07
Dec
12

How I Spent My Summer Vacation – Part Two

Here’s part two of my gig-crazy summer trip this year. I left you off where we staggered away from Pulp’s gig at Wireless only two days into our trip.

The next day, after an afternoon at the Tate Britain, we headed off to see Lou Reed at the Hammersmith Apollo. I’m sure there are people out there who will tell us “I told you so.” Yes, Lou Reed is a notorious curmudgeon. Yes, he’s made some very unfavourable career moves. While it was special to see a legend I never thought I’d see in my life, he seemed as though he was just going through the motions, except they were primarily the geriatric motions of needing help out of his jacket. He didn’t play “Walk on the Wild Side,” but he did play “Smalltown.” I don’t think we were the only ones feeling a little deflated; most seemed to leave the theatre in a glassy-eyed daze.

I woke up the next morning to get ready for our day trip to Cardiff, and I knew my immune system had finally caught up with me. There had been a nagging feeling of near illness right before I left for my trip because I had just finished a two-month health-rundown marathon of work before leaving. I managed to stave infection off for three days. I spent the rest of my time in London sucking on Strepsils and taking painkillers.

We didn’t just listen and dance to music whilst in the UK – we purchased it in copious amounts as well. Between Spillers in Cardiff, Music Video Exchange (at both Notting Hill and Camden Town locations), and FOPP at Earl’s Court, we amassed enough vinyl and CDs to fund a return flight to the UK.

Our last evening in London before heading off to Amsterdam was spent in Vauxhall at a delightful curry restaurant to which you can bring your own beer. We met up with Miles, who is in the brilliant band Vanilla Swingers, Anne who is also in Vanilla Swingers and Morton Valence, her partner Mike, and Hacker, who is in Morton Valence. It was a truly fun night and a welcome bit of company, and I have shimmering memories of questions about prairie dogs, why Amsterdam is actually one of the most conservative cities in Europe, a story about Johny Brown from The Band of Holy Joy perhaps losing a shoe, Miles doing a pretty reputable imitation of Jarvis Cocker’s dance moves, and an aside about how Hacker was once in a band that had Pulp opening for them. At least I think this all happened – between the bronchial infection setting in and the massive bloody marys from earlier, it was getting hard to tell. We also owed Miles a particularly big thank you for sending some tips before we arrived in London, including places to eat, places to find music, and other points of interest, including Battersea Power Station, which he ended up taking us to see before drinks and supper.

Throughout Amsterdam, Berlin, and Vienna, my sore throat and fever had blossomed into full-blown consumption. I was pretty much certain that I had bronchitis, and by Amsterdam, Laura was pretty sure she had the same. We coughed, wheezed, and fever-dreamed our way through galleries, parks, museums, baroque palaces, walking tours, and cathedrals. An Irish boy threw up on our bathroom floor in the middle of the night in Amsterdam, and a fellow hosteller in Vienna asked me if I was coughing up blood because if I were, I should see a doctor. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had such terrible sleeps in which I felt like I was drowning in my own fetid air every night. Daytimes were marginally better, and I did discover the joy of Cafe Aroma Ices.

As we took off from Vienna airport, we braced ourselves for what we figured was going to be a more difficult leg of the trip…

Just like lungs sucking on air…

I feel as though there have been several points in my life that were surreal. I’ve done odd whirlwind day trips to other cities, sometimes back-to-back. I’ve had travel mishaps and miscalculations. I just usually don’t have all of these things happen to me at once. I take full responsibility for the ludicrous events that ensued because I was the one with severe Manics tunnel vision – a condition similar to mania in that it makes me believe I can do anything as long as the Manics are involved. The “if they jumped off a bridge…” scenario is probably in bad taste.

At any rate, I knew that the whole “quick” stopover in Finland was always a bit of a stretch for us. In order to accommodate the Manics, we flew all day from Vienna to Berlin to Helsinki, arriving in late afternoon the day before the Wanaja Festival. The thing about the Wanaja Festival, which I knew very little about, is that it’s held in a small vacation town, Hameenlinna, which is one hour north of Helsinki via train. The other thing about the Wanaja Festival is that details regarding set times were only revealed shortly before we left for Europe. The evening that we arrived in Helsinki I discovered that the train from Hameenlinna to Helsinki only runs until 11:30PM…and it doesn’t start running again until 5:00AM. The Manics, as headliners, were due onstage at 10:45PM. We had a flight back to London the morning after the festival at 7:50AM. Our flight home to Canada was the day after that. All of these facts gave us a bit of a panic attack. My heart races a bit thinking about the situation now.

After consultation with the info desk at the Helsinki train station, it became apparent that our only option was to take the only bus back at 3:00AM, pick up our backpacks at the hostel, and catch another bus to the airport, which meant yet another hour of travel. Feeling more than a little queasy about how we were going to accomplish this grand feat while still fiendishly ill, we decided against bringing our bags to the festival, and hoped to Äkräs it would all work out — not because Äkräs is the Finnish god of fertility, but because he is the protector of turnips. And my brain may as well have been a turnip.

The train ride to Hameenlinna went smoothly, but the very vague map I had in my head of the festival site, gleaned from Google maps and the festival website (which was entirely in Finnish) had become beyond hopeless as we stepped off the train platform. Our brains had already been fairly addled with that cognitive disorientation you experience when immersed in a language so alien to you that you start to think you might be hallucinating, and now we were faced with utter loss of direction in the scorching, sunny heat. Luckily, we found one person who spoke English at the train station info desk, and she kindly marked out our route on the town map she gave us. Of course, she told us our easiest route was to follow the edge of the lake until we hit a bridge, and then to cross the bridge and keep following the lakeshore until we came to the castle park (only Finnish I learned: “linna” means “castle” and “puisto” means “park”). The straightest route would have been to swim the entire width of the lake. But since it was already feeling like the worst joke of an Amazing Race, that wasn’t an option.

We tentatively made our way along the lake, marveling at how much Finland’s landscape reminded us of home, and at how much this specific town reminded us of a place like Kenora, a small vacation town in Ontario. As we crossed the bridge, Laura started muttering about how the pavement was soft and moving. I told her she was probably in the middle of a feverish episode. Then I felt the pavement actually buckle underfoot like a giant air pocket being squished out of a rug. Apparently, Laura wasn’t incapacitated by fever, and Finland must have been unseasonably hot that day. Needless to say, we crossed the bridge as quickly as possible.

Checking our map every thirty seconds, we managed to find our way up the other side of the lake, and came upon a few people. I’ve never been so happy to see a girl in leopard print and Nicky-Wire-white-framed-sunglasses. It became apparent that there were two other intrepid (insane) fans from Britain waiting for the park to open the gates. And if that wasn’t enough to allay our concerns, we suddenly heard the strains of “Some Kind of Nothingness” coming from beyond the gates. I never thought I’d be so happy to hear that song, especially since it gives me Strictly Come Dancing nightmares. We had a half-hour to sit in the shade and bask in the brief moment of accomplishment of finishing one more leg of the trip. Not long after, the Finnish Manics contingent showed up as if they had just wandered off the set of Times Square, mauve hair, Useless Generation tattoos, Motley Crue t-shirts, ripped jeans, shredded tights, and all. They were wonderful.

It then became a silent film farce as all twelve of us hardcore loonies felt the need to race each other on foot to the front of the stage being headlined by the Manics. The people manning the festival shopping stalls just stood their mouths agape as one by one we whipped by them, leaping over rocks and cables. I likely lost another thirty percent of my lung capacity at that point. We then all settled in on the ground right at the barrier and baked our faces off. Though there were food stalls nearby, they seemed dodgy – spring rolls in 40 degree heat or handfuls of sticky gummy worms. We opted to subsist on the free water even though we hadn’t eaten since noon.

