Thursday, 26 May 2016

Into the Arms of the Undiscovered

But know everything lost will be recovered
When you drift into the arms of the undiscovered
And I don't know if I've ever loved any other
Half as much as I do in this light she's under

Sometimes it's good to set off on a path without a destination in mind.
It'll always surely lead you home.
It's my last full day out here on the Suffolk coast and I intended to make the most of it. I awoke to a shedload of emails from work and spent most of the morning wading through them. The weather was fairly bleak but by the time I headed out for my daily promenade the sun was peering suspiciously through the grim grey. As I missed breakfast I pop into The Bell and just make lunch last orders by a minute. A Prosciutto & Pheasant Scotch Egg (yup) and chips washed down with a chilled pint of Adnams Jack Brand Dry Hopped Lager. It's as lovely as it sounds; all citrus and flowers.
I walked towards the next hamlet down the coast, Dunwich, taking a back route away from the beach and marshes, up into the heady meadowlands above. The sun beats heavily on my back; it's the quintessential English Summer's day. Beautiful fields of bluebells abound and is that the overpowering scent of honeysuckle? Not a soul. Taking a path that I think leads to the sea ends up taking me in the opposite direction, and it's joyful diversion. Sometimes a road leads nowhere, sometimes an avenue of flowers just opens up in front of me. Moments of grace jump out of nowhere; a minor chord where a major 7th was expected...
And here I am, half wishing that Di was with me to share the bliss but kind of happy that she's not.
There's a lot to be said for solitude.
There's a lot to be said for silence.
That said... a few songs jumped out at me during my walk. I don't usually disappear into headphones but do so today. One of those Mood Spotify Playlists; 'Classic Acoustic', was the only thing available to me offline. Strange how well known adages can take fresh meanings when you're not staring them down. Sometimes it's good to see new light shed upon familiar things. Suddenly songs that would normally have you indifferently tossing tomatoes in their general direction can... break your heart. Perhaps it's my weariness and knackered knees that opens me up; makes me drop my guard: I'm loosened by the labour of the stroll. Sometimes you've got to earn the right to yearn. It's often the direct simplicity or implicit tenderness of a lyric that undoes you. Homely homilies can cut deep. Don McClean's 'Vincent' nearly has me retching tears.

Colors changing hue
Morning fields of amber grain
Weathered faces lined in pain
Are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand

I'd never heard Graham Nash's 'Encore' before.

And how you gonna feel if friends follow fortune?
How you gonna feel if the music dies?
How you gonna live with the soul sadly sighing
Into the wind that is our life


And... have you ever heard 'Me & Magdelana'?

Me and Magdalena
We're driving south through Monterey
As the sun is slowly sinking
Into a distant ocean wave

And I don't know if I've ever loved any other
Half as much as I do in this light she's under

Tell me Magdalena
What do you see in the depths of your night
Do you see a long lost father
Does he hold you with the hands you remember as a child?

But know everything lost will be recovered
When you drift into the arms of the undiscovered
And I don't know if I've ever loved any other
Half as much as I do in this light she's under

Me and Magdalena
Always leaving early and sleeping late
Secluded in the canyon
Lost within a turn of fate

But know everything lost will be recovered
When you drift into the arms of the undiscovered
And I don't know if I've ever loved any other
Half as much as I do in this light she's under

Isn't that beautiful?

But know everything lost will be recovered
When you drift into the arms of the undiscovered

A call towards the past from the future.
A call towards the future from the past.
Just lovely.
I couldn't read the track details because the sun was full on blinding and I'm half blind.
I later checked it out when I return to the pub. 
The Monkees.
The Bloody Monkees!

As I head for home along the beach I start mithering.
Sometimes you need to dislocate to put yourself back together again.
You need to honor yourself and trust your instincts.
Makes me think of the damned Brexit dilemma.
There's not a lot of honor there; just mad infighting and miscommunication.
If you disagree with either argument you are a twat...
One man's half story v the other's.
In or out?
We're damned if we do; damned if we don't.
My random thoughts might condemn me later but here they are:
"The EU is an antidote to democratic government... The price of true freedom is uncertainty" 
Unsure where that quote is from but it resonates... 
Trouble is that we are being run by the unelected. 
Trouble is that the EU is an ideal. And easily defended as an 'ideal': moral high ground that's easy to hold. The idea of a European Community was meant to make us feel connected. We're just seemingly linked by labyrinth of regulations and impenetrable bureaucracy.  Centralised power = less competition and choice. And removes freedom, even to make bad choices. EU bureaucracy is so complex that it cripples natural competition. Our businesses can no longer think on their feet; are effectively shackled and hamstrung so as not to get ahead of the game. We've agreed to it so can't cherry pick the bits that we like... but there's a lot not to like. The power of negotiation is the implicit knowledge and understanding that you can walk away from the table... although Donald Trump said that I can see the point. The EU represents unity? We're becoming culturally homogenized. Whether it's the EU or NATO's fault... it's still the elephant that I'm currently drinking my Japanese Whisky off...
I'm wondering if Cameron and his cronies want to remain in because it lightens their load and offers the odd European jolly with another expense account to batter. If we vote 'OUT' it'll definitely be more work back on Dodgy Dave's plate. Things will surely initially take a turn for the worse before things... settle. And... he'll no longer be able to cast the blame at Brussels. He'll have to start owning his judgements. I guess that at least we can then call them 'our' mistakes. The majority did elect him.

