Tuesday, 22 December 2009

71. 10 Christmas Songs

Damn, I was hoping to get in a fair few more this month, but I really have hit a bit of a wall, not in ideas, but in expression of ideas, so I may as well do Christmas now.
The perfect Christmas album is a live idea - I've made many Christmas albums and am still trying to create the perfect one, which is all at once classic, cool, christmassy and unexclusive. I guess a few more great Christmas songs need to be written first

Just Like Christmas - Low
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas - Judy Garland
Donna & Blitzen - Badly Drawn Boy
Sleigh Ride - The Ronettes
Santa Claus is Coming to Town - Bruce Springsteen
Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmas - Eels
The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole
Corpus Christi Carol - Jeff Buckley
Fairytale of New York - The Pogues ft Kirsty MacColl
That Was the Worst Christmas Ever - Sufjan Stevens

Christmas is fine with me. Always has been, always will be. I could even say that I love it. But why do I still love Christmas? What did I love about it? And do those reasons still exist? Down the years, the following have been reasons to love Christmas, and so I shall address whether they exist as reasons
- Father Christmas giving me gifts ... no, sir
- My Family giving me ace gifts I couldn't otherwise afford ... i still get some nice gifts, but you know ...
- Family Get-together and putting aside differences ... unusually, my family get together pretty often and don't have many differences, so this happens less at christmas than other times of the year
- School Holiday ... sadly no longer, and tho one does enjoy the break christmas affords, it's not in essence different from other time off
- celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus ... not a going concern for me for some time
-vicariously celebrating the birth of their lord Jesus - i've often been a sucker for midnight mass, but not so much anymore, so not going this year
- seeing old school buddies around on Christmas Eve ... not many around any more, and to be honest, you often find yourself being greeted affectionately by folk you've not that much affection for
- the distant possibilty of snow ... well, it's happened this year, and everyone hates it
- great TV specials ... the Dr Who Christmas special is always the worst Dr Who, and everything else is cack, and we don't watch TV at Christmas anyway
- people being nice to people ... I'm nice to people all the time, frankly, so if people are nicer to me at Christmas, it just bugs me
- Carol singing ... haven't done for years
-Mulled wine ... guaranteed hangover
- the smell of a Christmas tree ... don't have a tree
- my mother cooking a massive roast ... doesn't only happen at Christmas
- but what about red cabbage and that particular stuffing? ... yes, yes, that's it!! That's it! I still love Christmas because of red cabbage!
And that's enough for me ... it really is

Anyway, poems about Christmas, there's loads of them, and what could be more ghastly than something po-faced about "the true meaning of Christmas" or how there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas.
The Night Before Christmas is from the early 19th century and gives the lie to the notion that Coca-Cola created Christmas as we know it - most of the traditions of Christmas are there in the poem.
So, this isn't about Christmas really, it's from way back, but the first line has always been one of my favourites, which i've used in conversation as much as possible - aprt from that, this is pretty weak ...

Tired like it's Christmas morning
I can feel it in my throat.
I can see it in my bones.
Winter slammed, slammed like a fist
but I'm hungover, happy, barely afloat.

... actually, there's way more verses, but they're naff as hell, so I'll leave it there

Thursday, 17 December 2009

70. 10 Songs about Floating in Space

Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space - Spiritualized
Do You Realize?? - Flaming Lips
Space Oddity - David Bowie
Rocket Man - Elton John
He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot - Grandaddy
We Are All Made of Stars - Moby
Float On - Modest Mouse
Country Disappeared - Wilco
Another Girl, Another Planet - The Only Ones
Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In) - First Edition

It's all a bit scientific for me to write anything interesting. I'm a bit lost when it comes to anything that requires actual understanding.
Floating in space has many meanings. I've tried to avoid space as an explicit drug reference, tho failed, i suppose with the last two, and I guess, the first one. This post was created in honour of the reissue of that classic album, including the originally intended "I Can't Help Falling In Love" sample on the title track. All too beautiful.
Most of these songs have something ineffably sad about them, which i suppose you get from looking down on the Earth and the idea of just floating. The Flaming Lips and Modest Mouse have made the floating a positive thing - i think it's the best song by far for both of them. I rather like the idea in 'Do You Realize??' that in a sense you gain grounding from spacey realisations. I suppose it's just the idea that contemplation of the universe enables you to realise your own insignificance. Blah-de-blah.
i think once you've done it once you shouldn't continue to, though. Don't get lost in heaven, keep your nose to the ground etc

When the wind almost caught me
with the rope frayed and fragile
I saw you might have let me go
in kindness and impatience

You're not the first to realise
we're floating in space, my friend
I'm not the last to wonder when
it all became so precarious

We're not the first to shut our eyes
and disappear completely
Wiser men than us have tried
never to be seen again

And now I can see everything -
the hard rain and the soft clouds
and you make me fall up and down
when i think i've found my balance.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

69. 10 Songs to the Left

Look Left - Salako
Left of Center - Suzanne Vega
Southpaw - Morrissey
Pass The Dutchie - Musical Youth
A Nervous Tic motion of the Head to the Left - Andrew Bird
If You're Feeling Sinister - Belle and Sebastian
Ziggy Stardust - David Bowie
Upfield - Billy Bragg
Sleep on the Left Side - Cornershop
Pancho & Lefty - Townes Van Zandt

And then there's "Ryan Giggs, Ryan Giggs, running down the wing." I mean Left like that. But also like that.
I'm Left. In every way, unavoidably and inexorably of and from the left. If I were ever, God forbid, to have to answer the command "Tell us about yourself in five words" with a degree of seriousness, Left would be the first thing I'd say, more defining than race, upbringing, job, anything. Less than 10% of people are left-handed, but that includes me and my three siblings. My father is left-handed too, but growing up in Ireland in the 40s/50s, he was made to use his right hand. The Latin for left is sinister, the French is gauche. Left has not only got associations with awkwardness and uncoordination, it also had connotations of ungodliness.
Funnily enough, the one thing about me not quite lefty is that I'm right-footed, but as a 7/8 year-old I didn't like that fact, so i used to say I had "two left feet" thinking that was a good thing which made me left-footed in a sense. I ended up mainly playing as a left-winger, being basically two-footed and, when i think about it, scoring most of my good goals with my left. An educated left foot in the sense I educated myself to use it.
A phrase like educated left foot emphasises the shift in perception on leftism in the last century. Left is now cool, thank goodness - arty, bohemian, seen as stylish and elegant in sport. Giggs, Maldini, Maradona, McEnroe, Lara, Gower etc but there's a bit of an illusion to this, I think, which has linked the oddness of looking at someone doing something the wrong way round with the so-called artistic temperament. I don't necessary think lefties are inclined to be more stylish in sport. Furthermore, someone like David Gower was actually right-handed, using his stronger right hand as guiding top hand, and Rafa Nadal is actually right-handed as well but switched to gain an advantage on double-handed backhands.
Which is one of the other things about leftism in sport - sometimes, as with batting in cricket, it's an advantage (bowlers not being able to bowl their natural line to you, harder to get out LBW) so there are a disproportionate number, while sometimes, as with golf, (lack of good equipment growing up, courses built for right-handers) it's a disadvantage, so there's a very small number of successes. In golf, to be fair, it's growing all the time.
Obviously, despite the best efforts of Ned Flanders, many things are set up for right-handers, which puts us lefties (incidentally, i kind of have a love/hate relationship with the word Lefty. If I'd grown up in America in the middle of the 20th century, i suspect I'd be known as Lefty McGee - how splendid that would have been) at an inherent disadvantage - household implements, writing paper, hockey sticks, musical instruments. The great Gruff Rhys, i think, just changed round all the strings on a right-handed guitar so he could play it left-handed. Genius, Anyway, i suppose you wouldn't say Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney, Noel Gallagher etc were at too much of a disadvantage.
I'd be very interested in a study on the relationship between left-handedness and leftness of politics. I can't help but imagine there'd be a huge correlation, for various reasons. Having said that, I've just looked up that the number of recent US presidents who are left-handed is heavy, including Ford, George Bush Sr, (Reagan ambidextrous) who don't illustrate my point - Clinton and Obama though, pleasingly.
My own leftness took a bit of a detour recently - i suppose it's just a natural burst of cynicism you get at my age, but I'm through the worst of it. And the fact is, it is hard these days to hold a consistent line. What you align yourself with or find contemptible may be on either side of the spectrum on any given day, and I think the main mistake people these days is making their enemies' enemy their friend. Who can be entirely immune to this? I've certainly found myself, disillusioned with kneejerk liberal positions, taking some fairly odd right-wing stances at points, a bit too immersed in the role of devil's advocate.
So i read this book 'What's Left' by Nick Cohen, a real disillusioned lefty text, which got the author some real hatred in liberal circles. There are some really excellent, powerful sections in it, but it's not full of much joy and love, that's for sure.
I'm naturally inclined to people of the left -of whatever sort - and there was a time where I had a pretty weird understanding, a sense of leftism, which informed my own movements and choices, and meant i could often pretty quickly discern other left-handers - and not just from watching them writing .... That's faded entirely, and it's pretty hard to explain it now.
i haven't talked about the songs at all, a nice little voyage through the various meanings of left. Ziggy Stardust "played it left hand, but made it too far, became the special man, then we were Ziggy's band" in case you were wondering.

You grabbed the paper from my hand,
a toddler tired of his own toys,
you're asking - what's that?
just another lament for
the death of the left
as if there aren't
bigger things to deal with
as christmas passed christmasless-
a kiss lost in listlessness
I'm asking - what's left?
as shadow replaces doubt
your faith fluttered in then out
What's left? my world, my mind,
and five fingernails chewed to the bone.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

68. 10 Songs about Time

Time - Tom Waits
Time Has Told Me - Nick Drake
Time Passes - Paul Weller
Out of Time - Blur
I'm Outta Time - Oasis
Who Knows Where The Time Goes - Fairport Convention
Turn Turn Turn - The Byrds
Time - David Bowie
Time is on My Side - The Rolling Stones
Time Passes Slowly - Bob Dylan

Well, I've brought out the big guns on this. Universal subject, everyone's had a go at it (could have gone for loads of different artists, loads and loads, but i chose the big ones - even my cousin wrote and sung a very pretty song about time, called Time). Time, time, time ... time, eh? Oooh, love a bit of time ... can't get enough of it.
I mean, really, what's to say? It seems a bit moronic to have this as a topic - Here are David's thoughts on time. Really, they're very interesting.
According to Bob Dylan, Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast. The great wordsmith of popular music, ladies and gentlemen.
So, everyone has time on their mind all the time, I assume, just like I do. I used to be unable to go through a day without thinking "Gosh, it's so weird that such-and-such happened a year ago" or "Gosh, it's so weird that I was younger five seconds ago than I am now" or "Gosh, it's so weird that a minute ago, the past was the present" but, you know I'm a tiny little bit less ridiculous than I used to be.
I think the challenge most of these songs overcome successfully is exactly that - to turn what will inevitably be truism into something profound.
Who knows where the time goes? Just a cliche, but one of the most beautiful lines ever sung.
Time passes ... so quickly - just a cliche, but the most heart-wrenching line Paul Weller's ever sung
Time falls wanking to the floor - ok, well done, Mr Bowie, that's not a cliche.

