dimanche 14 octobre 2007
After an entry about some of the research that interests me, I must get on with my explorations. But to keep track in the meantime, another of the kind offerings from Last.fm -- known as a "widget" than seems to work with most Net browsers -- is fun and allows people to see what like-minded listeners are up to there. It's fed from our iTunes and iPods or whatever, but can hardly capture what's on my CD deck:
As for what is in my CD player...
it's a secret somebody wrote just for me.
That's only ever happened twice in my life.
8:12:54 PM link
This artist chart -- which gets regularly updated like my personal one below shall -- presents Last.fm's group choices of people like me. We enjoy the place's gathering on the Ectophile's Guide to Good Music, which has become one of my favourite sites.
I find the skeletal background (a contribution by Last.fm user Mbiscan) most appropriate to my work on the roots of music, which is well under way. One research book I'm reading, along with those about women that have mostly arrived now, goes right back to 'The Singing Neanderthals' by Steven Mithen. Humanoid bones can't get much drier than that, can they?
Mithen himself can't help but sometimes be heavy going, but he's taken on a tricky task in going back as far as he does and draws on the mind sciences as well as ethnomusicology to do it. People in the past have described my own passion for music as an "obsession" if I browbeat them. This can be because I am unable to listen to it while concentrating on other things. It has to be one or the other, except when mood music really is on low at dinner parties and the like. Even then I find myself straining to hear it at the expense of others focused on the chit-chat. I have never understood why my brain needs to shut out either the music or the company if the former grabs my attention.
Mithen is among those explaining my sometimes antisocial quandary to me. He also puts it into an evolutionary context at a time I believe we need one, after a century of quantum physics you can't confine to the labs any more. There are people who have simply stopped doing this. While many of them are quacks and charlatans, I have been trying to find books by a few that aren't because "minds are changing", and I'm now aware of an evolutionary process that I'm often arguing elsewhere has affected very many people for at least the past four decades. An ailing world needs paradigms now that successfully reconcile science with the sacred, but without nonsense in a "spiritual" guise.
Chicks between the covers by my bed
I know that I need one myself, after a culmination of events this year that make no sense in a purely four-dimensional and conventional approach to the world and some of our art forms. In music, I read Mithen as a convert to his cause in advance, since I have since my teens in the late 1960s been open to notions that music is central to all our cultures. It's the most comprehensible to me of the unspoken arts, when it comes without words, though I find it hard even now to articulate exactly why that is. So I've turned to the scientists and shall later try to wrap my head round Daniel J. Levitin's 'This is Your Brain on Music: Understanding a Human Obsession' -- those are my italics, evidently.
What I can do is follow several books at once. The ones about women to land up on the part of table that passes for a shelf or by my bunk right now are almost all by women. What with one or two comments from the stubborn sceptics among my colleagues who want to see what's in the parcels I unwrap, this leaves me feeling like a minority man within the minority female field of women in music!
There are still men I work with who can't reconcile rock and a girl with a guitar. I don't think ill of those who make rude comments at names like Tori Amos and would voice many more were I to reel off scores of other names from the letter A all the way down to Zazie and Zita Swoon, a Belgian indie rock band that can sometimes grab my ear. But I feel they're missing out when it boils down to the kind of misogynist prejudice interestingly explored and turned upside down by the one man whose book is in the pile. He is Simon Reynolds, for 'The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion and Rock 'N' Roll'.
I say often that there's no arguing with personal taste, but don't like it if people judge others purely by their sex or on the strength of only a tiny part of their work when countless musicians like Amos and Kate Bush have evolved if you listen to the whole body of their opus; it's a part of their changing lives, abilities and outlook. It's fairly recent news to me just how instrumental women were in the early days of the blues and other music that gives us what we've got today. Some of the misogyny might have set in both sides of the Atlantic when the record companies that are now huge majors even once paid a small handful of those no-nonsense pioneers better than the men way back when.
Of the books I've begun by women, one claims to be "the definitive history of women in rock, pop and roll". It's Lucy O'Brien's 'She Bop II' and this hefty but not academically weighty tome is indeed so highly readable that I find its often anecdotal approach a good bedtime tale. O'Brien is full of fascinating biographical tidbits about her vast subject matter, weaving these into her historical narrative, and I've forsworn the science fiction usually required before I fall asleep.
At about 500 pages, it may seem long, but a claim to be definitive can only be publisher's blurb, when O'Brien has to fit more than a hundred years of creative endeavour and innovation between the covers. After all, she has an eye to music worldwide and that's commendable, rather than the all too prevalent narrow approach to the popular music of the United States, Britain and, occasionally, a European periphery.
No work can say it all, but 'She Bop II' is a darned good bid to sum up a complex tale with as many threads as possible, while including the record industry's side of the saga. If this raises the interest of any man, then O'Brien is a woman to dispel prejudice since she appears to have so few herself. Like me, though there's a relatively brief discography, I feel she'd be very hard put to come up with any of those absurd "best of" lists that make me mad.
I find it helps to read historical surveys like this in conjunction with ... well, listening, of course, but also at the same time as I delve into the kind of work written by women like a different O'Brien -- Karen -- and Amy Raphael, whose collections of interviews with musicians dating from the mid-1990s you can now pick up from Amazon Marketplace sellers for a pittance. I mean a pittance, having found an only slightly bashed copy of Raphael's 'Never Mind the Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock' for a single penny! The pounds went into the postage and the bloody Frog value added tax...
