apolla: (Dino)
Once upon a time, when I was an impressionable teenager, I saw a TV documentary about a man called Dean Martin. This was around 1997 or 1998 when suddenly (or rather, part of a marketing strategy), the Rat Pack dudes were back everywhere. Dino's tune "That's Amore" was used in a Pizza Hut commercial here and suddenly everyone was singing it. It must not have been long after Sinatra died and the coverage that got... and since then, marketing people have been misusing swing/easy listening/lounge to their selling advantages.

Anyway, I liked it. I loved Dean's voice. Wrote poems about it at one point. I was screwed up, OK? After awhile listening to Dean, and somewhat to Frank and Sam, and boosted by seeing Ken Burns' Jazz when I was in my first year at Lancaster, I started to stumble more onto another fantastic voice

Nat King Cole. Love that voice. Love the piano too. Just a fantastic performer, even when made-up what I can only really describe as 'whiteface' (see here) or any number of humiliations. However, this post is not about that. Better-qualified people than I have discussed the racism Cole endured and the ways in which he dealt with it.

I'm going to post my most favourite Cole track ever. I mean more than 'When I Fall In Love" or "Unforgettable", "Smile" or even "Nature Boy".



It's a live track, nearly eight minutes long and is called "Mr Cole Won't Rock and Roll". Recorded aroundabout 1960, during the last true great hurrah of the old singers.

Let me exlain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.*

Rock and roll was to singers like Sinatra what Sinatra was to Crosby. Rock and roll was to Sinatra and his pals what punk was to the rock giants of the late 70s. A fresh new sound which made everything before it sound old and fusty whether it truly was or not.

Picture this: Elvis, in his pre-army gloriosity: slick quiff, jeans, sports jacket, smouldering gaze and curled lip. Most of all, recall his barely-caged, hip-swinging masculine sexuality on stage. Now set that next to Frank Sinatra in his tuxedo, baldness-covering fedora, middle-aged swing. I happen to think both Presley and Sinatra were hitting music peaks in 1956, but they're very different notions. The gorgeous Nelson Riddle strings-and-swing of Songs for Swingin' Lovers is for grown-ups. Elvis Presley, featuring "Blue Suede Shoes" is for the young.

Tom Lehrer hilarious refers to "rock and roll and other children's records" on one of his comedy records. He's right, of course. Early rock and roll was simple and sometimes crude. There were some real stinkers released, especially once the big labels got hold of the genre. A lot of the crap then deserves lampooning.

Enter Nat King Cole, 1960. What I love about "Mr Cole Won't Rock and Roll" is that it is hilarious. The mockery is spot on. The versions of his old tracks - "Pretend" becomes "Pretend you're sloppy when you're blue.." and "Answer Me" becomes "Answer Me, Daddio" and "Mona Lisa" becomes "Moaning Lisa, you're too wholesome. Won't you dig me at the coffeehouse tonight? Many cats have been drug on your doorstep..."

But the one I love most is "Nature Boy": "There was a cat, a very strange enchanted cat. They say he traveled very far, played guitar, in his hopped up car. He said come dwell in Heartbreak Hotel, I think Elvis was his name. And then one day, the crazy day he passed my way. And while we spoke of many things, hot rod kings, Daddio said he. The greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to rock and be rolled in return."

The first time I heard the song I thought I might die laughing. I love rock and roll music to the core of my soul. It is the first music I loved, the first stuff I had spinning on my record player. Once upon a time, Elvis was music to me. But you see, I love the older stuff too. Again, not all of if. There's as much rubbish, commercial "swinging" music as there is the same for rock and roll... both can and should be lampooned. For me, there's enough room for the good stuff of both.

I loved that "Mr Cole Won't Rock and Roll" was so funny but didn't seem to be bitter. It wasn't churlish or contemptuous as so many people were at the time. It was clever (written by Jimmy and Noel Sherman) and did a good job of exposing some of the weaknesses in those early rock and roll tunes. It even poked a little gentle fun at Nat's music.

But then right at the end, as he's singing that "Mr Cole won't rock and roll!" he says "...could if I wanted to, though."

I suppose that if he really wanted to, Cole would've made some passably good rock and roll-style songs. But I can't see how it would work. His "thing" was neat, cool, swinging music. HIs piano-playing was bright and delightful. He could do dark, of course, but it's all very dignified and grown up. He was forty in 1960. Elvis and Jerry Lee were 25; Little Richard was 28. Frankie Avalon and the Everlys were in their very early 20s.

So, I'm not convinced he necessarily could have rock and rolled... but I wouldn't have wanted him to. Music doesn't have to be one genre all the time. It doesn't have to be rock OR swing OR punk. The endless variety of music is what makes it so beautiful. On my iPod Enrico Caruso and John McCormack share space with Rory Gallagher and Howlin' Wolf. There are one-hit wonders like Baccara and "Whispering Grass" by Don Estelle & Windsor Davies next to The Doors and Jimi Hendrix. Dean Martin has his own dedicated playlist, as does Julie London. The dark psych-pop of Love sits near Luke Kelly. A broad church from A-Ha to "Zorba the Greek", Abba to the Yardbirds. Bernard Cribbins. Betty Hutton, Big Bill Broonzy. Cream, The Clancy Brothers, The Connaught Rangers. You get the idea.

Mr Cole wouldn't rock and roll, but he didn't need to. Being Nat King Cole was much more than 'enough.' It's about playing the music you love to the best of your ability. His abilities were extraordinary, just as Elvis was a great purveyor of his music. There's room enough in my heart for both of them, and many more besides.

Music at its best transcends everything, including labels, genres and pigeonholes. All that matters is this: do you love it?

*
Thanks to Inigo Montoya


Part 16 - Rory Gallagher - "A Million Miles Away"
Part 15 - The Shadows - "FBI"
Part 14 - Marilyn Monroe as Elsie Marina - "I Found A Dream
Part 13 - Kenneth Williams as Ramblin' Syd Rumpo - "The Ballad of the Woggler's Moulie"
Part 12 - Chas and Dave - "Rabbit"
Part 11 - The Beatles - "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"
Part 10 - Duke Ellington - "The Mooche"
Part 9 - The Doors - "Who Do You Love?" featuring Albert King
Part 8 - Queen - "These Are The Days Of Our Lives"
Part 7 - Thin Lizzy - "Don't Believe A Word"
Part 6 - The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band - "Monster Mash"
Part 5 - Craig Ferguson - "Doctor Who Cold Opening"
Part 4 - The Bees - "Who Cares What The Question Is?"
Part 3 - Marvin Gaye - "Got To Give It Up"
Part 2 - The Dubliners - "Octopus Jig"
Part 1 - The Allman Brothers Band - "Statesboro Blues"
apolla: (Rory)
I was going to post about a Certain Irish Guitarist but decided to dodge the bullet again. I was going to post some Dean Martin or something.

And then Lou Martin died.

Almost every truly great musical legend worked with other great musicians. They might not be as flashy or as charismatic. They might not be songwriters, but behind practically every single Golden God there is a backing group of brilliance.

Jimi Hendrix had Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell in his Experience.
James Brown had the likes of Alfred Pee Wee Ellis
Freddie Mercury had Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon.
Elvis had Scotty Moore and Bill Black
Miles Davis... basically just worked with the best.
Philip Lynott had his revolving door of guitarists, but he also had a fantastic constant in drummer Brian Downey.
It's not a coincidence that Clapton did his best work with Bruce & Baker and then with Duane Allman.

Rory Gallagher was no exception. One of the real great guitarists, he was also a charismatic frontman with a decent voice, but even he needed something behind him. He, like the other legends, knew the importance of working with the best.

Lou Martin was a great pianist. He could do blues, boogie-woogie and rock for sure but he wasn't a slacker when it came to classical. This link pretty much proves my point.

Funny thing is, Lou died on 17th August 2012. On 17th August 2008, I walked into the Cork City branch of HMV and bought my very first Rory Gallagher record: The Essential 2-disc compilation. It was raining on and off of course, it was a Sunday and I'd been wandering the town since 8am waiting for things to open. I'd even gone to Mass at the cathedral for something to do.

I wandered, listening to The Dubliners on my iPod. Ronnie Drew had died the day before and I was dealing with it in the only effective way I knew: immersing myself in his voice. I had french toast at a trendy cafe and continued my wander.

Rory Gallagher was a name I knew, but I didn't really know the music. I could've told you he was a blues rock guitarist, a dead Irish one no less. I had one of his songs - "Born on the Wrong Side of Time" on my iPod. The title appealed for obvious reasons. There in his hometown I decided I really should buy some record of his. In HMV I was confronted by a giant poster of Ronnie Drew, of all things.

I'm so glad I was in Ireland that weekend. Ronnie mattered there. Not so much here. 'They' knew how I felt. I was at home, geographically and musically. I couldn't summon the necessary to walk into a pub on my own so I didn't check out any of Cork's famous live music scene. I stayed in, watched the Ronnie Drew documentary on RTE 1 and read the liner notes of my new CD.

I went to Cobh, a pretty little port with a strong feeling of grief sewn into itself thanks to the Titanic, the Lusitania and the dreadful legacy of the famine and emigration. I read the liner notes again.

I got on a train to Dublin, where I ate at Gallagher's Boxty House as usual, ate at O'Neill's as usual and went to see Philip on his birthday, as usual. I stared at the Music Wall of Fame in Temple Bar, caring for the first time about the guitarist with the long brown hair. I nipped up Grafton Street to visit Philip's statue and there got into a conversation with two Dub rock fans about Rory.

It wasn't until several days later, back at work, that I actually listened to the CD. A secret: at first I wasn't all that impressed. I mean it was good but it didn't grab me totally. I liked the second song, "Moonchild", for sure. Then I listened to "Barley And Grape Rag". But I didn't get sucked in immediately. I'd be silly to, right?

According to this very blog, I listened to "Barley and Grape Rag" one hundred and eighty-seven times between late August and the end of 2008. I sang it at the work Christmas gig while wearing a Rory t-shirt. It was awesome.

But I wasn't sucked in. Oh no. I was up all night watching videos on YouTube, but I wasn't sucked in. I literally bought the t-shirt, but I'd have to be really fucking stupid to get obsessed by another dead rock star, right?

By 2008 I'd already carved plenty of other names on my heart. Lennon, naturally. Harrison. The lizardy fellow. Philip. Dean Martin. Valentino. Flynn. You pretty much know them if you've been here before. I'd be really daft to left someone else come along and gouge another scar, right?

I am that fucking stupid. By the time I even noticed, I was much too far gone. I should've noticed when I was on the tube late one night, returning home from being in the Just A Minute audience and I was dancing in my seat to the delta-like sound of "Who's That Coming" and I should've noticed when every visit to HMV began with a trip to the 'G' section of Rock and Pop. I should've noticed when the panic of leaving my gymbag in Starbucks was more to do with losing the newly-purchased Against The Grain CD than my sneakers.

No, I should've known exactly what was going to happen on 17th August 2008. He is a dead Irish rock musician who was fantastically good at his job. King Cnut had better odds against the tide.

Truly though, I didn't quite get it right away. It took a little while for my ears to get attuned to his work. It took even longer for me to beleive that he meant it about not selling out, about being dedicated to the music and even longer than that to believe he wasn't secretly a bastard.

Turns out he was that dedicated to the music and I've still yet to find anyone who has a bad word to say about the man himself.

Four years later, I love that man's music more than I can tell you. That's why it's taken until now for him to be the subject of the challenge, because I can't speak about it. I can't tell you how I love it, only that I do. I can't tell you how deeply it is now scored into my soul, as if forty years had passed with me stood by the side of his stage every night.

I picked one video above all for this post. It is the song which probably ensured a part of my heart will be forever Rory's, because he wrote down my pain and gave it voice:


Rory Gallagher - "A Million Miles Away" - which incidentally features footage of Cork City and some excellent Martin organ.

"There's a song on the lips of everybody/There's a smile all around the room/There's conversation overflowing/So why must I sit here in the gloom?.... I'm a million miles away, I'm a million miles away, sailing like the driftwood on a windy bay."

I have been that bleak, adrift and disconnected. Sometimes I still get close to it. Knowing that one of my heroes was able to write a song which so exactly described the state of my soul worries me: I wouldn't wish it on anyone. That he might have felt the same breaks my heart, and I hope it was one of those occasions where a writer was able to portray a world without inhabiting it.

I have been that bleak, adrift and disconnected and that song was, ironically if you like, an anchor I used to drag myself back to shore. That's one reason I love his music so.

Most of it is Rory's guitar and his voice, his songwriting, his grasp of the genre he loved so much. But he wasn't alone on that stage. First with Taste, then with his various Rory Gallagher line-ups, the classic of which involves Lou Martin's keys.

I can't tell you what I love and why without writing a dissertation, and I already wrote one of those for Jim Morrison. You have to listen to the music itself and decide for yourself. It's between me and the music and it's between you and the music. The contract is personal and non-transferable.

For me, the most succinct I think I can be is this: It is a deep scar on my heart and I wouldn't have it any other way.

*

Part 15 - The Shadows - "FBI"
Part 14 - Marilyn Monroe as Elsie Marina - "I Found A Dream
Part 13 - Kenneth Williams as Ramblin' Syd Rumpo - "The Ballad of the Woggler's Moulie"
Part 12 - Chas and Dave - "Rabbit"
Part 11 - The Beatles - "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"
Part 10 - Duke Ellington - "The Mooche"
Part 9 - The Doors - "Who Do You Love?" featuring Albert King
Part 8 - Queen - "These Are The Days Of Our Lives"
Part 7 - Thin Lizzy - "Don't Believe A Word"
Part 6 - The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band - "Monster Mash"
Part 5 - Craig Ferguson - "Doctor Who Cold Opening"
Part 4 - The Bees - "Who Cares What The Question Is?"
Part 3 - Marvin Gaye - "Got To Give It Up"
Part 2 - The Dubliners - "Octopus Jig"
Part 1 - The Allman Brothers Band - "Statesboro Blues"
apolla: (Percy)
I was going to post about a Certain Irish Guitarist, but I had another idea pinged at me and I can sense a Matt Damon/Jimmy Kimmel type theme beginning...

Awhile back, a friend at work linked me to an advert for junk food nastiness which features thousands of mini-Hank Marvin clones in the schoolyards of Britain, who are naturally transformed back into their own selves once they are fed the junk food. "Hank Marvin" is, of course, rhyming slang for 'starving'.

I was just taken aback that fifty years after the Shads' greatest successes, someone thought filling our screens with Fiesta Red Stratocasters and Those Specs was a good idea. It was a good idea.

My relationship towards The Shadows is complex. if there is a single sound to truly define my early years - that is, my childhood before I picked the records myself - then it's the Shadows. Not Buddy or Elvis, the Shadows. They were crucial and often on the record player, but my dad loves The Shadows.

