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nick b. 2007
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jeudi 27 octobre 2005
I'm very superstitious.
After almost a year's worth of planning anything only to find my intentions unravelled by events, I venture to predict nothing for next week, just say it'd be nice to cover a fair patch of new musical terrain.
Those coming days in particular will be the latest in the more or less established pattern of one week in every six or so free of world news -- whatever happens on my all-African editorial patch at work or elsewhere.
Doing this remains vital to my peace of soul since bids to switch off empathy I bring to the job when it comes to contact with people exposed to violence or in dire straits don't work and nobody wants me to tune out of that anyway, including me.
We sometimes live in the most cynical horrible world, so I loved an entry Cindy's blogged:
The rest is so well expressed by the Squip you could check it out at 'Dusting My Brain' for yourselves and equally savour the entry and the classy appearance of her latest site design.
"I am hereby officially tendering my resignation as an adult. I have decided I would like to accept the responsibilities of a 6 year-old again."
The lovely Lee has also given us what must be a seasonal "if only" kind of post at 'Odessa Street', where she too has done an admirable facelift of late:
"I've been thinking a lot about money and how I need more of it. I have already confided in my closest friends - and now, here, to you, dear Internet - that I believe in my past life I was a noble. I think I had nice, pretty things and was surrounded by luxury."
Not any more. This, she says, has made her "become the person I could never understand: the one for whom every euro counts." So I do wish her and 'The Boy' luck, as she asks; now it's the end of another month, I'm having such a week myself, counting every cent and the days until the next pay cheque comes in.
I'm glad to be doing this, though, in the name of music.
When it comes to empathy, an ordered copy of 'Somebody's Miracle' has arrived.
Where praise is due...
It largely lives up to its name and could be covered as part of a splendid triptych of recently released third albums, since I'm almost ready also to tell you what I make of Fiona Apple's 'Extraordinary Machine' and even, at long last, 'Supernature.'
From this, you'll gather ahead of time I'm very impressed.
I've read some absurd generalisations about what particular album number in a career it takes for musicians to come fully into their own, since they're never the same, but have long held off on Apple, Liz Phair and Goldfrapp.
These number threes, however, are singularly rich, and take several hearings fully to appreciate.
David in Spain, with whom I find myself often like-minded, has done us a favour, with a quick recap in his own write-up (Unpaid Rock Critic) about the story behind Apple's CD.
I'll be approaching the album with a perspective different from David's, but probably bumped into him because of shared "biases". This reminds me to mention a blogger newly added to the list on the left since Arjan Writes Columns about Music I enjoy keeping an eye on.
Known only to "most people" who follow these things and taken in several French music mags as a tale too of a "quest for perfection", what David wrote was worth spelling out. It sits well with my piece about French singers, since some of their reputations are very closely tied in to what goes on surrounding them on the Internet rather than the older media.
There'll soon be enough columnists as opposed to portals to move them to a new section in the roll, but before doing this I'd like to find a few more women, keeping Amy company -- her site's moved, but her archives are where they were.
..there's my own teeny trumpet
It seems I'm occasionally "ahead of the game" -- though what's good is timeless and also plays with time constantly -- because there's a massive media fuss now about K.T. Tunstall, yet it was a while back there was I set an 'Eye to the Telescope'.
Blue city lights and Liz's city blues
Ah, 'Suddenly I See'. Kt's "gold" at The-Raft, but that's no site for my roll -- news of competitiveness and awards has almost no role on a log aimed at taking the "business" out of music. No, if you're a visitor here it's for an empathy with musicians at best and a sympathetic hearing at least.
While on fellow-feeling, apologies to another Cindy who was an unfortunate victim of excess zeal in trimming that roll for a little while; I've reinstated her 'mousemusings'.
She still has more heart than me left to speak out politically but music's very much a part of her and her blog's permanently straddled with a magnificent quote:
"Human beings will be happier -- not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That's my utopia."
A utopia indeed, but what a way also to try to live in the present, especially for we city-dwellers, retaining a hold of what's sacredly "primitive" amid all the plastic. It's misery season, almost, in Paris again.
"I bet it made you laugh
The bitterness isn't sustained throughout 'Everything to Me', one song on a straight and latest of albums where Liz Phair has pulled through the rough phase she was just as direct about on her second album I wrote up a while back, but -this side of the woman brought two reflections to mind on first listening, since I found my fingers had really been firmly crossed for her; she'd had such a bashing from many critics who seemed totally deaf to how tough she was being on herself.
Watching me work so hard to reach you
You never gave a damn
About all of those things I did to please you
All that you wanted
You found someone else
And nothing could drag you
Away from yourself
Do you really know me at all?"
Two years later, 'Somebody's Miracle' is, as I'd hoped for her, an album where she has moved on.
The other effect of that particular song was to get me searching the closed masks of nearly all the strangers' faces around me now sunshine's scarce again and sullen skies have started Parisians sliding back into their shells for the long haul of another winter to come.
You couldn't help but wonder what they were thinking and if some of it might be a little like Liz in those lines. With summer's swift fall into winter changes in the mood of Paris remain so deep, now I've no more grounds for imagining it's just me re-inventing Parisians when the grey days come, perhaps seasonal affective disorder is a city-wide SAD syndrome that gets to most people in the end.
One Cindy's right to instruct me in her comment on a recent entry:
"Whatever you do, don't stop writing Apple posts. (...) Apple = iPod = iTunes = music."
Flights beyond fancies
Having had six pass through my hands since they were invented, but four no longer mine, maybe I am something of an "iPod doctor". The other night, I counted 27 iPods on one 35-minute Métro trip; it's a huge increase since Apple Expo. A sense of urgency that's pressing me to finish fixes for some friends handing me ones they find broken has much to do with making sure they've got music without hassle to keep them going through the SAD season.
Analysis I'm certainly done with since last winter, but I have to accept what I was told before the therapy was over: I'm ultra-permeable to people's "vibes" -- it's the only word if not "harmonics" -- and almost invariably get it right when properly attuned to their feelings though not, thank goodness, their thoughts.
I don't know who among album artwork names to credit for an irresistible illustration.
In retrospect, I can only feel that the concerns the very sensual Liz unleashed on us in 2003 about age and appeal must have triggered a resonant foghorn echo deep inside me before the gloom lifted.
Feelings only approached in the language of words seem to have sorted themselves into an utterly inexplicable conviction I simply have to be alert for the unknown music heading my way to be made in the dark and shared in the light in ways I'll never have quite known before.
In most of her songs, today's Liz knows she had no more to get bothered about than I did; yet we did, both of us, such is the way of all flesh when you reflect on it deeply. And we made it public, whether as "dear guitar" or ... "dear Internet." That was a nice touch by Lee, since you never know who's out there, do you?
I shan't pre-empt a proper write-up tonight of 'Somebody's Miracle' or other albums that have yet quite to sink fully into me. I suppose if I tell you I'm turned on by that picture and by the remainder, which are in colour, of the "arty" artwork, of one singer more discreet than she used to be, it's a musical postlude.
Doubtless some will be slightly reassured, others mildly disappointed and everyone else indifferent when I confirm there'll be no more of those photos of non-practising musicians since that phase of me too is past.
At least you'll be happy to read I'm still totally nuts. The clocks change next weekend so we suddenly get the twilight an hour sooner, but never mind when the next early morning meditation could find me conjuring up a picture like this and having the music in my blood tell me, "Yes, it is an omen for you, just keep listening."
I did warn you.
I'm very superstitious.
2:06:41 AM link
dimanche 23 octobre 2005
The Kid's got a point.
She's been at pains to remind me where I live.
A new portal on the roll of honour has some worthwhile links, but sets about its task in an only too conventional way:
"Can the French rock?" asks San Francisco Bay DJ Joe Sixpack in his 'Froghop'. "It's a question which has vexed the most diligent cultural scholars, yet there are several recently unearthed anthropological clues which indicate an affirmative answer."
I think he means "Yes".
Well, Joe got that one right. So let's try getting the hang of France and some of its songwriters. Giving the Kid some value for money is scarcely as difficult as people like to make out if they let the French get up their noses instead of sliding a tongue into their ears.
I'd rush to lay my hands on Zazie's latest album 'Rodeo' -- if she weren't so famous in the French-speaking world. She's full of mischief and humour (the picture's the CD cover art), but there's more to Zazie than this and a rock band with nothing to envy most of the American and British artists who dominate the pop industry.
You know how it feels, that startled numbness we get in the first instant a bolt of bad news strikes from a clear blue sky to shatter a day. Zazie, a superb songwriter, catches that awful fleeting feeling in one of the sharpest numbers on a typically wide-ranging album.
She does better yet in the "hidden bonus" on 'Zen', by closing the set with a remix of 'Homme Sweet Homme' with its neat nasty twist in the last lines of a song about a woman who finds that her love-nest isn't quite the cosy paradise she thought, because neither is her man.
