Saturday, 20 February 2010

84. 10 Songs About Fathers

Papa Don't Preach - Madonna
Father and Son - Cat Stevens
Bloody Motherfucking Asshole - Martha Wainwright
Papa Was a Rolling Stone - The Temptations
My Old Man - Ian Dury & the Blockheads
Daddy's Gone - Glasvegas
Dance With My Father - Luther Vandross
Alcoholic - Starsailor
Five More Minutes - Mull Historical Society
Dinner at Eight -Rufus Wainwright

It would probably be possible to create a whole list from the laundry washed in public of the Wainwrights, but i've just included a couple, though Beauty Mark is another good one by Rufus Wainwright. Dinner at Eight is an outstanding song, definitely my favourite by Rufus Wainwright, even though it sounds like it belongs in a musical.

There are also quite a few of these in the world of extremely adult AOR, what with Vandross, Clapton's My Father's Eyes and the beast that is Mike and the Mechanics' The Living Years. Hey, nothing wrong with it if people have got something to get off their chest.

It does strike me, though this is hardly a new thought, that the role of fatherhood has declined without measure in the last few decades and that we no longer live in a patriarchal society at all.

There are various different levels to this. First of all, how many people do we know or hear about whose defining parental relationship is with their father - this applies both to people we know and the number of celebrities who go on and on about how great their mother is in interviews. I suppose it was always thus that the father was a distant figure but his clear and defined status as head and provider of the household overrode that - it goes without saying that this is not so often true anymore, but next to that and linked in to it is, i think, the passing of the idea of a paternal god. If God was a father, that fed into the idea of one's own father - now it is not hippy-thinking to view "god" as female, whichever way you look at it, mainly in the sense that we are realise our status as a race is entirely wrapped up with the Earth, and the Earth has always been personified as female. I think both subconsciously and consciously people's highest power now is an alma mater rather than a pater familias. There are various other little factors governing this as well, like the fact the monarch has been a female for nearly 60 years - all this is pretty obvious stuff, I guess. I think, as fatherhood finds its new role, what's interesting is that the modern conception of a "good" father is a father who is able to take on several of the roles traditionally given to a mother as possible. All good stuff.

This is just an outsider's view looking in, on various levels, but i guess the fact that more and more people are outsiders to what fatherhood means is indicative of the point. The whole line of thought was triggered by what I wrote below, based on one of the great fathers of all time, Agamemnon, and the seemingly inescapable idea of the sins of the father passed down from generation to generation, whereas now I feel the sins of the father can, if lucky, be very easily escapable, and one no longer needs to put oneself before the judgment of Athena ...

This one is dedicated to some of the great fathers, Agamemnon, Royal Tenenbaum, and of course, our current "Daddies' Sauce Father of the Year", John "JT" "Captain Fantastic" Terry...
It's intended to be comical, rhythmical and littered with allusions that give value to my education ...


They say that things get better.
The future is unwritten.
There's no cycle of violence.
Sometimes things just get better.

He named his son Orestes.
Wit was his only refuge.
The son he named Orestes
took beatings in the playground.

He said he had the illness
to end all feuds and bad blood.
It wasn't consequential
if that was true or not.

For years even the furies
bowed down to his royalty,
this king through generations
destroyed all things around him.

You see, Little Orestes,
this pattern that emerges.
There's really no avoiding
the judgement of Athena.

He died one summer evening
in mystery and in torment.
Orestes did not do it
if that's what you are wondering.

Sometimes things just get better.
The furies leave the mirror.
Succession is forsaken.
A new story is written.

Orestes became Duncan.
No one is any wiser.
Duncan had a girl called Jo,
not Iphigenia.

A king has many enemies
and chance has many allies.
He paid and was not paid back
on that summer evening.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

83. 10 Songs for the Free Spirits

Ruby Tuesday - The Rolling Stones
Me & Bobby McGee - Janis Joplin
I'll Fly By the Seat of My Pants - King Creosote
The Freeest Man - Tilly & the Wall
King of the Road - The Proclaimers
Liza Radley - The Jam
Wherever I Lay My Hat - Marvin Gaye
Wild and Free - Curtis Mayfield
Free Man In Paris - Joni Mitchell
Restless Farewell - Bob Dylan