Anyway, time it's like really big and like deep and stuff.
I say

You draw a line
on a sheet of A4
to tell me all
about my God

a trick of the eye
at the Science Museum
baffled me
into submission

A blank expanse
that hurts the brain
beyond my and
your comprehension

but, after all,
time's only numbers
and it's numbers
that are everything

Friday, 20 November 2009

67. 10 Songs about Dogs

Black Dog -Led Zeppelin
Black Dog on My Shoulder - Manic Street Preachers
Black Eyed Dog - Nick Drake
Hellhound on my Trail - Robert Johnson
Hounds of Love - Kate Bush
Visit from the Dead Dog - Ed Harcourt
I Wanna be your Dog - Iggy and the Stooges
Hound Dog - Elvis Presley
Dog on Wheels - Belle and Sebastian
Maybe Tomorrow (theme from The Littlest Hobo) - Terry Bush

So, Man's Best Friend, eh? Elvis (Leiber/Stoller) and Robert Johnson rather set the template for how dogs might be used in the lexicon of rock'n'roll. Then, the Black Dog of Nick Drake and the Manics is depression (inspired byWinston Churchill). That's one of the prettiest Manics songs, one of their last really good songs.
Sadly, hardly any of these songs are about actual dogs. I ought to have included I Love My Dog by Cat Stevens.
Talking of which (doubly) we had cats and a dog when i was a child. My mother's name is Stevens, and yet, somehow or other, in the 17 years that both or one of them were with us, it never crossed my mind to call either Cat Stevens. How did that happen? I called them everything else under the sun. Life is full of lost opportunities.
And our dog was called Tramp. She was female, a mongrel, a bit mental, could run very fast, a year older than me, managed a good 14 years. One time, she was very ill, and I was home alone one night and i stayed up all night sitting with her under the stairs reading her Oliver Twist. I kept on checking her nose and it was dry, very dry, and she was shivering and whimpering. But in the morning her nose had a bit of dampness to it and she went on to live almost a year more after that. Well done, Charles Dickens.
I guess that was my first Dark Night of the Soul, albeit a 12 year old's version.

Here's a man about a dog ....

The muzzled dog went running
through the conquered streets of Ealing

she growled and showed her anger
to all who'd dare to listen

She cursed and struck her life blows
and she never would be beaten -

I know what you are thinking
but you can't know how i'm feeling.

The muzzled dog is pawing
at the unforgiving pavement

and all she's got's this nothing
this ever-raging nothing,

there's no rock for her to cling to
no truth she has recourse to

and she keeps on running madly
chasing crazier slights and triumphs.

Only comfort's been this nothing
and that's no refuge at all.

The old black cat's still sleeping
but she can't hear him purring,

there's no rhythm to her footsteps,
no target to her anger.

she's so far from where she started
no sense to all this knowledge,

no tenets to the trivia,
and the jealousy's unceasing

and the present is a nothing
but the muzzled dog keeps running.

Friday, 13 November 2009

66. 10 Songs about Dead Males

What a Wonderful Man -My Morning Jacket
Oliver James - Fleet Foxes
A Friend of Ours - Elbow
Boulder to Birmingham - Emmylou Harris
Danny Callahan - Bright Eyes
The Leader of the Pack - The Shangri-Las
It Just Is - Rilo Kiley
Henry Lee - PJ Harvey & Nick Cave
Local Boy in the Photograph - Stereophonics
Tonight's the Night - Neil Young

Again, there are more than enough of these to choose from. I guess the rock'n'roll people know a lot of friends and peers who've died before their time, and it may be a badge of honour to compose a fitting tribute.
I think these are all fine songs. Danny Callahan just floors me, a song with a real sucker punch. At his best, Conor Oberst really is quite something as a lyricist. One could use this as an opportunity to slag the Stereophonics and say this is their one decent song, but in recent times I've been thinking they got rather a rough deal from us post-Britpop indie kids. I think they've probably got a reasonable amount of decent songs, they just got a bit too big, and were liked by "the wrong sort of people".
Henry Lee is pretty much an inversion of Where the Wild Roses Grow, Boulder to Birmingham is about Gram Parsons and What a Wonderful Man, well that is just a great tune.
I'd also like to note a possible mistake in my previous post. I had The Trapeze Swinger as about a dead girl, but I now think it's the dude himself that's the dead one, so I guess that could be in this category. Bloomin' great song, though.
So, here's one about a dead dude. Perhaps it's relatively obvious which one. Doesn't really matter.

Another elegy ticked off, my inane grin
well practised casts the darkest shadow.
Another drink with a drunk in a lunchtime pub
stumbles off to noteless nowhere - I've learnt at least
not to cry for my own grim lifeblood as it fails.

Another cult, a stately fraud I barely halt
at joining, then thrust my tossy pronouncements
forward to general embarrassment, or worse.
Another cult, a single scene, a study in loss
which restores life to all briefly, too briefly.

Another life, I'd have the grace not to laugh
at one man's tatty tragedy enacted on
the least glamorous streets of inner London.
O brother, you ain't looked at me in years
and I can't bring myself to bring myself down for it.

Another pompous word too soon, causes natural,
restlessness traps you too early, quietly
on the most glamorous streets of downtown New York
your rictus grin as ill-fitting as mine, poor soul.
You deserve better, both best left alone.

Monday, 9 November 2009

65. 10 Songs about Dead Females

Fire and Rain - James Taylor
For a Dancer - Jackson Browne
Candle in the Wind - Elton John
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll - Bob Dylan
Julia - The Beatles
Goodbye Suzie - John Howard
Jenny Was a Friend of Mine - The Killers
Casimir Pulaski Day - Sufjan Stevens
The Trapeze Swinger - Iron and Wine
Where the Wild Roses Grow - Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue

Cheerful, eh? But this has been a very fertile theme for great songs. I really love pretty much all these songs and there are way more I could have chosen. And, in case you were wondering, this will soon be followed by 'Songs About Dead Males'.

Being a sentimental fellow, I'm a big fan of the elegiac sentimental ballads among these, especially For a Dancer and Casimir Pulaski Day, very sad songs which ring true.
Then there are the ones where the death itself is more the issue, whether Nick Cave, master of Murder Ballads, or the news song Hattie Carroll, which many consider one of the Dylan's greatest, for all that it's not entirely factual.

I liked the poems of Carol Ann Duffy when i studied them - she quite often got inside the head of unreliable psychotic male narrators, and the tale of hinted at violence would gradually unfold. So I could have tried to write some kind of murder ballad rather more comfortably than Elton John's Ode to Jade Goody, or whatever - but in the end the idea of getting inside the head of a psychopath and putting that in words didn't appeal to me.
It was Keith Richards who said Elton John could only write songs about dead blondes, which is relatively funny, and does set one thinking if a whole album of such material could have been produced. Dando, Smith, the list goes on ... Anyhoo

I fell between two stools. I had a nice idea, but this is just one of those times where I very much wish I was better at writing, as I liked what i thought of, but the words really don't do justice to the idea.

You wanted to hire bikes but I don't like to cycle
so we drove from St Davids up to Crackington Haven
That's where you'd spent your best days of childhood
and you weren't the only one - it took an hour to find a space.
Couples out walking on the cliffs over the bay -
but one of us forgot to bring along the sun cream.

The beer was called Doom Bar, you can get it in London -
the pub was packed and we had to drink out of plastic.
You wanted to play tennis but there wasn't enough space
and besides. I'd have got a headache, running after drinking.
I said I could see why you liked the place so much and
you looked away and said it was not like you remembered.

It took half an hour to get the car back to the main road,
you told me to be careful of the glare and weekend drivers.
"Weekend drivers like me?" I asked with just the wrong tone
I always seem to acquire on a couple of afternoon pints.
You sighed; I'd heard that sigh so much in the last two months
and neither of us could have got back to London soon enough.

I asked if I could put on the end of the football,
you said "please do" in that tone you'd use to counter.
It was 0-0 between two teams destined for mid-table
and i sped up as we came close to some place called Okehampton
and only saw the golf ball bouncing down the road
soon enough to swerve and spin into the dry-stone wall

We were nowhere near a golf course, just a kid in his garden
practising his chipping and wildly overhitting.We'd have
split up, I reckon, within a couple of weeks and
you'd have been free to start again with someone a bit better who
you'd cycle with to Crackington Haven and walk along the cliff
and tell them "it's just as beautiful as i ever remembered."

Thursday, 5 November 2009

64. 10 Songs from my 10 Favourite Albums of the Last 10 Years

So, it is that time again, irrestistible to an inveterate lister like myself, when the lists and polls come out, whether in a fun small personal way or a big annoying publication way.
Uncut has already done their Top 150 albums of the 21st century, and as is obvious from my taste, I've been an avid Uncut reader for many years and it's informed my music taste more than most.
Their list, however, was sufficiently irritating to make me, for the first time, write a letter of complaint, or warning to the editor.
It's hard to put my finger on what was wrong exactly (i did attempt to, at length, in the letter, but i won't bore you with too many details) and I wasn't so out of step with the list, as I owned 100 of the 150, but I felt that rather qualified me to comment on how awry some of the choices at the top of the list were compared to some much lower down or ignored entirely. Indeed, i noted that most of the albums that really were my favourites of the last ten years weren't there at all.
This prompted me - well, ok, it didn't prompt me, i'd have done it anyway - to list my favourite 10 albums of the last 10 years, and then, for the purpose of the blog, to choose one song from each. The order isn't in terms of favourites, but in terms of what'll make the best compilation tape order.
I will attempt to explain and offer excuses for exclusions afterwards

To be Young, is to be Sad, is to be High - Ryan Adams (Heartbreaker)
The Shining - Badly Drawn Boy (Hour of the Bewilderbeast)
Shining Light - Ash (Free All Angels)
Bryte Side - The Pernice Brothers (The World Won't End)
Hummingbird - Wilco (A Ghost is Born)
Van Occupanther - Midlake (The Trials of Van Occupanther)
More Adventurous - Rilo Kiley (More Adventurous)
Jesus Etc - Wilco (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)
Sad Eyes - Josh Rouse (Nashville)
Dinner at Eight -Rufus Wainwright (Want One)

OK, so two Wilco. Boo, you might say, but, both these albums really are just better and better every listen and inseparable. Indeed, Wilco (The Album) was a fair contender too. And no Furries? But i love the Furries! Yes, but I will admit they haven't released a defining album this century, nor really have B and S.
Unlucky to miss out are Funeral, victim of me not really liking Arcade Fire's second album and so going off them, Come on Feel the Illinoise, an extraordinary work, but just a bit too busy, Is This It and Fleet Foxes, both just a bit too ... popular, Strangers by Ed Harcourt, which I love, Hate by the Delgados and Moving Up Country by James Yorkston, and Josh Rouse, Ryan Adams and Rilo Kiley both also could have had two albums on the list, in 1972, Gold and Execution of all Things.
And you can say Badly Drawn Boy? Really? But remember how good it was when it came out, and how well it all fitted together. Ash I make no apology for, that's just an album full of golden tunes. Rufus Wainwright might elicit the same response as Badly Drawn Boy - i think Want One is his one great album, its follow-up unspeakably poor.
For once, I haven't tried to be fair and show i was eclectic - there really are no hip-hop, soul, pop, dance albums anywhere near it (and I have bought a few), it's pretty much all alt-country for me. I am slightly disappointed that these albums don't stand out more, they're hardly definitive or breathtaking, they're just my favourites. I'm drawn, in an way, to quite middling music ...
Anyway, this blog was started with the idea of me trying to establish some orthodoxy of critical judgement, a basically impossible task. Lists are always going to be vexing bullshit to a greater or lesser extent.

