When I was a teenager I purchased a used LP by a band that I'd never heard of- The Pretty Things. The LP was a double-record reissue of the albums S.F. Sorrow (1968) and Parachute (1970) ...S.F. Sorrow is one of the most influential rock albums of all time, yet few people outside the world of musicians and rock historians have heard it; it's one of the first 'concept albums' ever recorded; it's based on a short story written by singer Phil May and it tells the sad tale of an Englishman named Sebastian F. (S.F.) Sorrow.
The story is told through a combination of songs and written words printed between the lyrics :
The Sorrows named him Sebastian F although nobody knew what the 'F' stood for , and nobody really cared...
The U.S.A. version of the album cover is bleak, cut in the shape of a tombstone...the stark logo is enclosed in a purple casket, quite a contrast from the colorful psychedelic imagery being used by other bands of the time, such as The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's or Cream's Disraeli Gears .
Musically, Sorrow was far ahead of it's time; lyrically, Sorrow's story was that of a life filled with tragedy, loss, isolation, madness, followed by a slow, indifferent death of loneliness. Sorrow never actually dies, he just fades away, unnoticed.
There's a good summary of the S.F. Sorrow story on wiki, here.
A great blog on the band's history can be found here.
In 1970, ( back when it still meant something), The Pretty Things' Parachute won Rolling Stone magazine's Album of the Year award but it wasn't a commercial success...it's my own theory that May's lyrics and themes are just too honest, too dark and too brutal for mass appeal...much of what he writes has a cruel authenticity to it that I believe unconsciously disturbs the average listener- it is this dark quality that attracted me and continues to do so...after a long, bleak period (the 80's) Phil May bottomed out-
From producer Mark St. John's liner notes to 1998's 'Rage Before Beauty':
...there are only so many times that you can turn up at the singer's flat and see the remains of the sodden mattress out in the street after the Fire Brigade have dealt with another drunk's self-induced Holocaust. Watching the sun slant through the windows of the Fulham hospital and looking at the back of Phil's head, covered in soot, shit and dust, just sitting there in front of a blank TV screen, trying to put it all back together in his head and then turning as he hears me coming, he summons up the old charming twinkle and a deprecatory little joke- Jesus, Phil, that was my old friend coming apart at the seams. It was bleak fucking year, 1989.
Phil May was able to put it back together. The Pretty Things reunited and started playing again and they are still playing today...Rage Before Beauty was released in 1999 but I didn't hear it until 2005, shortly after having my own "drunk's self-induced Holocaust"...mine didn't involve fire, it involved bleeding and I wasn't expected to survive it- but I did.
It was a bleak fucking year, 2005.
I have always found inspiration in the The Pretty's music and the story of Phil May's return from the precipice of self-destruction moves me on a deeply personal level.
I recently saw a blogpal mention the old game of " People You'd Like To Have Dinner With"...Phil May and Pretty Things guitarist Dick Taylor would be on my list but a dinner date with them seems fairly unlikely...the best I can hope for is a long-distance telephone interview.
Hmmm...what do I have to do to make that happen?
Not much, really. I wrote an email last week and got a reply from Mark St. John himself...Phil and Dick would surely love to do this, he said, details to follow...well, cool. I'm into that.
I'll soon be picking the minds of my childhood heroes, recording the interview as part of a two-hour Pretty Things radio show that I've planned for summer production.
I must say that I'm not much of a fanboy. I've met more than a few 'stars' and I generally don't care for 'famous' people; in person, they are usually far less impressive than their non-famous counterparts... but the Pretty Things have been the background music to my life...I want to tell them how important they have been to me and to say 'thanks' personally.
I'm a lucky guy in so many ways- I may not be able find a job but I can make some of my childhood dreams come true.
I'm not sure that I'd be happier if that situation were reversed.
The New Breakfast Snob, April 13, 2008:
Clannad- Ri Na Cruinne
West Of Eden- Raising O'Malley's Barn
Cranberries- Yeat's Grave
Anousheh Khalili- Modern Genius
Fiona Joyce- Long Road To Travel
Brian Eno- Burning Airlines Gives You So Much More
Quiet Sun- Trumpets with Motherhood/Bargain Classics
Bela Fleck & Tony Trishka- Yaba Yaba
Blue Oyster Cult - Searching For Celine
Elvis Costello- Let Him Dangle
Hot Lava- Apple+Option+fire
Talking Heads- Mind
Klark Kent- Don't Care
For E. I wish you'd come back.
Altan- Mother's Delight
Pretty Things- No Future
XTC- All You Pretty Girls
Grin-Boy and Girl
Bruce Cockburn- Justice
Alvin Lee- Education
10 CC- Sand in my Face
Crack the Sky- Maybe I Can Fool Everybody Tonight
Pink Floyd- Bike
For Leo, who turned me onto Bruce Cockburn and loves him some bikes.
Faces- Cindy Incidentally
For Cindy. I wish you'd put the junk down and come back to your friends.
Jimi Hendrix- House Burning Down
For Whim. This is her award for bravery. This song was posted on her blog. That takes courage.
Nina Hagen- Lucky Number
For Fontaine, because she gets it.