It's enough to drive a girl to insomnia, fretting about "the other woman". But the moment once marked in the remix and after that silent spell musicians increasingly enjoy giving us before whatever they've tucked at the end of their records, Zazie starts gently counting sheep!
"Un mouton ... deux moutons ... trois moutons ..."
What with chirrups mainly from woodwind instruments and distant bleats as if heard through an open summer window, she's so good at it you could almost leave her to put the baby to bed for you. But the nearer she comes to 117 sheep -- she does amazingly go that far -- the funnier they are, the occasional hiccups of wordplay she delivers on her dozy way.
Zazie's just one of the most established of many singer-songwriters who fail to understand that since they're mostly not very interested in working in English, they are either plain bad or skilled but derivative musicians unfitted for any place in the upper pantheon along with their creative counterparts. It's obvious. So many people say so!
Even in the wonderful Wikipedia, which is packed full of music nowadays, try seeking out anything on French rock in English and you'll probably wind up feeling sorry for me, stuck here in a sonic desert populated by barely more than a dozen others. If you're truly sensitive, you'd feel terrible for me, since there's scarcely a woman among them.
I don't know where it came from, this insidious myth!
Could it perchance be laziness about language? For heaven forfend it might have anything to do with "cultural imperialism". If it were true, what I've been exploring on the quiet for a couple of weeks and more would be a figment of a very fevered imagination and an odd invention, since it's a collective hallucination shared by Marianne and countless others from long before the day she said: "Dad, isn't it time you wrote about Camille?"
Indeed it is. But today's a little too early to get straight into the woman on the right, whose place in the wider world is confirmed at Rock'n'France, another new blogroll portal -- in French, like most links in this entry -- with the great merit of often straying far beyond the borders.
Essays, I said yesterday, won't be frequent on this log. But this is one because if I'm going to start writing about French musicians, I'd rather do so on the basis of an overview of some of what's happening here today as I hear it in the voices of the nation's women.
The dominance of English popular music can't be denied in Paris any more than many other world capitals. In most bars or inexpensive restaurants -- unless you're in a tourist spot like up on the hill of Montmartre -- the background music will usually be some radio station broadcasting hit after foreign hit single.
Some of them, at the very beginning of their careers, are helping to define a sound that's so decidedly French that's it's time to debunk any nonsense the country's music lacks international appeal regardless of whether you can follow the words.
On the whole, the French not only put up with this but enjoy it, since few object to the habit many restaurants now have everywhere of sticking music on just loud enough to spare people the horror of silence -- how very awkward that might be -- and the racket from the kitchen.
Imported music is so popular that soon after I arrived in France, a war began. Almost from the start of the 1980s, a new socialist government then hailed with huge relief after years of stodgy sameness in politics decided to free up the airwaves. If my memory's right, within the week it happened, the number of FM radio channels in the capital leapt from four or five to ten times as many.
The first skirmishes for space on the air were among the likes of religious faiths, gay movements and a host of oddballs out for a lasting licence, but the biggest battle of all came when it dawned on the authorities that cultural freedom and enlightenment meant English, particularly in music.
"Oh dear," they said, "there's so much 'Anglo-Saxon' music being broadcast now there's no room for our lot. La chanson française is being wiped off the map! We must save it. Like the language."
What heady days: imagine a thousand blooming Chinese flowers mixed up with next-door Germany's commendable habit of encouraging the arts with state funds, all done with a very French flair. The politicians tried everything, including rules and quotas, decreeing that for every ten Madonnas or Michael Jacksons, there should be one Jacques Brel -- that he was borrowed from Belgium didn't bother them, he was still a French singer.
Some musicians did benefit and kept French singing very much alive, but I doubt most of them felt like grumpy taxi drivers actually born in Paris, when the majority are immigrants, who said you could smoke in their cabs but adamantly tuned in to French-only songs.
But what is French song? Unlike the more "Latin" nations of Italy, Portugal, Spain and the Caribbean and South America, it's hard to pin down any distinctive sounds like soaring opera, flamenco, fado, tango, reggae -- you name it -- unless you consider it was all wrapped up by the late Edith Piaf, Jacques Trenet, Georges Brassens and now Claude Nougaro, along with their various heirs.
I reckon there is a "French sound" all the same.
Like some of those other sorts of music, has very mixed roots. Some styles considered national by foreigners are in large part regional ones, but a French band's music can frequently draw on north African, west African and other former colonial influences, as well as whatever the musicians fancy in the modern styles and digital techniques that cross almost every border.
When people are often regarded with great wariness once their compatriots in the provinces spot the 75 on their car licence plate that warns "Parisian at large", you can hardly bundle up French music into the famous "chanson" style or the massed accordionists of Montmartre.
It's also pointless rationally to explain a nation of individuals so proud of each being their own man or woman they can end up doing everything together, like emptying Paris in August or scaring themselves out of their wits during the last presidential election when the traditional protest votes of round one meant people woke up with a start. They found themselves confronted with a choice two weeks later between Jacques Chirac and a cunning and dangerous fanatic nationalist, the odious Jean-Marie Le Pen.
So there wasn't really any choice at all. But you don't hear much about politics from French singer-songwriters as you do from Brits and Americans. "La chanson française" -- or even rock as rendered by the ageing Johnny Hallyday -- is only a small part of what's going on.
Let's indeed take Camille, along with a fairly random list of -- mostly -- young women who all have a loyal public and can pack out concert halls for days at a stretch when they go on tour: Lynda Lemay, Zazie again, Pauline Croze, Mylène Farmer (Univers Farmer is an unofficial change from last time she cropped up), Coralie Clément, Nâdiya, Keren Ann (unofficial and in the picture), Autour de Lucie, La Grande Sophie, Judith Bérard (unofficial) and Carla Bruni, at 'The Observer' and thus even in English, since the bright model beauty's first foray into song-writing "enthralled" Charlie Gillett.
They're not all from France and most haven't done soundtrack songs to films such as 'Titanic' like the French-Canadian Céline Dion, but they would feel justifiably abused if you called them copycats and say they deserve none of your attention because you hear in their music a pale shadow of what the English-speaking world does better.
In a country that's been invaded as frequently as France, where centuries ago an army from the Arabic world got as far north as Poitiers, it's hard to avoid going on the defensive at the same time as you assimilate the influences from abroad.
In the last century, US troops brought records, then came the international music industry followed by the Net, while in Québec, people are just as attached to their cultural identity as the French but have to mingle and rub shoulders with English speakers.
Heck, the French have even had me for 25 years.
Some of the new generation of musicians sometimes sing in English as readily as Dion, Liane Foly (RFI bio of a woman with jazz in her heart) and Patricia Kaas. But there's so much wordplay in it, I'm sure most do this much more for the enjoyment they get out of it, like audiences made up of continental Europeans often good at foreign languages, than because they actively seek an English-speaking public.
Others who sing in nothing but French often turn out to be surprisingly fluent in other languages but are happy to work with the one they've got. It's a good job both kinds are around, because if there is what I'd call a "French sound", then it's got a lot to do with language.
That's the heart of the matter.
When you put French and music together well, it makes for a result as unique yet universal as any other successful blend of sounds and words. To dismiss the music because you can't understand what they're singing is a little silly. My French was abysmal when I arrived and music soon proved one of the best ways into the language.
But to call people "derivative" because they form rock bands and make the most of technology like musicians do everywhere else is frankly insulting and foolishly wrong. It's like the cliché that holds beauty is in the eye of the beholder when common sense tells most of us that true, natural loveliness is somehow innate, rather more than a cultural variable. Like a woman plastered in make-up, simulating such "beauty" in music is to fall for passing and often cyclical trends in fashion and marketing.
When I start focussing on individuals, as I shall, it's because long excursions into new French music have been every bit as rewarding in getting deep into the finest lyricists and poets in English -- or Latin American singers and Africans where it helps to have a translation in the sleeve notes.
"What are you doing?" I was asked at work in a spare moment's fiddling with wires and clothes.
"Well, don't grope me," the inevitable answer came.
But the only feelings I was into were tentative aural ones as I began to hear how the appeal of modern French song lies in shape and form and how these mirror the native speech patterns to such an extent you can't dissociate the music from the words.
Of course that's just as true in other languages, but the music often sounds French, whatever kind of musical style it's in, rather as in wordless "classical music", most great woodwind players -- clarinettists and the like, as well as jazz saxophonists -- turn to France for their reeds, a vital part of their instrument that makes for that special sound they want.
Without going into a long list backwards and forwards from Ravel and Debussy, if you've got a head for it you'll know the subtleties of French orchestration, the gift of many composers particularly for adventures in the range of woodwind sound like German-speakers can do with brass instruments.
