As I mentioned in my review of To Our Children’s Children’s Children, my mother is the Moodies fan in the family. My father and I are of the same mind: we like some of their songs, especially those by Justin Hayward, but find the bulk of their work lacking in substance and interest. I agreed to give her that one review primarily to get her off my ass, but my mother is nothing if not persistent. She’s been bugging me for months about doing all of the Moodies’ albums, and as usual, she has inexorably worn down my usually impermeable resistance with the interpersonal equivalent of Spanish water torture (that’s what they call it in Europe, thanks to the Inquisition).
I admit have a dominant personality, but nothing like my mother. When she walks into a room, she expects all present to stop whatever they’re doing and acknowledge her presence. And they do! She is a very striking woman with the aura of person who has been, is now and will ever be in charge of whatever situation presents itself to her. What blows me away about her is that she very rarely asserts herself or tries to take over. She is gracious, friendly but not chatty, and very engaging. However, when the situation requires clarity she clarifies; when someone needs a kick in the ass, her boot is at the ready. My mother can make you do what she wants simply by planting the thought in your head: she would make an excellent interrogator of spies, saboteurs or prisoners of war. With the more difficult people (like me!), she will give a reminder every now and then, but rarely dwells on it. Once she has spoken, she has spoken, and will patiently wait for your obedience to manifest itself. It always does.
But she raised a troublesome little daughter, and while I agreed to submit to her wishes and do more Moodies, I imposed a condition: we would do the reviews together. Given my obvious skepticism about the band’s value, I argued that a tag team review would be more likely to present a balanced viewpoint of their work. As I know she loves a challenge as much as I do, she readily agreed.
Without further ado, here is our review of Days of Future Passed, transcribed from a recorded conversation made in my parents’ home in Nice.
ARC: Dad, you’re not supposed to be here.
Dad: Come on, I’ll behave!
ARC: No, you won’t. One of us will say something that pisses you off, you’ll get all emotional and fuck up our rhythm.
Maman: Yes, you should leave. We have work to do.
Dad: Damn. (Exits, head hung low. Maman and I pour some wine and light our cigarettes. I take out my MacBook Air with the notes I took on the train ride to Nice and begin the conversation.)
ARC: Okay. I’ve listened to the album three times and I’ve done my research as always. I will admit that I liked it the more I listened to it.
Maman: Very good.
ARC: But I still have issues. Let’s play “The Day Begins,” the overture to this opus (conversation continues as we listen). The thing I feel most uncomfortable about is that it’s been billed as one of the first records to integrate classical and rock music, and that’s bullshit. Point number one: there was no such thing as The London Festival Orchestra—it was just a name the producers came up with for the Decca studio musicians they hired. Point number two: the passages played by the so-called London Festival Orchestra are just riffs off the songs the Moodies wrote—there’s no classical influence here, in the strictest sense of the word; nothing original, no new approaches. They’re just playing pop music on classical instruments; it’s more movie soundtrack than Berlioz. So what?
Maman: You don’t understand because you were not there. When I came to America I was shocked at the ignorance of people my age when it came to classical music and jazz. I would meet people and tell them I listened to and studied classical music and they gave me these strange looks that said they thought I was a throwback, a square. They dismissed centuries of music in its highest form as something for old people and straights. While you are correct that Days of Future Passed is not classical music, The Moody Blues opened the ears of millions in my generation to the beauty of the orchestra, and after this record, my friends started asking me more about the classics. Almost overnight, I became chic!
ARC: (Laughs.) Okay, that’s a fair point, and I have to admit that even though they’re session musicians, the “orchestra” plays well.
Maman: There are flaws in technique, to be sure, but the overall effect is satisfying.
ARC: So what we have is a set of Moody Blues songs interspersed with splashes of orchestral arrangements that echo the melodies in the songs. (Dad, in the background: “I’m going to get some coffee.” “Ciao,” maman and I say in unison. “You want anything?” “No, go away!” I shout in exasperation.) Ah, here comes ponderous Pinder. “Cold-hearted orb that rules the night” is terrible personification, but “Brave Helios?” What the fuck is that? You have to admit dusting off Greek mythology is pure pretension.
Maman: (Laughs.) Yes, it was an unfortunate choice.
ARC: I suppose it has the virtue of setting up the “plot,” if one could call it that. The Moodies are going to take us through a day-in-the-life. The problem I have with the approach is in the execution: this is one of the most boring days in history. Nothing happens.
