My arm itches, and it is pissing me off. I’m listening to Green by REM, and I’m not entirely sure why. I don’t like REM. I never particularly have. But we have one REM CD in the music collection where I work. One REM CD, one Sonic Youth CD, 3ft High & Rising, A Nation Of Millions and 10,000 jazz, blues and country records. Ergo, REM, Sonic Youth, De La Soul and Public Enemy are charged with representing ALL modern American music. Fantastic. We’re in safe hands. In case you didn’t know, I work in the audio/visual department of a university, looking after and cataloguing videos and records, thousands of them, and we house the second largest specialist American music collection in the country, after the BBC. On Mondays and Tuesdays we tend to play trad stuff from the collection, but in the later half of the week I work with William, and we tend to listen to anything we care to bring in or discover in the dark corners of the collection, from Jane’s Addiction to Orbital to weird fucking Slavic techno that we found in a box hidden away in the office (from the cover of Wire magazine, which the library buys for some unknown reason). Quite often we’ll have big London dub sessions of a Friday afternoon before we go for an après-travail beverage, and this often leads to the real librarians complaining. They fear fun. They fucking LOATHE it. The staff room is on the top floor and we non-librarian types have dubbed it ‘the morgue’ and refuse to go up there except to steal their water. Yes, so REM is the first thing I listen to today apart from the radio when I was in the shower. Tragic, isn’t it? Yesterday was Negro Songs Of Protest (by some slaves, one assumes), Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday, and Porgy And Bess by Miles Davis, and today is REM. Do I care? Not any more.
Periodically I go to the recording room and assail my eyes with the crazed genius that is Tetsuo, which we’re recording for a student. They want Saturday Night Fever after it on the tape. Fucking weirdo. Tetsuo, in case you don’t know, is a very, very strange Japanese film from 1989, involving ‘metal fetishists’ and gruesome black & white stop-motion photography. I’m assuming that the person requested Saturday Night Fever as an antidote for the furious sex-&-death phallic-drill-bit insanity. Incidentally, the soundtrack to Tetsuo is even more disturbing than the soundtrack to Eraserhead.
What is the purpose of this article? Is it, like Chris’, a psycho-sexual analysis of my brain facilitated by going through the abstracted minutiae of my listening habits? Is it going to reveal something about my character? Something profound which even I hadn’t noticed before? Probably not. I’m not as immersed in the vagaries of music as Chris is, I care not for local bands and split seven inches and punk rock and hipsterdom, and I have escaped the furious self-analysis which academic study and living seems to perpetually inflict upon young men given to ruminating on things like art and music and truth and beauty and love. So what is this? I think, in all probability, that it will literally just be a diary, a list of the things I listen to and why and when and how, what I see other people listening to, and why I think they’re idiots for listening to it.
It is now midday, and we’re onto Duke Ellington, which my elder female workmate chose, and which I find very pleasant. I wish he would swing more. Last night before bed I listened to “The Beat Goes On” by Buddy Rich, and that swung like an unwanted kitten in a sack being tossed into a river. I indulged myself for ten minutes or so last night, I must admit, by listening to that particular track, plus “Woman Of The Ghetto” by Marlene Shaw, which is an astounding piece of music, on headphones rather than through the speakers. I’ve got a nice pair of Sennheiser headphones, which cost my girlfriend a lot of money, and I barely ever seem to use them, which would cause me guilt if I were the type of person to feel guilt. Which I am, so I do.
My hi-fi. I cashed in some shares just before I went to university some 4 and a bit years ago, which meant I had about four thousand pounds behind me, and thus didn’t need to take a student loan in my first year. However, 2 weeks before the deadline for applying for student loans in the March of my fresher year, I decided I would never again get a loan on quite as good a set of terms as a student loan. So I borrowed two and a half grand, and then went and spent one and a half grand of that on a very nice separates set-up. The other grand went on beer and drugs and fine wines and CDs and what-have-you. Four years on and I still have the hi-fi, which is a thing of beauty, despite its dully black utilitarian façades, and it gives me great pleasure. When I remember to consciously experience just how great it is. Which isn’t often enough.
I’m lucky enough to be in the position of living in my parent’s house for reasonable rent, and having two rooms to myself upstairs. One houses my bed, my books, my computer and my assorted crap gathered over the last 23 and a half years of my life, while the other houses simply my hi-fi, my music collection, a sofa (bed) and a sadly under-employed ab-roller which I bought in the summer with the best of intentions. It also houses a small portable TV and a Sony PS1, for which I own about a dozen games but only ever play one (Pro Evolution Soccer), which I play religiously and obsessively as often as possible. Hence most of my music listening is done in a rather distracted way these days, and acts as a soundtrack to the game. If that isn’t the case then I’m listening to music intently with my critical head on, which means I’m picking the bastard thing apart, analysing it, trying to think of witty things to write, or shocking things to write, or deeply touching and profound things to write, which means that I’m not actually fucking enjoying it because I’m too close to it. Which is why I’m writing for Stylus less frequently these days. Take Idlewild or QOTSA, both albums I really liked this year and gave great reviews to, but neither of which I can bring myself to listen to now because they’re in my mental Outbox, they’re reviewed, my relationship with them is finished and they are now dead to me. Which sucks, frankly. But there you go.