One of the items I'm still waiting for is widely held to be a classic in the historical genre, which was more costly, since I wanted Gillian Gaar's 'She's A Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll' new, though I could have ordered it for less than eight quid. Also new and now here is a mixture of feature articles with many superb pictures and interviews by Andrea Juno: 'Angry Women in Rock: Vol 1'.
This list is far from comprehensive and since I must also consider the bulk of my CD spree done for 2007, I'm amused, rather than put off, by the Jarboe fan on that Amazon page who loves that particular singer so much, but wrote "to be honest, I have not read [Juno's] entire book since lots of the artists are beyond what you might call 'obscure.'" Well, that's as may be. I know virtually nothing of Jarboe, but do know work by half a dozen of the "obscure' singers.
So my mainly 'Voices of Women' wish list at Amazon France has grown to more than 130 CDs, will probably go on getting bigger and is highly likely now I've read the part on Jarboe, to include her, even if she -- like some of the early blues women -- prefers to dress outrageously expensively. In the book she sometimes looks fond of wearing no more than tattoos and snakes.
2:16:37 PM link
dimanche 7 octobre 2007
Now there's been a long entry to tell anyone interested a little of the events of months that took me away from the Log and still do, I'd like to put in a good word for the musical haven where I spend some of my time. And a few other things.
I really like the East London-based Last.fm, where it seems that I'm among the oldest members. It's not just my age, which saw another year added last week, but my 1 July 2003 registration date. But I was given the latter since that was when I started using what was then a good piece of software to share listening trends online.
Today is Migration Day.
This Log can never again be what it has been at least as long as I keep my paid job, while inside and out of AFP I want to be around primarily for people I know rather than readers I've met only online. Some became friends for sure, so I'm sorry to shut down.
It's just a matter of time.
My life needs rearranging to fit everything in. Sandy and I decided that even the unfinished book we've narrated about her loves and life in music and the "alternative culture" -- her place in the underground -- must go on to the back burner.
"I'm not that remarkable," she claims.
Well, people know I disagree with her there, but will obey orders to ease off. I'm slowed down by medication I shall always need to take and must learn to live with, grateful that the appropriate treatment for a Bipolar II state can still tire me out but no longer clobbers my creative impulse and desire to learn. My old friend BJ is now retired and fully immersed both in making music and a study of it, setting an admirable example. That has merged with much of what kept me and other friends busy during a time social historians are likely to present as a watershed year in French politics too.
I don't like the outcome, having Nicolas Sakozy as president, but way back in April, the woman who ran against him, Ségolène Royal, was late with her own policies and stabbed in the back by her own side, but she did remarkably well because the French woke up and wanted a change.
However, to go into that would be a long digression into why this nation might conceivably have put a woman in charge. I wrote plenty about it elsewhere at the time, but it's quietened me down since to put things together in a way that is part of the background to the book.
Royal isn't among those I've met, but Sandy's one of the candidates for a bigger book, if ever I did make time, about all my "Meetings with Remarkable Women". Unlike Barry, I'm already embarked long before I retire on studies of the musicians among them. What will eventually come of it, beyond my daily dealings with friends and colleagues, is a long way down the line, but how the parcels have begun pouring in to AFP!
"Are you buying up half of Amazon?" our splendid desk chief Tim teased me last week while he distributed the post. No, but it was agreeable sychronicity to have several hefty packages chucked my way on Tuesday, my birthday. I was a little crestfallen to see that a few books will be even harder a slog than anticipated when I compiled reading and listening lists, then pruned them and finally submitted the orders more often to Amazon "marketplace" sellers than to the stores themselves.
Friend and graphic designer Cam has been very helpful in guidance about related work in different domains of art that relate to where I'm headed. I also picked up ideas from Marianne, who took a break from her own studies yesterday to lead me out shopping for her and an Indian lunch she bought me. The young lady thought Dad might like a few CDs instead, but quickly understood when she saw the piles on my table, including a couple for her, that we'd do better to forget more music purchases. Instead, we celebrated both my birthday and her excellent academic results with a good meal before she took me to meet a fellow student she's staying with in Paris. I'm pleased for her about such an ability to share studies and the least I can do is buy her a little music to ease an academic load that will be tough for a long time.
There's no music as such in her courses, but we have a common interest in women's studies. While what I'm into is largely in English and hers mostly in her maternal language, I showed her a part of 'Disruptive Divas' in a section written by Melissa LaFrance that made my head spin! "I know," Marianne said bleakly. Like me, she could wrap her brain round some very interesting points, but LaFrance also found it necessary to throw in a chunk of academic prelude of the kind that gives French philosophy a fearsome and sometimes bad name, it's so obtuse.
I'll skip those bits, unlike the passages that mean I must refresh my own data base of the rudiments and theory of music. It's been much too long since I sat down at a musical keyboard myself, simply to do this.
I'll also skip a tedious list of titles acquired and simply thank Marianne, my mate Freddie and a few people at work who came with excellent ideas of what I'd find worthwhile to fill in my gap years in music itself. I believed I already had while writing 'Voices of Women', but no. With their help, I kept on pruning until I still had several dozen names left as unexplored territory from the early 1980s to the mid-90s.