We had periods of leg stretching as a parade of progressively surreal bands performed on this stage, including a mediocre hair metal band with a bare-chested singer in white jeans and waist-length tresses, a band composed only of members with Down Syndrome (they appeared hugely popular, which made Laura and I hope like hell that the enthusiasm was genuine), a relatively folky twee band with a lead singer who bore a significant resemblance to Snufkin from the Moomin books, and a band that almost blew our heads off with screaming Finnish. During one of the breaks, I tried to put my mind into some sort of ease by searching out someone who could tell me how to get to the bus station, now the crucial location on which our entire next three days hinged. I stumbled a little frantically through the crowds, not comprehending anyone around me, yet somehow still had the presence of mind to ask if the merch tent had any Manics t-shirts (they didn’t). Armed with a newly marked map of where the bus station was, I headed back to my post to wait for 10:45.

Manic Street Preachers Wanaja

I then made an agreement with myself to stop panicking and dwelling on the upcoming trip from hell with logistics that defied all logic; it worked, and I put it all out of my mind from the time the Manics hit the stage. I unfurled the Canadian flag we had brought with us like some badge of survival, and hung on for dear life as we took off with “You Love Us.” It felt so satisfying to be crushed by such a loving crowd. The audience gave me the same feeling of starved fans that I had seeing the Manics in Toronto in 2009. “Motorcycle Emptiness” seemed all the more poignant after the last day spent in language isolation; I hung onto their every word like a life line back to my own brain. As expected, they performed the three singles released from Postcards From a Young Man, and Nicky Wire tried to recall whether the band had ever visited Finland when Richey was still with them (a mental exercise he seemed to be running with since the Send Away the Tigers tour). I was especially happy to hear “Slash ‘n Burn” and “Suicide is Painless” since I hadn’t witnessed them live before. It felt a bit odd to have the show end on “If You Tolerate This…” rather than “A Design for Life,” but at least we got the benefit of a false ending and the excitement over further songs. Somewhere along the way, Laura had been squeezed off the barrier and was smushed behind me. Being a festival performance, and thus at least five songs less than a regular gig, it felt like a compressed dose of adrenaline shot through my consumptive, weakened body. As the crowd peeled away and slowly dispersed into the perpetual summer twilight, it was lovely to see a couple of friends falling about each other, one wearing an exact replica of the sailor suit Richey used to wear. On our way out of the festival grounds and into the streets, the bedazzlement lingered in my brain and kept my anxiety over the necessary bus at bay for quite some time after.

Manic Street Preachers Wanaja 2

I started to come down from the high as we sat on a bench at the deserted bus station, but for festival fans queuing up for horrific fast food from a takeaway stand. The weight of the three weeks of travel, the intense day which wouldn’t end until we had been up for over twenty-four hours, and the fourteen hours without food settled on us at this point, and we tried to stay awake and conscious for the next three hours of waiting in the half-light of a sun that never really set. In the meantime, the Finnish Manics fans had also shown up with a box of pizza and seemed to be waiting for the only bus back to Helsinki as well. At that moment, I really envied those girls who didn’t have to care if they got back to Helsinki by 5:00AM. And the fact they could eat a box of pizza at 2:30 in the morning after a whole day in blistering heat.

Eventually the bus showed up, after at least a couple of buses that were heading north instead, and then we had the pleasant discovery that many people had already pre-booked tickets for it. The previous day we had been told that we had to buy tickets on the bus. I was getting prepared either to cry or start kicking people if we didn’t get on when they managed to squeeze us on. We had to sit on the aisle floor of the fully-booked bus with the Finnish contingent of Manics fans and a few stray British fans who seemed to hate us (maybe because we didn’t end up with eyeliner smeared across our faces). The next two hours were a mix of sheer panic and drug-like drowsiness. It nearly killed me when we actually stopped at the airport before returning to Helsinki — though bringing our bags with us would have been horrendous, it would have allowed us to get off at this point rather than sit in further cramped tension. Finally, the bus dropped us at an unfamiliar location, not the expected train station, which had become our only major landmark; however, I think adrenaline may actually sharpen your orientation senses because I still managed to lead us in the right direction to the train station. Of course the usual tram to our hostel wasn’t running that early in the morning, so we ran on foot back to the hostel, where they didn’t let us in right away. Once the front desk realized that we weren’t actually mad homeless people ringing the outside bell, they let us up. We got our bags, ran back to the train station, hopped the next bus, and ended up at the airport with roughly half an hour to spare. As I sunk into my plane seat and choked down the tasteless sandwich provided, I had never felt so relieved in my life.

If there were such a thing as The Amazing Race for Manics fans, I think Laura and I would have won.

Timeslide place to hide nudge reality…

When we got back to Heathrow in some sick deja vu, we discovered that the two tube lines that took us to our hostel were closed that day for maintenance. This led to over an hour of bus riding and figuring out where exactly we were supposed to get off. With some sort of last superhuman wave of energy, we managed to make it to FOPP for some shopping, to the Tate Modern for some supper, and then on to the Royal Festival Hall at the South Bank Centre to see Big Audio Dynamite, aptly the last big bang of the trip. We hadn’t even been entirely sure we had tickets for this show since they mailed them late to my home in Canada, and through the intermittent Internet access via hostels, I had to arrange for replacement tickets to be held at the venue. Thankfully, our sporadic luck was holding up and the tickets were there. We ended up having a brilliant last night with a dance party cascading into the aisles. We even got to sing happy birthday to Don Letts’s wife.

Big Audio Dynamite South Bank

Laura, whose immune system is always in much ruder shape than mine due to several chronic health concerns, ultimately had to stay in hospital for a few days after we returned home. I ended up with a massive course of antibiotics and a chest x-ray. I wasn’t sure what was more disorienting: my Finnish-addled brain on jetlag or coming back to work only about seven hours after my flight landed to attend a symposium discussing Deleuzian concepts.

I could ramble on about the non-musical highlights of the trip, including Tate Britain, Tate Modern, the British Museum, a lecture at a curiosity shop in Hackney, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, the Dali gallery at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, the Belvedere Gallery and the Secession in Vienna, but they could all use posts of their own. And perhaps one day they will find themselves in a blog.

Speaking of blogs, as I said in the previous post, I’ve started a new one with Laura, who has a passion for music and the ability to write about it in an erudite manner. It’s called From a High Horse. Please follow me there because hanging about here will likely only lead to feelings of abandonment.

Suicide is Painless (Theme from MASH) – Manic Street Preachers

E=MC2 – Big Audio Dynamite

28
Oct
11

How I Spent My Summer Vacation – Part One

Hello…how are you? Well, it’s been quite a long time. Perhaps there are two or three of you out there who still may read this. It’s been a landmark year for me in terms of the gigs I managed to see. Mainly because I kept leaving Winnipeg. In February, I got to see Gang of Four in Toronto, and they were one of the most exciting bands I’ve ever seen. Unlike The Buzzcocks, who I saw last year, GoF are still clearly passionate and earnest about what they do. Andy Gill was a badass, and Jon King was a maniac. And they continue to make excellent, thought-provoking music.

This past summer will be difficult to top, mind. My friend, Laura, and I went on a three-week backpacking trip to Europe built around the Wireless Festival. This was decided in a fevered panic after the Pulp reunion was announced in November of last year. It quickly became apparent that we had no self-control or sense of limits as we continued to plan the trip logistics. Not to mention this is the first time that I’ve had a travel buddy who actually enjoys the same things I do. When we found out that Lou Reed was playing in London the night after Wireless, we bought tickets. When we found out that Big Audio Dynamite was playing in London the night before we flew home, we bought tickets. When we found out that the Manic Street Preachers were playing the Wanaja Festival in Finland two nights before we flew home, we decided we could squeeze it in. Then we threw in the Feeling Gloomy club night on the same day we flew into London, which also happened to be the night before Wireless, just for good, psychotic measure. I don’t regret any of this, but as you will eventually see, it took its toll.

