Archive for the ‘songs’ Category
“What song or piece of music means the most to you and why?”
A coming of age experience from Paul
The Song: I’m Waiting for the Man
The Artist: The Velvet Underground
Paul could remember exactly how the slightly older girl had signed the record for him, with a special pen that raised the letters like embossing. He still has the copy she gave him. The connection with the girl and the connection with the record seem completely intertwined although Paul didn’t think there was a sexual dimension to his choice.
David Bowie performing it with Lou Reed (who wrote the song):
And here are the lyrics, an everyday story of tasting forbidden fruit in the Big Apple:
I’m waiting for my man
Twenty-six dollars in my hand
Up to Lexington, 125
Feel sick and dirty, more dead than alive
I’m waiting for my man
Hey, white boy, what you doin’ uptown?
Hey, white boy, you chasin’ our women around?
Oh pardon me sir, it’s the furthest from my mind
I’m just lookin’ for a dear, dear friend of mine
I’m waiting for my man
Here he comes, he’s all dressed in black
PR shoes and a big straw hat
He’s never early, he’s always late
First thing you learn is you always gotta wait
I’m waiting for my man
Up to a brownstone, up three flights of stairs
Everybody’s pinned you, but nobody cares
He’s got the works, gives you sweet taste
Ah then you gotta split because you got no time to waste
I’m waiting for my man
Baby don’t you holler, darlin’ don’t you bawl and shout
I’m feeling good, you know I’m gonna work it on out
I’m feeling good, I’m feeling oh so fine
Until tomorrow, but that’s just some other time
I’m waiting for my man
Songlines is a project I’ve been doing for some years (in fact, decades!), recording the answer to the question
“What song or piece of music means the most to you and why?”
from all kinds of people. I am now expanding it to video as well as audio – way back when it started on one of these:
No. 7 is a very moving contribution from Morgan.
The Song: Soul to Squeeze
The Artist: Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Song Performed:
And here are the previous Songlines on Simple Pleasures part 4 (these are just a small selection of the Songlines to date)
Can you imagine the looks on the two teenage faces when their mother tells them that she is going to invite people round to the house every eight weeks to sing in the back room …and say poems …and read stuff? WTF?! And she wants you boys to join in. You can just listen but you’re to be there. WTFF?!! On Saturday night the second such session took place. Enfant Terrible No. 2 engineered a sleep-over. No. 1 actually showed his face at the end after a no-show eight weeks earlier.
Here’s what was on the menu…
Una opened with a Spring theme reading Wordsworth’s Daffodils. The next morning this Wordsworth quote arrived by serendipity in my InBox (7th April being his birthday, in 1770):
The best portion of a good man’s life: his little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love.
Later she read one of her own poems, Bodies, a moving and intimate Heaneyesque account of dressing her father’s body for his wake. Towards the end she read another of her pieces, Underground, inspired by a Northern Line encounter and written on the spot.
Here are two of my own recent Northern Line encounters:
For my contribution this time I read one of my favourite posts from this blog, Starless and Bible Black, and then the passage from James Joyce’s Ulysses to which it refers. It’s when the two protagonists have an outdoor piss together under the night sky, all done in the form of a catechism, and containing that very special line:
THE HEAVENTREE OF STARS HUNG WITH HUMID NIGHTBLUE FRUIT.
At the first session I read the opening of the first chapter of my book in progress, When Sparks Fly, about Allen Ginsberg. I concluded with a Ginsberg poem referencing the same incident mentioned in the first line of the book.
Joyce linked nicely to the next person up, an actress specialising in Beckett (who was Joyce’s secretary) – she read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by TS Eliot (whose masterpiece, The Wasteland, was published seven years later in 1922, the same year as Ulysses).
She also recited from memory a brilliant poem of her own about her days as a ballet dancer and how that went down in the Midlands of Ireland. And as if that wasn’t delight enough, she sang a powerful Sinead O’Connor song (from Universal Mother I think). And then a song in Irish about a boy from Loch Erne (Buachaill ón Eirne).