Maman: I disagree. Again, you weren’t there. Though it seems almost quaint today by comparison, people of the 60’s, especially the Americans, were enamored by progress, destroying the old and bringing in the new. You know this from your studies of Ray Davies. People forgot the simple things, the steady rhythms of life, nature and le progrés naturel. What did Lao-Tseu tell us? “The Master does nothing yet he leaves nothing undone.” People were caught up in doing, mindless doing, achieving nothing of real value. The message of Days of Future Passed is to stop and appreciate the wonder and the diversity of the world around you.
ARC: That sounds boring.
Maman: It is not boring to reflect on the beauty and the wonders of life; it is invigorating, it gives you perspective, it makes you appreciate experience.
ARC: So you say.
Maman: Ah! You do have a birth defect. You don’t know how to stop, take time, breathe the air.
ARC: I don’t want to. I can’t relax unless I am in motion.
Maman: Don’t try to defend yourself with a paradox. Listen!
You look around you
Things they astound you
So breathe in deep
You’re not asleep
Open your mind
ARC: This is a lovely song . . . but why on earth did they interrupt the lovely flow of Justin Hayward’s voice with Pinder, the least talented vocalist of the bunch? If they absolutely had to do it, Ray Thomas would have been better. At least he has some idea of where the notes are.
Maman: I do not know. Another unfortunate choice.
ARC: Speaking of Ray, here’s one of his child songs, “The Morning: Another Morning.” It’s not as strong as “Floating,” but it’s a nice song and he sings it with feeling. The Moodies seemed to look at children as savants, though, and that’s an absurd idealization. Children are poopy, pissy, snot-dripping irritating little whiners.
Maman: Yes, as I know all too well from having had one.
ARC: I was different. I was a perfect little lady from the get-go!
Maman: (Laughs.) Who’s idealizing now? Plus de vin?
ARC: Merci. Is Ray playing the flute here or is that one of the people in the fake orchestra? My guess is orchestra, as Ray usually sticks to quarter, half and whole notes.
Maman: I do not know, but I want to correct you on the children-as savants-comment. It is not idealization to say that it is easier for children to create timeless moments in a day, to lose themselves in play. Adults are chained to the clock; children defy time. The theme of stepping outside of the artificial constraints of time and immersing yourself in the moment is reinforced here. Children are the models we can look to let go of the busy-ness, the adult obsession with the measured hour. They are not elevating the child to the status of guru, they are simply saying that we lose a great deal when we separate ourselves from our inner child.
ARC: That’s fair. Perhaps the problem I have with their vision of children is that they never complete the picture with a dose or two of reality. You’d never hear anything like “Hell Is for Children” from The Moody Blues.
Maman: Poor criticism. You would never hear “Tuesday Afternoon” from Cream. The Moody Blues carved out a very clear artistic space, just as Cream did. They chose not to focus on the ugliness of the world but its possibilities. That’s like criticizing Rousseau because he didn’t write like Camus. Give them their due.
ARC: You’re right in the sense of aesthetic appreciation, but I am still entitled to my preferences and I prefer more balance from my artists. They’re more credible to me when I hear both the reality and the ideal.
Maman: I think you’re trying too hard to come up with a unified theory of art.
ARC: (Sighs.) Let’s table that discussion for dinner. Wait, let me move the music back to “Lunch Break: Peak Hour.”
Maman: Careful now! Do not scratch your father’s treasures!
ARC: Maman, I lived with the man, too. There we go. The opening orchestral passage sounds like something from one of those early 60’s movies staged to look like they’re in Manhattan with Doris Day or Audrey Hepburn shopping on Fifth Avenue.
Maman: (Laughs.) Yes, it does, now that you mention it.
ARC: Ah, here are the boys, rocking out a little. They sound like very early Bee Gees with a more oomph. John Lodge has a nice voice when he doesn’t go falsetto. Why did they do that? I asked that rhetorical question in the other Moodies review: if they needed a vocalist in a higher range, why not hire a hippie chick with a big rack instead of the truly frightening falsetto of Mr. Lodge?
Maman: And you know the rhetorical answer: that wasn’t often done in those days. Male falsetto was an accepted practice. The Four Seasons, The Beach Boys, Lou Christie . . .
ARC: But wait, this is 1967. Grace Slick and Janis Joplin and even Linda Ronstadt had proven that girls could be in a band with the boys. Oh, god! Listen to that awful fade on the harmony. You can hear Lodge’s vocal cords bursting, the poor man!
Maman: I believe you’ve made your point.
ARC: Yes, yes, I see your evil eye indicating you want to move on, but what is this weird secret-agent musical passage? Justin Hayward’s worst solo ever.
Maman: But you have to admit—and I believe you already have admitted—that Graeme Edge is a very good drummer.
ARC: And I will admit it again. As long as Graeme Edge sits behind the big bass drum with two sticks in his hand, I’m good with it—because that means he can’t write that awful poetry!
Maman: (Laughs.) You are an absolute bitch.