Back on the beach I get caught playing air guitar to 'Hotel California' by a bunch of lost ramblers who sneak up on me from behind. I offer directions smugly like a local, suggesting The Bell as a good spot to stop off at for refreshments. In fact I join them for a well earned guide's pint of Adnams Jack Brand Dry Hopped Lager.
Full circle then.
Another pint and I head back to The Studio for the sunset. 
As it's his 90th birthday Miles Davis is my sundowner. 
'Kind of Blue' but kind of content too.
I'm sitting in the front window overlooking the sand dunes. I can't see the sea but I'm content in the knowledge that it's there. Atop one of those dunes a child is flying a kite for the simple joyful folly of being connected to the wind. Lovers and young families walk past en route to the water's edge, to stare out at the limitless possibilities of life. Old couples with dogs shuffle along the same path, towards the same view, but with a different outlook: perhaps to ogle at what might have been, the improbabilities of life. A baby rabbit is chomping grass below my window, blissfully unaware of a beautiful white owl hovering above. Thankfully it's too close to humanity to be taken.
Maybe ignorance is bliss. Sometimes it's good to set off on a path without a destination in mind.
It'll always surely lead you home.
Won't it?
Le Corbusier said "Home should be the treasure chest of living."
I'll buy that t shirt. 
Home for me has always been where a certain brown eyed lady resides. 
I need to learn to not take that for granted, even though I thought that was the point...

But know everything lost will be recovered
When you drift into the arms of the undiscovered

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Breaking Bob

Off the back of yesterday's Bobfest in response to his 75th birthday...

"... Blood on the Tracks became one of those records which I have, which we all have, in our armory or in our medicine cabinet or under our bed, and go to whenever we need it, whatever we might need it for..." 

I love Sylvie Simmons' writing.
A functioning music journalist needs to get the job done, but Sylvie does it with such vigor and élan that you can't look away. I know that a lot of the 70s/80s generation rock journos' considered themselves as important as their prey; auteurs (often 'failed' or frustrated musicians it seems) who used their chosen oeuvre as a platform for... themselves. Nowt wrong with that; ambition and confidence/arrogance have been essential armor and ammo for many a fine writer. It's just that Sylvie writes with such admirable restraint about her chosen subject. You know that she's been there, done that; ticked many a box, and yet you also sense that she's holding much back; perhaps to keep her powder dry, perhaps out of modesty or in coy respect to some 'gentleman's agreement'. And yet she applies herself keenly to each piece of writing with such vim that it almost feels as though she's pitching her first curveball. It's that knowing naiveté that is so infectious. Whatever her subject she always leaves a little bit of herself in there, not so much a careless statement of ego, more as a personal endorsement and recognition of the irresistible and undeniable effect that this thing we call 'rock and roll' has upon us. That's her 'style' and perhaps the reason that she's successfully bridged the decades that span the vagaries of our beloved rock of ages.

If it's your Mum and Dad that 'f*ck you up' then it's rock and roll that puts you back together again. And there's Sylvie, to walk us through the wonder of it all.
Here she considers an album that came to be her 'breakup record'.
It's Bob's 'Blood on the Tracks' and her investment is so infectious and honest that it made me rush to put it on again this morning even though I fell asleep to it last night; surely the sign of great writing.
Here's Sylvie:

"Sylvie's Bob Dylan party Part 3. Some of you might have seen this already but hey, it's my party and I'll post if I want to. It's something I wrote for a fine publication called Radio Silence, based in the SF Bay Area - the first of three pieces I wrote for a triptych called 'The Best Part of Breaking Up.' The idea was to take three albums I loved that coincided with some heartbreak or other in my life. My first choice was a Dylan album. They were set to appear in a book that Radio Silence published, but the magazine lost its funding and went under. (An aside to any rich tech companies reading this; if you've got any spare money over from all those tax breaks, perhaps you can do a good deed and bring Radio Silence back to life).
Anyway, here it is:
The Best Part Of Breaking Up, Part I © Sylvie Simmons