And now all I’m listening to is silence. Silence and tapping. My own keyboard and David’s, tapping away in the quiet, strains of Calamity Jane coming from the cinema room which occupies the space beyond the wall next to my head.
People mainly use our department to watch films for academic courses, but occasionally we get people in who listen to the records, in their little brown square booths, who pick out some Miles Davis or John Coltrane because they recognise the names and, hell, they’re at university now and ought to be able to ‘get’ jazz, especially this famous weird stuff. I like to watch them, I like to see their eyes roll with incomprehension when Coltrane starts honking and rattling and loses himself in noise and chaos and whirling, indecipherable passions. I don’t get it, I don’t entirely think Coltrane got it himself, and I certainly don’t believe anyone else who claims to get it. How could you? Is jazz for the listener or the performer? I don’t know. But I find myself, when I listen to jazz, listening to something which soothes or swings rather than smashes or scrapes. But I’m only fucking writing about jazz in the first place to impress people, bollocks to it. There’s one guy, a skinny young-looking chap in a black leather jacket and sensible shoes, who comes and listens to old Motown records while he does his maths or science or whatever-it-is coursework. I have much more time for him than for the jazz-aspirants. I’ve pointed him towards a huge and expansive Atlantic boxed-set of vinyl that we have, and today he has been lapping it up. All I want to do, really, is turn other people on to the sounds that turn me on. So we can all be turned on together, and achieve some kind of transcendent state of enlightenment and spiritual honesty and peace and so on and so forth and no one actually believes this do they, not really?
Wednesday 20.11.02. AM.
Last night I had the pleasure of driving my dad’s car to football (I play every Tuesday night, and, hey, last night we won and I scored three and made three, success!), which, as well as being bigger and faster than the other family car I get to drive, also has a CD player. Hooray! No need to listen to the radio! (I hate British music radio with a passion, be it commercial or public service, and only ever listen to Radio Five Live, which is a sports and news channel, but unfortunately is on AM only, which neither of our car stereos receive.) So I can actually listen to music on the way to football without having to arse around with the minidisk player and the in-car adaptor and wasting batteries and shit. So I get to choose something... My revision of the year’s records implores me to pick something recent, something I liked and valued but want to reassess, something that I’m curious to see if it still moves me. Akufen? No. RJD2? No. The recently-purchased-but-unlistened-to Sigur Ros? No. I’m tempted, as ever, to go for the safe choice, Wilco, Lambchop, The Stone Roses, The Rolling Stones, something I know inside-out, something I love, something that will be sung along to for the 12-mile trip. But no, no, no. I must choose something I don’t know that well, something I think might be great but that compels me to ascertain if it really, irrefutably is great. So I go for the new Elvis Costello, which I bought months ago but haven’t really listened to yet. And it’s great. Really fucking great. I’d opened it up a couple of times over the weekend, and been struck by how fat and heavy and dirty it is, how much the basslines tie grooves to Elvis’ songwriting. Listening to it in the car, while not ideal in terms of sound quality, thrusts you right into the music, and having it on CD rather than tape certainly makes a massive difference. Wow, the brass arrangements on their own would make this a great record, even if it didn’t have the same kind of technological loops’n’grooves+melodies&tunes production and atmosphere that has garnered such acclaim for the Wilco record (plus much better guitar). Costello’s songwriting is just... Fuck me. You get the sense that he’s a real, actual, bona fide musician, an artist with a brain and with an idea, who constructs songs, designs them and constructs them and purposefully brings ideas to them... I have a vague memory of an interview with him on the radio a year or more ago (Five Live, naturally) where he was talking about using loops and taking a more groove-oriented approach to making music, and me thinking ‘jesus, so many people say that and try that and balls it up’, and wondering whether or not Costello (not being overly familiar with his work beyond a Best Of which I bought for “I Want You”) could pull it off. And then you realise, listening to the record, that he had no intention of making a tokenistic stab at credibility or ‘dance’ music, not at all, but it was an artistic decision, something that he wanted to integrate into his established palette of sounds and textures in order to learn something new, to test himself and broaden his scope but without engaging in the kind of pointless genre-hopping and oh-so-hip eclecticism that scuppers so many others. Costello has made a great album. He also soundtracks my 7 AM amble down the cliff top to catch the train, because I take the liberty of minidisking the album before I go to bed.
This morning, wow, William’s in and we’re taking advantage of being able to play music at work. We start with Welcome To Sky Valley by Kyuss, because Will likes Led Zep and I do not, but I do like Kyuss, and I think they’re the nearest thing to a modern-day post-punk desert-hardcore stoner-grunge Led Zep, only without the lyrics about pixies and dragons and Vikings and shit. But with the lyrics about shagging. We then went onto Five Leaves Left by Nick Drake, which Will had requested I bring in after perusing a print-off of my record collection. The skinny Motown fan asked who it was, and went off to listen to a Doors LP, which makes me scowl with disappointment. Dave and I then went out for a fried breakfast, and when we got back William had moved onto A Kind Of Blue, which encouraged a debate about favourite bits of jazz, specifically Miles, and also inspired much watching of the malt-shop scene in Pleasantville where Toby Maguire reveals the plot of Huck Finn to the sound of “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck and “So What” by Miles (one of my very favourite scenes from any film, equalled only by the jump-cuts up the beach to Roy Scheider’s anxious face in Jaws and the Aimee Mann sing-a-long in Magnolia). This then led to the frantic playing of Bitches Brew, specifically “Spanish Key”, for the moment 8 or so minutes in when Chick Corea or whoever hits that electric piano break once more, and someone vamps off it with a very short solo, deeply funky and deeply catchy (which is not something you get to say about Miles Davis with any great frequency). Then we’re onto Porgy & Bess, followed by Stanley Jordan, who plays guitar by tapping the fret board with both hands, pick-ups turned as high as they will go to catch the sound. Technically astonishing for sure, but it leaves me cold, shiny 80’s production that goes *plink*, bad haircuts and nasty shirts. No, the passions and brewing storms of Porgy & Bess are much more my thing, so much so that I’m feeling compelled to wander into town and buy the lavish Columbia Legacy CD reissue of it at lunchtime.