I liked the Shadows. I couldn't understand why they didn't have a singer and became introduced to the notion of 'the guitar instrumental', a form my dad loved so much that I once hunted down three singles by a group called Nero & The Gladiators for his Christmas present because he loved "Trek To Rome", the B-side to their "In The Hall Of the Mountain King"

My dad is, at heart, such a rock geek. The man loves B-sides and has a great memory for the stuff he used to dig. He even saw Screaming Lord Sutch play Shoreditch Town Hall and ran rock and roll nights at his local youth club there in the heart of London; he hung out with Kenny Ball at Ronnie Scott's and had a drink more than once with Viv Stanshall. And wasn't impressed by any of it ;) He's also still angry that my Granddad didn't let him go to the Buddy Holly concert in 1957, being told he could go 'next year'...

So if you ever wondered where I learned this from, you have your answer. And the Shadows, today's subject, are integral to it all. If I love guitar music - and you know I do - the Shads were a big part of it. I needed Hank Marvin, Duane Eddy and Link Wray to put the later guitarmeisters in context.

In short: No Hank, No Eric. No Duane (Eddy), no Duane (Allman). No Link, No Rory. (incidentally, this vid of Jimmy Page listening to Rumble is my new favourite thing)

The Shadows were my introduction to that world. Thanks to Hank and The Holly, I wanted a Stratocaster. That's what rock stars played. I've mentioned before how disappointed I was when I finally got guitar lessons only to discover they were classical guitar lessons. I was an ungrateful little sod, of course. I was 21 when I finally got my Strat (a copy, natch). The feeling when I held my darling, sparkling gold Strat named Jimmy (for Page, natch)... nothing like it. I was Hank, I was Buddy. I was every kid who ever dreamed of being a rock star.

Then I tried to play and as a rock guitarist I make a passable classical guitar student. I can't do it. It's not in me. I can play melodies, but I can't play riffs. I can passably accompany my own singing with some chords and even some finger-pickin' but I'm not Hank Marvin.

When The Shadows come on the radio or whatever, my fingers find that imaginary fretboard and they find the invisible strings. For those three or so minutes, I am one of the Shadows in their suits and ties doing that odd Shadow Walk. Which makes for an interesting walk home. In this, I am like most every Shadows fan ever, including my own dad, whose only musical skill is playing a two-note Eddy riff.

I'm getting off the point. Which was this: when I was five, I would've told you that The Shadows were fantastic. Mind you, I liked Cliff Richard then too. I believed my dad when he said they were the best. And they were, for a time, some of the best out there. This was also before I'd seen the "Wired for Sound" video which I can neither forgive nor forget.

And then The Beatles happened. Nothing was quite the same after that, and I do feel sorry for the Shadows and other pre-Beats bands who woke up one day and found themselves outdated and outpaced. For an example: try watching Summer Holiday starring Cliff and the Shadows and then watch A Hard Day's Night. Light years' cultural difference and yet the latter only released a year and a half after the former.

But I get that. Things change. Punk screwed with a lot of people's plans and I'm fairly sure Crosby's still pissed at that Sinatra upstart.

What turned me against the Shadows was the elevator music they put out later and which my dad still seemed to want to play. Awful bland renditions of crap like "Don't Cry For Me Argentina". Boring, bland, safe covers of previously awesome songs. The musical equivalent of tapioca pudding.

It was the opposite of what rock music is supposed to be, a betrayal I believed of the dangerous power that is inherent in the electric guitar.

I was disappointed. I was bitter. I decided the Shadows were beneath my notice. The Beatles was where it was at, man! I was living out the chronology of 1960s popular culture in the 1990s. The Beatles, Dylan, Cream, the Stones, this was real music! Who wants to listen to rubbishy, tremelo-heavy instrumentals by Cliff's backing band? Not I!

And then... one day some years ago, my dad was driving me home from a weekend at their house in Suburbia. As our family's ill-advised journey to the bourgeois heartland was coming full circle for me in a triumphant return to the Worley Stomping Ground, we listened to compilation CDs he had in the car.

And wouldntcha know it, "FBI" by The Shadows was one of the tracks. I hadn't heard it for years- I really did turn against the Shadows pretty wholeheartedly - and it was amazing. Oh, the feeling of meeting a dear old friend after so many years, being able to appreciate its economy, its crisp, clean notes, the driving rhythm.



In the car, I found my shoulders moving in time with the Shadow Walk and my fingers searching for that imaginary fretboard again. I swear if I my dad hadn't been driving through North London, he'd have been doing the same. And for a minute or two it felt like his Renault Scenic was a Thunderbird and we weren't on the A1 towards Hendon, we were on Route 66 getting near Joplin, MO. Or something. Music can have such power. Mostly though, we were caught up in the euphoria of a shared memory and a shared love of the music. I hadn't asked him, but I came to realise that he was disappointed somewhat in how the Shadows eroded their own reputation - he refused tickets for the recent Cliff N Shads reunion shows - but he'd kept his love of the great stuff where I'd kicked it aside.

Which was silly. I didn't need to do that. Tunes like "FBI" and "Apache" stand for themselves and no cover of "Parisienne Walkways" can wreck them. Nothing, not even the group themselves, can wreck how "Foot Tapper" and "Frightened City" make me feel.

And that my friends, is good music well-loved.


Part 14 - Marilyn Monroe as Elsie Marina - "I Found A Dream
Part 13 - Kenneth Williams as Ramblin' Syd Rumpo - "The Ballad of the Woggler's Moulie"
Part 12 - Chas and Dave - "Rabbit"
Part 11 - The Beatles - "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"
Part 10 - Duke Ellington - "The Mooche"
Part 9 - The Doors - "Who Do You Love?" featuring Albert King
Part 8 - Queen - "These Are The Days Of Our Lives"
Part 7 - Thin Lizzy - "Don't Believe A Word"
Part 6 - The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band - "Monster Mash"
Part 5 - Craig Ferguson - "Doctor Who Cold Opening"
Part 4 - The Bees - "Who Cares What The Question Is?"
Part 3 - Marvin Gaye - "Got To Give It Up"
Part 2 - The Dubliners - "Octopus Jig"
Part 1 - The Allman Brothers Band - "Statesboro Blues"
apolla: (Default)
I was going to write about a certain Irish guitarist, but Sunday was the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death. I've been a big enough fan of hers over the years to be moved to write about this.

For months - literally months - I had a tune stuck in my head. Just the dah-dah-dah of it, and I knew I knew it from somewhere. I couldn't have told you from where and I felt like I just needed the next two notes of the tune and I'd be there. And for days, weeks and then months, this tune haunted me. It was haunting anyway, melancholic and psuedo-classical. If I hummed it long enough it turned into Brahms' Tales from the Vienna Woods. I could not recall where it was from but I finally got the hint of a lyric, something about "you will have nothing to lose if you lose your heart."

Do you know how many songs there are with that sentiment? It was driving me round the proverbial twist, knowing I knew it, liked it and yet... nothing recollectin'. Ask the guys I work with - it probably annoyed them almost as much as it annoyed me.

And then, more or less by chance, I decided to watch a motion picture I had not seen in a long time. the Prince and the Showgirl. It stars Laurence Olivier, who I can't stand, and Marilyn Monroe, who I've always adored. I've seen it a few times because while it is not a good film it has two things I like: a fake Ruritania type country (I also like The Prisoner of Zenda despite it being crap because of this) and MM.

My attachment to La Monroe is complicated, much like herself. I was drawn in by that face and kept by her charisma. Her true life story broke my heart and yet uplifted it. When I discovered Marilyn, my own self-esteem was about as buggered as it could've been. I truly believed I was a total troll in both body and mind, of no use or worth to myself, anyone else or the world. I believed everyone hated me and I could actually eat worms and not only would people not care, they'd use it as an excuse to hate me more.

So I drowned myself in movies and music. I threw myself at beautiful people: MM, Ava Gardner, Errol Flynn, etc. I spent hours staring at pictures of MM, trying to see what it was which made her so beautiful. It wasn't her sex appeal for me, so what was it? I didn't want to have sex with her, and I didn't want to be her... so why did I stare at her? Why did I watch How to Marry a Millionaire and Ladies of the Chorus? And the really-not-very-good-would-be-forgotten-if-not-for-that-one-scene The Seven Year Itch. Why did I sit through The Prince and the Showgirl more than once, despite Olivier always causing me partly-irrational anger?

Sidenote: I couldn't tell you exactly why I detest him so much. It was before The Prince... and before I knew what a colossal douchebag he could be in real life. But I really do.

I've still not got a satisfactory explanation, by the way. I couldn't tell you what it is about Marilyn I adore. I like the vulnerability she brought to roles, I like her sassy moments. I love her comedy. Some Like It Hot is one of the greatest movies ever made, in large part because of her performance.

So I have to just say weakly that 'she has a quality'. But you know, writers have been trying to quantify and explain Marilyn since about 1951 and haven't come up with a decent answer yet.

She has such a quality that I watched a below-quality movie starring a man I detest enough times for a fragment of a song to ping back into my head years later. She is gorgeous - Olivier shot her well, I have to say that - and her performance elevates the role. I would like to have seen Vivien Leigh's take on it as well, but MM is wonderful. Broken and beautiful and luminous and most of all, most of all: a survivor.

So many people look at Marilyn Monroe as a victim. And she was in many important ways. But most of all, beyond all things, she was a survivor. You and I do not need to pity La Monroe. I feel sorrow for the bad times in her life and I despise those who took advantage of her. But I do not pity her.

I think I've just explained what I love about her after all: for everything that people tried to do to her, she never truly broke. Watch The Misfits and you'll see a spark of defiant humanity there. That's what I love and it's what I needed back then: to see someone bend but not break. If Marilyn could survive, so could I. I hadn't her beauty but I hadn't even half her sorrow.

So sure, I watched The Prince and the Showgirl even though it didn't deserve it. It's worth it for the end, when still wearing her evening gown, Marilyn tosses aside the heavy borrowed overcoat and struts out into the Edwardian London morning...

Worth it enough that a stray fragment of a tune stayed lodged in my memory, waiting for the day it would bug the hell out of me.

apolla: (Fleeen)
I was going to make this post about a certain Irish Guitarist, but then tonight BBC Four showed a documentary about Kenneth Williams and I changed my mind.

I loved the Carry On movies as a kid. They were just so silly and naughty without being so explicit that it was unsettling. Kenneth Williams was so snooty and repressed, and Sid James was so common and lecherous in contrast.

Later, I realised that there was so much more to Williams than that, in ways good and bad. I discovered how repressed he truly was, what an unpleasant fellow he could be, how incredibly intelligent, erudite and well-read he was. And yes, tragic.

Then I discovered Rambling Syd Rumpo. It was a moment in which my loves of language, folk music and comedy smashed together into something quite brilliant. Written for Round the Horne by Barry Took and Marty Feldman (comedy writers par excellence both), the songs of Rambling Syd are smart parodies of existing folk tunes which twist the pedestrian English language into fantastic innuendo.

That these were being performed at a time when homosexuality was illegal in England gives some of the tunes a very real sense of naughtiness in the same way the Round The Horne characters' Julian & Sandy (Hugh Paddick and again, Kenneth Williams) used the then-secretive gay slang Polari. It's funny if you don't quite get all the jokes. It's hilarious if you do.

Rambling Syd Rumpo is a fantastic character and most of the songs are tremendous. This is my favourite:


"The Ballad of the Woggler's Moulie" - Rambling Syd Rumpo (Kenneth Williams) - 1967.

What I love most about this song is how much it's mocking the homosexuality laws themselves. 1967 is usually cited as when being gay stopped being illegal, but even a cursory glance shows the change in law was limited and did not even scratch the surface of decades' worth of stigmatisation.

The language is gorgeous. What the hell is a cordwangler or a moulie? It doesn't matter. Ken's performance gives you a bloody good idea of what they might be. The performance is what makes it. Williams knew words and how to wring out what he wanted from them. It's why he was such a master on Just a Minute and why Syd is so funny. He elevated the silliness to sublime.

I love good comedy records. Peter Sellers, Derek and Clive. Kenny Everett. The Rutles. Tom Lehrer. They combine comedy and music in different ways, sometimes subtle and sometimes not. Rambling Syd isn't subtle, but it isn't a frying pan to the head either. The songs might not seem clever but oh, they are.

Part 12 - Chas and Dave - "Rabbit"
Part 11 - The Beatles - "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"
Part 10 - Duke Ellington - "The Mooche"
Part 9 - The Doors - "Who Do You Love?" featuring Albert King
Part 8 - Queen - "These Are The Days Of Our Lives"
Part 7 - Thin Lizzy - "Don't Believe A Word"
Part 6 - The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band - "Monster Mash"
Part 5 - Craig Ferguson - "Doctor Who Cold Opening"
Part 4 - The Bees - "Who Cares What The Question Is?"
Part 3 - Marvin Gaye - "Got To Give It Up"
Part 2 - The Dubliners - "Octopus Jig"
Part 1 - The Allman Brothers Band - "Statesboro Blues"
apolla: (George and Arthur)
I just saw A Hard Day's Night in my favourite cinema. I haven't seen it in a long while.

When I was fifteen, I watched A Hard Day's Night almost every night upon returning from the misery of school. Some nights, I watched it twice. I fast-forwarded through bits I didn't dig so much - never got along with the "Can't Buy Me Love" scene because I never rated that song very highly.

I loved it, though. The humour: sometimes wry, sometimes broad, sometimes rather naughty for the times, the in-jokes. It became a new language for me to talk in - my friend Louise also knew the movie and we would pepper our conversation with "that's an in-joke you know" and the likes. I was a Lennon Person then, and I think he gets a lot of the best lines in the movie, so maybe that's why I was a Lennon person (constantly re-reading Coleman's Lennon biography helped).

I watched the damn film so many times that I could still recite most of the script along with them when I saw it earlier. And yet it felt fresh and new in some ways to see it on a big screen: I hadn't noticed that Wilfred Brambell's character is actually reading a nudie magazine at the start. I'd forgotten how much of a shock that first chord in "A Hard Day's Night" is when it opens the movie. I found new appreciation for the "Can't Buy Me Love" segment on the big screen, and through not being able to FF through it.

To this day, I still think of the supporting cast as being "...who was in A Hard Day's Night" with few exceptions. Anna Quayle will always be Mrs Monroe from Grange Hill first; and Wilfred Brambell is and ever will be Steptoe first and foremost. It doesn't matter that Norman Rossington had a lengthy and successful career, when I saw him in his Sharpe appearance, my reaction was "You're a swine!"

It even influenced how I speak: there are some lines I use in every day speech that I'd basically forgotten I'd nicked from them! Today my work colleague Phil and I will occasionally (OK, regularly) break into a quote-the-movie game if so much as a word or theme comes up in the everyday. "A drag, a well known drag." You can imagine what we were like during the fuss about Swine Flu.

