Thursday, January 11, 2018

Ray Thomas | Lefsetz Letter

Ray Thomas – Spotify

We listened to “Days Of Future Passed” on the drive to college. It was one of, if not the only, albums my father could tolerate, a man who was a huge music fan who never cottoned to rock and roll.

It was not like today, when hip-hop bears little resemblance to what came before, other than the borrowing of a riff, although that era is past, we all grew up with classical music and show tunes and had a soft spot in our heart for them.

And speaking of that soft spot, I don’t think the Moody Blues could make it today. Because they filled a niche that no longer exists. One wherein you sat in your bedroom alone, disconnected from a world that was oftentimes unsatisfying, and basked in this mellifluous sound. Now everybody’s networked and connected, no one is really that out there, and if you are, you’re put down, whereas that was our link back then, we were alienated outsiders, now everybody wants to be an insider and even nerds are trumpeted, but not back then.

We all knew “Go Now,” the Denny Laine-sung song that flew up the chart that still works today.

We’ve already said goodbye

Sounds so quaint now, but it wasn’t back then, then it was dark and meaningful, like life. The truth is people haven’t changed, despite protestations by so-called winners and social networking preeners, people have no clue, they’re feeling it out as they go along, faking it until they make it. And this experimentation and ethos used to be embodied in music, which is why rock became so big, but Reagan legitimized greed and MTV made everybody a visual star and…

It was never quite the same again.

There was no London Festival Orchestra, just a made-up name, but that does not mean people did not embrace “Days Of Future Passed,” it featured two instant smashes, even though it took years for “Nights In White Satin” to become ubiquitous, but I always preferred “Tuesday Afternoon,” speaking of haunting, this is why I lay on my bed and listened to music incessantly, the sound was rich, a magic carpet that carried you away to a better place, if people could make this music I wanted to get on board.

And on that album, two songs were written and sung by Ray Thomas, “Another Morning” and “Twilight Time.” “Another Time” was straight out of “Peter and the Wolf,” we knew this sound, now it was filtered into a new generation. My father would sit in the front seat as the sound emanated from the Norelco cassette deck, the one in my hand, not in the dash, and nod his head and sing along, what more could you ask for, that was nearly the entire extent of our father/son bonding.

And Thomas’s “Twilight Time” represented the magic hour well, it was after the brightness of the day.

But the next Moodys album I purchased was “On The Threshold Of A Dream.”

After breaking through the Moody Blues went on their own hejira, in their own direction, there were opuses with no singles and you either were a member of the club or you were not, and in that era if you didn’t buy the albums you were not, you just heard about them via clued-in friends.

“On The Threshold Of A Dream” had a gatefold cover and a lyric sheet and I’d lie on the floor and listen and read and the track I liked most was “Send Me No Wine,” and “Never Comes The Day” almost as much, but the song that creeped me out, that affected me the most, was “Dear Diary.” This was before blogs, when people still did that, write in diaries. And the track was melancholy and weird and all together different from the rest of the record. I had to know more, that’s when I read about Ray Thomas, with his moustache and flute, was he really in this band? Yes, he was, FROM THE VERY BEGINNING!

And there was an almost equally bizarre song on the second side by Thomas, “Lazy Day.” This music was made in a vacuum, sans influences, it cared not a whit whether you were involved or not, you could open the door and enter its universe or not.

But if you did…

And just before I went to college for the very first time, the Moodys released their breakthrough LP, “A Question Of Balance.” In retrospect, it was the weakest of the Hayward/Lodge era to that point, but the title cut was a radio smash, finally. But its best song was a Thomas composition, “And The Tide Rushes In.” He was a master of this meaningful mood, this was less strange than his compositions on “On The Threshold Of A Dream,” but still maintained that mood.

You keep looking for someone
To tell your troubles to

Isn’t that what we’re all looking for? So simple, yet so right.

And now I was in college, ensconced on the third floor of Hepburn Hall, all boys, just before the advent of coed dorms. And during winter term, right now, January of ’71, I made friends with the stoner crowd, when that was people who imbibed instead of talked slowly and were out of it, and we’d meet every evening in Dave McCormick’s room on the second floor and…

Dave had the missing albums, “In Search of the Lost Chord’ and “To Our Children’s Children’s Children.”

In retrospect, it’s all about “In Search of the Lost Chord.” It had little traction upon its release in ’68, but it was a whole concept that once hooked you were completely engrossed by. Ultimately, John Lodge’s “Ride My See-Saw” gained ubiquity, upon which Thomas contributed vocals, all members of the group but the drummer, Graeme Edge, did, but the key cut on the entire LP was something entitled “Legend of a Mind.”