Under the poster of Morrissey with a bunch of flowers…

We attempted to stave off some jetlag by having a late afternoon nap at our hostel, which was perhaps one of the worst hostels I’ve ever stayed in (and I’ve been in ones with bedbugs before). However, exhaustion allowed us to sleep rather soundly for a couple of hours in the mouldering bedroom at the top of a stuffy, crowded building in Bayswater. Slightly refreshed, we then ventured off to Islington for dinner and to the O2 Academy for Feeling Gloomy.

Feeling Gloomy has been one of those mythical club nights I read about, like Stay Beautiful and Against Nature, that I’ve always wanted to go to, but have never had the timing right for, nor have I had a friend that wanted to go. It also seemed related to the mythical indie disco, which we don’t have over here, and for two indie-disco-deprived Canadians, Feeling Gloomy lived up to all expectations. We entered the club to Ultravox’s “Vienna” and were the last to leave as they played The Smiths’ “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.” While it didn’t necessarily stick to doleful melancholia as its title implies, it did fulfill all of my listening wishes, including indiepop, new wave synthpop, 60s girl groups, and post-punk. It was essentially a chance to dance around in a semi-dark room full of strangers and a giant painting of Morrissey to the very same songs already on my iPod. Subtract the strangers, and it’s much like a regular evening in my bedroom. In fact, I’m fairly certain I oscillated wildly between hopping about like Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club, twitching my limbs like Jarvis Cocker, and doing that “Barbarism Begins at Home” twist as performed by Morrissey and Marr. It had been such an amazing experience that it almost didn’t matter that we were stood at 4:00AM in the middle of Islington without a clue of how to get back to Bayswater. We luckily found a cab not driven by a rapist, and stumbled into our pitch-dark, crowded bedroom as the sun came up.

A few hours later, we stumbled back out of bed to wander over to Hyde Park for Wireless. Unlike nearly every other time I’ve visited and/or lived in the UK, there were absolutely no clouds and no rain. After eating small cups of pineapple and Sainsbury pasta salad and watching tourists next to the Marble Arch, we took our place in line with the most eager punters at the Wireless entrance. As much as we would have liked to see Fight Like Apes and Cut Copy at one of the other stages, we enjoyed the pre-Pulp line-up of Vintage Trouble, Devotchka, Metronymy, The Horrors, The Hives, TV on the Radio, and the utterly brilliant Grace Jones, who rode a very surprised security guard over to the crowd barrier. Frankly, we endured leg cramp, exhaustion, sunburn, and dehydration for only one band.

Sing along with the common people…

You could hear Jarvis’s laconic voice in your head as you read through each scrolling line of retro typeface projected on the massive black curtain.

Hello…how are you?
I can’t hear you.
I said!
Make some noise!!
Exciting stuff.
You’re looking good.
Especially you.
Is it nice out there?
Do you want to have a drink?
O.k. I will meet you at the bar.
Is this crazy talk?
Is this legal?
Do you remember the first time?
Is this a hoax?

Of course, the crowd was getting pretty antsy by the time the screen asked if we wanted to see a dolphin. To be fair, despite all of the teasing, they did show us a dolphin. Once the textual banter finally exited stage right, we heard the simulated sizzle and hum of the lurid magenta letters flickering into full glow behind the scrim. P…U…L…P. As expected, once the curtains came down, amidst the blast of confetti cannon, Candida, Russell, Steve, Nick, and Jarvis began with “Do You Remember the First Time?”

I don’t remember the first time, so to speak. The rush of nostalgia for Pulp’s first time round, and its attendant mid-nineties bliss, is a strange emotion for me since it belongs to a different, but no less powerful nostalgia. Mine came out of an imagined past rather than a lived past. I didn’t know of Pulp until three years after their triumphant, myth-making slot at Glastonbury. And I didn’t get heavily into them until they no longer existed. I don’t actually remember the first time, so like watching long-dead galaxies in the night sky, I had lived through the Britpop scene after it had gone supernova.

It’s hard not to get emotional at the impossibility of it. The fact that I had consigned Pulp to the bin labelled “missed opportunity” meant that I always thought they would remain a mediated experience, a forensic encounter patched together with hours of live footage, music videos, music press clippings, book accounts, and bootlegs. They had famously never really broken up, so somehow it paradoxically seemed even less likely they could reform. If there is a benefit to all of this late-noughties-reunion-nostalgia-jingoism hangover, this particular reunion was it. After all of those years, many of them pre-YouTube and pre-torrent, I had built up my memory bank of Pulp. Through their vintage pop melodies and Jarvis’s on-point (anti)social observations, I felt a part of something years after it actually happened. All those imagined moments of jubilantly jumping up and down in a crowd singing “Misshapes” or “Common People,” all of those dreamed and simulated moments of inclusion had collected in the grooves of my brain as a soundtrack to my own awkward bildungsroman.

After their first song, Pulp slipped into the first times of “Pink Glove,” which has one of the most deliciously malicious choruses in the Pulp canon, then “Mile End,” and on into the depths of A Different Class with slight diversions into This is Hardcore and We Love Life, and a double-back into “Babies.” In an effort to take it all in, my eyes flicked back and forth between all of the band members, the inscrutable shades of Russell Senior, the flash of white jacket from Steve Mackey, the sphinxy smile of Candida Doyle, the pumping arms of Nick Banks. But at the centre of it all was Jarvis. I think we all know how I feel about Jarvis by now. The corduroy dynamo was in full flight, specs strapped on, stomach in, chest out. At one point he stood atop a monitor and leaned back so far that his upper body was parallel to the stage floor, a breathtaking act of limbo. At other points, he raced to and fro across the front of the stage, hair streaming, joints articulating and gesticulating wildly. His dance moves are a feat of improv: immediate, ever-shifting interpretations of his lyrics. Some embarassingly literal, some as oblique as a Brian Eno strategy, all of them without a whiff of self-consciousness. And his banter was better and more self-assured than it had ever been, often evoking elements of his more recent incarnation as 6Music DJ.

After lying on his back and cycling his mantis legs in the air, taunting, “I’m coming to get you,” Jarvis grabbed a torch and walked down the stairs and runway to the front of the gaping crowd. As he spoke-sang the opening lines to “I Spy” several feet to the right of me, he shone his torch into the upturned faces of his fans, his voice juddering with intensity. By the time he had moved to directly in front of me, everything seemed to have shifted into a hyperreality of specific details, mundane and yet alien. I can distinctly remember the contracted pupils in the grey-green of Jarvis’s eyes as the torchlight reflected from my glasses into his glasses, and I can recall the shape his right hand made as it gripped the torch handle, each joint of his lengthy index finger and thumb tensed, his wrist cocked just campily so. I didn’t touch him. I didn’t say the lyrics along with him. I didn’t snap a photo in his face. I just stared back at him and smiled with my entire being. I was desperately trying to isolate and preserve the moment in my mind; it was perfect timing because it seems everything else had flown out of my mind during that minute.