It will take me years to catch up, mostly for the sheer pleasure, but while I listen and read several other books where music is only a part of a much broader context, I hope to be among those who make short contributions to fill in gaps at Last.fm, where this entry began.
The reason I so much like Last.fm is that the community is run by music lovers of different ages who cater in various ways they perhaps rightly call a "social music revolution" for what is apparently now more than "20 million active users based in more than 232 countries" (Wikipedia). It's also better known than any blah of mine.
It's very user-friendly, comes in several languages, provides an excellent Internet radio station, and allows me to make the final changes to this Log before I set my nose to the grindstone and migrate. I'm glad that a CBS buy-out in May didn't lead to a corporate change of the team that keeps the place going. These people present themselves at About Last.fm, with an invitation to more exploration.
"You have to pay. I'm too mean," said my workmate Simon last week, but he isn't. In any event, it comes for free, unless you want the full benefits I enjoy, particularly custom-made radio stations that do an excellent job in broadening horizons based on your listening habits. It costs only 2.50 euros a month and when I show people like Simon what's on offer for download, their tongue-in-cheek mean streak rapidly vanishes.
I know musicians use MySpace a great deal, but many of them appear to have been drawn to Last.fm too in a generous way. MySpace has plenty of merits, but the tendency many users there have to post huge illustrations of all sorts irritates me. It's mere clutter, a visual equivalent of noise that gets up my nose. But I'm going to post my own picture, thanks to Last.fm before I disappear.
When I'll be back, there's no telling. What I've written today fits into a broader context of family, friendships, work and social issues I'm taking on, maybe at the expense of the Log, but I find that a small price to pay for other features of my study course. I mean the mysterious Underground, stuff I need to know to be able to be of use and help to other people, rather than writing about it in an indiscreet way.
I feel that this place may now have served its purpose in my own life at least, though I never expected to say that, but then nor did I anticipate a 2007 that's been such a year of change. My previous entry, though it may need a bit of a rewrite sometime, said as much about that as I could.
Not now. Toodle-pip and happy listening. Here are a few musicians I've been enjoying:
6:48:27 PM link
dimanche 30 septembre 2007
Today, two suns blazed in my part of Paris.
Like a gift of divine grace
One, which came out briefly, is that fat old star we city dwellers so often missed this summer, while the other is a glow turned on deep inside me by an "angel who isn't", when she told me from Shropshire this morning that she might be here around Christmas.
I miss Sandy very much now she's back in the land of our birth, but at last I can introduce this funny, stormy fire angel of a singer-songwriter who has spent most of her life on the outer margins of society.
If she can visit France at the end of the year, that would be fabulous, since we expected to be unable to see each other again until late next spring. Even then, we know we can never relive a phenomenal time we shared for several months from January 29, the night I heard those footsteps on the stairs.
I ignored the first knock that Monday evening, because the front door of my small flat immediately adjoins that of my boisterous young Italian neighbour's apartment, and often it's hard to tell. At first I thought it must be Marco's girlfriend. When the next rap got me up to open my door, my jaw fell open too, so she says. All I could say was: "Sandy!"
Never mind how we first met through a mutual friend some years earlier. That's a long story, about when I was in a mess and so was she, rebuilding a life, but my habit of falling in love with witty, gifted and mischievous women like her very fast had to be reined in so hard that I did more than repress it. The truth is I turned it into a very deep kind of "Maybe one day" prayer. That was hard, but what was crazy was then to fall for someone else, on to whom I never projected Sandy herself, but my feelings got very mixed up. In short, I didn't know what was happening as of the spring of 2004; I couldn't forget the musician, but felt I would hurt her, and deluded myself over somebody different.
Yet there was Sandy that winter evening with a huge grin. That was the first time I saw the real, irresistible mischief in her clear azure eyes. She carried her most treasured possession in one hand, inside a very old, battered hard case covered in sticky labels, graffiti and sketches. She also held a big, ancient travel bag that I later discovered to have been hastily packed by a woman who had just taken her latest bashing, though she let none of that show for a while.
Sandy's first words that evening were: "Happy Birthday."
When it began coming together
I didn't answer straight away for I was stunned. I could only gape until she put her boot into the door, which flew open wider so hard that the lock fixture has left a couple of big dents on the wood frame of the bathroom door, then Sandy shoved me out of her way and she was in.
"My God, this is heavy," I said, shifting her travel bag from where she dumped it as soon as she could, but she far was more gentle with her guitar case and leaned it against an arm of the sofa ravaged by an overweight cat who surprised me by staying put, sprawled there in spite of a Sandy who did more than make herself at home.
She began pillaging my cupboards to hunt out some food, made several rude comments about the supermarket microwave meals in the fridge and told me some of what she was doing there right then, which no longer matters. It was when this tornado stopped and Sandy plonked herself down next to a Kytie who still didn't budge that I reminded her it wasn't my birthday.
"It is now," Sandy said.
She grabbed the guitar case, took it out, fiddled with the instrument for just a moment or two, then started to play. Soon her sweet, rich voice filled the room as it was to do again sometimes for five months. I began to cry. Sandy says I then already realised what had really brought her to me. Maybe I had, especially on being asked to 'Imagine', before she played any songs of her own.
