Adventure #2

Continued from Musical Adventure #1

A

t most Italian High Schools during the 70’s (yeah, you’ve been thrown in a time warping wormhole…), it was not unusual to have small groups of neighboring students doing homework or preparing rehearsal-tests and final exams together.
After all, we lived within walking distance from each other.

In those years, entering High School was quite easy. Moving unscathed to the next year, on the contrary, was not.

To keep up the grades and pass the terms, we had to study many different subjects almost the whole day long, mostly after school and into the early evening hours.

As much as that might sound like something belonging to the eighteenth-century scholarly life, many other “Renaissance Men” were produced by the Italian Education System during those more modern and glorious years (the 70’s), so I guess that I should be grateful for that (in retrospective, I admit I am).

Studying together with your neighboring classmates had also its advantages.

In my group (5 or 6 chaps, mostly) we had a math specialist (not me, really), a literature one (sometimes me, but not from the heart), a science freak (yes, me!!) a couple of English language & literature fanatics (yours truly again…) and so on.

During the first three years of High School, we had no need for a chemistry scpecialist.
But then the fourth year came along and here we were, without a chemistry wizzo.

Fortunately, we knew someone from another group who was quite good at it and so we asked her for help during some pre-exam weeks (why were girls almost invariably good at chemistry? I never quite understood…).

What has this to do with music?

…Well, her brother (about one and half years older, but no wiser) was involved up to his ears into music and was looking for someone to help him translate some song lyrics.

The poor guy had conceived the bad plan of choosing French as a second language.
After the first three years of High School, he had been offered the chance to make up his mind and switch over to English, ending up with not speaking either language properly; a choice he may possibly regret till the present day (even though he later became a respected and worthy military judge and had most likely no need of either language).

And there it is where it all started…

I began helping him with the translation work for one evening per week and ended up at his place every single evening, together with two more friends from my study group trailing along, with the exclusion of the weekends, during which all of us gave in to more “normal” occupations, like driving around, going to the movies, drinking beer and chasing girls (not necessarily in this order of preference).

Coming from a wealthier family than most of us, this guy could spend some extra money, ordering records directly from the UK and the US.

It must be remembered that at the time, words like “online-shopping” or “The Internet” did not exist yet.

I don’t mean that they were not yet “common”… Really, they just did not exist. Period.


Technical Interlude #1

To be precise, the term “Internet” was first ventilated in 1974, when several of the existing x.25 systems, like ARPANET, IPSS and similar, were all connected together, a fact made possible by the recently created TCP/IP protocol (by the way – digression within digression – TCP/IP celebrated in 2013 its 30th birthday, something I could not let go unnoticed and therefore I wrote about it here).

This was the beginning of what later on will be known as World Wide Web (does now the prefix www. for the internet addresses begin to make more sense? Do I see some dim light beginning to shine?), a.k.a. the Internet, or simply: The Web / The Net.

However, it will still take some time before the word “Internet” will be used with its present meaning and it will take even longer before it would become a common term in most of the spoken languages on this Planet.

I’m also pretty sure that the sheer concept of “Personal Computer” had not been created either, because the first computer that was called “personal” was brought on the market by IBM in 1975, under the name of IBM 5100.

On the other hand, this contraption was too expensive to be really called “personal”, since its cost was around $ 8,975 for the basic model (in 1975!!), while the full-monty machine would set you back a staggering $ 19,975 (also in 1975…), so I doubt that many people could afford to buy it for ‘personal’ use.

The first real ‘personal’ computer – also an IBM by the way – was introduced in 1985, so I’m quite sure that when I was in High School the mere word PC had yet to be coined.

 

Nerd interlude done.
Now back to music…

So there we were, worshiping obscure underground magazines, going through all the sell ads, writing to every records import-export company or record shop appearing on those pages, with the sole purpose to get some “fresh vinyl”.

Here again, forget the now commonly accepted slogan “Today ordered, tomorrow in your possess”.
It took weeks, literally, before we could lay our hands on what we had ordered.

Nevertheless, within a couple of years, I had listened to something like 3500 records, from groups as famous as the Rolling Stones to more obscure bands, like Hapshash & the Coloured Coat, High Tide, Third Ear Band and many, many more.

Some of those bands/artists are still around (even though the original players had left already 20 years ago…), some had died, and some others made just one or two albums before disappearing from the scene and were already a legend in their own time.

Our Friday Nights (the capitalization is intentional and entirely due) during quite a few years, became truly memorable.

Friday evenings signed the beginning of the weekend, meaning mostly that we had diligently completed our study chores for the week, but most important that we didn’t have to worry about waking up early the next morning, which allowed us to go on the whole night long.

We had devised a nice solution to avoid nightly calls from the neighbors to the police: we disconnected the speakers from my friend’s Hi-Fi set (though Hi-Fi is a bit of an overstatement, even for the period), while a handy cousin – now electronic engineer for a telecom giant somewhere in Italy – had fabricated a crude but effective stereo multi-headphones box with independent volume controls.

So there we went, almost every Friday evening after dinner, for a nice “digestive” walk to our friend’s house, armed with enough cigarettes (to be consumed exclusively outside, on the balcony), beer, potato chips and our personal headphones in a plastic bag, on our way to enjoy precious hours of “good vibes”.

I still thank all gods and minor deities that no images  have ever been made during those evenings.

Just try to picture 3 guys (at times 4, rarely 5, but never more numerous) with headphones on, scattered around a room as far as the audio cables allowed for it, with just a couple of dimmed lamps lighted, totally captured by the music they were listening to, sometimes jumping around with the beat, sometimes pretending to play one of the instruments (I liked the drums because they offered the best physical exercise possibilities, but actually never disregarded guitars or saxophones, either) or just lying back with closed eyes, or furiously scribbling down notes about the specific band or song or instrumental passage that was being played.

The results of the scribbling were diligently compared, analyzed and put together to make up something that vaguely resembled a recension.

We even found the guts to propose a couple of those recensions to an Italian music magazine and, miracle above miracle, we got them published. The magazine (‘Il Mucchio Selvaggio’The Wind Bunch) still exists, though in a totally different form (have a look on Wikipedia.it).

A recension on this site’s Music pages will be about this Band, one of my all-times favorites: High Tide.

I edited it lately, to add some extra observations and polish some passages.

I have lost track of the original version (in Italian), but the translation on this site’s recension pages is roughly equal to its version written in 1978.

Today the day, no two months pass by without feeling the urge to listen to one of their two albums (the eponymous High Tide or their second Sea Shanties).

This band has made some pieces of music that are still among the most unknown jewels of rock history.

As a matter of fact, I’m listening to their eponymous album right now and I’m still enjoying every second of it…

Those after-dinner music nights marked the beginning of my obsession with music.
Well, perhaps not such an obsession in the way that I need hospitalization, but quite close…

Ironically, becoming familiar with rock – in all its forms, variations, evolutions, deviations and devolutions – narrowed my field of view, instead of widening it.

I became so involved with this discovery journey that I denied and forgot all the other music I had known so well.

Oh well, people in their teens are entitled to be arrogant and self-pleased.

Continues on Musical Adventure #3

Don't let your thoughts pile up too high.