: Song of the Gulls and Islands. They are the calm after the storm.
I play the two tracks a few times a year but, no, not necessarily on particular dates. (You don’t need an anniversary to be reminded of something you live and breathe every day.)
The songs’ instruments include piano, oboe, cornet, and string bass. Prelude has some moments of tension (the strings rising and seemingly tightening) but it is mostly four minutes of peaceful instrumentation. It’s followed by nine minutes of the title track of the album, the singer quietly pondering trees, waves, sunsets, sand, wind, ‘infinite peace’ and ‘my island’.
Together, the two tracks are like an epilogue, an elegy and, yes, a requiem. Sensitive, thoughtful music, like gentle waves arcing and falling, like the tide receding and returning, like life coming and going.