A word on record shops... Chris mentioned ‘record shop girl’ in his diary, the cute and slightly aloof girl behind the counter who makes you feel nervous, daintily pretty but with strength in her eyes, a touch of PJ Harvey or whoever it is that sings songs which make you wanna surrender either to love or sex or a combination of the two. We all know her, from various record shops around the world, and we’ve all had those daydreams and moments of palpable, palm-moistening anticipation and disquietude at the counter as we wait to see if she scowls at our purchases. Anyway, just to rub it in slightly, I’m going out with that girl, and I have been for over a year. She’s called Emma, she STILL scowls at my purchases, but now she gives me discount. And she’s just got a job in an off-licence as well, so that’s 20% off wines and beers from now on too...
Leadbelly leads us into lunchtime. It’s fucking dull, really. Fuck it. I put RJD2 on again.
Wednesday 20.11.02. PM.
It boggles my mind how so many people can be so divorced from their brains and critical faculties that they cannot taste the difference between a cake and a dog shit that is the colour of a cake. Case in point – modern British rock music, be it Ashcroft or Radiohead or Coldplay or whoever, this stuff is lapped up with great enthusiasm by the general public despite the fact that it is SHIT. Why? In some cases it’s because they’ve made a great record in the past and are now resting on their laurels. Oasis made a great first record and a decent second record and then a load of toss, and if you push any Oasis fan then they will admit that they like the early stuff best, if you watch any Oasis gig it’s “Live Forever” and “Wonderwall” and “Slide Away” that get the best reactions, and it’s not because they’re older or better known, it’s because they’re fucking great, classic songs, and “Go Let It Out” and “The Hindu Times” simply are not. But they have the same colour as those old songs, because they’re Oasis-coloured, much like Ashcroft’s stuff has the same colour as The Verve, or Coldplay’s entire recorded output has the same colour as Radiohead/Buckley/The Verve/etcetera (only the Coldplay colour has more magnolia mixed into it). It’s totally, utterly inferior, but because it is superficially similar, most people can’t engage enough to see through the veneer of similarity to the glaring crapness beneath. “But it’s got guitars on it, I likes guitars!” Fuck off, you retarded piece of culturally bereft SCUM. I can’t stand it. People like music just because it has superficially similar aesthetics to other stuff that they like? How so? How so? Not all things that are green, or steel, or wax, or cardboard are beautiful or useful or good, some are and some are not and just because something is made of marble or whatever does not mean that it assumes the qualities of all other things made of marble in terms of its beauty or worth. Not all girls with blonde hair are beautiful. Open your eyes! Engage your brains! Have an awareness of your interaction with the world! Chad fucking Kroeger may sound like Kurt Cobain in the timbre of his voice but that does not mean he has the same talent or worth or depth of meaning! Suckers, you’re letting yourselves be duped by bad facsimiles of past glories, you’re ignoring the new glories in favour of them, and what’s more you’re paying for it, you fucking dolts. I despair, I really do. Having said that, I’m still listening to RJD2, who is, to all intents and purposes, a facsimile of DJ Shadow. Do as I say, not as I do.
Thursday 21.11.02. AM.
Yesterday afternoon was given over to Miles almost exclusively at work, spinning Live Evil, Tribute To Jack Johnson and Porgy & Bess again (which I did buy, for a massive £6). We then had to record some speeches by Martin Luther King for someone, so we listened to those (what a fucking beautiful, powerful voice the man had), plus some spoken word records of his wife reading extracts from her book about his life, which is where the title of this article comes from, being, as it is, a rather wonderful thing to be able to say... It is, I must confess, pretty cool working where I work. The students (and there are a definite bunch of regulars who hang out here as well as working and watching films here) are always asking how I managed to land the job. To which the reply is – saw it in the paper, applied, interviewed, appointed – simple as that.
Anyway. Last night. My Pro Evolution Soccer half-hour was soundtracked by Evil Heat, Primal Scream’s rehash of their own, superior XTRMNTR. And while Evil Heat has maybe four very good tracks (the first three and the penultimate), it’s nowhere near as good as XTRMNTR. I was probably too generous with the review, because the appeal of it as a record hasn’t lasted, much like Vanishing Point. Nice ideas, shame about (most of) the tunes.
