the siren islands
personal faves (to rant or to read)
open minds and gates
margins of my mind
friends for good
(bi)monthly brain food (frogtalk)
music & .mp3 blogs
finding the words
(pop-ups occasionally are pests)
nick b. 2007
do share, don't steal, please credit
mercredi 24 mai 2006
Savagely edited Wednesday evening version.
The longer text contained other musical threads and also more remarks about comments others have made on my "work" in progress, but I want to explore those themes in their own right.
You may recall how Cindy, who has taken to producing striking images of the local wildlife like a chickadee and a chipmunk currently knocking on her neurons and Dusting Her Brain, once told me I'd collect more comments here than 0 most days if I left my mark at other people's places.
I do more often now, but it makes no difference. And I don't mind given the turn of my writing, which is hardly concise and won't change much if this is to be a book of Lilith. At home, though, wisitors make impudent remarks about my choice of people to adorn my Mac's desktop, but sometimes that's because they don't recognise them and, perhaps understandably mistake my motives.
The current woman, Natalie Imbruglia (her place) is fairly renowned and thus less likely to inspire salacious comments than others who inspire me.
Natalie is also among those I'm listening to most, when they write poetic songs that aren't always upbeat. Like Imbruglia on an album I'll cover soon, I'm good at solitary moods at the moment and in no state for being rushed into anything!
On Tuesday, I slept through two alarm clocks again and woke up only 20 minutes before I was due in the office, which wasn't early. That meant an apologetic phone call to people whose understanding I greatly appreciate. I couldn't rush it simply because I was so late, but took precautions to try to avoid waking up the next morning with a terrible migraine that isn't caused by the illness that takes some of us down, though for years I thought it was.
There is more to life than meets the ear as well as our eyes and other physical senses, including a theory found in both contemporary scientific and ancient mystical literature that might, as a poetic image, be expressed by saying what made me late for work was almost literally the need to get rid of the migraine by "getting soul and body together". But I'll throttle back short of a discourse networking analogies between the Tibetan Book of the Dead and research going on at the frontiers of the mind sciences into people like me!
In a Métro full of people with music players, I listened to more Sheryl Crow then Ms Imbruglia and read a stupid magazine column about how allegedly wonderful so-called Push Music will be.
"Push! Music" is a much-blogged and abhorrent idea that will doubtless become fashionable. The New Scientist explains how adding
"new songs to your digital music player could become as easy as passing someone in the street. Push Music, designed by Lars Holmquist and his team at the Viktoria Institute in Gothenburg, Sweden, automatically transfers copies of songs between Wi-Fi enabled MP3 players when they come within 20 metres of each other. 'We have developed a way for music to find the user, instead of the user always looking for the music,' says co-creator Maria Håkansson."
To their credit, the people at the Viktoria Institute (Eng) are more cautious and list misunderstandings. But these largely concern the technology and the law.
What of the people who make music? What of music itself? And what of all it does for us?
Call me a Luddite, but to get excited about how mobile 'phones doubling up as .mp3 players might be a great thing when creative work is thus pushed at you raises nightmares about music as "product and commodity". The concept may be interesting if it opens ears, for sure, like methods of sharing I commend, along with far-sighted legislation that serves the aims of both the artist and the listener. But it would be absurd and a wretched insult to musicians to make it a lasting social phenomenon, exactly like music compression methods that can take the heart out of the sounds we hear.
I'm not interested, as a general rule, in writing about the details of sound technology, though I'm well-informed about them and make choices that cost me space and time in the interest of quality and "high-fidelity". If I wanted, my big iPod could have more than around 10,000 songs on it, but that would require a sacrifice in sound quality I refuse to make.
It's going to call for courage to bring to bear in my writing about music the "extrasensory" faculties that come into play whenever I'm listening to it or hear the "music" of people in odd ways without explanation, because the tales of Lilith are just an aspect of things I've spoken about having found I know or learned without yet understanding. Now I've begun to be grateful for comment that has stopped coming on the Log, which is hard to answer, but in conversations and mails that venture on to the new ground to be explored.
Though it was excellent and has served me so well I've dished it out to others when they seem to need it, I can no longer take advice to "Stop Thinking!" too literally. I must, hand in hand with musicians, and in ways that are new to me, but seem to invite far less ridicule when I'm open about them than if I try to play down strengths people tell me to cultivate.
On literally regarding the qualities of others, I want beautiful musicians on my desktop and scour the Net for pictures of the unknowns because some lines once written here, what seems an eternity ago, were true: these people are so lovely because of what they do and who they are and the beauty is usually an indissociable part of their nature.
The idea of getting some kind of iPod that will one day assault me unfeelingly with music I haven't sought out or that is wrong for the moment when my own magic finger can do far better with what's already in the library would take more courage than I have. It appals me. When I see people in the street yanking out their earphones with horrified expressions or stopping dead with a smile of "What's this?" beatitude in the path of a hurried oncoming taxi I'll know what's going on.
Two or three people asked me, meanwhile, to remember to update the "going solo" part of the list on the left and "stop being so lazy about it". It is true. I forgot, so I have made a start tonight, but not a complete change because I'm getting used to things taking plenty of time and again to the idea Sheryl Crow -- who is among Famous Babes with whole webrings, the poor thing -- shares about "creating it".
While writing this, my iPod has been shedding a heap of music from CD samplers I stupidly put on it when I never listen to them except as background on the home stereo, so that I can leap to explore whatever strikes me without getting an aural overdose. So the iPod has more room to be random with what I actually know I want. Roll on, all the Infamous Babes...
If you need your music as much as I do, this, in sum, is really is no time to push me around, while other people -- like Cindy and a few of the others into the new camera craze -- are much better than I am at the visuals...
12:49:50 AM link
mardi 23 mai 2006
Have you ever felt caught between different worlds, your head still in one place and your feet in another, like when you get off a plane to ride back into your home city after travelling to a land where you spent time getting to know new people in an unfamiliar culture and making sense of their language and customs?
It can be much like waking up from a strange, engrossing dream with a mixture of relief and disappointment to find yourself again in a room where you've long known what's in every nook and cranny. After all, dreams summon the most unexpected things to mind and play such games with time that people have tried to understand them ever since before most knew how to write anything down.
And it's that feeling Sheryl Crow evokes in one song on her latest album, as today's musician, of how "We could live lifetimes in a single day"...
I knew things would be different somehow, but never expected the shock of sameness in the job, the news and the unchanged office surroundings that struck me on going back to work after some weeks' absence on sick leave. When my old musician friend dropped in fortuitously to say "Hi" and the desk chief passed by, BJ told him, "I'm catching up with Nick."
"So are we," David replied with a smile.
I didn't know what he meant, but it made me feel very odd for a long moment with the realisation that I need to catch up with myself. The routine workload of African stories was neither heavy nor light. It was mostly very dull and I caught up with the "news" in just a few hours, since it was mainly institutional propaganda and much ado about nothing that hapless agency reporters have to serve up to editors, just in case. In a world of such competitive media and constant information overload, they are "damned if they do and damned if they don't".
I listened to Sheryl Crow, first her 'Tuesday Night Music Club' of 1993, a popular album flawed by shabby production that did her no favours, especially on a slow jazz track like 'We Do What We Can', where a muted trumpet almost sounds as if it's in the wrong room, and then moved on to last year's 'Wildflower', where there is no such minor annoyance in sound quality.
My magic iPod finger couldn't have done better than to stop at Ms Crow and a meditative album made by a woman coming to terms with her 40s and asking questions she hasn't before. I'd avoided listening to it so far, given an undoubted flurry of reviews elsewhere and the already wide kind of fame that had her web site shut down for some days when it got more hits than it could take once Sheryl Crow (home) made her opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq widely known.
All I knew when 'Wildflower' came out was Sheryl was in love with Lance Armstrong, the cyclist who kept on winning the Tour de France. Now I learn that she purposely made a trip to an unfamiliar place with a language she didn't know before she recorded it, Spain.
Maybe that's what stopped my finger!
