Saturday, 27 June 2009

40. 10 Smoking Songs

Cigarettes and Coffee - Otis Redding
Smoke Detector - Rilo Kiley
Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk - Rufus Wainwright
Cigarettes, Wedding Bands - Band of Horses
Cigarette Sandwich - Scud Mountain Boys
Smokin' - Super Furry Animals
A Life Less Ordinary - Ash
Been Smokin' Too Long - Nick Drake
Last Cigarette - Ed Harcourt
Hymn to the Cigarettes - Hefner

I stopped smoking a few months ago [woo!]. For about the 90th time, but I think that should be the last time. I've stopped for long periods before, twice for almost two year, another time for one year. In fact, I smoked for less of my 20s than I didn't, I'd think, but it still casts a large cloud. How stupid does one have to be in this day of age to smoke more than the occasional cigarette beyond the age of around 22?
Well, not that stupid, it is a very smart, subtle beast, as many of us know. The trick is, if you think you've nailed it, there may yet be some occasion where you think one cigarette might slightly enhance the pleasure you have on one particular evening, and until you're over that thought, there's a good chance you still will.
And also, it's the iconography. The fact censors are much sharper on not letting people smoke on screen these days really does make a big difference, becasue I promise you, if you've just given up smoking and you're trying not to, the image of seeing Paul Newman or Marlon Brando timelessly enjoying a smoke is pretty hard to resist (the knowledge that Paul Newman died of lung cancer should counteract that somewhat of course).
Anyway, that's a good collection of songs up there, I particularly like the Hefner one - it's about all I know by them, but let's hope there are no more hymns to the cigarettes, apart from this one...

Each cigarette was
every fifty six minutes
a four minute prayer

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

39. 11 Cricket Songs

This isn't one I'd recommend downloading many of the songs from ...

When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease - Roy Harper
Dreadlock Holiday - 10 CC
N-N-Nineteen Not Out - The Commentators
Howzat - Sherbet
Jiggery Pokery - The Duckworth Lewis Method
Soul Limbo - Booker T and the MGs
Cricket, Lovely Cricket - Lord Beginner
You're Never Gone - Mark Butcher
You're the One for Me - Brett Lee and Asha Bhosle
Mr Carbohydrate - Manic Street Preachers
All Over the World - Dave Stewart
Marvellous - The Twelfth Man

Soon, there will be no need for a compilation like this, as The Duckworth Lewis Method are this month releasing their very own concept album all about cricket. Sounds awful, doesn't it, except it's Neil Hannon, so could well be somewhat awesome.
As for the rest, there is awfulness and funny stories mainly, though the Roy Harper song is pretty good, and Soul Limbo is just the old BBC theme to the cricket. The Mark Butcher song is a tribute to his former team-mate Ben Hollioake, who died in 2002 (and I can't fail to mention I once got out ... after he'd hit me for two sixes), Cricket, Lovely Cricket is a pretty famous song in the West Indies, written as a victory calypso after they came to England and won for the first time with the great spinners Ramadhin and Valentine. The Brett Lee song was a big hit in India and South Africa and Asha Bhosle is Asha of A Brimful of Asha. The Manics song makes reference to a Glamorgan player called Matthew Maynard, The Twelfth Man is an Australian comedy tape we used to think was hilarious when we were younger, but the funniest one is the Dave Stewart song, which was the theme to the 1999 cricket World Cup, was released the day England were knocked out of the tournament and apparently sold less than 100 copies. I haven't heard it. Might be good. Might not.

