Pogues. For St Pat’s Day

Pogues, for St Patrick’s Day.  As I may have written in the past, I don’t have a drop of Irish ancestry, but there’s sometthing which stirs the blood in this tune.

It’s a song shot through with emotion about the Irish diaspora, fleeing both poverty and a theocratic culture.

The mix of grief and rage is something the Irish do well, for good as well as bad reasons.

This is a live version – a bit rough (c’mon, its the Pogues), with Joe Strummer and Kirstie McColl.

And you can hear Jack say.. MOAR COWBELL

…or rather, ‘Sweet Jane’.

Many, many bands have covered this song. it’s a great warm-up number and I have vague memories of seeing Hello Sailor use it as a set opener back sometimes during one of their mid-80s incarnations.

It’s got a chugging basicness, a riff which kind of pulls you in.

I’ve always loved the Mott the Hoople version. I think it’s my favourite one, although the Cowboy Junkies and Lone Justice run it close.

Not to mention, of course, the original, on Lou Reed’s final album with the Velvet Underground.

Mott the Hoople’s big hit, All the Young Dudes, was written by David Bowie, and he produced them in 1972.

This demo track seems to have been a warmup number in the studio, that year, and they are backing the man who actually wrote Sweet Jane, Lou Reed.

The recording quality is a bit fuzzy but you can hear the zest and verve in the playing.

Listening to Old Voices with a new year

John Hiatt.  One of his greatest.  A mix of Christian and pagan imagery, and at its core a simple, unspectacular faith in redemption.

‘It’s a new place, but you’ve always been here- you’re just listening to old voices with a new ear’

Listening To Old Voices

They have come to haunt the children
They have come to walk the wind
I can hear them as they rustle through the trees
Looking for the love that killed them
So that they might live again
It’s a simple prayer that brings me to my knees

With drums and bells and rattles
They have caught us in our time
To watch the eagle rise up from the fire
Now is it true we are possessed
By all the ones we leave behind
Or is it by their lives we are inspired?

[Chorus:]
It’s a new light, new day
Listening for new meaning, learning how to say
It’s a new place, but you’ve always been here
You’re just listening to old voices with a new ear

It’s the livin’ and the dyin’
Well it scares the young ones so
They can hardly catch their breath before too long
They see the tears we’re crying
And they watch the river flow
And they follow on the banks until it’s gone

I surrender to the mountains
I surrender to the sea
I surrender to the one who calls my name
I surrender to my lover and to my enemy
I surrender to the face that holds no shame
There’s a spider at my window
And she spins a web of truth
More beautiful than all those memories
And she surely is God’s artist
As she’s caught the morning dew
It’s a simple prayer that brings me to my knees

Thoughts on the week, from elsewhere….

 

‘ The essay form is a tricky one to handle. It is not as though you have a story to tell. Anyone will listen to a story. What you are doing is just grabbing the reader by the slack of his coat and babbling to him, and all the time his probably dying to get away and go about his business.’

PG Wodehouse

That’s from the introduction to  a collection of Wodehouse’s more obscure articles initially written for magazines.  Picked up the collection ‘Louder and Funnier’   a few months back and dipping into it late at night  the past  couple of weeks.

It’s good to have a chuckle at Wodehouse’s  essentially good-natured but still quite acute wit before pulling the shades down and attempting eight hours of the restorative.

Someone else pointed out once – oh, go and have a look on the Googe for it, it’s bound to be online somewhere – that Woodhouse’s  writings inhabit a prelapsarian world.

That exaggerates things a little bit,  but not much. If there is a snake in this garden of Eden, it is either an aunt or an income tax inspector.

If there is a snake in this garden of Eden, it is either an aunt or an income tax inspector.

To the more fallen, real  world:  the election of Donald Trump.

Is he a Hitler on the rise?  that analogy  has been used so often, since the 1940s,  about every political leader the speaker or writer does not like,  it is now meaningless.

Actually, that is not quite true: it usually means the person making the claim is intellectually bereft of argument.

Back in the days, pre-internet, pre-Godwin’s Rule,  there was an informal rule amongst adjudicators in Auckland University’s Debating Society that any debater who compared opponents’ case to Nazi Germany/Hitler automatically lsot 10 points.

Is he a Berlusconi with nukes?  Maybe.

There is a clatter and a howl, a maelstrom of reaction to Trump’s election, and much of it seems to insist on only one overriding reason for his win.