Amusingly, what I wrote below is actually from exactly 10 years ago, in response to some bullshit Channel 4 Music of the Millennium Poll, where, as I recall, Robbie Williams was judged the 6th most significant artist of the Millenium. Behind the Vengaboys. Not really.
I'd hope that I'd matured since then and i was more capable of restraining my apoplexy, but although it's modified, and I wouldn't expect better of Channel 4, with Uncut it really was a case of "I expected better of you".
This is funny: it's like some crazy rhyme heavy performance stuff, like Scroobius Pip or something. Talking of lists, his list song Thou Shalt Not Kill, that's fun.

I'd like to dismiss as
ridiculous these tricksters
who pick pocket polls -
but they're taking their toll.
What kind of shit is this?
Whose Christmas wishlist?
What sickness infects us
that taste is so restless?
Maybe I'm twisted,
listless and pissed off,
a stickler for mistakes
in critic list pisstakes
so wearyingly risque,
focus-group risk takes -
but if these lists didn't exist
I'd miss what they miss.

Monday, 26 October 2009

63. 10 pretty songs with sweary titles

It's a Motherfucker - Eels
Your Fucking Sunny Day - Lambchop
How Fucking Romantic - Magnetic Fields
Bloody Motherfucking Asshole - Martha Wainwright
Fuck the Universe - Ryan Adams
The Man Don't Give a Fuck - Super Furry Animals
Fuck this Shit - Belle and Sebastian
Fuck it, I Love You - Malcolm Middleton
Cunts - Aidan John Moffat
Grudge Fuck - Pernice Brothers

It's been a relatively long time since I posted anything, the reason being simply that I've been very busy, rather than that I'm running out of ideas - though they are slowing down somewhat, I've still got a few stored up. The thing is, it's not the start bit of each post or the end bit that takes the time, or ought to take the time, it's the middle bit, the real meat, and too often lately I've found myself rushing out some incoherent nonsense, which hasn't expressed anything interesting about the subject in question.
So, I thought, this subject might offer some kind of opportunity to write something coherent about swearing, which has always interested me. Unfortunately, I'm right in the eye of a cold, which, though hardly debilitating, is befuddling and wearying.
So, this post may well end being fairly piecemeal all round. Sorry.
Still, good set of songs. I'll see what I can wring out of the subject. What's interesting about using "fuck" or another swear in a songtitle is that you are necessarily courting controversy and demanding attention even though the phrase you have used might well be one of the most natural and simple imaginable. As soon as you've put the swear in the title it will be commented on in those terms.
I like the idea of this blog because it really comes close to exemplifying the difference between the perceived "danger" of a swearword and its actual place in our language. The Eels song is as barely beautiful as anything by Nick Drake or Joni Mitchell or anyone, and the tacit meanings expressed by the central phrase "It's a Motherfucker" is what gives the song a lot of its power.
Elsewhere, to be fair, some of these songs do use "fuck" with more aggressive intent eg Martha Wainwright and Ryan Adams - the Ryan Adams isn't actually pretty, it's kind of ghastly and compelling, but i truly think it is the sound of a man at lowest ebb, but still putting it into a coherent song.
They're all "fuck" apart from the Moffat song, which isn't really a song at all, more a brief discourse on the use of the word itself.
There's a view that cunt remains the last taboo, swearwise, and while it's still perceived, i guess it's still true, while it's still the one which will get a disapproving glance for or which you'll hold back from saying in front of certain people, but its place as a no-go area, as a word of particular offence, is built on nothing really.
I've softened somewhat in my attitude to swearing, or rather my attitude to people's attitude to swearing. While in the past, I'd have argued about absurdity and hypocrisy and ignorance giving language more power than it merits and giving children easy lines to cross, I do see that not swearing in front of children/ at work etc is, like the royal family, a convention that, though basically silly, serves moderate purpose and will be around for a while to come.
I also acknowledge that when you see comedians live who you've seen on TV not swearing, and they're f-ing and blinding away, thy look silly and forced in their effort to either a) look natural or b) look adult or c) look edgy, and likewise, swearing often looks bad on the page when writers use it to capture a vernacular.
So, there we go, that's it. No poem, i don't think. I don't really know how i could exemplify the issue without looking smug or naff or both. If anything comes to me, I'll come back to it, but I'll just end with ****.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

62. 10 South London Songs

From one locale to another

Waterloo Sunset - The Kinks
Guns of Brixton - The Clash
Up the Junction - Squeeze
Latchmere - The Maccabees
Morden - Good Shoes
Electric Avenue - Eddy Grant
The Only Living Boy in New Cross - Carter USM
The Lambeth Walk - (Me & My Girl)
Battersea Odyssey - Super Furry Animals
The Wombling Song - The Wombles

Not a bad bunch - I'd wager there are a lot more classic songs with a very North London feel to them, what with Camden and all that, and probably even more with an East London feel. Still, South London's where I'm at right now and I think this lot do it proud. There might well be more South London hip-hop etc but it's not my specialist area. Roots Manuva is from Stockwell but i couldn't think of any of his songs which were location specific.
I've covered quite a wide area here - Up the Junction is the definitive South London song, I reckon, with its beautiful absurd couplets. Also, it was good to discover a song about Morden, a legendary place to most people as the end of the Northern Line, you usually hear people saying it the way they say Mordor in Lord of the Rings whch is like the way they said Murder in Taggart.
I moved to South London about six years ago (from my birthplace in the West, which i may cover in a way later) but I wasn't initially sold on it and envied my cooler brethren in the North. While your Camdens and Shoreditches and Islingtons and Crouch Ends and Stoke Newingtons remain favoured holiday hotspots, as a place to live I'm a big fan of my current area of the South. I think things rally pick up when you get south of the Common. It's an interesting one, South London - though there are obviously good and bad little bits all around, it wouldn't be unreasonable if someone taking the 37 from Peckham to Putney felt themselves gradually going from one end of the scale to the other - I've been to and seen nice places and parts of Peckham and Tooting and Dulwich and Brixton and Earlsfield and Wandsworth, but I do have my preferences, and Richmond and Camberwell are different worlds.
In a way, Clapham, the epitome to some people of South London, is the part that annoys me the most, Clapham as in Clapham High Street and also Clapham Junction area - that's the area of the rugby haircut and the dull bars and the overly rammed Saturday nights. That's probably what I had in mind here.

I woke, night time, to a window smashing
nearby, like I'm in a classic Jam song.
Round here, the trains don't rumble like Ealing
lets them - but cats still yowl and boots still crush
weak skulls. Blood drips outside the M and S -
is it middle class blood? What an affront!
to those coarsened voices waking families
with their braying baiting inanities.
I draw lines too, don't think I don't. Nos and
yeses, north and south, giggs or not quite giggs ...
Spare me my own stunted sober words in
average kitchens at those tortuous parties
where the invitation, marking not yet
total purdah, is the only pleasure
and dumb boys, turned nasty adults, working
as spin doctors for that sly fuck Cameron
are the window smashers and they are the
neighbour wakers, drunk on lifelong privilege.
I draw different lines, do I? Well, I can
resent any man or any woman -
that I'll say for my part. Sketchy hatreds
withhold madness, smashing windows barely
interrupt my barely troubled slumbers

Grr, angry ... i think it was a time i wasn't really drinking so was envious of all the drunk people out having fun. That's all really.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

61. My 10 Favourite Fence-Related Songs

Aah, 61, my favourite number. The number of my football shirt in St Andrews, so appropriate that this tape should be St Andrews-related.
I've opted to include only one song by each artist, with just one reasonable exception

Not One Bit Ashamed - King Creosote
Setting Sun - The Aliens
I Don't Know Where to Begin - The Pictish Trail
False Alarm - KT Tunstall
Amsterdam - U.N.P.O.C
St Patrick - James Yorkston
Melonbeard - The Lone Pigeon
Lovelife - Barbarossa
Dry the Rain - The Beta Band
And the Racket They Made - King Creosote

I assume that most readers are well-versed in Fencelore, so I don't have to give too much of the background story.
Some may carp at the inclusion of the Beta Band and KT Tunstall but they are certainly Fence-related artists, albeit not on the Fence label, and part of the story.
What has struck me in putting together this list is that, after it was initially interesting that the folk who ran the music store downstairs had a record label and made music, I now look at what has been produced from this small enclave of Fife and it really does include several of my favourite, favourite songs of all time. Genuinely and truly and, I think, disregarding bias.

St Patrick, Amsterdam, Not One Bit Ashamed are modern classics in their way and I truly believe Dry the Rain is one of the greatest, most influential songs ever written. It was the first song on the first Beta Band EP. Where could they go from there?
"If there's something inside that you want to say, say it out loud, it'll be ok, I will be your light, I will be your light, I will be your light, I will be your light"
That bit was written by Gordon Anderson aka The Lone Pigeon aka the lead singer of The Aliens. I've seen him in action a few times and the results have been very variable, but occasionally exceptional. I used to think he was the genius of it all, but I've rather changed my mind to think it's the brother Kenny, King Creosote, the founder and centrepiece of the collective. He seems to be able to thrive within so many different styles, has a far prettier voice and is a much better lyricist. Not One Bit Ashamed is a superb pop song, which i've seen wake up many mid-afternoon festival crowds, but at the moment I love And the Racket They Made even more.
This is its lyric [As you can see from the comment before, I've misattributed the lyric, it's HMS Ginafore who wrote it, not King Creosote. I haven't heard her version, I do love his. Anyway sorry for getting that wrong. What a klutz I was]

And your words chased round and round in my head last night
They chased their own tails
And your words jigged round my mind all night
To look at me now, I'm quiet as sound

And the tide shrinks back into its womb
and i hope the empty shells and bones of your stories
will litter and clutter the shore
and I hope that when I find them I'll remember how they danced
and the racket they made when they were alive

For my task, I have tried to write more in the nonsense-lyric style of the Lone Pigeon. Nonsense in a good way. I've noticed recently I've often excused my own patchiness by saying it is pastiche, which is a bit of a cheat really, but so be it. Another way i've been cheating recently is that if lists are about artists, I've been incorporating lots of their lines. Kind of weak.
I've written things about the Fence Collective before, because I like the story so much, but they were a bit too intrusive. I've also tried often to write in the style of James Yorkston, who is a master of words in the folk idiom, but generally failed.
There are several other great Fence songs which don't make this 10 - Robot Man, Jumping at the Cats, Woozy with Cider, Here on My Own, Beeeswing Summertime, Words Fail Me Now, Happy Song, Rox, Lonely Vagabond, Boats, When the Haar Rolls In, Touched by Tomoko, O Catherine, Friday Night in New York to name but a few. Then there is Sweet Jesus by James Yorkston, such a tremendous song I can't believe I haven't put it on the list.