Crow is one of the many musicians regular critics love to hate and fans like to love, who has high-profile relationships too. It turns out that in February she broke up with Armstrong and was diagnosed the same month with breast cancer and a reassuringly "excellent prognosis" (Wikipedia). A raw deal!
So are a minority of the reviews for 'Wildflower', which I wanted to hear once the dust had settled, after pursuing my listening away from the mainstream to give you -- and me -- the far less well-known singers I've covered and will go on writing up.
I'm as bored by the endless insults people full of the clichés of prejudice about one another's free-thinking or conservative stances hurl back and forth in the press and on the Net as by the political acts that provoke them. Lee, round a few corners, must have got a shock to be elevated to Crow-like fame as a political agent provocatrice for the blasts she stirred by way of comments in a blog post that was a fairly mild-mannered reflection on "sellouts" (Odessa Street)!
That's what comes of raising politics.
The thread holding together these disparate reflections was a sense of disorientation. That's superficially in 'Wildflower' as well but the deeper insight of the album is growing on me. Lee's latest blog entry is about the nastiness of getting treatment for allergies. The edge in Crow's voice can be almost like she has a breathing problem too, but I find it attractive; she doesn't sound her age and while the album may have coincided with an affair, it's about more than her and the one guy. She is exploring the nature of love and seems lost in it sometimes.
"You'd never risk it, inherently self-conscious,
is one of numerous examples of strong writing and imagery. Musically, it's in the mainstream with a country feel that probably helped see it slated by some as dull, but I don't find it boring to listen to an intimate achievement where Crow laments the demise of protest singing then puts something else in its place.
So twisted, resting on your haunches (...)"
The disorientation I felt today, reinforced in Sheryl's song-writing, was an acute awareness of the ephemeral nature of events in the news -- "more old, same old" of a sort I'd already planned to be even more ruthless in keeping out of the media when it's really not a story -- combined with everything that must have happened inside me to get into a state to walk into the Factory bizarrely expecting far more changes outside me.
I don't know who's catching up with whom any more!
But 'Wildflower' is without doubt an album that expresses the same intuitive sense of the age I found words for in last week's long chapter on the Zeitgeist. So now I'm expecting to find it elsewhere, not by absurdly searching for musicians to support my own insight, but since I believe it's there anyway.
I know my thinking can seem irrational when I say such things, but maybe I have made a very long journey indeed these past months still without fully knowing it yet. I just know there's a lot to understand in what I have learned. This is helped by songs of delicate beauty on 'Wildflower', such as 'Chances Are', which opens with the Indian tabla hand-drums more and more musicians are fond of nowadays.
Perhaps people, more widely even than I'd thought, feel the same profound need I did to slow down, turning into themselves like Sheryl Crow does here to be outgoing again, seeking less self-centred ways of expressing a love of the world and of what's most natural in it.
Skimming the reviews tonight, I've seen Sheryl collect the usual flak for daring to change, particularly in 'Rolling Stone' magazine, which is a typical example of what I'd never list on the left because it has gathered so much moss itself! Some lay into her just for being natural. It's not Crow who's trying to force for high notes, it's we who maybe owe ourselves the effort of listening to her words.
The "hard news" teaches you in 30 years that nothing really is new, but many of the albums I've been adding to the library, including career starters by newcomers younger than Crow and me are real "growers", not always easy to get into at first hearing, but rich, dreamy, poetic and deep when you do.
That's welcome news for humankind's centre of gravity right now -- not just my own. I am resolved to stay slowed down because I believe a whole lot of us need to slow down right now and put out feelers and exploratory tendrils like 'Wildflower' does. Today I was again told that before being forced to a halt, I was working too hard -- certainly I was "sweating the small stuff" far too much.
We journalists, in particular, really need to take a lesson from musicians much in the public gaze or out of it, like others who will stop my iPod finger to listen in. It's widely lamented, especially in the sciences, that knowledge is too fragmented and compartmentalized for anyone to have a grasp of the whole.
I don't believe this any more than I consider there's anything special in the alleged paranormal faculties the doctors tell me I've got. What seems irrational is not always wrong. An inability to explain certain senses we have is no more than a reminder science still has many puzzles to solve and probably will never answer some questions at all.
"It all comes down to creating time
You don't always have to make it right
We'll all drive by with our hybrid lives
Chances are we'll make it back..."
There's no time like the present to go on turning to music for help you won't find in laboratories. It is absurd to be dismissive of Sheryl Crow because she doesn't rock as much as she did. She sings of "creating time" instead and that is something we find we know how to do when we slow down.
12:09:53 AM link
dimanche 21 mai 2006
Today Lilith asked for a place of her own in the list of links on the left. I was happy to oblige and finally refrained from adding a little question mark after "locating Lilith". We'll snuggle up just a little closer beside her shortly, since this has a been a day of preparation both domestic and spiritual. It's time to go back to the world of work.
So the fridge got defrosted, my clothes have been washed, the apartment is as tidy as it'll ever be, and had I dared I would have bathed the cat! Kytie is not merely moulting, some of her back fur is matted, which isn't very sleek for a familiar. When she decided to take up residence, I was told the tangle appeared after a costly operation she'd had, but soon I worked out it's simply because she's so fat she rubs her back every time she squeezes through the entrance to her litter box.
Kytie doesn't need a bigger cat litter. And they don't understand, the people who say, "Put her on a diet." She's been on one for months but it has failed to work since she seems to conjure food out of thin air.
This book of Lilith has been spruced up, however.
It may look just the same, but appearances are deceptive. This is an overhauled version, with Internet links verified as much as possible, though not all of the thousands, and an up-to-date search engine.
I forgot these monthly revisions while sick, but they matter. The word count for the whole site since February 2003 was apparently 865,309 before this entry, and there are 218 indexed web pages, almost two-thirds of which must be devoted to 'Voices of Women'. If nothing else, I need to know who is where myself.
Now I hope my workmates are ready for me at the Factory tomorrow since I may look the same, but that will also prove deceptive! I don't feel the same, after learning so much about my feelings themselves and my weaknesses, while having had instruction in developing my faculties, including unexpected ones.
I've been especially assiduous about planning my lunch breaks! It would be too flattering to be aware how eagerly a number of journalists await my return if I didn't also know that this is because they feel hopelessly lost in Africa's current affairs, which I fortunately can't plan.
I've missed one or two people nearly as much as the desserts in the canteen. Those can be remarkably nice like the folk who get up at 4:00 am to be there to make them. Fresh fruit tarts with perfect pastry and harmonious variations on the theme of chocolate will be doubly good now, since they will help restore my physical strength and if the bosses let me, I plan to enjoy them sometimes in the company of my favourite bloggers -- and often of Lilith.
"Who is this lovely lady on your arm?" folks may ask, if they don't look like they've seen a phantom or a goddess. I'm surprised to have the ghost of an answer to that on a day when I've even been able to make the calls and send the last mail I wanted before going back on to the job.
But I do.
What has appeared on the Log for months often astonishes me, though it frequently goes here with help from women who confirm my intuition. Making a start in a long quest, now I'm aware of it consciously, today's portrait of Lilith is by Beth Hansen-Buth, whose site of her own, Wyrdhaven, is right up my street. She says it's "under serious reconstruction"!
Beth's art shares an interest in mythology and old lore, according to her page at Gods, Heroes and Myths. The version of the tale there holds that:
"Lilith is the Goddess of every woman claiming her own right to pursue her goals. Jewish mythology teaches that she was Adam's first wife, but she refused the submissive role of a help-mate, and left the garden to wander in the wilderness. Legend also has it that she was there before the earth was formed, and is made of the stuff left over when God diminished the moon so it wouldn't fight with the sun. In her right hand she holds a star, which represents her strength of will. At her left flies an owl, which represents the wisdom she has gained in discovering her independence. She stands upon a rocky outcropping overlooking a river valley. Behind her on her right is a pomegranate tree, a symbol of life and rebirth, and some say it was the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil."
Well, if free-minded women musicians aren't people claiming a right to pursue their own goals and share their wisdom with us, then who is?
Moreover, as somebody strongly influenced by lunar phases who can often say where the moon is in a cycle without having to look, I like the line about Lilith being made of left-overs after the moon was diminished to stop a fight.