It’s the sexism!

No, it’s the smug liberaliness!

It’s the poverty!

It’s the bloody media!

It’s that if Trump was a bad candidate, Hillary was worse!

It’s the FBI director!

It’s the Brexit!

It’s chemtrails!

The thing is, this US  election trashes so many previous presumptions  about what is supposed to work in politics, and is driven by many many factors –  probably almost all of the above (and I might even be willing to considering chemtrails before dismissing them completely out of hand)  that any instant wisdom doesn’t seem particularly wise.

Any one of the dozen or so scandals, gaffes, call them what you will, involving Donald Trump would have sunk any previous candidate, let alone all of those events together.

But they made him stronger.  Working out why  is going to take some time. Because it seems a candidate whose lack of almost any characteristic of human decency gathered momentum the more people saw of that side.

And really, we don’t really know what this guy is going to do because  it doesn’t seem as though he believed a lot of what he was saying himself.

I think we can only conclude two things for certain right now: one is his election upends so many previous presumptions about how politics works that a major re-think is needed.

The second, about Trump himself, is that he represents primarily an exaltation of power and celebrity that is highly unhealthy and dangerous in any democracy, let alone the world’s largest one.

This isn’t even about ‘left’ or ‘right’ – well, its not for me, anyway. I distrust untrammeled power, and even more, I distrust the worship of power, irrespective of who is wielding it.

I keep thinking of Ulysses’ great speech in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida

Then every thing includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite;
And appetite, an universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce an universal prey,
And last eat up himself.

Finally, the death of Leonard Cohen. Not a huge fan, but so many folk whose insight and taste I respect are fans I have to pause and note the event.

A particularly good piece comes from my good friend David Cohen, who has a lovely appreciation on Radio New Zealand site here.

I was struck, when reading Aussie singer-songwriter Paul Kelly’s autobiography a few years back (reviewed here, btw) how much Kelly revered Cohen.

Kelly toured with Cohen, opening for the older singer, and although himself far too old for hero-worship sounds almost awestruck by Cohen’s approach.  and Kelly’s observations of the older singer, when opening for him on a tour.

Kelly marveled at Cohen’s attention to detail – attention paid not just for its own sake, but because it was an essential means for paying  respect to the people who came to see and hear him.

‘At the age of 74, at an age when some performers are merely phoning it in, he attended every sound check, which lasted usually between an hour in 90 minutes, and then backed it up each night with an intense three hour show.

Leonard’s performance was studied, gestural. …The devotion coming at him from the audience, the release of the pent-up hunger created by the years of absence, were matched, and more, by his devotion in turn to them. He served his audience sacramentally, given proper weight to his words and actions as he offered up his song prayers, everything in due order like stations of the cross. You know he meant it when he says, “Thank-you for keeping my songs alive”. He was paying everyone battle for, and respect.

I watched him and thought, that’s a way to be, that’s a way to act, there is a road to travel.

To walk in gravity and lightness, to be serious but not take yourself seriously, to pay attention, to know that you shall reap what you sow.’

I have added emphasis on that last sentence. It applies to us all, in any walk of life. It is precisely the opposite of a worship of power, or of any of the lazy and damaging abstractions which lead to abuse of our own strengths in our own daily lives.

It is an observation is founded in respect, mutual and deep, and an essential generosity of spirit.

Bob Dylan – the Nobel of Rhymney

Bob Dylan gets a Nobel. For literature, just in case you were thinking it’s for economics or anything.

Hmm.

I’m in the rather large camp which believes St Zimmy’s songs were best done by other people. I don’t like his singing much – his style, especially in his better-known songs from the ’60s, is very sneering, very off-putting.

And like others, I’m sure, I’ve heard too many bad buskers hooting ‘how does it FEEL???’ too many times not to feel a certain weariness.

I’ve only ever owned one Dylan album – Blood on the Tracks, which became the soundtrack for one of the numerous, not particularly happy, road trips I did around the North Island back in the ’80s.

It is, to be fair, pretty good, and ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ is one of the great ‘Track One, Side One’ songs of all time.

More recently, I downloaded a few of the mono mixes of some of his famous songs from the mid-60s.

