Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

Openings – first lines of songs

In most creations with a time dimension (film, music, etc.), the opening is very important. This is particularly true of Short Form Video where the drop-off rates in the first minute on almost all platforms is very high (75%+). It’s all about grabbing attention and retaining interest. While it’s critical in this most modern of art forms, it’s pretty much as true of the positively ancient art of song writing.

Here are some favourites from a lively thread on our Facebook account…

God said to Abraham…
God said to Abraham “Kill me a son”
Abe said “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
[Bob Dylan, Highway 61]
 
I don’t believe in an interventionist god
But I know, darling, that you do
[Nick Cave, Into My Arms]
 
Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine
[Patti Smith, Gloria]
 
I wanted to change the world
But I could not even change my underwear
[Sinead O’Connor, written by John Grant – Queen of Denmark]
 
Some of us live like princes; some of us live like queens;
Some of us live just like you and me and don’t know what it means…
To take our place in one world; to make our peace in one world; to make our love in one world…
[John Martyn, One World]
 
If you kissed the sun right out of the sky for me
If you told me all the lies I might deserve
If you lay right down and you died for me
I could not love you more
[John Martyn, Couldn’t Love You More] perhaps the greatest in his simplicity
 
You curl around me, like a fern in the spring.
[John Martyn, Go Down Easy]
 
I can hear her heart beat for a thousand miles
And the heavens open every time she smiles
And when I come to her that’s where I belong
Yet I’m running to her like a river’s song
[Van Morrison, Crazy Love]
 
I am a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm
[Iggy and the Stooges,  Search and Destroy]
 
In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey
[Beck]
 
Jeremiah was a bullfrog
Was a good friend of mine
[Three Dog Night, Joy to the World]
 
I’ve been working on a cocktail called grounds for divorce.
[Elbow]
 
When me and Pam are hand in hand, we make a lovely pair.
But when we fight her awful spite is more than I can bear.
[Ian Dury, Pam’s Moods]
 
I guess I should’ve known
By the way you parked your car sideways
That it wouldn’t last
[Prince, Little Red Corvette]
 
Tumble out of bed stumble to the kitchen,
Pour myself a cup of ambition
[Dolly Parton, 9 to 5]
 
I may not always love you
But as long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
[Beach Boys, God Only Knows] one of the most beautiful of songs
 
An old man turned 98…He won the lottery and died the next day
[Alanis Morissette, Ironic]
 
Son I am 30
I only went with your mother cos she’s dirty
[Happy Mondays, Kinky Afro]
 
I never thought it would happen
With me and the girl from Clapham
[squeeze, Up the Junction] a top rhyme
 
Abra Abra Cadabra
I wanna reach out and grab ya
[Steve Miller Band]
 
A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop, A-lop-bam-boom
[Little Richard, Tutti Frutti]
 
I did you wrong my heart went out to play
But in the game I lost you
What a price to pay, hey I’m crying
[Smokey Robinson, Ooh Ooh Baby]
 
Oh, my land is like a wild goose
Wanders all around everywhere
Trembles and it shakes till every tree’s loose
It rolls the meadows and it rolls the nails
[Gram Parsons, A Song for You]
 
Hey Charlie I’m pregnant and living on 9th Street
Right above a dirty bookstore off Euclid Avenue
And I stopped takin dope and I quit drinkin whiskey
And my old man plays the trombone and works out at the track
[Tom Waits, Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis]
 
It’s four in the morning, the end of December
I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better
New York is cold, but I like where I’m living
There’s music on Clinton Street all through the evening.
I hear that you’re building your little house deep in the desert
You’re living for nothing now, I hope you’re keeping some kind of record.
[Leonard Cohen, Famous Blue Raincoat]
 
No regrets Coyote
We just come from such different sets of circumstance
I’m up all night in the studios
And you’re up early on your ranch
You’ll be brushing out a brood mare’s tail
While the sun is ascending
And I’ll just be getting home with my reel to reel
There’s no comprehending
Just how close to the bone and the skin and the eyes
And the lips you can get
And still feel so alone
And still feel related
Like stations in some relay
You’re not a hit and run driver
No no
Racing away
[Joni Mitchell, Coyote]
 
They’ve paved paradise and put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique and a swinging hot spot
[Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi]
 
I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand
Walking through the streets of Soho in the rain
He was looking for the place called Lee Ho Fook’s
Gonna get a big dish of beef chow mein
[Warren Zevon, Werewolves of London]
 
I met her in a club down in old Soho
Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca Cola
C-O-L-A, Cola
[The Kinks, Lola]
 
I’ve been loving you a long time
Down all the years, down all the days
And I’ve cried for all your troubles
Smiled at your funny little ways.
[The Pogues, a Rainy Night in Soho]
 
In Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs
Of every head he’s had the pleasure to know
And the people that come and go
Stop and say hello.
[The Beatles, Penny Lane]
 
When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody’s help in any way,
[The Beatles, Help!]
 
