Author Topic: [next political Story Now game] Music  (Read 1817 times)

Ron Edwards

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[next political Story Now game] Music
« on: March 11, 2013, 01:19:08 PM »
I'm working on my next big project in the political Story Now series, which doesn't quite have a name yet: "Dissent," "Direct Action," "Fuck the Establishment," something like that. Anyway, part of the process has turned out to be a deep dive into the music, past the bands I know all about and even past the ones I've heard about a lot but never really listened to. And what I'm finding is pretty cool, especially since it ties right into my own non-verbal, childhood, generalized memories.

First, all the carefully-parsed genres of rock and roll are historically totally bullshit. 1967-1974, and especially 1969-1970, are such a stew of experimentation that it's hard to imagine, as bands appeared, cut an album, disbanded, reformed with different people, cut an album under the same or different name, et cetera, so that just about everyone played with everyone else or listened to everyone else, all the time. The point is that a given album of this period, or a band's trajectory through two or three albums, is incredibly diverse: sunshine pop, baroque rock, psychedelic/acid rock, heavy metal, heavy mithril, folk rock, art/progressive rock, hard rock, so-called krautrock, motown, rhythm & blues, blues rock ... I think that musicologists are so hung up on how Huge Band X came together that they tend to think of the prior bands or songs as failures along the way or deviations from "the destiny," and the same goes for what by 1978 were utterly separate and fixed genres.

A fun detail of the above is that tons of bands very well known for "sound X" often began with a different sound and topic for the most part, then got a hit with a particular sound and switched almost entirely to that sound alone, especially in the 1972-1974 period. Deep Purple is a great example; I had no idea that their first two albums were primarily prog-rock of the artiest, trippiest kind, singin' about bards and hobbits and shit. Which leads to another point; there really was a sweet spot when the counterculture, the music biz, and the resurgence of fantasy fiction (e.g. the New Left Tolkien craze and the reissue of Howard and Leiber in the Lancer paperbacks) all came together - pure candy for us gamers, I think, and again, tied right into my direct experience with underground comix and fantasy/SF throughout the 70s.

Another important detail is that heavy metal found its sound while pop music was still socially activist, so that antiwar and protest were still the topics even as sounds later associated with AC/DC and KISS (to pick one good and one bad example, musically; the point is that neither was/is especially political) were solidly established. I mean sure, I knew Mountain's "Mississippi Queen," who doesn't, but not that the other songs on that album spanned a much wider range, and were much more socially activist or hippified, with lyrics like "open your heart and let the sunshine in." Or that Black Sabbath's "Warpigs" was typical of that time, not a weird exception like it seems in band-centric retrospect. (I've learned that at one very particular moment in the early 1970s, government pressure led record companies to stop advertising in the underground press, effectively wiping out or fatally reducing the distribution of over twenty or thirty political magazines and newspapers. This also strikes me as a very big deal in terms of what happened to the social content of rock and roll after that point.)

Second, I'm astonished by just how much of this stuff there is - my God, how many albums, how many songs, flooding into the culture daily. I've listened to about five albums a day for the past month and barely scratched the surface.

Here's a sample if you want to know what my head is doing all the time lately, organized as "band (album)," with "ep" meaning the album is titled with the band's name: Gun (ep), Joseph (Stoned Age Man), The Axeman Cometh (Wicked Lady), Captain Beyond (ep), Morgen (ep), Thorinshield (ep), Leaf Hound (Growers of Mushroom), The Savage Resurrection (ep), The Human Instinct (Stoned Guitar). This set leansa bit more toward the metal side of the spectrum; all of them are available on Youtube.

Or another: Uriah Heep (Demons and Wizards), Camel (Moonmadness), Gandalf (ep), Rare Bird (As Your Mind Flies By), Sandrose (ep), Nektar (A Tab in the Ocean), Message (From Books and Dreams), Dust (ep), Moondog (ep). This set is a little trippier, but you'll definitely see the broad overlap. Which is perhaps marked by the first album in each set featuring a Roger Dean cover.

Run searches at Youtube and listen to some of these, OK? I need some other heads in this space so I can talk about the game in design.

Best, Ron

P.S. My apologies to the music-nuts who knew all this already. I don't pretend expertise in any of this, and I'm really trying for experience rather than analysis at this point.

Justice Platt

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Re: [next political Story Now game] Music
« Reply #1 on: March 11, 2013, 01:56:53 PM »
Swamp Dogg.