Mother tongues must bring out such qualities. French can be very good at three things. One is choppiness, brevity, the quick wit with words, sharply funny or cutting like fine swordsmanship. The other is discursive, the use of little words, often soft on the ear, to make up long phrases and flowing sentences. And there's the same sense of the absurd and juxtaposition that makes for the "flavour" of some French poetry and once turned Paris into an ideal place for surrealism to develop.
Emotionally all mixed up into the subject matter, moods and sounds of French song, you don't need to pay much attention to the words to hear such things. Both Zazie and young Pauline Croze (her fine first album), can move from a percussive, fast technique to the lovely melodic lines of spoken French almost from one phrase to the next.
Whether it's in rock, jazzy, country-folk, music wide open to Latin dance rhythms or even spaced out to float on, the structure of such women's songs allows them to work up an exciting tension, sometimes like a set of half-answered questions, to points of resolution that delight the ear, before starting over. That very softness and charm (douceur) in much of the language that helps make for foreigners' erotic fantasies about French lovers is caught by many of these singers.
The French can shout and rave like anyone else and when they do it's gutsy and straight from the heart, but musicians in this country also nurture very fine and flexible voices to achieve a gentle, fragile beauty that's worth preserving and deserving of a much wider public than some enjoy.
Beauvais, a cathedral town north of Paris in a department named for the Oise river and its often marshy tributaries, has little to recommend itself to the casual visitor. But though it's one of countless dull French provincial towns devoid of night life and with almost nothing to offer young people who live there, like others it has highly creative survivors.
Lauren Faure (her agent's site) is unlikely to join the august ranks of the Academie Française, an institution notorious on home soil for trying to stave off the onslaught of mainly American culture by inventing words for new technology and businesses where most people find a perfectly good English one will do.
Few take any more notice of the academy's injunctions than Zazie does in that pun of "Homme Sweet Homme". French has ceased to the most common currency in international diplomacy, but in sexual "etiquette" and exchanges of the heart, it has a "finesse" and poetry all its own.
Should Lauren be so silly, once elderly, to join a losing battle that's merely cultural interaction, the Beauvais-born lass's reluctance to be like Zazie and use anything but French is perhaps a qualification for academic seawall building, but she sticks to her own 'Regards de femme' and native wordcraft to tackle the ups and downs of l'amour, which she does very well indeed.
If these exploratory words have managed to pique your interest in the French and their music, they're written at risk of casting very different people in the same mould, after listening to enough of them to write about the shape and colour their lyrics give sound, rather as I drew out the underlying and inseparable likeness in creating music and making love early this month.
In short, I generalise in the hope you'll also enjoy listening to each of the birds in the context of the woods where they reside. The Kid's ear was right about Camille, though. Somebody like this singer always comes along with a warning for people with an ear for likeness: "Don't put all your eggs in the same nest!"
I don't feel like writing about 'Le Fil' until I've had a chance to hear her last work, since Camille's ruffled a few feathers this year. She's no cuckoo, though, but a musician who gets me, along with her French fans, appreciatively saying "Vive la différence!"
However, that's another story.
10:59:27 PM link
mardi 18 octobre 2005
[Expanded review + band-induced nostalgia trip]
Variety being the spice of life, I strongly recommend the latest and third album from Ladytron, one of the most interesting and exciting bands around exploring new territory.
The women, Mira Aroyo from Bulgaria and Helen Marnie from Scotland, are the voices in a curious quartet who get put on the "electronica" shelves in the stores but work magic using much more than synthesised sound skills.
With 'Witching Hour', released a couple of weeks ago, this "Fab Four" -- Daniel Hunt and Reuben Wu come from Liverpool -- give fans what I reckon is their best yet and others put off by the very notion of "electronic music" every reason to take a fresh listen and change their minds.
A subtle and far-ranging set of songs ventures too close in style to the romantic in classical music and the richest in pop for most people to say "my tastes stop here". Ladytron know plenty about "traditional" instruments, melody and musicianship and draw on all three for an ambitious album with great sound and a pleasing lyrical ambiguity that puts the band among the "poet-singers" who remain my primary preoccupation for a month or two.
Bewitching is the word. And beautiful. Bringing 21st-century technology to bear in making music doesn't mean forgetting how to write and sing complex love songs and a fine ballad or two: 'Beauty2' is among the warmest to come my way from such a band in ages.
"Warm" is not a word often associated with electronica, but 'Witching Hour' is full of it. I need to polish up my Romanian to make real sense of one track, 'Fighting in Built Up Areas,' but Mira's vocals are remarkable in any language. I'll be writing more of these four and their approach to the age-old conflicts in our hearts and the violent ones in our modern world some other time.
It's just too good to leave out right now, while I'm still getting into this album, since I like contrasts and often remind myself "And now for something completely different" when focussed on a particular kind of song-writing as a main theme: too much concentration on anything dulls the wits.
There's an exhilarating energy and drive to much of the album that avoids tedious percussive pitfalls. Ladytron set out by saying they wanted artistic space and have found how to use it.
"Avoidance of the generic, has been crucial all along: 'We've never been interested in being a trad. anything,' insists Mira.
This attitude is borne out on the album. You simply can't say whether you're really hearing a guitar and even an occasional concert-hall organ with lots of stops pulled out. The band heralded such an approach in one of many interviews with musicians I digested online or in magazines during the summer.
'Everything is done our own way. I've always been into Krautrock bands like Neu! and Can, and I love the fact that I can't really tell what instruments they used. It doesn't really matter'," she adds in a bio piece on Ladytron's home page.
On reading Reuben and Helen talk about the sound and the ambiguities the group was seeking to develop this time, I made a "Don't miss that when it comes" mental note.
They've done better even than hoped.
Their site discloses some other influences: one that goes unmentioned, but struck me so much it would be odd if it's not intentional. In 'Sugar', there's a recurrent use of key changes and switches in pitch that must be unforgettably laid down in the heads of anybody who remembers the distinctive spaced-out Pink Floyd sound of that band's first peak years, a very long time ago.
Such a nostalgia trip from forward-looking Ladytron was unexpected but delicious. And here's a relevant gem for oldies: a new 'Pink Floyd - London 1966 - 1967' DVD is not going to please everyone, make no mistake.
That's why it gets such a low star rating at Amazon UK. However, I've seen some of it and it's bloody marvellous! If you weren't around, forget it: other reviewers are right, it's really a historical document, but one packed with the savour and sights of the times, including Mick Jagger at his craziest and other choice interviews of the era.
There's no point in saying 'Wish You Were Here' when now we're somewhere else. I'm not one of those to say things have all gone to pot and downhill since we were lads and made no fuss pretending we never inhaled things we did. One of my life's few certainties is that there was only one James Bond, Sean Connery. After him, 007 died on screen.
I can thus tell you in advance that the new Bond movie will be absolute crap, they all are. Except for the ladies. Goodness me, if you look at pictures of what women sometimes wore and did with their hair in the Sixties and early 70s, you'll thank your lucky stars that in 2005 we've got Mira and Helen and Ladytron.
These two women keep it dark, cut it short and straight.
The same can't be said of their lyrics, not furnished with the CD and not so far on the Net. That's deliberate, I think; the 13 tracks form a stylish and stylistic sequence of mood pieces as well as separate songs. They are a bid to achieve and be enjoyed for multiple meanings.
The attempt is a total success.
8:23:27 PM link
samedi 15 octobre 2005
When in no mood to be let down and annoyed by a studio sound that sometimes all but drowned her, I came perilously close to trashing Tara Angell.
Then she wouldn't be here since there's no point in writing about albums that leave me cold.
Angell gnawed at me with her debut, 'Come Down', released in February. She's talented and I couldn't work out exactly what sounded so wrong. That gave me an itch I wanted to scratch but couldn't reach.
How do you scratch your soul?
I could hear and appreciate the blood-and-guts honesty of 'Come Down' yet felt the music in several songs wasn't quite Tara, being too "muddy".
I began to think I must have a rare duff copy that caught her gift, then almost buried it when something went wrong with the sound.
As I puzzled, you got two entries. What I hear needs pulling together with trust in my ears and my intuition.
These faculties left me with a sense of unease and irritation at a CD that gave the lie to the Ryko label's assertion, made on Tara Angell's web site, that it "put the voice ahead of the music".
If only it did, more of the time, but that day's yet to come.
So what made for occasional self-indulgence on 'Come Down' combined with a banal musicianship lacking heart?
Tara pours her own heart out, even when it's been broken and hurt, and admiring fans love a toughness that keeps her going and sustains them with a very strong message.
A New York bartender, it seems Angell took out a huge loan to make a first record that was eating her up. She knows she's got a gift, she wants a career in music and she's hardened by life at 26. Some hear an album full of disappointment, but I wouldn't overdo it. I've been listening to a woman with no inclination to self-pity, too honest for self-indulgence and an absolute faith in music.