Halfway through the set, Laura mimed that her feet were over there. “Over there” turned out to mean several feet to the left of the rest of her body. Shortly thereafter, my feet also ended up being over there. It seemed fitting that we were contorted in a gravity-defying, Cocker-like pose. We were being quite literally carried away by the buoyancy of the crowd. There was none of the grasping tackiness and hollow gesture of so many other recent reunions by other bands. In spite of myself, my vision actually went blurry with tears during the last half of finale “Common People.” Just like the emotion of impossibility realized, a lot of my emotional state was dependent on the transcendence of the crowd; I couldn’t help but get emotional when thousands were singing along with me like every word mattered as much as every gasped breath, especially when just five years ago, I was regarded with boredom and mild confusion as I sang a lonely version of “Common People” at a karaoke night in Winnipeg. With that many people willing the night to be special, it came to pass.

Two men in their forties were behind us in the crowd, and as the audience dissipated, they chatted to us for awhile. One of them felt ecstatically vindicated that he had finally gotten to see Pulp live after missing their 1995 Glastonbury performance due to illness. His eyes were wild with disbelief over what had just happened, and his voice was hoarse with shouting “Was that not the best fucking show ever?” into the night air. He had also told us about how his grandfather always told him to “take snapshots” for his memories; these “snapshots” weren’t stored on film or hard drives, nor were they obtained at the expense of placing a lens between you and reality. His grandfather meant taking photographs with your memory. This man we had met only two minutes ago then asked me if I had taken a snapshot. At that moment, I realized that that was what I had been doing when Jarvis stood within inches of me, pointing a torch in my face. A shred of paper streamer in my damp palm; the nausea that comes with having subsisted all afternoon and night on two jammy dodgers proffered by friendly strangers in the crowd; the shaky limb weariness of catharsis; the dizzy light-headedness and body fever of heatstroke; the dazing aftermath of the enormity of the event causing me to meander aimlessly through the park as I processed it. I finally had my truly first time with Pulp, and I’m so grateful that it came at a time when they were so experienced.

To be continued…

I’ve decided to split this gig-going European vacation into at least two parts, so I will be back at least once more in the near future to write about the rest of the trip.

After that, however, this blog will likely remain relatively dormant, but for good reason: Laura and I have decided to start a new blog called From a High Horse. It will mainly be an MP3 blog, but we may also write about non-musical things as well. I figure having one extra writer may make the endeavour more sustainable. So, if you’re so inclined, pop on over…exciting stuff.

At the Indie Disco – The Divine Comedy

Do You Remember the First Time? (Live at the 2011 Wireless Festival) – Pulp

I Spy (Live at the 2011 Wireless Festival) – Pulp

20
Sep
10

The Impossibility of Smiths Covers: Hand in Glove Tribute and First CTRR Giveaway

This post has a back story. And a reason for me to come out of the hiatus once again. I was quite surprisingly contacted by 24 Hour Service Station, a Florida-based record label that released a double-disc New Order Tribute Album earlier this year. They were looking for a decent cover of The Smiths’ Hand in Glove by an indie band for an upcoming Smiths tribute album. I would say I have a fair collection of covers by one of my favourite bands of all time (estimated at around 400), but it seems nearly no one covers Morrissey and Marr’s frenetic masterclass in metaphorical defiance of the Good People. The only version that immediately sprung to mind was of course Sandie Shaw’s, but not only was she not an indie band, her version wasn’t all that good. And then there was This Charming Band, which is essentially straightforward tribute band material, and there was a harmonica-inflected, dragging version from Christian Kjellvander and Lise Westsynthius. And another from someone named Gerard, whose version nearly gives me a panic attack. There was also that live version that Saint Etienne did, but that wouldn’t work either.

However, now I wanted to be helpful, and I was quite drawn to the challenge of finding a decent version of Hand in Glove. I found a couple of other very indie bands that had performed it live, but didn’t appear to have a proper recorded version. And they also weren’t terribly good. Just as I was about to despair and admit defeat, I realized that I actually knew a few indie bands, and perhaps one of them might miraculously have a version of Hand in Glove. It was a long shot. But the lovely Vanilla Swingers answered the call.

Though they didn’t have a version on-hand, Miles and Anne figured they could put one together and record it as quickly as possible, leading to a one-day recording session and a lackadaisical, understated gem of a cover version. Though they took the similar duet route as Kjellvander and Westsynthius, theirs was much more melodic and retained an aloof, knowing attitude without boring a massive hole of ennui through your head. And so it came to pass that one of my most-loved bands of the past few years supplied the title track of this upcoming tribute album for another of my favourite bands.

This tribute’s tracklisting runs thusly:

Hand in Glove – Vanilla Swingers
Paint a Vulgar Picture – True Tone
What Difference Does It Make? – Vampire Slayers
The Boy With the Thorn in His Side – Home
Frankly Mr. Shankly – Questionface
Last Night I Dreamt That Someone Loved Me – Pulse
Death of a Disco Dancer – Loomer
This Night Has Opened My Eyes – Underwater
Handsome Devil – I Buried Paul
Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others – Skinnys 21
There is a Light That Never Goes Out – Edison Shine
Girlfriend in a Coma – Thee Chinadoll
Reel Around the Fountain – Q-Burns Abstract Message
I Know It’s Over – Rosewater Elizabeth

I’ll be honest – I hadn’t heard of most of these bands (except for Vanilla Swingers) outside of the context of Smiths covers. Since this was a reissue of sorts, many of these tracks had been previously released (the only one I don’t remember hearing before is from Skinnys 21). And in listening to this album, I was struck by what I would call the impossibility of the Smiths cover. Cover versions are a tricky business at the best of times, but I’m usually most underwhelmed by the scores of recapitulated pleas for getting what you want and too many lights never going out, spluttering away in mediocrity. Sometimes it’s best if the light goes out – come, come nuclear bomb. Rather than bore me with one of my most cherished songs. On the other equally as maimed, glove-bereft hand, the artists try so hard to blaze a new, albeit often misguided, path that they bury or shred the essence of what Smiths songs are: a perfect balance of incisive wit and brilliant guitar melodies.

Is there something inherently difficult in producing a reputable cover version of a Smiths song? Or is it because we Smiths fans tend to be on the foamier side of rabid about the band? Out of all the Smiths covers I have, I like less than ten. And I would say the majority of them part neatly on the side of twee and subtle, coming from mellow artists like Trash Can Sinatras, Stars, and Tom Rosenthal. An exception to that would be the spikier interpretation of Panic from Carter USM. My issue with Smiths covers seems just as difficult to articulate as the covers themselves.

Does this mean that drastic experimentation dilutes what I love about Morrissey, Marr, Rourke and Joyce, namely the apex of jangly guitar rock for outsiders with that ever-present Mancunian drizzle, first numbing my social ineptitude and then comfortably warming me with a renewing fortitude to face another day? Perhaps I really am just too close to The Smiths, and as an entity essential to my flawed personality, they just can’t be effectively improved upon in my ears. Maybe it’s the fact that their mythology along with that of fellow Mancunians, Joy Division, is the closest I get to believing in the incredulous. They’re simply too transcendent.

The tracks I tended to favour on this collection weren’t far from the original feel of The Smiths’ creations. Vampire Slayers’ loose, shambolic cover with some jazzy trumpet is a fun romp; the haunting, tremulous version of I Know It’s Over by Rosewater Elizabeth is a delicate, reverent interpretation. Home’s version of The Boy With the Thorn in His Side seems promising with its woozy, off-balance musical backdrop, but somehow the vocals veer just a wee bit too much into incoherent, distracting wonkiness. And while Q-Burns Abstract Message’s instrumental rendering of Reel Around the Fountain is undoubtedly dreamy and beautiful, I wouldn’t necessarily notice that it was the song it purported to be.