All the music and much of the rest of the singing came from our friend Patmo and his gee-tar. Highlight for me was a song about the potboy in the Dorset Arms in Stockwell where we used to go to watch Patmo and his band The Stone Rangers play. It’s called Put one in the tank for Frank and celebrates plying the late lamented Frank Murphy with beer to get access to the storeroom with all their gear in it. He also played Una’s favourite of his songs, A Little Bit of Lace (as immortalised on Adie Dunbar and the Jonahs’ Two Brothers), as well as some classic singalongs from Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon to John Denver’s Country Road (some painful, submerged teenage memories there from the height of the punk era but surprisingly enjoyable all these years later).
Our old friend Roddy read from a great early 60s first edition he has of Brendan Behan’s Island, a beautifully illustrated (by Paul Hogarth) travelogue around the old country. His other half, Alex, also by coincidence a former ballet dancer, read some Yeats love poetry (it was an evening of the Irish reading the English, and vice versa – perfect to herald the week which sees poet and president Michael D Higgins making a state visit to London, on the very day (8th April) Gladstone presented his first Home Rule Bill to Parliament in 1886). Alex closed proceedings with a parting shot of Dorothy Parker.
All in all, a pretty darn good evening (and that’s not counting the Connemara whiskey and fresh homemade soup).
Dorothy Parker, when asked what she’d like for breakfast…
Just something light and easy to fix. How about a dear little whiskey sour?
Just hanging in at the moment. Been working on the Joan Littlewood/Theatre chapter tonight but really fallen out of any kind of regular routine and slowed way down. The day job is pretty demanding and I get home knackered most days. Chuck in some child stuff and that just about does you in. Occupational hazard of the part-time writer of course.
That said I feel another burst of activity coming on. Maybe I needed a bit of a break. My plan is just to work steadily through Stuff I Have to Do til I get back into my flow. Carry on with the Theatre chapter until I get some real momentum going. And, as a motivational treat, I’ll watch the interview with Joan Littlewood on the BFI DVD of Bronco Bullfrog, a 1969 black & white film featuring some of the teenagers who hung around the Theatre Royal in Stratford East with Joan. I need to immerse myself back into this world.
I took Enfant Terrible No. 2 to see Oh What a Lovely War at the Theatre Royal early last month – he liked in almost as much as the pizza marguerita before the show, and was particularly struck by the scene where the countries tumbling into conflict are personified in representative men and women and their fatal manoeuvrings played out like pieces on a chessboard. I’m going to see A Taste of Honey at the National Theatre (which Joan was pretty down on for its lack of accessibility and authenticity and its narrowness) in a month’s time. And I’ll probably go to see Gary Kemp in Fings Ain’t What They Used t’Be at TRSE in May.
A Taste of Honey was written by a teenage factory worker from oop Narth (Shelagh Delaney) who, after seeing her first theatre, reckoned she could do better and banged out a play in a couple of weeks. That Joan took it on and helped build on its youthful energy and naive confidence is testimony to her openness – to new talent, to non-metropolitan perspectives, to alternative voices (a link to Channel 4 I should try to bring out). Fings is similar in that it was written by an ex-con, Frank Norman, who Jeffrey Barnard described in an obituary as “a ‘natural’ writer of considerable wit, powers of sardonic observation and with a razor sharp ear for dialogue particularly as spoken in the underworld.” Joan loved the energy and particularity of that outsider, street voice. She took his play and fused it with music and songs from echt East Ender Lionel Bart to create an unlikely but bang on mix.
In the forthcoming 20,000 Days on Earth – the best music film since Stop Making Sense – a Film4 production (directed by Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard) centred on Nick Cave which I saw at C4 HQ a couple of weeks ago, Nick Cave gives ‘the secret of great songwriting’ – “counterpoint” and the kind of unlikely combination typified by Joan’s bringing together of Norman’s words and Bart’s songs. As Cave says not 5 minutes into the film:
Songwriting is about counterpoint. Counterpoint is the key. Putting two disparate images beside each other and seeing which way the sparks fly.