O well. Here is my nonsense song

See how the wind blows
east sands up south street
down through the west port
walking like a rainbow
here's a funny wee man
with a funny wee beard
listen to the song cycle
down in the cellar bar
simple wineglass symphony
simple as a rainstorm
built in a kingdom
year upon cold year

See how the sun shines
down table mountain
yellow t-shirt, melon
bearded moonbeam man
here's a funny wee tale
with an awkward ending
beeswing summertime
brothers trying to work it out
take the time to dry the rain
end of the rainbow time
shine of the beacons
till who knows when.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

60. 10 Songs about the 1970s

1970's - Aberfeldy
1970 - The Stooges
1972 - Josh Rouse
1973 - James Blunt
1974 - Ryan Adams
74 -75 - The Connells
1975 - Gene Clark
1977 - The Clash
1979 - Smashing Pumpkins
Born in the 70s - Ed Harcourt

Perhaps I should have waited until Post Number 70. Perhaps. But I become impatient.
And I've had to include James Blunt. Dear me.
I don't remember the 1970s. Not one second of it. I think my first memory is of whacking my head in 1980. When I was born 'You're the One that I Want' was Number 1.
A lot of my favourite music is from the 1970s. The good thing is one doesn't have to care about punk being Year Zero and one can like music from before and after. You can see it is a major cultural shift, though. A modern film which chose to set itself in 1972 would arguably be trying to do something very different from something set in 1977. That's my impression, anyway.
So it is that 1972 by Josh Rouse (feelin 1972, grooving to a Carole King tune) and 1977 are very different songs (no Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones).
Ash named their debut album 1977 as the year of their birth and the year of Star Wars. In films, the mid 70s saw the dawn of the Blockbuster Age, whereas in music it's a bit like the opposite.
There are a lot of images from the 1970s imprinted on my mind like I feel I was there. The summer of 1976 particularly. A summer of heatwave, the cricket pitches as Clive Lloyd's West Indies team toured were parched, something you'd never see now. We used to call it the Ladybird Summer, which I'd assumed was a wellknown term, but i can't find it anywhere else, so it must have just been us.
And so, and so, and so
this has got couplets like Squeeze, a fine late 70s band. It has a refrain of sorts.
it's called


Born at the end of the Ladybird Summer
weaned on the wise words of Weller and Strummer
Dad spent the day at the Kennington Oval
watching Viv Richards make Tony Greig grovel

...& o, you've got to be careful, so careful
what you might say and how you might phrase it
back then before widespread use of crash helmets
when your head gets hit your little brain stays hit...

Mother was schooled in the best west of London
her twenties were spent with the good work being undone
by 76 all the lessons were unlearnt
heavily pregnant and heavily sunburnt

Lost dad somewhere and couldn't find a replacement
entered the 80s in a rough Camden basement
hardly the life that your Grandad had planned out
he kept you from squalor with irregular handouts

...and O, you've got to be so careful, so careful
what you accept and how you accept it
kind words from charmers and car rides from strangers
and life-changing moments'll go undetected...

Ambrose and Walsh replaced Holding and Garner
Strummer took leave and along came Nirvana
made your own way through the last days of Thatcher
streetwise and smart to your own growing stature

Learnt to discern between angels and devils
learnt far less from GCSEs and A Levels
saw through the mirage of Cool Britannia
summers were spent dealing drugs in Espana

...and you've got to be careful, so careful
what you might sell and who you might sell to
there can be changes in luck and in judgement
making your deals with the hand that life's dealt you...

Back in the city for the start of the century -
connections remade with the new English gentry
for the clueless but rich; it's no wonder they need you -
earning your name as a star of new media

The 70s saw no year headier or hotter -
owned by Clive Lloyd and ruined by Johnny Rotten -
by 77 it was colder and wetter
and the life you were born to got steadily better

Now your word's worth more than YouGov and MORI
selling the future to Labour and Tory
Ladybird, Ladybird, child of the scorched grass
born lost and solemn, determined to laugh last

But o, you've got to be careful, so careful
when you might laugh and who you might laugh at
One wrong move will take a billionaire's fortune
and coldly and casually slice the top half of it

Saturday, 3 October 2009

59. 10 Songs for Chicago

Dear Chicago - Ryan Adams
Via Chicago - Wilco
Chicago - Frank Sinatra
Chicago - Joseph Arthur
Frankie's Gun - The Felice Brothers
Lake Michigan - Rogue Wave
Old Man Chicago - Alberta Cross
Take Me Back to Chicago - Chicago
Sweet Home Chicago - Robert Johnson
Chicago - Sufjan Stevens

I'm posting this one now for two reasons 1) the city's failed bid to host the Olympics (the post had been devised in anticipation of the bid not failing). Obama slightly ill advised on this one. I think the US can't expect to host it every decade or two really 2) I was there almost exactly a year ago, having a very nice holiday, enjoying the Obama hype, wondering at the huge array of big buildings, not being able to walk very well. I'd like to go back some time - it seemed to be a great city.
My list above pretty much bypasses the two genres for which Chicago is most famous - jazz and house. I even thought about including something from the musical Chicago, but Frank Sinatra and Robert Johnson will have to do. Apart from that, it's the usual indie suspects. Wilco, the greatest band in the world, are from Chicago, so I could have included more from them and Sufjan Stevens has released his tremendous 'Come On Feel the Illinoise' album, which includes songs like 'The Seer's Tower'. Did you know the Sears Tower has recently been renamed The Willis Tower. My hotel was pretty near it. It's tall. It wasn't long after I ran past it that my troubles began ...

Where things end up is often defined by their starting point.
I started with "Lake Michigan seems like a dream to me now ..." which has two consequences 1) what i wrote had to be fractured, uneven and in some way dreamlike 2) since that line is an allusion to a lyric, what i wrote had to be full of such allusions and half-quotations.
So that is how it is. If this was a truly interactive forum followed by more than about "pi" people,
i'd suggest trying to spot all the quotes

NOTES FROM CHICAGO (I fell in love with the place, I made a lot of mistakes)

Streets heaving with gatorade
October pressed a hated heatwave

walls closing in, all the walls cramping us

now the window of the tallest tower
allows no limits to my vision

Lake Michigan seems like a dream to me now

Glazed eyes raised from river green
my favourite album cover framed
curved towers unbroken, voices escaping

One too many hot bright mornings
shaved too close, knees still creaking
where's the breeze, the freeze when you need it?
Trapped in running, punning hell
the crippled voice inside my head mocks
Pheidippidehydrated, Pheidippidehydrated

Three hours seems like a dream to me now
four hours is a nightmare
i made a lot of mistakes
i fell in love with the place

Monday, 28 September 2009

58. 10 Songs inspired by a Buckley

I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain - Tim Buckley
Eternal Flame - Joan as Policewoman
Just Like Anyone - Aimee Mann
Grace - King Creosote
You Were Right - Badly Drawn Boy
Memphis Skyline - Rufus Wainwright
Try Not to Think About It - Juliana Hatfield
Memphis - PJ Harvey
Dream Letter - Tim Buckley
Dream Brother - Jeff Buckley

And you could add to that all those average songs since then by British indie bands with high-voiced singers. JJ72? Funnily enough, I have nothing against Coldplay, but when they came out, before I'd heard them, I'd seen them being compared to Jeff Buckley, so was interested. When I first heard Shiver on the radio, I thought I'd just heard the new Shed Seven single. Chris Martin's not a terrible singer, but he's not Jeff Buckley. Buckley was also, I gather, an influence on Thom Yorke's singing of Fake Plastic Trees, which is a Radiohead song I rather like.
Anyway, I suppose everyone's a bit over the Buckleys now, aren't they? They had their time at the turn of the century, when there was a lot of Tim Buckley in the press. I even went to a Tim Buckley tribute concert at the RFH where various middle-ranking British stars paid their respects and did a version of one of his songs.
There was also a tribute album a few years pack, the best of which is, I think, King Creosote's version of Grace (above) which he really reshapes and makes suitable for the human (not superhuman) voice. Grace is my favourite Jeff Buckley song. Even now, it's incredible to listen to, it's his most stunning vocal tour de force, and just such a well-crafted song.
It took a while to realise that I don't particularly like Tim Buckley. His voice and his lyrics are often rather hammy. There are some pretty ones, mind, but i bet Jeff Buckley's version of I Never Asked To Be your Mountain which he sang in New York in the early 90s was the best one ever.
I do, after all, remain a big Jeff Buckley fan. I think Grace is a classic album and I think the next one would have been class too. Strangely, besides Hallelujah, my early favourite Jeff Buckley songs (I, like most people, became a fan after death, though i remember reading about him when he was promoting Grace) were The Sky is a Landfill and Morning Theft on the sketches album.
The story is eerie, i guess, and has been played up that way, with a joint biography drawing parallels between father and son, and the songs they wrote for each other decades apart.
Anyway, i thought it would be naff for me to write about Jeff Buckley (though i suspect there are one or two such atrocities in my past) so i tried to be more vague and just start with the line "sketches of your sweetheart" and go from there. I think, sometimes, though, I find it hard not to stick to a script which I don't want to stick to. This isn't about Jeff Buckley but i wish i could have gone further off-topic.

"I'm not drowning, I'm waving" I heard you say too often -
drawing too much attention to the clown behind the tears

It's always been too easy to push your own enigma
with weak impersonations of furies, wolves and queens

I can't say I remember I ever heard you howling though
I've learnt it turned from party piece to perceived cri-de-coeur

You won't make me feel guilty - I don't care about history
I'll live with all the hatemail, 'cause i know what I saw

Though I may remain baffled by endless loves engendered
I can applaud your effort to play the part intended

sitting in a strip club lunchtime after lunchtime
and all you could produce were sketches of your sweetheart

This is my fitting tribute - not war cry or confession,
nor trilling imitation of adolescent excesses

If all those tears are genuine there's something I am missing
so I'll keep my snakes well hidden and toast unlived potential.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

57. 10 Last Songs

It struck me this week that I was neglecting the original idea, which was to make actual tracklistings for compilations tapes - orders lovingly put together and honed to create a perfect whole.
It was time to put the focus back on the music ... man.
In doing so, I have, ironically, not created a tape which works as a whole, as all these songs are, as the title suggests, last songs, so none of them should be 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th or 9th songs.
So, in a sense, the order in which they are listed represents the extent to which they fulfil their role in reverse, you see.