It's not just a money problem holding back a woman who's become a popular part of her city's musical scene. On stage, she's obviously a magnet. People are drawn back as I was by the album.
I can't be nearly as upbeat about 'Come Down' as Eric Danton at CDBaby, a site that's very attentive to new musicians, though his fine review has the sympathy characteristic of the place. In suggesting we listen to Tara's debut as a structured sequence, Eric has a good point, but it was irony, more than wit, I heard in stunts like having Angell record over a cocktail party for one of the tracks that does her no favours.
Bitch Please' (lyrics at Always on the Run just reminded somebody he rarely enjoy parties, eyeing up strangers, talking rubbish and enduring dull yacking until the hilarity sets in. Any familiar reader can guess my idea of a good party: a lucky encounter with a like mind and a quick escape. At parties, I often feel "trapped", hemmed in by conventions.
Once 'Come Down' was recorded, Tara got interviews and spoke of feeling "trapped" herself. Now I could make sense of the nagging contradictions on the album, feel my ears got it right and that self-indulgence with effects are no part of Angell's gift.
There's a hard-luck story told of how 'Come Down' came to be, the hassle for a bank loan, a meeting with producer Joseph Arthur, and a chemistry during five short days of recording on a tight budget: "Brooklyn bartender makes good."
A true tale -- as far as it goes -- makes Tara one in a thousand who had the guts to chase her heart's desire, just a variant on part of "the American dream". There it could end with a one-off and no more Tara Angell.
You have to go to her web site to find the sharing woman who's been facing up to her past and realities. Though it's left me with a minority view, I'd rather sense this about her with the qualities that help shape a true singer-songwriter.
Uninformative sleeve notes close with an "art photo" of a flaxen-haired woman snapped from behind on a grey day, clutching an umbrella in a graveyard full of ornate tombs. For what I was trying to catch, there was no help in tracks that might have been recorded in one of the sepulchres, so wretched is the sound.
Like Eric, I heard how Tara's had "years of experience studying the great North American songwriters of the 20th century", but had to dig further and read several interviews to root out my real unease.
Angell has a smoky voice for lyrics without pretension, she cracks with emotion and she comes across at her best with simplicity. So regardless of high praise from others for the studio technique and the chemistry with her producer, for me Arthur nearly disguised Tara herself.
One enthusiast, Australian Zak Black, writing at Amazon US, thinks "if there's any sense or justice in the music world, Tara Angell and Come Down will be received like saviours by all those who care about music." So she might and I've wound up rooting for her, but this is no album of the year.
There can be no doubt of Arthur's commitment: he's also present as multi-instrumentalist -- playing bass, keyboards, guitar, percussion and vocals. So what bugged me was his inability to leave alone and damage several songs by piling on the murk!
That's the last thing she needs, I felt ripped off.
There's nothing special about most of the musicians, who give a country sound to a few songs and do better than at first I could credit, but the often painful experiences Tara expresses are hard enough to sing well as it is.
Her stripped-down approach on the songs where she is more herself gets her likened to P.J. Harvey, but the latter has a real band that helps develop an imaginative range and it works.
'Come Down' isn't easy when plodding musicians sound as if they have no reason to be there and frankly just hold her back. That's wrong, along with the overkill that takes her only too literally when she sings about being "six feet under", left somehow to survive and crawl her way back out.
My confusion lifted with one look at the Tara of Alicia Trani's photo, on her own with a mighty guitar, during a gig in May 2003 at The Living Room in New York. And I rediscovered the bruises and beauty in a song like 'When You Find Me' and other .mp3s among Tara Angell's downloads. A song about heartbreak is rawer still recorded five or six years before the album.
Relief my ears hadn't let me down and tipped me off to a singer-songwriter with an over-zealous producer was strengthened by what Tara later disclosed to Venuszine, a review that can be very good on women and musicians:
"Balancing financial responsibilities with her musical goals is slowly wearing on her. Then, of course, there's the unexpected to be dealt with, like the week when her bass player decided to jet off to Italy with his other boss, Patti Smith. The sudden turn of events comes a week-or-so before the 26-year-old Angell's much-anticipated concert debut at the Bowery Ballroom.
'That's the kind of life it is. It's like hectic, crazy, roll with the punches, think fast, you know what I mean?' she sighs, the frustration — or is it exhaustion? — evident in her voice. Her band are pros, though, which she's quick to point out. Everything will be fine she assures herself, but it's these 'details' that she's having the hardest time with. 'There's so much stuff that has to get done, that it's really hard cause I'm not a band. I'm a solo artist'," Tara told Cole Hadden (Venuszine).
Given her fan base and the place she's already won for herself in New York, I don't want to come down too hard on an album that has its qualities and wowed a lot of people, though it left me with mixed feelings.
I don't buy readily into any tale of the American dream too easy to ring true, when I picked on Tara after focussing on a very different musician and while also listening to new work from US singers who've "made it". There's not one with anything but contempt for the American illusion: nowadays "making it" is usually presented as a struggle out of poverty to material wealth and a consumerism that's bankrupting their country. That's a soul-destroying lack of vision for which the rest of the planet foots part of the bill.
Anything right in what's left of the "dream" is what's good in Tara Angell.
The emotional tangles she shares on 'Come Down' -- and she says it's not all about her -- have no more borders than music. There's nothing particularly American about someone who put her money where her mouth is and set her heart on what she wants. She's lucid, like most other musicians, about her real reward. She finds it
"when people come up to me and say they love my album, that it never leaves their CD player — especially when a girl comes up to me and says that and I can see the sincerity in her eyes and she's holding my hand. I could just tear up right there. That's like touching someone's soul. That to me is what life is about. That's the real shit right there, you know what I mean? The fact that I have those moments keep me going. Those are the moments that I'm doing this for."
So it bothers me that she's found life's real rewards come to people who give and share with discernment, but 'Come Down' gives us little chance really to know how Tara does once given an opportunity to be what she says: "I'm a solo artist."
At best, we get this and little more than her acoustic guitar in a love song, 'You Can't Say No to Hell'.
Anybody genuinely creative knows you can't "say no to hell": it's a price most people pay for the real worth they share.
If you've got a real talent along with Angell's commitment, you can start saying no to compromise. I'm not surprised, given what life served up, that Tara was "quick to point out", as Cole Hadden wrote, her fellow musicians are pros. What else could she say?
They got between me and the woman who felt "trapped". No wonder she says she sometimes gets depressed, but depression -- even the real thing -- I know many of us can fight and defeat. Tara, like anyone else, may know this and how music is vital for many people in doing so.
That cocktail party's patently an expression of isolation, a singer alone swimming against the tide like someone fighting to be the woman at the mike in the picture, but if that was the aim, she should have been given much more of her own album.
I've written nothing of the faith Lucinda Williams puts in her rising star. I can't, knowing more of her renown than I've yet heard of her music. In any case, Tara Angell knows she's up front herself now, having taken the first courageous step. The rest partly depends on the quality of the company she keeps.
If the rave reviews 'Come Down' mostly gets, since people seem either to love it or loathe it, have helped buy Tara time to grow more freely, that can only be a good thing. She's told one kind of story and is left with a talent to nurture, not to be rushed.
On this site, apart from their being women, the sole factor uniting every musician featured is self-awareness, however varied their music, clever or simple their lyrics, and "famous" they are.
Each has their singular experience of the equation that makes truth beautiful and enables them to turn beauty into a kind of truth. Now Tara's done an album easy neither on her nor on us, maybe she can turn her back on the graveyard to do what most of us do worst: listen and heed ourselves the messages we give to others.
I've begun to understand how such an ability, along with a yearning for freedom and a gift to make the tales of others their own, is a part of that awareness that makes or breaks a singer-songwriter.
Since Tara says nothing but a coma would stop her living for music, that leaves plenty of time to broaden her range, develop her qualities and open the worst trap-door anyone can impose on themselves.
I've never been to New York and can't tell what Tara can do, just that's she stubborn and resilient. Given encouragement, one truth about getting rid of a trapped feeling is that it doesn't come easy, but unleashing imagination costs nothing and sets musicians, like the rest of us, free.
Tara trusts to honesty, like most women singer-songwriters, just as I trust to music and increasingly the unspoken in trying to understand a little more about people like Tara and enjoy their music despite a few flaws.
Only she'll know when she's ready to go solo, but just past her mid-20s, Tara's of an age to become choosy about the kind of friend who'll stay with you. It's not just her hair that's grown since the picture. In interviews, she hints at what she's learned from the album.
People say they get varied things out of 'Come Down', but what lingers is why Tara was told she can be there for others "like touching someone's soul." To be able to do that means you've reached in and given them hope, the key in anyone's door to a good future.
