The Magic Grove Of The Walkman, Part I

You guys don’t understand.

I borrowed a Walkman once — a friend pressed his Walkman on me another time. But this bulky shit hanging off your belt, impeding your movement, and you had to be so careful with it…I mean this was The Age Of Tape, and listening to things wasn’t worth it.

I saw that early.

Oh God, I AM doing the Tony Stark thing now again, ain’t I?

Hey…I don’t mean to.

Let me prove it: you have never heard anything as white as this in your life, I guarantee it. The second time I wore a Walkman it was my friend’s, who pushed it on me so I could hear his favourite Rock Opera, that everyone else he knew hated. He got me extremely stoned, first. Then he kitted me out with the Walkman. He set me to walk around the block, wander the lanes, peek into the yards while I was listening to it. He had lots of money and lots of weed and lots of booze, this guy, and he worried like crazy that people were using him for it…but sometimes he used it, too. So what was the difference? He’s a nice guy, a great guy, a pillar of the community…I still count him as a friend though I haven’t seen him in twenty years, but I make what unemployed writers who are the sons of fire-extinguisher salesmen make, and that isn’t even what poor people make, and so I like him fine but hell if he’s gonna tell me anything…now or then…

But anyway: the Walkman.

Good God, but these things were a pain. You don’t know. So listening to a Rock Opera was just about the only reason anyone would tolerate ’em. What I was set up with was…

…And I swear you are not going to believe this, but it’s true…

…The first Rock Opera that the band Styx wrote and played. You know: their early stuff.

Understand this now, as I understood it then: “Mr. Roboto” was them getting back to their roots.


So hear my song, Bloggers. Hear it.

…So anyway, the business of the Walkman. It had to be a hell of a thing you were listening to on it, for my money, to make it worth the while. Truthfully, it had to be nothing less than a Rock Opera, it had to be nothing less than three bowls-worth…it had to be epic, or it just wasn’t worth it at all. Wandering around downtown by the Capitol 6 multiplex, plugs in your ears…

There’s a reason why I don’t do that anymore, if I ever did. There’s a reason I don’t own an iPod. I saw a ten-year-old kid the other day walking along the railroad tracks with his buds in. I wondered what in the FUCK has to happen for a ten-year-old kid to get a two-hundred-dollar iPod to walk along the tracks with, listening to music he probably doesn’t get, and doesn’t understand. Oh, Bloggers: I’ve lived too long. Apparently there are people out there who are my own age, who can and would drop a couple hundred bucks on an iPod for their young, young child. And I don’t think that’s cool or all right, apparently.

And maybe that’s why I’ve lived too long.

Gotten Scroogey. Get off my lawn. I swear to God I am not trying to do it at all. Jesus, give me some light: I can’t seem to fucking stop.

It’s all Sean’s fault.

…So anyway, here’s the thing. Thanks to Sean I’ve gotten to hear “Deltron 3030” — my own brother’s been a fan of Del for years, and never told me! — I used to listen raptly to “Mistadobalina” in the depths of my very very stoned years! — fucking hell, I wish I could stop doing it, I honestly do — and let me tell you one thing, if I tell you nothing else:


Back to the days of wandering around downtown, justifying the purchase of the Walkman.

God damn it: it justifies it. This is 2009, and Deltron came out in 2000, so all you folks probably think it’s old school. Let me tell you it is NOT old school. It is the school they tore down to BUILD the old school.

This is music that reaches back into the past, and back into the unconscious. This shit’s ageless and timeless. This shit is some of the most AMAZING shit I have ever smoked, and let me tell you…


In fact I wish I could get it on tape, so I could listen to it on a cumbersome fucking old shitty WALKMAN — yes that’s how much I love it, that I actively want to listen to it that way: I want to be a delicate music cyborg slithering through the crowds downtown, I want to feel like “Five Years” is pounding in my brain AS I listen to “Deltron”…I want the total experience of the future, that you young kids don’t know, seemed to trickle through charcoal to us in the Eighties…

…Never quite right. Always deferred. We could never finally get there.

Hey, and that’s why there were all those Sci-Fi Rock Operas, right?

Truth is, only Bowie ever did them well, because he kicked them off, and also he knew how to make them…heck, made a mini-career of them…but more on that later, because this is going to be a real long one guys and gals…because I am interested in Del due to being a songwriter, and I have technical things to say about this album. Which is fucking brilliant.

And I’m not just saying that because it so prominently features Kid Koala.

I am saying this is a cross-time tour de force.

Okay, let’s start it up. Get your dorky-looking orange headphones on. Get off the bus.

Let’s start our random teenage walk.