The title of this book of mine, When Sparks Fly, does not derive from Nick Cave (it actually comes from Andre Breton, which may well be where Cave’s words have their roots) but it was a lovely C4-F4/book coincidence which illustrates well this kind of thinking (from American scribbler Jonathan Ames) which really speaks to me:
I live for coincidences. They briefly give to me the illusion or the hope that there’s a pattern to my life, and if there’s a pattern, then maybe I’m moving toward some kind of destiny where it’s all explained.
I’m not too bothered about destiny or even explanation but I do like the notion that there’s pattern and purpose.
Started the day off track at a coffee shop meeting inspired by Russell Brand’s interview by Jeremy Paxman a couple of weeks ago. Chris Ward, who gave me some publishing advice on Day 22, gathered together a small bunch of people who were struck by the Newsnight interview to discuss its implications and possibilities. We met up in Somerset House for a couple of hours and kicked about some ideas. This is an appropriate location in that it’s within yards of both The Coal Hole and the site of The Fountain Tavern (home of The Kit-Kat Club) which were places of political gathering and activism in the 17th and 18th Century. Given his increasing activism, Allen Ginsberg would have approved of this tangent.
Having spotted Ginsberg in the background of DA Pennebaker’s Subterranean Homesick Blues promo (shot in 1965) on an ad on Channel 4 the other night (Day 43), and being just a couple of streets away, I decided to seek out the location. And very atmospheric it was. Totally unchanged since 1965 (though the scaffolding has finally gone). Documentary-maker DA Pennebaker came back around 1985 and they were still working on The Savoy building on its left-hand side. The streets and alleys around The Savoy remind you of the rich palimpsest of history and stories that lays over this fabulous city.
I set up office in Westminster Reference Library, the Art bit, and carried on with my current pass at the Literature/Ginsberg chapter. Research-wise I pushed on with Hettie Jones’ memoirs, How I Became Hettie Jones, taking it into the legendary Gaby’s for lunch (it’s as perverse as ever, how many Cash Only restaurants can there be in Central London?)
In the late afternoon I spoke to the Allen Ginsberg Project / Estate in the East Village, NYC who are kindly helping with some interviewees, thanks to documentary-maker Yony Leyser whom I met in Leipzig last week.
I found out today while researching the Ginsberg chapter that the term “subterraneans” was one Ginsberg coined to describe the intellectual hipsters and hip hedonists who hung out in Greenwich Village bars like the San Remo and Fugazzi’s. Dylan took the term from Kerouac but Kerouac had actually adopted it from Ginsberg.
I’m having a session with The Box tonight and its 50+ songs as I’ve just made an adjustment to the record-player set-up to increase accessibility (a crafty pull-out shelf) and to usher in a new age of black plastic – the Vinyl Frontier is crossed.
Here’s what I’m listening to and the thoughts prompted/verdicts. Going according to how they sit in the box, so pretty much random order.
Thin Lizzy – Emerald
Started with this B-side after which my friend Eddie named his production company, with which I worked for a couple of very happy years. The song is typical Thin Lizzy, a romantic view of the Hibernian past, epic battles turning green fields red. Phil Lynott was a fascinating character and I love passing his statue off Grafton Street in Dublin, with plectrums attached by fans in homage (I believe it’s been restored recently, though it’s not that old – probably been living the high life and taken plenty of abuse).
Pet Shop Boys – It’s a Sin
Always had a bit of an ambivalent attitude to the PSBs. Couldn’t take the Smash Hits roots seriously. This one has a touch of the A-ha synth sound about it but is none the less catchy for that. Jolly and not very sinful or dark.
Sinead O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2 U
How on earth can a vinyl single wow and flutter? – this one does! But nothing can obscure a unique, soulful and beautiful voice like this. It’s not flawless but it is perfect. This song is very difficult to separate from its video which sears itself into the memory with its simplicity and beauty.
Irish Heartbeat – Billy Connolly
Bit of an Irish theme so far (not that surprising given the mix of my friends). This is comedian Billy (who used to make me laugh the minute he opened his mouth, from his accent and attitude alone) doing a Van song, with a Scottish twist when he wheels in the band of bagpipers. It’s a live performance and he gets away with a larger than life approach. (But I’ll take the Van version if push comes to shove.)
