Saturday, 30 January 2010

78. 10 Songs About the End

The End - The Doors
It's Not The End of the World? - Super Furry Animals
Talkin' World War III Blues - Bob Dylan
It's the End of the World As We Know It - REM
End of the World News (Dose Me Up) - Tom McRae
The Temptation of Adam - Josh Ritter
End of the World - Susan Motherfuckin' Boyle
End of the World - Ash
Doomsday - Elvis Perkins
We're All Going to Die - Malcolm Middleton

Although we've come to the end of the road, still I can't let go, it's unnatural, you belong to me, I belong to you.
Damn, i love that shit, but having Boyle and the Boyz on the same tape would just be toooo good.
Talking of tapes, i just threw out all my compilation tapes, just like that, my beautiful compilation tapes, lovingly constructed, labelled, titled, my proudest achievements, i just threw them out. Cos I'm moving, I'm at the end of the tenure (which is why i've done this post now) and I've decided to throw out everything of real emotional value to me (ie my tapes and my cds) and keep all the inconsequential shit which'll clog up my tiny new flat. Superfly!
By THE END, I don't mean any old end, I do mean THE end, beautiful friend, not just the death of one, but the end of all, woohoo, which might appear to occupy my thoughts, but actually doesn't in the slightest. Well, i suppose it must do a bit, but whenever you tell people that there are strong arguments that this has a significant chance of being the final century for mankind, for a variety of possible reasons, you get treated like a mad monk recruiting for a millenarian death cult. Which I'm not. I don't know much about science etc but i read some books and ... well, anyway, who cares?
But look - people say, every generation has its paranoia about some great cataclysm, in the 60s it was nuclear, it was the bomb etc and it didn't happen, did it? But just cos it didn't happen, doesn't mean it couldn't, and the possible ends now just multiply exponentially. One might suppose that things right themselves, self-regulation will prevent the ultimate disaster, but why would the earth's own self-regulation pay particular heed to humans. That's James Lovelock's idea, isn't it. vaguely, in brief.
Anyway, ironically, this isn't about the end of the world, or about death, or disaster, it's actually just about how it's very hard to know what's going on, we can't always be accountable for our omissions, cos we can't even tell what's going on in our best friend's head sometimes. You dig?
You may recognise the title, borrowed from a book within a book


The world was silent - all the bombs had faded
and I died quietly, as I'd always wanted
The fireworks had been unimpressive, and I
walked home alone as the crowds shouted dry
then, in silence, chose my last memories.
The world was silent, you say, when you died
Looking elsewhere, at its shoes, shamefaced
Too busy flitting through its own little tiffs
While you screamed in rage and pain
Disbelieving that no one was listening
And when you died, I, I was silent
Because sometimes my nothing's not enough
And grief and horror need meeting in kind
But i could muster no words when you died
Just dodged through crowds, deathly, dull,
Innocent or ignorant, both or neither.
The fireworks fire, the choirs sing,
There's beauty in places, why deny?
And the world groans, and I'm dancing
with my friends, and we're laughing
And I walk home alone and free to go
And I fall silent and you fall silent
And there's silence as the world dies.

so i can see how it might appear to be about the end of the world but honestly, it's not, not entirely ...

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

77. 10 Happy Songs

Time to redress the balance from all this wintry gloom

The Happy Song -Aliens
Overcome by Happiness - The Pernice Brothers
Happy - Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins
Happy - Travis
Everybody's Happy Nowadays - The Buzzcocks
Fragile Happiness - Super Furry Animals
If It Makes You Happy - Sheryl Crow
Shiny Happy People - REM
Get Happy - Judy Garland
Stupidly Happy - XTC

Having cleared up the mysteries of time a few blogs back, now it's time for me to put happiness in its place ...
Happiness is indeed, one imagines, a possibility, though I guess best treated as a welcome occasional guest, rather than something to be aspired to and held on to.
It would appear that many of us have been able to move fairly successfully towards the absence of unhappiness through various means and tricks of fate and that should probably be deemed good enough.
I think it's pretty hard for songwriters to be anything but ironic about happiness or face ridicule (like REM) so from that point of view the XTC song is particularly good fun, being unironic, altogether cheerful but not in the slightest cringesome.