(Not to say that I'm not digging the lists you put out-I just think Swamp Dogg is squarely in the wheelhouse of the stuff you're putting in as well).

Ron Edwards

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Re: [next political Story Now game] Music
« Reply #2 on: March 11, 2013, 02:15:56 PM »
Thanks! Man, those covers, huh?

And in a fine moment of revelation, I recently realized what Biggy Rat meant, which I'd encountered written on the back of an army surplus jacket I'd inherited from one of my brothers (i.e. found in a closet) and wore the crap out of during high school. Still would, too ... God knows what became of that thing, but it was indestructible.

I'm still deciding what to do with the music in the game, because I want it involved somehow. Maybe not as mechanically embedded as in Ribbon Drive, maybe more along the lines of background and certain cues in Death's Head. Also, the characters are made by combining tropic cues like "The Chick" or "The Visionary," and I am considering that choosing one's soundtrack is part of the process, and enters into play. But it'll be albums, not songs, because that's how you listened back then, a whole album at a time, preferably in optimal physical and mental circumstances.

Best, Ron

Edit: Oh ... my God. "God Ain't Blessing America" - must listen.
« Last Edit: March 11, 2013, 03:33:12 PM by Ron Edwards »

glandis

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Re: [next political Story Now game] Music
« Reply #3 on: March 11, 2013, 03:44:36 PM »
I probably owe recognizing any of those albums to the "Rock Family Trees" (for example) of Pete Frame, and those obsessed friends of my youth who felt they could "do a better job/do the same for REAL musicians".  Many, MANY times I bought/listened to an album simply because it appeared on such a chart.

A couple albums on the example that I'd forgotten about: U.K. (ep), and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (ep).  Seeing the first brought a scrap of lyric to mind I had no idea I remembered: "In a terrible way/You continue to say/You need me/Show me the way through your dark red door."  The second (not-so obscurely) has the famous(?) "Fire" ("I am the god of Hellfire, and I bring you ..."), but in the context of this post, I remember how the two sides of the album represented a compromise between album-as-concept and album-as-hit-song-generator.  The hit, of course, came from the concept-side rather than the hit-generator side.

And because it reminded me so many things that were wrong, and so many things that were right: take a look at this .
-Gordon

Miskatonic

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Re: [next political Story Now game] Music
« Reply #4 on: March 11, 2013, 09:14:53 PM »
Oh my, this does sound awesome. I'd like to see you pull this off.

The only of those albums I've listed to is Nektar. I may take this as a homework assignment.

Can you provide an example of what might be "heavy mithril"? That's a new one to me. Google fails and only find World of Warcraft links.
Larry

Ron Edwards

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Re: [next political Story Now game] Music
« Reply #5 on: March 11, 2013, 09:55:10 PM »
Try searching with "music" in the keywords, or go to the TV Tropes entry, which may have been where it was coined. It's a hilariously perfect term especially if you listen to some Hawkwind and catch yourself going, "Oh, wow, man."

I think that latter-day fantasy fandom has completely forgotten that the genre resurged under the auspices of the rock renaissance mating with the counterculture, while quite addled indeed by pot and acid.

See, that's what I'm after - not a lineage through time (which is what those trees are, neat as they are), but rather the simultaneity as experienced by someone at that time. Instead of tracing a later-designated genre back into alleged origins as if it were an isolated seed mixed (by mistake) in with other genres' seeds and sprouts, I'm talking about listening to an album like C. A. Quintet's Trip Through Hell with all sorts of symphonic and metal and lyrical and God Knows What present among and sometimes within songs.  And in regard to content, finding no holds barred antiwar protest in the Zombies' Odessey and Oracle (known in retrospect only for "Time of the Seasons" as if sensual fucking had nothing to do with being antiwar). So there you'd be listening to totally English wanna-be-an-American-hippie pop, just shy of folk and just shy of bubblegum, and wham, you're in the middle of "Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)":

A butcher yes that was my trade
But the king's shilling is now my fee
A butcher I may as well have stayed
For the slaughter that I see

And the preacher in his pulpit
Sermon: "Go and fight, do what is right"
But he don't have to hear these guns
And I'll bet he sleeps at night

And I
And I can't stop shaking
My hands won't stop shaking
My arms won't stop shaking
My mind won't stop shaking
I want to go home
Please let me go home
Go home

And I have seen a friend of mine
Hang on the wire
Like some rag toy
Then in the heat the flies come down
And cover up the boy
And the flies come down in
Gommecourt, Thiepval,
Mametz Wood, and French Verdun
If the preacher he could see those flies
Wouldn't preach for the sound of guns

And I
And I can't stop shaking
My hands won't stop shaking
My arms won't stop shaking
My mind won't stop shaking
I want to go home
Please let me go home
Go home


I'm really soaking up the feeling of how that was not discordant, that it belonged with trippy little ditties. I'm less interested in how the personnel of the bands changed through time than the way that musical content and styles shifted into and out of musicians' efforts mainly through listening and influence.