So the idea was simple: 50 songs from 50 friends/family to mark 50 years. All in a box decorated by the Enfants Terribles. In short, Now That’s What I Call a Birthday Present 50.
Various people asked me what was in The Box so I’ve finally gotten round to listing the gifts, all 7″ vinyl singles. There turned out to be 65 songs in the box as some people decided to give one song per decade, some very naturally hedged their bets as choosing just one is tough as we all know from Desert Island Discs and the like. (There’s no special significance about the first nine, that’s just how WordPress decided to cut&paste and the wisdom of five decades dictates that life’s too short to tidy up such things.)
- She Loves You – The Beatles [Jonathan & Julie] (No. 1 the weekend after I was born)
- Righteous Man – Little Roy [Nigel]
- One by One – Ruefrex (Good Vibrations) [Conor & Aoife] (given to him by Terry Hooley)
- Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys [Meabh & Orla] (I gave them Pet Sounds – the first CD they ever owned)
- Like a Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan [Sean]
- I Want That Man – Deborah Harry [Maura]
- Carmen – Malcolm McLaren [Maura]
- Higher & Higher – Jackie Wilson [Patsy]
- From Me to You – The Beatles [Anthony & Ruth]
10. Send Another Moses – The Willows (CoxSone) [Neil]
11. Run Run – Delroy Wilson (Studio One) [Neil]
12. Door Peeper – Burning Spear [Neil]
13. There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards – Ian Dury [Neil]
14. Telegram Sam – T-Rex [Neil]
15. Something – The Beatles [Neil]
16. Double Barrel – Dave & Ansil Collins [Neil]
17. The Ayatollah Song – Not the 9 O’Clock News [Dave & Nicole]
18. Murphy’s Law – Cheri [Elizabeth & Des]
19. Close to Me – The Cure [Eileen] (we saw them live together in Wembley Arena)
20. Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd [Matthew]
21. LA Woman – The Doors [Jon]
22. Cat People – David Bowie [Jon]
23. Changing of the Guards – Bob Dylan [Jon]
24. Wet Dream – Max Romeo [Peter]
25. Go Wild in the Country – Bow Wow Wow [Judyth]
26. Modern Love – David Bowie [Mike] (we saw him together live in Grenoble on the Serious Moonlight tour)
27. A Paris – The Style Council [Mike] (we once bumped into each other totally by chance in the Louvre)
28. Speak Like A Child – The Style Council [Mike] (Mick Talbot shares the same birthday)
29. Universal Soldier – Donovan
30. Young Parisians – Adam & The Ants [Noah]
31. Pictures of Lily – The Who [Dylan] (he wanted My Generation but couldn’t find it – I taught him how to spell WH question words using a photo of Keith Moon’s drumkit)
32. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – Gil Scott-Heron [Dan & Steff] (we saw him together at Somerset House shortly before he died)
33. Denis – Blondie [Paul] (we went to see them as his first and my second gig)
34. Thank You Very Much, Mr Eastwood – Dermot Morgan [Elizabeth-Ann]
35. Come Fly With Me – Frank Sinatra [Cecelia] (we both adore Frank)
36. Sexual Healing – Marvin Gaye [Stuart]
37. Don’t Worry Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin [Stuart]
38. The Celtic Soul Brothers – Dexy’s Midnight Runners [Stuart] (he mispronounced ‘Celtic’ in his best-man’s speech at our wedding)
39. Baby I Love You – The Ronettes [Seth]
40. Live at Hollywood High – Elvis Costello [Joan]
41. The Next Day – David Bowie [Ela]
42. Shady Lane – Pavement [Alfie]
43. Congratulations – Cliff Richard [Annie]
44. Blanket on the Ground – Billie Jo Spears [Annie]
45. Ernie – Benny Hill [Dan]
46. Tears of a Clown – The Beat [Dan]
47. Ball of Fire – The Orb & Lee Scratch Perry [Sarah]
48. Nelson Mandela – Amy Winehouse [Farrah]
49. It’s a Sin – Pet Shop Boys [Anita & Don]
50. Nothing Compares 2U – Sinead O’Connor [Maud] (my favourite female voice)
51. Irish Heartbeat (Billy Connolly) [Maud]
52. A Dreams A Dream – Soul II Soul [Maud]
53. Take It Easy – The Wilf Brothers [Maud]
54. Dedication – Thin Lizzy [Maud]
55. Round About Midnight – Miles Davis [Una] (Debbie Gould sang this magnificently at my party)
56. Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright – Bob Dylan [Una] (we named a son after him)
57. Breakfast in Bed – Lorna Bennett [Sue]
58. Wildwood – Paul Weller [Sue]
59. Streets of London – Ralph McTell [Katherine]
60. September – Earth Wind & Fire [Ja]
61. Life’s What You Make It – Talk Talk [Ja]
62. Reasons to Be Cheerful – Ian Dury [Ja] (source of Simple Pleasures blogs)
63. Running Up That Hill – Kate Bush [Ja]