Bob Dylan
Blood on the Tracks
Columbia Records, 1975

Of course it was love—me and the boy who gave me the album, I mean. It had just come out, and I was young; I didn’t have money, and he didn’t either. He said he’d won it in a card game. Likely he stole it, and stealing an LP—well, you couldn’t just slip it in your pocket like a compact disc; it was hard work stealing music back then. The kind of thing a guy would do for a girl he loved. So for me, this was a love album. I played it in my room on my portable record player over and over. Eighteen days later, when the boy tore my heart out, I knew it was a breakup album. One of the greatest.
Many years later, Marianne Faithfull told me a story about Dylan. It was the ’60s; she was in his hotel room, and Bob was sitting at a typewriter. “What are you writing?” she asked him. “A poem,” he said—a pause and a burning look—“about you.” Excellent seduction technique, but it didn’t work. I asked what the poem was like, and she said that she had no idea. When she turned him down, he tore it up.
Blood on the Tracks is a masterpiece of torn-up love, the shreds of Dylan’s marriage. The hours I spent with that album in 1975, gouging its life out, rubbing its salt in my wound. The intensity of its emotion, the depth of its pain seemed the very essence of what I thought romantic love was meant to be: theatrical and hyperbolic, a Romeo and Juliet with an alternative ending, odium instead of (the far preferable) death.
So here we are again, almost forty years later. I still have the original LP, but it spits and jumps—half of “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” was rendered unplayable after a bead of burning hash fell on it—so I’m listening on CD. Nothing of it has faded. I could feel tears welling up during “If You See Her, Say Hello.” There’s something about that spare, acoustic melody, its timeless North Country Fair–ness, the words that are all the more effective from being plainspoken, direct, and unfeigned. At least he sounds heartbroken. But pick a track, any track, and he might sound exhilarated.
So many colors in this painting. Where once I only saw darkness and pain, there’s spleen—glorious, gleeful spleen—and liberation where I just saw loneliness. “I haven’t known peace and quiet for so long I can’t remember what it’s like,” Bob sings in the least-heightened (and probably least-quoted) lyrics of “Idiot Wind,” and though they might refer to the horror of being a public figure, or an abandoned husband, they can also turn a harrowing song of love and hate into a “Positively 4th Street” filtered through the clichéd line of a long-suffering spouse. It wasn’t that long before this album that life in Woodstock with his wife, Sara, and the kids and a paintbrush seemed so congenial—listen to “The Man in Me” on New Morning or “You Angel You” on Planet Waves. But their straightforward, unheightened, almost mundane lyrics only lulled us into a false sense of coziness that was shattered by Blood on the Tracks.

Dylan could be as scathing as all fuck about women in his songs (“Like a Rolling Stone” is an instant example), but in his love songs (“Love Minus Zero, No Limit” in 1965; “Beyond the Horizon” in 2006), he elevated them, idealized them, treated them with great courtliness. He and Leonard Cohen had that in common—although Dylan’s chivalry and worship didn’t come with the carnality of Cohen’s. (I do have to say that Leonard’s unmade bed seems a far livelier proposition than Bob’s big brass one.) And if both of them could turn on a woman if she should fall from grace, Cohen would find it hard to beat Dylan’s rapturous contempt and irresistible causticity.
Blood on the Tracks is all mood swings: It’s love, it’s hate, he wants her back, he doesn’t, he respects her for going, he sends his love through a third party, he crawls past her door, pities the next stranger or poor blind bum to whom she hands a dime, and then goes off and writes that rambling, “Rocky Raccoon”−like script to a TV Western, “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.” And all of it feels true. The popular view is that it is true, that this is Bob putting his black and bleeding heart on display for the world to see. His marriage had hit the rocks (this much can be verified), and Blood on the Tracks was the revenge porn video, the divorce-court transcript in which Dylan admits to having faults (“I can change I swear”) though nothing as numerous and vile as his wife’s, apparently (“I bargained for salvation, she gave me a lethal dose” is one of my favorites).
But in reality, the album is so full of false leads and riddles and characters—Jesus on the cross, a rich heiress, a gang of bank robbers, Verlaine and Rimbaud—drifting from first-person to third-person (and both in “Tangled Up in Blue”) that Dylan’s supposed most personal album might really be about anyone, or lots of people, or no one at all. Which come to think of it might be the perfect way to write about disintegration, marital or otherwise.
But I wasn’t a rock writer then; I was a kid, and none of this mattered. No, all of it mattered, and mattered so much that Blood on the Tracks became one of those records which I have, which we all have, in our armory or in our medicine cabinet or under our bed, and go to whenever we need it, whatever we might need it for. And of course it will always be the first album that a man I slept with won for me in a card game. Maybe the only album a man I slept with won in a card game; I’m not saying.