After a brief pause while I simply took all this in, she went on into 'Strawberry Fields Forever', and it was after that Sandy gazed up at me from beneath her straw mop. There were tears on her own cheeks, but her eyes were bright and she smiled again. "Do you know what that's about?"
Sandy then needed to stay for a while and chew over her near future with Camille, her closest woman friend, who she met in England 11 years ago, and who sometimes lived in Paris until she sublet her place here later this year. Before she did, we enjoyed some good times there. We called that Monday, when Sandy moved out of my own place, the end of our "Autumn in Spring". Cam was waiting at the top of the platform, for Sandy is as wise in foresight as she can be "wicked".
I told her that it was a psychedelic love song but Sandy laughed and shook her head: "It is, but really it's about us. It's about women's bodies -- those are your strawberry fields."
I also laughed, though whether it's true, I've no idea. Sandy was funny, dishevelled and very pretty and that evening, she at first looked far better than she felt, but it didn't last. She's a fit 43 years old, but she needed to lie down before we ate, which gave me time to go out and fetch a bottle of wine, since I never drink and had none. I even cooked before she emerged to tell me first about her week, then work backwards.
I've largely stopped cooking now for the same old reason: when you're on your own, it's different, but I do enjoy it. Given access to the kind of kitchen I sometimes got when we met people after starting work on a book about both Sandy's life and a whole different life and world she brought back through that door of my own, we had some fun weekends. The time we'll never forget most of all lasted 10 days until the bleak May 7 that I saw her on to a train for Nice.
It didn't unduly surprise me to find Cam at the Gare de Lyon that wet, dismal afternoon, since that's how she is, but it's a measure of how much I had changed in the intervening months to say that I also took it in my stride, though with delight, to see she wasn't alone. The woman born in Provence was arm in arm with another Camille, who now lives mostly in Normandy, but that day she came to Paris -- for me.
Once the TGV had gone, Camille and I went to the apartment of her lovely, elderly parents, fairly close to where I live. I never went home that night. It felt like I was already finally "home" in a far deeper, richer sense, which I had so long repressed that doing it fuelled the volcano inside me that erupted last year. Camille's parents knew when to be discreet, among people who have long since abandoned leaping to hasty judgements.
I've known both Camille and Sandy for more than three years, while I got to know Cam and her husband Max in the first months of 2007, along with others. People like us share ethics and values that we seem to have acquired in a process Cam calls "growing down", since she's as fond of standing the world on its head as I can be. The others I've come to know better include Camille's partner Freddie, a real globe-trotter, who has no more room in his life than any of us find we do for jealousy, possessiveness, greed and that fear of loss that can be so destructive in relationships.
It's time I wrote about us all here, now that my own family and friends know about aspects of a life where Sandy and I soon stopped using words like "problem", "difficulty" and "hassle" about relationships. We feel that to do this is confrontational, when really the issues can be seen as challenges. Some of us are teased by others on occasion that we have a "missing gene". We are good at falling in love with people but almost incapable of falling out of it again.
The saddest challenge Cam and me both had to face, with great support from Max at that time, was Sandy's departure from France on June 30, several months before planned. Sandy was so torn between her need to be back in England and me, for I was going through a very tough time then:
"Why she had to go,
I do know,
But shouldn't say."
It's her business, at least on this Log.
Rachel Sandy Reynolds was also brought up on The Beatles and everything else that emerged in music in a 'Yesterday' whose lyrics I shouldn't mess with. By October 2, 1969, when I became 14, my family lived in a pleasant, ordinary suburb on the outskirts of London, but I was aware of a much wider world and as a teenager soon acquired friends who led me right out into it.
On March 29, 1969, Sandy had turned five. Within two months of her birthday, Georgina and David, her parents, made a decision that was to shape far more than a family's future. It was no easy road, but they prepared and took it, out of a small Cheshire town. Young Sandy became one of the first true "flower children" living on the fringe, quite literally the borders, of an England a number of us called Albion again. We urban dwellers, quite a bunch of us in the early 1970s, also spoke of the Underground.
Today, the French do the same. It's very much alive.
2007 isn't over yet, but I know already that it will go down in my memory as one of the most profound years of change in my life, like the one when I may only have been pushing 13 but was a precocious young lad. So were some of my friends. We were notably just as full of questions few adults could answer about what began happening in France in Mai '68 as we wanted to see a "swinging" heart of London for ourselves.
'No more heartbreak'
My next big year of change was 1980, when on August 10, I quit an England where I felt confined, doing the opposite to what Sandy did in 2002. We both hated the more hypocritical aspects of English society -- especially when it came to so-called family values and sex -- but I had for more than four years enjoyed a wonderful job mainly in music at the BBC and gave that up against the advice of most of my friends for a young French student I still love 27 years later.
Sandy came to France partly to find her musical way again, but it's too early to tell the full story, both for her and for me. She needs to sort out more of her own future now that she's back where she really belongs. When I wrote -- or narrated -- that book this year, few of my friends knew until it was almost done. Apart from Sandy, I had much help from others both in France and in England, as well as people in the United States, where her remarkable life had taken her into the "counter-culture" for a while.