Goin' On - Flaming Lips
Misstra Know-It-All - Stevie Wonder
The Good Will Out - Embrace
Jet Lag - Brendan Benson
Judy and the Dream of Horses - Belle and Sebastian
Rock'n'Roll Suicide - David Bowie
For Now and Ever - Super Furry Animals
The Spirit of Giving - The New Pornographers
Sons & Daughters - The Decemberists
With Arms Outstretched - Rilo Kiley

All these are last songs on albums and all are are of a certain style, suited to the singalong, the handclap, the communal feeling.
Although this is a classic trick, they were surprisingly tricky to find, for a few different reasons. Firstly, bands quite often like to soften the blow on an album by putting a light or short track after what would appear to be the more natural ending - the most famous example being The Beatles ending their recording career with Her Majesty rather than The End, then you have Elbow putting Flying Dream 143 after Grace Under Pressure on Cast of Thousands or Friend of Ours after One Day Like This on The Seldom Seen Kid, that kind of thing. Which is fine. Somewhat more annoying is the modern obsession with bonus tracks being tagged on to the end, so that the actual big ending to an album loses power, so probably bands don't bother so much with it. Also (and i'm as guilty of this as anyone) very often one just doesn't reach the end of an album.
Indeed, album sequencing seems rather a lost art, which started off with CDs and has been hastened with the digital age. Most folk wouldn't know what the last track on an album was, they'd just pick and choose, so why should the artist bother creating that big outro -
A shame, as some of these are real favourites of mine. I'm a sucker for the big songalong - one or two of these are pretty gratuitous - The Embrace one sticks out, but at the time I remember it putting a lump in my throat.
I love the last three more than anything - if I was ever DJing at some hipster's joint, I would want to close the evening with one of them. Having played the tunes at a wedding recently, I regret that by the end I was too wasted to plan my my ending properly, and just kept going till I was switched off, rather than giving the event a suitable indie-singalong close.
Although a faux-poignant manufactured big ending can be a turn-off to the cynical mind, and these things have to be earned, when they are earned, there's nothing wrong with giving in to it.


You took all you could get
from that last cigarette
swore to love it henceforth in absentia
as, at last, you breathed out
no onlooker could doubt
what this whole-hearted sacrifice meant to you

But you tried to explain
that you'd come to abstain
as a protest against dull continuity -
such a misapplied phrase
and the eyebrows it raised
stained your good name into perpetuity

And suspicion it grows
at the country-rock shows
when you huff and turn tail as the end draws near
said you'd come to be bored
by the usual encores
that the cliches of closure offend your ears

If you scorn the best parts
'cos your set on being smart
then that scorn may find its own way back to you
so you'd bitch and you'd moan
if Bob played 'Rolling Stone'
an indulgent, extraneous track to you

Cold and callow, you'd boast
that a trumpet's last post
was a trick best ignored and best trivialised
and you can't understand
these conventions you've damned
bring the best from the honourably civilised.

Friday, 18 September 2009

56. 10 Songs for the Aftermath

Death of a Party - blur
11.11 - Rufus Wainwright
Aftermath - REM
After the Goldrush - Neil Young
Sunday Morning - Velvet Underground
Papa was a Rolling Stone - The Temptations
Talkin' World War III Blues - Bob Dylan
My Love Has Gone - Josh Rouse
Sequestered in Memphis - The Hold Steady
Left Alone Among the Living - Spearmint

I'm just back from watching The Hurt Locker, which really is one hell of a film, and in a couple of different ways fits in with my train of thought. First of all in terms of PTSD, which I couldn't know anything about, but which is looked at in the film in the sense of ... what do you do after? how can you do anything after? and secondly there were scenes in it which fit in with the title of the poem I've written underneath ... eerily.
In these songs, there are various different types of aftermaths - which reminds me, when the Rolling Stones released the album 'Aftermath' in the 60s, Ringo Starr suggested to the rest of the Beatles that they call their next album - which turned out to be 'Rubber Soul' - 'After Geography'. As a joke. Cos he was the joker. In the Beatles. Peace. But no autographs.
The much-maligned Snow Patrol's second album is called 'When it's all over we still have to clear up' and they have a song with that name too, and the title exemplifies one kind of aftermath, that kind of 'shit what happened i don't remember o no we've got to clear up' feeling you get in extremis in films like The Hangover and Very Bad Things, and that Yellow Pages advert from the early 90s, you know the one. Films does this better than songs, probably, but Sequestered in Memphis is rather a good narrative song.
Then I suppose there's the aftermath in terms of the people left behind, whether in Papa was a Rolling Stone or the Spearmint Song Left Alone Among the Living - some people just leave a wake behind them.
Then I guess there's the After the Goldrush boom and bust idea, and Talkin' World War III Blues is about what happens after the big explosion. I think the Rufus Wainwright song is, too, in a more real way.
Anyway, I wrote this after reading a passage in the book '45' by Bill Drummond, who used to be in the KLF. I liked the book very much at the time, indeed could say i was inspired by the author's wild art terrorist pranks and his bemused attitude to them, but the passage in question was out of step with the rest of the book - beautiful and surprising.
Anyway, this is called


Call it the calm after the crash,
Two planes in mid-air come down just yards apart
then silence splits the land.

Festivals abound - I'm tired after half a night.
No one can pick me up on the lapses in my thought.

The calm after the crash -
the theatre empties within seconds.
They've all got trains to catch,
the drama is forgotten.

Turbulence - a child's word -
a parent's anecdote, the nausea descends
on eavesdroppers unwitting.
"I'd be so good for no one
I've been no good for you
I'm clutching at thin air
and you, you're only smoking."

Two aeroplanes have crashed,
collided in mid-air
Rain's falling, wind is blowing -
the fires have both gone out.
New life is springing up,
moss to cover cracks -
the calm after the crash.

So, that's it, really. Silence after everything.

Monday, 14 September 2009

55. 10 Songs of Song

This Song - Badly Drawn Boy
Tower of Song - Leonard Cohen
Your Song - Elton John
Redemption Song - Bob Marley
Sing a Song - Jenny Lewis
This is Just a Modern Rock Song -Belle and Sebastian
Sing a Song For You - Tim Buckley
Sing Me Spanish Techno - New Pornographers
Songs My Mother Taught Me - Paul Robeson
I Write the Songs - Barry Manilow

Some people hate self-referential songs - the smugness, laziness in the lyric, the rhyming with long ... the apotheosis of this awfulness perhaps being Robbie Williams, in the song Strong using the line "and that's a good line to take it to the bridge".
I can understand that - researching this list made clear to me just how many songs there are with "song" in the title, and many of them are about song (as opposed to say Song 2 or Song for Sunshine, which is perhaps just lazy titling) or whatever, so perhaps it's an overused theme.
However, I think this is a nice bunch.
Your Song is often cited as a terrible lyric, but i think it's very bold, very well-controlled and funny, not a bad lyric at all.
A lot of these songs are about the power of a song to act as comfort or whatever - some work better than others. I don't really like the Jenny Lewis lyric, but it's a pretty tune (that reminds me of the Regina Spektor song On the Radio (On the Radio, we heard November Rain, the solo's awful long, but it's a pretty song).
There's a famous scene in Don't Look Back where Donovan sings a pretty song of the name 'To Sing For You' and Dylan replies with 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue', which is meant to be a master putting the novice in his place, but i quite like the Donovan song and don't think Baby Blue is one of the great Dylan songs.
The B and S song contains one of my all-time favourite lyrics "This is just a modern rock song, this is just a sorry lament, we're four boys in our corduroys, we're not terrific but we're competent". It may be smug, it may be self-referential, but it'll do for me.
On the subject, might I highly recommend Nick Cave's The Secret Life of the Love Song, a lecture thing he gave around 10 years ago. I think I'll come to it in more detail down the line, but it's really interesting and has hung over plenty of my thoughts about songs. Including this ... which is really about the absence of songs


The listed have few titles
The words they have no chords
to help convey their meanings
and lift them from the wornout pages
to the readiest hearts and ears.

And i would write you secular hymns
Balm in the broadest minor key
But I have written no songs
And i have found no church for me.

Or I would write you children's songs
simple rounds to sing along to
but i have written no such and
have found no children to belong to.

The catalogue has no index
For no reader strays upon it
Dead verses have no critics
to mould and shape their future
and give merit to their past.

And I could write some folk songs
borrow form from the common hoard
But I have written no songs,
to be trusted or be ignored.

Or I could write punklove songs
bold, three-chord, starshaped gems
but I have written no songs
and nor does anyone await them.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

54. 10 Songs about Riots

White Riot - The Clash
Street Fighting Man - The Rolling Stones
Some Riot -Elbow
I Predict a Riot - Kaiser Chiefs
Old Soul Song (for a new world order) or No one would Riot for Less - Bright Eyes
Riot Radio - The Dead 60s
Daughters of the Soho Riots - The National
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised - Gil Scott Heron
Riot Van - Arctic Monkeys
Ghost Town - The Specials

I don't think Bob Dylan was ever in any riots, though Joe Strummer definitely was.
I've never been in a riot, whether willingly or unwillingly. I suppose it can happen when you least expect it, but really I'm a little lily-livered and would probably run off home for my tea.
I haven't even been on a march, and it's one of those things like not recycling I've got no real excuse for, so i just get a bit sneery and right-wing when challenged on it.
It wasn't always thus, I used to be pretty convinced I'd "get involved" but some of us just don't get involved, because we like watching TV too much.
I wonder what would get a riot out of me ... Eddie Murphy maybe ... Eddie Murphy post 1990, in particular. Makes me so mad.
Anyway, I look back at myself and I cringe. Just like everyone does. But you don't cringe so much if you don't have a paper record of what is cringeworthy.


I'd hoped for somewhat better
when I looked back at anger
spraying wildly off old pages

I'd hoped the rhyme of battle
with Seattle would have carried off
the smallest tinge of wit

I'd hoped (though I remembered
the name 'The Peasant's Revolt')
that my links were not too ponderous

I'd hoped I hadn't taken the name
of Jack Straw (twofold) in vain
though I guess that was the starting point

I'd forgotten that I compared
Bill Clinton to Richard II -
I give kudos for that

I'd forgotten a rather neat line
about hating the effing stewards
and bowing before the effing owners

I'd forgotten the heavy and absurd
use of fuck and shit which used
to litter almost every verse

I'd hoped to feel more guilty
at how little I give a shit now
about riots and revolutions

instead I just felt guilty
for my poor 10 year old notebook
to've borne such foaming nonsense.

