Monday, March 12, 2007

My back Pages

In 1995, my status as a regular contributor to New York Press got me a stint as an on-air consultant to the FX channel's "Sound FX" program, doing my rock-historian thing and having fun playing dress-up in my thrift-store wardrobe. Here (following about 45 seconds of a Soul Coughing video), in a clip that aired live 12 years ago this week, I discuss a CD that I had assembled in 1992 for Sony Music Special Products, Jimmy's Back Pages, collecting rare mid-Sixties session work by the future Led Zeppelin guitarist:

Yes, that is Jeff Probst, later of "Survivor" fame. He was very sharp and a great guy; I loved working with him.

I'm posting this clip because it hints at the extent to which I was the lost soul I describe in The Thrill of the Chaste. If you compare my carriage — the way I sit on the bed, my makeup, and my general manner — to the way I am now*, there's a difference that goes beyond mere maturity. I can see how insecure I was, and how badly I wanted to fill a hole that couldn't be filled. (It's the feeling I recently described in my articles about my rock-journalist days for The Sunday Times of London and Canada's National Post). I'm still self-conscious before a camera, to be sure, but I'd like to think it's, to borrow a lyric from my former faves the Buzzcocks, a different kind of tension.

If I had stayed on that road, I would not want to see what I would be like now. Contemplating it makes me uncomfortable and, at the same time, very thankful.

You may notice that I was about 15 pounds heavier; I talk in The Thrill about my lifelong struggle to keep my weight down. Looking at myself then reminds me how self-conscious I was about my weight — and makes me realize I judged my looks far too harshly.

There are some things I do appreciate about who I was in those days. I worked extremely hard to educate myself about an era of music that had passed before I was born, and I believe that many of my rock-history pieces, like my profile of Harry Nilsson, still stand up today. I also give myself credit for having the guts to go on TV. It means I had the willingness to risk failure, which is essential for success in life.

In the interview, I'm clearly out of my depth with regard to Page's music; I readily admit that I don't even like what is for me his "later" work. I simply was obsessed with British pop from the mid-Sixties, and saw a Page sessions CD as a means of getting some good, rare tracks from that era onto one CD.

Watching the clip, my gee-whiz comments about Page's performing prowess make me flinch. You'll have to trust me when I say I did manage to say some articulate things about him in my liner notes for the short-lived collection. Trouser Press editor Ira Robbins summed up the disc well in Entertainment Weekly:

Before he became a guitar-rock god in the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page spent the early '60s as a session musician. A fascinating resume of a master's beginnings, this collection of obscure British rock singles is peppered with Page's characteristic riffing. Some of the guitar playing, however, is too generic or incidental to be of consequence.

*For comparison, see this clip from this past January 3, when I debated sex author Virginia Vitzthum in the basement of the Lolita Bar on the Lower East Side: