By: Cameron Piko
My mother suffered from bipolar disorder, as well as a plethora of less-than-ideal character traits picked up from her own domineering matriarch – my grandmother.
As one might expect then, forging my own identity as a child in the home environment was … difficult, to say the least. My mother’s mood swings were combined with an uncontrollable urge to control, resulting in a homogenising force. Leaving aside one’s own wants in order to prevent aggravating her further was unfortunately commonplace.
This does mean, at least in my youth, music suffered a similar homogenisation. This is not to say that all the music me and my two sisters were allowed to listen to was bad, just restricted. Amidst the sea of my mother’s preference for 80s pop like George Michael and Spandau Ballet, us children found solace in her enjoyment of Queen’s Greatest Hits I and Crowded House’s best of Recurring Dream. A few years later I have memories of other gems, like RHCP’s Blood Sugar Sex Magick on cassette tape rented from the library playing on long drives.
I find it incredibly difficult to think of any other music my father listened to, apart from that of Peter Gabriel. His solo work was played constantly in the house, and it would be many years before I was informed of a golden truth – that Peter Gabriel used to play in a progressive rock group called Genesis. It seemed that there was some unspoken musical compromise made between dad and mum, where the eccentricities and complexity of prog had to be left behind for pop and/or a more basic form of art-rock. Gabriel seemed to be my father’s way of accessing the former through the latter. But more on the prog side of things later.
For me, music was the perfect private rebellion. Listening to music on my discman while walking to school provided me with a world of escape. The idea of creating one’s own persona through music seemed like the perfect decision to make at the time, which meant I could not take the same road of my older sister who was fanatically delving into The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan and other 60s icons. First, I underwent the typical teenage angst through Nirvana around age 14, but then came Metallica. At the time, these guys were as far apart from my parents’ style of music as possible – the only thing that occasionally causes me to cringe is that I found my love through their latest album of the time, the hilariously ridiculed St. Anger. But the classics soon followed. And while I devoured all the albums eagerly, it was a gem from 1988 that really put me on the path I continue today.
…And Justice For All’s obsession with lengthy tracks, technical guitarwork (I had just started playing) and what for me at the time was non-conventional song structuring made me hungry for more in this vein. I then hear, possibly in Metallica’s recorded therapy session/documentary Some Kind Of Monster, James Hetfield saying he loves 70s rock. He namedrops this band Led Zeppelin, so I check them out. Again, lengthy tracks, interesting composition and a great guitarist cause me to dive into Led Zep’s discography with wild abandon. The Live DVD was one of the first DVDs we had in my house, and was played constantly.
And it’s here where we move to progressive rock. My appreciation for 70s music and my search for further musical complexity, lengthier songs and great guitar inevitably lead me to the movement. So without any direct influence of his own, this brings me right to the side of my father’s musical education – something I hadn’t really been privy to beyond the 7/4 time signature of Gabriel’s ‘Solsbury Hill’, and a vague memory of hearing the chorus of ‘The Carpet Crawlers’ playing upstairs in the house.
My discovery of the genre is soon learned by my father, and I find out the aforementioned nugget of wisdom that Peter Gabriel used to wear red dresses, fox masks and play prog rock. It’s not long before he’s burning me CDs of Genesis, Pink Floyd, Yes, Camel, Caravan and my favourite – the almighty King Crimson. And the shared appreciation of this music, as well as a greater sense of individuality gained by myself and my sisters nearing adulthood, means the original musical homogeny was starting to crack. My father would actually listen to Genesis, and when the 5.1 remasters came out around 2008 they were in such high rotation that it was borderline irritating – perhaps he was making up for the lack of playing them for all those years.
And yet it isn’t as clear cut as my mother liking pop and my father liking progressive rock, with me siding more with the latter. I have a memory of being driven home by my mother when Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall, Part II’ comes on the radio. She turns it up and, when Gilmour’s guitar solo kicks into gear, she tells me the story of how when she was younger, she would lie back on her bed with this track blasting and she would air guitar the solo. It’s a memory I latch onto as her mental illness worsens, as I become more aware of her manipulative and guilt-inducing temperament and, as in early 2009 this escalates to traumatic heights and – after she destroyed almost every relationship with those she loved most, my own included – culminates in her suicide. It’s a tragic memory of naive, peaceful life that once was and then most definitely was not.
Soon after all of this, I finish my undergraduate degree in applied mathematics and do basically nothing with it. Instead, I find a rag-tag group of people and start composing for my instrumental progressive rock band. The method of escape, as well as the method for creating and asserting my own self and identity, became the priority. Our second album came out recently, and I’m happy to say that now it feels like the escapist aspect has lapsed to favour the assertion of self. An attempt to invert the tragedy that befell me in my late teens and create something life affirming out of it, using the music of my father to negate the lingering trauma of what became of my mother – perhaps most literally when I recently had a stint playing the Mike Rutherford role in a Genesis tribute band. I’d like to think I’m getting there.