More like the shifting about of intracellular structures and operations in early life, specifically because the later-considered hard categories (bacteria or not, or even cellular or not) were not actually operational boundaries at that time. In fact, exactly like that. I'm getting into the musical-experience mode of that environment.

Best, Ron
« Last Edit: March 11, 2013, 09:57:16 PM by Ron Edwards »

glandis

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Re: [next political Story Now game] Music
« Reply #6 on: March 12, 2013, 08:21:18 PM »
Let's see if I can create this, 'cause I think we're actually on the same page.  You know the times, Ron, we're about the same age, although we'll have to allow for East Coast vs. West Coast. So ... imagine 12-16 year olds (1975-1979, for me), some with older brothers/sisters, trying to get clued-in about the "real deal" (trying to grow up too fast, whatever).  We're hanging out, at least thinking about how we might get laid soon, maybe some even smoke, and eventually we're playing D&D. Plus - of course - listening to music.  Talking about music, sharing music, learning about music - 'cause, you know, that's what you did.  The look-back window (especially with older siblings) was about 5 years (with rare exceptions, like some Motown, the Beatles, Grease-inspired sock-hop/rockabilly nostalgia, or the guy (me, actually) whoose dad had a bunch of Woody Guthrie 78's) - so I wasn't quite a primary recipient of your 1967-74.  But add the D&D/fantasy connection, and there's lots of overlap.

Imagine those kids looking at a tree for, say, Jethro Tull (maybe I made a mistake by using a "genre" focused tree as the example), while that tree is still "alive", the names are still joining groups, moving around, making more music.  Often wildly different music (ever hear the early blues-wannabe Jethro Tull[1]?)  We're voracious - where's more good stuff?  Where's more Tolkienesque stuff?  Where's more "screw the man" stuff?  Imagine those teenagers discovering, oh, Fairport Convention and English folk revival through those trees.  And discovering - well, anything/everything.  Musoursky. That trippy "The Committee" movie with Arthur Brown.

I mean, totally not-obscure (right?) King Crimson - 1st track, "21st Century Schizoid Man" Blood rack barbed wire/Polititians' funeral pyre/Innocents raped with napalm fire.  Last track "The Court of the Crimson King" The black queen chants the funeral march,/The cracked brass bells will ring;/To summon back the fire witch/To the court of the crimson king.  Of course you CAN mix your fantasy and your politics. [2]

But those trees (and various independent expansions) were a big part of how we KNEW what Ron's saying was widely true.  The moving (back AND forth, often - there was no "final destination" band for many of these guys & occasional-gals) of the personnel showed HOW English folk revival ended up in American Metal.  Or chuck the labels - more importantly, we got to see that you could be the rockstars of Traffic and name your album "John Barleycorn Must Die." And it let us (sometimes - OFTENtimes) FIND stuff, in the before-the-internet era.  I mean, we probably fell into "direct progression from early unfocused failure to later Metal God triumph" reductionism on occassion - but mostly no.

I hadn't thought about this in years, but I guess what's now called an ecclectic taste in music is a likely outcome of that background/approach.  And its' absence nowadays is maybe why I'm a much more casual consumer of music than I used to be. Huh - thanks for the brain-activation, Ron. 

So I think that might better fit your "experience not analysis" request - as a listener rather than a creator.  If you WERE one of those people on the tree, everyone moving in and out would just be who you, like, were making music with.  I'll just add this (again, as a listener): somewhere in the next 5 years (call it 79-83), Punk/New Wave blew a LOT of this stuff right out of my attention.  I didn't see that as a loss at the time, and I obviously eventually re-broadened, but - it's interesting that your "Fuck the Establishment" groups were overwhelmed in my personal experience by the Rammones, Dead Kennedys and the Clash.