Timothy Leary’s dead
No, no, he’s outside looking in

Now you’ve got to picture it. We’re a group of teenagers sitting in an overheated room in sub-freezing weather high on dope with the zilch dripping down and this six and a half minute opus was the soundtrack. The threshold to acceptance was barely there, and once you were enraptured you were taken away via the movements, singing “Timothy Leary,” drifting along with the music when dope was still used mostly to aid your understanding and appreciation of the music. This is one of those cuts I think the younger generation would cotton to if they just heard it. It makes no reference to the top forty, it’s in its own world, and when it hits the instrumental and surfs the zeitgeist you’re flying above the earth, twisting and turning along with it, back when music wasn’t in your face but in your pocket, a magical elixir that could change your life, no wonder we all followed it into this business.

Thomas also had another winner on “In Search of the Lost Chord,” fans all know “Dr. Livingstone, I Presume.”

We’re all looking for someone

Now everybody tells us they have the answers, but back then the musicians did not, which drew us ever closer to them. They understood the game better than we did, we were jumping through the hoops of school, they’d jettisoned the system for an alternative world, the idea of selling out to the corporation was anathema, after all…

I’ve still not found what I’m looking for

“To Our Children’s Children’s Children” is a forgotten masterpiece, incredibly solid, sans hits, but you can play it from beginning to end without lifting the needle and when you do it’s a revelation. I love “Candle Of Life,” it’s probably my favorite on the LP, no one does this anymore, meaningful without being sappy, especially a song that’s not a single.

Something you can’t hide
Says you’re lonely

And we were. There was no Tinder, no dating apps, we went out to bars and clubs and were ignored, all we had to get us through were our records.

But the song that I think of when I think of “To Our Children’s Children’s Children” is Thomas’s “Eternity Road.”

Traveling eternity road
What will you find there
Carrying your heavy load
Searching to find a piece of mind

We were searching, that was what the sixties and seventies were all about. Today life is too harsh, people play it safe, otherwise you can’t make it.

Thomas also wrote and sang “Floating” on “To Our Children’s Children’s Children,” another solid track on a solid album.

Ultimately, Thomas wrote and sang “Our Guessing Game” and “Nice To Be Here” on 71’s “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour,” but the bloom was off the rose, they were completely serviceable, the latter better than that, but now it wasn’t so much about the albums but the hits, and Justin Hayward had one in “The Story In Your Eyes,” it eclipsed the rest of the record.

And “Seventh Sojourn” continued this paradigm. There was a modest hit, “Isn’t Life Strange” and an even bigger one, “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band),” which the Moody Blues really were not, they were their own paradigm, and not exactly filler, but nothing as magical as what had come before. Thomas’s “For My Lady” was one of the strongest tracks on the LP, but I can’t say that I played it incessantly.

And then I stopped, just as they did. They realized it was over, the well had run dry, and the band broke up and didn’t reunite until ’78 with “Octave.” I was done, but I still listened to the old records, they were burned into my brain.

And now Ray Thomas is dead.

Pinder left the band long ago.

Thomas stopped touring around the millennium. And Hayward and Lodge needed the name to continue, so they did, along with Edge, and there’s a band plying the boards but somehow the magic’s been lost, if only the Moody Blues had all died in a plane crash, they’d be legendary today, living kills your career. Look at John Sebastian, who’s also lost his voice, when are we gonna acknowledge the greatness of his work?

But the Moodys not only had a long run, but they started their own genre, which I’m hesitant to label, “symphonic rock,” “art rock,” “classical rock”? Who cares, but they were not limited by trends, they went their own way, and won.

And Thomas was and is overshadowed by the giants Hayward and Lodge became. The dignified guy who played the flute… But in hindsight, he was an integral member of the Moody Blues, and provided leavening no other member could, his compositions were not only for royalties, they added flavor.

But now he’s gone.

But he was 76. That seems young today, when people regularly live into their nineties. But not everybody. Forget those who die via misadventure, the Big C is always lurking, the older you live the greater the odds something’s gonna get you.

And it got Ray Thomas, mere months before the Moodys’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But that institution does not matter, it’s the music that does. But having said that, so many undeserving acts got inducted before they did, thank god this wrong has been righted.

You see when you break the mold people don’t like it. What category do you put the band in? You can’t see Ray Thomas destroying hotel rooms. There was little personal mystery, few shenanigans, only music.

But that was enough.

I’m not sure if the Moody Blues will ever have a renaissance, they really haven’t even gotten their victory lap, but if you were a fan, and they were legion, the band holds a special place in your heart, there was no competition, they set your mind free, took you on an adventure, AND IT ALL SOUNDED SO GOOD!

Ray Thomas was not a footnote.

The Moody Blues were not an also-ran.

They were part of the fabric when music drove the culture and ruled the world.

And in the eyes and ears of those who were there…



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