2:07:32 AM link
jeudi 13 octobre 2005
Louise Post's kind of rawness in 'Wet Suit' on 'Resolver' released in 2005 suits me this week and it's amusing to find her "happy to have had time to focus on physical and spiritual health (don't worry, no trips to India!)" -- a helpful precision at Veruca Salt (home) -- after some high-voltage metaphysics, super-glueing the bonds between sex and music, then sub-continental recollections.
Seems to bring out the better in me.
I wish I knew
Another way to ruin a day for you."
There'll be more Veruca Salt imminently.
I was unable to wait any longer -- though I'm finding why we had to hang around for the stormy new Fiona Apple -- for Liz Phair's third, which just isn't in stores here.
So I reined a selection down to that and two other CDs doing what I've recommended to people who use Amazon France: order not direct from them but a dealer among those who sell far cheaper from abroad.
When you do this, the time it takes to compare prices and buy three or more from the same seller is well worth it for savings on postage. I have the patience for that.
My suspicions about what we'd get from Liz seem confirmed by an Unpaid Rock Critic who was equally pissed off by what he calls "the 'sellout' catcalls" that greeted her 2003 album; they first got me going about what our mere perceptions of age do to us. Once that birthday entry was finally in bed it seemed the piece had insisted on writing itself.
The writer lives in Spain, and he's in the blogroll, where there'll eventually be a separate section for fellow reviewers who write so well. I spent a couple of hours at his place, where he does hand out stars as I won't, keeps essays to a minimum and doesn't go on like me, but constantly shows the only too rare habit of listening.
If I'm in a mood for sharp-edged, occasionally embittered song-writing regarding hard life experience, much time made to find fellow bloggers who get it right and put musicians first has been largely wasted.
The overall standard is as dismal as that of clueless academics berated of late, it's alarmingly low; uselessly self-referential and has none of the irony of Everything but the Girl (home) at their finest. Instead we get all but any music.
Such people get savaged since luck has given me back a wealth of scholarly knowledge to be dosed out sparingly. This was so dormant that the recollections of the years spent acquiring it are overwhelmingly strong, but during the summer I blew the dust -- literally -- off work done then.
Laying it on you except in homeopathic quanties where appropriate is out of the question, but so is just remembering those years as the best of my life. They were, but I'm still here.
This morning's meditation brought a brilliant but once more provocative idea about means of swiftly finding a new musical partner, perhaps in this enterprise too if she likes. It initially seemed less smart on being back in Africa at a place where very few musical women were to be seen, then improved immensely on listening to Veruca Salt's bitchy words while practising eye language again on a good day for such exchanges.
I look forward to tomorrow's meditation and subsequent ones bound to fine-tune the kind of successfully filthy scheme for which I'm moderately famous.
Kate writes sparingly, so in blog terms it was recent when she late in September observed:
"Ah, there’s nothing like a heart of gold buried under 36-EE hooters" (Electric Venom on 'Katrina Koochie' for some news of New Orleans).
You've had enough and I don't require 36-EE, thanks, fully to fulfil and repay my needs. Anyway, "Moi" is aiming for the opposite, doing as women will with diets what men do with football, being how they are:
"Low fat is no problem at all as I never ate much fat anyway. However I am missing the cake with my cup of tea. Tea seems very wet these days.
Worse, she announces:
Have I lost any inches?
Yes. One inch from bust, waist and hips."
"I'm going by size and shape only. The tape measure does not lie" ('Diet - End Week 1' at Bacon, Cheese and Oatcakes).
Obsessive, isn't it? "Size and shape."
Sweetheart, what about sound? It's also the music you make, that doesn't lie; I should know. Obsessive, aren't I?
What? Yes, blogs are back. You asked and I am your humble servant -- if it serves my purpose.
The hunting season's started and may be a long one, though women's physical considerations are dealt with mainly in music while poetry is still a current theme.
I informally declare the bitching season open.
The book will be a bitch to get right, my ears badly need bitchily biting (gently -- not off), their log desperately needs bitchy musicians...
they'll help me meditate.
1:37:39 AM link
mercredi 12 octobre 2005
...because I do for every decent kick up the backside I get.
You know what makes it worse?
She doesn't want her trumpet blown: if I tell you who did the new banner across the top, sent it without being asked and inspired me to get on with the rest of the layout for the new log, she'll kick me out of the universe.
I think that'll do for tonight.
Apart from giving her a huge kiss.
Thank you! I love it. I hope everybody does.
1:39:26 AM link
mardi 11 octobre 2005
Susheela has worlds of music inside her.
A promising European tour* after the release of 'Music for Crocodiles' (without bonuses) saw Susheela Raman (home) and her companion, guitarist Sam Mills, well set on their way from a first stop in Paris with a memorable performance behind them that was a journey in itself.
Live on stage, the two were occasionally alone. For most of an eclectic set of songs from all three albums so far the only fellow musician was Hilaire Penba, the bassist from Cameroon who's been a sturdy part of changing line-ups since the first surprises of 'Salt Rain'.
Just the trio with an ancient Indian hymn to start a very magical mystery tour; it's a "minimal format and new ways", Susheela announced.
"We're broke," Sam joked more quietly.
'Salt Rain' propelled Susheela Raman to fame as the "new Asian vibe" to follow fast, but what was it? She has Tamil parents, says she loves hanging out in the most ethnically mingled parts of her native London and in Paris where the mix is more varied and widespread, but was brought up on Indian classical traditions that have outlasted empires.
Having visited Ethiopia, where she had a fine time, Susheela must have added a multitude of sounds to an already rich "world music" vocabulary during the spell in south-eastern India, where Madras, one of the first big cities in a so-called developing country I've been lucky enough to spend a few weeks in myself.
Rather, a few kilometres outside it, in a village I'll never forget for the warmth of its people, though that extended to a general turnout most times I "had a bath". It wasn't, it was done with buckets and outdoors and it was very hot. The long white, fine beaches on that stretch of coast are remarkable. The famous gaudiness of some Indian temples in the video shown on stage was toned down in the music to make for subtler colours, but they said the beaches got to them and their sound.
Susheela was in centre-stage, grabbing for a sweat towel and making playtime of vocal acrobatics, Hilaire to her right quietly keeping her aloft with the sometimes hypnotic deep melodies of a decidedly west African bass-line and Sam her left-hand man with an acoustic guitar that could have almost been a sitar in a raga mode: at moments like that I found myself watching and wondering: "Just what country on earth are we in now?"
She was relaxed yet mesmerising. There's only one "label" for Susheela singing lyrics in work such as the love song 'Light Years' and 'The Same Song', one about life's journeys, from 'Music from Crocodiles' in English and then others touching matters of the soul with her parents' tongues: she's become a "world musician" in one person. But she needed the return to those roots -- it was easy to imagine Sam jamming on the beach for the fun of it with Indian musicians using their traditional instruments, how could he have resisted such temptation? -- to come back north and sing us the new focus in her.
'Salt Rain' was an astounding debut. In concert, they performed few numbers from 'Love Trap', which was less well received by critics and indeed fans in 2003. I like the second album featuring versatile musicians from at least three continents. Susheela sometimes brings more of one of the earliest devotional musics remembered anywhere -- Sanskrit's an incredibly old language and part of the basis of what people today call the Indo-European ones, where some words we use predate the Romans and Greeks -- into the 21st century.
Cathy, with me for the concert, likes it less: I think many people do. From before her first CD, Susheela has been absorbing any kind of music she hears. In 2001, she was cover girl on the first issue of the French quarterly 'World - Musique - Destinations'. They've both survived to keep the openness and acquire that focus. With her kind of talent, there's the risk of becoming like a truly bi- or tri-lingual child who grows up to speak each language fluently and with a perfect accent, yet is unable to find real self-expression in any one of them. On 'Love Trap', you can hear this unevenness, there's plenty of soul but it's a stretched-out one doing a lot of searching.
Now she's not and I wish her a tremendous tour, hence last week's injunction here not to miss it if she comes your way. She's matured as a woman, a good fun entertainer, the journey is now a musical one shared with an audience that adored it.
I'm told the togetherness of her fellow musicians is far deeper than it has been live sometimes before. The show warmed up after a meditative start, structured well to alternate between Susheela's more thoughtful songs and others where there was nothing so special about the words. With eyes on Susheela and often to each other, Sam and Hilaire did some first-rate jam sessions.
You might say the trio rocked, but it's too facile, the exchanges during one such session were so sensuous with a pulsating heat as Susheela swayed to the rhythm that many people there seemed multiply turned on. Sam's skill with a guitar is such that he can switch from a jazz-rock style to the crystal showers of descending notes characteristic of some African musics; then it's the pace and tonal subtleties of the fast closing passage of a raga, where a western ear can often catch echoes of the blues while one attuned to Indian classical music listens out for a gift, as in the blues and some jazz, for improvisation within given limits.