Yeah, they’re good. But Dylan is a bit like the Beatles. We’ve been saturated in adulation for the “genius” of these “icons” for so long the colour and flavour has kind of leached out of them. It’s kind of difficult to tell if they’re really that good any more. Besides, I’m of an age group that grew up after they were already towering eminences, great cultural gods. The urge to lay about these icons with a hammer is never far away – or at least, to point out these Emperors might not have been naked but they did have many of the less personally admirable aspects of emperors down the ages.

And the Nobel? For literature? Dylan’s influence is huge but it’s musical rather than literary. It doesn’t feel right, somehow.

Dylan himself once said the band who did his songs best was Manfred Mann. The Dylan Disciples – of whom there are many- have always maintained this was one of the Bobsters’s great jokes.

Good one.

And finally: William Shatner does Mr Tamborine Man. As only Bill S & his singing hairpiece can.

‘Shouting out across an empty station…’ Don Walker, Jimmy Barnes, and Cold Chisel

Shots by Don Walker (Penguin) 2010
 Well some of us are driven to ambition
Some of us are trapped behind the wheel
Some of us will break away,
Build a marble yesterday
And live for every moment we can steal
Conversations, 
Conversations
Shouting out across an empty station...

‘Conversations’,   the opening track of Cold Chisel’s second album, Breakfast at Sweethearts, is the sort of song which critics call ‘full tilt’, but it isn’t so much full-tilt as almost overbalancing itself with its own speed. Fast and frantic, it captures the band’s own desperate ambition.

Not so long back, interviewing the man who wrote it and most of Cold Chisel’s songs, keyboard player Don Walker, Kim Hill suggested that people had a lot of fun to his songs, but they’re mostly quite sad songs.

Walker sounded somewhat nonplussed.

“I might have to go and have a look at meself”, was his response.

Difficult to tell if he was being serious. He sounded serious, certainly, but Walker has that dry Aussie humour which can be taking the piss when it is sounding most serious.

It is a brand of humour which often serves as a guard, especially when confronted with that kind of sharp personal insight Hill delivered during the exchange.

I found myself recalling that interview as Hill interviewed Jimmy Barnes, the lead singer of that band, Cold Chisel, last weekend.

Barnes’ memoir has just come out and it’s a lot about surviving what was basically an abusive childhood and adult alcoholism.

Barnes writes in that autobiography that despite their very different backgrounds, that it was as if Walker had read his mail.

Walker wrote most of Chisel’s songs, and I’ve thought for a long time that those songs – certainly his most famous ones, the ones he did with Cold Chisel, are about having a good time while you’re having a lousy time.

Back when they were in their heyday, I can remember having one of those intense conversations about music which you often have at that age, and distinguishing between the two big Aussie bands of the day, Australian Crawl and Cold Chisel.

Aussie Crawl were about pure hedonism, having a good time: Cold Chisel was about having a good time even though you’re having a lousy time, I vaguely remember proclaiming, probably while waving my arms around and just before falling off my chair.

This is kind of a definition of soul music (the having a good time while having a bad time thing, I mean: not so much the waving arms around/falling off chair thing), I think: if you listen to classic soul, by which I mostly mean the Stax-Volt Memphis brand but also the best Motown stuff, it is about dancing while feeling lousy about your life.

There’s a whole lot of socio-economic and political reasons for that aspect of soul music, most of which should be fairly obvious to anyone with who knows a bit about history and retains a bit of empathy.

It applies, perhaps less politically than in the music made by American blacks,  to other rock music: the Who’s Pete Townshend, when his band was trying to pretend to be Mods, suggested the Mod ethos not so much about solving young people’s problems as allowing them to dance all over those problems. (although dancing to the Who’s music, is, I think, a bit problematic).

Walker’s memoir, ‘Shots’ only seldom alludes to influences such as this. His own early influences were jazz and country, while Cold Chisel has been more associated with pub/hard rock.

That said, there are enough jazz and country, as well as blues, influences, on Chisel, especially their earlier work.

This number – which closed their first album – shows singer Jimmy Barnes wasn’t just a shrieker: it is a song of summer regret and has a torch-like, almost jazzy flavour:

Lovers see the world through an old red wine

All the sounds of the blues, well

They just disappear

With a light like yours beside me

It’s been an old, old, red wine year.’

Soul, definitely: Chisel’s second vocalist, guitar player Ian Moss, consciously modelled his singing style on Sam Cooke and although Moss isn’t as good as that (unless your name is Al Green or Aretha Franklin or Ray Charles you’re not even gonna come in the same league) you can hear the influence. (Moss used to sing Charles’ ‘Georgia’ at Chisel concerts and he carries it off respectably).