Because I feel an attachment to this album and its eponymous track, I have decided to run my first contest/giveaway. 24 Hour Service Station has printed up a limited number of CD versions of Hand in Glove: The Smiths Tribute, and are kind enough to let me run this contest. To enter to win one of three CD copies, please email me with your favourite Smiths cover version by midnight September 27, 2010 – please use subject line “Hand in Glove Giveaway.” Once the contest closes, I will draw three winners and contact them for mailing information.

**UPDATE** The contest deadline has been extended to midnight October 4, 2010. **UPDATE**

If you don’t manage to win a CD copy, you can purchase the digital one at iTunes or Amazon. And of course you can download the excellent Vanilla Swingers track below for free.

Hand in Glove – Vanilla Swingers

To give you a few more Smiths covers that I enjoy…

Handsome Devil – Parenthetical Girls

Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want – Tom Rosenthal

The Boy With the Thorn in His Side (Live at the 1995 Meltdown Festival) – Jeff Buckley

26
Aug
10

A Snag in the Social Fabric: The Young Hegelians

I’m breaking hiatus once again. And once more, it’s for a band I believe in, albeit a fledgling band that deserves support. Like one of my previously loved bands, the sadly now defunct Stroszek, this one is taking musical genres in different directions by shifting the lyrical ground in fiercely intelligent and sociopolitical ways. The Young Hegelians (not to be confused with the New York band of the same name) are based in Middlesbrough. Led by songwriter, Carl Jackson, this band has that fantastic self-belief and commitment to lyrics that are so often out of fashion. Without getting too embroiled in radical philosophical theory, the band’s namesake was a group of Prussian leftist intellectuals, including David Strauss, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Max Stirner, who used some of Hegel’s premises to promote republicanism and atheism. One day I will delve further into the nuances and details of the Young Hegelian philosophies. Preferably after I’ve fully grasped Hegelian concepts.

As I’ve stated before, I’m definitely one to fall for a band with a properly angry, passionate manifesto, and The Young Hegelians deliver that as well:

1) Our generation has been lied too. Our youth was misspent on revision and studying for exams that got us onto degree courses and apprenticeships which are now not worth the paper they are written on. Education has lost its value now it’s for sale to everyone. They said that you would be someone and that you would earn a decent wage, but all you got was the noose of debt around your neck and the grim realization that the promise of social mobility is slipping through your fingers. 2) Abhor the High Street. Fashion will destroy you. Fashion is not your friend. —Consumerism is the opiate that keeps you numb and you have failed to see the reason why magazines and the changing scene make you change your wardrobe every season— 3) Rock and roll is nothing but a money making scheme. While our elders tell us tales of the sixties, free love and how the punk movement waged a class war, it’s fair to say that as soon as the fun was over they were all off buying property and monopolizing parts of the world that didn’t belong to them. Rock and roll and youth culture as a whole are no longer revolutionary concepts. They do not make you quirky, interesting or unique. They just make you a potential profitable asset. 4) The internet is our salvation. We are on a new playing field, on a new world, where information is the key. It is anarchy, without structure, without rules, without laws and we have the power to mould this world into our own. Like Guttenberg (sic) inventing the printing press, we can redefine our environment through information, and in doing that we can redefine ourselves.

While I’d expect political bands to sit comfortably within the musical realms of punk, post-punk, and folk, I wasn’t expecting the sound of The Young Hegelians. Of course they cite the Manics as an influence (many intelligent, angry bands do), but they also include Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis in their list. This jazz background pleasantly surprised me, which probably says something about my expectations of political indie music and genre definition. The jazz/swing end of their spectrum of influences is not apparent on all tracks, but the spitting frustration found in their manifesto permeates. And best of all, The Young Hegelians simply don’t fit.

I currently only have two songs available to me for review, but they hold definite promise. The track God Nor Money begins with a drumbeat reminiscent of the classic Sing, Sing, Sing, and then Jackson launches into a tirade against religion and consumerism. It is an anthem for the skeptical and discerning outsider. The chorus, comprised of the line “I have faith in neither God nor money,” explodes out of the tight control of the quick swing before it, fully using dynamics to make its point. Clocking in at only two and a half minutes, it does have the brevity and slip-shod style of a punk song, but there is also the tribal rhythmic feel you get from the jazzier elements.

Unlike Bono’s overwrought (well, I suppose Bono may as well be a synonym for overwrought) tribute to one of the world’s most famous politician under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi by the Young Hegelians is more forthright and intelligent in its commentary. In fact, it’s the antithesis of the U2 anthem with rolling guitar breaking into jabs and syncopated lyrics: “Like a fairytale princess locked in a tower/Thirteen years have slipped by/Seconds turned to hours/There’s no charming prince/She’s a damsel in distress.” The shambolic groove of the verses bumps up against the bashing of the chorus, making the narrative style seem deceptively light-hearted and the chorus all the more gratingly dissonant. There is no wobbling sentimentality with soaring choruses here; Jackson’s vocals definitely veer into raggedy punk bellows and howls in both songs, keeping the song both grounded and desperate and well out of the realm of pretentiousness.

The Young Hegelians are rough around the edges, but I believe in rough around the edges. I believe in lack of belief. So many “DIY” bands today are polished and quantifiable. Catching and snagging your complacent, comfortable expectations can be a freeing and enlightening experience. They’re bravely out-of-step, and they clearly have something to say with their art. I await a full album for the follow-through. By then, I will have perhaps read more Hegelian philosophy.

The Young Hegelians’ MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/younghegelians

God Nor Money – The Young Hegelians

Aung San Suu Kyi – The Young Hegelians

21
Apr
10

Decadence, Doomed Youth, and Digital Rights: An Interview with Simon Indelicate

As promised, here is my email interview with Simon Indelicate. As expected, he gives thought-provoking, articulate answers – enough to stimulate many further intellectual debates. He did The Indelicates’ b(r)and proud.

Remember to go over to The Indelicates’ Corporate Records, pay for the privilege of listening to their music, and then if you’re so inclined, participate in their Versions Project, which you can find out more about at their website.

CTRR: This latest album is full of references to decadence, especially that of the 20s and 30s, musically and lyrically. What draws you to the ostentatious display of privilege for songwriting material?

SI: I think it’s fear. The defining feature of the 20s and 30s was really the way that they ended – with thuggish racists taking over whole countries and leading the world to the edge of destruction. Being a floaty intellectual in Weimar Berlin didn’t help at all, being young and drink-sodden didn’t help, reading academic theory didn’t help, romanticism did help but it helped the wrong side – in short, people like me doing things like I do, were utterly ineffectual in halting the advance of the worst thing that ever happened in the world. I find that scary and interesting.

Now I don’t want to say that any of this is fair or accurate – but when you’re at an upper middle class, libdem-voting party in Brighton and someone starts talking about ‘Jewish Power’ being a tangible force in global politics that needs to be challenged or when you see pop singers romanticising their nationality in near wagnerian terms or you see a parade of artificially kooky women neglecting the real world in favour of a silly pseudo-feminine dreamscape made of tits – you think about Unity Mitford and Sally Bowles and those liberal Germans who found Hitler such a fascinating dinner party guest and those German kids who found him boring and irrelevant and you start to wonder…

CTRR: Are there similarities between today’s “doomed youth” and “the young and the damned” of the early 20th century? Are they different? Discuss.

SI: I seem to have got ahead of you there. hmmm. Obviously, calling a song about methadone pretty tosspots in Hoxton ‘anthem for doomed youth’ is heavily irony laden and sarcastic – but this whole album is a more personal thing (when we use ‘I’ on this one, we generally do mean ourselves) and that song is a self-indictment as much as anything else: It’s all very well feeling hard done by because you can’t legitimately rebel against a broadly functioning society without a plausible radical alternative – but, hey, you could be having your cock shot off in Ypres, so cheer up…

I never do though – the lack of legitimacy makes it worse. winking smiley face.