This is worth a mention because Sam ventured one to Ethiopian music modes as a basis for some early work. That Abyssinian journey echoed on 'Salt Rain' brought the musicians deeper acquaintance with something that changed in western music when J.S. Bach came along. He decided to tweak notes a wee bit to have different sets of them fit together neatly in "scales". Bach went on a bender and wrote a fat songbook called 'The Well-Tempered Clavier'. He didn't mean a keyboard in a good mood, but helped keep dozens of pianists and piano tuners happy to this day.
"I've had a brilliant idea, have a go and hear for yourself," that's what Bach meant. So many people agreed that ones who listen to nothing apart from symphonies and concertos accuse people in other parts of the world of bending notes that then "sound wrong". They don't. They get it right. To say why means maths, so never mind; who needs arithmetic when Susheela Raman embodies world music and usually has a light heart?
It's a spoiler to give away some of the fun. Listening back before getting into the 'Music for Crocodiles' album, I skipped 'Trust in Me', reluctant to hear Susheela sing perhaps her best-known song too soon after what she did to it on the night. She'll do it again, that's for sure. Suffice to say that in southern India, it can be religious practice to leave milk outdoors for reptiles who terrify some while others worship them.
Just as successful was the 'Love Trap' title song in French, translated by an Afghan poet friend of Susheela's, Barmak Akram, who co-wrote the French song, 'L'Ame volatile,' on the new album. I'm afraid I didn't catch the name of the African man who was summoned on stage to duet -- and very well -- with her for one of the encores. If anyone knows, please pass it on.
What then of 'Music for Crocodiles' (with bonuses; the DVD, where the picture comes from, includes Indian journey film), once again studio produced by Sam?
In concert, we got Susheela the spiritual, the song-writer, the sensual, the silly but funny -- and the sad. The first album track, 'What Silence Said,' is a song about the different emotions we feel when someone we love dies, the grief and the pain, anger too. It was how, as she said on stage, "you claw your way through these feelings to reach some point of acceptance." Before what she called the "unquiet version" that closes the disc as a bonus, there's 'Leela', a hope song for a little god-daughter.
On the album, there are more musicians, lots of hand-drumming, a string section and of course, south Indian instruments. It's the same Susheela as ever, who this time begins with an emotionally varied range of songs in English, but the lyrics are generally more reflective, the games with words less banal.
She's gone deeper to brighten up and where I spoke of "togetherness", her brief intro says it's "six or seven years since I started work with Sam, Hilaire, Djanuno (Dabo on African percussion), Aref (Durvesh plays Indian percussion); time for the sauce to thicken and our complicity to deepen." That's honest and it's audible. The Indian songs are grouped on the second half: if you enjoy adventurous music, you'll like this album, the change is both in the roots and the growth.
The experiments of 'Salt Rain', where she took all the right risks, have become accomplishment. If you're unused to non-western musics -- that's hard nowadays -- chances are Susheela and friends will do it for you, maybe second time round, like a rich curry where the spices work their full magic slowly.
Should Susheela go streamline and come up with a live album on the strength of the current tour, she's got the confidence and the complicity to take that kind of risk now. Imagine it, her equivalent of Alanis Morrissette revisiting 'Jagged Little Pill Acoustic', out in July and selling better than hot cheese naan! If the bread's good, because in many Indian restaurants in Paris it isn't. Fortunately, the French have less mild tastes when it comes to music.
Such things are appetisers for what's to come on a log whose name and layout changed between concert and write-up.
Like Susheela, I need to be be kept on the rails.
The full dates aren't on Susheela's site or any other I can find, but there's a link to click on the relevant page there to obtain further details.
After I announced this concert at La Maroquinerie, someone rightly observed it was a mediocre venue for a musician of her qualities. It's one of Paris's lively islands of cultural activity in a dull part of town, but the concert-dance hall itself has no seats apart from steps and I'm more accustomed to such environments than was my companion.
She thoroughly enjoyed Susheela, but doesn't like too much smoke in the air and missed a little of the show to get some air. We both smoke but it depends where. I wasn't unduly bothered, just asked the girl next to me when she lit up in the dark please not to drop anything on my jacket, which was on top of my bag on the floor.
Nonetheless, people running La Maroquinerie and other such venues should put an effort into pleasing everyone; the tickets weren't cheap. The issue of who gets to play where is one I agreed is worth going into but a separate one; it's more complicated than suggesting musicians might need to rethink their agents to reach a bigger public.
1:16:28 AM link
samedi 8 octobre 2005
One guy gets almost all the girls.
That is, if the women make music and go near New York. Renaud Monfourny snapped Fiona Apple two months ago to herald her 'Extraordinary Machine'.
I snapped up the album at the FNAC, when there on other business, not expecting it yet. Fiona's latest is among reviews to come by year-end and the CD where she ends a three-year silence for everybody isn't scheduled for European release until Monday.
But I struck twice lucky. FNAC card-holding members take note: through Tuesday October 11, the store's offered a 15 percent across-the-board CD price discount.
I didn't know until I produced my FNAC card at the check-out, they've kept it relatively quiet, so it's a good job huge queues and what wise people say about me and money stopped me running back.
Apart from Fiona Apple -- others please forgive a tip-off that won't be of use to everyone -- the news may help those with tight budgets in France (I don't know about other countries where there are FNACs).
If you regularly buy at the FNAC -- which is a cross between the likes of the Virgin megastore chain and a culture club where membership adds a batch of bonuses -- it pays to become a member; you can join on the spot, but it may take guts to face the queues likely this weekend, once the word gets round, at the desks usually just inside the store entrances before the shopping floors.
As for Amazon (my practice on CD links is a footnote on the log home page), I've linked to the imminent import version at Amazon UK, but there's a cheaper one also up for pre-order in the same store.
That's just to remind people less accustomed to Amazon -- and the high standards that keep the place going -- to should shop around: the best deal is not always the "official" one.
Renaud is Paris-based to my surprise, must get a lot of air miles since he takes many good shots of women singers featured here, if they're also in New York, for 'Les Inrocks' (Fr).
Raman rocks! And that's just for starters
That weekly's music pages put it on a par with the three or four pure music magazines, mostly monthlies, in French I've decided are really good, out of dozens.
I hoped to find Renaud has a web site of his own, he doesn't, but many of his pictures are online. His way with women and other musicians often breaks the mould, catching them more naturally than routine group and "mugshots".
Susheela Raman broke the mould last night in Paris: she is back on the top of her form.
That's advance notice of a full concert and album review over the weekend. I was at the FNAC since there's no rush for a write-up when she's just started a tour including songs from one reason I went. Going by the concert, nobody will be disappointed.
As you'll hear at greater length, Susheela indeed did go back to her roots. I've heard why and am very glad she did and took her man with her. Really, do catch them if you can!
By one of those touches of serendipity that often come to me with music, if not synchronicity this time, another magazine, 'Vibrations', in French but from Switzerland, this month focuses on Indian music, with an interesting sampler CD with a DVD about no less than an Indian percussionist in Mali
So for weekend plans here: Susheela and I'm not yet sure what else, if anything, since getting back individually to people whose mails still await replies is the other indoor priority.
What, no sex tonight?
I nearly forgot.
That picture could mislead French-speakers, the full verb at the top, dépêchons, is a weekly "let's hurry on" series of new briefs.
Cut short, it doesn't mean "let's go sinning": that would be péchons.
"Let's go fishing", with a different accent, takes patience. If I were you, after a week like the last one here, I'd count your lucky stars.
12:59:07 AM link
dimanche 2 octobre 2005
When it's soul-food you're seeking, maybe you're keen get down and dirty with somebody you love.
A divided self's decade on the dark side
They're perfectly compatible, after all.
People may find it hard to speak of "fucking" and say "praise God" for it, but there's nothing foul-mouthed about the first Anglo-Saxon word used in context. God might be as good a name as any other for what is sacred, beyond the reach of our senses and vocabularies, yet hard-wired into human beings.
In trying to avoid talk of "God" because the word's so charged with meanings for people, I don't consider the inexplicable any the less "real". Religions are full of parables and clues until we organise them and build vast edifices where the sacred is hard to find among the trappings and pitfalls.
Sex and music are very much about the same thing, whether we're talking of the needs of the soul or those of the body.
I've no more reason to renounce either, but for a very long time I did, with no real choice. What happened during those years deepened my insight into an intimacy musical academics have been too prone to deny. It would be wrong to say just why a sexual relationship had to be ruled out for a decade, but a pity not to reveal the connection with one of the worst side-effects.
On my 50th birthday, I'm looking back so I can look forward to the rest of my life. Musicians and friends have taught me to share stories. This one I've never written before. It's time for me to learn somebody again, knowing what mistakes we can make when we project our fantasies about anyone on to them, blinded by love and desire.