I love cricket. This is well known. I've always loved cricket. I could go on about it forever. I could sit here and write about cricket till this computer's run out of memory. I won't. In brief -I own every Wisden Cricketer's Almanack since 1984 and every Wisden Cricket Monthly since August 1984 (apart from September 1984 - the obsession must have been slow to germinate in this six-year old). 1984 is significant. It's the first year I was aware of a year having a name, the first year of putting time in context, and the reason I knew it was 1984 was because it was the West Indies' 1984 Tour of England, and they were playing left-handed captain David Gower's England, and they had Viv Richards, who my brother told me was the best batsman in the world and Malcolm Marshall, who my brother told me was the best bowler in the world.
He was right about both. That West Indies team - Greenidge, Haynes, Gomes, Richards, Lloyd, Dujon, Harper, Baptiste, Marshall, Holding, Garner, with Milton Small and Winston Davis playing one test each (I didn't have to look that up) crushed England 5-0 and is a fair contender for the greatest cricket team ever.
Their violent glory (several England players were struck severe blows to the head by their famous quartet of quicks), their maroon headwear, the BBC Graphics - all imprinted on my mind.
They called it the summer of Blackwash. I didn't get the pun at the time. As a consequence of all this, I've always had a particular feeling for West Indies cricket. The greatest cricket book of all time is 'Beyond a Boundary' by Trinidadian academic CLR James, about the rise of West Indian cricket and it's role in West Indian self-determination. It's most famous quote is "What knows he of cricket who only cricket knows" - for sure, and vice versa.
So, about cricket, I have two little verses. The first is about my own little memories of the nepotistic world of the Middlesex Colts Cricket Leagues, when we played our own after-school Twenty20 (though it wasn't called Twenty20 then, just plain cricket) starting at 6 without the aid of floodlights, and my dad wasn't there coaching or umpiring and making sure i opened the batting and bowling and wasn't out unless all three stumps were knocked out - I seemed almost unique in that regard

Under daylight reluctantly fading
Small boundaries seemed so easy to cross,
time to grab a chance rarely offered
by coaches and umpires and fathers and fans.
I still remember "the word is, young man,
hit out or get out" -the opening shuts.
The purest manifestation of evil
I heard in those days of bullies and cheats.

And this is my shockingly gauche attempt to get to grips with some of the issues detailed above
Blackwash came from before I knew what
Black was, that was before I knew what Empire
was, though I read 'Our Empire Story'
written by some tory, before i knew what
a tory was, before he knew what it was
to be a tory in our empire story; no, I
didn't know the entire storywhen I blanched
at Blackwash;
Viv chomped on his cigar, before I knew about
tobacco, before I loved Curtley and Maco,
didn't know much about Walter Raleigh,
hadn't heard the one about the batsman Willey,
the bowler Holding, didn't know just what was
Obscured by the Blackwash.
Lara kissed the ground before Garry, and I
should have grasped the weight of the pull,
the scale of the drive, the backlift
from heaven, the three the seven,
the five ... the five
In Antigua, St Kitts, Guyana, Grenada,
Barbados, Tobago, Trinidad, Jamaica,
isn't it great to be alive?

on second thoughts, i quite like that, the words tumble out excitedly. I wrote it before I went to play cricket in Barbados, when I bowled at Desmond Haynes, he was dropped twice off me, then drove me to hospital when I got a cricket ball smack in the eye. Aah, the circle of life ...

NB I almost forgot this - this is the reason I did this post. I remember it from Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing which I saw recently, and thought it was rather tremendous

HENRY: Shut up and listen. This thing here, which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dancefloor. It's for hitting cricket balls with. If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you've done is give it a knock like you're knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly [CLUCK].
What we're trying to do is write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock, it might ... travel [CLUCK, picks up script].
Now what we've got here is a lump of wood of roughly the same shape trying to be a cricket bat, and if you hit a ball with it, the ball will travel about 10 feet and you'll drop the bat and dance about shouting "OUCH!" with your hands stuck into your armpits.
This isn't better because there's a conspiracy by the MCC to keep cudgels out of the Lord's. It's better because it's better. You don't believe me, so i suggest you go out to bat with this and see how you get on.
"You're a strange boy, Billy, how old are you?"
"20, but i've lived more than you'll ever live."
Ooh, ouch!

One of the best arguments for good stuff being better than bad stuff you'll ever hear. Also quite shaming. Best i've ever managed is one of those Gunn and Moore Scoremasters which cost £15 and hid at the bottom of the school kitbag for kids who didn't like cricket enough to own their own bat. Every time you hit a ball hard with it you thought it might break ...

