Some people call them Desert Island Discs. I call them Albums without Which My Life Just Wouldn’t Be Quite What It Is. Not as catchy, but what can you do? Anyway, Elliott Murphy’s debut, Aquashow, has always been high on my list of Albums Without Which Etc. I got a prerelease copy of it in the mail from Polydor Records in 1973, loved it the first time I heard it, interviewed Elliott about it for an article, and have been listening to it ever since.
And now, here he is at age 60, still pumping out the albums. And here I am, also now 60 and still listening. I find it hard to believe that either of us has reached that age but I’m not the least bit surprised that he’s still making albums or that I’m still listening to them. You didn’t have to go beyond “Last of the Rock Stars,” the first track on his debut LP, to suspect that Elliott was going to dedicate a big chunk of his life to rock and roll and make impassioned recordings for a long time. His ambition and love of the music were all over that song.
What is maybe a little surprising, though, is that Murphy’s earliest songs—on Aquashow and the albums that immediately followed it—still work for me as well as they do. This is a music of teenage rebellion, escaping from suburbia and barreling down the highway in your girlfriend’s daddy’s Cadillac. That’s not exactly what my life is about these days (though, like Elliott, I did grow up on Long Island and escape from it), but the songs still sound as powerful to me as they ever did. So much so that when my wife and kids and I went to Paris a few weeks ago, my first thoughts were not of visiting the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre or the Cathedral Notre Dame (though we did all that) but of the possibility that Aquashow on CD might be easier to find in France than it is in the States.
You see, I now had about 35 of Elliott’s CDs but my only copy of Aquashow was still that LP that I’d received from Polydor. (The album had appeared in the States on CD so briefly some years back that I blinked and missed it.) I e-mailed Elliott (who has lived in Paris for years) to ask whether I might be able to find the CD in France. He replied that it wasn’t any more available there than in the States but that he’d burn me a copy.
A few weeks later, a package arrived in the mail. Inside was the long-lusted-after Aquashow CD, and a bonus: the new Alive in Paris, with CD and DVD* versions of a recent show that featured fabulous latter-period material; a blistering cover of the Doors’ “L.A. Woman”; and a few early gems, including probably the best of the many live readings of “Last of the Rock Stars” I’ve heard. Long-time Murphy cohort Olivier Durant outdoes himself on guitar and Murphy himself has never performed better or with more enthusiasm. Moreover, his recent material is probably the best he’s ever written. It’s not only extremely tuneful and lyrically deft; it evidences a maturity and wisdom that a younger writer could not have mustered.
That said—and despite the fact that I’m not barreling down the highway in my girlfriend’s Cadillac these days (ok, I never was)—I still love the old stuff as well. Clearly, so does Elliott. Maybe 60 is the new 20.
(originally published in No Depression)