I can feel the earth begin to move
I hear my needle hit the groove
And spiral through another day
I hear my song begin to say
Kiss me where the sun don’t shine
The past was yours
But the future’s mine
You’re all out of time.
[The Stone Roses, She Bangs the Drums]
 
Well you tried it just for once, found it alright for kicks.
But now you’ve found out that it’s a habit that sticks.
[Buzzcocks, Orgasm Addict]
 
I’m a glum one, it’s explainable, I met someone unattainable
[Frank Sinatra, I Can’t Get Started]
 
Someone’s got it in for me they’re planting stories in the press.
[Bob Dylan, Idiot Wind]
 
Bless my cotton socks I’m in the news
[Teardrop Explodes, Reward]
 
Look out, mama, there’s a white boat coming up the river
With a big red beacon, and a flag, and a man on the rail
[Neil Young, Powderfinger]
 
Last week I attended a family affair,
and a few remarked upon my recent growth of facial hair
[Loudon Wainright III, Surviving Twin]
 
Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street
[Joe Jackson, Is she really going out with him?] 
 
Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard
But I say…
Oh Bondage! Up yours!
[X-Ray Spex, Oh Bondage! Up yours!]
 
Some people might say my life is in a rut
But I’m quite happy with what I got
[The Jam, Going Underground]
 
It’s a God-awful small affair
To the girl with the mousy hair
But her mummy is yelling, “No”
And her daddy has told her to go
[David Bowie, Life on Mars?]
 
There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
[Nature Boy]
 
There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying a stairway to Heaven. 
[Led Zeppelin, Stairway to Heaven]
 
If you are the dealer
I’m out of the game
If you are the healer it means
I’m broken and lame
[Leonard Cohen, You Want it Darker]
 
Me and Mrs. Jones
We got a thing, goin’ on
[Billy Paul, Me & Mrs Jones]
 
The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves.
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays.
[Bruce Springsteen, Thunder Road]
 
I’ve got six things on my mind, you’re no longer one of them.
[Paddy McAloon, Desire As]
 
I wish I knew how it would feel to be free
[Nina Simone, I wish I knew how it would feel to be free]
 
Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m a man of wealth and taste.
[Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil]
 
I am an antichrist
[Sex Pistols, Anarchy in the UK]
 
It’s been 7 hours and 15 days
Since you took your love away
[Nothing Compares 2U]
 
Hey ho, let’s go.
[Ramones, Blitzkrieg Bop]
 
It’s been 7 hours and 15 days
Since you took your love away

The hidden beauty of the world

“Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Defence of Poetry and Other Essays

The same is true of street photography and Instagram at its best. And of Art in general.

Shot on my phone on exiting the BBC – both men have ciggie in hand

Coincidences No. 114 & 115

WordPress is telling me I registered with it 14 years ago – digital time flies. To mark the occasion here’s one of those word coincidences we all have. The word is ‘helpmeet’ – “A helpful partner, particularly a spouse.” It comes from the Bible, in the King James’ version: “an helpe meet” for Adam i.e. Eve (Genesis 2:18). So this also marks the occasion of my Silver Wedding Anniversary this week. I always associate “helpmeet” with Eve in the Old Testament.

Now I haven’t thought about the word ‘helpmeet’, or even the more common ‘helpmate’, in many a year. But it cropped up twice today before 8.00am.

I am writing in my Faber & Faber Poetry Diary 2020. Opposite today’s date is a poem by Julia Copus, ‘Lacan Appeals to the Patient’. It has the line:

Beyond the clayey dark your helpmeet is waiting. 

