They say you are what you eat (ergo, President Assad of Syria must have eaten a lot of arseholes). Then again, you can tell much about a person - tastes, emotional temperature, even sexual orientation - from a cursory glance at a range of indicators. Dress sense, choice of car, favourite food, home décor, type of pet and body language: the list is almost endless. Yet if you want to peer into the soul and psyche and know what really drives a human, listen to their music playlist.
Sure I love a range of music - Mozart makes me believe in God and Motown gets me smiling - but it is rock that provides my pulse. Aerosmith or ZZ Top, I am at home and happiest within the alphabet of the genre. Call me a Neanderthal, call me shallow and unreconstructed and immature, call me Dewey Finn (Jack Black's rock-obseessed character in the movie School of Rock): I will probably put up my hands. It is a case of arrested development and a key reason I became a writer rather than seek out a grown-up career. If rock can be cheesy, cliché-infested and ridiculous, sext too can be these things and I don't hear many complaints. As the late and great Bon Scott once sang: Rock n' roll ain't noise pollution, rock n' roll ain't gonna die. No truer lyric was ever written.
I am unsure quite how it happened. Maybe it is because I was raised just a few hundred yards from the famed Abbey Road studios (forget The Beatles, it is where Floyd recorded The Dark Side of the Moon). Maybe it is because my twin brother owned a drumkit (to which I owe my early onset tinnitus) and an older sister who endlessly played Status Quo and Hendrix and King Crimson. Maybe it is because I was educated at a school where the sound of one's own music was always turned up loud to drown out the rest. Or maybe it is because at a backstage after-gig party I was once given a fraternal hug by the Geordie singer Brian Johnson of AC/DC with the cheery greeting 'hello, me ol' china'. The man is a deity.
Somehow the approach and adolescent sensibilities of rock have permeated and stayed with me. Whilst skiing as a teenager, I felt I could take on and vanquish the most treacherous slope or mogul field simply through listening on a Walkman to Led Zeppelin's When the Levee Breaks, Deep Purple's Space Trucking, The Scorpions' The Zoo, or ZZ Top's Sharp Dressed Man. Today, before even contemplating a few hours of writing - especially when it comes to battle scenes - I will sit back and tune in to whatever heavy bass-line and driving guitar riff gets me motivated. Covers of classics - Gun's version of Word Up, Guns n' Roses Live And Let Die, and the Foo Fighters Have a Cigar - all seem to work. It is essential and elemental and it wakes me up more effectively than coffee.
Face it, the musicianship is incredible. Few could remain unmoved by David Gilmour's guitar solo in Comfortably Numb or Ian Gillan's vocal in Child in Time, by the innovation and attack of Hendrix in Voodoo Chile, Lover Man and Purple Haze or the magic of Page and Plant in every song by Zeppelin.
I make no excuse or apology. Rock is part of me and that is how it is. Keep your violent tosh that is hip-hop and your rap, your disco and dance beats and meaningless pop, your instrument- and talent-free groups of the Eighties. What matters to me is the cranked up sound that grew out of the blues and Chicago men such as Buddy Guy, that filtered through the likes of Cream and then seeped back to America through Hendrix and Zepp. Whether it is Stevie Ray Vaughan playing Little Wing, the blind Canadian Jeff Healey outdoing Clapton in his own version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps, or today's Joe Bonamassa or Walter Trout ripping into Freddie King's Going Down, the link between the Blues and classic rock is startlingly apparent and constantly refreshed.
Bonamassa was recently in concert at the Hammersmith Odeon (I still call it the Apollo). And, mercifully, the song remains the same: virtuoso, recognisable and supremely comforting. Followers of this music might be getting on a bit - there are few in the audience with their original hair colour - but new converts will doubtless discover the way of righteousness.
What I write is historical fiction, the heavy metal of Crusade and the intricacies of Elizabethan espionage. Rock fits easily with that mindset. Sympathy for the Devil, maybe not - but I think I understand him. So raise a glass or a Zippo to those crashing chors and swelling ballads. As a friend once observed: we all shuffle off this mortal coil and that's why we have ale and rock.
Suggested For You
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements. Learn more