When she came to France, with a Cam who was then coming home, it was also with immense courage. Sandy's whole life in music had been ripped apart in 1997, and much more went down with it. The kind of commune she was then in collapsed, two families were divided and there was a court case that led to appalling lies being written in a part of Britain's local press and even little inside page paragraphs of the gutter tabloids.
She wanted to start over.
She has begun to succeed and she'll make it. The picture of her and a little bit of Cam has to be discreet for now, but it was taken on a day that I've since been able to talk about to one young woman of whom I'm very proud, my daughter Marianne. However, I have yet to see again and describe the details and the fun we had to my friend Ellie, who asked me on one of my daughter's own big days this year, May 26, to "tell me about your wedding".
That word, as Eleanor, Manou and others know now, was shorthand. So are words like the Underground, though most of the French press I find of interest these days is about life and the people in what's really a broad, heterogeneous "alternative society" where I feel far more at home -- again!
It wasn't a wedding that Sandy and I celebrated with four witnesses and a few of our friends on March 22, this year's Equinox of Spring, not in any conventional sense, though we did swear vows and I can tell you what the main vow was.
It was also sworn by the two Camilles, and by Max and Freddie, since they wanted to join us in that vow, again more of a prayer, in light of their own life experience, love of other people and their sense of values. The picture above, in which Sandy and Cam are checking out a little something I gave her, was taken by Max at what we called a Ring Ceremony -- though there were no rings apart from a linking of hands -- where we swore: "No more heartbreak."
That really is quite a challenge, but we meant it, not just for ourselves. What Sandy's wearing, while Cam's got an expensive but gorgeous black dress on, you can't see, but never mind. She calls it "my lovely gold and blue dragon thing". I don't. I call it the "Killer Kimono."
My immediate bosses were very kind to both of us in the spring, allowing me an extra week off work while she stayed in this cramped flat at the beginning of May and telling us to make the most of it, when I'd run out of left-over vacation time from last year. I'm forever grateful to them for such generosity.
However, by May 26 I was in a dire state for unexpected reasons and really didn't want to be. That day I spoke to an Ellie who happens to have been born under a different ascendant and an ocean away from Sandy on the same day of the same year, Marianne "came of age". My daughter became a very mature young woman of 18. We enjoyed the party, but I was in personal trouble. When Marianne went on later this year to pass her Baccalareat exams with a Mention Très Bien, Sandy asked me what that meant and I said it's like getting A-levels with honours.
My own upset had nothing to do with Sandy's absence down in Nice and very little to do with birthdays, though they came into it, triggering a seismic mental event because of a string of coincidences. By the last week of May, it was lucidly clear to me and my doctor and close friend Luc, who has known me for 14 years, that I was in no shape to work, but I had to tell both him and my therapist that I didn't trust the latter over his drug treatment. Something had gone badly wrong.
Nor did Sandy, who came rushing up from Nice to be in an artistic community south of Paris and offered to live with me anew until I had pulled through, but we decided that would be a bad idea, since she has never been a city person and could stay with musician friends in an old, converted manor house near Saint Michel-sur-Orge, where they could work in peace.
I did pull through and Sandy's choice between leaving for England when she did and staying on was rendered much easier once I was in the hands of the therapist I have now, who believes only in basic medication indispensable for my Bipolar II condition and approves of the decision I made early this year to rid my system of others that have long done more harm than good.
A musical migration
This therapist, whom I trusted from our first meeting although her stupid predecessor "forgot" setting it up so that we had only 10 minutes together then, practices something called "systemic psychology". It's rare in France and remains controversial elsewhere, but it shouldn't be, since it makes sense to see people in terms of their relationships and balance that equilibrium with what they are as individuals.
During that time, though, a woman whose formal education went little further than that provided by Georgina, a qualified teacher, won many smiles and even a laugh or two from Luc. He respected Sandy's insight into the both of us, doctor and patient. I don't have a degree myself, I dropped out of university after a "break year" in which I earned cash and then headed off to India for several months.
To be able to do that in today's cut-throat world is inconceivable for a woman like Marianne, if she wishes to get anywhere, but that's only one of several comparisons I could make between life in the early 1970s and the sorry state of an equally sick society in 2007, where I've realised that I won't be logging any more once I've posted this.
Musically, I've slowly but long since migrated.
I have been back here since March from time to time, but only to tidy the Log up. I've been too busy since my girl with the guitar came to "fetch me home" -- her own words, once. Though I call Sandy my "girl with the guitar", my memories of our Autumn in Spring include the cat-fights she had with young Tracy, a fellow keyboard player who has a classical background and taught her what Sandy calls "people music" and I call tone poems.
Tracy is 24, like Keana, a Czech cellist who went to England with Sandy and with great excitement in her heart. The full story, which we have chosen to call 'The Fable of Sandy the Weaver', the nickname Cam often uses for her, and which is known mostly only to my family and closest friends, with a handful of my workmates, is far from finished.
The Camille I first met in 2002, now somewhere in Scandinavia with Freddie, is 37. Sandy's other "heart's love" Cam is a decade younger, but I'm particularly interested in talking more, whenever I can, to some of the still younger people in the book -- like I do sometimes with a very academically busy Marianne. If I've learned anything in 2007 -- there's so much I still need to assimilate and research -- it's that age doesn't have much to do with what really matters in our lives.