Sunday, 21 June 2009

38. 10 Songs about Saints

It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City - Bruce Springsteen
Saint Simon - The Shins
Santa Maria de la Feira - Devendra Banhart
Saints and Sinners - Paddy Casey
Hang on St Christopher - Tom Waits
St Andrew (the battle is in the air) - White Stripes
The Spirit of Giving - The New Pornographers
I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine - Bob Dylan
Girl in the War - Josh Ritter
St Patrick - James Yorkston

I don't have too much to say about saints that is new and interesting. There are some great and gory tales of saints and martyrs which fill up the middle ages, a pretty large number of saints who really had nothing saintly about them at all. I know that to some people their Saint's Day is as important as their birthday. I was educated at three saintly institutions, so i suppose Benedict, Paul and Andrew are of particular interest to me. Benedict was a real and interesting character, other good ones are Dunstan, Augustine, Columba. Last night, I was told by an RE teacher that St John Bosco is a really good one from fairly recent times.
These days, as in the movie 'A Guide to Recognising Your Saints', we more think of saints in a secular sense as guardian angels, and of course we think of patient people being saints, which is a bit nonsensical really.
There are couple of my favourite songs in the list, particularly St Patrick and St Simon. St Patrick is, to me, a magical song from start to finish.
Sorry, I'm being very incoherent. I've got a cold and I'm so hungover I can barely think...
the starting point for the words below was Nick Cave actually, an appropriately biblical kind of singer, and it was written while watching a Leonard Cohen concert on TV - his work is similarly rich in religiosity. But it was helpful to hear how daft a lot of Leonard Cohen's rhymes were, so that's kind of what I went for ...

You're telling me about your latest greatest
who's passed and passed the repeat play test
the one you'll be dancing your wedding dance to,
my bare raised eyebrow marks the changes
in the chapter headings of your back pages
you'd be wise again to turn a fleeting glance to

Though I've nothing but admiration for
the heats of your grand fixations or
your constant wish to spit in the face of cliche
you must accept these praising cycles
this carousel of passing icons
often end up in prolonged auctions on ebay

This age gives breadth to every church -
each porcelain god left in the lurch
must cope with being the saviour that he ain't
If pride allows, it pays to be willing,
at best, to humbly share the billing -
we all need far more than just one patron saint

With eyebrows and lips arched and pursed
and due respect to March the First
I ask my lowly offerings to be shared
by all who've ever felt my awe,
these prophets I have knelt before,
all saints ever subjected to my prayers

So, friend, don't consign with such haste
each fallen god to wanton waste,
don't knock them down like suspects in Guess Who?
for flavour fades but may return,
a beloved saint you casually spurn
may yet be needed, one day, to bless you.

Friday, 12 June 2009

37. 10 Songs for the Coming and Going of a Golden Age

Things Can Only Get Better - D:Ream
As Good As it Gets - Gene
Waving Flags - British Sea Power
Time for Heroes - The Libertines
I Get Along - Pet Shop Boys
Harrowdown Hill - Thom Yorke or Death of a Scientist - Mull Historical Society
Shoot the Dog - George Michael
Kingdom of Doom - The Good, the Bad and the Queen
Snowball - Elbow
Cunts are Still Running the World - Jarvis Cocker
You Are the Generation that Bought More Shoes and you get what you Deserve - Johnny Boy

Ooh, a bit political ... but not really. It's more an attempt to present songs of the Blair Years as a kind of storyboard.
It's quite a narrow framework; in other tapes, there'll be a broader take on protest songs, and obviously there's a lot more anti (and pro, don't doubt it) Bush stuff than Tony Blair stuff. Furthermore, British "political" or protest music of the last years has been pretty grim - the George Michael song being a case in point. But I don't think this is a terrible collection, there are various aspects covered from anti-globalisation riots (Libertines) to immigration (British Sea Power) to David Kelly (Thom Yorke) to Peter Mandelson (Pet Shop Boys) and the tremendously prescient song by Johnny Boy.
So, I'll try to avoid speaking politically now, that would be terribly gauche - all i'll say is how I seem to be perenially and increasingly out of step with the general view, I wonder if I'm a contrarian above all, though I hope not, I just think most people get most things wrong, so I coincidentally find myself disagreeing ...
Furthermore, I've used "apologist" quite often as a term of accusation recently - while I rather think that's what I've become for certain things as well. It's very hard, if you've got an intrinsic leaning, to unpick all the goods and bads of it, to not subconsciously toe a party line, whatever the party is, or even if you don't think there is a party.

