Archive for September, 2011|Monthly archive page
John Martyn. Herbert Lom. DH Lawrence. Mick Talbot. Pierre de Ronsard. And me. We all share one thing – a birthday on 9/11, that date now with a resonance all of its own. Each year I wait for some low-life to blacken it again. This year I’m a little more worried than usual on account of the round number.
10 years ago today I was out for my birthday lunch with colleagues/friends from Redbus CPD, the internet start-up whose production department I was running for the couple of years before I came to Channel 4. They gave me two lovely presents which have a certain emblematic quality for me looking back. One was a book about London, Peter Ackroyd’s biography of the city. The other was the brand new record by Bob Dylan, Love and Theft, released on that very day. So Literature and Music, two of my greatest loves and essentially the opposite of 9/11. Creative. Fueled by Love. What makes life worth living. One of my sons is called Dylan so I take the latter as a reflection also of Family. And I’m a real Londonphile, born&bred here (I’d bear a London passport if they’d let me), so the former also captures the notion of Home. Music and Literature, Home and Family, Work and Friendship – I was basking in it all as we headed back down the appropriately named Arcadia Avenue back to the office. It was around 2pm.
As we settled back to work one of my business partners called us all into the boardroom to watch something incredible playing out on the big TV. A plane had crashed into the World Trade Centre. I knew the building from when I spent a semester at high school in Montclair, New Jersey and visited the iconic twin towers for the first time. As we were trying to absorb the images a second plane appeared and the rest is history.
I went out for my planned birthday dinner that evening in Camden Town with my wife, brother, sister-in-law and my oldest friend (we’ve known each other since we were six). The pall of the day’s events hung over our meal and I imagine everyone around the table was as numb as I felt. My stomach was in bits.
Over the years since I’ve felt a degree of outrage at having my birth date appropriated by such a dark and soulless act. And I’m not giving it over. This side of the water it’s 11/9 and this year’s a special palindromic one 11-9-11. 11/9 is about Music, Literature, Home, Family, Creativity and Friendship. It’s about New York and London. It’s about Soul (John Martyn), Laughter (Herbert Lom), Passion (DH Lawrence), Groove (Mick Talbot), and Poetry (Pierre de Ronsard). It’s about Birth and Life and what makes life worth living.
Walter Pater, the art and literary critic much admired by Oscar Wilde, wrote that “All art aspires to the condition of music.” I read that as other arts striving for the direct impact music has on the heart and spirit without recourse to any physical medium and being able to by-pass the intellect. Much though I love music I’ve never tended to listen to the lyrics of songs in a coherent and systematic way. Phrases and lines emerge over time in their own way and hook themselves into the brain.
I was jogging along yesterday morning listening to a podcast of the evergreen Desert Island Discs when a Bob Dylan song came on and a line really resonated for me as a perfect expression of what women mean to men. When I got home and sat down in front of my machine for the first time that day I whacked the line into Quotables for posterity – and to look at it on its own for a moment.
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”
Not particularly poetic. Quite ordinary really. But in its context perfect and to the heart of the matter, to the matter of the heart.
So I felt inspired to pick out 10 great lines from songs that are worthy of the condition of music, that have the resonance and penetrative power of the supreme art. I tried being strict about one stand-out line per song only (only cracked once with a couplet).
1. Bob Dylan, Shelter from the Storm (1974)
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”
2. John Lennon, Oh Yoko! (1971)
In the middle of a cloud I call your name
A powerful yet simple expression of romantic love.
3. John Martyn, Couldn’t Love You More (1977)
If you kissed the sun right out of the sky for me
Song lyrics straining to capture Love (is there a theme emerging?)
4. Jimi Hendrix, Purple Haze (1966)
‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky
This could be love or drugs that’s fogging Jimi’s brain – either way it’s a great line.
5. The Clash, Garageland (1977)
Back in the garage with my bullshit detector
A spirited (spirit of Punk) response to an early bad review (of a gig with The Sex Pistols at Islington’s Screen on the Green): “The Clash are the kind of garage band who should be returned to the garage immediately, preferably with the engine running”. [Charles Shaar Murray – what did he know?]
6. Bruce Springsteen, Atlantic City (1982)
Well now everything dies baby that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Reckon there’s a load of philosophy buried in this couplet.
7. David Bowie, Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed (1969)
As I am unwashed and somewhat slightly dazed
Loved this phrase for a long time, the “somewhat” is just what’s needed to throw it off kilter.
8. The Doors (Jim Morrison), The Wasp (1968)
Out here we is stoned – immaculate
One of those lines that throws a word into a whole new light.
9. John Coltrane, Acknowledgement (1964)
A Love Supreme
Sometimes you don’t even need a whole line or clause – this is a transcendent chant. They’re the only words in this track and all the more striking for that.
10. Well, why don’t you add this one? What song words do it for you?…
[I’m treating this as a work in progress – going to be putting some more bath time into it]
After some more bath-time reflection here are some other stand-out lines, plus some picked out by commenters below that strike a chord with me too:
Michael Franti & Spearhead, Oh My God (2001)
I slept with Marilyn she sung me Happy Birthday
Magazine, Song from Under the Floorboards (1980)
I am angry I am ill and I’m as ugly as sin
The Passenger, Iggy Pop (1977)
We’ll see the city’s ripped backsides
Marvyn Gaye/Dick Holler, Abraham Martin and John (1970)
Has anyone here seen my old friend Martin?
PJ Harvey, Let England Shake (2011)
England’s dancing days are done
You seem confused by your own ideals
You will not be able to stay home brother
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
It took it 3.5 billion years to decide that you live just where you live [it = the universe]