We need to be careful about sex, however. My long poem of 1995, 'Gaia's Complaint,' inevitably went down better with some people than others, but bewildered one friend with imagery most found accessible. I couldn't fathom why until it dawned on me that Andreas's mother tongue was German, which for him switched genders round from infancy. 'Gaia', which I shall give a new part of the log one day since some people enjoyed it, doesn't make sense if you conceive of the sun as a feminine principle (die Sonne).
Somehow I honestly feel much more comfortable in myself and ready to take on the challenges of work with Lilith somewhere nearby, when I know I'm still low on energy and have yet to regain full health.
But what then of the "demonic" side merely skirted so far, which makes me ill at ease only because intuition tells me it's wrong and that Lilith represents a force for good and not evil? Now is no time to dig deep again, when tomorrow I must be outgoing; but all the same, another version of the legend is interesting. It also tells more about the first Lilith Fair music festivals, which took place in 1997 to 1999 at the initiative of the Canadian Sarah McLachlan, about whom I've written little yet though she's well represented in my library.
In 1999, giving her own sources, Magdalin Leonardo popped the question of identity as part of a Lilith Fair dossier at Womanrock magazine:
"Everyone knows the biblical story of Adam and Eve, but according to some sources, the Old Testament is not entirely accurate. In the Talmud, she is described as a winged demoness disguised as a human. She also appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the roots of black magic. But no matter where the name of Lilith pops up, her basic story is always the same:
Where does that leave we men?
"After God created Adam, he created animals to keep him company. Bored, Adam asked God for a companion. But it was Lilith, not Eve, who first joined Adam in the Garden of Eden. In the beginning, Adam was pleased, but as soon as Lilith showed him that she had a mind of her own, their relationship soured. (Sound familiar?)
"Lilith refused to be subservient to Adam; she insisted that they were created equal. This got Adam very angry. After he flew into a rage, Lilith left Adam and starting hanging out with Satan. Faced with boredom again, Adam begged God to help him get Lilith back. But she would have no part of it. Even after God sent His angels to find her, Lilith vowed never to return to Eden.
"After her rebellious act, God punished Lilith and she was labeled a demon. But she wasn't destined to dance with the devil forever. Thanks to Sarah McLachlan and Lilith Fair, she has been elevated to the status of goddess -- a beautiful icon to be admired and adored by women of all ages for her independent, non-conforming spirit."
Those are good tales.
The so-called war of the sexes did indeed in the 20th century make for a mass "liberation movement". Yet in much of today's world, women still don't have social or legal parity with men, however they may feel deep in themselves.
Legend, then, makes a sexual conflict one of the oldest stories in the world. Yet we've only just begun to meet Lilith. I do like having her on my arm, but I don't want to go any further tonight. If the above is to be believed in any sense, it is women themselves who have redeemed Lilith from diabolical status.
I still find it far too hard to believe that entirely. Man or woman, we all have a dual psyche, consisting of both female and male principles. Lilith has plenty to teach us about that and the search goes on...
11:42:39 PM link
Where on earth were we? On earth it is, that much I do know again after a long excursion to Hell and also my personal Heaven. These are at the opposite "poles" of an illness I no longer attribute just to the diagnosed physical causes that laid me low in March.
One side-effect of the healing strategy was to understand how I've sometimes known big life experiences in what strikes me now as the "wrong order", before I was truly ready for them spiritually. It would take too long to show what I mean, but the outcome is that simplicity is clearly a part of getting better.
Just as it is with the uncomplicated building blocks of music, so with life. What we choose to study may often seem complex, but in affairs of the soul it's the same as in physics and the life sciences that interest me: the underlying truths almost invariably prove to be simple ones.
If you get a sense of déjà vu, maybe it's because John Collier's painting of Lilith was chosen on Monday to illustrate a Log entry cross-referencing my chapters on manic-depression. A profoundly mysterious entity, Lilith belongs both here, among many women who took her name for their music festivals and in the Orchard.
I have realised that a May 15 entry should give what I'd like to be both a broad overview and firm ground for hope to anybody, if they have reason to want to know more about the often poorly understood bipolar disease -- with its sky-high uppers and tortured downers -- that caught me and my loved ones off guard more than two months ago.
So while I began to get an ear for a strange music of soaring vocalist Vibeke Stene and the rest of a sometimes sepulchral band of Norsemen in Tristania (official site) behind her in a 'World of Glass', I summed up most of my varied physical, mental and spiritual experiences and insight in that one place.
Now in the Orchard and including all relevant links, 'A music week to end the "battle with your mind"' may only be one man's story of the fiercest fight I've yet waged to turn a mortal disease into a healing process. Much of my own hope, however, comes from knowing what we all have in common if I am really to help others confronted with a bipolar condition. So it's all rewritten there now, including how other people's "music" mattered so much in recovering my own.
Tristania's own poles are an airy Mediaeval mix with heavy modern metal making for complex sound textures, and I may return to them in like-minded company, but now I've set the subterranean part of my mind to working out which northern deities correspond to Lilith.
There is no rush to find out, whatever the Nordic band may actually be singing and growling of 'The Shining Path', a 'Tender Trip on Earth', being 'Lost', 'Crushed Dreams' and on their 2001 'World of Glass' title track. It's the kind of music I scarcely expected to enjoy when the Kid a few years ago led me to a Virgin Megastore shelf labelled with terms such as "death metal"! But I do enjoy it, hearing much talent, and don't find it morbid.
As ever when I believe Lilith must be somewhere nearby, I'm a bit surprised by the synchronicity in my listening choices -- I had little idea what to expect from Tristania -- with what I learn in life and from the Log itself when doing the kind of long historical chapter published on Friday.
Anyone who cares is very welcome to join me whenever they wish on my own shining path now the next part is clear and I can sense Lilith.
I don't believe she is out to lead us astray any more than I do that the other women musicians' sites in the blogroll on the left are islands of sirens who want forever to lure us out of this world.
Music takes us both inside and out of ourselves the more wisely to live a "trip on Earth", tender or otherwise. I didn't want what a friend called the "battle for your mind" interrupting the flow of 'Voices of Women' any longer, so other entries have moved to the Orchard. But in that one about how this became a new music week, I wrote some words I would also like here:
"I'm pretty sure of my intuition about Lilith.
Such sentiments often arise in me when friends reach points in their lives to be very aware of that door and we can start speaking easily of whatever they get from their souls or need to feed them the way I'm always saying music does.
"If ever we find her at all, she may indeed be widely seen as a witch with a "Satanic" side but she'll be a white witch too, no feared incarnation of evil, and her place is beside a well, or a spring, deep inside all of us and it's behind a door.
"We all have that door in ourselves from the day we know to open it and stop being afraid of what we'll find in our souls."
If you are in more of a hurry than me to learn about the "demon" Lilith, at the Wikipedia scholarly people have started writing about facets of her.
I'll take time to explore the likes of that in any depth, but oh! what a topsy-turvy world we, its human inhabitants, have made. Earth is such a big shared home where it's only too easy to demonize those we fear. I guess that many women musicians have instinctively found in Lilith -- and in themselves -- an answer to light shed in darkness. If it's the other way round, it doesn't make sense to my ears.
1:00:36 AM link
vendredi 19 mai 2006
Fashion designers frequently work in cycles. Trends come, go and return in our lifetimes, different on the surface perhaps, but less so once we scratch it a little. People can hold that human history too repeats itself, unless we learn from it. Sometimes when I stop to look back at my own life, it seems that I'm slowly climbing a mountain by a long path going around it, almost returning every now and then to a similar vantage point.
Simply feeling my age ... and maybe yours too
The new place, though, is rather higher than before, so that it's almost like being in the same one again, but each round of the cycle path brings a broader view of the landscape around me and of the way I've taken. I can see again where it forks and when I made decisive choices in relation to other people and their own journeys through time...
Thus this is bound to be, by far, one of the most extensive chapters in the logbook about the still mysterious Lilith and her musicians! There is a big vision here so if you're in the mood for a tea-break, I do hope you enjoy the view.