You know I tell friends of mine who are not into rap — who don’t have a senseless prejudice against it, but are just not into it — that there is a thing out there called “sci-fi rap opera”…

…And these whitest of whitey-white white guys, these hidebound 70s audiophiles with their Doobie Brothers hair, they all GRIN LIKE THE CANARY-EATING CAT at me when I tell them that. They want it too, you see. They want something that gets started right away, they’ve become jaded about the fancy-shmancy Rock Opera with its awful pretensions…they want something that starts with a bang, like:

“Yo, it’s three-thousand-thirty! I want y’all to meet Deltron Zero!”

Does it hit you right in the face enough, right after that? Easy to say “keep up, or you’ll get left behind”, except that there’s nothing here a person can’t keep up with — the texture of this future is all around us, and you’ve heard of everything in it. Well, wow. The only person ever to front-load a sci-fi pop opera this heavily was Bowie in Ziggy Stardust — if you don’t know what’s going on here right away, you won’t get that album either.

But it’s got something extra to it too…and it gets you ready for it.

“I bounced through a portal…!”

Let me just get back to that in a minute.

The thing is, here is the advantage of rap, here is why all the Rock Operas collapsed so miserably, and why Del soars so high. In an “ordinary” melodic song, there are so many constraints, and there are so few things you can do about them. No matter how poetically sharp you try to get, you can only fly so close to the sun…and you still have to deal with the scan of each line, the scheme of each verse…even in a seven-minute song you can only drop about forty lines tops, because to get a seven-minute song that’s genuinely cohesive/amazing you’re going to have to find a Hendrix to do your guitars anyway — and they’re going to have to branch out into genius-land — or you’re going to lose people.

Not that it can’t be done. It can.

But what’s missing from all that, just because of the musical form, is the thing we call (when we study John Donne) logical density. You can’t build up the texture of a whole world very much in even an extremely-poetic, brilliantly-instrumentalized “ordinary” melodic song…because allusiveness can only accomplish so much, without words to hang it all on!

Believe me, I know!

But in hip-hop the rhymes can come ninety to the minute, and do anything, they can go anywhere, and create anything…for God’s sake they can even be mostly shitty

…And this is also a strength hip-hop has, that the regular melodic song doesn’t, that the best a “regular” song can get is that it’s very clever but doesn’t cross a line into too clever…so it needs to always be careful to “ground” itself, to not actually be John Donne’s poetry…I mean this is music for the masses, people…!

…But hip-hop can be, and mark me here, as clever as it fucking wants to be, any time it wants to be, because it also doesn’t matter if the rhymes are crude and obvious, I mean of course some of the rhymes are going to be crude and obvious, the whole damn thing is made out of rhyme…!

…So unlike a “conventional” song, it can use any word it needs to: because it can use as many words as it needs to.  And that’s why it’s more egalitarian than any Van Morrison song can ever hope to be, because it doesn’t do “dumbing down”. Doesn’t need to, I would say, in part because it makes more time and space for itself, and its lyrical creativity: the faster the rhymes come the more can be done with them, the more adventurous they can become, and that’s in part because there are no instrumental breaks that rob time from the writing, but rather the breaks are as one with the words, at need…

(Oooh, I had something clever to say, right there. Damn! Lost it. Oh well, we’re gonna be here for a while, maybe it’ll resurface…)

(Oh, whaddaya know Remy, here it is all da time…)

I mean, look folks: this is comics, plain and simple. This is what makes comics great: the pictures and the words are as one. They’re the exact same art. You don’t find that anyplace else. That’s why Alan Moore says comics have so many different “tracks” that can be combined to such wonderful effect…the same reason I’m saying that Kid Koala knocks the shit out of this record. The tracks, the TRACKS…! You can do so much with them. You can make the sound-effects be part of the art. You can use the proscenium to enlarge the subjective size of the screen.  You can draw the eye to a supremely-resonant image, you can bring the sight of the reader to a point of infinite concentration…but I want y’all to stay calm…

Alien annihilation. And here I am right back to it, just like I promised: here’s another thing rap can do that other forms can’t. It can tip the board, and make it work. I bounced through a portal…fuck yeah you did Del, now let’s not waste any time or space, let’s not do conventional transitions, let’s just collide these changes up against each other, let’s make it work as music, let’s not be afraid to slip and slide! In an ordinary melodic song, in a sense you have to tell before you show: the listener has to be prepared for shifts and changes. But not here: this shit bloody well IS Jeet Kune Do, there are no fixed positions, it is hip-hop — you goddamn HOP, for heaven’s sake! I’m not joking, this is the aesthetic of dance: you bring the move, and you blow people away. You don’t set it up in some tedious telegraphed way. You throw it at the receiver in HD: all of a sudden, all at once.  In negative time, the pattern unfolds like a black blossom — aha.


I’m telling you: I don’t know why anybody even bothers to make SF movies anymore, now that music is like comics. You can do so much more. There’s so much less waiting around. Screw the budget, screw the rules, you can just make things, and get there with no filler, no delay. Let’s turn the power to the people, damnit.