It is clear this particular helpmeet is masculine and I think it refers to the sculptor in the poem which I understand to be the Creator, perhaps God, perhaps some other kind of artist or higher being. The name Adam means ‘red earth’ or perhaps ‘red clay’. It is the substance God moulded the First Man from in the Bible and this poem is about the shaping of “one’s selfhood”.

Started during lockdown, I am now up to page 242 of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Today’s page contains this line:

Helpmeat too, contrasta toga, his fiery goosemother, laotsey taotsey, woman who did, he tell princes of the age about.

To be honest I’m a bit lost in this chapter – it’s about the three children in the story, two brothers (a bit like Cain and Abel from Genesis) and a sister. It has a lot of references to fairy tales and nursery rhymes, hence “fiery goosemother” = fairy godmother meets goosey goosey gander. “laotsey taotsey” may echo ‘goosey goosey’. “Fiery” may relate to the fact that one of the brothers (the one this sentence is about, I think) is associated with the devil. “Helpmeat” will be a deliberate pun/misspelling as that is the nature of the novel. I’m fairly sure it is referencing biblical Eve. Joyce had a strong Eve character in his own life – his wife Nora Barnacle from Galway. What the woman “did” I’m not sure, but it might include eating the forbidden fruit. The man might well find that something to tell princes and others about. 

“laotsey” is a reference to Lao-tse, the ancient Chinese philosopher and central figure in Taoism. The Woman Who Did is a Victorian novel (1895) by Grant Allen. “taotsey” may be related to ‘tutti’ type words i.e. ‘all’. Finnegans Wake is constructed from such layers of meaning and reference. The trick with both Finnegans Wake and Ulysses is not to get too hung up on understanding every word. 

1st (trade) edition, Faber & Faber, London, 1939

My edition of Finnegans Wake is a Penguin Modern Classic. But of course the original publication was by the bold, Modernist Faber & Faber. So that is Coincidence No. 115.

VE Day 75 – The Walk

flags VE day 75th 2020 london

Beginning of my VE day walk – a lone hint of celebration on our street – East Finchley, London N2

st pancras and islington cemetery commonwealth war graves

Coronavirus has stopped normal access to the commonwealth war graves in St Pancras & Islington cemetery

the commonwealth war graves in St Pancras & Islington cemetery

The commonwealth war graves in St Pancras & Islington cemetery earlier in the lockdown (before they closed the cemeteries)

naked lady henlys corner statue war memorial

I’m sitting just beneath Emile Guillaume’s La Délivrance known locally as The Naked Lady – it’s a WW1 memorial but it is opposite the flat where my great-uncle Bruno lived, a concentration camp survivor & refugee from Leipzig Germany, so its WW2 victory for me

children holocaust memorial henlys corner

Flowers for children VE Day 75, Henly’s Corner

clock tower war memorial golders green

The clock tower memorial to WW1 & WW2 at Golders Green with its distinctive blue

keith douglas poetry golders hill

WW2 poetry Keith Douglas in flower garden at Golders Hill – wisteria no hysteria, stiff upper lip

Comment: unicornsalmost

‪This Sunday, on @bbcradio3 : Unicorns, Almost – a play about the life and poetry of Keith Douglas https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000j2bn‬

hampstead war memorial

Hampstead war memorial to both world wars – a few hundred yards from where I was born, overlooking all of London

location Allied brad pitt hampstead

Film location of ‘Allied’ movie with Brad Pitt & Marion Cotillard set during WW2

Film location of 'Allied'

Film location of ‘Allied’

I met a family sitting out on their front steps down the road from here, told them what I was doing and they pointed me to…

nicholas winton s house willow road hampstead

Nicholas Winton saved 669 Jewish children from the Nazis when based in this house in Hampstead

liam gallagher RAF roundel

Liam Gallagher‘s RAF roundel window at his old place in Hampstead

lee miller roland penrose house downshire hill hampstead

Photographer Lee Miller‘s house Hampstead – she photographed WW2 for Vogue magazine including the liberation of Dachau & Hitler’s bathtub in Munich

hampstead heath pond

My dad remembered vividly a doodlebug V1 exploding in the corner of this pond near his childhood home – I never walk by without thinking of him Hampstead Heath, VE day 75

george orwell house hampstead parliament hill

George Orwell‘s house – his wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy worked at the Ministry of Information during WW2 (in the censorship department) in Senate House, University of London & he famously used it as the model for the Ministry of Truth in 1984 – Orwell was in the Home Guard & broadcast for the BBC

ve day walk montage

That’s the VE day 75 walk done – 9 hours, 24,600 steps, good fun

VE Day 75

ve day trafalgar square 8 may 1945

8th May 1945, Trafalgar Square

The current situation of lockdown under threat of a deadly viral enemy is as close to war as my generation has ever come which makes it a most resonant time to celebrate this landmark VE Day, the 75th.