I'm so happy and i can't quite believe it
forty-five years of despair and now this?
If I'd known it would be so simple to achieve it
I'd have climbed so much sooner from my hellish abyss.

I'm so happy and I wish I could spread it
I haven't been so happy since this time last week
when, begging and pleading, I extended my credit
and used toilet paper to part-stem the leak.

I'm so happy like a fairground attendant
I've the best of each possible world and season
I'm a lottery winner with no clue how to spend it
I'm the reason you've lost your faith in reason.

I'm so happy and I wish I could share it
What I'd give for you to be happy like me
but i worry your weak mind couldn't quite bear it
and your eyes would be blinded by what they might see.

I'm as happy as an X-Factor contestant
who knows they'll make it 'cause they want it so bad
I'm as happy as the villain in the classic western
who reckons he's the beating of Alan Ladd.

I'm so happy and I wish you didn't doubt me
Is there something you've misread in my demeanour?
There's no way you'll ever be happy without me
Your grass may be green but mine's so much greener.

Monday, 18 January 2010

76. 10 Songs about Winter

White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes
Winter in the Hamptons - Josh Rouse
Winter Wooskie - Belle and Sebastian
Winter Home Disco - The Pictish Trail
A Winter's Sky - The Pipettes
Walk out to Winter - Aztec Camera
A Hazy Shade of Winter - Simon and Garfunkel
Winter is Blue - Vashti Bunyan
winterlovers - Manic Street Preachers
Winterlight - Clearlake

Right, the blog's hitting a determinedly downbeat stride now, cos winter is, after all, just cack in every way. Snow is, as previously attached, cack, rain is cack, cold is deeply cack, central heating is, in its own way, cack, and Celebrity Big Brother is cack. That's winter.
And I am not a softie. I didn't put my heating on till the start of December. Grrrrr. But January and February are just never good months. Good things never happen in those months. It's a time for starting smoking again, for drinking on your own, for not being able to communicate properly, alienating people, wishing you were far away. The best thing about winter is the fact the Oscars are at the end of February, so there are always lots of good films to see in the few weeks before. That's good. And the fact that when you're young-ish, healthy-ish, not homeless, not a softie and living in South London, pretty much everyone else in the UK has it worse than you. That's good, too.
But it's still cack. I knew a few Scottish winters, they were rather silly, and i developed a whole different way of walking back then. Some of these songs are Scottish - Scotland invented winter and sold it to the rest of the world.
I remember when i was at university coming down to London in March for holidays, during which period winter changed into spring, then going back to Scotland in April - and it was still winter. And so it would remain until mid-May, albeit crisp, sunny winter by that point.
A great song here is Winterlight by Clearlake - it's the potential of southern English indie-rock which southern English indie rock never seems to achieve, epic and imaginative, not Razorlight, not Keane, not Coldplay. Although, having said that, it strikes me that those three bands are very wintry- perhaps if examined in those terms, they might be reevaluated. Perhaps.

Anyway, i doodled this out several years ago about how cack winter was. It could be about any winter really - apart from 2007-8, when for some reason winter didn't happen in London, that was a weird one. I didn't miss it, but i did wonder if it meant the end of the world was coming. But last winter was more archetypal, and this one is worse.