But anyway…

Back to the music. We’re halfway through the first main track, and the people on the street seem like ghosts to me, transmissions from either the past or the future…or is this the present for real? No way to tell, because this is science-fiction: it’s all just coming in off the shortwave as you fiddle with the dial, and the ionosphere doesn’t give you any guarantees, it just bounces you information…

Quantum jump, and we’re into “Positive Contact”…bit of deja vu, eh folks? And this is straight-up narration, is what this is…you just want to hand the winningly down-singing Del a bunch of discarded SF movie treatments and trashed SF TV pilot proposals, and let him sing ’em out to a kindergarten class…well, heck, that’s basically what he’s doing, right?

I won’t try to be as comprehensive as Sean. Let’s move on. Oh shit, I did it again, but I can’t help it, it’s like talking about Kirby: his way of thinking gets into your brain…

Oh, and God what’s gonna happen when I try on “Virus”?

I better take a break, before I start creating like a heathen.

Part II is incoming, y’all. Better upgrade my grey matter.

God, I love this record.

Better turn it up. Turn it up, just go walkabout, there’s still a couple hours of daylight left…


6 responses to “The Magic Grove Of The Walkman, Part I

  1. Quickie reaction. The last time the music had the Zeitgeistselektrikskraft for me, was mid-’80s.

    My partner and I had taken a chance and moved out to the countryside, so I could work with an artist friend on Macware. He and his lady had a host of children between them, including two very smart elder sons, who ran the CD.

    For a season, the house was saturated with (1) Laurie Anderson, (2) Pink Floyd, (3) a cassette of all the themes from Inspector Gadget. On VCR, Terry Gilliam’s whole oeuvre up to Brazil. Reagan, Columbia, Chernobyl, superconductors.

    The logical density of the music was substantial, in its context; but it had no momentum. It was summary and stance. I had the feeling of hanging onto the scaffolding of modern culture up to that point, an unknown number of floors above the ground, staring out into the fog. Nothing’s come along that quite did that for me, since. But hell, I’m a melody hound and syncopation-deaf.

    Probably just too thinky. It was thinky stuff back in that big mud-brick country house.

  2. I loved this, and the album. Thanks for the continuing examination of just “why” it happens to work so damn well. Your points on the lyrical content of hip-hop being better suited to the sci-fi opera were on point, just wow.

  3. Thanks, Morgan — I have a bit more music stuff to get into in Part II, and also I think I need to revisit the “now-you-see-it” no-setup-necessary effect rap accomplishes so well, because it actually isn’t that there’s no set-ups, it’s just that they’re exceedingly clever set-ups. And I may have not got into that stuff enough, because this was composed in SUCH a rush…think I might need to edit it a little bit, actually…

    And Jonathan, in the same vein: I think this whole record is a little bit of advocacy, too, coupled to the stance…

    …But I’ll see if I can’t get into that as well! Thinky stuff…

    I do believe it is.

  4. As much as I loved my Walkman and tape collection (which included such gems as the Ghostbusters II soundtrack and Rush’s Roll the Bones; eleven year-olds have both no taste and perfect taste), the c.d. was a revelation. In the years before employment was a possibility, I spent hours listening to c.d.s just to hear how crisp it all sounded. Much clearer than my tapes or my parents’ (awesome but worn) records.

    Holy crap, did my parents have a good music collection. Everything from Robert Johnson to Herbie Hancock to childhood favorite U2. They had a radio broadcast of the Monterey Pops festival (several complete sets and assorted highlights) on three tapes, a tape of Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies, a whole bunch of Simon & Garfunkel records, some Motown, lots of jazz…

    Speaking of rock operas, The Who’s Tommy got the most play. It felt so epic, so much fuller than anything else I was listening to. The bridge from “Amazing Journey” to “Sparks” still gives me chills (especially the version on Live at Leeds). I’m so glad I got to see the Who before John Entwhistle died.

    Anyway, the texture of music changes so much with the way it is delivered. Maybe the reason I don’t care so much about new music is because it’s delivered via mp3. I don’t get the sense of layering I got from c.d.s, or the warmth of the tape and vinyl. That tape hiss was kind of comforting, you know? It takes a song capable of transcending the tinniness of the mp3 to get my interest now.

    Count me as one of those people who doesn’t care much about rap, but reeeeeally wants to hear the Deltron album.

  5. I recommend I Phantom by Mr. Lif, a concept album of sorts that finds the rapper pondering a 9 to 5 work existence against the rap lifestyle and seques into nuclear oblivion. “Earthcrusher” is one of the most devastating songs I’ve heard in ANY genre.

    And there’s a number of electric mid-70s Miles Davis albums that create the same apocalyptic sci-fi effect WITHOUT words. Live-Evil is perhaps my favorite.

  6. Pingback: The Magic Grove Of The Walkman, Part II « A Trout In The Milk·

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