Of course, none of these are a patch on the theme from The Littlest Hobo, but I've already used that at least once, and I feel it's so universally applicable, it's cheating to overuse it.
It's hard to know what to feel about free spirits, for as Cliff Huxtable said "Theo, you've got to take responsibilty for your actions" and free-spiritedness is often just selfishness, isn't it, but I don't imagine there are many people who don't do their best to avoid being trapped, and free-spiritedness is one of the most enviable states. If you can manage it without messing too many people about, you've got it made.
When I was doing room service as a gap year job, we used to sit round for about 1/2 hour when shifts had finished at 2am, and I, a callow youth, used to listen in wonder and contempt to the self-aggrandising exploits of head waiter Eddie. He did at point actually say, with no irony "I guess I'm just too much of a free spirit for this institution" which is one of my favourite quotes of all time, one I've reused at every opportunity. He was a cock. A total cock. Which is perhaps why I, rather unfairly, assume anyone who is described as, or who describes themselves as, a free spirit is 99% certainly a total cock ... deep down.
Having said that, I've been described as a free spirit myself. There are two possible responses to this 1) Yes, I am a bit of a cock 2)I'm really not a free spirit in any way, I'm entirely self-conscious, hung up and linear, and all the better for it.
Perhaps one confuses free-spirited with free-mindedness. Then again, I can't exactly pinpoint what the distinction is, but i'm sure there is one.
Still, many paeans to free spirits have been written, the most famous of them being Ruby Tuesday, and I think it's a nice figure to idealise and idolise in song.

Frankly, I have no idea what the following is about, but I do recall that many years ago, when I wrote it, I called it

For the Free Spirits

so it must be appropriate in some ways

For the Free Spirits

These strictly suburban images etched
on this loosened memorial board
serve as the last cursed of this middling class
(bracketed with the trusted and ignored).
I never quite believe another life
sweats and shimmys and sulks elsewhere,
dances on mountaintops, sleeps in gutters;
In winter, sure, we shiver, stepping out
of the shower and into the towel,
and tritely talk over the all the disorders
of which we hope we can fall foul.

All those CDs and all those shoes -
a worthless search for discounts, bargains,
unnoticed, self-serving sins of our age -
save our souls from more pointed arguing.
Maybe, at night, our impoverished minds
unite and cry to the elemental.
Til then, I prepare, praise, check fore and aft
for one vague chance of the accidental.

Friday, 12 February 2010

82. 10 Songs about Blue Skies

Blue Skies - The Longpigs
Sky Blue Sky - Wilco
Let Those Blue Skies - Gorky's Zygotic Mynci
Mr Blue Sky - ELO
Blue Sky Blues - Ryan Adams
Blue Skies - Noah and the Whale
Blue Skies - The Young Republic
Sky Blue and Black - Jackson Browne
Into the Blue - Geneva
What a Wonderful World - Louis Armstrong

Funny how, in the depths of winter, there have been more and more posts about the elements - I've had this one ready for a while, but there were some striking blue skies this week - I could look out of my window and imagine it was the height of summer, only to go outside and it was so baltic you could barely feel your fingers. It reminds me of 'Winterlight' by Clearlake, which would be here if it hadn't been in "Winter" - "I can't explain in words, at least none that I've heard, the quality of light around this time of year".
Blue skies are obviously one of the most obvious and well-used symbols of good things and good times, hence the number of good songs about blue skies - and yet blue, in a general sense, itself still means bad. But people don't say "I feel blue like the sky" - the blue of the blues is, I suppose, a darker blue. Still, it's a slight anomaly.
I like the Longpigs song - "Blue skies and children keep you off my mind" - it begins. I always thought that was a great line. The Longpigs, often described as Britpop also-rans, but a band who could probably have been massive. The singer and guitarist have both gone on to have various types of success afterwards.
There was a kid at school called Day and he had sisters called Sky and Blue. Good? I suppose so. I'm sure they turned out well.
So, hmmm, this is about falling in love with someplace where the sky is always blue, though you probably get sick of constant blue skies if you're born with it.

My heart is in your hometown
where I, for once, was young
where winter had been banished
to a wry, unenvied memory,
a lament which went unsung.

My thoughts turn to your hometown
each time my squinting eyes
regret a change of season -
a ballast and a liferaft when
I'm drowning in blue skies.

The castle tower stands tall and proud,
the sailboats crowd the spit.
Who wouldn't love your hometown?
Who could think some grey expanse
would make a better fit?

Month after month your childhood
saw not a single cloud.
Your heart pined for a new land,
for wild, uncertain feelings,
mercurial times and sounds.

I first came to your hometown
proud only of my flaws
and cold contempt for virtues
but I'd never seen virtues
as clear and fair as yours.