[1] Jethro Tull winning the first ever (ca 1989) Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Grammy is often cited as an  award screwup - but I'd say it's as much a failure of the very idea of categorization as anything else.
[2] Another group with surprising overlap to the issues here: Heart.  Early hit "Crazy on you"'s version of sensual fucking might be more "screw the war" than the Zombies "anti-war", but it is SO informed by the then-current politics. Little Queen and "Dream of the Archer" give us our fantasy connection, the eventual "girl Hair Metal" label of the 80's that becomes the only thing they "should" be doing ... and yeah, not so much overt politics in the songs themselves, but the implicit gender politics of their very existence are interesting.
-Gordon

Ron Edwards

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Re: [next political Story Now game] Music
« Reply #7 on: March 12, 2013, 11:16:49 PM »
Hi Gordon,

Yeah, we're on the same wavelength for sure. You are totally nailing it with every example, and yes, Heart for sure. And don't get me wrong, I do like those trees, but they are so tempting to geek out about - and to miss the point with - that I needed to head that off.

I should probably do some "all about me" here, as a prelude to talking more about this game in design.

1. My parents were born in 1926 and 1931. My stepfather was born in 1918. My three step-siblings were born to my stepfather and his first wife in the late 1940s and early 1950s. My two brothers were born in the 1950s. I'm not only the youngest, I'm the very youngest. An amusing minor point is that both of my mom's husbands had the same last name.

2. Without going into ridiculous detail, my side of the family was military until the mid-60s with some bohemian and intellectual details, then split over issues best described as "America." My mom became intensely involved in local community and national activism, my home became a crossroads for a lot of people's lives, and my upbringing unlike my siblings' was countercultural in addition to military. Yeah, communes to the left of me, military ID and rifle ranges to the right. My dad was the naval military historian in Saigon around 1970-72.

3. The step-side of the family had distinct roots in the intellectual Old Left, and the siblings being a little older and more affluent, they were spending their trust funds being New Left radicals. Pretty seriously too - one was a Maoist and one was a Weatherman, for instance, which led to colorful insults during arguments. They might have been a little nuts but they weren't dilettantes, and they always treated me as a fellow adult even before I was 10.

So I didn't have to discover the political and countercultural aspects of rock and roll. I imbibed them. I never encountered an issue, or even any detail of life, that was not interpreted as a political or significantly cultural event, with many opinions flying thick and fast.* For me, the discovery in music was learning the names and details of stuff that was already there in my head, as when I started listening to Grateful Dead albums at about 20 and realized I knew practically every song already. Or politically, learning about Nixon's special agents who went and harassed various hippified endeavors all over the place, tying into my memories of the day two suited-and-sunglassed goons arrived at the radical camp where my mom worked in the summers, and I (at what, 6 or 7 I guess) had to be on my best behavior.**

None of this is history for me; it's clarification of my experience and of what my family members were bringing to my experience. I was a smart, perceptive kid and soaked up everything. The (lifelong) task was finding out what it was without being distracted by the wave-front of changing (lying) narratives or the vagaries of what is and isn't cool. Music has been a fine window to do it with.

Well, enough about me. This thing I'm working on is just like Spione and Shahida, and obviously, is about dissent in the U.S., particularly in the 70s, but with a lot of historical context. What's different about it is that ... well, for Spione, I was astonished at how close the world of espionage is to the rest of us, through personal contacts and professional experiences. it's there, but not specially there for me personally, except insofar as the Cold War finally made sense to me (or rather its horrible lack of sense became clear). I made it much more personal by doing a "German 101" for myself, including studying the language and traveling there so much, often achieving startling levels of personal contact. (I'm good at it - ten years of frequent long-distance hitch-hiking will do that for you.) Shahida was similar as a project, although it became personal to the point of incendiary when my own university became international news about Israel-Palestine, and I decided to become one of "those" professors people are always bitching about.

Whereas this project is fascinatingly different. I don't want the book to be particularly personally revealing except insofar as my own views will be evident/intrinsic, but it's at least relevant that if I wanted, I could put little thick-outlined inserts here and there throughout it (Bay Area and Monterey counterculture, women's lib [squared], Earth First, Synanon, United Farmworkers Movement, the west-coast Unitarian Church, draft resistance, Black Panthers, gestalt therapy/EST, Weathermen, the Teamsters, the Revolutionary Communist Party, the midwifery movement, Greenpeace, anti-nuke, the 70s Christian Right) saying "I was there," like with names and dates and details, not as a brag about how involved-and-rad I was for most of it, but rather as a kid seeing those actual things - not just headlines or local news - and soaking it up.

At this point, the game part seems to be about a radical 70s-ish activist group, and how it may well go awfully off the rails. The card mechanics seem quite sound based on preliminary playtesting. Such people would be deeply invested in the music both of the moment and of the past decade and a half, and I'm trying to come up with a way both to write about it and also to incorporate it seamlessly into play.

