Monday, February 24, 2014

I have always been aware that when it comes to music from another country, there's always that slightly tacky, yet romantic prospect of the musical pilgrimage. I knew this, having pined for London each day between the ages of 5 and 20. The slightly-embellished story I've always told is this: upon my return to England, the first thing I did was take the southbound District Line service to Earl's Court tube station to visit Freddie Mercury's former home at Garden Lodge. Having initially taken a bus in the wrong direction, I had time to quietly contemplate what I would inscribe on Freddie's door. Yet as I stood before that ever-familiar dark green door with its loving messages scrawled and scratched over every square centimetre, I thought: "There's no way I could possibly articulate this..."

It's an alluring idea, to think that a place can be charged with significance and you might be able to sense that. I'll always recall the story I heard on a radio documentary about John Lennon's childhood home, Mendips. Now a museum, the caretaker described one particular young Japanese tourist who visited. Initially quiet, calm and polite, upon entering John's bedroom, she threw herself onto his bed and started wailing uncontrollably. Other visitors described how moved they were to be there, they described this feeling that took over them once they entered the house. In that way, the musical pilgrimage manages to align itself with the spiritual quality of a pilgrimage in the religious sense. Perhaps if I were more intuitive or had a greater sense of imagination, I could sense an importance, as opposed to simply being informed of one.

I love to consult the pilgrimages of Pete Frame's Rockin Around Britain, simply because the extreme level of research renders the spirituality of the musical pilgrimage void. I mean, I can't anticipate that anyone would venture out to the Permawrap cling film factory in High Wycombe simply because Howard Jones once worked in the stock control department. If anything, the fact that Frame has compiled such an enormously comprehensive resource indicates that culture is being created everywhere, in cities and villages, in halls and studios, even in squares and tube stations. It's a fact, but we're not always so inclined to react to any given locality in such a drastically emotional way.

Saying that, I'll rarely miss the opportunity to embark on one of these musical adventures. Not so long ago, I was sitting in a hotel room in Milan when my brother suddenly said to me: "Wait a second. Aren't the Paninaro kids from Milan?" I rushed to the baby laptop and replayed the promotional clip of the Pet Shop Boys' Paninaro - it became apparent that we had accidentally stumbled upon a place filled with musical consequence. I read out slabs of text, describing the 1980s youth culture. They seemed so glamourous, what with their insatiable appetite for American culture, designer denim and sandwiches. "They congregated around the sandwich bars at Piazza San Babila..." It seemed clear there was no turning back now: we were on a mission to find us some Paninaro kids.

The first thing we did the next day was venture out to Piazza San Babila. There was no abundance of sandwich, indeed there was nothing to indicate that anything had ever happened there. We walked over to the subway, recognising its inclusion in the Pet Shop Boys' video. Rafts of bored business men and tourists congregated together tightly, forming a queue by the gates and spilling out into the square. As we settled down to a bottle of milk at a nearby supermarket café, I thought about the Paninaro kids, who they were and what they might have become. One of them might have been in that crowd waiting for the subway to open, but we never would have known it. Perhaps if there were a plaque or something, a token boy in appropriate vintage attire, we might have felt differently about our failed excursion.

I've found, with my recent love of Kino and Viktor Tsoi that I've developed this desire to venture off to Russia and test this whole theory about musical pilgrimages. I'd love to go to Arbat Street in Moscow and be confronted with that heavily graffitied wall in Tsoi's honour. I'd love to deal with that struggle again, that difficulty in trying to honour the beauty and the relevance of their music. I'd love to go to Club Kamchatka, the Kino museum café bar in St Petersburg that was once the boiler room of the apartment block where Tsoi worked and lived. I might not ever develop a real appreciation of what it was actually like to be in the depths of the Russian underground rock scene, what it might have been like to see a gig or source a bootleg cassette, but I appreciate that are people who attempt to create such opportunities to remember those moments we unfortunately missed the first time round.