As a lover of movies as much as of music, I find it a fascinating film. Shot in black and white, it captures that moment just before the 1960s became "The Sixties" both in terms of how London and her people are depicted, and in cinema terms. Hand-held cameras, quick cuts, a realistic chaos, editing in time with the songs and even some Altman-like talking over each other... these are not things one saw in movies much if at all before. Mostly though, they're already taking the piss out of Beatlemania while it's still going on! It is, I think, really quite scornful, not even gentle satire at times. It's the weary scorn George displayed in his Anthology interviews where he talked about the fans giving their screams but the Beatles giving their nervous systems. The scene with George and the marketing guy still works perfectly today because hell, that's all it is now!

I think the Beatles often get credited with doing things "first" when maybe it's not fully accurate or fair. But A Hard Day's Night was something new and fresh and game-changing. Not just because of those four, but thanks to Alun Owen's script and Richard Lester's direction. I must've seen it more than 100 times and today was like meeting an old pal one hasn't seen for a long time and discovering that they're still delightful.

So today's Awesome thing is "I'm Happy Just To Dance WIth You" because it was one of my favourite songs in the film, because although I thought then that the sun shone out of Lennon's arse, I was beginning to realise that Harrison was just as interesting a character... "bonus" Lionel Blair at the beginning, too...


Last thing: the icon accompanying this post is one I made years ago when I still cared to do such things. It's a reference to a line in A Hard Day's Night.
apolla: (Smiler)
So far I've posted a variety of dead people's music... and a lil' bit of living people.

There is one Dead Musician who is notable by his absence so far. Today that ends.

I'm going to ask you all to do me a favour: Forget everything you know - or think you know - about The Doors. Forget all the bullshit 'legends' because first, foremost and forever, the Doors were a blues band. Sure, they did some weird things with them, but the Blues were their thing. That's why LA Woman is their greatest achievement...

Anyway, today's track is Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love?" as performed by the Doors in Vancouver, 6 June 1970 with blues guitar giant Albert King guesting.



I love that they open with a Bo Diddley lick too, because that's one of my favourite sounds in the world. I love "Who Do You Love?" as a track anyway - the Band's version of it in the Last Waltz, Dion's version recently, and of course the original.

What I love about this particular track though, is that I feel it's proof that behind all the hype and legend and Lizard King bullshit, There's this searing King slide guitar - I am an absolute sucker for slide guitar and it is not a coincidence that the three guitarists I love the most were all slide-eriffic (George Harrison, Rory Gallagher, Robby Krieger) - but the rest too. I once wrote that Ray Manzarek's organ sound was "if the River Styx had a soundtrack" because of how unearthly and deathly I always felt from it, and it works for this. I'm not sure a real bass wouldn't sound better, but that's all part of the Doors' weird charm. I love the way drawing the riffs out becomes a hypnotic loop one can really feel... or I can, anyway. But I love the jams on All Things Must Pass so I'm designed that way. I love Jim's howling and screaming because I can feel that he feels the music and is just going with it. (This is where talking about teh Doors starts to sound dickish so I won't continue)...

I know The Doors aren't for everyone and I've a good idea as to why. I even agree with some of the anti-Doors arguments. But I love them, and I love them playing the blues like the good little white middle class boys they were.

And for me no matter where I go, or what I discover, it always comes back to Jim.
apolla: (OTP)
It's funny how things work sometimes. When I was a child, my favourite band name ever was 'The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band'. My dad liked them and used the name as a punchline and such every now and then. It sounded like the name of a really madcap, awesome group.

It took me awhile to learn it wasn't just a thing my dad had made up to make me laugh, and "I'm The Urban Spaceman" was a favourite song from early on - the 'I don't exist" always got me, half-hilarious, half-profound. Some years later, hearing the Bonzos more, I understood that the name of the band is exactly what they sound like: madness on a record. A mixture of music hall (vaudeville, if you will), jazz, rock and roll, sixties psychedelic pop and whatever it is that Viv Stanshall's brain was made of.

So anyway, I posted a Craig Ferguson cold open yesterday and in reply, a friend said he liked the cold open which introduced Geoff, which was a lipsync to "Look Out, There's A Monster Coming" by the Bonzos. I saw it at the time and was bowled over a little at how two of my fandoms (not quite the right word) collided. I loved the idea that CF was a Bonzos fan as well, and it makes perfect sense that he might like such a weird group of eccentrics. And you know, he most probably saw Do Not Adjust Your Set as a kid.

Anyway, today's video is not "I'm The Urban Spaceman" though I love that song, nor even "Death Cab for Cutie". Today's video is the Bonzos covering someone else:

<iframe width="480" height="360" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/Od2PBlZ3ZQM" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band - "Monster Mash" - appearance on Do Not Adjust Your Set, 1968

Probably most of you reading have heard "Monster Mash" somewhere along the way. The original was a 1962 novelty record by Bobby "Boris" Pickett. It is itself a parody of the dance crazes which had been sweeping popular culture - The Twist, The Mashed Potato, etc.

I don't recall seeing this particular video before, not even during that strange fevered winter night a few years back when I stayed up all night watching nowt but Bonzos... you can imagine how frazzled my brain was after that.

I love the details - the bones for drumsticks, the Reaper with Ray-Bans, Viv's graceful, effeminate prancing in some contrast to his resonantly eerie vocals, the cut to a picture of Liberace during the line "Dracula, and his son"; changes to the lyrics to make them even funnier and more gruesome.

Most hilariously: The Bonzo Dr Frankenstein has brought his monster to life, and for why? Well, to play the spoons. How delightfully, brilliantly, barmily English. And of course it goes wrong.

I'm not going to say much more about the Bonzos, because I know they'll come up later in the challenge. But this is a great video and an insight into children's TV of the late sixties - no wonder Craig Ferguson is the way he is...
apolla: (Freddie)
I'm trying for one a day. We've had lots of old stuff by now-dead people so far... let me try this a different way:



"Who Cares What The Question Is?" - The Bees - Octopus, 2007

The Bees are a group from the Isle of Wight (pronounced 'white' for you non-UK people), a small and odd place nestled in the sea near Portsmouth in England. The people from the Isle of Wight are a peculiar bunch and the islands itself is a strange reflection of the mainland. In some ways it's just like the rest of Britain and in other ways it feels like going back in time...

The Isle of Wight hosted a music festival for a handful of years back in the day, until the locals and the local council decided they'd had enough and the organisers' incompetence conspired to make the '70 festival the last. At that festival, incidentally the following performed:

[The] Taste, Tony Joe White, Supertramp, Kris Kristofferson, Chicago, Family, Joni Mitchell, Tiny Tim, Miles Davis, Ten Years After, The Who, The Doors, Sly & The Family Stone, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Free, Donovan, Pentangle, The Moody Blues, Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez, Richie Havens and Jimi Hendrix.

In one weekend: The Doors. The Who. Taste. Free. Jimi Hendrix.

Let me put this another way: in a single weekend, one could've seen Pete Townshend, Rory Gallagher, Paul Kossoff and Jimi Hendrix. Throw in Bert Jansch courtesy of Pentangle and that's an awful lot of six-string power right there, not even including the great guitarists in the other groups (Hi Robby Krieger) or others not primarily known for their guitar-playing (Hi Joni)

I had you at Hendrix, right? Yeah. Anyway, that festival is captured for all time on film in Message to Love which does a good job of capturing what was going on at the festival. It was such a colossal clusterf&ck that there was not another IoW Festival until 2002.

I first went to the Isle of Wight Festival in 2007. It was a last-minute thing, almost literally: I was asked to work it the afternoon before leaving. I was already exhausted and not prepared so was up most of the night before getting all my camping stuff ready. I seem to recall watching Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band while I got ready (spoiler alert: it's horrendously awful but kinda fun). My Granddad/Flatmate/Best Pal had died two months earlier which accounts for some of the exhaustion. I was screwed up, naturally. It wasn't the best physical or mental state but I packed my bag and didn't hesitate because The Rolling Stones were playing. I'd never seen them live and them playing a festival was a Big Deal.

Travel to the festival was OK except that instead of a nice, hard-wearing rucksack I only had a crap leather holdall, a bulky sleeping bag and a borrowed tent to carry. No wellies but a pair of Converse sneakers which gave me blisters just on the walk through the site on arrival. Again, a bad omen. I was scheduled to work at Glastonbury and had intended to buy all the necessary stuff but hadn't yet, so I really was unprepared.

Long story short: Festival was amazing and so. much. fun. The Stones were not good, but the rest of it was great and mostly because I spent most of my time at the Hipshaker Tent. This was run by a bunch of guys who liked old school soul and funk type stuff. Performing there were local band The Bees. I had technically seen the Bees before but as they were supporting Robert Plant the first time I saw him (Teenage Cancer Trust, Royal Albert Hall), I don't remember any of that. I wish I did, because The Bees are fantastic...

Their song 'Chicken Payback' was played during a DJ set of stuff which included seriously classic, Motown, Styx and Chess songs and didn't sound at all out of place. It sounds both classic and modern at the same time. The guys are accomplished musicians and as I learned that week, ebullient company. They were awfully nice to me as I bothered them for a setlist for their various live and DJ-curating sets even though I was exhausted to the point of incomprehension. Seriously, that's not a euphemism for drinking (I wasn't) or anything else (I never have). I was just done. But their set was outstanding. Highlight of my festival by a long chalk - and this at a festival featuring the Rolling Stones.

And also, just looking at the line-up now I realise I missed Country Joe McDonald and that bothers me now. I must've been working when he was on...

I saw and met a lot of famous people that weekend and heard some great music. A few weeks later, I endured the horrendo 2007 Glastonbury Festival (It was Somme Chic that year. Just a miserable bloody experience) and crumbled into almost complete meltdown from the being knackered and emotionally drained. To suggest I was living on the edge of my last nerve in mid-late 2007 is to underestimate quite how close to the edge I was.

But. And there is one: I had found The Bees. I watched today's video over and over, listened to the song over and over. I love their combination of old and new, and it was exactly what I needed at that point. I needed a band who didn't make my heart or soul hurt any more than they did. The Bees' music was fun. It was smart as well as catchy. It wasn't throwaway, but it wasn't something I had to throw my entire being into (see Lizzy, Thin; Gallagher, Rory; Martin, Dean; Beatles, The). It was great music that at the same time did not make demands on me to adore it. That particular track has some nifty slide guitar, and I am a sucker for slide guitar.

In short, it was precisely what I needed at a time when I needed it. I bought Octopus and listened to it a ton. I really love that record.

Two years later I worked the Festival again. By then I was properly prepared, well-rested and psychically improved (not better yet, but an improvement). The Bees were there once more but only to curate a DJ set as I recall. And one of the band remembered me from two years earlier. 'You gotta be impressed by that, right?' he asked, not arrogantly. 'Yeah,' I replied quite honestly although later wondered if it was because I was mad rather than memorable for cooler reasons. 'I enjoyed your set more than the Stones,' I added, honestly and not in an effort to suck up.

I didn't say 'oh, and your album helped get me through a dark time' because I didn't realise it did that until much later. About half an hour ago, actually. It wasn't a record I necessarily ascribed that much power to, but it really was what I needed.

The Bees are a great band. You should check out their music, you really should. And if I can't be at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 to hang out with my favourite loves, then my scatterbrained memories of 2007 will at least help fill that hole.

If anyone has access to a time machine I could avail myself of, let me know. I just want it for a weekend...    
apolla: (Night Life)
Enjoying it so far? Anyone reading so far?

Anyway, we had the Allman Brothers, then the Dubliners. And now something a little different:

[General Trigger Warning for comments on the YouTube videos, read at your own risk]



"Got To Give It Up" - Marvin Gaye - live, Montreux 1980.

One day some years ago now, one of my dearest friends in the entire cosmos said "You gotta listen to this!" and sent me the studio version of this song. I was hooked like a fish on a reel. My first instinct is not usually towards disco music. I like some of it very much but the bad stuff is really bad and a lot of it feels very mechanical/clinical to me and I need to feel my music.

It is not unreasonable though, to assume that disco in Marvin Gaye's hands is not going to be bad... and it isn't. I love the twelve minute version. I love walking home to it because there are few songs that I end up walking so fast and yet still have a swing in my hips and a dancey step to my gait. You should see me waiting to cross the road when this is on: there I am on a busy London street bouncing like a child. When this is on the iPod I'm not walking through Central London at rush hour, I'm grooving down the line on Soul Train.

In fact, I was going to post Marvin's appearance on Soul Train to perform this as today's video, but it's miming - though it's cool when he joins the crowd dancing.

But I posted the live version because it's a bit more interesting. For a start, I love and want that jacket. I know it's not a musical thing, but I do. I find it both amusing and sad that he needs several introductions before he comes out. And I love that sparkly waistcoat. I would wear those both myself.

Anyway, what I love about the live version is that it's looser, funkier than the studio version, which has a touch of the clinical disco about it - much as I love it. Also, Gaye had such a way of moving on stage. It's not quite dancing and it's almost awkward in comparison to the slick choreography we get these days, but he's into the music... and that's what's so gorgeous.

The song itself isn't strictly disco and the lyrics rather poke fun at disco - the protagonist is a wallflower who can't bring himself to dance until the power of the music gets him and he gets his funk on. And while it's a bit of a mockery, isn't that exactly what great dancing music is about? I love how it's 'disco' but it's funky as hell and I do defy anyone to listen to this and not move. Right now I'm sat in my armchair under a duvet (tis cold!) with my computer on my lap... and my feet are rocking in time to the music. My head is going from side to side and I'm almost typing in time. I defy anyone to listen to this and stay still...

A long time ago I saw a documentary where Marvin was referred to as 'The Black Frank Sinatra'. I think it might've been one of those VH1 Behind the Music type things. While I see the point whoever-it-was was making, I disagree. Marvin Gaye was Marvin Gaye. You don't need to qualify it more than that, not to me. Perhaps it's white bourgeois privilege talking, but Marvin Gaye wasn't the Someone Else of anything. I don't say this to devalue or ignore his race or anything, but to call him "the Black xxxxxx" to me, is to imply he's only good in a black context and that's simply not true. Marvin Gaye was the only Marvin Gaye and that's more, much more, than good enough for me.

In 2006 I visited Detroit, MI. I really like the city generally but the touristy highpoint was being in the Motown Historical Museum, stood under the echo chamber and being asked to sing a bit to demonstrate it. My friends and I were surrounded by late-middle-aged black American tourists (I can't remember where they were from) who were die-hard Motown fans. I stood under the echo chamber which Marvin himself had used and prayed my voice would not give out. I managed a few phrases from "Dancing In The Street" before my nerve gave out, but I will never, ever forget the sound of my own voice bouncing back at me with that unmistakable Motown vocal echo. One day I want to go back and try again - and do better. Or record, better still ;)

People who are supremely talented are always fantastic to observe at work. Marvin was one of those people. I won't say that every song he ever recorded was fantastic. Of the well known ones, I really don't like "Let's Get It On" as a song, although that might partly be because it's been so devalued over the years... but on his day, he was one of the golden gods. There's so much I could've picked for this... I think he'll show up again on this 100 Things Challenge.

