Next up, I spent some time in the good ol’ US of A. In Texas, to be precise. Musically, it was a time of hibernation. I didn’t have an instrument to speak of, although I did take some hard-cover books and used them as drums. It was difficult to adjust to life abroad, and I was very busy with other things.
My best friend and I used to send tapes back and forth instead of letters (this was, for the young folk in the audience, before the internet). Aside from avoiding writer’s cramp, this afforded us the opportunity of acquainting each other with new music. I distinctly remember him taping some Zappa, probably Inca Roads or Andy from One Size Fits All… at first I thought he was pulling my leg. It took me quite a while to “get” Zappa, but once I did – bang!
I went back to Germany for a visit in the summer, some of which was spent working on an assembly line for the Daimler company. In the greater Stuttgart area, this was the best place to earn some real money real fast. While visiting a record store, I gave a listen to the new Mike Oldfield album, Amarok. Previously, I had liked some of Oldfield’s songs (and intensely disliked others), and I was woefully ignorant of his 70’s output. Amarok, simply put, blew me away completely. I have listened to this album hundreds of times. It conjures up countless images and feelings, and never fails to take me to a far away place, a place from which I am usually quite reluctant to return.
Aside from the music, which is an unparalleled outburst of creativity, what really impressed me was that this guy had played almost all of the instruments himself. To be in complete control of the artistic vision, aim, process and result, somehow really appealed to me.
Back in Tejas, I took what I could get and started to write. Really write, by which I mean sheet music. I spent hours drawing black dots, to paraphrase Zappa, hearing tunes in my head, following Oldfield’s lead. What I DIDN’T have was access to a real studio, replete with all the instruments and recording equipment anyone would ever need. I had: two tape decks, which I stuck together, for overdubs. I had a 200$ keyboard, my mother’s classical guitar, a grand canyon souvenir drum, and the aforementioned hard-cover books. I used a pepper mill as a shaker, and other assorted kitchen implements. I had a 30$ microphone from Radio Shack. Oh, those were the days.
A lot of that music was derivative crap; mock Irish folk tunes, too-fast solos that I couldn’t really play but sort of fudged my way through, amateurish two-finger guitar plucking… but it was a start. I was inspired, and things got going.