My most memorable VE day to date was one spent in Bangor, Co. Down, N. Ireland when my wife was working on the BBC’s live coverage of the event which involved the lighting of a string of lanterns right round the British coast. To help her manage the day, with a very demanding, experienced and alcoholic director, I looked after one of the main contributors, a charming old fella from Belfast who had survived the Belfast Blitz of 1941. I spent the day hanging out with him, chatting and making sure he felt looked after. He was interviewed in the evening by John Cole.

Today’s VE day I marked with a themed walk, made up last minute, partly on the fly. I came up with the idea while sitting in the garden in the early morning sunshine. By 9am I was on the road. 9 hours and 24,600 steps later I returned home.

VE day walk 8 may 2020

I’ll publish the details of the walk tomorrow – it ranged from photographer Lee Miller’s house to Liam Gallagher’s RAF roundel window, from the location of a Brad Pitt war movie to a tribute to the 1.5 million Jewish children killed in the holocaust.

Half way I stopped to read some of Keith Douglas‘ poetry, a WW2 poet stationed largely in North Africa. He died shortly after D-Day at the age of just 24. The line

but time, time is all I lacked

from the last poem in the volume (a selection by Ted Hughes) seemed to sum up his artistic life. There’s a radio play about him on Radio 3 on Sunday (10th May) at 7.30pm called ‘Unicorns, Almost‘ by Owen Sheers.

I began the day by sharing an unpublished poem by Edmund Blunden entitled ‘V Day’. it’s in the manuscript collection of the Imperial War Museum. It concludes with the line:

 We have come through.

which seems very apposite and inspiring for these strange days.

V day page 1 poem edmund blunden

V day page 2 poem edmund blunden

Edmund-Blunden

Edmund Blunden – a WW1 poet who was still writing in 1945

Keith Douglas poet WW2

Keith Douglas

Hope quote

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul

Emily Dickinson

tree-sparrow

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Between starting this post and writing this last paragraph I was just outside with my neighbours clapping the NHS and frontline workers battling the coronavirus on our behalf. Someone down the street has taken to letting off a firework to mark this weekly occasion. When he fired off his rocket this evening a frightened sparrow flew over my head.

Finishing art works [quotation]

Glen Head Glencolmcille watercolour painting by adam gee

Glen Head, Glencolmcille

When I was on a painting holiday in Glencolmcille, Donegal in the summer I found myself thinking about how do you know when you have finished a work of art? When are you just noodling? It’s a key question for artists in all disciplines.

The French poet Paul Valéry put it well and WH Auden boiled down Valéry’s words to this:

‘A poem is never finished; it is only abandoned.’

Paul_Valéry_french poet -_photo_Henri_Manuel

Paul Valéry – photograph by Henri Manuel

W H Auden English poet

WH Auden

Background on this quotation and its attribution.

I recently heard, in connection with my Art Vandals project, about the occasion when the French Impressionist painter Pierre Bonnard in his later years was arrested in the Louvre with a small palette and brush, retouching one of his paintings. The security guards grabbed him – he was shouting “But I am Bonnard! It’s my painting!” – and they responded “The painting is in the Louvre. It’s finished!”

Memory and the Internet

I’ve just woken up with the phrase ‘Electrical Discount Warehouse’ in my head. I’m fairly sure that was the name of a shop in the parade of shops in the neighbourhood where I grew up. I was trying to recall it at lunchtime yesterday when talking to my mother about that small group of shops and trying to finish reconstructing it with her. It’s always a surprising reminder of the activities of the Unconscious during sleep when you wake up having remembered something you struggled to recall when awake.

So why was I trying to reconstruct the shopping parade from memory? I was driving past it a few days ago (New Year’s Eve) and when I saw the chemist the name Brian Luckhurst sprang to mind, out of nowhere – haven’t thought about it or him for years. Now I write the name down I can begin to see his bald pate and  his person. From that thought, the sudden emergence of his name, came the question: What else was in this parade when I was a child (c.1969-1975)? It’s the kind of memory game people in prison must play. It reminds me of Terry Waite and John McCarthy.