Doing that in the past did no good to me or my "victims". Women who stuck it out to become friends have a permanent place in my heart. Now that a "something's coming" feeling is so strong, it's more than friendship that's in store, though I don't know who she is yet.
How much did tabloid media pay the London call girl and much-hyped blog yawn Belle de Jour for her story of 100 days without sex?
She's got nothing on me!
I hated every day of each week of the years in the a decade when my life became a sex-free zone. There wasn't even a one-night stand. For me, they were out. I knew my heart well enough to realise I'd want a love affair that would then have been harmful to others, a risk not worth taking.
The value of knowing nothing
Choices had to be made. Those concerned made the right ones; they paid off in the end far more than they cost. But the years I listened to people talk of "liberation" seem to have left nobody on top in a war of the sexes that now ought to be over, though equality has yet to be achieved. When I hear Don Juans and their female counterparts say they want "casual sex" and nothing else, I need my skill at eye language and at listening beyond the words to get the truth. Few people forever wants casual, when what they're avoiding talking about is profound hurt and deep scars.
What I never understood -- nobody did though it should have been obvious had I not "forgotten" some of my scholarly knowledge -- was why someone who adores music as much as me, spent a gruesome part of that period of my life unable to listen to it. You'd have thought it have brought me some comfort.
In one entry, 'Notes towards a "revolutionary" referendum' (June 1), I wrote nonsense. How would you feel having sex wired up with gooey electrodes for optional extras rather than whatever turns you on? I'd hate it, but enough couples let scientists tell us finally that when we do, the animal brain circuits used have no links to the ones handling romantic love.
My nonsense was when I yelped "I told you so!" to the world.
This was when I'd stopped being wild for a woman in a life relationship with someone else. She knew mine was love at first sight and anybody can sense the "vibes" behind our words. My denials got me nowhere, messed things up, and the contradictions on both sides encouraged me to learn eye language. What a relief it's over, the madness that made Eleanor the "woman of my life"! Her story, that's to say my fantasy as it blossomed and faded, is still here, because others have gone down that road too and said what I wrote helps.
She helped, she knew what to do.
Very special people show up when we need them. To know them is intuitive. I believe that now. We can know them. I'd known Eleanor was coming one day, but when she did, I didn't understand why, got it wrong. Now I'll find the woman who needs that kind of love. "Love" is a word I stopped using before being aware of a lie to myself in saying I ever ceased loving anyone I've been passionately in love with, but the nature of the love changes.
Inherited obstacles to confidence
Eleanor recently said: "Nick, you can blog anything you like about me."
"Ellie. That's really nice, but I don't want you or anyone else treated like that on the log over again."
I took it for coincidence, but it was something she told me that evening that led to what nobody calls a "breakdown" any more. She told me what she was working on. An innocent remark on her part -- she had to get a news story done fast -- was the trigger for those hours when my brain couldn't process any more violence, that 'Night of Unknowing'. Yes, it could have been anyone, but it wasn't.
People have since told me of my odder notions: "Nick, listen. You won't admit it, you can't yet, but some of those links you make are real."
They were right. In meditation, I'm learning to hear it, the pattern wise people know to be there. But the special people can recognise hate being called "special" if it's for the wrong reasons.
I don't plan to remove all the nonsense written on this log since early 2003. Such pruning would take until Christmas and might accidentally include the absurdities people enjoyed.
You'd also get no more singers.
Look at Mylène Farmer (home) in a shot from 'Je te rends ton amour' ('I give you back your love'). The French Canadian-born poet and far-out singer-songwriter has found international renown, well deserved. Here, she became famous for videos too, this bloodbath being one facet of an imagination that sounds limitless.
Farmer's career has included open play on androgynous looks, lyrics and music she does with her partner, and stage sex that turns up the heat in the boys and the girls alike. When I take the Kid's advice and write up musicians who are good in France, you'll hear no walls in Mylène unless she wants them. Some fantasies allowed into practice, not kept in a cage, are fine any time.
Mylène's act would have put her behind bars during my formative years in a very different era. The jokes that went round with "ciggies" behind bike sheds included how crimson our parents went when it came to beating around "the bees and the birds."
We got biology and an inheritance of inhibitions, guilt and fear, dispensed with dire warnings, rather like condoms were for many of our parents and teachers in the army in World War II. My parents sent me to expensive boys' schools, but soon I found this had been too costly. In 1955, I was born in a Britain that had won a war and lost an Empire. It was unsure of itself and even at war with itself, dulled of any colour I remember but grey until the late 1960s and '70s,
'Sublimation': the convenient conceit is a cop-out
I wouldn't have let my daughter grow up without boys around, though many of my generation recovered from a single-sex education faster than me. A troubled home background didn't help in my case -- that's frequent. I was supposed to be pure brain, a clever boy cultivating my mind in an England riddled with the abhorrent class consciousness I eventually fled while others stayed to become victims or rebels.
One of my piano teachers was good with music sheets, but would have been deeply upset to let in any thought they just might have something to do with those on her bed and a man on them! My left-handedness was bad enough. She felt the best way to "save me" was frequently to sting my knuckles with an old wooden ruler.
She was a stiff, but kept on saying "Loosen up, you must learn to play with all your fingers and both hands separately" and answered a cheeky question with: "No I'm not, I much prefer music to marriage."
Yet she was a potentially sexy woman and it's a shame she found an ability to play like an angel incompatible with heavenly or rather devilish pleasures. She loved to perform music by Chopin, Rachmaninov and other passionate souls dubbed "romantics".
That spinster might be a case for sublimation, defined by one who studies the ways of our minds as a "defence mechanism by which the energy derived from an instinct when it is denied gratification is displaced into a more socially acceptable interest or activity" (the 'Oxford Companion to the Mind').
Sublimation's one thing. Music is another. The closing line of that book entry suggests: "Dancing may represent the sublimation of sexual impulses." Well at least the contributor to an excellent reference work did say "may" and left it open.
My first chance at sex was with an adolescent lad who so confused me emotionally I thought I was gay. I wasn't, but people who were had an appalling closet life. During my time at the BBC, in 1975 to 1980, one or two gays working there very nearly got jailed for illegal activities, but were let off with a fine and a cover-up by Auntie Beeb. Strings were pulled.
My way with girls usually got me nowhere.
I felt like chewing them out in revenge, but any bid literally to do so was met with a "How could you be so horrible?" and got my head pushed away or slapped before it even reached their knees. Where I grew up boys simply didn't go out with girls who were "fun" -- unless they struck gold. The smart suburban young lady who was very smart in private was a sought-after stereotype. What younger readers who have started coming here for the music take for natural behaviour was illicit and "sinful".
A book I'm coming to shortly began slowly to change an outlook it may be hard even to imagine in today's world. I know that reading memories of what I lived, some people would say I'm painting a picture worse than it was, but others tell me they recognise themselves in the upbringing I'm now logging.
Though that book was written for musicologists and people who study music in its social context, the authors found it wise and necessary to begin with a close look at sex, sustained throughout its pages. Their views on "decent sex" were then to academics what Woodstock was to Americans.
I identified with the album Liz Phair called simply after herself since she was open about changes, including the embers of affairs and handling single motherhood, and honest about insecurity in someone taken by her fans for a model of the no-nonsense chick. She sung of a "phase" that comes to a lot of people who screw up the relationships they've got by convincing themselves of their sustained sex appeal by chasing people too young for them.
In a city as populous as Paris, you see many such couples. I tried the same for a while once I was free to have sex again but it lasted no time, because I found the prospect grotesque.
Last summer I had music and a cheerful digging gang who closed my road completely for months. Many residents got crosser and crosser. I liked the huge obstacle courses and never cheated by looking out of the window before leaving my building to see where the barriers had moved and new holes been dug in the mornings. The gang widened the pavements while they narrowed the one way street.
How easy it was to see the Way of Lao Tzu in this, having understood the old fellow. I perused, with one version, a well-illustrated copy of the 'Tao Te Ching' (Amazon US. Meanwhile, the hotels on my stretch of road managed to do a roaring trade.
The wider sidewalks filled up with people, including women who were mainly tourists or Parisians like me, often happy most had gone away. I felt, since the sun got them randy and wearing as little as possible, that "casual" would be just fine right then! But pages from my Kama Sutra stayed fantasies, since I knew I was in a state of shock weeks after the "night of unknowing". Even when one or two chatted me up in cafés where everyone calls me "British Airways", it would have been wrong to say "Yes, please fly me!"
I'm sparing with my humour, now it's back, done with being the sad clown and permanent court jester; people who complain the latter is a loss might have seen through it. My fragmented personality, evident in the highs, lows and long gaps on the log of old, was put together last year.
How music unearthed lost academic balls
But when people said, "Okay, we're through, you've made it," the process wasn't finished. It took more than knowing this as an idea to rejoice over to start thinking with the heart. It's only been latterly that the long absence of music and why it happened has been at the heart of my meditations.