Also last night I listened to the Fireworks EP by Embrace (UK) in the car as I drove to my girlfriend’s house. Embrace are a band I’ve fallen in and out of love with, a band I’ve been involved with in quite an intense manner for several years now, ever since I wrote a fanzine which was heavily themed around them back when I was 18 or so. To cut a long (very, very long) story short, I ended up knowing the band reasonably well and being very good friends with the singer and the guitarist’s younger brother, as well as a whole crowd of other people who regularly went to gigs and used their website, until, 18 months ago nearly, I ended up helping to make a documentary for Channel 4 about them, which was then shown on MTV2 several times. Uergh. Fireworks was their first proper EP release, and still sounds pretty good today to be honest. Four tracks, veering between extreme noise terrorism and crisp, filmic melancholy, “The Last Gas” still has a guitar solo that feels like being punched in the face, the horns in “Now You’re Nobody” still make me feel like I’m about to cry, and the title track... well, no matter how secure you may be with someone, it still puts doubt in your mind. I listen to “The Last Gas” twice, and the title track once. Weird, how you can be so convinced a band are gonna absolutely be it, the one, the one to break the door down, and then they end up just being ‘quite good’. Oh well.
Then, after watching Go at my girlfriend’s house, I immersed myself in Talk Talk’s masterful Spirit Of Eden, literally. Darkened room, pillows on the floor, headphones... Fucking wonderful. After 20 minutes I didn’t know or care who or where I was, I couldn’t feel my limbs, I wasn’t awake and I wasn’t asleep and I wasn’t sure if I could actually hear or not... All these people listening to, fuck knows who or what, Britney, maybe, or Robbie Williams, people who’s relationship with music doesn’t go beyond what they dance to when pissed / on drugs or what they tap their fingers on the steering wheel to, do they appreciate what they’re missing out on? Do they still think we’re weird? If we forced them to do what we do would they understand? What happens to us when we reach 40 years old, guys? Chris, Todd, guys, where are we going to be in 20-odd years time? I know a guy vaguely from my old job (he was a semi-regular customer in the pub) and he’s fat and 40+ and balding and only ever wears black and he’s a transport enthusiast, him and his mates collect old buses and re-do them and then travel around the country getting pissed on real ales and you can tell that none of them have ever really got past that stage of arrested adolescence, none of them have wives or kids or lives beyond this, and I see this guy in record shops and nod and say ‘hi’ and he’s still looking at Ramones boxed sets and THEY’RE ALL DEAD NOW and, get this, SO ARE THE OLD GUYS IN RECORD SHOPS BUYING CLASH REMASTERS, dead on the inside anyway. You’ve seen High Fidelity and cursed it and said “fuck off am I like that”, and you’re right, you’re not, but you’ve also seen Steve Buscemi in Ghostworld and said nothing and not cursed him or the film because you know full well that if you don’t stop now then that’s you and your life is over RIGHT NOW, because nothing gets any better or any deeper or any anything after THIS POINT when you first find yourself replacing old Stevie Wonder CDs with the new remastered ones. And this morning I saw Eddie, who’s in his sixties, and cycles miles every day, and bought a book of the 1,000 greatest albums ever made about a year ago, and was going through it buying them all, and now his wife who was 20 years younger than him has left and moved back to the city and he had a bag of CDs on the train that he was taking to the second-hand record shop and, stop me if I’m getting too sentimental, but that’s tragic, and you could see in his eyes the resignation and the pain...
“The Boatman’s Call” by Nick Cave played me to sleep.
Anyway, on a more cheery note...
This morning in the office we have had the pleasure of the studio disc of Live Evil, the airy Bryter Layter by Nick Drake (continuing William’s request), Little Feat, which was more fun than Leadbelly but still not quite to my taste. David also dug out some Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which... Well, I guess I ought to say was magnificent and uplifting and inspirational and so on and so forth, but, to be honest, like so much world music that I hear, it faded into the background like wallpaper and didn’t inspire any real thought or feeling in me whatsoever beyond a kind of blandly pleasant shrug. This we followed with Giant Steps by The Boo Radleys (hopefully you’ve read my review and have sought it out so you know how great it is), and now, at ten to three, Orbital’s eponymous brown album, which, FUCK ME, is an awesome, awesome record.
Anyway, I’ve promised Todd a classic review, and I only have two hours or so left at work, so I must get on and do it (in work’s time, of course)...
Thursday moving into Friday. 21/22.11.02. PM/AM.
I’ve found my spaceman pen. The batteries on my camera are dead, and I can’t find any spare batteries anywhere in the house, so my pictures must remain on the camera and not on the PC. I am alone. I have beer. Talk Talk is oozing from the PC speakers, and when it surges I almost feel overwhelmed like I don’t know how to type anymore, or as if I must learn to type faster to capture that sensation for that second as the guitar swells and Mark Hollis utters... something... and try as I might, this is my curse, try as I might, and for 8 years I’ve been trying, that noise, that thing that noise does to me, I can’t get it, what the fuck ever, ever made me think that I could? I can’t capture it and tie it down in words. I can’t. It’s hopeless. Is there some doomed romance in trying to? Like trying to live your life like a life remembered? Catch time by the tail? I suggest you read Nausea by Sartre. “I am moved, I feel my body as a precision tool at rest. I for my part have had some real adventures. I can’t remember a single detail, but I can see the rigorous succession of circumstances. I have crossed seas, I have left cities behind me, and I have plunged the course of rivers towards their source or else plunged into forests, always making for other cities. I have had women, I have fought with men; and I could never turn back, any more than a record could spin in reverse. And all that was leading me where? To this very moment, to this bench, in this bubble of light humming with music...” And he was a fucked-up ginger French alcoholic.