There is a point to be made about the difference between today’s counterculture and it’s antecedents – it’s very easy to drop out now (and as easy to drop back in again with barely a blip on the CV) but you can’t really be Lenny Bruce without being prosecuted for obscenity, you can’t be Allen Ginsberg if bumming is legal, you can’t be Rosa Luxembourg and live. So I don’t trust the revolutionary heroes of the oxbridge dominated presses – there’s never been any risk in it. I suspect that the best minds of our generation are largely unheard behind the cacophony of careerism and networking.

CTRR: Your lyrics and music are socially engaged and espouse critical thinking, but at the same time there’s a strong vein of the romantic and anthemic. Are they both equally necessary for you?

SI: I would hope that we’ve never done romantic without undermining it in some way – it shouldn’t be forgotten that swooning entails a loss of consciousness. But yes, we have to admit to indulging in it a bit – you can’t really help it with music, it just sort of happens.

CTRR: You’ve written songs about specific people like Unity Mitford, Jeff Buckley, Pete Doherty, and now Patty Hearst. What attracts you to a particular public figure when writing a song? Are they generally exemplary of specific issues or did you choose these people for more of their idiosyncratic qualities?

SI: More often than not, songs will develop from a specific thought rather than from a broad set of intents; so, with Jeff Buckley, I was watching some 100 best songwriters of the 90s ever programme and listening to some pundit explain exactly what would have happened if he hadn’t died and it all seemed to have veered into the realm of hokum and soothsaying, because he was good at singing, Jeff Buckley, but ‘what if’ scenarios are reason’s wanks and no one’s more than just a person… hence song. You start narrow and aim broad.

the Patty Hearst one is a little different because it’s really not about her to any great extent. For one thing, it’s factually inaccurate, the SLA never ran guns to savages – that was this bloke in Brighton who I vaguely knew and who used to take guns to Papua New Guinea and then come back to the anarchist club to soak up praise for, essentially, being an arms dealer. It’s a song about a number of specific people like that – of whom Hearst is, as you say, an exemplar.

It is fascinating, the Patty Hearst thing though, especially when you consider that the terrorists we get nowadays are generally from prosperous backgrounds. There’s something about that bored, monied drawl coming out of a tape recorder to attack the ‘fascist insect’ and justify bank robberies. It’s so cool, so appealing and yet there was that innocent woman who got killed…

CTRR: This latest album features a wider palette of musical genres. Did the lyrics influence which genres you used?

SI: sort of. I mean, things like Roses and Be Afraid of Your Parents are about as close as we come to outright pastiche. but a lot of how the album sounds is down to having a long time to record it and being able to ponce about in a studio trying things out and recording ourselves goosestepping down corridors to use as percussion. Most of the arrangement was done on the fly and I think that, as much as anything, is why the genre shifts so much. The first record was done in a big hurry with a bunch of songs that we’d been playing live for two years. This time we had no idea what album we were going to make until we made it.

CTRR: You’ve decided to release a music video for each track on Songs for Swinging Lovers. Would you consider this a branding strategy to augment your already impressive “multidisciplinary” approach to selling music?

SI: The thing about music is that there’s loads of it. It is an abundant resource. The things that music does – provide an atmospheric backdrop, support dancing with rhythm and produce emotions unrelated to the immediate circumstances – are also abundantly available. There are billions of people in the world and millions of them can make music – the idea that any of them are special is pretty hard to support. And yet music continues to have a a market value. This clearly cannot be derived from its intrinsic quality as taste is variable and there are clearly others who can supply the same basic service as the highest valued music. The fact has to be then, that music acquires value from something tangential to itself: in other words, you’re not buying the music, you’re buying the fame. The fame is the whole of the work. Everything every band does is branding- I think you can do good things in that medium. So videos, books, economics lessons in interviews – we’re all about that now – if the brand is the art, then we want to make the best brand we can and we are proud to offer our range of Indelicates Lifestyle Enhancement Products.

I’m partly joking, of course, but I was reading an article the other day suggesting that the corresponding obligation to the right of digital freedom is to produce as much data as you can yourself. People should have free access to data but should feel a duty to contribute original data themselves – I like that idea. Lots of videos feels right.

CTRR: You have been very articulate about your opinions on the shift in the music industry, as well as on opposing the Digital Economy Bill (something I, too, am very much in opposition to, and I watch the proceedings of ACTA with equal frustration). Is this paradoxical conflict between information as capital and information’s immateriality down to a basic issue of incorrect metaphors and language? A way for money-hungry industry/government types to warp reality back into a past state that can’t be applied to current remediations?

SI: Yes, I think you’re right to an extent, there’s a real problem of maps being mistaken for territory in all this – information isn’t capital, it’s an abundant commodity that can be capitalised in the right context: when things get stuck in established categories they can very quickly become obscure. But also, I think, there is a real change in the economic realities that underpin the transfer of digitally encoded information – everything about it that was limited by profit-generating scarcity has become abundant and the only truly scarce resources left for the recording industry to exploit are nostalgia and sentimentality – hence all the handwringing about ‘record store day’ and all other processes that commodify and fetishise what really just amounts to shopping.

The whole business of copy and digital rights will have to be rethought by people who understand it.

CTRR: When I was taking my MA, I had an epiphany (rather belated, perhaps) about the necessity of rhetoric to to help us function in the face of too much information and not enough expertise. In the current climate of “universal” information access and an explosion of DIY art to be made immediately available to a global audience, how important are rhetoric and effective filters?

SI: I don’t have much time for expertise – it tends to be a distorting factor in the weighing up of information, there are no worse arguments than those which take the form ‘this expert says this, so there’ – especially now, in music, where the ability to hear the thing being described is so immediate. In many ways, those who know most about music are the least qualified to predict what a particular individual will enjoy listening to; a film reviewer who attends 5 press screenings a week and doesn’t read children’s books, for example, is entirely unqualified to tell a harry potter fan whether they’ll like the deathly hallows film. In that sense at least, I think people are quite capable of filtering the information themselves, finding particular bloggers who tend to agree with them, listening to albums that artists they like recommend… Expertise comes collaboratively from interaction not from any authority.

Rhetoric though, yes, I think I see what you mean – the assembling of thoughts into memorable phrases can clarify things as people go about the business of filtering their own data. I don’t think it creates opinion, but it probably helps to give it a form that makes it easier to share.

CTRR: Has the Internet merely exposed how much the average person values art?

SI: I think it has exposed the disparity between value and price. I wouldn’t want to live without Paradise Lost – as such, I value it highly, but I’ve never paid more than about £2.50 for a copy of it – that doesn’t necessarily mean I value it any less, just that value is expressed in broader terms than money.

CTRR: Would you ever plan a larger North American tour (including Canada, of course)?

SI: We’ve been planning one forever (we called the first album American Demo, after all) but cost is a massive issue and the benefits of being free from a record company do have to be set against the lack of tour support. If you or anyone reading knows a booking agent in the states who wants to book a viable tour for us – please feel free to send them stuff and ask them for us – it’s only the money that’s keeping us away :)

Anthem For Doomed Youth – The Indelicates

14
Apr
10

A Valuable Other to Everyone: The Indelicates’ Songs For Swinging Lovers

I had to come out of hiatus for this. Look at that album cover. How could I deny those puppy eyes and broken necks? Then there was the press release, which read:

Songs For Swinging Lovers is a stunning, diverse and intellectually complex record that marries the band’s trademark lyrical precision and songwriting skill with a broad palette of musical styles and influences. The strains of country, Weimar cabaret, holy bible-era manics, belle epoque cafe music, Muder (sic) Ballads-era Nick cave, 90s indie and 70s sleaze can all be heard in the arrangements.