Experience plays its part, but most people I'm writing about are migratory birds in a different way from me, with my bonds to a largely urban existence I don't always enjoy, but where I have my freedom too. Once recovered from severe damage done by medication tried by therapists to whom my case was unfamiliar territory, I shall be out there sometimes to visit the Travellers, or the "fringe dwellers" as my currently Breton brother Jon calls them.
I want to go and see him and his family in Brittany when I can, and would have gone to England this year with Marianne had it not been far more important then to work intensively with a therapist who ruled out the wrong medication and understands me before she went on vacation.
What I have deliberately left out of this account is the "weird stuff" -- the cause of my personal woes. There was much of that about in May and June, since I have what we in the Underground call "gifts", though my therapist prefers the word "faculties". Many people do these days and I have my ideas about them, and why we do at this time in the history of our evolving species and the life of a planet I'm among those sometimes to call Gaïa. All I'll say is that it made me very ill when my gifts got out of control, which they did.
I've always had them, but to do so and with the wrong drugs in your system is bad news and it became a frightening time, not just for me. I couldn't have endured it without constant support from Luc, Sandy and Cam. Few of my family understood and I could hardly blame the ones who didn't at the time. Several people in England also helped, while Camille and a gifted Freddie, who has a gift like my own main one but more experience with it, came in from Normandy three times to see me and lend a hand.
By mid-July, my doctor Luc understood that, with further help I'm getting now from a therapist with special skills I was delighted to hear about, I may be no physician like he is, but I have a gift for helping other people that he understands. I can't be there for them, the way I want to from now on, learning as I go, do the research that is taking me deeper into music than ever, and maintain this Log at the same time.
Something has to go. People come first. So this is my last entry before I mostly migrate to Last.fm and other musical communities like it. Sandy knows why, better than anyone. Some people thought that when she arrived on January 29, she did through her gift of foresight and used that to know that I was ready. They were partly wrong; the reasons were more mundane.
Her foresight came into it, but what really told Sandy I was ready to set about mending her heart, like Cam already was, and to have my own mended by her and others who had begun that process in my life were the two Log entries I wrote that month. They weren't about me, but about two of the three things I treasure most in this world: music and women -- particularly those who make it.
The third thing we both love, "spoilt brats" or otherwise, is Kids. I've been amazed this year by my own daughter and her readiness to accept that her father has a different system of values from her mother's -- which I do, so we acknowledge this but each respect the other's -- without casting judgement on either of us, simply knowing that she has incompatible parents and readily accepting it. The age difference between Manou and Camille's parents may be a big one, but their outlook meets in the middle. That I find a very encouraging thing in this world.
7:35:01 PM link
jeudi 8 mars 2007
"It's high time they put Paris somewhere else!"
The looks such a proposal recently earned from friends at work were deserved, since it came out of the blue while I gazed through the Factory's huge window wall. But I've become more content with the city where it is. Spring remains a way off, but many trees hint at its approach and the air feels easier to breath. Commuters are starting to look less wearily wan and withdrawn in the Métro.
The winter mid-term school vacation has been and gone. Afterwards, you tend to see more tanned faces and the clothes begin to brighten. I don't understand why the majority wear black and mournful colours at this time of year on top of everything else. I never shall; the season is dismal enough. Still, those tans are rarer than usual this time round because more and more people have little money for ski holidays and distant travel. The French economy is in deep shit. Even I know that, though I'm no financial wizard. But what bugs us most is damp, heavy weather and the blasted bugs themselves!
Paris remains a river port, one reason why the French decided to make it their capital, but when those ancestors built the place up in the middle of a basin, it's unlikely their worries extended to global warming. Parisians now endure effects of this unseemly lack of foresight and we all contribute to it every day.
Sometimes I wonder if my odd notions about the basin's increasingly humid and cloudy winters and highly polluted summers would mean much to Arnaud Baur, who does the weather page in 'Le Parisien'. It's a tendentious but lively tabloid and thus one of few mainstream newspapers I ever read any more, though usually Monsieur Baur's page suffices. The weatherman is a wizard, in craft and language. He is witty, has a tongue in his cheek, waxes poetic when his pen hand's so inclined, and keeps mythological and literary tricks up his sleeve. Often, he even gets his five-day forecasts uncannily right.
While Baur seems totally at ease with changing seasons, the best I manage is adapting in tune with them. Maybe the man would pull the plug out of my basin theories. No expert in anything is likely to agree that my bizarre viral notion holds water. Nevertheless, this winter some bugs seem even less able to jump beyond the basin than much sunlight has managed usually to get in. Tiny trapped particles circulate endlessly among inhabitants.
The tummy viruses can be vicious. People go down with one for a little while and a few days after they're up again, the bugger seems to come back and wallop them harder. This has happened to several of my family, buddies and people in my neighbourhood and the suburbs ringed by the hills around the Parisian basin. The chemists tell me nasty infections persisted for two months mainly from around Christmas, but mine never went completely away. I took a week off in February and nearly went to Morocco with my former wife, Catherine. She was keen to sweep me away for some sun and the temptation was strong. I didn't though. Few people would look after the cat that once lived with her and Marianne, and now me. Nor was I a legal resident. When French law on valid identity papers recently changed to abolish the obligatory renewal of a dog-eared Carte de sejour (my residence permit), I thought "Sod it! My passport doesn't run out until the end of February." I just remembered the year wrong. It expired in 2006.