64. 2-4-6-8 Motorway – Tom Robinson Band [Ja] (my first gig)
65. Love Will Tear Us Apart – Joy Division [Ja]
66. The Boys Are Back in Town – Thin Lizzy [Eddie]
Simple Pleasures part 4 was inspired partly by an Ian Dury song (via my first blog Simple Pleasures) and partly by an article from the pen of the poet Andrew Motion. In that line of heritage, I was reading Steven Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From and was much taken with his thoughts on the ‘commonplace book’, the practice of keeping a scrapbook of quotes and thoughts which he traces from John Locke in the late 17th century through to Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles), ultimately linking it to Tim Berners-Lee’s inspiration for the World Wide Web. I’ve kept these kinds of notebooks and notes for any years but being reminded of their value in creative thinking, the repository for the ‘slow hunch’ and the petri dish in which disparate but related thoughts grow together, makes me feel encouraged to write here more often and in smaller bursts. Here’s one I wrote a couple of days ago after reading about the Commonplace Book and then chatting to an old friend of mine from the Universite de Savoie, year of 83…
4/8/13 Mangskog, Sweden: Sitting on the deck outside Bjorksuset (whispering of the birches), my friend Hanna’s house, this afternoon overlooking Mangen lake I was thinking a bit about Swedish neutrality in the War before Hanna told me a story from a documentary she made recently for NRK, the Norwegian state broadcaster. It was about so-called ‘war children’ in Norway (the off-spring of Norwegian women and German soldiers) and the on-going impact of the Second World War on Norwegians. Hanna filmed a woman who recently discovered her father was in fact a German bureaucrat of the Occupation, not the Norwegian man whom she had called daddy all her life, father of what had been her two brothers up to the point of this discovery in her advancing years. When she told her mother she had acted on some bothersome doubts from her childhood and uncovered her true parentage through a specialist agency her mother went nuts with her, majorly upset by having her secret unburied. And the brothers went crazy too, especially the older one who runs a big well-known Oslo-based shopping mall (he threatened to sue). In revealing her discovery the family imploded and she lost mother, (half-)siblings and extended family at a stroke. Although she acquired some half-brothers in Germany in the process. So seventy years after the occupation of Norway the dark forces still swirl, much as in France, like molten lava beneath the crust busting out when cracks appear.
6/3/13 I’m sitting on that same deck behind Bjorksuset, listening to the wind in the canopies of the silver birches. My grandparents had silver birches which fascinated me as a child in their inappropriately named street Cyprus Avenue. Their shiny trunks punctuated the way to the red postbox twenty yards down from their house, which at the age I am recalling seemed a major journey to be let loose on alone. The sound of the rustling leaves is a constant in this beautiful place in the West of Sweden. I think ‘suset’ in Swedish must be related to ‘susurration’ in English. The whispering sea-like sound made me think of the soundtrack of Antonioni’s Blow-Up – the mysterious breeze in the trees of the South London park where the ‘corpse’ lies worked its magic on me big time. And my train of thought then headed off down the line of the sound of wind in films and pulled in to these three stops:
Blow-Up (1966): the wind in the trees makes the park where the photographer (David Hemmings) accidentally photographs a dead body weird&wonderful – I always meant to visit that location, I’ll have to rewatch the movie then make the trip this autumn
Ryan’s Daughter (1970): The eponymous Irish colleen and the English captain make illicit love among the bluebells in the West of Ireland and what David Lean shows us is the strong breeze shaking the treetops above them
Black Narcissus (1947): Michael Powell set nerves on edge in this English Romantic Technicolor tale by having the Himalayan wind blow constantly through the mountain-top convent in which a nun gradually succumbs to an irreligious magic
In all three (the last one in too sparse a landscape for leaves to accompany moving air) the whispering of the wind brings the magical and mystical to the scene.