The neighbourhood was called The Green Man after the local pub. One of my first jobs after university was working in that pub. I went in to get a bar job and the manager took one look at my John Lennon glasses and my lily-white hands and said “Accounts”. I enjoyed doing accounts, because unlike with Literature (Modern & Mediaeval Languages = foreign literature), there was an answer. It was therapeutic. By then the name had changed to The Everglades, shifting from English tradition (Robin Hood, forestry) to American exoticness (the Florida swamps – there was an ingredient I saw in the accounts every week, “jalepenos” that matched this exoticism – I was uncertain what on earth they were). I have no idea what the pub or building is called now – it still stands. The ‘race memory’ of the place is captured in the persistence of Green Man as the local name for the junction. There are no signs anywhere that actually say Green Man.

After the internet and advent of the Worldwide Web parochial memories like this by and large tend to get recorded somewhere or other. Before they were much more likely to die away, existing only in stray photos, perhaps local publications, mainly people’s heads. Some of the early films in my career are really hard to find online – my first was in 1987 (as producer-director-writer). Often there is just one artefact to be found – an image or a reference.

Let’s test that one: (“Adam Gee” “The Best” Melrose) [Melrose = production company]…

It draws a total blank, other than where I have recorded it online (i.e. IMDb). I first remember working online in the mid 90s, a couple of years after making The Best.

Of course the efficiency of the search engine(s) is an issue. Thinking about this I remember coming across the film online. It was on a British Film Institute catalogue but it seems to be too deep or the site too poorly constructed to show up in the early pages of search results.

So the memory of the WWW only gets you so far. And there’s still arguably a merit in capturing certain things from in your head and publishing them online. We all know how trivial things can come to have significant meaning in certain contexts.

So for posterity here is what I have managed to reconstruct of The Green Man – from my own memory, with input from my mother and brother, and prompted by those discussions also from my head:

  • Brian Luckhurst chemist – which started the memory ball rolling…
  • Dr Burke’s surgery – 2 Selvage Lane, what I passed to get to the shops
  • The Railway Tavern pub – not really attached to the parade
  • Pet shop on the corner – I can recall the sawdust on the floor, the smell (not unpleasant), and the owner in his grey lab-style coat (Champions? see below)
  • Eric & Mavis newsagent/sweet shop – the other end of that first row of shops, formerly The Penny Shop (sweet shop)
  • Express Dairy outlet – down an alley beyond E&M
  • window shop? glass?
  • Neptune fish & chips shop – over the road, opposite corner; chips were 5p in 1971 at point of decimalisation
  • Post Office – sold singles (ex-juke box), where I bought my first 45: T-Rex, Solid Gold Easy Action
  • Green Grocer – had a delivery boy who rode a heavy black bike, he turned up later in a rockabilly group called The Polecats (who had a modest hit with a rockabilly-punk cover of David Bowie’s John I’m Only Dancing) – his name was something like Bez (real name Martin)
  • plumbers merchants??
  • launderette??
  • Mautners deli
  • Electrical Discount Warehouse – a slightly later arrival my father was attracted to as a physicist who made electrical instruments
  • bookies???
  • butcher? (Lewis?)
  • Martin’s newsagent
  • Women’s hairdresser (Friends???) – end of the Neptune stretch of shops, so the two sides are: Pet Shop-Eric & Mavis, Neptune-hairdresser
  • The Green Man pub – which gave its name to all this
  • Mobil garage

This represents, I would estimate, over 50% of the shop units at The Green Man junction. If I was banged up in a Beirut cell for a few years, I wonder how much more my mind is capable of retrieving?

To conclude this Sunday morning reflection on memory, individual and group recall, and the internet, let’s see what the Web can find visually of these fragments I have retrieved…

One tiny picture of The Green Man pub from a personal collection of pub pictures in the locality (personal local history site)

Green Man pub Hale Lane Edgware

Green Man – Hale Lane, Edgware

A shot of the pet shop part of the parade froma specialist bus site

221_RM1397_HaleLa_NStreet_r green man mill hill

Alan Le???? was a second hairdresser I think. To its left in the image seems to be some kind of office (solicitor? accountant?) – the pet shop is behind the back of this 221 Routemaster bus. The phone number on the office is 0181 so after the expansion of 01 London numbers to 081 to 0181 making this around 1995 so the photo must be misleading in that the bus was vintage at this juncture.