Best, Ron

* I have a tirade on tap for when anyone is so foolish as to describe themselves as "apolitical" in my presence. Not one of my endearing traits.

** Said goons must have been pretty stupid, because that camp was probably the most egregious commie, antiwar, Indian-activist, conservationist, Black Power hive in the country, and we skinny-dipped all the time too. In case you were wondering, they showed up because the camp's director's daughter had sent President Nixon a letter telling him she was "going to stuff him down the biffy," our slang for the outdoor toilets.

glandis

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Re: [next political Story Now game] Music
« Reply #8 on: March 13, 2013, 03:08:56 PM »
Some thoughts: First, George RR Martin's Armageddon Rag.  I ended up disapointed, but there was SOME of this in there.  And the whole story of American folk, Pete Seeger, Dylan-goes-electric and all that seems like it deserves place here as well - but you probably know a lot about that, too. (After a hippie church summer camp injection failed to infect me, I ran screaming from further exposure.  It took many decades to realize "hey, there WAS something there.")

I think it's a sign that you're onto something with this stuff (and the significance of it at the time) that my background [1] is so NOT yours, but we're still on the same page.  Any counter-culture encounters I had in were at much greater remove.  The only oddity I "soaked up" in a way at ALL similar to you was the small-but-persistent ways Americans (even quite Right ones) found to support the basically Leftist IRA. 

Thinking about overlap between the focus of your game and music - how to use the music in the game ... thematically, maybe something about "taking sides."  While we're grooving on how inclusive the feel of all this COULD be, the downside to music having a huge impact was, once or twice, I'd see friendships literally end because of musical disagreement.  But even shy of that extreme, there were plenty of heated discusions, and people could easily (affectionately or not) be labeled as "the Beatles guy," "the Fripp guy" (personalities occasionally transcended "groups"), and etc.  Maybe the group comes up with a bunch o' music, and then each character (via player/group/whatever) picks favorites/ranks/attaches meaning and/or description to those albums?  Either to be used mechanically or not. Well, you said it with "what is was without ... the vagaries of what is or isn't cool."  There's always the danger of letting various flavors of "cool" get in there.  "Going off the rails" can happen in 70's radical groups, bands, and the fans/supporters of either.

Hope that's helpful.  Good luck!

[1] Eh, what to say to document not-Ron?  My parents: middle class, touch of blue collar, touch of white.  Dad was a Marshall Plan vet ("Why'd anyone want to go to Europe?  It's a filthy, dirty place," Took me a long time to realize they were still cleaning up WW II while he was there!), auto mechanic, small business owner (like, him, two partners and sometimes they could afford an employee small).  Mom was a nurse, second-generation (in the U.S.-born child of foreign-born parents sense) Scottish (it's neat that I can find my Nana & Papa in the Ellis Island records).  But - we lived in Greenwich, CT, one of the most affluent communities in the U.S., then and (I assume) now.  They were apoli- er, not particularly politically active in my youth, although they were proud of Lowell Weicker's deviations from Republican party lines, and Mom supported John Anderson.  Family friends ranged from construction workers to Fortune 500 execs - which was an interesting diversity, but hardly counter-cultural.  Plenty more to say, of course, but that seems enough for "not-Ron."
-Gordon

Ron Edwards

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Re: [next political Story Now game] Music
« Reply #9 on: March 18, 2013, 05:01:16 AM »
Hi Gordon,

I love that stolid portrait of your flag-blooded second-generation American family ... with those Guthrie LPs. A little old-school Red in the cupboard!

Not too many people know the third and fourth verses of "This Land is Your Land":

As I was walkin'  -  I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side  .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.


More about the game soon.

Best, Ron

glandis

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Re: [next political Story Now game] Music
« Reply #10 on: March 21, 2013, 05:56:20 PM »
Ron,

Yeah, if you'd asked young-me if rural America leaned more Left or Right, I'd have said Left - even though that probably hadn't been true for ... decades? ever?  Guthrie was mixed in with Hank Williams, Bill Munroe and Tennessee Ernie Ford ("I owe my soul to the company store"), but I'd call it a subtle yet real influence on me - as it had been on my father & grandfather who owned the records.  Which inspires a comment for the other thread, but before I leave here, there's ANOTHER less-known "This Land" verse:

    Nobody living can ever stop me,
    As I go walking that freedom highway;
    Nobody living can ever make me turn back
    This land was made for you and me.
-Gordon