To quote the song itself: "let's dance, let's shout, get funky what it's all about!"
apolla: (Black Rose)
I'm going to try and do this once a day (won't happen)...

Post the Second in 100 Awesome Musical Things to be Found on YouTube:

(Trigger Warning and General Good Advice: Do not read the comments on YouTube videos. That way bigotry and trolls do lie)



"The Octopus Jig" - The Dubliners.

You might need to watch this twice to get what's going on. Let me lay it out for you:

Barney McKenna is the little dude with the beard and the banjo.
John Sheahan is the auburn-haired dude with the beard and the violin.
Ciarán Bourke is the tall dude with the beard and the tin whistle.
Luke Kelly is the dude with the ginger afro and the beard and the glass.

Now, it gets complicated.

Barney is picking the banjo with his right hand while his left is fingering (oo-er, get over it) the notes on the violin..
John is bowing the violin with his left hand and fingering the notes on the banjo with his right. He is also blowing (oo-er, get over it) the tin whistle.
Ciarán is fingering the notes on the tin whistle. And drinking a glass of something unspecified but looks like a pale ale to me.
Luke is pouring beer down Ciarán's throat.

There are versions on YT with Luke's introduction but the quality is shite and these are the fifty seconds we're interested in. So anyway, if your mind isn't at least a bit blown by this I'm not sure you've quite understood what's going on.

Can you pat your head and rub your belly at the same time? It's a bit like that, only really fast and with the great complication of needing to find different notes.

Next question: do you know someone else well enough to be able to coordinate it with them? Have you ever tried to pat your head and rub someone else's belly (with their permission, please) and do it in time?

Barney McKenna died a couple of weeks ago, having a cup of tea at home. He was, as the press said, the last of the 'original' Dubliners, but given Sheahan's been in the group since 1964 (they started in '62) it seems a slightly trivial fact to me, but hey-ho. I've been listening to the group again on and off since. I find their astonishing go at The Mason's Apron really useful for cycling in the gym...

Luke, he of the clear-as-a-bell voice, died in 1984. He's the fellow who sang the near-impossible Rocky Road To Dublin some of you will recognise from Sherlock Holmes. Seriously, try and sing along... If the Dubliners were good at anything, it was making the Really Difficult seem Really Easy.

Ciarán died in 1988 after years of ill health (Check out his last TV appearance here, worth it for the faces in the crowd...).

Ronnie Drew, he of the coal-under-a-door voice, who you see in the background of the Octopus Jig video, died in 2008. I don't mind telling you that when I heard the news I burst into tears. I love voices you see, and his is so distinctive, so interesting and full of soul...

By the time I was attending Dubliners gigs, Luke and Ciarán were long dead. Ronnie had left the band and rejoined and left more than once. I saw them first with my mammy at The Cambridge Corn Exchange. The crowd were having a nice time but being very English and muted about it. The other times I saw them was in Dublin itself, at Vicar Street. Vicar Street is probably my favourite venue in the world, and mostly because of them... and in spite of the bar prices.

I had the chance to be at their Royal Albert Hall gig not long ago but balked at the ticket prices and with the sad feeling derived from the last time I saw them that they were not quite at their best anymore. The last time I saw them, at the 'A Time To Remember' show at Vicar Street, some of their zest and zip was missing. They are, after all, old men. I don't say it to criticise: on my best day I'm not half the musician they are on their worst... just that I couldn't quite face the creeping mortality of my heroes.

The Octopus Jig never fails to make me smile. It's silly and funny but still breathtaking. I've seen it dozens of times - linked a bunch of people at work to it randomly back in March sometime - and it still make me go 'whuh? how?'. I wish I was in a band where we were all so awesome, so in tune with each other that we could do something like that... I suppose that's why I like this particular moment so much, because you can't do that without being so close as to share a single musical brain. Are there even any other groups who have done it? I don't know.

The Dubliners are the sound of the home I miss and never fully had. It's not simple dewy-eyed and rose-tinted ah jaysus isn't Oireland in the Rare Aul' Times de best? nostalgia for an Ireland which never actually existed. The Dubliners to me are the warmth of Gallagher's Boxty House on a rainy night; they're a walk through Stephen's Green or up the Liffeyside; and of driving though County Kerry's majestic beauty with my family; of the solitude of an empty road in Galway; of dark moments of desperate yearning; of a wet August Sunday morning in Cork; singing "Raglan Road" and "Love Is Pleasing" myself; walking through Islington late one night yelling "The Sons of Roisin" along with Luke; walking to work on a Tuesday morning past the British Museum... a thousand everyday moments half-forgotten but fully lived.

There are musicians I've loved for longer, ones I've loved more passionately, more obsessively, more intensely... but the Dubs are part of the musical fabric of my heart and soul. You know me: that means that they are my heart and soul.

Forty Years.....

Sunday, 3 July 2011 15:13
apolla: (Smiler)

Forty years.

I can't really compute it, if I'm honest. I feel like I should be utterly bereft, but I'm not. I mean, Jim Morrison is dead. As of today, he's been dead forty years. That's a middle-aged person ago. I've been a fan long enough that I remember the thirtieth anniversary, and how I felt then. Utterly shite, basically. I probably cried. Hell, I'm almost certain I cried. There were riots in Paris on his twentieth anniversary. The consistently dreadful behaviour of 'fans' nearly got him kicked out of Pere-Lachaise, but I can't imagine today will be all that much of a deal. The rabble-rousers got old and are probably spending their Sundays in garden centres or outlet malls.

As is so often the case, this will be as much about me as Jim. It's the only way I can connect to him, after all. Forty years... I outlived him a couple of years ago, you know. It tore me apart for a few days (or possibly months, or maybe it still does) but I just about got over it. Maybe he's the world's oldest twenty-seven year old and I never quite have to outlive him.

It's not easy being a Doors fan. I think I know at least a little how ELO fans feel when they're met with smirks of derision when they announce that they are, in fact, ELO fans. ELO fans don't even have the advantage of having someone who looks like Jim Morrison out front. Anyway, my point is that a lot of people who have some knowledge of popular culture have a particular view on 'who' Doors fans are. Doors fans are, the generalisation goes, whiny-angsty students who sit in darkened rooms burning incense, or they are pitiful people who wear Jim-like clothes and spout pseudo-Rimbaudian crap. Well, I've done a lot of angsting in darkened rooms but incense gives me a headache and I've never got down with Rimbaud particularly. The worst thing that can be said about Doors fans, or Doorzoids as more than one critic put it, is that they have no sense of perspective: Jim is greatest at everything and nobody else ever did anything nearly as good as he did. Jim is beyond criticism and everyone should live a life like Jim. They are blindly-worshipping followers like those morons in Life of Brian who just repeat everything back to him. Have you heard that girl on the live recording who agrees with everything Jim says, even when he turns on a sixpence and says the opposite of what he'd just said?

In fact, I was at Glastonbury last weekend in the mud-n-sun, and one of the people I was there with told me he spent a portion of his youth trying to be like Jim. I'm paraphrasing, but he said with the weariness of someone who has come out the other side of a troubling obsession: “I acted like a complete twat.”

I myself have spent the last ten or so years battling between using Jim as a Life Lesson and just plain following him down the troubling road to The Mythical Edge (nothing to do with U2). I have never wanted to be Jim, but I have come close to swan-diving off The Mythical Edge to find him. It is no credit to me but I have sat alone, emptying a bottle and calling to the sky for him. He has never come, of course.

He's just that kind of guy, really. A lot of people have probably died trying to be like Jim, just as a lot of people have died trying to be like Keith Richards. I don't know if this is a good or bad thing, or maybe it just is. The shame of it is that Jim was always more than just a Hellraising Rock Star. He was incredibly well-read, thoughtful and determined to do more than just basic three-minute love songs. In fact, there's not a single Doors song you could call a straightforward love song. Seriously, find me one.

The Doors have always been both under- and over-rated. While their advocates will never cease listing their strengths and moments of brilliance, they remain on the outskirts of the Rock Pantheon, outsiders even now. Their work is too arty/pretentious, the great songs too long to get much radio play. They exist in a pre-video world so there's not much to show on TV. They're not for the Normal People. I once blogged, a long time ago, how I would not be a Doors fan if I had been beautiful, or popular. The Doors belong to us weirdos and freaks, so they never quite fit into the stereotypical view of the 1960s. Indeed, while everyone in 1967 was all Peace And Love, the Doors were doing The End. See also Love, who like their Elektra stablemates, took psychedelic music and skewed it. This is the dark side of the sun, man, and it doesn't quite fit. Jim makes it into those endless lists of rock stars and stuff because he is seen as a stereotypical rock star. And don't you believe for a second that he didn't encourage it... but it wasn't all he was.

He was more than just the smirking, shirt-allergic Adonis of legend. Seriously man, he was. I'm not a Doors fan because Jim was 'cute' and I've never had a crush on him. All-consuming obsession sure, but not a crush. He was, is, and ever will be, more than that. He is my hero, and I won't ever apologise for it. He was a writer of generally good and occasionally great music. He was more than the punchline to a fucking joke.

I have never wanted to follow him blindly, although maybe sometimes I have. I've seen and oftentimes agreed with criticisms of him, and his work. He did skirt the line between arty and pretentious and sometimes he fell right over it to become mired in self-important wankery. I pity the fools who turned up late to some shows and missed the support act (a small time group called Led Zeppelin) and got instead an incoherent drunken ramble from headliner Jim. You don't have to tell me what a dick he could be: I've read pretty much everything there is to read, and I know. He's still my hero, both because and in spite of his great weaknesses. He's still the guy who gave us 'The End' and 'The Unknown Soldier' and 'Five to One' and 'The Soft Parade'. Sure, he's also the 'genius' behind 'Horse Latitudes', which I don't think was intended as a comedy, but “mute nostril agony” is hilarious. The Doors gave us some practically perfect slices of late-60s rock music: 'Love Me Two Times', 'Love Her Madly', 'Break on Through' and freak anthem 'People Are Strange'. They gave us some extraordinary bits of art-rock too: the seventeen minute, epic 'Celebration of The Lizard', aurally bizarre 'L'America' and the achingly beautiful 'The Crystal Ship'.

Have I mentioned Jim's fantastic, brutal, beautiful voice? Well I should. He could croon like Sinatra but he could also yell and scream with the best of 'em. His voice is like his legend: alternately seductive and violent, alluring and grotesque. Who else could scream at you to WAKE UP and then take you on a journey like that in a Doors concert? For me, Jim's power is not in his face, but in his voice.

A few weeks back, I listened to LA Woman all the way through. Then I did so twice more. The Doors is a great record and the five that follow all have tremendous moments, but LA Woman is an unquestionably remarkable record. Jim's voice is already ravaged, but it's perfect for some dark, terrible blues. 'Been Down So Long' has been my own personal theme tune for years. There's not a duff song anywhere on the record, although 'Riders on the Storm' has always veered dangerously towards cocktail lounge music for my liking – I think it's Ray's organ sound – but it's still a good song. If they'd been able to follow that up, the Doors would likely have regained the ground lost by the Jim's Cock trial.

More woulda-could-shoulda there. I have my dreams of what they and he could've achieved if he'd lived. Some of them are barely even cloud cuckoo land, some of them really are as entrenched in reality as possible. None of them will come true, so I should just put them away. He is dead, after all.

In death, we can take Jim as we need him. I needed a hero to cling onto who would not disappoint me. Even in death, he's managed to do so from time to time, but he's still the guy who turned down car commercials. It's likely that had he lived, he would've sold out as thoroughly as any of the others, but he didn't live to do so, and remains more or less unsullied. He didn't ever make peace with authority and even now remains dangerous, in his way, to society as it currently is. I needed him to be that person, unapologetic for himself. I needed him to be someone I could admire precisely because he never did fit in.

Mind you, seeing Doors CDs being sold in Starbucks took some serious rationalising. It's pretty good in some ways that Himself is dead – I can just blame it all on Father Ray, Robby & John.

Right now, I'm sat in Starbucks on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I'm drinking an iced latte, I'm dressed in a bright yellow sundress and I would honestly describe myself as 'cheerful'. Except for the small detail that Jim Morrison is dead. And you know what? He's been dead for such a long bloody time that it's simply how it is. Of course I'm sad, but if you think I'm going to let this drag me down for my entire damn life, you're more delusional than I am. I am, finally, just about resigned to it.

For the rest of my life and beyond it, I will always believe that a world without Jim in it is worse than one with him in it. I will always believe that he would've become a mighty figure... but I'm not going to shed any tears over it today. He's already had enough of them from me. He would've been a magnificent sight to behold and his work would've been more than just the occasional hint of brilliance, but it didn't happen and until I get my time machine, that's how it's staying.

Today in the sunshine, the shadows are out of sight and it turns out we could survive without him. Jaysus, that should break my heart – but it doesn't. Into the sunshine, indeed.

Forty Years.....

Sunday, 3 July 2011 15:13
apolla: (Smiler)

Forty years.

I can't really compute it, if I'm honest. I feel like I should be utterly bereft, but I'm not. I mean, Jim Morrison is dead. As of today, he's been dead forty years. That's a middle-aged person ago. I've been a fan long enough that I remember the thirtieth anniversary, and how I felt then. Utterly shite, basically. I probably cried. Hell, I'm almost certain I cried. There were riots in Paris on his twentieth anniversary. The consistently dreadful behaviour of 'fans' nearly got him kicked out of Pere-Lachaise, but I can't imagine today will be all that much of a deal. The rabble-rousers got old and are probably spending their Sundays in garden centres or outlet malls.

As is so often the case, this will be as much about me as Jim. It's the only way I can connect to him, after all. Forty years... I outlived him a couple of years ago, you know. It tore me apart for a few days (or possibly months, or maybe it still does) but I just about got over it. Maybe he's the world's oldest twenty-seven year old and I never quite have to outlive him.

It's not easy being a Doors fan. I think I know at least a little how ELO fans feel when they're met with smirks of derision when they announce that they are, in fact, ELO fans. ELO fans don't even have the advantage of having someone who looks like Jim Morrison out front. Anyway, my point is that a lot of people who have some knowledge of popular culture have a particular view on 'who' Doors fans are. Doors fans are, the generalisation goes, whiny-angsty students who sit in darkened rooms burning incense, or they are pitiful people who wear Jim-like clothes and spout pseudo-Rimbaudian crap. Well, I've done a lot of angsting in darkened rooms but incense gives me a headache and I've never got down with Rimbaud particularly. The worst thing that can be said about Doors fans, or Doorzoids as more than one critic put it, is that they have no sense of perspective: Jim is greatest at everything and nobody else ever did anything nearly as good as he did. Jim is beyond criticism and everyone should live a life like Jim. They are blindly-worshipping followers like those morons in Life of Brian who just repeat everything back to him. Have you heard that girl on the live recording who agrees with everything Jim says, even when he turns on a sixpence and says the opposite of what he'd just said?

