Friday, 14 July 2017

I know you're with me, it's a point of pride

The line is from a song by The Walkmen called 'In the New Year'.

The Walkmen are my favourite band, have been for a few years (although for most of those years they've been on hiatus, thankfully there's been a fair bit of very good solo material).

I'll write a little about the line and the lyric, but it will turn into a more general paean of praise to the band and their singer, Hamilton Leithauser.

They're a band of certain dichotomies and tensions, and I think this line is a good example of that. There's bravado and humility, power and hush, control and fury, humour and passion, introversion and extroversion, all on top of each other.

The line is typical of many Leithauser writes and sings - he has won, but he's not complacent about his success. 'In the New Year' is a song about a new love, a hard-earned love, where the singer has been patient, has waited for his chance - he's happy now but not taking anything for granted.

I like the honesty in this line, the self-awareness of seeing romance as, in part, personal achievement. There's another song from their next album called 'Victory', which, to me, is a bit of a companion to this song, as well as one called 'We Can't Be Beat' on their last album 'Heaven'.

So much machismo and bravado is bluster, and often that bluster completely lacks charm and subtlety. Here, the doubt and contemplation is never far from the surface.

I also particularly love that in the context of the elegance and confidence with which the band carry themselves on stage - I like the idea of a band of well-to-do young gentlemen making songs of humility and uncertainty.

Centre stage is Leithauser. I first saw him from a great distance, just for a few minutes, at Benicassim in about 2006 - I couldn't really hear the band, I didn't know any of their songs, and I just remember being struck by his height and the slight ungainliness of his movements.

I've seen them quite a few time since then, and I regularly watch clips of their gigs on youtube. Genuinely, nothing cheers me up on a weary day like watching a clip of The Walkmen.

This one, of 'In the New Year', is one of my favourites. This is an extraordinary piece of singing.  He sings with his whole body, throws himself into the biggest notes in order to hit them. It hardly needs saying that most rock singers don't hit notes like this in live shows.

When he's attacking the song, he sometimes looks down, bouncing the notes off the ground, but then, on the really high notes, he looks up to the sky, as if he's opening up a straight path from his toes, through the body, out of the mouth, up to the roof.

It's not like a lot of big voices, it's not round and fruity, it's not showy, it's lean, even thin sometimes - it's somehow or other the missing link between Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra and Freddie Mercury. It allows for a song to be louche and then desperate in a very short space of time.

I'm going to finish with another clip. I was there for this one. This is the second time I caught sight of them. By this time, I had heard their most famous song 'The Rat' but nothing else. It was at All Tomorrow's Parties in 2010 - it was late afternoon/early evening.

The setting was a bingo hall in a Butlin's in a Somerset seaside town. I drifted in a few minutes after they'd started. I was looking forward to 'The Rat' and, pleasingly, they started playing its astonishing intro only a few minutes after I arrived.

But then, disaster! Just as he was about to start singing, silence. Something blew. The band apologised and walked off stage, saying they hoped they'd be back. The break was about 10-15 minutes. They returned to the stage.

Everyone's a little nervous. They start 'The Rat' again. This is when this amateurish footage begins.

So bear all that in mind - they're in a bingo hall in Somerset in April, it's late afternoon, they're playing to a festival crowd rather than their own fans, the equipment is dodgy and could go any time, they're playing their biggest song cold.

This is, I think, when I fell in love with the band. What could have been a massive letdown became a triumph.

I mean, it's a bit rough, atypically rough. But 'The Rat' is a bit of an atypical song for them anyway. Wisely, they never tried to repeat it.

Their sound is more often distinct and wistful, rather than compressed and furious. On some of their best songs, like 'Angela Surf City' and 'All the Hands and the Cook', it's somewhere in between.

Either way, I'm going to keep banging the drum for them.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Hey buddy! Hey! You! buddy! I'm talking to you, buddy!

Here are a couple of little things. I wrote them. They're here. They don't set the world on fire, but why not, after all.

An Englishman first called me “buddy” in 1996
When I worked in a hotel, taking lazy men their drinks.
This portly gormless fellow was clearly set on congress -
Through largesse, he’d impress his doleful would-be conquest.
I brought them food a-plenty, a bottle or three of wine.
“Thanks, buddy” he said awkwardly, and put his hand in mine,
Cool as clammy cucumber, sweetening my pot
With cash to burn, he hoped she’d yearn for someone he was not.
Now marked as his accomplice, my gratitude was key,
Glancing down with good will at the cut he offered me.
His paramour (as yet unsure of her potential beau)
Looked grimly at my thin smile, already in the know.
My palm could hardly hide the harm of this incongruous sum
He spoke like an American but he did not tip like one.


The world is full
Of gaffes we’ve made
Which mattered not
Thank god

The world is full
Of half-baked puns
That crashed and burned
Or not

The world is full
Of money paid
On sunny days
For lemonade

The world is full
Of swallowed thoughts
And bitten tongues
Unwritten dreams
And hollow hopes

The world is full
Of immigrant
To idiots

The world is full
Of money made
By cunning blades
From lemonade
On sunny days

The world is run
By American golfers
Shooting the breeze
Appreciating your time
Having mercy
Thanking the lord
Playing it straight
Respecting the rules
Part of the club
Selecting their club
Of choice.