I can scarcely just call such an entry a column, when I've set out to take a very long view indeed. I plan to turn the clock back a whole century and talk about tone poems and folk notions, sweet dreams and tough realities. I'm making a bid to capture something of the essential spirit of our own times: the Zeitgeist, some would say, of these early years of a new century of life and of music. To do this, it's a good idea to seek out some firm roots, for we live in pretty tough times, when I find that musicians who reach right into the hearts of folk are rising remarkably well to the challenge.
What follows is a tale deep enough probably to keep most of you going until my next music week in a month's time! But it remains the exception to the rule, even now that the Log is a book unfolding before your very eyes. I've had many years to reflect on the contents of this particular chapter, in which I'd like to break new ground the way I apparently did seven months ago in my first essay tackling the twin languages of music and sexuality...
While it's an astonishing site in my blogroll for its range and depth of cultural studies, a vast enterprise undertaken by Piero Scaruffi and his usually anonymous acolytes is as human and fallible as any such encyclopaedic venture:
"The debut album, 'Installation Sonore' (V2, 1999), reprising the single ['Le Mobilier' or 'The Furniture'], toys with hard-rock, blues ('I Love Ma Guitare') and funk ('Sublimior') in a witty and captivating manner.
But this is the silliest I've seen of one of vain attempts to approach the pair I introduced last night; a brief look at the Rinôçérôse project in an ever-growing History of Rock.
'Music Kills Me' (V2, 2002) is a vastly inferior affair. 'Schizophonic' (V2, 2005) is an ambitious concept album with Freudian overtones, but the music is still the same silly dance-pop."
So what's really going on?
What's now in style for teenagers like my own, who is 17 next week, often strikes me as a contemporary return to trends I've known before in slightly different guises. The same frequently holds true for music. Beyond the sounds, where the parallels aren't always obvious because of the technological changes that give contemporary musicians new kinds of "instruments" including an array of electronic means of making music, what goes on is something more profound.
Recalling rock as a real rebellion
Rinôçérôse isn't just the girl and the guy of the publicity picture shown here and also in part (i) of this column. The group's members have been dubbed a "band", a "project" by Scaruffi and co., and on the most interesting French sites I've browsed, Rinôçérôse is called a "collective".
Jean-Philippe Freu and 'Patou' Carrie, at its heart, defy bids to label their music, but they too are fascinated by cyclical things. With 'Schizophonia' (my default Amazon France choice of "product link" concerns a reissue due out next June 17), let's leave out the Freud who cropped up recently for personal reasons, since as a musical reference, the couple openly express what people my age can easily guess, an admiring tribute to one of my all-time favourite "concept albums".
When 'Quadrophenia erupted in 1973, Pete Townshend and the other members of The Who released a lasting slice-of-life achievement about a deeply fractured society. That "rock opera" -- one term people had for it -- is still selling well, I'm told, and has today regained a very strong social relevance. Freu and Carrie weren't around as I was 33 years ago, but they sense that pertinence to the age.
I well remember a night Townshend was interviewed on television at an unusually prime viewing time for the 1970s. My mother sounded a little surprised, "Goodness, he does seem to be an intelligent young man!" That wasn't just her being my mum either, when other adults were astonished the likes of Pete Townshend showed signs of articulate thought! It's worth a reminder to younger readers that nowadays most of you can and do listen pretty much to what you like when you want, often by private means like your .mp3 players. However, for lots of us only three decades ago, many kinds of music right in the mainstream of a vast worldwide "industry" today were considered by our elders as an appalling racket produced by dangerous young people who were a "bad influence" on us. Rock, taken for the sort of revolt it often embodied, aroused wrath and was often held to be disruptive and divisive both in families and in hidebound society at large.
Yet in 2006, though my own half-century saw radio and television monopolies, rigorous constraints and censorship overturned in European nations -- such as France in the early 1980s and Britain at around the same time -- far less has really changed than many might initially imagine. The likes of The Who and those who have learned from them are no longer late night broadcasting or promoted from "pirate ships" like Radio Caroline (an interesting history lesson), but musicians and other artists have started to show a deep interest in the fairly recent past because of the turmoil and hardships of our own times.
When folk wake up to 'folk music' again
Some are looking much further back in what they do, turning some very down-to-earth concepts that mean a lot to all of us into modern tone poems.
Many of today's trend-setters like Rinôçérôse, though keen to be innovative, tell the music press how they feel they have lessons to learn from those The Who called 'My Generation'. But the less apparent cycles in fashion, our lives and and society often crop up once musicians, social historians and scholars start talking about "a return to roots". This entry and its partner partly concern issues that have really gone unchanged in a little more than a century!
For 20 years, musicians and their followers have been renewing Afro-American ties in a way I've already written up, seeking out the origins of the Blues. This was a wise thing to do, since we have lots of new media for it and to have delayed such a retrospective renewal would also have seen almost all of the real "greats" of the 20th century to their graves, with very few left to tell their own stories.
Country and folk music have never been stronger on the shelves of the well-furnished newsagent's shop I frequent. Now it's Bob Marley's turn for a generous reggae recap in print and on CD, but there's no web link to that 10 euros' worth of double album. There's a good reason for so much nostalgia, beyond media trends and what's regarded as either newly worthwhile in the old or downright dull in the mainstream of novelty.
Miles Davis is now making a comeback in France, where the likes of Jazz Magazine (Fr) started a special series this month before everybody who remembers him well is dead. More generally, there's been a similar Johnny Cash (home) phenomenon including and partly because of a new movie.
A lot of young people I talk with have regained an interest in the issues a broad range of "folk" musicians have always dealt in and are now seeking out this stuff or making new contributions of their own, alongside what's superficially trendy. Such music today helps feed the kind of social and personal hunger that was also manifest in the first decade of the last century, but then it was mainly the province of artists with foresight and of their well-heeled public, rather than the "provincial" people city slickers looked down on and who still formed the majority of the population living on the land.
Along with the slow process of industrialisation, France became one of those countries with a lively press, both home-grown and -- for those of us living in big cities -- on the import shelves. This is more than ever true of the music magazines, where newsagents Béatrice and François tease me about knowing their monthly stock better than they do! For years, I've dropped in at least once a week to check out that part of the shop and nobody minds my browsing on the premises if I keep them informed.
In less than one year, the mainstream music media have changed hardly at all, but alongside the regular fare at least half a dozen folk and country reviews have appeared on those several shelves to jostle for survival. With Francis, the previous owner, I used to play a game regarding lots of new magazines before he sold up to Béatrice and François and I swiftly befriended them. First issues of magazines on every imaginable subject appear all the time. One of the funniest in a sick way was a monthly guide to how to divorce! So we devised a betting system as to how long each title would last before forever vanishing into the shredders.
How music reminds us what matters most
If Francis won, I burned him copies of CDs and other "prizes" and when he lost, what he gave me was just as illegal before the law started changing here. But he shared with me a very long view of the social trends our game echoed, and he did well to chastise me when I became too distraught about some horror story in Africa or other immediate aspect of the political, economic and social phenomena I cover in my paid job as news editor.
"Distance, Nick!" he would warn me from behind a counter where he could learn about everything under the sun when he wasn't raving about soccer or teasing women customers. "Calm down, that's just the way the world is. You have to learn to detach yourself if you want to keep your head."
Looking back a century, you'll soon see how most music the French call savante or "knowledgeable" -- as against folk traditions, popular song and the music-hall and "saucy stuff" of the day -- was exclusively reserved for the rich urban-dwellers and critics who kept up with what was happening on the expensive "classical" concert scene. Let's not exaggerate and relegate everything else to a proud self-proclaimed "peasantry" and to unschooled townsfolk who formed the bulk of the new labour force -- but music was cut across huge social divides.
This is how the leisured classes usually liked it anyway, but they had already been given a few surprises and were in for more from the very musicians whose work they could afford to pay to hear and express views on before the recording industry developed; then that first gave us the heavy 78 rpm platters I remember still being common in my childhood and then on to stereo, singles, a hugely cut-throat competitive approach to the "charts", and today, new "codecs" for scaling down the size of the sound files that make peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing the bugbear and bane of too many in the business.