I claim some small degree of prescience myself with this, as it was written more than two years ago, when subprime was a word all but the most devoted readers of the FT (hello, Mr Key) were yet to hear, when everything did still, basically, appear to be fine and dandy ...

You see, it was the strangest year,
my boy, to be alive, since
Summer'd played its card by May
and winter scarce evinced
those memories (to tell to doubting
offspring, perhaps, decades hence) -
hunched shoulders and shrivelled brains -
the chill, the freeze, passed, tense.

You see, it was a glorious chance,
my boy, to be set loose, where
London's louche lads turning blue
had ill-earned lucre, spare
for idling dressed as teambuilding;
happy -just - to veil contempt,
preying on the dumbed down rich
was manna heaven sent.

They say he was a wasted chance,
my boy, for what, they can't say
beyond headlines absorbed on
rolling reams of tart cliche.
They talk of damaged legacy,
politics and values tainted,
of million empty words he spun
and empty pictures painted.

You see, we've all our own take,
my boy, of that curious time
where we lived like bitter kings
complaining through our prime.
The dogs the country thinks its gone to,
circling, while the phoney war
plays out its final sunstarved stage,
will mock all dogfights gone before.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

36. 10 Sweet Songs

Sweet Song - Blur
Candy - Ash
Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk - Rufus Wainwright
Candy Says - Velvet Underground
Chocolate - Snow Patrol
Some Candy Talking - Jesus and Mary Chain
Sugar, Sugar - Archies
Candy's Room - Bruce Springsteen
Sweets for my Sweet - CJ Lewis
Candyfloss - Wilco

Initially, this was going to be all songs about Candy, as there are certainly enough famous songs to have put that together, some of them excellent - of these ones, I love the Wilco song, which is a hidden track on 1998's rich masterpiece Summerteeth, and I think Candy's Room may be my favourite Springsteen song, so fast, exciting and unlike anything else in his considerable canon. More than just a word, Candy seems to be shorthand for a certain kind of mythical smalltown American girl, the lost innocence it implies making it perfect for James Lawrence Slattery aka Candy Darling, the Warhol starlet who is the subject of Candy Says and the cover star of Anthony & the Johnson's I am a Bird Now.

However, Candy, though clearly a very evocative word, doesn't really feature in my own vocabulary, so I wouldn't have really known where to go with it. We don't really use the word "candy" in the UK apart from as part of Candyfloss, which they call Cotton Candy in the US, and rather tremendously, Fairy floss in Australia. Fairy floss ... not something that men eat.

On which point, I often think that I'd be significantly more manly if my main indulgences, even now, were in cigarettes and alcohol rather than the ridiculous amounts of chocolate I can still get through. O sure, I've dabbled, the occasional glass of shandy, the occasional addiction to nicotine, but while one can be taken seriously in conversation talking about the trials of oversmoking and overdrinking, overdosing on Dairy Milk implies both immaturity and effeminacy in one fell swoop.
Images of Dawn French and bulging, guilty cheeks spring to mind, which I don't think is my chocolate-eating style; having said that, I remember when I was in Kenya, and my housemate received a package of treasured European goods in the post, he forestalled his natural generosity when it came to the Lindt bars, so offended did he think he'd be at the sight of my applying my boorish technique to such fine chocolate. But I've grown up since then.