Friday, 4 September 2009

53, 10 Songs with Imagined Encounters

Roy - Animals that Swim
Sylvia Plath - Ryan Adams
Ingrid Bergman - Billy Bragg and Wilco
Judy - Pernice Brothers
I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine - Bob Dylan
The Queen is Dead - The Smiths
She's Madonna - Robbie Williams
Beatles - Kathryn Williams
Walking in Memphis - Marc Cohn
Let It Be - The Beatles

Hey there, sports fans, this is a nice little subcategory of songs, where the singer has some kind of vision of a famous person - Bob Dylan made rather a habit of this, but there's only one from each performer and one for each subject, which means no place for Badly Drawn Boy's You Were Right, which is a song i used to really love, and in it he's married to the Queen and Madonna lived next door.
Why didn't Badly Drawn Boy keep on producing great stuff? That was a shame. I met him once after a gig (I'm not imagining it), he was very nice - Andy Rourke from The Smiths was there too, i imagine that would excite a lot of people more. His first album I've been listening to recently, it's really a great album. Anyway, I digress.
Some crackers here, Roy by Animals by Swim is really funny, about Roy Orbison. It imagines meeting him in a murky London bar, and says "I thought he was dead" (Roy Orbison is dead, of course). I'd be interested to know about more of this kind of song. Pop stars should be talking to and imagining, summoning up their heroes all the time. It's an agreeably crazy thing to do.
I like the Billy Bragg one, taken from a Woody Guthrie lyric, about Ingrid Bergman and Ryan Adams does the same thing, to slightly unsatisfactory effect, about Sylvia Plath.
So I've brought the same kind of craziness to a story about Jenny Lewis. It's kind of twee, twee mcgee, and some may question whether Jenny Lewis deserves to be mythologised in this way. Sure she does.

I met Jenny Lewis outside the Hilton
on Park Lane. The summer evening was pressing
my nerves to tobacco, and I was admiring
wealth's tacky apparel and feeling so healthy
when Jenny came sliding through the side entrance
not looking for nothing but i begged her to ask me
for a light. She begrudged, and exhaled like a sailor
and I told her I loved her - always a good start.

I wasn't the first, not even ten thousandth
but she deigned to seem shocked that I stated the obvious.
I quoted a lyric from Track Six of the second
Long Player just to prove it wasn't just her red hair
that moved such a man who hid in dark doorways
at a hint of affection to express so entirely
his deepest devotion at just one exhalation
with eyes shut, fingers crossed and arms outstretched.

She spun round and back and urged me to speak on -
I waged her she felt too this grim city sickness
afflicting and withering us soft country soulsters,
born in the wrong place, raised at the wrong time.
I can't say she nodded, I can't say she didn't -
"look at this place, now, Jenny, look at these people
coughing and conning themselves and their loved ones
and crashing and crashing the same cars, always.

"Jenny, I'd ask you to take a walk with me
somewhere unheard of by doctors and lawyers
if I could muster the strength of adventure
to put out this cigarette, walk out on this city
uncaring and fragile, to take care of itself -
but bear with my bent-double, crippled bravado
i used up in the instant i first saw your red hair
so out of place on this grey, green, blue lane."

"Brother, how many times do you rightly imagine
I've heard men of your ilk offering to walk me
out of my troubles and into some forest.
But I read 'bout the forests and i'm sticking to cities."
"Ten thousand times, maybe, but men will keep asking,
Jenny Lewis, if you keep writing such songs
of such longing and sorrow. How could one man
with one part country soul withhold his best efforts?"

Jenny she smiled and said "brother, remember,
i'm all California and I'm all child actress.
Don't be too enticed by my hollow devices -
I'm not worth those efforts, shrink back to your doorway
and i'll return gleaming to my Hollywood stagepost."
I knew she was lying to spare me my blushes
and she'll still be waiting on hard city pavements
for the right country soulster to offer her a light.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

52. 12 Songs which borrow from Phil Spector and the Wall of Sound

Wouldn't It Be Nice - Beach Boys
Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen
Yes - McAlmont and Butler
The Card Cheat - The Clash
The Late Greats - Wilco
You are the Generation that Bought More Shoes and You Get What You Deserve - Johnny Boy
Rockferry - Duffy
In a Funny Way - Mercury Rev
The Pledge - Brendan Benson
Daddy's Gone - Glasvegas
Run-away - Super Furry Animals
Mahgeetah - My Morning Jacket

Sorry, am finding it harder to arbitrarily keep the tapes down to 10 songs.

I've just been reading about exactly what the Wall of Sound was and how it was achieved, which is pretty interesting stuff, but I'm not terribly musical, so I don't want to get out of my depth.
It's just a sound, isn't? A sound you hear on a song which makes you know that someone, somewhere, has described it as Spector-esque.
Maybe the two definitive Phil Spector productions are Be My Baby and River Deep, Mountain High, very different songs which do sound very different - without reading too much, the first is all about control, the second is all about excess - i suppose that reflects the drugs Spector had taken throughout the 60s. In any case, they're both magnificent records.
I love the sound, I love it when people have a go at copying it or updating - Bernard Butler is the modern producer who has harnessed it best - he was behind two of these records.
What a lot of these records take from Spector and what a lot of people are thinking of when they invoke Spector is the drum sound - the Benson song and the Mercury Rev song are good examples of this, while the Johnny Boy song is a superb steal from Be My Baby.

Then it comes to Phil Spector the person, and enough has been written about that recently, really. The mugshots and the wigs are what will stick with me. Just so, so weird.
I only saw fit to address Spector in as glib a way as possible, and of course there's nothing I could write which could reasonably comment on the music, so I merely reflected on one of the most surreal aspects of the later days of Spector.

As i sit, denied an ipod,
in my 10 by 10
thinking 'bout the good sounds,
thinking 'bout the bad,
i recall the wall i built
brick by perfect brick,
i recall the life i took
and how it finally stuck.
There may be deeds i do regret,
jokes i took too far,
studios i terrorised,
dischord in the screams
but if i am a haunted man
tumbling to his grave
angry and dissatisfied
just one cause is there
after all the hurricanes
and tempests i produced,
that of all the ships i steered
Starsailor's was the last.
As i sit, denied the music
that was my only strength
how cruel that my legacy
should be so reduced.

Starsailor, eh? Haha

Monday, 17 August 2009

51. 10 Soldier's Songs

Phew, now this takes me past the halfway mark and the whole enterprise is obviously getting tougher. If I believe, though, I can achieve.
Anyway, this topic isn't really intended to be in keeping with the mood of the nation, though everyone is talking about soldiers these days, for better or worse.

A Soldier's Tale - The Good, The Bad and the Queen
Soldier Girl - The Polyphonic Spree
Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag - Country Joe and the Fish
Broken Boy Soldier - The Raconteurs
In the Army Now - Status Quo
Buffalo Soldier - Bob Marley
Like Soldiers Do - Billy Bragg
Brothers In Arms - Dire Straits
Universal Soldier - Buffy Sainte-Marie
Soldier Man - Shack

Rock'n'Roll songs about war don't have the same immediacy and power as great war poetry, obviously, as you don't have time to form a band do a quick recording session in the middle of a war, while the war poets could recount their experiences at the time. And just generally, there hasn't been too much conscription in the rock'n'roll years so not too many rock stars have been in the army. Shaggy ... Elvis ... Jimi Hendrix ... Billy Bragg ... James Blunt, i think he has a song about being a soldier but, you know, i really hate his songs. not in a nasty way, i just hate them. Not that I don't also hate Status Quo, but i guess they're funny, so I'm less churlish about including them.
There have been plenty of protest songs about war but most pretty general and vague along the brilliant "War! What is it good for?" or the terrible "War is stupid" lines. Bob Dylan wrote about war, but he didn't, as far as i can recall, write about soldiers.
One could say that rock'n'roll has mainly failed the test on great, emotive war lyricism. Having written that, I've just remembered a superb song called Round Eye Blues by a band called Marah, a proper piece of heavy war poetry written from the point of view of a soldier in Vietnam. And i'd forgotten Paul Hardcastle. D-d-d-d-damn. And Born in the USA. In fact there's loads coming into my head now which is more suited than the list above ... oh well
I've rather chickened out of trying to write a genuine soldier's tale and I'm going to rather chicken out of saying anything about soldiering and war in general. I just don't know anything about that stuff. To be able to write well about that may be a test of good writing, or film-making, or whatever, but i wouldn't be so bold.
I think what I've written is very schooly - in fact it was written, a few years ago, after a class in how to teach poetry to children, so reminded me of the lessons in writing poetry I had as a kid, and the stuff I liked writing best, as you've no doubt guessed, was in the ballad form, whether comic or otherwise. I notice that as it progresses i take increasing delight in getting medieval on yo ass.
So this is

A soldier with a steady heart
throughout the land went roaming
for one sweet maid with ready wit
to make his sad soul's home in

For a vision to his brash brain'd come
when barely out of boyhood
of the one woman for whose embrace
through all those years he laboured.

He wandered north, he wandered south,
his wealth he used up slowly;
At night, he paused and pondered, "does
the one I seek yet know me?"

He looked within the greatest cities,
he combed each inch of the widest moors,
he made brief friends on the eastern sands,
brave foes on the western shores.

One day, when some years past his prime
(for his cheeks were rough and hollowed
and his temples coarse and grizzled)
a smooth country path he followed;

espied he by this virgin route
a verdant sapling leftways leaning;
and by the tree the maiden sat
of whom he'd long been dreaming.

"Lord knight, although my faith was strong
that someday you would find me,
I do confess years have there been
when i thought my hopes behind me,"

the maiden spoke with gentle smile,
face lined by age and laughter,
"Rest now, I know you've journeyed long,
rest now and ever after."

"Fair lady, fain would I e'er rest,
now my eyes at last behold you.
True, long I've wandered, now I pray,
e'en longer my arms t'enfold you."

Elision, ne'er can you have too much elision, muthafuckas!

Friday, 14 August 2009

50. 10 David Songs

Woohoo, i make the half-century and I'm almost halfway there. In honour of this remarkable happening, I celebrate me! or rather my own name - I'm pretty surprised to have got to 10 songs on this one, but I have had to sink pretty low ...