The Best Part Of Breaking Up, Part I © Sylvie Simmons

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Pretty Lies

"All romantics meet the same fate someday
Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café"

It's disturbing when you recognize yourself in a song. Particularly one that you've heard many times and never got the connection. And particularly when the reflection is not an admirable one.
Sometimes truth isn't in the words but in their delivery.
The benefit for poets is that their words are written to be read and perhaps spoken by another's voice. There's nothing lost in the translation or delivery because it's likely that the spirit behind the 3rd party's voice is admiring, willing, already won over.
It's different with songs. Things obviously differ genre to genre but, regardless of the quality of the lyric the singer needs to convince; otherwise the spell is broken. Those words might be written to win a lover, to make an apology, to rant at the inequities of life or simply to make a sweet phonetic sound but... the noise, the delivery, must be convincing.
After yesterday's ramblings in praise of imperfect things I was set to wondering. Perhaps I have a bit of OCD; something that compels me towards grasping at some sense of perfection. I'm sure that I'm not alone; we all want a little bit of 'perfect'. A view, a restaurant table, a kiss, a midnight walk in the rain... In the morning's cold light it's clear that it's a thankless task. 'Transience' is the nature of most everything; the cracks will inevitably show. And still, time makes a fool and a thief out of all of us; we steal from our past and reimage or rebrand it to suit our present. The currency that keeps us vital is life itself, and our vital perception not just of life as it happens, but of our processing of that experience. Our value is not just what we could be, but what we are, what we have become. The further we grow away from our histories, the more obvious their influence becomes, and the more we idealise and cherish that influence. The trick I think is to avoid cynicism. Easier said...
I've written about that stuff for years and... I think I'm done. Time then to learn to recognize and embrace the realities of an imperfect existence then. Toys get broken. Shoes become scuffed. Records get scratched. Sweethearts disappoint us. Loved ones get old and wither... We learn to fear success as much as we fear failure.
But there's nowt wrong with admiring those sweet innocents who eye the heavens and still believe in... the possibility of perfection. They remind us of lost youth and tarnished ideals without rubbing our noses in the dirty bits. Puppies and 3 year olds; wide eyed: too young for hope; too young for disappointment. Full of possibility.
When it comes to ranting about the transient joys of all things bright and beautiful, Keats got there long before me, but I believe that William Blake nailed it best when he wrote:

He who binds himself to joy
Doth the Winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise

In pursuit of perfection this morning I put on Joni Mitchell's 'Blue'. Most albums have a track that I could live without; a 'Yellow Submarine' or 'Taxman'. I know that I'm not alone in recognizing the particular pleasures of 'Blue' but, to me it is perfect. There's not a hair on its head that I'd change. That said, the least involving of its jewels was always 'The Last Time I Saw Richard'. This morning it's words hit me hard. I've heard them so many times before but never really recognized myself in there:

"All romantics meet the same fate someday 
Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café"

The brilliance of the lyric is that it manages to be world weary and wide eyed at the same time. And then... there's the delivery. Those prodding piano 'chords of enquiry' are adult, sophisticated, often unresolved and yet the voice is of a child; her spell yet to be broken. Her words might be 'pretty lies' but with that delivery... Christ, I believe every perfect word she says.

The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in '68
And he told me all romantics meet the same fate someday
Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café
You laugh he said you think you're immune
Go look at your eyes they're full of moon
You like roses and kisses and pretty men to tell you
All those pretty lies pretty lies
When you gonna realize they're only pretty lies
Only pretty lies just pretty lies

He put a quarter in the Wurlitzer and he pushed
Three buttons and the thing began to whirr
And a bar maid came by in fishnet stockings and a bow tie
And she said "Drink up now it's getting' on time to close"
"Richard, you haven't really changed" I said
It's just that now you're romanticizing some pain that's in your head
You got tombs in your eyes but the songs you punched are dreaming
Listen, they sing of love so sweet, love so sweet
When you gonna get yourself back on your feet?
Oh and love can be so sweet Love so sweet

