As a full-time music writer, it is natural that I often think about my relationship with music, what it means to me, how it has changed me and the course of my life from the very young age in which I became forever infatuated with it. It’s not even only about my personal case – part of what actually drives me to do what I do is to know everybody else’s stories of their own infatuation, their story, their records, their bands, their shows, what made them get into music and what keeps them ticking. From musicians, to fellow writers, to the regular fan that might have no activity related to music but for whom the passion is there for life as well, everyone’s path is unique and, more often than not, a fascinating journey for itself.
When I received this wonderful invitation (thank you!), however, I had to dig a little deep. The initial “only three records? You’re crazy.” impulse had to be suppressed, and so, that list of roughly 437 records that changed my life had to be cut down to its bare essentials. So, these are not only essential for who I am today, as a writer, as a lover of music and even as a person, but they also became important at a time when everything was rawer, a lot was waiting to be shaped, when a lot of what was happening was poised to be pivotal. Conclusion – if I’m being too verbose right now, it’s not strictly my fault. These three records have a lot to answer for as well.
Manowar – Kings Of Metal
So that’s the story, but Kings Of Metal is not just a contextual kickstart. Even today it’s a hell of a heavy metal record. It does border on the silly very often, for recent generations especially, with the over the top ballad (‘Heart Of Steel’), the bass-only cover of ‘Flight Of The Bumblebee’ (‘Sting Of The Bumblebee’), the CD-only bonus (how times have changed!) song that I couldn’t hear out loud when my parents were around (‘Pleasure Slave’), the narrated story (‘The Warrior’s Prayer’), and the self-referencing last song (‘Blood Of The Kings’), but looking at it like that is missing the point entirely. The whole thing is heavy metal escapism at its very best, and underneath its bigger-than-life exterior lie truly great songs that have stood the test of time, and in fact this applies to Manowar’s entire discography up to, and including, The Triumph Of Steel. I actually recently got the ultimate proof of that – just last month I was at a Ross The Boss show on which the legendary guitarist played a set of Manowar songs. Despite looking much weaker and more disoriented than I expected, the man totally nailed them, but the same can’t be said for the rest of his band. Drummer Rhino, who was in Manowar for a little while, was the least worst of the bunch, but vocalist Marc Lopes and particularly bassist Mike LePond were atrociously, painfully off the mark. Did I care? Did anyone? Well, just a tiny bit, but whatever. We all sang our hearts out, every single word of every single song, because the songs survived. They are that strong, still.
Winter – Into Darkness
Into Darkness isn’t a particularly complicated record, alright? I know that. It’s not like I got a John Zorn album and spent nights awake trying to make sense of it. But at the age of thirteen/fourteen, these songs forced me to change the way I perceived music as a whole, to redefine everything I expected and wanted out of music. If you’ve read my stuff in any of the mags or sites I work for, you know how much I like unpleasant, opaque, ugly music. I might have even suggested a band with those characteristics that I found under a rock somewhere that you like. Well, we owe all of it to Winter. Since the band split up after this record, I spent my life thinking I’d never see them live. You can imagine how it felt to me when they reunited to play Roadburn in 2011. If you spotted some bearded dude in the audience weeping to fucking Winter, of all bands, and thought it was weird, well, now you know why.
Leonard Cohen – Cohen Live
So I went and bought the damn thing when it came out. And naturally, all lingering half-prejudices were instantly thrown out the window. Contrary to many Leonard fans, ‘Suzanne’ wasn’t the first brick to hit me – in this album, it’s actually the closing song –, after the obvious opener ‘Dance Me To The End Of Love’ there is ‘Bird On The Wire’, ‘Everybody Knows’, ‘Joan Of Arc’ as an unsurpassed triptych, and there’s also ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Sisters Of Mercy’, ‘I’m Your Man’ (a much darker version that the tongue-in-cheek original studio version) and a bunch of other classics that seemed to be injected straight to my heart from the very first listen. From guilty pleasure to lifelong obsession, it was a matter of 71:50 minutes. I quickly acquired the entire past discography and followed the man until the end of his life, always learning something from each record, each song, each word. My musical palette is unimaginably richer because of this starting point, not to mention the absence of any metal elitism that I might have developed. Leonard quickly led to Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Tim Buckley, Townes Van Zandt and even Scott Walker, among many, many others, and an ad on TV for a so-so live compilation was all it took. “I was 15 when I first became deeply touched by the rhythm and structure of words,” Leonard once said. Well, so was I. So was I.