It's taken only a very few years of returning to my own roots in writing about music to understand that while nowadays it is much of the "industry" that wants to stop the sharing, leading to massive pressure on governments like France's to retain a "protectionist" outlook, most musicians have a message that is far more generous. Barely a woman on this log lacks a site of her own, characterised by attitudes much more forward-looking than the record labels that "play monopoly". Many musicians eventually set up their own or form co-operative ventures to challenge "market values."
Anybody creative almost invariably wants to be heard. They do what they do for others and most of those who are more than a manufactured flash in the industry's frying pan, which is constantly on the heat, have begun trying to market themselves. In what they do, whether it's really "folk music" or fits under some other tag, singing "silly love songs" may still be a staple since we're all overwhelmingly interested in sex and affairs of the heart, but today there's also a popular, "folk insurrection" afoot -- exactly as there was in classical music about 100 years ago.
In those days, many a musician with an ear tuned in to the times was composing something other than symphonies and concertos, or chamber music. The insurgency that best caught the mood of the moment, reflecting shared values, took the shape of tone poems in classical music. Some of those caused quite a stir. For those who don't know, I'll talk about how tone poems work and are a great way to deliver messages shortly.
Melody as a means for reshaping society
However, before launching in that far, I want to tell you how I hear a similar trend emerging in a renewed interest in "concept albums" in much of today's "popular music".
The charts don't often reflect this when the industry is so obsessed with singles and with sales values measured in gold and platinum. Yet numerous musicians are putting tunes and songs together to make albums with strong social messages. The concept album has crept back into fashion.
The words "country" and "folk" take on more meaning as soon as you listen less to the industry promoters than a lot of musicians themselves describing what they're doing and why. Reading such interviews frequently, I'm swiftly taken back to my youth when people saw music as an invaluable means of changing the world.
I've often spoken of music as "soul-food" of a kind needed by almost anyone with a good pair of ears, but it can be much more than a mirror to our hearts and a means of opening doors in our minds.
I've considered it axiomatic ever since the 1970s that no music can be divorced from broader social trends, within the concert hall or outside it, but when the scholar Christopher Small I've written about before first said this clearly in his pathfinder's book on 'Music, Society, Education, he caused a lot of trouble. So did I, at the BBC, when in 1977 I interviewed the man who deliberately exaggerated his case by suggesting: "Isn't it time we simply threw the classics away and began listening to what's happening around us instead?"
Small hated elitist thinking and so did I, in a rebellious reaction to being indoctrinated by bad teachers who alleged that some kinds of music were "better" and more worth my while than others. At the polar extremes, "pop music" was necessarily a passing phenomenon of little value, while the "classical" kind was serious and needed a high-minded and learned approach.
Christopher loathed hearing the orchestral concert hall treated as the inner sanctum of a sort of snobs' temple, where people with fat wallets and contempt for all the noise of the plebs could dress up of an evening. Then they could wall themselves for a few hours in an "island of culture" off the street, listening mainly to symphonic bands resurrecting the work of the long dead.
Personally, I've nothing against the long dead!
When I visited France on a school exchange years before meeting Small, the lad who did the return trip was a snotty-nosed, highly "cultured" idiot, but I got on famously with his older brother, whose situation was far worse than mine. He almost had to hide Pink Floyd albums because his parents thought them dangerous for his mental health. Pink Floyd and their kind meant hard drugs! Their long "tone poems" were heard as being as messy as long hair, most unlike The Beatles in their early days, who knew all about "nice tunes" and melody.
Urban, uprooted and increasingly uneasy
Later I learned that this was the France of the day where that elder brother was a very bad boy. And now the English band Bloc Party, as we'll find out soon, express fascination at what happened when the inevitable social explosion came in May 1968, led by students battling riot police and with trade unions doing their customary thing to leap on a very lively bandwagon, just as they did again this year (I put the story of that national ritual in the Orchard).
Yet by 1968, inside the concert halls, wealthy "patrons of the arts" had for decades often found tone poems on the menu. They still do, perhaps without stopping to think where that once new musical form -- which was in its heyday with other similar compositions a century ago and more -- came from. It's well worth finding out.
For decades now, there's never been a lack of "country music", notably in the southern United States, but that term taken literally, like "folk music" everywhere, has a very broad reach though many of its most famous practitioners are town people. Memphis is scarcely a cowboy city!
Today's young musicians are also mostly urban people like the rest of us, in a world where much of the countryside -- certainly in France -- has been abandoned in my lifetime by those whose ancestors lived and made popular music down the centuries. Much of the youthful generation has left family land where mechanised agriculture now predominates, with force-fed crops. Much farming is ultimately in the hands of multinational companies who tell governments what to do. The same is even truer in the poorer nations, where music and working the land have often gone hand in hand, notably in Africa.
People hate being uprooted, however, and being forced to fit their destinies into the whims of often invisible rulers. This dislike and a strong sense of a need for roots became evident in the work of classical composers when my daughter's great grandparents and their own parents were alive and young. The same thing is happening now but what has most changed for the likes of Rinôçérose is the means to the end.
Tone poems as a popular tool and technique
In the late 19th century, a central European piano virtuoso turned -- relatively -- austere and black-clad priest in his old age, Franz Liszt, was among many who began writing tone poems. These at the time were orchestral pieces, usually not very long, that told stories and intentionally painted big pictures, a kind of "crossover" in the arts. Another central European, Bedrich Smetana, composed 'Mà Vlast', or 'My Country' a cycle of six such pieces rarely performed as a whole today. They should be since the lesser known ones are every bit as good as the two from which we could well hear "bleeding chunks" in TV commercials. Smetana didn't merely depict the river Moldau (Vltava) in his music and write stuff for a symphony orchestra to sound off about life 'From Bohemia's Woods and Fields'.
The man set about producing a stirring and moving history lesson for compatriots less than happy at being part of somebody else's empire -- the Austrian one. Smetana was stubborn and pretty brave because he did this when he was deaf and the poor fellow had tinnitus as well -- that nasty sickness when people hear a permanent ringing or whistling in their ears.
'Mà Vlast' is an excellent example of a return to roots because it drew on music everyone knew, had lots of memorable tunes that people liked regardless of whether they considered themselves "educated", and Smetana subversively slipped an unmistakeably patriotic and nationalist message into the cycle. It aroused his audiences and didn't cause undue pain to those who might have lost sleep and cracked down as political censors, because they enjoyed the pictures he painted. Smetana did another thing too: he put folk legends ordinary people knew about in the mix as well. Maybe that's why the cycle got staggeringly moving performances under the baton of fellow Czechs like Karel Ancerl in what's now a "gold edition" as a marketing ploy, since the people in the pit then, the Czech Philharmonic, could use it to say what they thought of being a part of the Soviet empire.
In the opera house, meanwhile, the likes of Verdi and Wagner used overtures to stage legends, love and historical stories and even Shakespearean drama both to set the scene and to give a kind of plot summary in sound. They occasionally made the music itself a part of the tale. A lot of people don't like Wagner, but I'm no secret admirer of a flawed genius whose vast works sometimes include what are really tone poems.
He was always an extremist, that's for sure, but the Siegfried Idyll (Glenn Gould's transcription for piano is the work of another late genius) did three things. It's one of many pieces that show Wagner doesn't always make a huge din, it told part of the fabulous mix of myth and music in his enormous 'Ring' saga that speaks to the deepest in anyone who can bear it, and as a "tone poem" by a happy dad it was quite a birthday present for his son, who then had to endure being named after Siegfried.
Sadly, 'Apocalypse Now' has also done its thing and for some people Wagner's ride of the Nordic battle demi-goddesses, the Valkyries, is all about helicopters, crazed Americans and Vietnam. And that's Wagner, just bombastic "bleeding chunks", for such people...
Still, his kind of return to roots in legend and the ways of nature -- which Wagner was singularly good at turning into music for unprejudiced ears -- gathered pace as part of the "crossover" trend of the times. In France, Claude Debussy painted 'La Mer' like an Impressionist might on a real canvas and Maurice Ravel wrote the ballet 'Daphnis et Chloë'. Debussy and the Austrian Arnold Schönberg both made very penetrating musical stabs at a different love story, the one of Pelleas and Melisande.