Richard got married to a figure skater
And he bought her a dishwasher and a coffee percolator
And he drinks at home now most nights with the TV on
And all the house lights left up bright
I'm gonna blow this damn candle out
I don't want nobody comin' over to my table
I got nothing to talk to anybody about
All good dreamers pass this way some day
Hidin' behind bottles in dark cafes dark cafes
Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings and fly away
Only a phase these dark café days

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Day Break

Day break.
Up with the lark again this morning.
I never sleep that well when Di's away.
Anyway... half asleep and reviewing last night's detritus: a half empty/full bottle of Japanese whiskey (Yamazaki), half a bar of Green & Black with sullied foil and melted (Almond) chocolate all over the white sofa, a half empty/full tub of now liquid Haagen Daz (vanilla) on the floor alongside a half eaten take away (Garlic Chicken curry).
After a half arsed attempt at clearing up I've half a mind to really commit to something today... after yesterday's half hearted inertia it seems that today will be a day of favorite but imperfect things.
So far:
Strong Lavaza in my favorite Corsican china mug (the one with the broken handle) spilt down the back of the cinnamon chair...
'Mingus Ah Hum' on the stereo (side 2 scratched to buggery).
Just pulled on my knackered old sailing shoes (hole in the toe) after ripping a bigger hole in my favorite jeans by putting my black toenailed toe through a tiny hole in my already shredded holy G Stars - ripped to buggery now... but not trendily so - and now putting my cracked racket into my smelly (is that really me?) squash bag. My squash shoes also have that hole in the toe thing too. Back hurts almost as much as my head. I need to stretch out my hamstrings but have forgotten how to do that properly.
Where's Di when you need her?
Thinking of going back to my quilt; you can't break down...

'King of America' is playing.
You guessed it... buggered!
Christ, I'm even breaking wind now...
Any suggestions for later?
Records/films etc?
Your favorite but imperfect things... I've already got Townes Van Zandt lined up.
And where's Di when you need her?
Meanwhile... back to the detritus and then my car (Y plate) awaits... I hope that it starts.
I wanted to leave you with this certain song but... the video link was broken on every You Tube version (seriously).
I eventually managed to track this link down.
Have a great break...

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Elvis Has Not Yet Left the Building

Elvis last night.
A tardy birthday treat.
First show (of 3) at the Palladium.
My other birthday treat from Di (back in November) was to see Charles Aznavour at the Albert Hall. Not a bad brace of venues offered up and not a bad brace of chanteurs; both a little long in the tooth, both never quite reaching previous dizzy heights but both still intoxicated by the air that they breathe.
Here was EC, solo with an array of guitars, a grand piano and occasionally with the mighty support of Larkin and Po.
First thought: his voice is shot.
2nd thought: his voice has always been shot.
3rd thought: nowt but admiration at the way he throws himself into his songs; many of them so taut and twisted that he has to drag the melodies over barricades that he's not quite tall enough to scale.
I get a similar feeling with Ron Sexsmith live; you're so intent on willing him over the fences that you can't help but cheer him over the finishing line. Elvis stumbled so often that it elevated the moments of fleet footed grace: a vulnerably vivid, piano led 'Shipbuilding' (where Elvis showed that he'd obviously learnt a chording or two from his mate Burt Bacharach), the distorted guitar rant of 'Watching the Detectives', a delicately raw and tender rendering of 'She' and an acoustic mauling of 'Oliver's Army'.

Elvis came on like a manic snarling busker, teeth barred, tongue firmly in cheek, mimicking himself and loving his subject matter. As he grabbed us very gently by the throat the banter often eluded to recent reassessments of his life (the autobiography); much of the nostalgia focussed on the influence that his late father Ross had upon his work and waywardness; the wobble in his voice revealing an obvious affection for his Pater, often quite movingly so. Di whispered in my ear (not for the first time) that back in her dancing days she shared Blackpool digs with Elvis's Dad. They used to eat breakfast together you know, and Ross would talk proudly about his son Declan's musical career. It took Di a few Full English Breakfasts before she realized that Declan was in fact Elvis Costello.

You'd not want to follow Costello on a Karaoke night. Sawdust veined, he's a song-man sworn and bred and he knows it; a proven passion for pop intact, his talents toted, bagged and banked. I've seen Elvis live in many feisty forms: from the angry young man of the late 70s through to the crooning crusty crony of the 21st century. Last night he was an old magician, impishly dragging manky old rabbits out of a dusty, battered hat. His blustering swagger suggested a pasty but resplendent Prospero, confident that we could do nowt but admire his designs and be charmed by his tricks. Spirited, occasionally foolhardy but always brave, this was rough magic, but magic indeed.
Here he is; his father's son: