Sunday, February 23, 2014

Damon Albarn's solo album & what it means to me

It isn’t news that having children changes you, but I was surprised how it changed how I listen to music and what music I pay attention to. Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz has a new album slated for April 29. It’s his first solo record. Last week BBC’s “Culture Show” premiered a documentary special on "Everyday Robots" - Albarn’s solo album (watch the video for the title track and first single above).

The 30-minute documentary, which you can watch here, is much more than that. It follows Albarn to the two distinctively different neighborhoods where he grew up - Leytonstone and Aldham. He talks about his early musical influences - playing a church organ on Saturdays and listening to gospel outside another church - and shares how his youth colors this new album.

Hearing one of his heroes talk about his youth and musical experiences and seeing that Albarn is a normal person bicycling through the countryside and taking the train to his old haunts, sets a positive, realistic example for my son. 

I was a Blur fan in the `90s. I saw them at Tremont in 1997. I even dragged my husband to see opening night of Albarn’s “Monkey: Journey to the West” opera during the Spoleto Festival in Charleston in 2008. That trip ended up meaning a lot to us, but I was never a fanatic devouring every album or every article.  However, Blur and the other bands my sons like - bands whose albums I owned and who I saw live, but didn’t consider myself a devout fan of - suddenly mean so much to me. I know much more Adam Ant than just "Stand & Deliver" now. Interviewing him and taking my son to see him was one of the highlights of our year. I also now know more about the Ramones, including who wrote individual songs and what the members were like off stage, than I ever did when they were alive.

A friend on Instagram recently asked for people to post their Top 16 life-changing albums. Blur’s self-titled album and The Ramones Anthology made my list because they’ve changed my boys’ lives. At five-years-old those two bands have shown my older son what it means to really love something, to know the albums, learn the songs, and to eventually go to the record store on release day and buy a copy of their new album (or, in this case, the singer’s new album). 

Those bands sparked an interest in music that goes beyond what I imagined at this age. Even with me loading up iPod Touches with hundreds of songs and albums, I didn’t realize where a love of music would lead them.

The eldest began reading thanks to Google searches for Blur and the Ramones. Their interest in bands has also given my children an awareness of the world outside their city, state, and country. They know Russia, Japan, Australia, Canada, Mexico, and most of South America and Europe because bands tour there. When the Olympics premiered two weeks ago, my son identified more flags than my husband.  

Yes, those other bands I listed on Instagram still mean a lot to me - they shaped me. But when you as an artist make a child happy and encouraged and spur their creativity with your own and in turn ignite their passion for learning, it really means the world. 

What’s more, the songs in the documentary from Albarn’s upcoming album sound amazing, intimate and diverse. Like the Ramones with punk, Blur gets pegged a pop band, but the music and subject matter is often much deeper than those base descriptions suggest. I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll stop there. But the film is worth watching even if you don't have a five-year-old to share it with. Click here to check it out.