The great chord and how people cut it
Jean Sibelius, a Finn born in 1865, did several tone poems as well as music later used to try to sell cigars and the like. He too covered a wide emotional range, from nationalism and historical heroism to real, recognisable country music in the pastoral sense. A last famous one to round off the several points here was Igor Stravinsky, the Russian who upset a lot of people in 1913 -- and to my astonishment still does among closed minds -- with 'The Rite of Spring', which gets a whole Wikipedia page to itself. It remains music of elemental power and drive.
Bringing matters more up to our own day, I'll leave the history and patriotic heroics in tone poems and ballets to make further mention of what Schönberg actually did in his surprise ending to the monumental and epic 'Gurrelieder' I wrote a bit about a while back. As I said then, this work for soloists, a whopping great orchestra and chorus is a mind-blowing love story.
It's about a royal affair of the heart cut short by the early death of the woman and what happened afterwards.
Though I've yet to listen to it again, memory rarely fails me with music, especially when it wallops you so hard. Schönberg knew that Wagner had already composed his opera on Tristan and Isolde's great love tragedy. In so doing, the high romantic used a striking expedient, mainly known only to awed scholars, that turned musical composition since J.S. Bach, who came a long time before, upside-down.
Many academics just call what Wagner used the "Tristan chord", an unsettled sound that thrusts and twists and cries out for a climax that never comes. But what this means to the non-scholarly ear is all about sex! You get an opera that goes on for hours with huge near climaxes in it, very much like hot stuff between the sheets if you want to play "Let's postpone the pleasure". There's no real sexual release like a fantastic series of orgasms until the very end of the whole thing, by which time one of the lovers is dead and all his girlfriend wants to do is to join him.
So poor Isolde enjoys a private ecstasy as do any listeners -- albeit only in their minds -- who can make the same countless parallels between sexual activity and music as me and many musicians do, though for the latter I've learned this is mostly instinctive and intuitive. It's a moot point whether Isolde and Tristan manage to get their act together, either in the hay or on silken sheets, before there's an fatal mistake about the colour of a signal sail on a ship. You see, though they must do because otherwise their passionate wild fling wouldn't cause quite as much mischief in hearts around them, a shared orgasm isn't in the musical score. Savant people refer to Isolde's demise as a Liebestod, which is the last word in all our little love deaths of sexual intercourse.
Wow! It was so heavenly you could have died? Isolde did...
So where does Schönberg pick up on this? I've avoided most of his literary writings since he got very dry and for a while, after his music went "atonal" -- which he felt was all he could do if he wanted to drag the concert hall audience right into the 20th century -- he wrote pieces I sometimes find all brains and no heart, unlike his own disciple Alban Berg, who remembered tonality mattered. I can guess, and some scholar will tell me, that when he did the 'Gurrelieder' (Song of Gurre) as a romantic young man with a huge shadow hanging over him, Schönberg wanted to beat Wagner at his own game in style, scale and orchestration.
He succeeded and that's where the post-death part of the tale gets quite hair-raising -- but also it might have ended there. Schönberg could have left his King Waldemar forever seeking out Tove, his heart's desire, in the domain of the dead with a skeletal army at his heels. However, Schönberg went further to a different ending and it takes the breath away!
Natural cycles come into the picture
He gently brought in nature and its cycles.
Schöngberg introduced a strange kind of folk music with a novel technique called Sprechgesang (Wikipedia), the German for "speech song". Just how he did this isn't a story I wish to tell when I like to avoid "spoilers". But it was in 1911, part of an exuberant time of musical activity everywhere on the eve of a terrible World War I.
Some today say more people then should have seen such a conflict coming. Europe was locked into a system of alliances so that once an archduke got shot in Sarajevo, a fearful killer machine went into motion. Meanwhile, the "subconscious mind" had been "invented", so to speak, which just means a few bright people began writing down how we tick in a more scientific way than what was already going on in the arts, with all their Jekylls and Hydes, portraits of Dorian Gray ... and the composers, busy delving and finding what they wanted in nature, myths and magical legends.
"The world turns on its dark side", one of the late English composers I most respect and admire, Sir Michael Tippett, was to write three decades later in an oratorio during the war with the Nazis. And now when a new century has begun, powerful political leaders tell us we're fighting a new war: they assure us terrorism is the enemy today.
So the cycles of history go on, endlessly on, and you and me are supposed to be scared of a new enemy without, as well as of all the perceived darkness inside us. It's not the most cheerful prospect, there are grave new shadows we're told to fear. In music, "atonality" in itself nearly proved to be a dead end. Nobody much liked that either.
Mechanical music and the steam engine
What atonality means, roughly, is to imagine that the black and white notes on your ordinary piano keyboard are all given equal musical value in relation to each other. You could think "wonderful"; that may mean long-suffering kids just don't have to practice their scales any more!
However, while the musical "scales" of other cultures may still sound as odd to our ears as our own octaves might to a Mediaeval peasant, such "modes" everywhere in the world use harmonics that strike people as "right" when notes are naturally linked and one thing leads to another. Thus when atonal music removes these relations, it may be a diverting exercise, but we'll say, "This sounds wrong!"
Atonal music depends on artificial cycles. A few composers did things I happen to enjoy with my heart and sound fine to my ears because they were smart and opened the doors that make this a worthwhile digression, but for the most part and for many people, the "classical" noises that resulted grated throughout a century. The point is that they nevertheless led to new forms of making music with the help of fortune or chance, like using the 'I Ching', and of calculating machines and computers. Today we have electronica and techno and all kinds of good stuff brushed that way.
So I discussed atonality in passing because without it, we'd probably not have Rinôçérôse to enjoy, with many other things I love listening to and putting on the Log, and hope you enjoy learning about when I put on my scholarly hat as well. But it's nearly time to talk about the steam locomotive! There are few noisy inventions that have seized the imaginations of modern classical and popular musicians alike as the railway engine.
Induced ignorance calls for 'crossover' colours
Before getting to the locomotive's importance for women and men who make and listen to music, however, I want to despatch atonality by saying too many people who could really hear better hold that it "killed good music by taking away the tunes". They matter to me like the sad ones who think of music like a rail track or several such lines with junctions and different gauges in various parts of the world, and then say, "For me, these are the buffers. My kind of music stops here, thank you, because after so-and-so I don't like it or it all raced on downhill."
I feel genuinely sorry for such people and had to listen to one yet again this week, going on about how he was an "uneducated house painter" but still had "some culture". The trouble was there were a heck of a lot of buffers in his culture as well as a very deep prejudice against me!
My mistake, he felt, was to have been born in Britain, and there remain many people who give me hell for that error of birth, though I've lived in France for more than half my life. I've long given up worrying about it, I just think they need to open their minds a bit more. This site, in its way, is partly about getting wise to prejudice and where it comes from so we know how to be done with it.
Now travelling truly helps open the mind.
Steam trains, which I'm just old enough to remember as nothing special when I was a kid, were a start in taking folk like Debussy and me -- and I hope you -- right out of the cities. For Debussy to "paint" 'La Mer' so beautifully in music and for Ravel -- who was a countryman himself a lot of the time -- things like trips to the seaside became much easier, less bumpy, cheaper and faster.
The blue-collar workers of our newly industrialised societies could start demanding regular holidays and they did. French society remains interesting in the way that happened. Most of the country still takes its summer vacation during the sole month of August, when my therapist this week warned me, "I'll be away."
"Poor you!" I said. "Paris is great in August, I love it when half the city clears off and leaves the town for the rest of us. Musically it goes rather dead, but my goodness, the women still around then make up for it!"
"But too many of them are my patients," he sighed. "So I've got no choice."
What really happened about a century ago -- when composers did the same as Impressionist painters who went west of Paris, often by train down the Seine, to seek a new way of capturing nature and get back to their roots out of the urban environment, then put what they found in to their art -- is happening today more than ever.