It was a rough season; the hole in the window
let winter run riot, and the cigarettes i needed to need
didn't improve the shivering humour.
No one went to church and the communities
quietly slipped their hands out and shrugged
and all the little girls and boys shuddered
at their future. It was a savage season
though no snow fell and London never rocked
with horror, like it's forgotten it will someday soon.
I hid in pubs first, but giggsy shrank and
all my teams sank, then cinemas,
but i couldn't bear the promptu reviews,
so i nestled 'mongst indies and nmes and dusty cushions
on the sofa, trusting in dvds and freeview
flitting through fads (yoghurts and fruit teas,
guitars and sit-ups) and - unconscious- alienating
all i once held precious.
I asked and begged beneath my notice
and pushed myself toward some worthy suture,
while the hungover streets filled with discarded coins
and everything got ever coarser,
optimism exposed - the best you can say
is that fear may be conquered, the worst
I will say is, I fear, yet to come.

Wow, i'm so fun, i'm such a fun guy, who couldn't warm to someone who wrote something as plain FUN! as that ...

Saturday, 16 January 2010

75. 10 Songs about Old Men

Old Man - Neil Young
Me and the Major - Belle and Sebastian
Streets of London - Ralph McTell
Battered Old Bird - Elvis Costello
Old Man - Love
When I'm 64 - The Beatles
Help the Aged - Pulp
My Old Man - Ian Dury & the Blockheads
Old - Dexys Midnight Runners
I'd Rather Be An Old Man's Sweetheart (Than A Young Man's Fool) - Candi Staton

Must be tough being an old man. I mean, really, I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Especially these days when they're not even old enough to have war stories and the respect that'll be accrued from that to fall back on.
Old women tend to be much more automatically beloved and respected and cherished. I don't think one so automatically assumes an old woman will be racist, either. Has anyone ever had a conversation with an old man which was lasted over half an hour where thry haven't ended up saying something mildly - or not mildly - racist. Or is that just me?
At least great old actors do tend to get a few last great parts as they enter their dotage - though Robert de Niro's escapes him so far - and Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash have guaranteed that any aging rock star can get together with a hip producer and do an album which'll suddenly make them vaguely cool again.
This is songs about old men, rather than by old men, though often they're one and the same thing. Anyway, some beautiful songs by old men are If I Could Only Fly - Merle Haggard, Not Dark Yet - Bob Dylan, That Lucky Old Sun - Johnny Cash, Don't Give Up On Me - Solomon Burke, Losing You - Randy Newman ...oldish, anyway. Bob Dylan has occupied the voice of an old man since he was about 18, and even Not Dark Yet is a middle-aged man really.
I very much like the Neil Young song which, one presumes, is about his father, and very much laugh at the Ralph McTell song ... "sun don't shine". Ralph McTell apparently got lost driving Billy Connolly from Putney to Knightsbridge and Connolly said "didn't you write 'let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London'" Hoho. That was in last week's Observer, as i expect you read.
I feel sad for old people sometimes, i feel pretty old myself sometimes, however i believe this hasn't been a bad time to grow old these last few decades - most of them, who were the baby boomer generation, have made a mint from houses and have a fun old age to look forward to while the world warms up a bit, and then when it's time for us lot to grow old, it will all go to shit. Hoho again.
Anyway, this is kind of imaginary, tho i did see something horrific on the tube recently ...

"What with all the basics unlearnt
and the myriad that can go wrong ..."
is a lecture still appropriate? As
The years are closing up on us.

"Two stops on the Victoria Line
shouldn't have been such a trial
but the old man, old man, shuffled
off to universal wincing."

I instantly regret your sleeve
hitched half up now to highlight
an archipelago of eczema -
you're challenging me now, alright.

"I could never love anyone,
anyone who could ever love me" -
what you're expecting I can't give,
I'm just taking notes, you know.

I've some stories I will tell -
that's the shift you ask about,
it's all about the wince these days,
the hinted whiff of excrement.

"You and him, you could be brothers"
I am not too old for mischief
as you're all too keen to point out;
"not too young either" - the first shared smile.