In fact, I was at Glastonbury last weekend in the mud-n-sun, and one of the people I was there with told me he spent a portion of his youth trying to be like Jim. I'm paraphrasing, but he said with the weariness of someone who has come out the other side of a troubling obsession: “I acted like a complete twat.”

I myself have spent the last ten or so years battling between using Jim as a Life Lesson and just plain following him down the troubling road to The Mythical Edge (nothing to do with U2). I have never wanted to be Jim, but I have come close to swan-diving off The Mythical Edge to find him. It is no credit to me but I have sat alone, emptying a bottle and calling to the sky for him. He has never come, of course.

He's just that kind of guy, really. A lot of people have probably died trying to be like Jim, just as a lot of people have died trying to be like Keith Richards. I don't know if this is a good or bad thing, or maybe it just is. The shame of it is that Jim was always more than just a Hellraising Rock Star. He was incredibly well-read, thoughtful and determined to do more than just basic three-minute love songs. In fact, there's not a single Doors song you could call a straightforward love song. Seriously, find me one.

The Doors have always been both under- and over-rated. While their advocates will never cease listing their strengths and moments of brilliance, they remain on the outskirts of the Rock Pantheon, outsiders even now. Their work is too arty/pretentious, the great songs too long to get much radio play. They exist in a pre-video world so there's not much to show on TV. They're not for the Normal People. I once blogged, a long time ago, how I would not be a Doors fan if I had been beautiful, or popular. The Doors belong to us weirdos and freaks, so they never quite fit into the stereotypical view of the 1960s. Indeed, while everyone in 1967 was all Peace And Love, the Doors were doing The End. See also Love, who like their Elektra stablemates, took psychedelic music and skewed it. This is the dark side of the sun, man, and it doesn't quite fit. Jim makes it into those endless lists of rock stars and stuff because he is seen as a stereotypical rock star. And don't you believe for a second that he didn't encourage it... but it wasn't all he was.

He was more than just the smirking, shirt-allergic Adonis of legend. Seriously man, he was. I'm not a Doors fan because Jim was 'cute' and I've never had a crush on him. All-consuming obsession sure, but not a crush. He was, is, and ever will be, more than that. He is my hero, and I won't ever apologise for it. He was a writer of generally good and occasionally great music. He was more than the punchline to a fucking joke.

I have never wanted to follow him blindly, although maybe sometimes I have. I've seen and oftentimes agreed with criticisms of him, and his work. He did skirt the line between arty and pretentious and sometimes he fell right over it to become mired in self-important wankery. I pity the fools who turned up late to some shows and missed the support act (a small time group called Led Zeppelin) and got instead an incoherent drunken ramble from headliner Jim. You don't have to tell me what a dick he could be: I've read pretty much everything there is to read, and I know. He's still my hero, both because and in spite of his great weaknesses. He's still the guy who gave us 'The End' and 'The Unknown Soldier' and 'Five to One' and 'The Soft Parade'. Sure, he's also the 'genius' behind 'Horse Latitudes', which I don't think was intended as a comedy, but “mute nostril agony” is hilarious. The Doors gave us some practically perfect slices of late-60s rock music: 'Love Me Two Times', 'Love Her Madly', 'Break on Through' and freak anthem 'People Are Strange'. They gave us some extraordinary bits of art-rock too: the seventeen minute, epic 'Celebration of The Lizard', aurally bizarre 'L'America' and the achingly beautiful 'The Crystal Ship'.

Have I mentioned Jim's fantastic, brutal, beautiful voice? Well I should. He could croon like Sinatra but he could also yell and scream with the best of 'em. His voice is like his legend: alternately seductive and violent, alluring and grotesque. Who else could scream at you to WAKE UP and then take you on a journey like that in a Doors concert? For me, Jim's power is not in his face, but in his voice.

A few weeks back, I listened to LA Woman all the way through. Then I did so twice more. The Doors is a great record and the five that follow all have tremendous moments, but LA Woman is an unquestionably remarkable record. Jim's voice is already ravaged, but it's perfect for some dark, terrible blues. 'Been Down So Long' has been my own personal theme tune for years. There's not a duff song anywhere on the record, although 'Riders on the Storm' has always veered dangerously towards cocktail lounge music for my liking – I think it's Ray's organ sound – but it's still a good song. If they'd been able to follow that up, the Doors would likely have regained the ground lost by the Jim's Cock trial.

More woulda-could-shoulda there. I have my dreams of what they and he could've achieved if he'd lived. Some of them are barely even cloud cuckoo land, some of them really are as entrenched in reality as possible. None of them will come true, so I should just put them away. He is dead, after all.

In death, we can take Jim as we need him. I needed a hero to cling onto who would not disappoint me. Even in death, he's managed to do so from time to time, but he's still the guy who turned down car commercials. It's likely that had he lived, he would've sold out as thoroughly as any of the others, but he didn't live to do so, and remains more or less unsullied. He didn't ever make peace with authority and even now remains dangerous, in his way, to society as it currently is. I needed him to be that person, unapologetic for himself. I needed him to be someone I could admire precisely because he never did fit in.

Mind you, seeing Doors CDs being sold in Starbucks took some serious rationalising. It's pretty good in some ways that Himself is dead – I can just blame it all on Father Ray, Robby & John.

Right now, I'm sat in Starbucks on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I'm drinking an iced latte, I'm dressed in a bright yellow sundress and I would honestly describe myself as 'cheerful'. Except for the small detail that Jim Morrison is dead. And you know what? He's been dead for such a long bloody time that it's simply how it is. Of course I'm sad, but if you think I'm going to let this drag me down for my entire damn life, you're more delusional than I am. I am, finally, just about resigned to it.

For the rest of my life and beyond it, I will always believe that a world without Jim in it is worse than one with him in it. I will always believe that he would've become a mighty figure... but I'm not going to shed any tears over it today. He's already had enough of them from me. He would've been a magnificent sight to behold and his work would've been more than just the occasional hint of brilliance, but it didn't happen and until I get my time machine, that's how it's staying.

Today in the sunshine, the shadows are out of sight and it turns out we could survive without him. Jaysus, that should break my heart – but it doesn't. Into the sunshine, indeed.

apolla: (Dino)

 

I've written before about how difficult it can be to be a woman in musical spheres. Whether it's being expected to occupy certain pigeon-holes as performers, or having our fandom written off as mindless crushing, or just being bloody invisible, it can pretty difficult to be a woman dealing with popular music.

It's not a stretch to say that my own particular brand of feminism has become increasingly radical these days – I would now self-identify as a 'radical feminist', or more usually as a left-wing loon. Funny thing: the more I read and the more I experience, the less tolerant of the rape culture bullshit I become.

This leaves me with a few problems, because misogyny is so very much part of society and culture, and it's everywhere in movies and music I've loved. I mean, I've never had any time for the really obvious shit (Hi there, Judd Apatow!) but the more subtle stuff... the things I used to be able to ignore, or hand-wave away are becoming ever harder to just mentally discredit.

I wonder if I'm the only kid who read Sweet Valley High and self-edited it so much? I like to think that I never really signed up to the rape culture, but instead chose to twist its badness to something new which I could accept. I don't know that that's really true except on a personal level – the arseholes who collect the money don't care about 'how' I read their books or movies, do they? While it's more than fine for me to have ignored this and that, it doesn't help in the wider context of everyone else – those who suffer from it as well as those who profit from it.

I used to edit films too – the fast-forward button on our old VHS player used to get a mashing during Grease. I don't think I've seen the whole of 'Hopelessly Devoted To You' since the very first time I saw it on TV, and Grease 2 suffered pretty much the same fate for that paean to coercion, 'Let's Do It For Our Country'. Plenty of other movies were truncated in this manner when something came up that I either found uncomfortable viewing, or just didn't like.

Anyway, back to the actual subject. I've been a fan of Dean Martin for a long old time now... I remember the only thing that got me through the quiet hell that was the school trip to Eastern Europe was Dino on my walkman. I have loved his music deeply and affectionately for a long time. Before even Jim Morrison, there was, for me, Dean Martin's voice.

I had a particular CD which I loved best, because it included 'Ain't That A Kick In The Head?'. I lost the CD itself ages ago – I'm talking years ago – and always intended to search through the rest of the CD boxes for it. I half-thought it was at my mum and dad's house and I always meant to find it but never quite did. Some favourite CD huh? Well, I had most of the songs on other CDs and I got by. Then a while ago, I took it into mind to look for it (again). I didn't bother, and decided to just put some of my other CDs onto my computer. The Almost Famous and Virgin Suicides soundtracks, Queen's Greatest Hits II and entirely randomly picked off a shelf, the Some Like It Hot soundtrack. In the box of the latter, I found the CD I had been meaning to look for for years. I don't know how it got there – I have listened to Some Like It Hot only a couple of times since it was given to me. I mean, if I want Some Like It Hot I'll watch the film, right?

I couldn't believe it! I was so utterly happy about this one stupid disc. In the end, there were only about six songs I hadn't pulled off other CDs, but one of them was 'Ain't That A Kick In The Head?'. Ever since Robbie Williams, and then Westlife, butchered the song, I've never quite enjoyed it so much... but it's Dean so I still loved it. I shoved the CD into my stereo and hit PLAY before I slid into a hot bubble batch to soothe my aching muscles (I've just started yoga dontcha know?).

And I was... disappointed. Not by Dean's voice, because that can never fall in my estimation, but by some of the songs. Not all of them, but some. Actually, 'disappointed' doesn't tell the whole story.

There's a song called 'Baby, It's Cold Outside', which if you actually listen to the words, is about coercion and date-rape. Seriously, listen to it. The first time I heard it was by Dean and an unknown woman singer (let that tell its own story) and I misheard some of the lyrics, which made it rather less dreadful. I heard 'Say, lend me a comb' as 'So lend me a coat' which in context, gave the woman much more power. In my previous, youthful naivete, I thought 'so what's in this drink?' meant that he'd just mixed the martinis a little stronger than expected. I read the song, when presented by Dean, as the woman not wanting to leave but being expected to by society's strictures. See, editing at all times, even when I didn't realise it.

Anyway, that's not what the song is about. The Dudebro is pressuring The Woman to stay so he can shag her. She wants to go home. He probably put something in her drink... and there you go: coercion and date rape. A friend of mine thought I was overreacting until she went and read the lyrics through. It's amazing what a light and breezy horns section can do, isn't it?

For me, because I only ever really heard Dino's version, it wasn't so bad back in the day, because who wouldn't want to stay with a voice like that? (I make no comment upon the man himself, having never met him and having to base a lot of my knowledge of his personality and behaviour on things best described as myth-building.) This editing lark of mine has let me hand-wave a lot, and because of the world in which Dean Martin was working, a lot of it is tied up in the songs he sang.

Now, there are likely people who think Tin Pan Alley and the more general outpouring of popular music in America was one of the great cultural achievements of the 20th Century, but I hate to break it to you: The 80-20 Ratio still applies. Yeah, there were some great songwriters and wonderful songs, but there's also a lot of arsewater masquerading as 'good clean fun'. For instance, 'Powder Your Face With Sunshine' is an awful song which is rendered tolerable only by Dino's warm rendition.

While we're at it: 'Everybody Loves Somebody'. How I have always detested this piece of rancid, saccharine shit! Did I read somewhere that Dino actually hated it too? I hope so. Not only is it just an awful song, the sentiment is toss: We don't all get to love someone (see also: 'Somewhere There's A Someone') and there ain't nothing wrong with that. The Great Unloved such as myself are not sub-humans, nor failures as humans. I could fall in deepest love tomorrow and still think this song is hateful. I hadn't heard it for such a long old time that I'd forgotten how much I hated it.

Also included on the disc is 'The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane'... where the joke is that through the whole song the implication is that a whore has moved into town... but it turns out he's singing about a nine-day-old baby girl. Who thought that could possibly be sweet or funny? Seriously, was the Tin Pan Alley Reality Checker off sick that day? Would you write a song like that about a baby boy? Unlikely. Once again, I edited and just skipped the track when I would listen to the CD... although I've clearly heard it often enough to know most of the words...

It has not escaped my attention that Dean Martin has been painted as the Crown Prince of Dudebros. While I sit listening to him on my iPod thinking 'what a voice!', how many Apprentice Dudebros are looking to Dean as an example of all that is Cool (Drink, Girls, Sharp Suits, Nice Hats)? How many people talk of Dean just as 'the King of Cool' and not much else?

Perhaps I should be asking if it's even possible to be a Dean Martin fan and a radical feminist at the same time? Course it is. Dean Martin, as far as I'm aware, was not a bad guy. A man very much of his time. A codifier of the Myth of His Time, in fact. But that's not down to the music, and a lot of what has been written and said about him is myth-building.

I get the feeling I'm making excuses. I don't mean to, but it's really not a great feeling to listen to music you once loved – LOVED! - and realise that it's actually saying the absolute opposite of what you think. It's one thing to listen to a parade of 'when my baby she left me' blues songs, because quite often they're not painting an entire gender as Slut Bitches (although plenty do), when I don't truly, deeply love them. I can sit here and tell you that a lot of heavy metal is despicable without blinking, because I don't love it. It's easy to turn against that which you didn't like anyway. To have to reconsider stuff you do love... it hurts when you loved it as much as I do.

Hell, Thin Lizzy keep getting accused of misogyny, but I still can't hear it. Perhaps my deep love for Lizzy keeps me blind, but I have been looking for it. Are they misogynists for having Hot Gossip in their videos, or is it just because 'Killer on the Loose' was released at the same time as the Yorkshire Ripper was terrifying everyone? Is it Philo's depictions of a certain sort of world? Is it his groupie-shagging reputation? How much is the music, how much is their Bad Reputation (this is actually the name of a Thin Lizzy song. It's good)? I don't know, maybe I really am still just hand-waving and editing.

If I decide that I won't listen to another song by anyone which demeans women, I'm going to need a smaller iPod. Do I accept it, knowing that most of the music I listen to is very old, of its time? Do I just excise the really bad examples from my life, like 'The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane' and 'Not Enough Indians'? What response is really the best? To just ignore is no longer acceptable, this I know.

I can be a Dean Martin fan, but it doesn't mean that I can just accept every song as it is. Some of them are beyond the pale and can't be excused by the context of their time. There's a reason I haven't sought out too much of The Dean Martin Show. Anything based so much on dolly-birds can't be much good... and for all the excuse-making about how he wasn't a bad guy, I have to simply accept the fact that a lot of people have got away with a lot by being a not-bad guy. I'm going to have to square myself to this fact. I'm sure I'll manage: I can still watch Errol Flynn films without cringing, although that was an effort and a half.

In a way, I'm being a little harsh: some of the music is truly great. Dean Martin songs were the first thing to really open my eyes to the different facets of love: joyful love, broken-hearted love, sad love, ended love, new love, affectionate love, bittersweet love, and so on. Except now I have to recognise and add coercive 'love', and stalking=love and possessive 'love' and those things too.