Spirit Of Eden by Talk Talk is truly one of the greatest records ever made. This afternoon I wrote a review, 111 words, no verbs, no nouns, no punctuation, just adjectives separated by stops. It was a difficult thing to write, and several times I almost gave up and wrote a ‘straight’ review, but I didn’t want to. So I stuck at it, my brain’s rhythm switched from ‘fluid’ to ‘staccato’, and it was hard. And, fuck it, if Todd likes it you’ll read it, maybe.
This afternoon we played “When The Music’s Over” by The Doors. William put it on, and within a bar I was gutted, ‘cos I knew it was The Doors and I think they suck, and within four bars I was happy, ‘cos by then I knew it was “Music...” and that’s a great, great, awesome fucking behemoth of a tune. I remember being 16 and very, very fucked, and wearing a big brown coat and thinking I was god in front of a mirror with that tune on, thinking it was gonna implode the world. It didn’t. We played “Chicken Skin Music” by Ry Cooder. It was crap. We played selected Velvet Underground tunes. “Candy Says”. “Pale Blue Eyes”. “Venus In Furs”. “Beginning To See The Light”. We left work and I bought some jeans and two DVDs for my brother for Christmas. It has been a good day. I drove my girlfriend home from work and ate Korean kimchi noodles for dinner.
Talk Talk has finished, and Sigur Ros slides into the PC DVD tray. I’ve not listened to the new LP much yet. There’s no doubt that this is beautiful music, and I loved their last album... But... I saw them live a couple of years ago, and they picked the wrong venue, it was a standard ‘rock’ venue, and what they do was not suited to being standing in a crowd of 2,000. In a church, a cave, on a promontory, in space, alone, I would have broken down and cried. With 2,000 London dwellers, I was unmoved. I left the gig early, went to an Australian pub, and drank until I fell. Ever since then they have moved me less and less. I see the new CD, unnamed, tracks untitled, a blank booklet, and I think ‘pretentious wankers’. Life is not just pain and beauty and beauty is not just pain and melancholy and melancholy is not always good and music should be about life and for this reason I will always side with The Boo Radleys or The Stone Roses or Miles Davis or Sly Stone over Radiohead or Leonard Cohen or Sigur Ros or Godspeed, because life has so many more dimensions than their music does and however powerful the dimension they choose to express may be, it is not the only one. Joy, to me, is more worthy and more profound and more beautiful than pain. I’ve done pain. I’ve cried my tears. I want out of that now.
While browsing the net for stuff about Talk Talk I came across the name AR Kane, which is a name I have come across before, a mystical name shrouded in uncertainties and strange associations. I check All Music, I check Amazon, and I buy their two most lauded albums. That’s how I found Talk Talk, how I found Four Tet, how I found so many albums I have bought recently.
Even so, this Sigur Ros album is beautiful. I’ve drunk three beers now. I’m tired. I want my bed. But I want more music. I want to be overwhelmed and lose my sense of time and space and momentum, I want to lose my body and mind and everything and not have to think or feel or worry about anything ever again. I want God but I know God does not want me. We are god. We do not want ourselves.
Friday 22.11.2002. PM.
Astral Weeks is playing upstairs to no one in particular. I’m actually enjoying it, which is something I’ve waited ages to be able to say, because apart from the first track and “Young Lovers” it’s never really grabbed me as being as great as everyone says it is. Before that it was “Windowlicker” by Aphex Twin, which I got a very strange craving to hear for some reason, and before that The Remote Part by Idlewild, loud, and it was great, though I must now admit that I am worried Roddy Woomble may be a fascist dictator in terms of the band ever since Bob left. I’d hate it if Roddy ruled Idlewild with an rod of steel. I find it difficult to listen to The Joshua Tree, good as it is, just because Bono is such an insufferably pretentious wanker these days (these days? Every day, ever in his life). Actually, I also find it hard to listen to The Joshua Tree because I only like the first three songs, and it’s on the bottom shelf, and I’m not sure three songs warrants kneeling down to get the fucker.
I’ve just slipped Magic Bullets by Mega City Four into the computer, and it’s like going back in time, wow... Mega City Four were a modestly successful punk/pop band from the late 80’s / early 90’s, and my elder brother was involved with them much the same I was with Embrace, only without the writing or TV shite. And because he was into them, I had to be into them too. And though I rarely if ever dig out their CDs now, and I’d never make any great claims for them, they’re really not bad. Strongly melodic, melancholy guitar pop, 3-minutes and a handful of hooks and that’s it. And really, sometimes, that’s best. (As an aside, Magic Bullets was released in 1993 and featured sleeve photography by Mary Scanlon, who in 1995 did the band photos of The Verve, then my favourite band, and in 1997 she took band photos of Embrace, who were my favourite band by that point. Weird, huh?)
It’s been an odd day for listening, all told. My head hurt till about lunchtime (chemical beer for supper, you see), and I mooched around before going to the pub I used to work at for lunch. All I listened to this morning was Radio Five Live, news and topical discussion (today, as has been for the last few weeks, the firemen’s strike). I couldn’t face drinking a glass of water which I knew would rehydrate me, and I couldn’t face putting a record on, which I knew would lift my mood, so I stayed achy and downbeat till late this afternoon, when I finally listened to Skyscraper National Park by Hayden. It’s not particularly great, far too one-dimensional, but it’s pleasant. His vocals irritate on occasion, a touch too twee. I decided at that point that I needed something I knew well that I could holler along to. So I stuck on a couple of old Bluetones b-sides, “Simple Things” and “Nifkin’s Bridge”, which did the trick. The Bluetones were one of the first bands I got into during my ‘quest’ years (1996-1998), when just about every guitar band I got into had to be ‘the new Stone Roses’. A pointless exercise which turned up very few bands worth anything whatsoever apart from The Verve (and then only their first two LPs).