At the nadir of my teenage years, when I retired to a room with David Bowie and Jane Austen to see me through, just like Renton prepares the room for going cold turkey in Trainspotting, Wild is the Wind struck me as a uniquely Romantic song a bit apart from his others, with a touch of epic, majestic magic.
The song was actually written for a film of the same name made in 1957 and recorded by Johnny Mathis. Bowie was inspired to cover it by Nina Simone’s version. It is to be found on his 1976 LP Station to Station which neatly brings this thought-train to its terminus.
Like the leaf clings to the tree
Oh, my darling, cling to me
For we’re like creatures of the wind
Wild is the wind, wild is the wind
When I was still half asleep this morning, the radio playing from some vague distance, I heard the sad news of Richie Havens’ passing on. I found myself standing in front of my Wall of Fame where a photo of Richie is among the select few. I looked out a non-existent window to the left and the top of a ship could just be spotted. As the news hit home it transformed into the top rigging and masts of a bright white ghost ship like Frank Hurley’s images of The Endurance.
Richie Havens first entered my life as the opener of Woodstock. I went to see Michael Wadleigh’s movie of the festival of festivals at the cinema on Shaftesbury Avenue near Seven Dials with my best man and music compatriot Stuart R. The big close up of Richie’s pounding sandal stays in my head – a true leg/end. He had to go on first, although he was originally billed fifth, because traffic was holding up other performers. He held fort and held forth for a couple of legendary hours until reinforcements arrived and his repertoire was entirely exhausted. He climaxed with an improvised medley of Motherless Child and a chant of Freedom (not sure where that comes from). The energy and deep soul is spell-binding and made his name for ever…
I met him once – on a very special occasion. September 1995, Jazz Cafe, Camden Town, London. I took my mum out for a last night out with me still as her unattached boy. We had a chat with Richie after the show and he signed the picture which has since sat on my Wall of Fame. Alongside the likes of Michael Powell and Neil Armstrong and Dave Brubeck. He was the last man standing on the Wall – now they are all up there together again…
He sang a song called Adam on his 1988 LP Mixed Bag. It has his distinctive voice underpinned with its characteristic gruffness. It has the hippy vibe, more San Francisco than his native Brooklyn (I’m not sure why I associate him with San Fran, maybe he lived there in the 90s?) It has the strongly rhythmic approach. Echoes of Gil Scott-Heron, Cat Stevens and Terry Callier. A bit of Jefferson Airplane psychedelia. A wonderful mix all his own.
The sweat on the back of his monk orange kaftan as he walks off stage still singing Freedom at the end of his Big Moment at Woodstock says everything you need to know about what he put into his music.
To mark that special Londoner David Bowie’s 66th birthday today and the release of his new single Where Are We Now? here are four of his best ever songs:
- Unwashed and somewhat slightly dazed (Space Oddity) – the height of his hippy phase and I’m a sucker for the blues harp
- Life on Mars? (Hunky Dory) – from intimate to epic in the space 3’52”
- Station to Station (Station to Station) – a journey and a half of electronic, stereoscopic, systematic, hydromatic, goodbuzzin’, cooltalkin’, highwalkin’, fastlivin’, evergivin’ self-dramatisation
- Aladdin Sane (Aladdin Sane) – more madness, this time with crazy plinking, the perfect soundtrack to teenage chaos
And now a line or two from each:
- It must strain you to look down so far from your father’s house
And I know what a louse like me in his house could do for you
- Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man! Look at those cavemen go
It’s the freakiest show
- The return of the Thin White Duke
In lovers’ eyes
- Clutches of sad remains
Waits for Aladdin Sane
My last Bowie adventure is here at Heddonism