Remember David - A Flock of Seagulls
Who Killed Davey Moore? - Bob Dylan
David - Nellie McKay
Hallelujah - Jeff Buckley
Once in Royal David's City - Sufjan Stevens
Who's David - Busted
Can't Help Thinking About Me - David Bowie
David Watts - The Jam
Jonathan David - Belle and Sebastian
Argument with David Rawlings about Morrissey - Ryan Adams

A pretty shoddy collection, the last one's not even a song, it is really just an argument, but it does lead into the splendid To be Young is to be sad is to be high, and also Ryan Adams' first name is actually David, so i guess it's ok.
The Bowie song is hilarious, it's from his pre-fame mid-60s, and is on because it contains the line "My girl calls my name 'hi Dave',
drop in, see around, come back
if you're this way again"
which i once heard him saying was the worst lyric he'd ever written. Awesome.
Hallelujah is of course about King David - I once began an actual compilation tape with the start of the song, then cut it at "but you don't really care for music, do you?" ha ha which was pretty clever in the days of stopping and rewinding and cutting and pasting.
In fact, come to think about it, three of the songs refer to King David. I quite like Jonathan David, though it's a bit uneven. When I was a 5/6 year old kid, there were three Davids in my class, and i tried to change my name to John, my middle name, but everyone just called me David John, which wasn't the point at all - rather like when I finally made clear that I was 100% David and not Dave, and various people would call me Dave ... sorry ... id or say things like When did you change your name to David? These were morons.
Anyway, it's a pretty good name, it was everywhere when i was growing up. Cricket was, as already mentioned, my favourite thing, so the fact that the England captain was left-handed and called David meant I had a readymade hero. And what a solid broadcaster he's become ...
Anyway, this is about the prevalence of the name - don't worry too much about it

This blessed name gave a fine pair of heroes
protecting me in and out the school gate.
In white, on left, England's captain drove me
on and picked me up or sent Willis instead ...
In black dress, with wit and gentle teachings,
Father, friend and noble headmaster, you
told us to be wary of the strange men
in dark cars with no place at the Abbey.

Forty thousand pounds, I hear, was enough
to buy a few years' silence from some frightened
Catholic boy's own greedy shameful family,
Father David, failing to buck bitter
cliches, lazy jokes about everything about you -
you just had to go and make them come true.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

49. 10 +1 Songs about People

Up With People - Lambchop
People Ain't No Good - Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
People - Barbra Streisand
All You Good Good People - Embrace
People Help the People - Cherry Ghost
Common People - Pulp
Parklife - Blur
Pull Up the People - M.I.A
Everyday People - Sly and the Family Stone
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
People Power (in the Disco Hour) - Cornershop

"It ain't that in their hearts they're bad, they can comfort you, some even try, they'll nurse you when you're ill of health, they'll bury you when you go and die. It ain't that in their hearts they're bad, they'd stick by you if they could. Aah, but that's just bullshit, baby, people just ain't no good."

What else is there to say, really? It's one of the great lyrics. I remember the genuine sense of shock the first time I heard that resigned "aah" and then "baby" and i pretty much decided this was the song for me forever and so it's stayed.

People are ok, really, I have a higher opinion of them than Morrissey does, I really love the stuff they do and have done, and, try as I might to see them as equivalent to other animals, i guess i don't. That would be like thinking other people are as important as me ... ha, an absurd notion.

Most of the songs above have lots of love for people and lots of belief in what they're capable of, and I think the way the preservation instinct extends beyond just trying to preserve yourself, but your family, your country, your species - that's excellent and rather beyond me and other cynics.

I wouldn't normally write something about "people" - it's slightly daft, but that's the game, innit, so got in the zone and gave it a shot. I attempted to write something in a suitable spirit of naivety, i tried to channel the 60s protest and folk singers who didn't have the grit and gravel of Bob Dylan, i think I've ended up with something very gentle, childlike, what I was hoping for (in feel though not execution), really ...

I wanted to study the stars in the sky -
the lines between the angels and heavens,
to feel fresh dimensions and godly dominions
but all I could see were people.

They told me of spirits, satyrs and centaurs,
of winds and fires and mighty floods.
They told me of worlds and worlds within worlds
but all I knew was people.

Some started looking beyond good and evil
and some started tracing unending spirals
and some started digging the deepest wells
but all that I've found are people.

Some wanted to be like a god on a cross
free from all sins and new to the world
blessed to bear all burdens with glory
but all they could be were people.

Some looked for their gods in nearer fields,
begged to portray them in pomp and grandeur
but when my eyes behold these icons of heroes
all I can make out are people.

I want to escape from these idle towns
shut my sore eyes and disappear,
but empty as my head may become,
still it flows over with people.

Some consider the lilies of the field
and some concentrate on the ice of the north
some are conserving the fish in the sea
but all they're concerned with are people.

It's been said many times that we all die alone,
it's been said many times that we're food for the worms,
but I've never believed it for one fleeting second
I've always thought better of people.

Right on, brother

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

48. 10 Ghost Songs

Is There A Ghost - Band of Horses
The Ghosts Parade - Ed Harcourt
Easter Parade - Emmy the Great
Ghosts - Laura Marling
Walking With a Ghost - Tegan and Sara
Lithuania - Dan Bern
Theologians - Wilco
Ghosts - The Jam
Haunted - Shane McGowan and Sinead O'Connor
Ghostbusters - Ray Parker Jr

This is a slightly odd one, as while Ghosts have produced lots of fine songs, I can't say they mean anything to me.
The Band of Horses song is one of those great spare rock songs where dynamics are all, and you're amazed to see in retrospect how little there is to the song, as there seems to be a lot more, (like a lot of Micah P Hinson songs). The only words the song has are "I could sleep when I lived alone. Is there a ghost in my house?" but they somehow manage to build an epic out of that.
Of course, generally, when songs refer to 'ghosts' they don't mean scary ghouls etc (Ghostbusters an honourable exception) they mean, like, you know, figuratively, and people often refer to their ghosts as being things like their regrets, guilts, past relationships, ancestors etc or someone can be a ghost if they're not the person they were. So, when I say ghosts don't really mean anything to me, I mean in both senses really. I don't believe in ghosts and I don't really have a large collection of ghosts in my head or on my back or wherever they go. I can't say I'm the most haunted of people, a good thing in a way, though equally one can't help wondering if the quantity and quality of the ghosts one acquires give the measure of how fiercely one has lived.
Many people refer to the Holy Ghost as being part of the trinity, but when we were growing up we called it the Holy Spirit, and there is a subtle distinction which meant there was a time I could embrace spirit but dismiss ghost*. Spirit is used as an almost tangible quality, esprit de corps, the human spirit, something always real, always alive, whereas ghost doesn't have that meaning, its meaning is entirely supernatural. Ghosts always seemed silly to me, quite frankly. Maybe that is the job Ghostbusters did on my generation.
*though now my attitude to both concepts is pretty much equal.
When we used to tell ghost stories as kids, mine never really were ghost stories, I was much happier in the realm of the escaped psychopath, and i used to insist that my story really had happened and i wouldn't tell anything that contravened my boundaries of physics. That's just the way some people are.
Consequently, while I very much enjoy the above work with ghosts, I struggle to come up with anything meaningful of my own.
There are a couple of extraordinary songs in the list, which I've never been able to decide if they're the greatest ever or too much. The Dan Bern song is an 11-minute speaky-singy song about Americanness and Jewishness and ancestry and the holocaust and cars and lots of things which emerges in the middle with one of the prettiest refrains I've ever heard - I've always found it very powerful, but if someone told me it was indulgent cack, i wouldn't be surprised.
Likewise, the McGowan/O'Connor song is the definition of a jolie-laid song, their two weird voices going up against each other, telling the ugly story of Sid and Nancy in a rather striking way. Again, it could well be awful, but I've always had a very soft spot for it.
Unable to come up with anything so meaningful, I struggled in my bunker and finally came up with this new form which best exemplified my light attitude to the subject form. So here it is, it's pretty mindblowing - the first two lines rhyme, the third and fourth line rhyme, then the fifth rhymes with the first two. Revolutionary, I know, but it may just catch on. I don't know what I'll call it, the Galway perhaps, the Waterford, hmm ...

I once knew a poor ghost called Fred
who'd no benefits from being undead.
He'd died young and whole,
so scared no living soul -
and a ghost can't cut off his own head.

There was once a bad murderin' hombre
who packed up the corpse in his Kombi.
Though the stench became strong
he left it too long
and his own life was stripped by the zombie.

Awful, i know, but, hey, this is a new form to me, i did my best.

Monday, 27 July 2009

47. 10 Rock'n'Roll Songs

Rock & Roll -Led Zeppelin
Rock and Roll - Mos Def
Rock'n'Roll - The Velvet Underground
Rock and Roll Heart - Lou Reed
It's Still Rock'n'Roll to me - Billy Joel
More Rock'n'Roll - Ruarri Joseph
Rock'n'Roll - Ryan Adams
The King of Rock'n'Roll - Prefab Street
We Built This City on Rock'n'Roll - Starship
Rock'n'Roll Suicide - David Bowie

The joke being, of course, that none of these songs are rock'n'roll ... or are they? Or, as Stephen Fry used to say ... are they?
Before an Oasis fan complains again, the only reason Rock'n'Roll Star isn't on the list is because it is a a bit too close to actual rock'n'roll. Or is it? Or IS IT?

For what is Rock'n'Roll? Well, for one thing, it was the most overused phrase in my vocabulary for some years. I'm not sure that there was anything that wasn't rock'n'roll. How was your day? Rock'n'roll. I just bought some apples? Rock'n'roll. My uncle just got hit by a bus. Rock'n'Roll.

I think the above songs encompass fairly well the various meanings of rock'n'roll for various people down the years. There's some great songs and some terrible ones in there. Indeed 'We Built This City ...' has been officially voted the worst song of all time, and it's hard to argue. Nothing could be further from true rock'n'roll than this abomination.
My favourite song on the list is probably the Ryan Adams one, a deathly quiet 2 minute ditty on his overly loud but also overly slagged 'Rock'n'Roll' album. "Everybody's cool, playing rock'n'roll, I don't feel cool, feel cool at all" is its refrain.
[By the way, that U2 Blackberry ad is on the TV as I write and my blood is boiling. I don't mind the fact they're advertising BlackBerry, i mind every single other thing about this most awful of bands. If they are rock'n'roll, then rock'n'roll is truly dead. Nice chaps, apparently]
The Mos Def song is brilliant, daring, but questionable. "Elvis Presley ain't got no soul, Little Richard is rock'n'roll, you might dig on the Rolling Stones but they ain't come up with that shit on their own" and various other such juxtapositions, including the deeply unfair to white people "Kenny G ain't got no soul, John Coltrane is rock'n'roll". Well, no one's disputing that, but that's hardly a conclusive argument of anything.
To be honest, the whole "white people stole and commercialised black music to make diluted modern rock'n'roll" argument is an over-simplification. The rock'n'roll music people love, the real starting point of the greatness that stopped it being a fad i.e. The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan owes just as much to country, folk, music hall, tin pan alley etc as the blues.
But what is Rock'n'Roll really, now. To go back to Oasis, they would wholeheartedly describe themselves as a rock'n'roll band, but as Keith Richards said of them "Where's the Roll?"
Is Rock'n'Roll the attitude, the sound, the look, is it the whole thing? Can it be all things to all people. If it's a state of mind, a way of being, I have to admit that the almost 31 me would mainly consider people who act in a "rock'n'roll" way to be, well, boorish, rude, selfish, not my kind of people at all .... must I now accept that I'm the least rock'n'roll person I know? Hell, no. I still wear flairs and drink caffeinated tea.
So maybe rock'n'roll is just a narrow definition of a certain kind of music (any old way you choose it, it's got a back beat, you can't lose it) made by splendid but limited people like Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Chuck Berry and occasionally revived so that music journalists can applaud a song's rock'n'roll feel - but maybe it is the whole thing, the whole thing that has dominated the Western World for 50 years, though most of it's got no roll, a lot of it doesn't rock, from Elvis Presley through The Beatles and James Brown and Martha Reeves and The Byrds and Nick Drake and Carole King and The Clash and the Human League and The Pixies and Public Enemy and Blur and Wilco and Girls Aloud and La Roux. Everything is Rock'n'Roll. Except U2.