It’s amazing how I still know this record (Magic Bullets) inside-out even though I’ve not heard it in years, amazing how it still has near enough the same effect on me as a 23-year-old as it did when I was 14. Thinking about it, I bought some new deodorant the other day that I put on this morning, and it’s the same stuff I used to use when I was 14 or 15. Jesus, I still remember every single word and intonation, every single guitar line and hook, every drum fill. I played this record absolutely to death when I was younger, this was the catharsis for every unrequited, impotent teenage crush I ever had, every moment of reckless lost-in-noise abandon. Is my affection for and reaction to this record just because of memory, is it merely association? Have I programmed myself? Am I my own Pavlov’s Dog? I’d like to say that, actually, some of these songs are pretty great, and I would, if only I wasn’t slightly aware that I could only be telling myself that to justify how this is making me feel right now. Fuck it, some of these songs actually ARE pretty good, those harmonies just then were great, that drumming’s really good, and I love the way he twists the chorus a little too fast and then we’re into this cool breakdown that’s just melodic enough and just noisy enough and then that’s the end of the tune. Class.
I’m enjoying this more than I’ve ever enjoyed Astral Weeks. Does that mean it’s better than Astral Weeks? Does it mean I’m an idiot with no idea of how to judge quality? Or is it simply a totally different kind of enjoyment of a record that’s just a valid? Were I to compile a list of my records in order of preference, would I put Astral Weeks above Magic Bullets just to look as if I ‘get’ it, so that I can be admitted to the elite club of people who ‘know art’? And how do I judge preference anyway? I can’t quantify or qualify pleasure. I know I’d never, ever claim that I enjoyed Citizen Kane more than Jaws.
And when I was 14 I was totally, utterly convinced that these songs were about ME... And you know, once you’ve heard them and felt them and taken hold of them, they ARE.
Saturday 23.11.2002. PM.
I started the day with Help! by The Beatles, ‘cos I wanted some pop to wake me up, and then Surfer Rosa immediately afterwards, ‘cos it didn’t work. If I ever have a son, I intend to sit him down on his 13th birthday and explain The Pixies to him, in the hope that he will become a revolutionary deviant.
This afternoon featured a rather unusual choice of listening material, inspired by my girlfriend going through my dad’s CDs and turning out The 80’s Love Album and an old sixties compilation, which we went through pretty arbitrarily, skipping tracks we didn’t recognise and singing along with those we did. Here’s a list of what, why and how...
The Bangles – "Eternal Flame"
Recently butchered by Atomic Kitten, the original, wow, bittersweet pop, fantastic, dramatic and passionate. Have to admit I really enjoyed it, despite the dodgy 80’s sound.
Marillion – "Kayleigh"
One of my most hated bands ever, indulgent, pretentious prog-rock wank of the highest order, and yet, due to listening to the Misplaced Childhood album far too often when I was 11, this was a seriously guilty pleasure. Stone me
Boy Meets Girl – "Waiting For A Star To Fall"
Neither of us recognised the title or artist, but both of us squirmed with pain when we recognised the tune. Convinced it’s from some dodgy 80’s film, but can’t ascertain what. Didn’t get to the end.
Madness – "It Must Be Love"
Great. Little more to be said.
Belinda Carlisle – "Heaven Is A Place On Earth"
Again, this is just a great, great pop song.
Richard Marx – "Right Here Waiting For You"
This is not. Awful schmaltz, just as bad as I feared. This song also signalled the end of our love affair with The 80’s Love Album.
Johnny Cash – "Boy Named Sue"
“Bill or George – anything but Sue!” This was an aberration that we played before the sixties compilation just ‘cos Emma wanted to hear some Johnny Cash and I love this song.
The Monkees – "I’m A Believer"
Wow! How many hooks? Too many! And who wrote it? Neil fucking Diamond! That’s who! One of the greatest songs ever. I also noticed, for the first time, that it’s the ugly one who sings lead vocals. I knew there had to be a reason for him...
Dusty Springfield – "I Only Want To be With You"
Dusty In Memphis is one of the finest albums ever made, and while this doesn’t come close, it’s still good. Emma finds it amusing that I didn’t know she was a lesbian until about three months ago.
The Beach Boys – "Good Vibrations"
If you don’t love this you must be dead.
Glen Campbell – "Wichita Lineman"
The Hollies – "He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother"
Marvin Gaye – "Heard It Through The Grapevine"
Four in a row.
Otis Redding – "Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay"
Now this, you may be surprised, I’m not so keen on. Why? Dunno, it’s just a bit flat for Otis, he needs to be stomping and champing at the bit, tearing out his heart and hollering his throat raw with passion. This has a nice bassline, a good whistle (which De La Soul used to better effect!), and soundtracked a good film, but that’s about all.
Aretha Franklin – "I Say A Little Prayer"
This may be the greatest tune ever written.
Dionne Warwick – "Do You Know The Way To San Jose?"