Monday, 11 January 2010

74. 10 Venomous Songs

In fact, it seems better to split this into two different playlists - one for Bob Dylan and one for everyone else, since no one has such a rich collection of venomous masterpieces as Bob Dylan.
So first, Bob's ten

Positively Fourth Street - Bob Dylan
Masters of War - Bob Dylan
Ballad of a Thin Man - Bob Dylan
When the Ship Comes In - Bob Dylan
She's Your Lover Now - Bob Dylan
Ballad in Plain D - Bob Dylan
Just Like A Woman - Bob Dylan
Idiot Wind - Bob Dylan
Like A Rolling Stone - Bob Dylan
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - Bob Dylan

It's no exaggeration to say that four or five of those are among my favourite songs ever. Bob Dylan's nasty songs were fundamental and formative for me in getting to understand what songs ought to be like.
Anyway, plenty of other folk have had a good go at bitterness, anger and spite in song too. Here are 10 of them - not necessarily the most venomous, but 10 of the best, in my opinion.

There, There, My Dear - Dexys Midnight Runners
The Rat - The Walkmen
Patience - Micah P Hinson
I Want You - Elvis Costello
Archives of Pain - Manic Street Preachers
Punka - Kenickie
He's Misstra Know-It-All - Stevie Wonder
Take Your Carriage Clock and Shove It - Belle and Sebastian
Death or Glory - The Clash
Bang - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

It's just a selection, I'm sure there are plenty of others. Shame to miss Morrissey, most of hip-hop and other greats such as Ugly Kid Joe. Hoho. And the Delgados ... their sweet songs dripping with poison.
You can write nasty songs which are just condescending and sarcastic (Bang), you can write them in a way that the self-loathing is unmistakeable(I Want You), you can even write then with just a tint of empathy to make the ultimate put-down even worse (Just Like A Woman) - there is something delicious about a really powerful song of venom, as the pleasure so many people take from Rage Against The Machine's recent coup demonstrates.
I really don't have the gift for sarcasm and making people feel bad I used to - sadly, adulthood often makes us go soft. Even the so-called song of venom below is full of messages of peace and love once it gets going.

And I'll sing a song of venom, of joy and precious venom
As I leave some hotel on some frosty morning,
overwritten textbooks curling on the bonfire
with the vanished phrases of my final warning

And the words I longed to speak will have flowed like lava,
Days of bitten tongue so well forgotten,
And the foes who had no fear until that final hour
will be looking downwards from the very bottom.

And the toothless pariahs will be freed to fan the fires
and the icons of the age will shield their eyes
and from their shelters, all those quiet underbargained heroes
will come banquet on their truths they'd thought were lies.

And doubt will rule desire and power will be for hire
to the lowest bidder and to the quietest talker
And there'll be no succour other than the loved one for the lover
and the body'll cry for nothing but blessed water.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

73. 10 Songs About Snow

The Snow It Melts The Soonest - James Yorkston
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! - Vaughn Monroe
I Wonder If The Snow Will Settle - Clearlake
Fox in the Snow - Belle and Sebastian
Goodbye England (Covered in Snow) - Laura Marling
Snow Angel - Ron Sexsmith
Pisshole in the Snow - Pernice Brothers
Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
The Last of the Melting Snow - Leisure Society
Snow is Gone - Josh Ritter

Informer!! Anyway ... I can be topical, see. Though these are a rather beautiful collection of songs, snow is lame - I always suspected it and this year has conclusively proved it. It looks nice, but lots of things look nice. Even at school, when everyone got excited about it and would throw snowballs I never had appropriate gloves and I remember trying to throw them with my cricket gloves ... not easy and not fun. And I remember sledging in Gloucestershire and not being able to stop the sledge and going out on to a road and almost going over a cliff and only being able to stop by scraping my hand along the ground then jumping off. Again, not fun, not fun in the snow.
And I don't ski. Never got to go on the ski trips. I kind of hate skiing. As a sport, it's quite fun to watch, I guess, Ski Sunday, Alberto Tomba, Pirmin Zurbriggen, Marc Girardelli, Bode Miller etc but I am a man who loves sport, after all, and there's plenty of sports I prefer to skiing, and skiing as a holiday/culture i always have a mixture of env and contempt for. A bit rich from someone who loves cricket, but skiing hardly transcends barriers of class and finance, does it?
And the number of people who tell me I'd love skiing, and I say, "No, I wouldn't" and they say "I'm sure you would" and I know I wouldn't. And sometimes I say "Well, i definitely won't now i broke my leg" and they say "Oh, that doesn't matter" and I bet they wouldn't ski again if they broke their leg. Fuckers. Ski Fuckers. And skiing is the best use of snow there is. So clearly snow is lame. It means proper sport gets cancelled, it means old people fall over and break their hips, it means children have an excuse to be violent to each other.