A good picture of the pub from well before my time (must have been rebuilt in the 30s) from a pub wiki

Green Man mill hill hale lane

T. Gill was the publican

Another early photo of the pub from the local authority archives

Green Man pub mill hill hale lane

There seems to have been a garage attached – the Mobil garage ended up on the other side of the pub

A more recent photo of The Green Man building from Tripadvisor labelled “Greenman, Edgware (As it used to be called)”. This iteration is (ugh) The Jolly Badger.

welcome-to-the-jolly badger Green man, Edgware (As it used to be called)

You can see the clapboard fabric of The Green Man building and the Mobil garage (now a different brand).

the green man pub

the green man pub harvester

So, so far, only one image from the era in question – the very first one, small and black & white.

The Everglades Hale Lane NW7 04 1983

Although this one looks old it is labelled 1983 and Everglades, so just before I worked there with the jalapenos.

I just found by chance this reference to the pet shop on a local blog:

4. The Pet shop at The Green Man. I’m sorry to say I can’t recall the name of this. Please leave a comment if you can. I was never allowed to keep pets, but we loved fishing and this was the place I bought my first floats, fishing line and maggots. I had acquired a fishing rod at a local jumble sale, one of the old bamboo style efforts, with a cork handle and rubber bung on the end. It came with a Hardy reel, which I soon found out was a fly fishing model. I traded this for a more suitable coarse fishing model, having restored it to working order. I recently saw a similar model on sale for nearly £200. I think I didn’t get the best of that deal!

Glyn Burns said…
I think the pet shop at the Green Man was called Champions.

5 August 2019 at 05:44

king neptune fish and chips mill hill green man

survives little changed

Bottom line, just the one tiny contemporary photo; establishments that have survived the decades; personal memories.

Here at King Neptune is an apposite place to conclude as it is the Fisher King at the very end of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land who says:

These fragments I have shored against my ruins

As one commentator puts it: “the king will do his best to put in order what remains of his kingdom”. The gathering of fragments. Of memories. Striving for order. Constructing and reconstructing visions and patterns. Setting the lands in order.

I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam uti chelidon—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
                  Shantih     shantih     shantih

All Souls’ Day

Patti Smith 1975 by Robert Mapplethorpe 1946-1989

Patti Smith by Robert Mapplethorpe (1975)

Today is the day the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe was born in 1946. Today is the day the guitarist Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith of the MC5 died, a quarter of a century ago. Today is the day Patti Smith’s grandchild was born. Patti was married to Fred, and was best-friends with Robert.

Coincidences is one of the things I write often about on this blog. It feels like there’s a pattern in the coincidences of these dates. It’s the kind of thing that makes me think of myself as a pantheist.

Two days ago, on All Souls’ Day, I went to see Patti Smith at the Central Hall Westminster aka Methodist Central Hall, a two-thousand seat domed venue near the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey (and Channel 4) which served as venue for a number of key Suffragette events around 1914. It is also the building where the first meeting of the United Nations General Assembly took place (in 1946). Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Churchill have all spoken there.

On Saturday evening Patti Smith spoke about her work and life and read from her new memoir ‘Year of the Monkey’. She also performed six songs with her bandmate Tony Shanahan.

1 Wing

I was a wing in heaven blue
soared over the ocean
soared over Spain
and I was free
needed nobody
it was beautiful
it was beautiful

After the UN General Assembly used the hall on 10th January 1946 with 51 nations attending it repaid the venue by paying for it to be painted light blue – perhaps heaven blue.

The song comes from ‘Gone Again’, Patti’s 6th studio album, which was released in the wake of various losses in her life – Fred, Robert, her brother Todd and her pianist Richard Sohl among them. All Sohl’s Day.

2 Beneath the Southern Cross

Oh
To be
Not anyone
Gone
This maze of being
Skin
Oh
To cry
Not any cry
So mournful that
The dove just laughs
The steadfast gasps

This song is from the same LP – it features Jeff Buckley on backing vocals. Tony Shanahan played bass on the record. ‘Gone Again’ came out in the summer of 1996 – Jeff died in the summer of the following year. All Souls’ Day.