I’m so weak for Bacharach. This is the first song I can ever remember properly, sitting in the backseat of my mum and dad’s car on the way to the supermarket on Saturday mornings, aged, what? 3? 4? 5? 6? Certainly not much older, and wondering where San Jose was and trying to figure out what all the stars who never were were doing immediately before they were pumping gas. When I was 18 I finally bought a Bacharach compilation and found out.
The Four Tops – "Reach Out, I’ll Be There"
Good, but decidedly not great. I prefer Stax to Motown, generally, as a singles label, but Motown obviously made great strides with LPs in the 70’s thanks to What’s Going On and then Stevie. Isaac Hayes was perhaps the only Stax artist doing something similar in scope in terms of albums.
James Brown – "I Got You (I Feel Good)"
Sly always, always, always wins the funk war, but this is still a decent tune, even though James Brown is perhaps too much the people’s choice (what do the people know, eh?). It always takes me back just how minimal this tune is compared to how I remember it as well, there really is fuck all going on, which is kind of cool.
Van Morrison – "Brown Eyed Girl"
Top tune. More fun than Astral Weeks, obviously, but does that make it better? Still undecided.
The Byrds – "Mr Tambourine Man"
Hate Dylan, like The Byrds. Would rather listen to “Feel A Whole Lot Better” or “CTA 102” than this though.
Later on in the car I hear “Work It” by Missy Elliot on the radio again, and this time I give up. I don’t know if an album is out yet, so I nip in Woolworths and have a look. Under Construction. Cool. I nip home and log on, check a couple of websites (allmusic.com, here [no review, bastards!], amazon.co.uk and metacritic.com) to see what the consensus is. I’m after something as mad as the single, hooky, slightly insane, funky and good fucking fun, spread out over a whole album with no shite ballads about god and no hard-faced boasts about guns and gold. The consensus is that the album is great, Missy’s attempt to get back to an old-skool hip-hop block-party kind of vibe, which is what I want. I drive back down to the shop and buy it. This is unusual for me. I don’t like modern hip-hop at all. I grew up on Tribe, PE and De La Soul, I love jazzy, funky, danceable block-party type numbers with a good swing and groove to them, and I love PE’s noise-as-hook sonics and political stance, but the hard-faced, materialist, woe-is-me-I’m-so-talented shit that seems to proliferate these days leaves me totally cold. Being white and English I get the idea that this music is not for me and does not want me. I make maybe one token new hip-hop purchase a year, and it’s generally something fogey-ish and acclaimed in rock circles because I am a wimp (Common, D’Angelo, J5, you know the type of thing). But Missy is someone who keeps pumping out singles that I can’t help but get caught by, and now I’ve finally relented and bought an album by her. I must say, it seems pretty cool on half-a-dozen listens, immaculately produced, as I expected, and just about funky enough to keep me interested. I can even stand to ignore the spoken-word segues and the hypocritical guff about god (you think god would have any time for people in fur coats and gold chains? Think again) and family and so on. I’ll probably buy her other stuff over the next couple of months, certainly Supa Dupa Fly and So Addictive. Am I missing out on a whole world of music that I should know about? I don’t know. I’m from a sleepy seaside town in southern England, modern hip-hop comes from a culture totally alien to me. (Even if my girlfriend’s hip-hop obsessed 16-year-old brother has his record collection organised into ‘east coast’ and ‘west coast’ stacks...)
Sunday 24.11.2002. PM.
Sunday is a day of rest. Missy got a spin. Last night I fell asleep to Sigur Ros after watching Die Hard and The Shining during the evening. The Sigur Ros LP, much like the Lambchop LP, I can tell is going to be very beautiful and rewarding after repeated listens, I just don’t know if I can be bothered to give it the necessary attention right now. Is that a shame? Probably. I compiled my top 20 for the year last night and this morning, and it will appear, don’t worry. They’ve achieved, in two years and two albums (outside of Iceland anyway), the kind of critically unassailable position that Radiohead needed five years and three albums to get to. But then again, they are Icelandic, which is a distinct advantage in terms of garnering critical merit. Just look at Bjork and Múm.
I spent the late morning / early afternoon playing Pro Evolution Soccer and listening to football on the radio. I shall spend this evening watching a film (Alien) with my girlfriend, so there won’t be much listening going on today, I’m afraid.
Monday 25.11.02. AM.
I get into the office first as usual, and turn everything on. The last LP played on Friday afternoon starts up automatically – We Want Miles, a live LP from 1981. I like it. It’s pretty straight ahead for Miles, but I guess he was getting old by 1981. However, when side 1 finishes, the silence that ensues is strangely comforting, and I don’t rush to flip side 2. Which is good, because when I do finally put it on some 30 minutes later, it features some godawful slap-bass.
Come 11am I fancy something unspeakably enjoyable, because cataloguing French films, while interesting, can become tedious. 3ft High & Rising suffices in wonderful style. Man I love this record. How can anyone not love it? It’s got it all, it really has. What I was saying the other day about joy being as profound, more profound even, than pain – this album is that in a nutshell, something I can remember dancing to at discos when I was 12 (we were gifted with remarkably cool DJs at our school discos), something I rediscovered at 16 and have played many, many times since, every instance a pleasure. Quite why De La Soul sought to move away from the album after it hit home is a mystery, why divorce yourself from a style that so many people love? I guess we can take consolation in Tribe churning out a sequence of very good albums, but it’s tragic that none of them (bar maybe Low End Theory) were as splendid, as inspired, as De La Soul’s debut. I follow it up with Robert Johnson, because, well, I’m not sure, but it works. From De La Soul to selling your soul, via Exeter University Library. Count Basie is next up, and is largely ignored in favour of work.