ARC: Learned from the best!
Maman: Can we move on? You have to turn the record over, remember?
ARC: Oh, really? Now here is a truly wonderful song.
Maman: One of the best.
ARC: Justin Hayward’s songs are endlessly delightful. Very few misses in his catalog. They flow so much more naturally than the songs the others wrote.
Maman: Yes, they do. A gifted lyrical poet whose music could sing itself. Very rarely do you hear him forcing the flow, or taking the music to places that might have seemed a clever thing to do but would have ruined the integrity of the piece.
ARC: I should explain for my readers that we’re talking about the first part of “The Afternoon,” more widely known as “Tuesday Afternoon” from the single release. Even the orchestral passage is unusually strong; lovely echoes of the melody here. “(Evening): Time to Get Away” seems tacked on; they obviously go in a different direction with no connection to “Tuesday Afternoon.”
Maman: That is because they are contrasting two different experiences of the afternoon: one idyllic, one reflecting the experience of workplace ennui, the agonizing wait for five o’clock.
ARC: I’ll give you that one, but the transition is still awkward. Ugh. That is a truly horrid falsetto.
Maman: Conneries assez! You’ve made your point!
ARC: But Lodge did it again! I can’t ignore it!
Maman: Yes, you can.
ARC: Maman, we’re getting into the weakest passage of all, so calm down, pour yourself some more wine, have a smoke and chill. Now, these are truly nonsensical lyrics:
When the sun goes down,
And the clouds all frown,
Night has begun for the sunset.
See it with your eyes,
By the sun’s rays everyday.
Take a look up there, planets everywhere.
ARC: Let’s pause. Okay, Pinder’s fetish for personification is truly annoying. Frowning clouds, for fuck’s sake! And his prepositions are off: why does night begin for the sunset. It can’t be “‘fore” the sunset, since night occurs afterward. It sounds like he couldn’t make up his mind whether he wanted to write a song about sunset or sunrise and thought we wouldn’t notice. And that last line is a fucking joke.
ARC: These guys are in London! You can barely see five stars in a London night sky! Planets, my ass.
Maman: You are so literal! Use your imagination!
ARC: But he tells me to “take a look.” Let me use my imagination and place myself in Piccadilly Square on a Saturday evening. Okay. I’m looking and I don’t see any fucking planets!
Maman: (Laughs. The song resumes.)
ARC: This song sucks, maman.
Maman: You are entitled to your opinion. I think it sets a certain mood for what is to follow.
ARC: And here it is, after yet another awkward transition. Ray Thomas’ “Twilight Time.” I’ll take The Platters’ song over this one in a heartbeat. And why two songs about the bloody gloaming?
Maman: Your English vocabulary is very impressive. If only your French was at the same level.
ARC: Cheap shot! I’m starting to get the nuances down! You’re just trying to stop me from trashing this song.
Maman: And it worked! The song is over! Let’s move on.
ARC: Ah, you know I have a very soft spot for “Nights in White Satin.”
Maman: Yes, I know. You cannot possibly find any flaw here. The orchestral introduction is perfectly arranged, fading beautifully into drums and bass.
ARC: And Justin Hayward is such a sensitive vocalist. His variations of phrasing here are simply marvelous, so subtle.
Maman: And Ray’s flute solo here, while not on the level of Ian Anderson, is tasteful and appropriate.
ARC: I agree. It seems they took more care on this song, like they knew they had something precious and beautiful in their hands.
Maman: I love the urgency of the ending, the expression of undying passion that must manifest itself.
ARC: I do, too, but I wish for the life of me that they had ended it here.
Maman: I will admit to mixed feelings. I believe “Nights in White Satin” is almost impossible to follow, but I understand the desire to close the circle.
ARC: But did they have to go back to that cold-hearted orb bullshit? And the whole “we decide which is right and which is an illusion” thing is just a regurgitation of Husserl and the no-objective-reality school. The Moodies got away with the ripoff because hippies were either stoned or clueless.
Maman: I beg your pardon? Your father and I were attending college at the time! Many so-called hippies were educated on the basics of philosophy during their first year in university.
ARC: Maybe so, but this sounds like a con to me: trying to make something mystical out of an everyday occurrence.
Maman: They may not have been original, but you know that Shakespeare borrowed from Plutarch, chère fille. In that sense, they were messengers, opening the minds of thousands who had gone through their lives with their minds closed.
ARC: If you say so. I suppose we’re really going to get into philosophical issues with In Search of the Lost Chord.
Maman: And you will see that I am right . . . again.
ARC: (Laughs.) You are such a bitch, maman.
Maman: And the apple does not fall far from the tree, does it?
ARC: Let’s go for a walk.