After all the slamming winters
which almost brought you to your knees
you'd made yourself safer than Harlech
overlooking the storm-tossed seas.
Bless those wild lives left behind,
battered by the mocking gales -
easy to gaze from the tallest tower
on all those pretty, fragile sails.

An entreaty, on a call from nowhere -
"Help me sing, sing of the unsung"
- daring and trite enough to lead you
to bite down on your thawing tongue.
The Classics, not the Romantics, sway you
to dip pen into tales of old -
"So, dear friends, here's my next trick ...
to rewrite the history of rock'n'roll."

When Echo finally had stopped calling
and self-portraits'd been calmly defaced,
still, some voice begged of your vanity
not to let it all go to waste.
The memories of grandest failure
now had enough sweet bathos to swallow,
for rock'n'roll to be reimagined
as less Dionysus and more Apollo.

I had intended something bigger, slower, complicateder, but couldn't tie it all together - not sure i've tied this together either - and it was kind of tortuous. This is a second draft, but that's not in the title, so you could call it Rock'n'Roll, Second Draft, Second Draft, if, like me, you're a twat.
Anyway, i guess themes are obvious in a way - there's a book by Ruth Padel, her who was recently embroiled in an Oxford Professor of Poetry rock'n'roll academic scandal, called I'm a Man ,which looks at what Rock'n'Roll owes to Greek mythology. No wait, it really works! If I'd discovered it before I finished my degree, i might have been able to justify what i was studying to myself. Classics are the new Rock'n'Roll.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

46. 10 Songs of Embarrassment, Shame, Regret and Remorse

Embarrassment - Madness
Je Ne Regrette Rien - Edith Piaf
Not One Bit Ashamed - King Creosote
Losing My Religion - REM
Chagrin - Geraint Watkins
So Sorry - Feist
Tortoise Regrets Hare - James Yorkston
Jealous Guy - John Lennon
No Regrets - The Walker Brothers
Shouldn't be Ashamed - Wilco

This is rather in response to Alex Frith wondering if I could put together a tape about Embarrassment - the answer is no, but this is the best I could do, and it comes together fairly nicely.
It's remarkable how few songs there are about embarrassment, considering I am surely not alone in finding its avoidance the single most important driving force behind my words and deeds.
I've got a rather red face - hey, it's no secret, it's no crime - but it's remarkable how often it chooses to get even redder. It was once said to me that in summer you couldn't ever quite tell why it was always so red - it could be sunburn, drunkenness or embarrassment. It was a fair combination of all three most likely.
There's a condition called Idiopathic craniofacial erythema, which is basically extreme blushing, and I do sometimes wonder about it, so often do i change colour if i so much as speak to someone in a shop, or think about something odd on the tube. I don't necessarily see it as tied up with actual social unease, it's more like embarrassment for embarrassment's sake, but it's such an unpleasant, mortifying sensation that practically everything I do considers the possibility of its occurrence. Though I'm pretty practised at avoiding it now, to those who don't get embarrassed easily, I say Fuck you, you fucks, and leave it at that.
Equally, I can't say I live a life of great regret, I'm pretty at ease with the choices I've made and the forces beyond my control - you can either regret everything or regret nothing, in a way, so in that sense I think I'm rather lucky. To be tortured by regret, to believe that one missed huge chances that could definitely have made life better, that's not a good state.
The four states above are an odd mixture of the controllable and the uncontrollable, that relating only to yourself and that which relates to those around you - shame, remorse, regret are driving forces behind many of the world's great tragedies, basic embarrassment less so - in fact, it's the force behind many great modern comedies, so perhaps I'm lucky that's it embarrassment that's a constant red dog on my shoulder and not one of the other darker forms.

[NB I note, a couple of years after writing this post, that it's the one that people most often enter this blog with. If this is is your first look here, feel free to look at other stuff in the blog, general musings at popular music, and often more entertaining and self-involved! Thanks]

Well, I don't know if this contradicts what I've said above, it's just some words

My Oxygen

This could be worse than I thought;
the dams that have burst won't be easy to mend.
We could be treading on eggshells
until we relax and relearn to pretend.

See us now, skirting the truth and
stumbling reluctantly into maturity.
See me now, caught in a compromise
still banging on about ethics and purity.

This could be half of a blessing -
the end of an era we'd rather forget.
We could say we've all learnt our lessons and
we've all done some things that we'd like to regret.
But I know remorse is as pointless as
throwing your hopes behind progress and science
and I know the mistakes that I've made
mean a million times less than the casual triumphs.

Funnily enough, this has been sitting around for ages and the word in the last line has been 'more' not 'less', but i changed it and I guess changed the whole point. I'm not sure which one's right

Thursday, 16 July 2009

45. 10 Songs about Boxing

Mama Said Knock You Out - LL Cool J
The Boxer - Simon and Garfunkel
Sonny Could Lick All Them Cats - Chuck E Weiss
Who Killed Davey Moore or Hurricane - Bob Dylan
Rumble in the Jungle - The Fugees
Ali in the Jungle - The Hours
Y'all must have Forgot - Roy Jones Jr
Walk Like a Champion - Kaliphz ft Prince Naseem
Da Mystery of Chessboxin' - Wu-Tang Clan
So You Wanna be a Boxer - Bugsy Malone soundtrack

Didn't even have to include Eye of the Tiger, which seems a shame really. Or the original theme from Rocky, which I do actually love.
First, a bone to pick - the song Ali in the Jungle by The Hours is a decent epic indie stormer, but it's lyrics are silly posturing bollocks. It goes

Everybody gets knocked down
How quick are you going to get up?
Like Ali in the Jungle ...

well, that's defeating the point of the song for starters, for as any fule know, Muhammad Ali was at no point sent to the canvas in his 1974 fight with George Foreman. Furthermore, while, admittedly it was a comeback of sorts and he was probably behind on points at the time of his superb stoppage of Foreman, the mythologised version of the fight that he was battered for 8 rounds, employing the rope-a-dope before suddenly turning it around out of nowhere, doesn't tell the whole story. If you watch the whole thing through, not only do you see that the first few rounds are pretty even and that even after that that Ali was regularly breaking his shackles and worrying Foreman, you also see that the ringside commentators had cottoned on to Ali's plan and it was no big shock to them when it came off. Sport and Myth - it's a bugbear of mine. Sport is Sport -it's real, it doesn't need phony storytellers getting hold of it.
Another egregious example in the above song is the continuation of the chorus

Like Ali in the Jungle
Like Nelson in jail
Like Simpson on the mountain

Hold on a second! You're equating, as a triumph against adversity, a man who came out of jail to lead his country and have a long, prosperous old age to Tommy Simpson, a British cyclist who, on said mountain, died with his body pumped with drugs. Where's the triumph? Where's the vindication? Just bad facts, bad songwriting.
Not a bad song apart from that though.
Another load of bullshit? Hurricane. The film. Made-up, manipulative shite, as, quite possibly, is the whole story. It's a brilliantly written Dylan song, of course, which does more in 8 minutes than the film did in 2 hours, but it plays pretty fast and loose with the truth itself, to the extent he was almost sued by several parties. A cursory investigation of the real story makes the whole thing seem pretty unpalatable.
Anyone still reading after that rant?

I love boxing, unhealthily, I watch it as much as I can, on TV, on youtube, the new, the old, British, American, I've seen plenty of boring fights and a few stunners. It's clearly a grim business with a farcical Championship system, a flawed judging system, lots of hanger-ons and nefarious types, but in the ring, it really does have a purity and fairness rarely matched in other sports
I thought I'd best get this in before Amir Khan's WBA title fight on Saturday. Although Khan is a crossover star, he appears to be highly disliked among British "real fight fans" , which i think is jealous nasty bullshit, but there's a lot of folk gagging for him to be taken dowm a peg or two. I think he's an exciting, potentially brilliant fighter, so i really hope Saturday comes good for him. I've watched nearly all his fights, but the one that really got me back into boxing was Joe Calzaghe, a man who seemed in control practically every second he fought, who could take it easy against bad opponents but then really showed his heart and brain against top quality opponents. Also, I love Calzaghe cos he was impressively unripped - though probably the best athlete in boxing, his biceps, pecs etc were pretty standard, pretty unbulging, yet he would batter these sculpted adonises. His success was built on speed, stamina, brain and bravery.
Ali is the go-to icon for casual fans of boxing, of course, which is fair enough in a way, but other greats whose often sad stories have interested me more are Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Sonny Liston, Tommy Hearns, Gerald McClellan, Jake La Motta (his autobiography, the base for the movie, is a stunning piece of work) James Toney, Sugar Ray Leonard, Eubank, Cotto, Roy Jones himself, who is dazzling, dazzling on youtube.

Along with songs, here's a list of fine boxing books

War, Baby - Kevin Mitchell
Dark Trade - Donald McRae
Night Train - Nick Tosches
King of the World - David Remnick
In Black and White - Donald McRae
Raging Bull - Jake LaMotta
Unforgivable Blackness -Geoffrey C Ward

I'm sure there are plenty more. Thing is, I haven't read as much about boxing as cricket, not yet.

Here's a couple of things, not very good, I'm afraid; one tries to just capture the visceral thrill of watching boxing, one is about the sad trajectory of a usual boxing career. It tends to go up, then down, and usually that's it. It's rarely given the chance to go up then down then up again. Brutal game.

Here is my heart - it beats for you
like a fucking train, fast as your flashing fists
pummelling and crushing a skull hardened
by an ugly life on the edge,
me to the hating, leering faces
baying for gypsy blood
and old knees to give way.

Here is my corrupt heart
finding its level in the cold certainly
of the KO

I wrote it over the course of one round, as you can probably tell

This one is
It took half an hour to tape up my hands
and they don't snap back the bag like before
when I was the one they were buzzing about,
telling me Don King had sent his best man.
No one gives a fuck about Don King these days
and my dressing room is half a squash court.

This kid's twelve and one, he lost last but one
and I'm a step back the road to a title.
"i'll be the one to get back on the ladder"
I lie to the one paper which cares to ask.
Nothing special, he'll deal with me tonight
and they'll tell him Oscar's been on the phone.