3  My Blakean Year

In my Blakean year
I was so disposed
Toward a mission yet unclear
Advancing pole by pole
Fortune breathed into my ear
Mouthed a simple ode
One road is paved in gold
One road is just a road

I’m not sure which year was Patti’s Blakean one – it might have been 2004. That was the year ‘Trampin’ ‘ came out, her 9th studio album. I am sure that her Year of the Monkey was 2016 – a trying year for many of us – Brexit, Trump, illness in the family, it was one you celebrated reaching the end of. The day after this gig I broke out this T-shirt from 2017 to mark the memory:

2016 survivor tshirt

on the floordrobe

Blake is a big presence in Patti’s life, as he was in Allen Ginsberg’s. I met Patti Smith briefly once not far from Blake’s grave in Bunhill – it was after a concert she gave at St Luke’s church/concert hall in Old Street. We talked about Rimbaud and his time living in London. Rimbaud is another big literary figure in her life. In the wake of the All Souls gig I went for a walk yesterday with the member of my family who had been unwell in 2016 and we passed the house where Rimbaud lived for a couple of months with Verlaine.

verlaine rimbaud camden town plaque

8 Royal College Street, Camden Town

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon coeur
D’une langueur
Monotone.

Chanson d’automne (Paysages tristes – Poèmes saturniens) – Paul Verlaine (1866)

[Autumn song from Sad Landscapes]

4 After The Goldrush by Neil Young

neil young patti smith

Neil & Patti

This song appears on ‘Banga’, Patti’s 11th studio album from 2012. It was co-produced by Patti, Tony Shanahan and others. Both her children with Fred – son Jackson and daughter Jesse – played on it.

Well I dreamed I saw the knights in armor comin’
Sayin’ something about a queen
There were peasants singin’ and drummers drummin’
And the archer split the tree
There was a fanfare blowin’ to the sun
That was floating on the breeze
Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the 1970s
Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the 1970s

A timely anthem for the climate emergency. She changed the lyrics towards the end to:

Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the 21st Century.

5 Because the Night

patti smith bruce springsteen

Patti & Bruce (1977)

This song was co-written by Patti & Bruce Springsteen, fellow New Jerseyites. Patti said at the gig that it is about Fred. It was on ‘Easter’, her 3rd studio album, the first one I bought, after having picked up a single ‘Hey Joe’ / ‘Piss Factory’ out of intrigue at the cover and the B-side title. Inside the ‘Easter’ vinyl sleeve is a photograph of Rimbaud, a First Communion portrait with his father Frédéric.

Take me now, baby, here as I am
Pull me close, try and understand
Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe
Love is a banquet on which we feed

Come on now try and understand
The way I feel when I’m in your hands
Take my hand come undercover
They can’t hurt you now
Can’t hurt you now, can’t hurt you now

6 Pissing in the River

patti smith hey joe piss factory single record cover

1974 debut single

Two years after her debut single (Piss Factory) came another piss song (Pissing in a River).

Pissing in a river, watching it rise
Tattoo fingers shy away from me
Voices voices mesmerize
Voices voices beckoning sea
Come come come come back come back
Come back come back come back

It appeared on her second studio LP, 1976’s ‘Radio Ethiopia’, which followed her ground-breaking, landmark debut ‘Horses’. ‘Horses’ features a classic photo by Mapplethorpe on the cover:

horses-cover_patti smith

1975 debut LP

Patti got most into her stride performing this song, which is perfect for All Souls’ Day

Come come come come back come back
Come back come back come back

She spoke most movingly about working with her friend Sam Shepherd on his final publication. He passed on in 2016. As did her friend record producer Sandy Pearlman who produced Blue Oyster Cult and The Clash’s ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’ among others. I remember walking through the snow on New Year’s Day down to Loppylugs in Edgware to buy that record in the days when you had a delicious wait for things.