Getting out of things to get centred among them
Yes, there is a insurrection afoot among musicians and while I've had several weeks to recover my health, this has often struck me in my reading about what they say of their activities. A fair number, like Alison Goldfrapp at home with her man, absolutely need to get away from it all -- the artificial and urban environment -- to work in peace. Those two live in the country and have a home studio.
In France, musicians with the money or inclination for such breaks often tell journalists they feel the same way, and now I can, I'm seized by a similar desire to strike a necessary balance between the push and shove of a city life and the pull of a harmonious natural environment, the way it's expressed by people who make music in many countries and talk about this to the magazines I devour.
Those boys in Bloc Party, having raised their 'Silent Alarm' and even remixed it, say they may be in London, but they will record their next album in a relaxed setting in Ireland. In one recent interview in 'Les Inrocks', they talk of being into David Bowie, Roxy Music ... and heaps of classical music.
"We're not going to compose a classical music album, but we are inspired by the atmosphere you can find in them," singer Kele Okereke explained. And that's when he said they are into France's Mai 68 "revolution" as he put what the French still just call "the events":
My own less conservative friends are deep into classical music and country ways while I lived in a suburban village near Paris myself for a few years while married. The Kid and her mum are still close to the fields and forests. My friend Ellie is in her Burgundy countryside for a while, now she's had a baby, and the first French girl with whom I fell in love, Ghyslaine, proved when we picked up our old friendship to have become a permanent urban "defector".
"I've read a lot on the subject. I wanted also to talk about the way English society is more and more conservative, particularly since the London bomb attacks."
Once I've regained my full health again, I plan to get out of town myself when I can. For several years it got quite difficult, but always to hang around in Paris is bad, though I love my district. It would be wrong to remain a constant city dweller now I've had the time to reflect on my instincts and intuition, without saying much here until today, about what I feel to be the real spirit of the times.
An anti-material meltdown to harmonious values
We may be living at the start of a new millennium and there's no real reason I can see to be afraid of a terrible terrorist threat or anything like the kind of conflagration that scarred Europe and other parts of the world a century ago and then again in World War II. The Log is no place any more, either, for my own politics in detail, but I don't doubt for a moment that we live on a planet where humanity is still very much at war with itself, in a whole number of highly dangerous ways.
We need to look and listen beyond ourselves for solutions and musicians are, as often, leading the way.
The French economy is in dire straits -- even I know that much -- and the African conflicts I shall soon be again covering every day in my paid job are more than ever mainly battles to be in control of scarce and diminishing resources. Anybody with a head knows how the poor are getting poorer and most of the rich simply don't give a damn much of the time if they feel their own interests are safe. In Paris, as in many other big towns, the number of street beggars and homeless people has rocketed in just one decade. Any real thought about ecological values in today's world can be scary.
Most people know well enough that science simply lacks a lot of the answers. Off the top of my head, I could list several dozen of the women musicians my site is mainly here to serve, whose songs today take up the real issues in a realistic way and prefer to seek their own answers in non-materialistic and spiritual values I would readily qualify as natural and right ones.
My outlook has become more pessimistic than it was, since there is so much egoism and greed in the human heart, but I'm not as bleak as I might be. While I no longer plan to do more than I can or end a movie I half-completed about what I once called the "Quiet Revolution", I still feel it's there and have time for intelligent New Age thinkers. The insurgency is all around us and deep inside quite a number of people who have shed materialist ideals and values. We very simply believe in sharing stuff and each being a small part of networks of people who do still think a wee bit differently. I can't leave off writing about my own experience of recent weeks and years without being open about my strengthened faith in the Big L.
The real spirit in the Zeitgeist
A deeply personal thing it may be, but without delving into it or seeking an explanation where there isn't one outside my soul, love has been too strongly channelled through me and towards me in the acts of others, for me to go on kidding myself it isn't a powerful force in its own right.
The Big L is there, outside me. I don't want to give it any other name, but I find it in sex and in music and I hear it every day in what I'll go on describing as the "music" of people. Without it, there can be no hope, and André Malraux was right -- the 21st century has to be spiritual or we won't be around to enjoy it.
Other people who say they feel the same way are normally turning again, like our ancestors did in the arts of a century ago, back to nature. Moreover, it would be foolish to ignore the many ways in which our ability to understand more about nature than in 1906 and also to share cross-cultural insight into ourselves has grown along with our capacity for destruction.
Musicians who know about sharing
For me, this helps explain why the shelves at the newsagents' stores are as full now of country and folk music as the concert halls were back in the heyday of tone poems. A lot of people with whom I discuss the times agree they are extremely hard, but when we pool resources in a newly networked world we can help each other more as well.
While means of making and sharing music have changed a very great deal, for example, underlying trends are the same and many of the barriers to shared "songs of experience" have vanished. I don't wish to slap unnecessary labels on any shelves, apart from saying, "Well yes, it's all popular and I've got a web site aimed at making it a little more so!"
So who does that give us musically to start polishing off the most wide-ranging piece I've yet written in this Book of Lilith? I'm inclined -- for now -- to speak of those obviously into sharing and joint ventures, though I know hundreds of the soloists at issue here are also wonderful givers.
I still know little about Lilith, but rather more about Rinôçérôse and others who function in "collectives".
What's brand-new to me in the French band this month has already been classified by Amazon and others under "electro techno", but not on this log, when a first hearing got me reflecting so much on tone poems in the first place, since those are what some of the Rinôçérôse music is.
I'd been happily unaware of any iPod commercial that uses their 'Cubicle' for a soundtrack, but there must be no escape from music as marketing this month! However, for personal reasons several tracks on this fine album, with titles like that and 'Bitch', 'Music Kills Me', 'Dead Flowers' and 'Metal Mental Dub' should have told me what the Rinôçérôse home site makes clear about the dynamic duo at the core of a musical collective: Patou Carrie and Jean-Philippe Freu are a couple of psychologists for their day jobs. I've seen a lot of those folks lately...
These two come from sunny Montpellier in southern France and travel a lot. The couple, with other members of the collective or their guests, sing -- if they sing anything -- in English and they describe themselves as "electronic in spirit and rock at heart", but there's rather more to their big storms and serene hours.
On reading what the Windish Agency says of the 'Schizophonic' album, the critical thumbs down quoted at the top of this long essay surprises me a little less. There's plenty of news about the band, with divided personalities and deep-buried obsessions, in the same psychological vein, all over the Net. But I'm here for the music, even if some:
"can easily imagine Rinôçérôse, the infernal duo in their white coats, listening to their patients attentively, allowing them to admit to their deviances, and hidden vices...
I fiddled a bit with that music agency's translation into mediocre English, but what "baggy rock" is beats me! I'd guess the reviewer from the huge Scaruffi site took very pretentious prose like that too seriously.
[so that] the illuminated professor and the sexy doctor imagined and produced music with new sound, drawing content from the new rock resurgence as well as in electro anthems, allowing for funky escapades, and going from organic and wild travels to savage seventies baggy rock."
I hope Rinôçérôse avoid being too serious themselves about also being very funky, hot on some jazz inspiration and most rewarding in their inventiveness. They claim the biggest ranges of "influences" I've yet seen on a myspace music page!
I like their music when it's sometimes as "spaced-out" as suits me when inclined that way myself: when I'm in need of emotional toning-up poems for meditation and to keep my bearings regarding the Dreamtime -- as I'll go on calling my sense of what lies outside time but is good for our souls.
The iTunes music store is a good way to make a first acquaintance and to get the new album with some bonus tracks, so I made it one of my picks of the month on a hunch, hearing enough to know I'll be listening again when my interest in cyclical matters comes to the fore.
On recycling of "folk music" into something new and very much of our time, I'm also getting back into the likes of Lincolnshire lass Beth Orton, who is true to some very fine form and full of her new 'Comfort of Strangers'. I note Beth's "official site" is the first I've seen to be up with the times enough to have .mu for its tag. I didn't know this was allowed yet, but would like one myself the day I shift this virtual book on to a server of my own.
'Comfort of Strangers' merits visiting as both a deeply personal experience for Beth and we who listen in, while being a joint venture particularly with a true guitar virtuoso from America, Jim O'Rourke, who produced it in New York for release earlier this year.