You hardly need to tell me
the ways I let you down
but trust that for a short while
you held me up: the short time
I found myself your town.

And now I hear you're travelling
far above the highest cloud.
I'm told that I should follow
but the thought I'd ever catch you's
more than my mind's allowed.

I'm travelling to your hometown
now for the final time
There's a chance you'll return
and if that day should ever come
you'll find your hometown mine.

Monday, 8 February 2010

81. 10 Songs About Monday

My Shadow Is A Monday - Lavender Diamond
Manic Monday - The Bangles
She Left On A Monday - Bic Runga
Monday - The Jam
Monday, Monday - The Mamas and The Papas
Monday Morning 5.19 - Rialto
Crying Like A Church On Monday - The New Radicals
Rainy Days and Mondays - The Carpenters
Monday - Wilco
Blue Monday - New Order

Sometimes I truly wonder at the banality of the subjects I pick - so now I have to write something about Monday, eh? Well, today's Monday, and generally people hate Mondays, but it's not quite as bad for me as it is for other people - in fact, it's often not that different from Saturday and Sunday. This is both a good and a bad thing.
Anyway, Monday must have enough symbolic significance to have produced all these songs, some fine songs, albeit pretty cheesy. Anyway, nothing screams of someone who bought too much music in their time than knowing a New Radicals album track. And knowing any songs by Rialto.
They're pretty much all about Monday being bad, apart from The Jam one and the Mamas and the Papas, and well, we all know they can't be trusted, the seedy fucks. I used to enjoy taking part in a pub quiz on a Monday. That was my way to make Monday fun. Getting drunk on Mondays and in the daytime are usually moments of release and triumph - it's a surprise it's not done more often.
But anyway, as you can tell, I'm struggling to elevate this ... erm, monday is named after the Moon, as in French, Lundi and most other European languages, though in Portuguese it's called Segunda Feira, as in the second market day cos let's not forget, Monday is actually the second day of the week.
But I thought what can I write about Monday, bearing in mind its all banal and meaningless and that, so I thought about the most profound and serious thing I've ever thought about Monday and that is in the last verse here.

Your last words ...

Some fine phrase from a Lambchop song
at their so-called commercial peak.
Gentle, doom-filled - wisdom, wit,
a way to add to your mystique.

Some pronouncement bold and strong
lest you should be judged as trite
"Envy alone can't be corrupted
and so, cruel world, I bid good night"

"In love alone we all endure" -
some balm for anyone who'll care.
Perhaps a song! one hummed bar
from, say, the Londonderry Air.

"La tristesse durere", or "Bugger Bognor",
self-knowledge to the very end.
"Stinks in 'ere", "farewell, sweet prince,
you've been my truest, finest friend."

Though prepared, you were not ready
and fluffed the line which was your last.
"Monday Night Football never caught on"
thus you spoke and so you passed.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

80. 10 Songs About Couples

Jack & Diane - John Mellencamp
Penny & Jack - The Essex Green
Donna & Blitzen - Badly Drawn Boy
'03 Bonnie & Clyde - JZ and Beyonce
When Johnny Met June - Shelby Lynne
The Ballad of John and Yoko - The Beatles
Johnny & Mary -Robert Palmer
Scenes From An Italian Restaurant - Billy Joel
Waterloo Sunset - The Kinks
Romeo & Juliet - Dire Straits

Check me out with my cool taste in music - Dire Staits, Billy Joel, Robert Palmer and John "Cougar" Mellencamp on the same tape - we're in MOR heaven.
Couples are awesome, but only if joined by an ampersand, like Peter & Katie, and not if they are merged together, like Brangelina, Bennifer or Jedward. These over-eager attempts to merge into one will only end in wretched wrenching apart, you mark my words. You need a cool, clean ampersand.
When I go to weddings and social events everyone is in a couple pretty much - except little old me, of course, so I get to be a louche, devil-may-care dandy before crying myself to sleep at the bitter sting of eternal solitude. It's pretty cool.
I ponder and puzzle at couplings of all sorts, but tend to be pretty impressed by how people keep it together. Did you know that divorce rates are at their lowest in years? Cheering news. Apart from for bitter misanthropes like me.
Who are my favourite couples of history, I hear you asking?
Well, there can only be one
Number 1 - Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, of course. Friends, lovers, partners in music and comedy gold, every time Jazz got thrown out of the Banks household, separated from his beloved Big Willie, you felt a schism in everything good and noble in the world
Number 2 - David Gest and Liza Minnelli
Number 3 - Saint and Greavsie
Number 4 - Frank and Pat Butcher, especially when he was wearing only a bowtie. Hepburn and Tracy? Bogart and Bacall? Do me a favour
Number 5 - Pat and Mick, as in Pat Sharp -woowoo! - and Mick Brown, superstar DJs and late 80s chart stars, kind of a British version of Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.