Being a Radical Feminist doesn't mean rejecting love. To me, it means calling 'bullshit' on misogyny disguised or packaged as love. In other words: stalking =/= love, oppression =/= love. I will always, always love the Hoagy Carmichael song 'Two Sleepy People' because unlike 'Baby, It's Cold Outside', it's that kind of we-really-maybe-shouldn't-but-hey thing but the two subjects are equal partners, to the extent that I even know the woman singer's name when performed by Dean (Line Renaud). I can also recommend Julie London's version. 'Sway' is not about the objectification of a woman, unlike say, the infantilising 'Pretty Baby' or the just plain hideous 'Not Enough Indians' which manages to combine Good Ol' Fashioned Racism with the notion that the Dudebro has to be in charge in order to have a happy relationship. You know what? There are performers with much worse discographies than Dean.

This does matter, by the way. It's the little injustices that make the big injustices possible. It's the little things that add up to a culture which allows (nay, encourages) women to be treated as one homogeneous group of sexual and/or domestic objects. If music is this important to me (and it is), then it stands to reason that it is as important to people who don't see a problem with painting women as an entire group of sluts/bitches/servants/irrational harpies/passive childlike creatures in need of manly control. This matters to me personally, and it matters on a larger scale, although no doubt if anyone reads this beyond my usual f-list, there will be people shrugging it off as meaningless, or flaming me for being *insert derogatory term here*.

Maybe the true test of a song is this: can it be sung by a woman instead of a man without totally changing the meaning? If so, then I reckon there's a fair chance it's based on a notion of love as equality rather than love as something men can choose to bestow upon some little woman as they see fit, whether she wants it or not.

I really, really love the song 'You Belong To Me' which has been performed by countless singers of both/any/all genders, but my favourite is of course, Dean. On the face of it, it's about possession. What it's really about, is loving someone enough to let them go off on adventures around the world if they want or need to, and being brave enough to believe they'll come back. It's easy: “Do what you need to, but please remember that I love you.” I love that song. Anyone can sing it, and pretty much everyone has, for better or worse.

What a relief it is to realise that at least one of my favourite songs passes the test. So does 'Ain't That A Kick In The Head?', although there's really another issue of the violent image conjured by the title. Like I say, it's not all bad news but... the more aware I become of anti-women tropes and the rape culture and all the stuff woven into society to keep me and my gender third-class citizens, the harder it is to find things that pass. That's rape culture for you: it's bloody everywhere.

I've been in love with Dean Martin songs for a very, very long time. This is not easy and it's not fun, but that's not my fault. Better it be uncomfortable than I just ignore it all. I'll get there one day, wherever 'there' actually is, and I'll be able to listen to Dino without feeling uncomfortable – but I know the play list will be much shorter.

My final words are directed to the people who wrote 'You're Nobody Til Somebody Loves You': I refer you to the reply given in the case of Arkell v. Pressdram.

apolla: (Dino)

 

I've written before about how difficult it can be to be a woman in musical spheres. Whether it's being expected to occupy certain pigeon-holes as performers, or having our fandom written off as mindless crushing, or just being bloody invisible, it can pretty difficult to be a woman dealing with popular music.

It's not a stretch to say that my own particular brand of feminism has become increasingly radical these days – I would now self-identify as a 'radical feminist', or more usually as a left-wing loon. Funny thing: the more I read and the more I experience, the less tolerant of the rape culture bullshit I become.

This leaves me with a few problems, because misogyny is so very much part of society and culture, and it's everywhere in movies and music I've loved. I mean, I've never had any time for the really obvious shit (Hi there, Judd Apatow!) but the more subtle stuff... the things I used to be able to ignore, or hand-wave away are becoming ever harder to just mentally discredit.

I wonder if I'm the only kid who read Sweet Valley High and self-edited it so much? I like to think that I never really signed up to the rape culture, but instead chose to twist its badness to something new which I could accept. I don't know that that's really true except on a personal level – the arseholes who collect the money don't care about 'how' I read their books or movies, do they? While it's more than fine for me to have ignored this and that, it doesn't help in the wider context of everyone else – those who suffer from it as well as those who profit from it.

I used to edit films too – the fast-forward button on our old VHS player used to get a mashing during Grease. I don't think I've seen the whole of 'Hopelessly Devoted To You' since the very first time I saw it on TV, and Grease 2 suffered pretty much the same fate for that paean to coercion, 'Let's Do It For Our Country'. Plenty of other movies were truncated in this manner when something came up that I either found uncomfortable viewing, or just didn't like.

Anyway, back to the actual subject. I've been a fan of Dean Martin for a long old time now... I remember the only thing that got me through the quiet hell that was the school trip to Eastern Europe was Dino on my walkman. I have loved his music deeply and affectionately for a long time. Before even Jim Morrison, there was, for me, Dean Martin's voice.

I had a particular CD which I loved best, because it included 'Ain't That A Kick In The Head?'. I lost the CD itself ages ago – I'm talking years ago – and always intended to search through the rest of the CD boxes for it. I half-thought it was at my mum and dad's house and I always meant to find it but never quite did. Some favourite CD huh? Well, I had most of the songs on other CDs and I got by. Then a while ago, I took it into mind to look for it (again). I didn't bother, and decided to just put some of my other CDs onto my computer. The Almost Famous and Virgin Suicides soundtracks, Queen's Greatest Hits II and entirely randomly picked off a shelf, the Some Like It Hot soundtrack. In the box of the latter, I found the CD I had been meaning to look for for years. I don't know how it got there – I have listened to Some Like It Hot only a couple of times since it was given to me. I mean, if I want Some Like It Hot I'll watch the film, right?

I couldn't believe it! I was so utterly happy about this one stupid disc. In the end, there were only about six songs I hadn't pulled off other CDs, but one of them was 'Ain't That A Kick In The Head?'. Ever since Robbie Williams, and then Westlife, butchered the song, I've never quite enjoyed it so much... but it's Dean so I still loved it. I shoved the CD into my stereo and hit PLAY before I slid into a hot bubble batch to soothe my aching muscles (I've just started yoga dontcha know?).

And I was... disappointed. Not by Dean's voice, because that can never fall in my estimation, but by some of the songs. Not all of them, but some. Actually, 'disappointed' doesn't tell the whole story.

There's a song called 'Baby, It's Cold Outside', which if you actually listen to the words, is about coercion and date-rape. Seriously, listen to it. The first time I heard it was by Dean and an unknown woman singer (let that tell its own story) and I misheard some of the lyrics, which made it rather less dreadful. I heard 'Say, lend me a comb' as 'So lend me a coat' which in context, gave the woman much more power. In my previous, youthful naivete, I thought 'so what's in this drink?' meant that he'd just mixed the martinis a little stronger than expected. I read the song, when presented by Dean, as the woman not wanting to leave but being expected to by society's strictures. See, editing at all times, even when I didn't realise it.

Anyway, that's not what the song is about. The Dudebro is pressuring The Woman to stay so he can shag her. She wants to go home. He probably put something in her drink... and there you go: coercion and date rape. A friend of mine thought I was overreacting until she went and read the lyrics through. It's amazing what a light and breezy horns section can do, isn't it?

For me, because I only ever really heard Dino's version, it wasn't so bad back in the day, because who wouldn't want to stay with a voice like that? (I make no comment upon the man himself, having never met him and having to base a lot of my knowledge of his personality and behaviour on things best described as myth-building.) This editing lark of mine has let me hand-wave a lot, and because of the world in which Dean Martin was working, a lot of it is tied up in the songs he sang.

Now, there are likely people who think Tin Pan Alley and the more general outpouring of popular music in America was one of the great cultural achievements of the 20th Century, but I hate to break it to you: The 80-20 Ratio still applies. Yeah, there were some great songwriters and wonderful songs, but there's also a lot of arsewater masquerading as 'good clean fun'. For instance, 'Powder Your Face With Sunshine' is an awful song which is rendered tolerable only by Dino's warm rendition.

While we're at it: 'Everybody Loves Somebody'. How I have always detested this piece of rancid, saccharine shit! Did I read somewhere that Dino actually hated it too? I hope so. Not only is it just an awful song, the sentiment is toss: We don't all get to love someone (see also: 'Somewhere There's A Someone') and there ain't nothing wrong with that. The Great Unloved such as myself are not sub-humans, nor failures as humans. I could fall in deepest love tomorrow and still think this song is hateful. I hadn't heard it for such a long old time that I'd forgotten how much I hated it.

Also included on the disc is 'The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane'... where the joke is that through the whole song the implication is that a whore has moved into town... but it turns out he's singing about a nine-day-old baby girl. Who thought that could possibly be sweet or funny? Seriously, was the Tin Pan Alley Reality Checker off sick that day? Would you write a song like that about a baby boy? Unlikely. Once again, I edited and just skipped the track when I would listen to the CD... although I've clearly heard it often enough to know most of the words...

It has not escaped my attention that Dean Martin has been painted as the Crown Prince of Dudebros. While I sit listening to him on my iPod thinking 'what a voice!', how many Apprentice Dudebros are looking to Dean as an example of all that is Cool (Drink, Girls, Sharp Suits, Nice Hats)? How many people talk of Dean just as 'the King of Cool' and not much else?

Perhaps I should be asking if it's even possible to be a Dean Martin fan and a radical feminist at the same time? Course it is. Dean Martin, as far as I'm aware, was not a bad guy. A man very much of his time. A codifier of the Myth of His Time, in fact. But that's not down to the music, and a lot of what has been written and said about him is myth-building.

I get the feeling I'm making excuses. I don't mean to, but it's really not a great feeling to listen to music you once loved – LOVED! - and realise that it's actually saying the absolute opposite of what you think. It's one thing to listen to a parade of 'when my baby she left me' blues songs, because quite often they're not painting an entire gender as Slut Bitches (although plenty do), when I don't truly, deeply love them. I can sit here and tell you that a lot of heavy metal is despicable without blinking, because I don't love it. It's easy to turn against that which you didn't like anyway. To have to reconsider stuff you do love... it hurts when you loved it as much as I do.

Hell, Thin Lizzy keep getting accused of misogyny, but I still can't hear it. Perhaps my deep love for Lizzy keeps me blind, but I have been looking for it. Are they misogynists for having Hot Gossip in their videos, or is it just because 'Killer on the Loose' was released at the same time as the Yorkshire Ripper was terrifying everyone? Is it Philo's depictions of a certain sort of world? Is it his groupie-shagging reputation? How much is the music, how much is their Bad Reputation (this is actually the name of a Thin Lizzy song. It's good)? I don't know, maybe I really am still just hand-waving and editing.

If I decide that I won't listen to another song by anyone which demeans women, I'm going to need a smaller iPod. Do I accept it, knowing that most of the music I listen to is very old, of its time? Do I just excise the really bad examples from my life, like 'The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane' and 'Not Enough Indians'? What response is really the best? To just ignore is no longer acceptable, this I know.

I can be a Dean Martin fan, but it doesn't mean that I can just accept every song as it is. Some of them are beyond the pale and can't be excused by the context of their time. There's a reason I haven't sought out too much of The Dean Martin Show. Anything based so much on dolly-birds can't be much good... and for all the excuse-making about how he wasn't a bad guy, I have to simply accept the fact that a lot of people have got away with a lot by being a not-bad guy. I'm going to have to square myself to this fact. I'm sure I'll manage: I can still watch Errol Flynn films without cringing, although that was an effort and a half.

In a way, I'm being a little harsh: some of the music is truly great. Dean Martin songs were the first thing to really open my eyes to the different facets of love: joyful love, broken-hearted love, sad love, ended love, new love, affectionate love, bittersweet love, and so on. Except now I have to recognise and add coercive 'love', and stalking=love and possessive 'love' and those things too.

Being a Radical Feminist doesn't mean rejecting love. To me, it means calling 'bullshit' on misogyny disguised or packaged as love. In other words: stalking =/= love, oppression =/= love. I will always, always love the Hoagy Carmichael song 'Two Sleepy People' because unlike 'Baby, It's Cold Outside', it's that kind of we-really-maybe-shouldn't-but-hey thing but the two subjects are equal partners, to the extent that I even know the woman singer's name when performed by Dean (Line Renaud). I can also recommend Julie London's version. 'Sway' is not about the objectification of a woman, unlike say, the infantilising 'Pretty Baby' or the just plain hideous 'Not Enough Indians' which manages to combine Good Ol' Fashioned Racism with the notion that the Dudebro has to be in charge in order to have a happy relationship. You know what? There are performers with much worse discographies than Dean.

This does matter, by the way. It's the little injustices that make the big injustices possible. It's the little things that add up to a culture which allows (nay, encourages) women to be treated as one homogeneous group of sexual and/or domestic objects. If music is this important to me (and it is), then it stands to reason that it is as important to people who don't see a problem with painting women as an entire group of sluts/bitches/servants/irrational harpies/passive childlike creatures in need of manly control. This matters to me personally, and it matters on a larger scale, although no doubt if anyone reads this beyond my usual f-list, there will be people shrugging it off as meaningless, or flaming me for being *insert derogatory term here*.

Maybe the true test of a song is this: can it be sung by a woman instead of a man without totally changing the meaning? If so, then I reckon there's a fair chance it's based on a notion of love as equality rather than love as something men can choose to bestow upon some little woman as they see fit, whether she wants it or not.

I really, really love the song 'You Belong To Me' which has been performed by countless singers of both/any/all genders, but my favourite is of course, Dean. On the face of it, it's about possession. What it's really about, is loving someone enough to let them go off on adventures around the world if they want or need to, and being brave enough to believe they'll come back. It's easy: “Do what you need to, but please remember that I love you.” I love that song. Anyone can sing it, and pretty much everyone has, for better or worse.

What a relief it is to realise that at least one of my favourite songs passes the test. So does 'Ain't That A Kick In The Head?', although there's really another issue of the violent image conjured by the title. Like I say, it's not all bad news but... the more aware I become of anti-women tropes and the rape culture and all the stuff woven into society to keep me and my gender third-class citizens, the harder it is to find things that pass. That's rape culture for you: it's bloody everywhere.

I've been in love with Dean Martin songs for a very, very long time. This is not easy and it's not fun, but that's not my fault. Better it be uncomfortable than I just ignore it all. I'll get there one day, wherever 'there' actually is, and I'll be able to listen to Dino without feeling uncomfortable – but I know the play list will be much shorter.

My final words are directed to the people who wrote 'You're Nobody Til Somebody Loves You': I refer you to the reply given in the case of Arkell v. Pressdram.

apolla: (Rory)
It's two days late because I'm still having various computer issues. Late, but no less sincere in its feeling...

Sometimes – but rarely – music comes along that changes your life. Sometimes – even more rarely – a musician comes along who changes the whole way you look at life, the world and everything. Even I, who can lay claim to several phases of serious musical obsession, must admit that the latter of these two is as rare as a shooting star who turns out to be Claire Danes.

The first for me was probably John Lennon, as I expect he was for many people. While I had loved and adored Elvis and Buddy Holly from the youngest days of my consciousness, they touched my soul but they didn't change it. John turned a few things upside down, whether I wanted him to or not. I suppose Jim 'him again' Morrison did the same, given that he helped change my attitude towards myself in particular. It wasn't solely the music, but their attitudes (in public, at least) and their thoughts and opinions as presented to the world.