Monday 25.11.02. PM.
At lunchtime in a record shop I notice Phil Spector’s Christmas album has been remastered and re-released, and I make a mental note to buy it next week when the paycheque goes in. Hopefully the Talk Talk, Mark Hollis and AR Kane albums I’ve ordered from various places will come in soon too. The Spector discovery inspires Sue and me to seek out some Ronettes in the afternoon, and we find an old 45 of “Be My Baby” hidden away in a box. It’s warped to shit but still sounds great, Ronnie Spector and her girls pining through years of in-grained dust and grime moulded into the wax grooves of the disc, some object of a long-forgotten crush rendered timeless by spirit of the song. I want to hear “River Deep Mountain High”, but have a feeling we won’t have it. I don’t bother looking. I have it at home somewhere on an old minidisk compilation. In the box with The Ronettes we find the Mini Wash EP by Rose Royce, and of course that has to go on, some bona fide slick-assed funk to soothe away the foggy winter afternoon in the basement. Our office has no external windows, hence no natural light or air circulation, and we rely on strip lights and a fan, but for 12 minutes we’re in sun-drenched Philly, waxing our bonnets and shaking our ass, and it’s glorious. “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is”. Awesome. The light-hearted mood leads me to put on The Arnold Schwarzenegger Total Body Workout LP, something we found a month or so ago in a very dusty corner, and possibly the greatest record ever made. “Tense those calves, one and two and three and four, come on, do it!” he exhorts, and we resolutely fail to tense anything except our stomachs as we laugh at the crazy future Republican President. The idea of an Austrian ex-actor being President of the US scares me but does not surprise me. It’s only a matter of time now the box office has dried up. Remain In Light by Talking Heads plays out the rest of the afternoon, partly to continue the funky vibe, and partly to reassure me that there are some decent, intelligent, cosmopolitan people in the world, even if they are weird.
At home I eat dinner and then listen to Pre-Emptive Strike by DJ Shadow as I play Pro Evolution Soccer. My girlfriend is working till 10pm, so I have nothing to do except listen to music and play computer games, unless of course I decide to watch football or a film. I don’t. Pre-Emptive Strike is too disjointed to really satisfy, the “Soul” quartet stands out, and the “Organ Donor “remix is cool, Ray Manzarek given up to hip-hop, but aside from “High Noon”’s twitchy, paranoid riff the rest passes by almost unnoticed. Ege Bamyasi’s comforting grooves and oddness come next, something I took a second to appreciate and an age to really get. Jacki Liebzeit’s drumming, Holger Czukay’s bass, Irmin Schmidt’s keys and blips and Michael Karoli’s guitars, particularly this record, offer real sanctuary now, whereas until a few months ago Can had only been an eccentric diversion. Maybe it’s familiarity, maybe it’s the result of the massive exposure I’ve had to jazz since the summer, I don’t know. “Soup” breaks down a few minutes in, spinning in on itself as the band race each other round and round, faster and faster and more and more hysterical, and it’s great. “I’m So Green” sends future echoes of The Stone Roses’ “Fools Gold”. I don’t care that it makes no sense, I don’t care that it’s weird and without structure, I just let it happen and enjoy it.
And now, one sleep away from a week since I started this musical diary, I’m sitting alone in my room, tapping away on my keyboard again, Akufen plucked from the Top 20 Of 2002 pile of CDs on my bed, his cut-up ticks and jerks of sounds pasted into melodies and underscored with irresistible bass and gloriously insistent house kicks, tiny piano trills and guitar half-licks integrated with snatches of human voices and radio interference. Without doubt one of the finest records of the year, so many people have been so eager to explain how clever and innovative this music is, and so few have been inclined (or able) to let us know just how much fucking fun it is. I’m twitching in my seat, micro-dancing away on my own. Is it our job to tear apart music, are we pop cultural deconstructionists seeking to reduce and understand, scraping below the surface for an ontology or a paradigm which may not exist, pulling apart the hermeneutics of pop music to see how it works? Or are we just here to let people know what we enjoy, what tickles us, and whether we think it may tickle them too? Last night I watched my girlfriend’s brother tear apart a bouncy ball with a flashing light inside it to see how it worked, and now it no longer bounces. Is it enough to know that something exists and works with just an inkling of how it might function, an idea of what may or may not be underneath the surface? It has been a strong desire of mine for a long time to see people engage their critical faculties more effectively, to see people properly realise the world around them and to consciously entertain and involve themselves with it. To let your goals and values remain fixed without critical reflection on them is, according to Heidegger, inauthentic, but we need to balance deliberation with unreflective action, with instinct, with gut reactions, or we would never be able to simply enjoy the state that we can achieve. If someone voices an opinion I am always impelled to ask for clarification, to say ‘why?’, and the involved and authentic answer to this is always ‘because...’, but the truest and most powerful answer to this is always ‘it makes me feel good’. And the best answer to the question ‘why?’ is usually ‘why not?’.
I stop thinking and writing about music, and start enjoying it again right now. For a while...