The strangest thing is happening to people in their middle age: they are hearing again. Personally, I stopped listening around 1976 after I opened for the Ramones at the Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco. The Ramones weren't any big deal back then. They mixed them with poets in small clubs, and the poets always read first because the audience didn't start throwing things until the music started. I'd gone to see the Sex Pistols in their notorious last American concert, and I still took showers to wash off the memory. At the end of the '60s I lost my mind briefly at an MC5 concert-and-riot in Detroit, and while I fully recognized the power and novelty of that experience I had no desire to repeat it.
The prevailing sound of the decade when punk was in its infancy was disco and that nauseated me even more than mobs. So I stopped listening. I enjoyed tremendously the recordings of the poet-punk musicians, Patty Smith and Jim Carroll, and there was always Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits for certain moods, or Johnny Cash or the Velvet Underground for those other moods. And I could always count on Iggy Pop's 'Lust for Life" to put an edge on things. I woke up briefly now and then when I went out and heard Walter 'Wolfman" Washington or Charmaine Neville or Linnzi Zaorski in New Orleans, or Gogol Bordello in New York, but then my ears folded right up again.
That was about it until I became a puppet in a movie. I am the voice of J.J. Suede in Miss Pussycat's animated film Trixie and the Treetrunks. I'm a drummer frozen in ice for centuries, or maybe millennia, who's thawed out to help form a band. The music for the film is by Miss Pussycat's companion Quintron, and the premiere of this work of total genius was followed by a concert featuring Quintron and Miss Pussycat and friends. The crowd at One Eyed Jacks looked like it had just arrived from Berlin in the late '90s via New York in the mid-'70s with slight touches of New Orleans funk here and there, like a beaded brassiere and a feathered head-dress. For the rest, all basic black and cigarettes. I was hardly paying attention to the music when the band started, but just as I was assessing critically the listlessness of what I thought was a jaded crowd, the Thing hit me. The Thing started out like a tremor, then a series of tremors, then a cascade, then an avalanche, and everyone started moving, including myself.
And for the first time in years, I heard the music! Quintron's hypnotic sound was driving straight into my body and Miss Pussycat's vocalizing was like Rimbaud-vowelizing, growing with Dada intensity. I moved because I had to, because I had to rid myself of something, not sure what, maybe the ignorance of decades of not listening. As for the crowd, they also moved as if compelled to rid themselves of something, and then another Thing hit me: this was something new. There is something late in the first decade of the 21st century that needs to be gotten rid of, and this sound is helping people exorcize it. This is the essence of good art, I thought, even as I jerked around like a tasered dinosaur; it makes you shake out some old, stale thing; it shatters the cliches.
Soon after my conversion to Quintron, I discovered that many of my friends were also listening again: at the other end of the earth in Romania, Ioana Avadani was promoting a band called Kumm. I listened to it on the Internet. Yes, yes, I said like Molly Bloom. Then Laura got a remastered CD of Iggy and the Stooges and I heard 'Search and Destroy" clear as it had never been. She got on a real Iggy kick and made me listen, and it's like I have new ears now. There is music in the world, old and new, but all news to me, and it is making us all kick out some major old-new jams.
Andrei Codrescu's latest book is New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writing From the City (Algonquin Books).