“That’s All Right” Is 65, Mama!

I made my first short film, That’s All Right in 1988.  It was set in on August 16th, 1977, the moment news of Elvis’s passing reached rural Ireland.  The film was about how music connects us to our own feelings and harmonises us with all those who feel what we feel.  When I see the film what intrigues me are those details I never saw before.   Back then, the resonances with my own story were not so clear. But now when I look into shadows I see my own story.  Especially in how I relate to music.

Elvis’s recording of “That’s All Right” fused rock’n roll on vinyl records in a manner that changed  how people related to music and the place of popular music in world – it underlined and symbolised the generation gap.    “That’s All Right” weaponised vinyl for social revolution because to was around vinyl, in juke boxes, or record players that kids could express themselves. It changed how kids related to the older generation and ultimately challenged power structures.  By the time he died Elvis’s music had transcended the generation gap it symbolised.  Now, it connected across generations and across the world.   It makes us all feel so free.

To understand the importance of vinyl you must first imagine a world without it.   Without vinyl there was no reproduced music except from the radio.   In Ireland, in 1970, there was only one station, Radio Éireann. It was effectively under the strict control of the Irish Catholic Church. The Church, imbued with intoxicating power, demonised any threat to its authority or obstruction to its oppressive strangle hold.  In its suppression of free expression it was ruthless and relentless. 

The radio was the only source of music in our house.  Some Beatles and popular bands were played but not the stuff we wanted to hear.   But as The Man said – there’s a crack in everything.  The crack was in airwaves where from about ten o’clock in the evening I could hear rock and pop from pirate radio stations – that’s where I first heard my music and met the tribe – that’s how the light got in – in the music.

That Bush radio in, “That’s All Right”, was the only one in our house.    In the evening, it was shared between my father and myself who hated one another’s music, real bad.  At ten o’clock, just as the electro magnetic ocean was parting to let the music in, I had to give it up to my father.   Before ten o’clock, I rode that dial like a safe cracker, tuning it most delicately, hoping to hear at least one track before the signal was lost in the lapping wave of interference.

“Metal Guru is it you whish.. whish.. whishhhh….. Yeah Yeah Yeah…”whish.. whish.. whishhhh…..

Sometimes the radio wave Gods would show mercy and I would get to hear a full track.   That tweaking the dial is a central motive in the film.  It was the analogue version of dial-up internet.  Hard to believe that you can come from an era where there is too much noise in the atmosphere, only to live in an era where fluid,  high definition media makes you crave that which can’t be digitised – the chaotic artefacts of authentic experience.   When you listen to music that has been impressed on wax it connects you the moment in time when it was created and all the incalculable artefacts in the atmosphere.    Funnily enough, vinyl, the medium itself, is now connecting people across their native tribes – jazz, rock, classical, mods, rockers, punks, or hiphop, and it connects people across generations and across the world.  

If the “medium is the message” as proposed by Marshall McCluhan – what is it saying about us?  Vinyl music doesn’t have the political charge it once had – the market is streaming and whoever controls that.   Are we nostalgic for past times?  Did we come to a point where we listen, over and over, to the same records at the end of our musical journey.  For some people I would say definitely – but not all for most.  Vinyl is our medium of choice because it connects us with our tribe, it pays the musicians and it remains, unchallenged, as a stable archive medium.  By that I mean you put a record on the shelf and not take it down for twenty years and it will still play on the record player without having to download a driver.  

Inside the cover you will find bits of dust that have sat there for twenty years. The static will crackle as you remove the record – that static, for me at least, has a strong political charge – because you own that piece of music printed on the wax and all the resonances – it yours.