Now, I love Thin Lizzy, I truly do. Philip gave me back Ireland and gave me music to make me feel alive, but I'm not sure he changed how I see the universe. More than anything, I learned empathy – at long last – for those people whose lives are blighted by drug addiction.

There are others I love dearly, but while they've helped me become who I am, they haven't changed how I see the rest of the world. Other Irishmen such as the Dubliners. George Harrison, Dean Martin, the other usual suspects. Bill Hicks didn't change me so much as he provided universal tools (i.e. Hicks Quotes) for me to articulate how I already felt. He did, however, finally help me find empathy for smokers.

But Rory... Going back on LJArchive, there are posts I made back in September and October 2008 that basically went along the lines of 'listening to Rory Gallagher a lot. Can't afford to get obsessed again'. Well, we know how that turned out.

The thing is, to describe him as the defining influence on me doesn't just ignore other important influences (see all above), it understates his power over me (currently). I can't be objective at the moment, try though I might. I'm still in the grip of that initial, all-consuming obsession and therefore prone to hyperbole and unable to place Rory in the wider context of the continuum of my life. It may not be that he is the greatest, or defining influence, merely the most recent.

However, Rory has been a catalyst for my own musical work. He fills this role in a way even Philip Lynott and Jim Morrison have not. It's not a competition – they're crucial to me in other ways. Rory, though, more than any other single human being (dead or alive and including even myself), is the one to make me feel that my place is up on a stage. No, that's not quite right... I already knew where I felt I belonged. Rory merely pointed the way and seemed to say 'Of course you can do it. Get up there. You belong there too. What are you waiting for?'

That's not to say that I compare myself to him, which would be ludicrous, pointless and an unnecessary kicking to my fragile little ego. It's more that he cleared a path that I would wish to follow, while still remaining utterly and absolutely myself. There's no sense of copy-catting, more the knowledge that a great hero passed this way before me and since he dropped the flag, I want to pick it up for him and carry on down the road. I'd rather he was there on the road ahead of me, but we can't have everything we want, can we?

The fact of Rory's death, fifteen years ago on 14th June, leaves me in deepest sorrow. I have felt this way about others (travellers to my strange world know their names already, everyone else; see above) and so it's not a new feeling... but it's fifteen years since he stepped two rooms away and I feel that he is so far away that it might as well have been fifty or one hundred years. As with the others (a cavalcade of others fit for a Berkeley musical) my sorrow is rooted in the loss of new music, the loss of potential. It is also, for Rory, rooted in a feeling that had he lived, he might have at last felt the warmth of increased attention to his music, something of a new renaissance. Or at the very least, I could have looked him in the eye and thanked him for his music. It's always selfish at the core you see, like most (not all) fan actions.

I recall writing on the 19th anniversary of Philip Lynott's death:

Losing one person is too many and nineteen years too long to be without them.”

I repeat the same now, with small amendments: losing another person is too many – far too many – and fifteen years much too long to be without them.

I was furious back in January 2005, five and a half years ago, now. I was furious with the prankster some of us called God, and even with Philip himself. I'm not so angry these days. I don't really believe that, even if I were to be sent back in time by said prankster (as I so often joke about), I could change a single fucking thing. This isn't Goodnight Sweetheart. I'm not so angry these day, and I'm not angry with or at Rory. I understand it better now, this weakness that lurks in the hearts of humans. Five and a half years ago, I was still clinging to the notion that trying can make a difference. Sometimes it just can't, and that's the great tragedy of humanity, which may be the truest reason for the deep well of sorrow I live with every day.

There's a funny thing about Rory that I've noticed: I don't think you can be a casual fan of someone like him. It's an all or nothing scenario, without compromise. It's about dedication as well: exactly like his attitude towards the music. Fitting and appropriate, you might say.

I used to wonder why Rory was so against releasing singles. I even questioned the wisdom of the policy. I'm sure it's at the root of why he isn't better known. Well, I think I understand better now. It would've been a slippery slope... first a single... then two... then the record company start really marketing you and packaging you... until the next thing you know, you're stood in a room full of strangers and the most unrecognisable person is yourself. The music (and therefore, oneself) becomes defined by what's chosen as a single, regardless of what else you has to offer... and the next thing you know, you're Donny Fucking Osmond, or Vanilla Ice, or you end up in the same self-congratulatory, legend-building but creatively bereft rut the Rolling Stones have been in since 1971.

While many people can, have and will make that choice, if Rory had done I'm not sure he could've looked himself in the eye again. How ludicrous is it to suggest he mightn't have really been able to live with it? I'm not sure it's so ludicrous... and I see that he made exactly the choice he needed to. Were other choices as wise? Maybe, maybe not. We'll never know.


I observe now that I haven't really spoken much about the music itself yet. There are a few reasons for this, chief amongst which is my belief that there is nothing I can say that the music doesn't demonstrate much better. Also, it's not for me to tell you how to listen or what to take from the music. That's between you and Rory, just as it's between Rory and Me.

I will say one thing: sometimes, it's very easy to tell that something (doesn't even have to be music) is one of the best examples by one of the best practitioners. It's why I find the paintings of Raphael, Michaelangelo and Botticelli so moving and also why I love the Aston Martin DB9. These are creations of brilliance by brilliant creators, and they validate human existence. I get that feeling listening to the Beatles, reading the poetry of WB Yeats and watching Singin' In The Rain. Of course, I also get that feeling from Rory's music. There has been a debate about The World's Greatest Guitarist for decades... but listening to Rory renders it unimportant. He is simply stupendous, truly, shockingly talented. The question of 'who's best' doesn't matter, because what do rankings matter when the music is so accomplished, so life-alteringly excellent? If the Usual Suspects who generally make up the short-list for World's Best Guitarist were lesser musicians, maybe it would matter more. Great music, and I'm not just talking about Rory, is so extraordinary that the notion of ranking is laughable – unless you'd also rank the Pyramids, Macchu Picchu and Petra in order of 'best'?

The best stuff changes your life. The best people change the way you view that life. I was left changed the first time I saw Raphael's 'Madonna of the Chair', and I was changed when I first properly heard Buddy Holly (I was three or four). Rory is part of a very, very exclusive group of people who have changed both me and the way I see the rest of the world.

It is fifteen years. It feels like nothing and forever. It might as well be forever, for all the good it does. In death, Rory as a real human being has become as distant as Valentino or Flynn, Morrison or Lennon... but like them, he was generous enough to leave behind a body of work so great that the inescapable fact of mortality has been cut down. In the music he is forever, and so long as the music plays... he lives.

Clare, 14 June 2010.

Some youtube clips to illuminate/demonstrate the whole damned point:










apolla: (Rory)
It's two days late because I'm still having various computer issues. Late, but no less sincere in its feeling...

Sometimes – but rarely – music comes along that changes your life. Sometimes – even more rarely – a musician comes along who changes the whole way you look at life, the world and everything. Even I, who can lay claim to several phases of serious musical obsession, must admit that the latter of these two is as rare as a shooting star who turns out to be Claire Danes.

The first for me was probably John Lennon, as I expect he was for many people. While I had loved and adored Elvis and Buddy Holly from the youngest days of my consciousness, they touched my soul but they didn't change it. John turned a few things upside down, whether I wanted him to or not. I suppose Jim 'him again' Morrison did the same, given that he helped change my attitude towards myself in particular. It wasn't solely the music, but their attitudes (in public, at least) and their thoughts and opinions as presented to the world.

Now, I love Thin Lizzy, I truly do. Philip gave me back Ireland and gave me music to make me feel alive, but I'm not sure he changed how I see the universe. More than anything, I learned empathy – at long last – for those people whose lives are blighted by drug addiction.

There are others I love dearly, but while they've helped me become who I am, they haven't changed how I see the rest of the world. Other Irishmen such as the Dubliners. George Harrison, Dean Martin, the other usual suspects. Bill Hicks didn't change me so much as he provided universal tools (i.e. Hicks Quotes) for me to articulate how I already felt. He did, however, finally help me find empathy for smokers.

But Rory... Going back on LJArchive, there are posts I made back in September and October 2008 that basically went along the lines of 'listening to Rory Gallagher a lot. Can't afford to get obsessed again'. Well, we know how that turned out.

The thing is, to describe him as the defining influence on me doesn't just ignore other important influences (see all above), it understates his power over me (currently). I can't be objective at the moment, try though I might. I'm still in the grip of that initial, all-consuming obsession and therefore prone to hyperbole and unable to place Rory in the wider context of the continuum of my life. It may not be that he is the greatest, or defining influence, merely the most recent.

However, Rory has been a catalyst for my own musical work. He fills this role in a way even Philip Lynott and Jim Morrison have not. It's not a competition – they're crucial to me in other ways. Rory, though, more than any other single human being (dead or alive and including even myself), is the one to make me feel that my place is up on a stage. No, that's not quite right... I already knew where I felt I belonged. Rory merely pointed the way and seemed to say 'Of course you can do it. Get up there. You belong there too. What are you waiting for?'

That's not to say that I compare myself to him, which would be ludicrous, pointless and an unnecessary kicking to my fragile little ego. It's more that he cleared a path that I would wish to follow, while still remaining utterly and absolutely myself. There's no sense of copy-catting, more the knowledge that a great hero passed this way before me and since he dropped the flag, I want to pick it up for him and carry on down the road. I'd rather he was there on the road ahead of me, but we can't have everything we want, can we?

The fact of Rory's death, fifteen years ago on 14th June, leaves me in deepest sorrow. I have felt this way about others (travellers to my strange world know their names already, everyone else; see above) and so it's not a new feeling... but it's fifteen years since he stepped two rooms away and I feel that he is so far away that it might as well have been fifty or one hundred years. As with the others (a cavalcade of others fit for a Berkeley musical) my sorrow is rooted in the loss of new music, the loss of potential. It is also, for Rory, rooted in a feeling that had he lived, he might have at last felt the warmth of increased attention to his music, something of a new renaissance. Or at the very least, I could have looked him in the eye and thanked him for his music. It's always selfish at the core you see, like most (not all) fan actions.

I recall writing on the 19th anniversary of Philip Lynott's death:

Losing one person is too many and nineteen years too long to be without them.”

I repeat the same now, with small amendments: losing another person is too many – far too many – and fifteen years much too long to be without them.

I was furious back in January 2005, five and a half years ago, now. I was furious with the prankster some of us called God, and even with Philip himself. I'm not so angry these days. I don't really believe that, even if I were to be sent back in time by said prankster (as I so often joke about), I could change a single fucking thing. This isn't Goodnight Sweetheart. I'm not so angry these day, and I'm not angry with or at Rory. I understand it better now, this weakness that lurks in the hearts of humans. Five and a half years ago, I was still clinging to the notion that trying can make a difference. Sometimes it just can't, and that's the great tragedy of humanity, which may be the truest reason for the deep well of sorrow I live with every day.

There's a funny thing about Rory that I've noticed: I don't think you can be a casual fan of someone like him. It's an all or nothing scenario, without compromise. It's about dedication as well: exactly like his attitude towards the music. Fitting and appropriate, you might say.

I used to wonder why Rory was so against releasing singles. I even questioned the wisdom of the policy. I'm sure it's at the root of why he isn't better known. Well, I think I understand better now. It would've been a slippery slope... first a single... then two... then the record company start really marketing you and packaging you... until the next thing you know, you're stood in a room full of strangers and the most unrecognisable person is yourself. The music (and therefore, oneself) becomes defined by what's chosen as a single, regardless of what else you has to offer... and the next thing you know, you're Donny Fucking Osmond, or Vanilla Ice, or you end up in the same self-congratulatory, legend-building but creatively bereft rut the Rolling Stones have been in since 1971.

While many people can, have and will make that choice, if Rory had done I'm not sure he could've looked himself in the eye again. How ludicrous is it to suggest he mightn't have really been able to live with it? I'm not sure it's so ludicrous... and I see that he made exactly the choice he needed to. Were other choices as wise? Maybe, maybe not. We'll never know.


I observe now that I haven't really spoken much about the music itself yet. There are a few reasons for this, chief amongst which is my belief that there is nothing I can say that the music doesn't demonstrate much better. Also, it's not for me to tell you how to listen or what to take from the music. That's between you and Rory, just as it's between Rory and Me.

I will say one thing: sometimes, it's very easy to tell that something (doesn't even have to be music) is one of the best examples by one of the best practitioners. It's why I find the paintings of Raphael, Michaelangelo and Botticelli so moving and also why I love the Aston Martin DB9. These are creations of brilliance by brilliant creators, and they validate human existence. I get that feeling listening to the Beatles, reading the poetry of WB Yeats and watching Singin' In The Rain. Of course, I also get that feeling from Rory's music. There has been a debate about The World's Greatest Guitarist for decades... but listening to Rory renders it unimportant. He is simply stupendous, truly, shockingly talented. The question of 'who's best' doesn't matter, because what do rankings matter when the music is so accomplished, so life-alteringly excellent? If the Usual Suspects who generally make up the short-list for World's Best Guitarist were lesser musicians, maybe it would matter more. Great music, and I'm not just talking about Rory, is so extraordinary that the notion of ranking is laughable – unless you'd also rank the Pyramids, Macchu Picchu and Petra in order of 'best'?

The best stuff changes your life. The best people change the way you view that life. I was left changed the first time I saw Raphael's 'Madonna of the Chair', and I was changed when I first properly heard Buddy Holly (I was three or four). Rory is part of a very, very exclusive group of people who have changed both me and the way I see the rest of the world.

It is fifteen years. It feels like nothing and forever. It might as well be forever, for all the good it does. In death, Rory as a real human being has become as distant as Valentino or Flynn, Morrison or Lennon... but like them, he was generous enough to leave behind a body of work so great that the inescapable fact of mortality has been cut down. In the music he is forever, and so long as the music plays... he lives.

Clare, 14 June 2010.

Some youtube clips to illuminate/demonstrate the whole damned point:










apolla: (Rory)
Dear Rory,

You're dead. Anything I have to say you either won't read or won't care about. I'm going to say it anyway.

I'm really, really sorry.

I read Gerry McAvoy's book this week just past. It didn't take long. And I'm Really Sorry.

I've got used to rock stars and their ways. I've become immune to it all, become desensitised to all the awful stuff they do. I'm a Doors fan and a Led Zeppelin fan: it's pretty hard to shock me with any stories of excess or naughtiness. To you though, I extend a deep and sincere apology. I didn't really realise how much I was holding all musicians to a particular standard: down to the standard.

I have come to expect certain things from rock and roll stars. Drugs, drink, girls, excess of most kinds. Not just not surprised at it, but expect. I hold all rock and roll musicians down to the same low standard and so it's hard to surprise, shock or disappoint me.

