David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 185: Greg Hawkes (Block Party)

September 25, 2022

My wife recently had an MRI done.  I accompanied and stayed with her in the room for comfort. I had an MRI back in 2013, but frankly had forgotten about how rhythmic the noises and sounds were. From where I was sitting, with a view of the front of the machine and its various timers, I could easily imagine seeing the readout for instrumental songs. It didn't take me long to think of most of the sounds in the context of Greg Hawkes' Niagara Falls, the single solo album released by The Cars' keyboardist, at least until the last few years when he has transcended (maybe ascended) from synthesizers and keyboards to the ukukele for Beatles' covers. Because, of course, why not? He was the quirky one in a band led by Ric Ocasek. That's saying something.

If you have never heard the sounds of diagnostic imaging, scroll about a third the way down this page and select the "click below to listen" MRI sound file. (By the way, this blog is not an endorsement of Elliot Hospital or the Massachusetts General Hospital; they just happened to be first on the Google search for MRI sounds.)

After the test (and spoiler alert, tests showed nothing of concern), I got home and did some YouTube searching (Niagara Falls is unlikely to be ever released digitally) to reinforce my association. Sure enough, several songs from the album sounded like coiled electromagnets ever expanding into loud banging and clicking sounds. If anything, Hawkes doesn't turn up the drum machine enough to truly capture the MRI experience, but his combination of rhythmic sounds still sounded like much of the 35-40 minutes we spent in the MRI room.

I re-listened to the album, thanks to the hazy copyright laws of YouTube, and was reminded how rhythmic much of it is. Each song could have represented a piece of the MRI comparison (and frankly it's a crime that "Beep Beep" didn't provide it all), but in the end Hawkes' "Block Party" probably best replicates it. Even though I provide the usual link below, I add the link here for a quick comparison with the Elliot Hospital sound bite. Sprinkles of single synth notes, OMD-like, repeated gunfire-like beats from the drum machine, and the soothing nature of repetition.

Can't you just close your eyes under a warm wash cloth, lay completely still and let your mind wander through "Block Party?"

Look, I have nothing profound to say here about "Block Party" or even Greg Hawkes, but that is o.k. This blog is as much about finding music in unknown places. Yes, an MRI test can feel claustrophobic, but where else can we be demanded to just lay down and close our eyes for 45 minutes?

Hawkes presented himself, much like Thomas Dolby of the time, almost as an automation. If you search for the video for "27 Shirts," the only video, I believe, that he made for Niagara Falls, you will see a hodgepodge of robots, robotic humans, and futuristic sets.The embracing of musical technology armed with the "alienation is all the craze" mentality of Hawkes' bandmate, Ric Ocasek, infused so much of 1980s pop music. What was it about the 80s?

I am no expert on MRIs (although SMC had its first graduate from our MRI collaborative program this year. Yay!) but it seems that the technology my wife experienced (or I had 9 years ago) developed in the early 1980s. Coincidence with The Cars' diminutive keyboardist? I think not. Maybe Hawkes, too, came out of advances of science? Or maybe he has just spent too much time in MRI labs?

I think what disappoints me most about the MRI sounds is that, as far as I can tell, the sounds do not correlate to anything the test hopes the brain does. No flash in the cerebrum when the slash-on-sheet-metal sound occurs? No brightness of hue in the Parietal Lobe when the less frequent glittering light synth notes flicker throughout? The sounds appear simply to be the clunky machinations of the great machine. There's nothing romantic in that. Time to turn off the record, remove the warm washcloth and open my eyes.

Hawkes, Greg. "Block Party." Niagara Falls. Passport, 1983. Link here.

Day 184: Don Henley "The Heart Of The Matter."

Day 186: The Royal Guardsmen "Snoopy vs. The Red Baron"

See complete list here.