Everyone agreed, though, that my original plan was better. I had taken no breaks since my return to work after last year's illness. The routines going back have been good for me, helping to restore my skills in and outside the Factory, my confidence and most of my health. By last month, life was going so well that I felt the scariest prospect was ditching the routines for a while. So that's what I did. The weather was lousy all week and I was adjusting to a change of medication, so I feared a tough time, but had a wonderful week and even enjoyed chores I had postponed. I listened to little music and wrote about none of it -- there was a different story I wanted to get on with instead -- and went out often to catch up with friends.
People were reassured by being able to having a good and easy time with somebody no longer radiating fear vibes among the better ones. Sheer terror of being alone possessed me late last summer. It dissipated gradually as my confidence grew, but while my creative side remained blocked, there were bad moments. A week seemed a long time. In the end, I had so much still to do, I was granted a couple more days.
This has become a second such week, but rather different. I took a few days off at short notice when somebody I love went into hospital for essential if relatively minor surgery, to be summarily thrown out that very day to convalesce. I wanted to be around sometimes, help out and provide company after a perfectly successful but very tiring operation.
We reckoned without bugs. My insides went into free fall on Sunday and me little peace except for most of Tuesday, a deceptive reprieve. I've been nowhere, let alone to see my friend. I couldn't. The Métro became impossible, even a supermarket queue that stalls proved risky, a pleasant stroll to the relatively nearby tax office was almost a catastrophe. The Eiffel Tower* might as well have been be as distant as the reach of its powerful beacon, sweeping round the basin on clear nights.
I tidy this up and publish it on a day all that will soon be over. How a tide has turned. I've got a few manageable hassles, minor upsets, petty annoyances, a little sadness occasionally. My soul grieves when my thoughts go to permanent loss of people or stuff I should have done now it's too late. But if I bore you with the common lot of humankind, I am no longer mourning my own past the way that happened last year.
It's simply the latest monster bug in the basin. Nothing carrots, rice, some chemical concrete and a few days with proper sleep won't cure. I spent just one partly miserable day feeling I'd let my sick friend down and alarmed I might let down my colleagues as well. But though the cure hurts a lot and I'm still knackered, that will pass.
I've been writing this instead of a music piece for two reasons, the second very musical. The first -- and perhaps more important -- is to acknowledge that I wrote a lot last year about being mentally ill and how that was, didn't I? I went deep into the nature of manic-depression and alarmingly far inside myself. Then I left it, hanging in the air. No more story. I shouldn't have done, since that worried other people! This Log remains divided like I was, uneasily so, very public only up front, while the more personal stuff went into The Orchard out back. Where did that kind of writing go?
Well it's gone, good readers, where it should be. Into a healthier perspective. Boring for many, fascinating for a few and becoming clearer in my own mind. Heavens, I even realised I'd found Lilith in a sense, eventually. My own, who means more to me than the chosen patron of women musicians. She certainly isn't -- as a few friends speculated with some justification given what I've started to tell them of a long suppressed past -- my mother. However, quite apart from aspects of somebody I have yet to introduce, I suspect the mythical Lilith could be a dual-natured woman archetype inside myself, a man like any other. I believe in that goddess, in my way, as a strong and fertile symbol, neither good nor evil, leaving it to other music writers and the mythologists to argue the toss about which she is, angel or demon. Indeed they do. For me, that Lilith is somehow beyond good and evil, she's a life force. Nature doesn't speculate in such terms. Nature kills to live, destroys to create ... and soon it will be spring.
I can write precious little about priceless music. There's a growing list of singers for a next such post, but names include discoveries so new and wonderful that I have adapted Marianne's method of listening often to very few albums. The people around me matter far too much to rush when I'd rather do things well. Three of them were given Songlines in one form or another too.
They included Catherine, whose birthday was last month. I wanted to give her Songline CDs. It was very hard but great fun to pick thematic material on three different themes for her from a suddenly daunting musical collection -- so much choice -- and burn the CDs, making those look as beautiful as I could. I'm glad she likes them. But the process mostly took me back rather than forwards to new voices, because I also wanted to make themes with variations from as many singers as I could, most of whom were new to Catherine but not me or people who read this site and others more often.
Vienna Teng (at home) really bugs me. She does so in the best way a singer possibly could, rain or shine, heavy weather or light heart. That's why she's here, but I won't write her up until I've listened to her latest album more than I have. She's a phenomenon. I was excited on discovering her music, in which splendid piano playing is a launch pad for much more, and her very beautiful voice, like I have been by An Pierlé, whose name has come up several times. Of Pierlé, I've written no more yet since she will be in Paris later this month with her man and I must be there. But when I tried to select a song of Teng's for my compilations I simply couldn't. I gave up and offered Catherine the whole album instead. I'll post this with no unwise promises.
Vienna will move up a notch on my budding profile at Last.fm too. That site has ideas I want to write plenty more about, I like it a lot, and the internet radio channels you can pick with it. Now I really need to get out on the streets for a quick late shopping bout before it starts to piss down and listen to Vienna's earlier music on my iPod. What's my favourite song, for now, on her new album 'Dreaming Through The Noise'?