You, man... people had said to me, people who know things, that you were a good guy. I read the old MOJO article about your last months, and how nobody had a bad word to say about you. I assumed that you were a 'good guy' when placed next to the likes of Jimmy 'whips and fourteen year olds' Page or  Jim 'distillery' Morrison. I assumed that nobody had a bad word to say about you but that you'd just been good at keeping it all quiet.

Once I read Robert Plant claim in Q that he'd never cheated on his wife, I pretty much assumed that all rock musicians are liars. After reading John Lennon himself say that "You have to be a bastard to make it. That’s a fact. And the Beatles were the biggest bastards on Earth."  I assumed that you all really were total bastards.

So I'm really sorry, Rory. I held you down to that low, low standard and it would appear that you didn't deserve it. Sure, you were a bit tight with money, but you're not the worst (allegedly Rod *tight as two coats of paint* Stewart. Paul *homemade dye job* McCartney). Sure, you were a control freak when it came to The Music, but I agree with you on that score.

I'm really sorry, Rory. When I read in places that you died without a wife or children or apparently without a long-term girlfriend or anything, I assumed you were either gay or good at keeping it all on the down-low. I assumed...

I assumed you were stoned just like everyone else. I'm really sorry.

I assumed you were like the rest of them but just better at being discreet. I suppose I still don't really have any proof of it being otherwise... but reading Gerry's book... man, I'm sorry. I thought you were like all the others.

So you kept away from women, so you were shy and self-contained. So you were anti-drugs. So you were uncompromising in terms of business and music and what you would and wouldn't do. You didn't even like swearing.

Man, I'm sorry. I assumed you were one thing, just like everyone else. I didn't dream that you were actually the rock star I would be if given half a chance. You're the person I always hoped I'd be in that situation, and I didn't know it.

Of course, it breaks my heart that little bit more. Actually, it breaks my heart, rips it out of my chest and stomps on it before running over it with a Mercedes 600 Grosse... because it makes your death even more ridiculous and pointless and just sad. I can blame Jim and Philo and the rest for their weaknesses but you... how did you go from advising Gerry to go easy on the whiskey to dying post-liver transplant sad and practically alone?

What am I supposed to learn from you, Rory? That the life I've chosen for myself will end as yours did? Not to go to Harley Street? Not to take too much paracetamol? I'm not a top-class guitarist like you, dear friend... what am I supposed to take from this? That Life is a bitch, and so am I? That good men die just like the bad ones?

I know people who know stuff about this stuff and they have nothing but the highest praise for you. These are people who saw you at the fag-end of your career and were still blown away. One guy got offended at the idea that anyone could say anything bad about you - and he's not a wailing sentimentalist like I am. Rory, Rory, fucking why?

I'm really sorry, I really am.  I assumed you were like everyone else when it seems like if anything, you're like me. And that fucking terrifies me.

Sorry for swearing.

apolla: (Default)
I was in Dublin the weekend before last, to see the Dubliners. Went on my own because I've exhausted the very short list of people willing to go there with me for any reason, especially to hear a bunch of old men singing songs with phrases like 'whack fol la di da' and such.

I got into the city centre just after midday, which was the perfect time to go for my favourite lunch at O'Neill's carvery, then feeling very full I walked down to Baggot Street where I was staying in a place so brilliant that I want to go back for longer - it was a hotel room like any other but had a little kitchen thing so I didn't have to depend on Dublin's hugely expensive restaurants.

Anyway, it was about half two by the time I settled down and, having awoken at half six to get the train to the airport, and seeing a Susan Hayward film on TV I thought "ah sure, I'll just have a nap for an hour." I was going to go to Kilmainham Gaol, you see.

I woke up at half five, one afternoon of two in Dublin totally thrown away and so subsequently felt miffed at meself for wasting so much time... I stumbled around and got ready and meandered back towards Starbucks on College Green for a shot of caffeine - FUCK ME ARE FRAPPUCINOS EXPENSIVE IN THE REPUBLIC!. Bought one anyway and meandered up Dame Street past Christ Church, onto Thomas Street and there to one of my favourite venues ever: Vicar Street. Queued for ticket and saw Jim McCann arrive. Went inside and headed straight to the bar like everyone else. Paid THREE EURO, THREE! for a tiny bottle of Coke and then had to stand like a total loser on my own while everyone else hung out with friends. After wasting my afternoon I was feeling a bit shite, like I just shouldn't have bothered. The usual "Oh WOE, I have no money! Why am I here! Cry MOAR!"

As soon as we could, I went into the actual venue and found my table, only two rows back. Very good view, etc. Started putting together the various bits and pieces of a song I've been writing for awhile. Jim McCann came on and introduced the Dubliners, and I was glad to see that they were using it to remember Luke (dead 25 years this year), Ciaran (dead 21 years this year) and Ronnie (who died last year as mentioned here), rather than just as any old show.

As soon as Jim was there, I knew that I was right to have gone to the trouble. As soon as the group themselves came on, I forgot that I'd ever wished I'd stayed at home. They brought on some guests throughout - a young singer who was trying too hard to sound like Luke, Ronnie's son Phelim (usually an actor) and Luke's brother as well as another man whose name I can't recall.

There was one moment that made my heart almost stop in my chest. They played some video of Luke singing but first they just darkened the stage and played the audio of his poem 'For What Died The Sons of Roisin'. Now this was written by Luke in response to Irish policy during the 60s onwards whereby tracts of land were sold off to foreign buyers and that sort of thing. Played to the silent crowd at Vicar Street, it felt to me like Luke was berating us, fist shaking, from Heaven itself. Now your man Luke was a communist so he didn't believe in Heaven I suspect, but I hope he's there and if he is, said poem would have extra verses now too. As it was presented there, it chilled me to the bone and is still rattling in my head.

I do wish that they'd played video of Luke singing Raglan Road rather than giving it to Patsy Watchorn. He's a perfectly fine singer and he fits well with the Dubliners (he joined quite recently) but he's just not Luke.

Luke's brother sang 'The Parting Glass'. I swear kids, when I die, you're to play Ronnie Drew's version of that song for me.

As for Ronnie, they played some video of him singing McAlpine's Fusiliers, which was nice... but I suppose his death is still kinda recent and it was very odd to see, really.

Good show though, and I am glad I went, even though it's put me in my overdraft until payday.

*

I went to Kilmainham Gaol on Sunday. Missed my stop on the bus but got off just in time to not be totally out of the way. It was all by guided tour and it was fascinating. The gaol was used in plenty of films I've seen (The Italian Job, Michael Collins, The Wind That Shakes The Barley) so it was familiar to a point. They've hosted concerts there (including the Dubliners) and I just thought 'hey, I'd love to sing here'. It didn't help the swelling anger in my heart that Luke had spurred on the night before, especially when it was pointed out that the Staters executed some republicans there, in the same way that the British killed the Easter Rising fellows... It's just a place that summarises very neatly the hypocrisy and violence of Ireland's past and brings its present into stark relief.

I actually wrote a poem/song of my own after that, sat in Gallagher's Boxty House eating my dinner. I might post it here, I might even send it to Irish papers or something. I dunno. I can feel Dublin changing, and not necessarily for the better. To a point, in some ways it feels like it could be - say it quietly - just any city in Britain. Honestly. The people are changing too. I can feel the changes since I first visited, and that was only 2004. There are songs about Dublin changing - The Mero, Dublin In The Rare Auld Times - and all cities change, but I think something not-good is happening there and it's a little hard to describe... but it's happening. Maybe the Celtic Tiger wrought as much destruction as anything else...

*

I was working at the Wakestock festival in Wales this weekend past. It sucked. I mean it was awful: small, uninteresting, full of dance music and had an audience made up almost entirely of 17 year olds from Manchester and Liverpool all doing their best to get as drunk as possible as quickly as possible. This was made very easy by the WKD and Jagermeister stalls. Then on Saturday there was torrential rain. Some scally bastards stole some of my tent pegs so my tent leaked, but I'd already covered everything in plastic so it was half-OK. But I was working the dance music stage that day and couldn't really leave because of work and the weather so I was stuck listening to drum n bass for fucking hours. HOURS.

Sunday was better. I was at the XFM stage which was live music. I have to say that everyone working there I encountered was really nice, including the DJs (who generally don't give a shit about what we do because it's not their music) and the security (a profession that seems to generally attract bastards but not this time).... but for the first time I really wished I was there as an artiste and not as what I was doing. Because then I would've been able to leave.

I was so bored that I kept going back to my tent just to sit. Still with my earplugs in. I read Private Eye at least four times cover to cover. Even the financial articles.

Got lost driving back too, but it was halfway up a mountain in Snowdonia so the views were great. Now wish I was back in Co. Kerry, of course.

*

Proof (as if I needed it) that I'm in love with Rory Gallagher's music came when I got home last night and was able to listen to him for the first time since whenever (barring the one CD that I took with my discman that wasn't scratched to fuck) and I started grinning and dancing around the room.

Tired today, obviously. I should go to bed but...........................................................................................

apolla: (Default)
I was in Dublin the weekend before last, to see the Dubliners. Went on my own because I've exhausted the very short list of people willing to go there with me for any reason, especially to hear a bunch of old men singing songs with phrases like 'whack fol la di da' and such.

I got into the city centre just after midday, which was the perfect time to go for my favourite lunch at O'Neill's carvery, then feeling very full I walked down to Baggot Street where I was staying in a place so brilliant that I want to go back for longer - it was a hotel room like any other but had a little kitchen thing so I didn't have to depend on Dublin's hugely expensive restaurants.

Anyway, it was about half two by the time I settled down and, having awoken at half six to get the train to the airport, and seeing a Susan Hayward film on TV I thought "ah sure, I'll just have a nap for an hour." I was going to go to Kilmainham Gaol, you see.

I woke up at half five, one afternoon of two in Dublin totally thrown away and so subsequently felt miffed at meself for wasting so much time... I stumbled around and got ready and meandered back towards Starbucks on College Green for a shot of caffeine - FUCK ME ARE FRAPPUCINOS EXPENSIVE IN THE REPUBLIC!. Bought one anyway and meandered up Dame Street past Christ Church, onto Thomas Street and there to one of my favourite venues ever: Vicar Street. Queued for ticket and saw Jim McCann arrive. Went inside and headed straight to the bar like everyone else. Paid THREE EURO, THREE! for a tiny bottle of Coke and then had to stand like a total loser on my own while everyone else hung out with friends. After wasting my afternoon I was feeling a bit shite, like I just shouldn't have bothered. The usual "Oh WOE, I have no money! Why am I here! Cry MOAR!"

As soon as we could, I went into the actual venue and found my table, only two rows back. Very good view, etc. Started putting together the various bits and pieces of a song I've been writing for awhile. Jim McCann came on and introduced the Dubliners, and I was glad to see that they were using it to remember Luke (dead 25 years this year), Ciaran (dead 21 years this year) and Ronnie (who died last year as mentioned here), rather than just as any old show.

As soon as Jim was there, I knew that I was right to have gone to the trouble. As soon as the group themselves came on, I forgot that I'd ever wished I'd stayed at home. They brought on some guests throughout - a young singer who was trying too hard to sound like Luke, Ronnie's son Phelim (usually an actor) and Luke's brother as well as another man whose name I can't recall.

There was one moment that made my heart almost stop in my chest. They played some video of Luke singing but first they just darkened the stage and played the audio of his poem 'For What Died The Sons of Roisin'. Now this was written by Luke in response to Irish policy during the 60s onwards whereby tracts of land were sold off to foreign buyers and that sort of thing. Played to the silent crowd at Vicar Street, it felt to me like Luke was berating us, fist shaking, from Heaven itself. Now your man Luke was a communist so he didn't believe in Heaven I suspect, but I hope he's there and if he is, said poem would have extra verses now too. As it was presented there, it chilled me to the bone and is still rattling in my head.

I do wish that they'd played video of Luke singing Raglan Road rather than giving it to Patsy Watchorn. He's a perfectly fine singer and he fits well with the Dubliners (he joined quite recently) but he's just not Luke.

Luke's brother sang 'The Parting Glass'. I swear kids, when I die, you're to play Ronnie Drew's version of that song for me.

As for Ronnie, they played some video of him singing McAlpine's Fusiliers, which was nice... but I suppose his death is still kinda recent and it was very odd to see, really.

Good show though, and I am glad I went, even though it's put me in my overdraft until payday.

*

I went to Kilmainham Gaol on Sunday. Missed my stop on the bus but got off just in time to not be totally out of the way. It was all by guided tour and it was fascinating. The gaol was used in plenty of films I've seen (The Italian Job, Michael Collins, The Wind That Shakes The Barley) so it was familiar to a point. They've hosted concerts there (including the Dubliners) and I just thought 'hey, I'd love to sing here'. It didn't help the swelling anger in my heart that Luke had spurred on the night before, especially when it was pointed out that the Staters executed some republicans there, in the same way that the British killed the Easter Rising fellows... It's just a place that summarises very neatly the hypocrisy and violence of Ireland's past and brings its present into stark relief.

I actually wrote a poem/song of my own after that, sat in Gallagher's Boxty House eating my dinner. I might post it here, I might even send it to Irish papers or something. I dunno. I can feel Dublin changing, and not necessarily for the better. To a point, in some ways it feels like it could be - say it quietly - just any city in Britain. Honestly. The people are changing too. I can feel the changes since I first visited, and that was only 2004. There are songs about Dublin changing - The Mero, Dublin In The Rare Auld Times - and all cities change, but I think something not-good is happening there and it's a little hard to describe... but it's happening. Maybe the Celtic Tiger wrought as much destruction as anything else...

*

I was working at the Wakestock festival in Wales this weekend past. It sucked. I mean it was awful: small, uninteresting, full of dance music and had an audience made up almost entirely of 17 year olds from Manchester and Liverpool all doing their best to get as drunk as possible as quickly as possible. This was made very easy by the WKD and Jagermeister stalls. Then on Saturday there was torrential rain. Some scally bastards stole some of my tent pegs so my tent leaked, but I'd already covered everything in plastic so it was half-OK. But I was working the dance music stage that day and couldn't really leave because of work and the weather so I was stuck listening to drum n bass for fucking hours. HOURS.

Sunday was better. I was at the XFM stage which was live music. I have to say that everyone working there I encountered was really nice, including the DJs (who generally don't give a shit about what we do because it's not their music) and the security (a profession that seems to generally attract bastards but not this time).... but for the first time I really wished I was there as an artiste and not as what I was doing. Because then I would've been able to leave.

I was so bored that I kept going back to my tent just to sit. Still with my earplugs in. I read Private Eye at least four times cover to cover. Even the financial articles.

Got lost driving back too, but it was halfway up a mountain in Snowdonia so the views were great. Now wish I was back in Co. Kerry, of course.

*

Proof (as if I needed it) that I'm in love with Rory Gallagher's music came when I got home last night and was able to listen to him for the first time since whenever (barring the one CD that I took with my discman that wasn't scratched to fuck) and I started grinning and dancing around the room.

Tired today, obviously. I should go to bed but...........................................................................................

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