Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

29 December, 2003

Childhood's End?

I have been in a weird mood lately. Perhaps it's just me coming down from Xmas. But something is amiss in my brain box if my playlist consists of Rage Against the Machine and Marillion. (And when I say Marillion, I mean early Fish-era Marillion.) Some anger and some melancholy. Right now I've got Clutching at Straws by the latter playing. With lyrics like the following, it's hard to imagine that I'm actually not in a bad mood:

Is it wrong to talk to myself even when there's nobody else
I'm just checking out that I'm not gone under the water
Thrown on the beach like a seal ready for slaughter

Sheesh! Onkel Fish was drinking and doing a lot of blow back then. As I was listening to the music a little while ago, I remembered a small but revealing (for me, anyway) comment that either The Caffeinatrix or Vicki made yesterday morning. I had gone in there to grab a cuppa java on my way to do some shopping at Woodman's. One of them asked me if it was a Serene tea morning. If I am hungover and go there, I took to the tea and found Serene to be tasty. Well, I hadn't had a drop of alcohol the previous night yet it was assumed that I had gotten drunk. Did I really look that crappy or do they assume that I'm a drunk?

I don't consider myself to be an alcoholic though I most certainly used to be one. While I don't recall exactly, I think I started drinking at 16. Or perhaps 17. By my freshman year of college, I was doing a bottle a day plus. But that's college for ya. Oddly enough, I hardly drank the summer after that but I did pick up my sophomore year though not at the same outrageous level. From then on, I drank less generally but there were periods of binges brought on by failed relationships or whatever. Today, however, I am much better. I don't turn to the bottle when I get my sorry ass dumped by a fraulein. I don't pursue drinking as a solitary endeavor. And I drink more moderately.

But I will admit that it's sometimes difficult. If the booze starts flowing while I'm with others drinking and having a good time, I can feel that 18 year-old in me come out of hiding. It's not that I drink very often, it's that I try to make bouts with John Barleycorn fun, make them memorable. Honestly, there are plenty of Friday and Saturday nights in which I exercise my brain instead of my liver but I've apparently gained an unfair reputation. Do I deserve to be notable for the amount of caffeine I ingest? Sure I do. But it irks me that I'm now notable for alcohol consumption because I don't drink that much and I don't want to have such an honor. I'd rather be known for being a cinephile and a musicaholic, for someone who makes people laugh, and has a hint of erudition about him.

Anyway, I'll exit defensive mode. Marillion. I spent much longer than I had anticipated at Toad Hill this morning talking to The Caffeinatrix and Marillion came up. Incredibly, she had actually heard of them and remembered their mid-80s reputation as being Genesis knockoff - which is unfair, in my humble opinion. So here I sit listening to them. It's funny - all the memories come flooding back. Along with Genesis, Marillion were the soundtrack to an interesting part of my life. I was 14 and living in Chicago. My brother's friend, Don, told us that, if we liked old Genesis - which we did - to check out Marillion - which we did. Then, as Pete and I were discovering some new music, my family moves to rural Wisconsin. Being a city kid with long hair, it took a while for my peers to warm to me. So I spent many a lonely moment hiding in my headphones listening to Marillion wondering how it could be that I was the only one who felt moved by songs like "Fugazi", "Lavender", and all 18+ minutes of "Grendel".

Since then, I've stopped listening to much of the music I did as a high schooler and found lots of other stuff to stimulate my soul but a few bands, including Marillion, remain in my musical diet. While the boys did quote a couple Genesis songs early in their career, they really never sounded a whole lot to me like Genesis. And Fish's lyrics, with a couple exceptions, never reminded me of Peter Gabriel's with Genesis - they were always more like Peter Hammill's. (Pete Hammill was with Van Der Graaf Generator.) Sure, Fish's lyrics may have suffered from loghorrea but they were usually dark in tone and always personal - none of Gabriel's surreal flights of fancy. (And PG did not write all of Genesis' lyrics while he was in the band either.) Fish wrote about failed relationships, drinking binges, and societal dysfunction.

While as a 15 year-old I couldn't directly relate very well to these topics, I do find that the lyrics now his closer to home 16 years later. Take the song "Emerald Lies", for example. It's about a jealous lover and, as a teen, I thought it had great music and a potent, venomous lyric:

To be the prince of possession in the gallery of contempt
Suffering your indiscreet discretions and you ask me to relent
As you accumulate flirtations with the calculated calmness of the whore


To don the robes of Torquemada, resurrect the inquisition
In that tortured subtle manner
inflict questions within questions
Looking in shades of green through shades of blue
I trust you trust in me to mistrust you

But fast-forward 14 years to when I'm in a failing relationship and possessed by the Green-Eyed Monster and this song takes on a whole new dimension. While I'm not labeling that girlfriend a whore, I know all-too well what it's like to look in shades of green through shades of blue. I know exactly what it's like to don those robes of Torquemada after your girlfriend comes home hours after she said she would. And I don't ever want to know those things again.

Another thing about that Genesis comparison is the criticism that Marillion's guitarist, Steve Rothery, played like Genesis' guitarist through most of the 70s, Steve Hackett. First of all, Rothery never had Hackett's predilection for the acoustic guitar. Hackett often imbued Genesis songs with a pastoral flavor thanks to his interest in classical guitar. On the other hand, Rothery rarely used an acoustic guitar. While he did color the music in a manner similar to Hackett, his style was more like that of David Gilmour and Carlos Santana. ( It was Mike Holmes of IQ who really appropriated Hackett's sound, not Rothery.) And listen to his solos on "Warm Wet Circles" and "Sugar Mice" - they're akin to "Comfortably Numb", not "Firth of Fifth". These are 2 of the most emotive and moving guitar solos - ever. They send shivers down my back...it's about the spaces between the notes, not the number.

I shall quit ranting here but sometimes I just can't help it. I have a lot of intense memories - good & bad - centered around Marillion. Don, like God in a burning bush, commands Pete and I to seek them out. Then I get misplaced during my childhood. After getting a bit older, I find that Marillion's music has grown with me. I begin to hear new things in their music and understand the lyrics better. They're like a childhood friend I never lost.
|| Palmer, 9:37 AM


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