I always associate in my head BOC’s ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ and ‘Because the Night’ – I’ve no idea why, they were released two years apart (1976 and 1978). Patti didn’t talk about Pearlman although he was one of the key losses behind ‘Year of the Monkey’. But she spoke at length about Shepherd and made it clear that he didn’t really fear the reaper – he got to the end of his book with Patti’s help – he could no longer hold a pen or type on a keyboard, or play his Gibson in the corner of the room where they worked together on his Kentucky ranch – so she had to capture his voice and ten days after finishing he went to the big farm in the sky. One thing that really struck me about what she recounted about Sam was that they had written together back in the early days in New York so it was familiar to do it again at the end of his time in Kentucky. They had always been able to write side by side on their own things, alone and together at the same time. I love being alone but together – for example, in the house when all the family are sleeping like this weekend just passed, all souls as one.

patti smith at central hall westminster 2 nov 2019

Soul music: Patti & Tony at Central Hall

 

Join Hands 11.11.1918-11.11.2018

In 1979 I went to see Siouxsie & The Banshees playing at Hammersmith Odeon – it remains one of the best gigs of my life. Just before the tour half the band had gone AWOL so new musicians had to be drafted in including Budgie on drums (formerly the token man in The Slits, one of my favourite drummers – Stewart Copeland considers him one of the most interesting drummers for his “very economical and offbeat” playing, that offbeat being what I most like about him) and John McGeoch on guitar (formerly of Magazine). That tour marked the release of the LP ‘Join Hands’. The hands joining are those of four bronze WW1 Tommies on the war memorial between Horseguards Parade and St James’s Park (the Guards Memorial) – I passed it regularly when I was working at Channel 4 and it always brought me back to that music and excitement. The LP opens with the tolling bells of a 2-minute track called Poppy Day.

In the same way that Punk (especially The Clash) introduced me to reggae, through this track it introduced me to the First World War poetry of John McCrae, a typical example of the less known poets who emerged in the Great War, the one-hit wonders and offbeats. McCrae was a high-ranking Canadian army doctor serving on the Western front. In Poppy Day the resonant bells give way to the distinctive driving guitar wailing of The Banshees and then just a few short lines, delivered in a distorted Siouxsie voice:

In Flanders fields
The poppies grow
Between the crosses
Row on row
That mark our place
We are the dead…

I don’t think McCrae is credited for the lyrics which are very close to the opening of his In Flanders Fields, in fact every word is derived from the poem:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Siouxsie & The Banshees filtered out the patriotic and the warmongering/cheerleading to open their record with the zombie or heroic or haunting dead, we don’t know which. What we do know, two years after the Silver Jubilee and the Pistols’ God Save the Queen (the Fascist regime), with rubbish piling up in the streets of strike-bound London, is that these dead were neither glorious nor patriotic in the establishment way.

The band were inspired not only by the chaos and crapitude of the late 70s Home Front but also by conflict witnessed on their suburban Kent TVs, particularly in Iran. (Plus ça change).

siouxsie and the banshees join hands vinyl record album LP cover design

Siouxsie_and_the_banshees_Join_Hands_war guards memorial

The LP cover was extracted from this shot – L to R Steve Severin (bass), John McKay (guitar), Siouxsie Sioux (vocals), Kenny Morris (drums) – before McKay and Morris went AWOL

Banshee stalwart, bassist Steven Severin in the wake of watching the two minutes of silence in memory of the war dead on TV on Sunday 12th November 1978 explained about Poppy Day: “We wanted to write a song that would fittingly fill that gap”. On the inner sleeve of the record (which sits still in the room just below me, alongside its vinyl sisters The Scream, Kaleidoscope, Juju and A Kiss in the Dreamhouse) beside the lyrics of the song is specified (with echoes of John Cage): “2 minutes of silence”.

So here we are on Sunday 11th November 2018, 40 years after Severin watched that broadcast, 100 years after the world watched that bloodbath, that futile wiping out of a generation, and we are still all struggling to join hands. The irony of The Banshees brooding in the studio while recording this masterpiece of an LP and splitting up in its aftermath is as nothing to the irony that we mark this centenary at a time when the world’s international institutions are being deliberately dismantled, Europe re-fracturing and the zombie voices of patriotism, nationalism and fascism wailing more discordantly than John McKay’s guitar. We are the Dead. We are turning in our graves row on row between the poppies.

siouxsie and the banshees paris 1980

Reinforcements arrive: L to R John McGeoch (guitar), Budgie (drums), Siouxsie & Steve – Paris (1980) where 70 world leaders are arriving this morning to mark the centenary of the Armistice including Macron (accordion), Merkel (tuba), Trump (mouth organ) and Putin (triangle)

 

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