So those are some great couples. I also like Lennon & McCartney and Bacharach & David and Coen & Coen and Torvill & Dean.
Here is a song about Robson & Jerome ... it's called

The Ballad of Renee and Renato

You can't account for my unearned euphoria -
my ugliest face could shoot all the stars
up to a heaven that's out of the question
to the glorious despair I'd thought was ours

Oh love, what love, who's now more expertly
scornful of joggers in hers'n'his
but look at me, finding it hard to keep up such
mournful contempt to this wonder that is

to itself and for no perceptible purpose
yet wonder, o wonder, yes, nevertheless
(Now you condemn me as inconsistent -
Are you Melanie Phillips?) - but I digress,

Oh love, no love need be so shackled
that it finds its comfort in itself only
I can't cling to your respite every second.
I've eyes, they see wonder, got happy, still lonely.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

79. 10 Prayers about Song

Or the other way round

I Say A Little Prayer - Aretha Franklin
Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin) - Scritti Politti
Down To The River To Pray - Alison Krauss
Idiot Prayer- Nick Cave
Pray - Take That
Like A Prayer - Madonna
My Lover's Prayer - Otis Redding
Praying for Time - George Michael
New Year's Prayer - Jeff Buckley
Pray - MC Hammer

Prayer seems to have produced a broader church than usual in the songlist, which is only fitting. I'm glad to have finally been able to include MC Hammer in this blog. I'd be nothing without you, Hammer.
Prayer is of great interest to me. It's one of those things you lose when you relinquish faith which you wish you didn't really have to give up, so you hold on to to it in other ways, like the five minutes peace of the cigarette, the sound of a cat purring, the quiet wish for good outcomes. This secular prayer is dealt with in a poem by our poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, who i'm not sure has made a terribly good start to her tenure - but is not to be disregarded. I came across this poem as a 17 year old, and I think, now I reread it, it has had greater effect on me than any other piece of verse not accompanied by music. That's not to profess its quality, necessarily, but just to look at it and think that it sunk deep, deep into me...
I'm loath to include poems by professional poets, as it breaks any illusion I might build up that I'm not hopelessly inept, but anyway, here it is

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade I piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio's prayer -
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

We were told as teenage Christians about the four ways to pray - ACTS A Adoration C Confession T Thanksgiving S Supplication, but I imagine that 90% of prayers ever uttered have been supplication, so I used to try to discipline myself. I was told i should really do ten minutes a day, so 2 1/2 minutes on each, no overdoing the supplication. It's hard mustering 2 1/2 minutes of divine adoration every day, believe me. "God, you're great, really great, massive, awesome, honestly, i think you're great .... how long's that ... shit, only 20 seconds ... o yes, Jesus, you're great too, and the holy spirit, great, great, awesome, can I ask for stuff yet?"
So prayer is a multi-headed beast, out loud, in silence, ex tempore, palms clasped, head bowed, hands raised to heaven, swaying and crazy, desperate, calm, ordered, prescribed, freestyle - what is it? Our attempt to communicate with God, to feel God's presence, but really, as the poem above suggests, to many it's not really about God at all.
These days I never pray. Never. Not even in that romantic secular way. Not even in the five minute's peace cigarette way. I never ask for nothing from no one and nothing from fate. I never confess nothing or say sorry to the world for nothing. I never give thanks except to the appropriate authorities, and I never adore, I just think on, and witter on, and list on, and watch on, and type on. I'm not the better for it. Perhaps our tweets and our facebook updates are the prayers of today. That line was meant sardonically.
Prayer is all about God, after all, isn't it? Carol Ann Duffy and my vague sense of a secular prayer is an unearned cry into the abyss. You give up God, you give up the right to a prayer. That's only fair, isn't it ...

I used to pray my idiot prayers
with empty hopes for lost civilizations
I used to believe my idiot wishes
would not be lost to aimless ages

I used to wash my sins away
seldom, but with feasome intent
I envied the wild, mercurial virtue
of the Baptist out in the desert

I used to pray my soul to keep
itself clear from pride and ambition
That soul I've now for so long lost
would grant I've managed that with honour

I used to think I could be heard if
I could stay silent long enough
and though there was no answer back
still i'd pray to be less alone