I think it's 'I Don't Feel So Well'. I bet she does really. Rather like me, deeper inside than my guts. Nobody can feel too bad when they write a tune that takes a Latin turn in the middle, includes a kind of gypsy violin flavour and seems to go all over the place yet remains a wonderful whole. It's only my favourite for the moment. There's some smooth jazz, some folk-flavoured music and many twists and turns, including lyrically, that I need to sort out. They're stories as well. As for the album title, that's something I do frequently. Don't you?
Maybe there will be more such writing once inspired by a musician, but not now. My social life has picked up, I'm rarely at my computer for long. My sex life has turned private both in an everyday sense and in fantasy -- or Fancy. I prefer that word for fantasies that might well be shared. I wish to enjoy what's left of 2007. If anyone actually liked nonsense I used to write, especially if you're a woman, somebody tipped me off to an 'Always Aroused Girl'. She is, in her way, light family reading. People who have grown up as touchingly disinclined to explicit talk of sex as my daughter -- who has been going steady with a nice lad for more than two years now she's pushing 18 and always locks the bathroom door, even in an empty house -- may steer clear of that AAG's blogroll. I didn't when I added the link and the first I randomly clicked on there was hastily closed. My guts will never take that kind of stuff, but in appropriate company, there's nothing "filthy" about playing Fancy when it makes for harmless fun.
On another front, I'm finally free of the financial troubles that were a huge preoccupation before I had last year's breakdown, along with more work pressure than I could take. Feeling unable to socialise as well meant this Log became not quite an obsession, but one of my few outlets for shared pleasures in a world full of horrible events and ghastly behaviour. I need people far more than I would let them in and was "much too kind" to some -- a frequent reproach from others -- but musicians performed small miracles for me. The good side is when I've found myself able to tell their stories well. The bad one had been that to do this I need to be able to relate so closely to their music and their lyrics, which is fine when angels bring your feet to the ground, but terrible if you unconsciously use their work to plaster over your injuries without healing them.
A huge June 23 column on 'Pretenders - the basics of staying power' is a pivotal chunk of Log and my life. Chrissie Hynde and that band sliced open my mind. It's raw, can be messy! It took me many weeks to digest what I myself wrote and having written that, the only place to go then was deeper yet inside. After an August when being alone became almost unbearable, family and friends gradually came back from holidays. Their physical presence and words of support and love helped someone who could no longer pretend, nor see the bottom. But I couldn't really talk.
When I did hit the bottom, it initially felt disgusting and so slimily obscene that I left it all off the Log, but then the healing began. I used to get miffed at how some people tell you "everything comes down to sex in the end", but my deepest, most painful wounds were indeed sexual ones, inflicted on others as well as myself. The only person who needs to understand as fully as possible has been me. People get so easily hurt in their sexuality from a very early age and the pain it causes can be manifest in numerous ways.
If there's any point in logging parts of this entry, it's to let people who care know how much better I feel and tell you it's an ongoing process. What's new and gives me ground for hope and joy in the future arises partly from friendly help in understanding how I've often used my bipolar disorder as a cover for worse. It was fine to write last year that the first things to go in a manic-depressive's downers are love, trust and a sense of humour. But it was only part of the story since these elements increasingly affect relations with those you love the most.
What do you do when medication doesn't work well, you slowly fall apart and sense there's more to it than the diagnosed disease? I know others who have been or are in the state I was last year, a turn in a bipolar cycle that became such a total breakdown I thought I'd never pull out of it. In the end, help came less from a therapist I now see once a month than from wonderful friends, then nice colleagues. When back at work in October, my love for myself (self-confidence), trust in myself (lack of paranoia) and sense of humour were very shaky. I appreciated being called a "lobster without a shell" since it was accurate and showed how Catherine understood me, after 13 years of divorce.
Others have of late come closer still. My own mind and body took a while to agree what had seemed so loathsome during the phase when horrible memories were hot lava and hard to approach was far less so when seen from the perspective of other people's experience. I have yet to get my physical strength back to where it should be. I'm lazy in winter, apart from walking a lot and will start further exercise come the spring. There have been relapses, but the overall recovery is steady. With a little help from my friends, one day at a time.
*Eiffel Tower picture (detail) by Nick Palmer (200 Strong).
The Last.fm radio on my desktop happened in the shot here to be playing a verdant Fiona Apple song to an equally green Jennifer Lopez. Do you think she's asleep?
Vienna Teng piano picture by Adam Tow (Collected Sounds).
9:43:13 PM link
nick b. 2007 do share, don't steal, please credit
artistic licence terms; contributing friends (pix, other work) retain their rights.
a blog behind the log
('secret heart, what are you made of?
what are you so afraid of?
could it be three simple words?'
- ron sexsmith/feist)
voices of women
stories of a sort
(some less wise than others)
(for my own benefit)
who is this guy?
'be like water'? be music
[time spent 'underground']
('previous lives' -- february 2003-april 2005 -- are linked on the log's monthly pages; the search engine delivers the pertinent entry for 'musical months'; earlier queries take you to the monthly archive page.)
shopping with friends