Friday, 6 September 2019

Lovesong: Boo Hewerdine: Before

When I first started making music with other people, I had influences. All budding musicians do. It's how we find our way. In the mid 80s it seemed that everybody around me wanted to sound like, and be, The Velvet Underground. Beyond the, easy to replicate, slack jawed looseness of the application, it was de rigueur to effect their knowing, louche indifference. Not for me. I wasn't rakish. I wasn't knowing. That much I knew. The sonic template for early days Miracle Mile was a modest combo from the Eastlands. The Bible wore jumpers. Their winsome, bucolic pop was light but lovely. They had fair to middling success in the 80s with a song called 'Graceland' that I couldn't stop listening to. The singer looked as uncomfortable as I felt. And yet... he sang his deceptively simple songs with a detached indifference that was strangely compelling. Like a rabbit in a headlight, he seemed surprised to have an audience, his expression almost begging the attendant not to stare, to avoid eye contact and to keep on moving. Boo was mesmerizing then and, for me, 30 years on, he remains so.

I put his new album on this morning. 'Before'. It is lovely, light and slight: only 32 minutes. As it unfolded I realized what it is about his music that I find so compelling: it is absolutely bereft of cynicism. That's not to say it isn't knowing. Boo's bespectacled stare still falls on his subjects with that familiar wide eyed indifference (that word again). And, as I listened, it struck me: it wasn't 'indifference': it was a child-like wonder of the world. One that doesn't pass judgement. One that doesn't pass on. One that lingers on the little things. No rabbit in headlights then: more like an infant under a quilt with a torch, who has just discovered his toes. Does that make sense? I'm painting Boo as some kind of naive savant and I don't mean to. I know him and recognize him: his quirks, his 'Booness'. Boo is a man that you cannot help but love because of his seeming indifference to all things adult. Again, that sounds patronizing. How can I fix that? Boo once gave me some advice. I was resisting a challenge. "What's the worst that can happen?" he opined. Not the most original counsel. And yet coming from Boo it resonated with an authentic honesty: a duty of... care that stopped me in my tracks and made me disassemble the potentially hackneyed words. And I found truth therein.
Boo's is a world of first things.
Of in-betweens.
Of last things.
"We see true beauty in the last rays of the sun."
Yes: really!

Boo's eye always seems to settle on the pretty things. He dismantles the wonder of their delicacy in his funny, detached, wise way. And then he puts them back together and calls them 'a song'. And in that way, in his reconstructions of the world, he makes the world his. Makes it fit. Makes it a Booland. And it breaks your heart. Because you want to live there and you can't.

As I listened this morning, before the rigors of the day, I was reminded of nursery rhymes and fairy tales; Arthur Ransome and James Matthew Barrie; Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and of my brother and sisters and parents. At that point things got messy and I had to go and make myself a very adult coffee.
I need to stop blathering and play 'Before' again: before I start my grown up work and before the caffeine kicks in. Boo's wide eyed stare rests on the things that matter: the everyday mundane matter that informs our daily lives. The stuff that we mostly pass over. That's why Boo matters to me. Take a minute (or 32) to listen to his new record. It'll make your day different. It will make your day. It'll make you want to live in Booland: a world of wonder where the price of admission is an open heart and an open mind. Be warned: you'll have to check your cynicism in at the door. 
Let's call it 'Graceland'.

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