Walker’s ‘Shots’ is, as he has said himself, not so much a memoir as a highly impressionistic travelogue of his time before and after, as well as during, Cold Chisel’s heyday from 1978-93.

It reaches a climax, and a crisis, at the time Chisel release their breakthrough album, East. The opening track from that, like ‘Conversations’ has a desperate headlong rush to it, especially when played live.

Lyrically,  ‘Standing on the Outside’  is more linear than ‘Conversations’ – it has a similar mood to the earlier track and both were used to open concerts, but it tells a story as well. This live clip is from their final concert, and it shows them going out at their peak.

They’re playing their hearts, and guts, out here:

 

‘I wonder if other lives have a fulcrum, a few days or weeks that gather everything from decades before and fire it though into a trajectory pre-drawn for decades after…’

 

Walker ponders in ‘Shots’, referring to this period.

Just after East was recorded, and just before it was released, two friends of the band were killed in a road accident: one knocked out when it went into a tree and the other, conscious but struggling and insisting they get his mate out first when the vehicle caught fire and they both died.

‘Why that should have been the end of anything I do not know, maybe it just coincided with other things, but the end it was’, Walker wrote, years later, in the notes to the ‘Teenage Love” album. The final couple of years – including that farewell concert, the opening of which is that above clip, was, he wrote, a ‘long slow ugly vicious death… like clubbing a dearly beloved while they cling to your leg.’

It is a strange, jaundiced and in some ways odd read. Walker has a rare gift for a phrase: ‘someone whose dreams have strangled their common sense…’ he describes the funder of a concert in some bush backwater; ‘like trying to fuck through a tennis racquet’ sums up a particularly bad gig; young female concertgoers from the posh Victorian squattocracy, ‘rich girls who want to play out their hatred of any plans at all from anywhere up the ancestral chain’; or, visiting old haunts, ‘It’s like visiting your baby playground after you’ve sold your soul’.

There’s a cynicism, perhaps – a lyrical cynicism, certainly, but cynicism it is. Is Walker trying too hard here, perhaps? There’s what seems to be a deliberate, emotional guardedness, something which comes through in that response to Kim Hill’s question.

There’s a bizarre traveling the Aussie outback fantasy involving escaped Laundromat washing machines going rogue, roaming the badlands,  breeding and ‘sometimes ending a decoy out on the highway in ambush, if you stop they kidnap you off  and just wash the fuck out of you…’

The book is a neat, if offbeat, read. He comes at his subject – that subject being his own life, mostly – obliquely and from a skew-whiff angle. There’s a longer interview with him on ABC Radio here…

 

 

 

 

So gloriously different: Do Not Adjust Your Set

Scene: A field. An unmistakable historic figure from 200 years ago stands, alone and glowering, in his French uniform, his arm tucked in characteristic pose. 

A stentorian voiceover demands, rhetorically: ‘Why did Napoleon keep his hand inside his waistcoat?’

Napoleon pulls his hand out. His trousers fall down. 

This was one of the earliest things I can remember laughing like a drain at for several hours afterwards.  It is stuck in my mind for that reason and also because it was the first time I realised how you pronounced ‘Napoleon’. 

 I had read the word – probably in Look and Learn magazines –  but had no idea how to pronounce it.

Napoleon was, I think, played by either David Jason or Terry Jones.  The sketch  was from  Do Not Adjust Your Set, a tv series made in Britain in the late 1960s by several people who went on to form of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

It is best described as a kind of children’s version of Monty Python, although it pre-dates that series.

It was shown in New Zealand in the early 1970s –  I think 1972.

And I loved it.  The combination of eccentricity,  humour,  and historical references like the one above was just magical.

It was just so gloriously different. 

It’s been on my mind at the moment because I threw together an iTunes music playlist for a road trip last month labelled “Brits” which included the obvious ones such as the Kinks and Madness and Ian Dury and the Jam and the Smiths…and then, for light relief, the Bonzos.

Vivian Stanshall was…well, an alcoholic nutter, and probably rather awkward to be around. A brilliant eccentric, though.

The Bonzos only had one hit – I’m the Urban Spaceman – and the B side was this lovely piece.

I first heard this on a jukebox in an Auckland cafe, sometime in the mid-eighties, and lay on the floor under the table laughing uncontrollably.