Edward built an igloo
bigger than his house
Tom played a snowplough
and knocked it all down

William built a snowman
chubby, smiling, kind
Tom added fingers
flicking the V-sign

Peter laughed and looked on
the snowball that he'd thrown
Tom's ball made Peter cry -
it contained a stone

Richard showed the whole class
his smart and sleek new sled
Tom loosed its screws and
the white snow was stained red

Friday, 8 January 2010

72. 10 Songs of Solipsism

One Man Guy - Rufus Wainwright
Solitaire - The Carpenters
I Am a Rock - Simon and Garfunkel
The World Should Revolve Around Me - Little Jackie
Loneliness - Ed Harcourt
I Am the Resurrection - The Stone Roses
Speak to Me, Someone - Gene
The One and Only - Chesney Hawkes
Faster - Manic Street Preachers
All By Myself - Eric Carmen

Or, perhaps more accurately in some ofe these cases, narcissism. Of course, loneliness and not wanting to be lonely forms - rightly - the subject matter to many great songs, but in these cases, whether deliberately or otherwise, it's taken a little bit further, either to be a monumental howl of self-pity, a monumental cry of self-aggrandisement, a combination of the two, or a wry look at the state of solipsism.
I happen to like most of these songs a lot, which says something about me, but i do stop short at the Eric Carmen one, though it is a good source of comedy.
One Man Guy is a rather wonderful case, originally written and performed in a comedy folk style by father Loudon Wainwright III to be a rather scathing and selfish track, then reinvented by son Rufus, with the aid of magical backing vocals by sister Martha, to have a much greater sense of ambiguity and longing.
Some people will say we're all alone in this life, some people would say we're never alone, and really it's just a matter of semantics, isn't it? There's a myth in Ovid's Metamorphosis where Philemon and Baucis, an old married couple, as a reward for welcoming Jupiter and Mercury, are granted their wish to die at the same time, when they turn into interlocking trees, and I guess Romeo and Juliet is, less happily, along the same lines.
So, the former tale was on my mind when I wrote this. Also, I was thinking of that phrase so beloved of soap operas "You're going to die a bitter, lonely, old man". I was also keen that all the words in this should be one syllable, or at most two. I should do that more often; I found it very satisfactory. I like the fact that the first seven lines begin with I. I also tried to make it entirely free of quirk, for quirk is my everlasting curse:

I lived alone when I was young,
I was alone in every breath.
I thought in moments, so moments passed,
I passed on life, and looked to death.
I never saw you come, my love,
I blinked and saw you go.
I stretched my gaze out for a moment,
but you kept on; and I looked below.

Please breathe in me as I die
so I shall not die alone.
My own breath was enough when I was young
but now I'm not that strong.

You breathed on me as I sat beside you;
I looked away and prayed for rain
and it came, and you went to find the sun.
You lived, while I breathed again.
I slept alone, but every night
in my dreams, you breathed in me.
I woke alone, and when I woke
I dreamed you dreamed of me.

I dreamt you called me on the breeze
but each night, I would not follow
'til one night, in colour, I moved toward you
but I awoke; the dream was hollow.

Breathe in me when I dream no more -
as I lived, I shall not die.
Each breath has been despite itself,
to hasten this lonely life by.
Let me die with your breath within me
so I do not die alone.
I believed I could live on hollow dreams
but am not, nor have been, that strong.