Anyway, this is called


Tramp was the stooge, Tramp was the patsy,
sorry victim of her reputation.
We believed what we were told, we
joined in the bitch's vilification

Each Christmas, after all, we saw her
snaffling the edible tree decorations -
(maybe the sight was sewn all along,
as alternative to this aberration)

The trap was laid, the game afoot
when Easter morning brought its reward.
"Go out with your aunt this afternoon"
that plotting villain reassured

us full of trust (what can a child e'er
do but trust in maternal concern),
on a day ripe with anticipation
for the oval treats of our return.

But hark! the tale, such a tale, unfolds
"This wretched mutt, rapacious hound,
dear boy, has guzzled what was yours"
O Weasel Words! Black lies abound!

And so it was, and so it remained
until years, nay, even decades later
the meagrest creeping tardy guilt
finally fell on the perpetrator

when Tramp, poor Tramp, the slandered pet
no longer had bark nor larcenous bite,
that wicked woman, so-called parent
deigned then to put the story aright.

And so, poor Tramp, impulsive mongrel,
a thousand pardons from you I beg
that I ever doubted it was my mother
who stole and ate my Easter egg.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

35. 12 Songs for the Passing of the Year

This is a good one. John actually sent me such a compilation though it was specifically for the winter months in Scotland, but this is along those lines ...

January - Pilot
Blue Valentines - Tom Waits
Easter Parade - Emmy the Great
April Fools - Rufus Wainwright
May Day - Elvis Perkins
June Evenings - Air France
4th July, Asbury Park - Bruce Springsteen
August - Rilo Kiley
September Gurls - Big Star
Halloweenhead - Ryan Adams
Mr November - The National
Everyday is Christmas - The Webb Brothers

While writing the list, of course, fresh ideas kept on presenting themselves, so here, you lucky people, is a bonus tape, since it's been long since I last posted something

New Year's Day - U2
Ash Wednesday - Elvis Perkins
Good Friday - Elvis Perkins
April Skies - Jesus & Mary Chain
Bank Holiday - Blur
June Gloom - The Like
July, July - The Decemberists
A Summer Wasting - Belle and Sebastian
September - Ryan Adams & the Cardinals
Moondance - Van Morrison
Gone 'til November - Wyclef Jean
The Last Good Day of the Year - Cousteau

Really, I only included a second one because I couldn't face leaving off either Mr November or Gone 'til November (which manages to include the names of most of the other months in its lyric).
Mr November is a tremendous song, one of my favourites. Mr November is a term used in America to describe someone who really comes good when the heat is on, as the World Series would traditionally take place in November. It has even been co-opted in politics, with the presidential election taking place in November, and, in fact, The National offered this song to Obama to be used, and, I think, had their own t-shirts made up with Obama's face on them - something like that, anyway ...
Found it slightly tricky to come up with anything about the passing of the months of the year without resorting to cliche, I think it would be easier to focus on a specific month. When I used to write lists on my facebook page, I used to revel in their banality (eg 10 Favourite London Tube Lines) so perhaps I can be gleefully inane now and put the months of the year in order of preference. (from worst to best)


My experience of facebook statuses is that, while Wildean wit and noteworthy recollection goes unremarked upon, the above is the kind of level of expression which will get a stream of comments, so I will, to save you the trouble, provide my own facebook-esque response to this:
Bobby McGee: HaHa
Jimbob McGinty: I hate February
Taggart: Spot on, mate. Love June!!!?!!
Errol Waldhammer: You're a dick
Ernest Santangelo: I agree with you about April, but not about December
Bobby McGee: How about a list of favourite weeks of the year? That would be AWESOME!!
Vance Johnson III: Who do you think you are? Only God can judge the months of the year...

That kind of thing ...
So, anyway, in terms of the year and it's start and placing our own narrative structure upon it, I thought this

On a tube train, faking a hangover,
head in clean hands ducking fierce friendliness
we start the year as we mean to go on -
the memory of other people's mixtapes
fading not quite quickly enough to stop
ourselves (dosed up on irony or not)
from breaking it down, glibly listing it up:
How did that month go? What will this year have,
season for fresh season, that may just save
next New Year's Day from quiet desperation?