My pulse actually turned to alka seltzer in my veins after reading that. It’s been over two years of admiring The Indelicates for their unpretentious intellect, their poetry, their leitmotifs, their dedication to critical thinking and dark humour. Now I can add new media warriors to their laudable qualities. I’m not overly passionate about most causes, but the one that I have been perhaps the most vocal about (well, my typing has been pretty deafening) is the paradigm-rattling effect of new media, especially on the music industry and the copyright vs privacy debate. I’ve been blathering on for years about the flaws in the music industry, about the McLuhanesque impact of the MP3 file, and about copyright laws in a digital world and the outdated metaphorical language that they are built upon. Here’s a band of artists that has taken a similar stance and used similar arguments to achieve something much more than a semi-academic blog rant. Instead, they have birthed Corporate Records and a praiseworthy sophomore album. As I’ve stated before, they are truly multidisciplinary in their branding and artistic endeavours; with their understanding of the direction the music industry is heading, The Indelicates should give lectures to the disappointingly backwards artists like those involved in the redundant FAC (I say disappointing because I was shocked at some of the artists on their list).

I first noticed Simon and Julia over two years ago while scanning through pages and pages of artists at the SXSW website; several months later, their debut album American Demo became the runner-up in my Top 40 Albums of 2008. Songs For Swinging Lovers is a much more varied affair in terms of genre; they actually fulfill the promises of their press release (no mean feat when so many bands fail to deliver on even the first of their claims). While this record may not be as immediately accessible as their first, it is very obviously both its sequel and equal and still teeming with more adept social criticism, including further incisive commentary on feminism, youth, the music industry, celebrity, fascism, hypocrisy, and narrow-mindedness. There is the same calibre of intelligent (often brutal) candour as that of Luke Haines, something that the majority of their cohort are missing and something that most are too afraid to touch. And while The Indelicates’ sleeves are draped in impressive influences (musical and otherwise), they twist them into something as original as art can ever be without being created in a vacuum, taking in history and apt social observations to complicate clichés and debunk everyday myths.

Pounding away as the first of two Weimar cabaret songs (a style preceded by the Indelicates’ Christmas treat of Zuhalterballade), Europe is a satire of decadence and privilege. The self-aware seediness to be found in continental salons of the early 20th century can be just as easily applied to the farcical display of more recent moneyed classes, and its undignified grasping is articulated perfectly through Julia’s vocal strength and unrestrained operatics. This is followed by the most Manics-inflected of the tracks, Your Money, which swells from a sweet piano melody into an electric guitar anthem bristling like a sea of broken flag standards. Simon spits a furious stream of brilliant lyrics, including a fantastic 1984 reference (“Do it to Julia”) that plays on his partner’s name as much as it does on the narrator’s self-conscious musings on hypocrisy and the sick dominance of money in the world of art. In yet another song about an ostensibly “brainwashed” historical figure (see the brilliant Unity Mitford on American Demo), The Indelicates serenade Patty Hearst with We Love You, Tania. It’s a loungey number with a staggering yet rousing feel, unsteady on its feet like someone who drank a pint glass full of yeasty honesty. It features the rather profound line, “When you’re other to everyone, you’re a valuable girl.”

Pushing on with their earlier themes of diseased celebrity culture, which yearns for damaged people, and parasitic media (see also New Art for the People, We Hate the Kids, Waiting for Pete Doherty to Die), they address one such hapless character in Ill. They chant:

Your sickness is your shibboleth
Your sex is your sickness
And you’ve got time, you’ve got time to lose
Because you’ll never take enough of those pills,
You know you’re too clever to be mentally ill,
You’ll never fashion your damaged soul
Because you’re too clever to lose control

The next track, Flesh, makes mine crawl a little, a testament to the combination of the astute lyrics and the interplay of Julia’s sweetly vacant vocals with Simon’s predatory background vocals, “oh, flesh.” The muted trumpet sounds filthy as Julia sings about the seemingly acceptable malleability of females and further feminist failings: “Hey doc can you take my skin and melt it into plastic/Beauty isn’t truth it’s just youth, it’s adaptive and it’s elastic.” Vocals then pass off to Simon for Savages, a tinkly ballad that turns into a soaring synthy anthem by its end, is a brilliant revel in the vindication of outsider-dom. With a wonderful tie-in with the album cover, the chorus goes, “the world has no need of the songs that we sang/We are savages and we’ll hang, hang, hang.” Savages also has one of my favourite lines of the record: “we are Greeks in the age of Rome/With no right to criticise the happily dull to Grecian eyes.” There’s fight and survival in the apparent surrender; any golden age is just a gilded cage.

I suppose it says something about my character that the macabre murder ballad, Roses, doesn’t disturb me as much as Flesh. In true Nick Cave style, Roses is mesmerizing and miasmic as it sways slowly through the savouring of a homicide – punctured lungs, sawed-off limbs and all – while also mocking the vampiric. The chorus, which gently croons “Do you bleed diamonds/do you bleed rubies/do you bleed roses?,” is enchanting and sinister to me in the same way Windmills of Your Mind and Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) are. The pace picks up again with Sympathy for the Devil; rather than a cocky rebel sneer, it’s a knees-up Irish drinking song told by a much more believable Beelzebub than Jagger’s. As he recounts his journey out of Heaven, he plays Pied Piper to an unnamed lover, who is to meet him at the border in the morning. We learn that even the Devil is dissatisfied with this world. This is also the first track to be made into a music video – the rest of the album’s songs will eventually follow. The second Weimar-themed song, Be Afraid of Your Parents, continues with the dramatics reminiscent of Brecht/Weill compositions as it lambastes fascism and its attractive rhetoric, including the dangerous dialectic to be found in scapegoating. Simon takes over vocals as he namechecks Derrida and Foucault and the distance from humanity that academic theory provides. The sentiment in the track’s title is one that permeates The Indelicates’ body of work; keep your mind sharp and keep questioning precedents and “truths.” Julia and Simon keep you off balance by embedding layer after layer of latent meaning and then shifting them about, shaking you out of passive consumption.

The musical tone of the record becomes lighter with the jaunty Jerusalem, a satire of the stillborn revolution in today’s young people, who think “it seems rebellious to vote Conservative now.” It also serves as a parody of the English patriotic song of the same title and perhaps a stab at Labour Party idealism. The clueless subjects of this track “excel at drama and formal debating,” but care to know nothing of reality and take pseudo-political postures instead. The final track on the album proper, Anthem for Doomed Youth, is a delicate song that skips along in a lackadaisical fashion and ends in heavenly choruses provided by Julia; it also emphasizes many of the points already made in Jerusalem. Simon reiterates the futility of youth-based subcultures and the lack of something worth fighting for or against, singing “there’s nobody left in the West these days/wronged enough to be a punk” and “we are miners no more/never torn by a war/neither starving, nor struggling, nor incredibly poor.” There’s also an excellent snarl of “the three-inch bruise at the crook of your arm/that in the right light looks like Jesus,” which may or may not be a parody of a line in The Killers’ When You Were Young. The two bonus tracks currently available on the Corporate Records’ site are I Don’t Care If It’s True and an acoustic version of Savages; the former is a proud refusal to join in anymore with latin accents while the latter is a fragile rendition with hints of the shambolic sighs found in American Demo‘s Better To Know.