The Tsoi Wall by Charlie Radosna

Cassettes & Chocolate Milk: Soviet Pop Podcast #58
Yury Mukhin - Humouresque
Display - Foreign Lady
Electroclub feat. Victor Saltykov - You Marry Him, Do Not Go
Kino - Your Number
Aquarium - Rock n Roll's Dead
Rodionov - Electronic Jockey (Horse Racing)
Rodionov - Baroque (Fencing)
Forum - On the Next Street
Arsenal - Festival
Aavikko - Machu Picchu

Download (50MB)


Kevin Moon said...

I think the closest thing I ever had to a musical pilgrimage was in Stockholm back in 1996. I was a huge ABBA fan (still am, but not nearly to the obscene degree that I was at the time) and I really wanted to meet and talk to Benny Andersson for just a few minutes. I boldly walked into the Mono Music office where he was located at the time and politely asked the secretary if I could say a quick hello. (It wasn’t Görel Hanser, unfortunately; she happened to be on holiday at the time, and if she had been there, I feel that I might have been successful, as we had a mutual friend and thought maybe I had an “in.”) I could even hear Benny in the next room, presumably mixing something in his studio. The secretary went in the next room and checked, but I was politely turned away. I was rather dejected. I realize that they probably had more than their share of overzealous ABBA fans wanting to meet him, but I had simply wanted to tell him how much I loved his solo albums at the time (Klinga Mina Klockor and November 1989, as well as his collaborations with Orsa Spelmän) and how they inspired me to take up learning the violin. His albums opened a door that helped me to discover a love for Swedish folk music. I wanted to tell him that, and I felt that he really would have appreciated that and might have warmed to me. I still hope to meet him someday, more so than even the other members of ABBA (whom I still adore).

While in Stockholm, I also visited the ABBA exhibit at a Swedish culture museum or something like that; it was just a tiny exhibit, limited to a single glass case. Pretty lame, unfortunately. I still have a picture of myself standing in front of it. This was years before the actual ABBA Museum opened.

Having read the excellent first volume to “All These Years” by the master himself, Mark Lewinsohn, I feel intimately acquainted with the Beatles’ childhood homes and haunts, and I would love to take the tour you linked to above. I feel like I’ve already been in the Mendips and Forthlin Road homes, and I would love to visit the real thing. That book is a true joy to read if you’re a diehard Beatles fan (and I like to think I’ve moved to the upper echelons of Beatles fandom over the years, from “casual” to “advanced”, but well shy of “obsessive”); the way Lewinsohn describes every little detail with loving attention is marvelous, and I savored every word. Of course, right after I bought it, the ultra-expensive (U.K. only) deluxe version came out. I did end up buying it, and I’ve already finished the regular version, but will be ready to read my lovely deluxe version a few years from now, just prior to when volume 2 is released (hopefully in our lifetimes). I would really, really love to visit the Reeperbahn in Hamburg; the Beatles’ Hamburg years are the most fascinating for me.

But perhaps the ultimate musical pilgrimage I would still love to make someday would be the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg. I’m a true sucker for that movie, and I would truly relish being there. I never get tired of watching it; I watch it every Easter, so it’s just about time to watch it again. I would really love to see the actual Salzburg, and would love to see the houses they used in the film (one for the front, and a different for the back, I believe; of course, the interiors were simply Hollywood studios, which is so easy to forget). Maybe someday, hopefully!

Eleanor said...

Your ABBA story was heartbreaking, Kevin :( Although you didn't get the opportunity to meet Benny, you still got a fascinating story out of it. Hopefully there'll be another opportunity at some point... it's never quite over!

Do you know Mark Lewinsohn's book about The Beatles' Abbey Road sessions? It has the same level of obsessive detail, "Ringo messed up the 19th take..." Amazing!

I'd love to do The Sound of Music pilgrimage too, I know like other films (Roman Holiday especially), it won't be exactly as it is in the film. Damn you, Hollywood sound stages!

sts said...

Oh hey, we spoke briefly last Sunday about this topic. This is the name of a band I couldn't recall when you asked for some recommendations at the fair. I imagine you'll already know it:
Nautilus Pomilius. More via wiki:

Eleanor said...

Thanks for letting me know about this, sts! I'll check them out and hopefully include them on my next Soviet mix!