I trust the knowledge that comes in the silence free of thought.
Now you get some "scholarship" I can't leave it out.
I'll make it easy, since music led me to dust off old tomes while becoming a little used to the new kind of "knowing" that's bound to leave me always grateful for a profound experience; as well as for "sex according to Ursula" as I reread the five-starred 'Always Coming Home'.
I was two years old when Walter Howard and Irmgard Auras threw their slim grenade at other musicologists.
I'm lucky to have it and it's thanks to a woman who adored music, was a great poet, bisexual and so engaging I quit the Beeb in 1980 to follow her across the Channel after meeting her in smoky jazz clubs and pubs.
That summer of love is unforgettable and so's she, the bright beast. When we went to bed she soon got rid of those hang-ups, with carrots and sticks, before life cost me my confidence later. When at last I got my body back, I'd known an explosion like the one that book caused when it sunk below the surface of the little pond where complacent scholars did their fishing.
'Music et Sexualité' is unobtainable today. This yellowing copy, translated by Alex Rosemweg dates from 1957 and was torture at the time. My French was then abysmal. Ghyslaine put away her carrots if I was lazy. She went into 'Hearts of Oak' in May 2003 when I wrote about my "gurus" and today I'd add three more women. She spoke at least two languages with genius.
Neither needs words.
Walter and Auras weren't dry, write well and set with relative brevity about splashing the "purists" with so much spunk and humour some couldn't face it. Sorry for a down and dirty metaphor, but those two got it right:
Years going crazy in silence
"People, wake up and try using your ears!
Musical scholarship has been poisoned because you insist it's an abstract art-form and study history, scores, notation and the rest of it while being deaf to one reason people listen to it: it's full of sex! It's made like love, your scores are the kids."
After my life went wrong and I felt broken and bruised, hiding this under a surface of charm and of wit, with an ever growing sense of the absurd, even Bach's mathematical genius as a wonder of oneness with the universe was almost unbearable. The memories and associations, and the stories music tells with or without words, were more than I could take. I couldn't then understand that sexual abstinence had cost me music as well.
You'd think I'd have found a substitute in it, a relief from the loss, an escape from myself. I wanted it and bought heaps of it but listened to almost none. That music was always "for the future". And so was she! By the time I was a frog, or old toad, my princess would come as soon as I could meet her without putting others at risk, but it all felt so very remote, I began to resign myself to thinking it would come on retirement.
Thank heavens it didn't. I made a dreadful mistake with Eleanor, but I can't live a day without music and that's how it's been for a couple of years and more. It took more time to find not only harmony in myself but realise how when you've got mind and body together you have got soul. I had to make sense of "non sense" three months ago.
What you know as facts in your head isn't enough. Once you're through with analysis and judgements, you begin to interpret our human behaviour instead in terms I've mentioned before: "harmony" and "discord", "health" and "sickness."
I never said music and sex are exactly the same thing, I was more careful. They express what we are, how we feel, what we know and can do by using languages impossible to separate. I can't go on writing about women musicians any more than you would listen to a piece of music because "you're in the mood" and pretend I'm being objective. If you use a "shuffle" or something, like I did when Liz sung "Fuck and Run", chances are it changes your mood, doesn't it?
Time to get it together
People go on far too much about my brains, say I'm very smart and extremely stupid. They're right, it's a bit of both, but the same people, especially the women with whom I've done the silliest things have often said: "For fuck's sake, stop thinking!"
Thinking isn't knowing. I'm a very physical person, full of hugs, kisses, massages, caresses, just holding hands, and the rest of it. I'm good at breaking known laws of physics, as proven in my visit to the Seraphim's head when she was in New York and realising she was more like me than anybody else I knew.
Sarah picks up sounds of many kinds to make every album quite different from the last. In classical Indian rags, there's jazz with a fun batch of rules allowed as a basis for free-style improvisation, just no cheating. Some of their twists and turns you can hear in the blues.
Decades ago, one Ginger Baker, still dubbed the "world's best drummer", went off to Africa to learn how they do it. Now we've got "world music" to help, everybody can hear all sorts of emotions expressed by all kinds of melodies, instruments and rhythms -- even words -- exactly as in love-making. Musicians have a passport to advances, responses, foreplay, caresses and sighs, enjoyably "rough treatment", numerous penetrations, sustained delivery, approaches to climax followed by postponements of pleasure, pauses, and orgasms aplenty.
The ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about harmony. So did I when when I suddenly began to realise those hang-ups and inhibitions had simply vanished again, just like that! Not because of a sublime introduction to French ways by one person, but instead due to daily exposure to the huge range of variations women were singing to me every day on themes we share in common.
There are so many approaches, some soft and cushioned, others tough love, some with lots of ornamentation, others more direct. The singers can be very different from us, that doesn't stop them addressing our joys and our sadness in sharing their own. The language of music is sexual, but the themes most people sing have a lot more to do with love. And whatever else takes their fancy.
Some scholars are so deaf they refute the very nature of the language itself, they still put purist prose on the Net in 2005, like people who piss into a river and watch the drops without seeing the flow. I hear a certain irony in talking about "sublimation" when the most sacred of sentiments are expressed in a language that finds it hard to endure coitus interruptus.
'Only connect' -- or risk your souls
I'm an "angry young man" when it comes to the way musicians and their skills are routinely abused. Christopher Small threw a huge stone of his own into the pool of scholarship in 'Music - Society - Education', now a best-seller. In 1978, the year after he wrote that and we had a chit-chat, I met an insurgent who warned us we stand to lose more than the hotline between music and sex if we go on treating musicians as "manufacturers" of "consumer products".
Many miss the boat and are on the wrong side of the war within the music industry. It's there for musicians, but some see it the other way round. Philip Oxman knew this in 1978, that's why he's here. I got lucky yet again. A few fellow dissidents when Radio 3 had a Controller named Ian McIntyre we called "Mack the Knife" -- after I left he was safely given talk radio instead -- allowed Oxman to broadcast this "radiophonic essay": 'From Hand to Mouth: the music of production'.
I taped it, listened and caught a train out of London to meet an arrogant, likeable and sharp mind. We were tough because the war had begun. We needed to be as strong as stodgy idiots who misunderstood "production" as still they do. Oxman's then explosive insight was to know music begins in the first wail of your newborn child and remains -- in societies that have kept a natural culture -- not an accompaniment to any activity, but a part of all in life that is sacred.
I don't just mean religious ceremonies.
Sex used to be mostly about reproduction; the pill and contraceptives are right ways for me of keeping the love and the fun with no harm. For Oxman -- I only read that transcript again this week -- the direct relation between music and sex was already obvious, I didn't hear it then, but I knew it's in work and in play, in dance, and every rite of passage in our lives.
Sonic wallpaper conceals gateways to growth
What have we got? We've got muzak in supermarkets, music as entertainment, music as background, and the more we buy and the less we do and share music, integrated into our lives, the more we're at risk.
A fine French magazine, 'Les Inrocks', has great fun each week asking the same questions of all kinds of people: the answers are usually just as amusing.
They pulled the stunt on Heather Nova; I'll translate wee extracts:
"- What distinguishes you from others?
- Do you think anyone can be an artist?
Art's a choice. Creativity is natural and spontaneous. (Note: most people give a reason to say "No", she gets it right.)
- Name three living artists you detest.
I respect anyone who performs an art. I detest everyone who claims to be an artist.
- What do you defend?
- The Fifth Amendment, the right to remain silent.
- What's art for you?
Good art is a spell cast in the face of death.
- Write your own epitaph.
Heather's talents and ability to turn her hand to whatever she fancies are not just "spontaneous", she breaks the rules fans impose on too many musicians and gets away with it, like they all should. If she wants to change and do something completely different, she will. And says: "Blow your expectations, I'll blow your mind."
My system prefers nature's rhythms and harmonies to the artificial distractions we blind and deafen ourselves with. Most African people don't. Nor do the Navajo and the Inuit peoples, I'm exacting because many people have told me to listen. When I do, I also take a good look and when I hear it, say in a shop, a café or the Métro, though it's a rare quality, I'm sorry to say that I get this burning feeling a little below the belt to which the iPod is firmly fixed.
You know I like eye talk. Now you know how much I adore body language, if you didn't before, don't be surprised if the frequency of logging is irregular; I'll be doing the research that makes sure you read about the singers from their own, understood outlooks on life. Silence means I'm listening.
11:56:45 PM link
fountains and fortunes
voices of women
(ecstatic naiades, erotic firebirds, eccentric angels,
electric dryades ...)
a blog behind the log
(popping those green pills sometimes gives me strange fruit)
contributing friends (pix, other work)
retain their rights.
a fine way of seeing it