The album is available for download from here, where you can choose what you pay. Come June, I know I will be buying a physical copy of the album and any book or foodstuff that can be added on to it. I have never been disappointed with their challenging art. They continue to dissect societal ills with a surgeon’s precision and a cabaret MC’s panache. Songs For Swinging Lovers confirms The Indelicates’ paradox of condemning idealism and evading the romantic notion of promising revolution or escape while simultaneously giving people something exhilarating to rally behind, a whetstone for senses dulled on complacency. Oddly enough, they encapsulate a different semantic plane of We Love You, Tania; they are definitely other to most bands, and thus, so valuable. We need a band like this even if the masses ignore them and their witty words just hang, hang, hang. I’ll gladly go to the gallows with The Indelicates.

My brief sojourn back in the blogosphere will last for one more post as I conduct my Indelicates interview.

Ill – The Indelicates

Savages – The Indelicates

25
Feb
10

See You On an Eventual Flipside

Some of you loyal readers may have noticed both my rather spotty posting record last year and my two month absence this year before finally revealing the Day of 200 Songs. I apologize, something I’ve been doing for a long time now. Soon after the Christmas holidays, I came to a difficult decision: I’m going to take an indefinite break from CTRR.

There were several factors, including my workload with my full-time job and with the couple of freelance gigs I’ve picked up. There was also the rather frightening breakdown over the holidays, which saw my regular depression slide into a pit I nearly couldn’t scramble out of. It made me take a step back from myself and take a re-think about what I was doing and what I wanted to do. I tried not to have too close a look because I’m still too fast to take that test.

It’s been two lovely years of writing about music with varying degrees of success. I very obviously still love music and will continue seeking out new sounds, attending shows, and reading music-related books, but I really need to take a break from writing about them. A break from trying to find words to make meaning of them. I’m hoping that this hiatus will allow me to write that novel I so desperately want to. I hope that something fulfilling will come out of the temporary loss of this outpost in cyberspace. Perhaps knowing that this is waiting for me when I finish will be the motivation I need to push through the prose building up inside my brain and on various scraps of paper in my bedroom. There are critics and there are artists; some people can manage to be both simultaneously, some cannot. I need to relinquish the former role to attempt to be the latter.

It all seems very serious. Perhaps I often take this blog too seriously, worrying over content and trying to keep to some impossible plan. I’ve always had ridiculously high expectations of myself, which often leave me frustrated and well…depressed. I suppose it would be easier if I just acknowledged that I’m not a polymath, nor will I ever be one. I’ve got to go looking for my sense of humour. My wit (if I ever had one) went out with the rest of them some time ago.

I don’t want to end this blog, but I also can’t push posts out for the sake of it. It’s not fair to anyone. I need to write properly or not at all. Everyone has their own purposes for blogging, including MP3 blogging. Mine really had mostly to do with writing. And in the process, my inner life leaked out onto other people’s screens despite never making an effort actually to write about my life. Probably because music is such a massive part of my life to begin with. And that will likely be the reason I return here again.

I’ve been reading a biography of Peter Mark Roget, who had a family history of severe mental illness. To stave off madness himself, he turned to creating lists, of course, eventually producing the first thesaurus. He constantly organized his world and found a way to preserve his sanity. I used music (probably have done for a sizable portion of my life) as a conduit to escape and to community, the best way I knew how to keep mad thoughts at bay.

Thank you to those of you who have followed me this far and said such supportive things. I think the Day of 200 Songs was a high note to leave for this hiatus because it demonstrates something beyond my selfish agendas. It’s proof that I was able to reach outside of my inner world and make some valuable connections. It’s evidence that sometimes this was more than a public forum for my personality quirks and grandiose yet insecure (rather Warholian) pathologies.

There will be a flipside. I’m just not sure when.

Thank You For the Ride – Mary Goes Round

I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday – Morrissey

William’s Last Words – Manic Street Preachers




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Gigs Attended

Arcade Fire w/ Bell Orchestre + Wolf Parade (2005)

Arctic Monkeys w/ Reverend and the Makers (2007)

Austra w/ Young Galaxy + Tasseomancy (2011)

Big Audio Dynamite (2011)

Billy Bragg w/ Ron Hawkins (2009)

Billy Idol w/ Bif Naked (2005)

Bloc Party w/ Hot Hot Heat (2009)

Buzzcocks w/ The Dollyrots (2010)

Damo Suzuki (2012)

David Bowie w/ The Polyphonic Spree (2004)

Diamond Rings w/ PS I Love You + The Cannon Bros. (2011)

Diamond Rings w/ Gold & Youth (2012)

Dragonette w/ Ruby Jean & the Thoughtful Bees (2009)

Frank Turner w/ The Cavaliers (2010)

Frank Turner w/ Into It Over It + Andrew Jackson Jihad (2011)

Franz Ferdinand w/ Think About Life (2009)

Gang of Four w/ Hollerado (2011)

Good Shoes w/ The Moths + The Envelopes (2007)

Hot Hot Heat w/ The Futureheads + Louis XIV (2005)

IAMX w/ closethuman (2007)

IAMX w/ Coma Soft + The Hourly Radio (2007)

Interpol (2007)

Janelle Monae w/ Roman GianArthur (2012)

Joel Plaskett Emergency w/ Frank Turner (2012)

Jonathan Richman (2011)

Keane w/ Lights (2009)

Lou Reed w/ Buke and Gass (2011)

Manic Street Preachers w/ Fear of Music (2007)

Manic Street Preachers w/ Bear Hands (2009)

Manic Street Preachers at Wanaja Festival (2011)

Mother Mother w/ Old Folks Home (2009)

Mother Mother w/ Whale Tooth (2011)

Mother Mother w/ Hannah Georgas (2012)

MSTRKRFT w/ Felix Cartal (2008)

Muse (2004)

Nine Inch Nails w/ Death From Above 1979 + Queens of the Stone Age (2005)

of Montreal w/ Janelle Monae (2010)

Owen Pallett w/ Little Scream (2010)

Patrick Wolf w/ Bishi (2007)

Prince (2011)

Pulp w/ Grace Jones, TV on the Radio, The Hives, The Horrors, Metronomy, Devotcka, Vintage Trouble (2011)

Rufus Wainwright w/ Teddy Thompson (2010)

Snow Patrol w/ Embrace (2005)

Snow Patrol w/ OK Go + Silversun Pickups (2007)

Sons and Daughters w/ Bodies of Water (2008)

Stars w/ Thurston Revival (2006)

Stars w/ The Details (2008)

Stars (2010)

Steven Severin (2010)

Stroszek (2007)

The Antlers w/ Haunter (2012)

The Flaming Lips w/ Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti (2010)

The Jesus and Mary Chain w/ Nightbox (2012)

The Killers w/ Ambulance Ltd (2004)

The New Pornographers w/ Novillero (2008)

The New Pornographers w/ The Mountain Goats (2010)

The Ordinary Boys w/ Young Soul Rebels (2006)

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart w/ Suun (2011)

The Rakes w/ The Young Knives (2006)

The Raveonettes w/ Black Acid (2008)

The Stills w/ Gentleman Reg (2009)

The Subways w/ The Mad Young Darlings (2006)

Tokyo Police Club w/ Smoosh + Attack in Black (2008)

TV on the Radio w/ The Dirty Projectors (2009)

Yann Tiersen w/ Breathe Owl Breathe (2011)

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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave

Photobucket

So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun

Photobucket

Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head

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Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away

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Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners

Photobucket

Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away

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You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender

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I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding

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You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black

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Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

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Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb

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Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape

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Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

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And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning

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My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it

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Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love

Photobucket

We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

Photobucket

Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south

Empty

Running on

Bravado

As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different

Photobucket

LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell

Photobucket

Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are

Photobucket

You must let her go

She's not crying

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Baiting

Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times

Valentines

Hating

Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone

Whipcrack

Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't

Photobucket

So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need

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The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest

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Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know

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No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more

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All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids

Photobucket

Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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