My iPod and hi-fi have meantime been attuned to yet another such enterprise, 'Ballad of the Broken Seas' by the Scottish Isobel Campbell, singer of Belle and Sebastian fame, and gravelly voiced American Mark Lanegan. This is another of the first great albums of 2006 that returns to roots in old folk pastures in an enthralling, bewitching fashion.
How we all love a good story!
This 'Ballad', which is a whole series of them -- a kind of concept album again -- will doubtless establish itself as a sometimes melancholy masterpiece, bringing two very different people together in such a way that what you are hearing is traditional folk singing while again being truly innovative. It was on my listening list for ages, as an album of sharing.
The sophisticated city chick in Isobel Campbell explains on her site how she enjoyed doing this as an "entertaining" way of revisiting a famous relationship between Jane Birkin, who might also be here for recent collaborative adventures, and France's late chain-smoking and hard-drinking "grunge" poet, Serge Gainsbourg. But Isobel turned the bond round and herself wrote most of the lyrics, which make for plenty more than mere duets with the life-worn Lanegan.
Listening in can often be like overhearing a conversation, not only in the words, but between different musical styles. It's a deep dialogue very much of these times when people who feel uprooted ache to get back to nature and try to do so with wisdom.
What Lanegan often does in those ballads is close to Schönberg's Sprechgesang; being neither quite song nor speech, but something else, something different. The 'Ballad of the Broken Seas', taken as a story-telling concept again, just grabs you by the balls so to speak, even for women!
I'm tempted to write, on the strength of these albums and plenty more untold recent listening, that what's also happening in music of our age is a kind of "crossover" in what the Amazon sites call "contemporary adult" listening. However, I think it premature to develop this too far.
My ear's simply to the ground and the springs in it, rather than any musical variant of those rail lines that made such a difference 100 years ago to how much musicians could do in extending their range.
It's evident many people must feel a crying need for stories again, rather like we do as small children, and a host of musicians have begun responding today to that very deep desire, imaginatively and by creatively using modern myths and old legends, to draw on what's more permanent in us all than our immediate lives and loves.
Keeping our centres of gravity
Much of what I've heard, one way or another, since being unable to go to the concerts themselves but still arising from this year's French 'Lilith Fair'-type festival, is a return to roots in both musical traditions and people, but in a dual-faced Janus way.
In the Orchard, I dubbed February my "Janus month" this year, for so it was, a time for looking outwards and inwards at once, before the "backfired" medication I was taking gave me the accidental overdose of introspection that sent me way round the bend. But here I'm no longer harking back to the illness of which everyone has had enough, but making my way on with the cure (I've been listening to The Cure too: an oldie, 'Disintegration' ... more mood music)!
Getting the balance right between what lies in ourselves and being naturally outgoing in a culture as artificial as most 21st century industrialised and urbanised nations have become is far from easy for any of us. The sharing approach is the only right one, so I have developed a growing regard for what is coming out of the kind of joint ventures I've mentioned and some lively collectives that are far from "hive minds" but managed to become extremely productive.
One loose collective of Canadians who know plenty about this call themselves and a double album also new this year 'Broken Social Scene'. That's a link to the music, which comes in short order too as just one album, but I was greedy and wanted the lot. The members include Feist, a woman who didn't actually write those 'Secret Heart' lines I use under the front-page link to the Orchard. Ron Sexsmith wrote the song, but I love how Feist sings it and have wondered what she's been doing for too long since 'Let It Die'. It's a good job she didn't let everything die, I'd have been mighty cross after an album that fine!
So there's plenty of new territory here, a lot of "work", except that the Canadians of one reconstituted Broken Social Scene prefer to describe what they do as "arts and crafts", which is a good habit once you're sick of mercenary values. All the same, if Bloc Party are really into what happened in Mai 68, they'll be realising that trying to establish more human values than selfish financial ones is a practice fraught with difficulties.
Since the 1970s, what usually went wrong was the inability of people to avoid taking themselves and their old baggage with them. Like Napoleon's armies and everyone else who tried to invade what was had by 1968 become the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, many of the idealists who sought to change a very "broken social scene" suffered dire fates once grim winter set in again after that spring.
All kinds of imported political doctrines, including Maoism, didn't work -- they never do in France any more than elsewhere -- and many people who brought a starry-eyed 13-year-old like me to attention while they upset the "grown-ups" with impassioned notions of the brave new order did go on to "sell out".
Numerous are those who forgot their ideals and today have become rich, cosy members of an elite governing a society perhaps more fragmented than ever. Communes fell apart. After all, "free love" was fine and novel enough well into the 1970s, when jealousy and matters like deciding who got to do the hard work and how to bring up the kids arose. And so on...
Still, some really smart people made it. They kept the ideals intact and abide by those to this day. I should know because I'm one of them, if I remember to practice what I preach! Politics -- not just the sexual kind -- will have occasionally to come up again on the Log, in a broad sense, since we live in times when musicians are so weary of the way the world still is that some political issues arise as frequently in song nowadays in the late 60s and 1970s.
Tough times test our deepest dreams
The protest song is back in style, that's for sure, and on the whole I'd say that a lot of the young musicians we're going to hear at it have found the right, but again difficult, centre of gravity between ideals and realism.
My own daughter is a dreamer. More power to her for it! We closely share two streams of ideas she raised herself last weekend in some depth, during talk of her literary and musical tastes and also of her future.
On being asked by nice neighbours what she hopes to do with her life, Marianne presented quite a "battle-plan" and nobody could blame her, since me and the other people -- who included an astute woman in her nineties -- know just how rough the world can be on today's youngsters.
I reckon some of the "kids", including ones who write to me occasionally and whom I'm honoured to count among readers of this place, have never had it so tough perhaps since the 1930s. My post-war generation and later ones, until fairly recently, had a much easier life than many people the age of Marianne and Isobel Campbell, who is now in her mid-20s.
I shan't overdo the modesty when I had to put a good schooling to hard work, but in those 1970s doors opened to me, as a drop-out so bored by my witless university studies I packed them in for a job, counting on my determination at the expense of paper qualifications. I knew that if what was offered to me was "higher education", there were better and faster ways of getting it. So that's what I did. The Kid has no such choice. Without a degree, she doesn't stand a chance of achieving her goals today like I did.
Marianne's battle-plan is a wise one, combining realism about her own relative good fortune and some hard work ahead to get through those kinds of doors, with a sense of the same search for new roots I've written about in this chapter. And she knows she'll have to look inside herself, her fantasies, her understanding of myths and legends, and the notion she shares with me of what lies beyond, which I call the Dreamtime out of respect for things that aren't primitive in the least, but a start to a worthwhile civilisation.
To close, this month I even bought a solo album by a man, 'Merz', who fits very well into a column about people who got lost for a while and then made a remarkable comeback in the "folk" arena.
Musicians who go both deep into themselves, like everyone here does, and remain outward looking in their art, have no need of labels and tags. Nowadays, anyone is doing all right if they seek what comes naturally in a world that threatens to overwhelm us. When you weigh up the permanence amid the changes, life really is very much the way it all was just a century ago!
Where I found picture credits, they go to:
John William Waterhouse for the painting of Tristan and Isolde;
Micaela Rosatto for Beth Orton;
Eva Vermandel for Isobel Campbell;
while the Smetana painting came from a Czech site where I couldn't see any name.
2:08:44 AM link
jeudi 18 mai 2006
"Et la tendresse? Bordel!"
Perhaps few people will catch this opening allusion to an old French film that wove some tragi-comic love stories together in quite a captivating way -- but I'm looking to the future, both on the Log and in my life.
My "to-do list" for the week became so long that apart from the friends on it, it's beyond me to catch up on everything planned before returning to work. But I am keen to reinstate Oren Bloedow and his woman, along with her very own French touch.
The photo of the couple taken by Neuvo Hemp in 2000 in New York comes from the Blackacres site created for fans of much of what they have done since. The pieces I wrote particularly on Jennifer Charles preceded the losses of a month-long Log crash and weren't included in the restoration of most missing entries because I wanted to do some of them better. However this was swiftly followed by my own falling apart and then the huge crash by my Mac, which also needed refomatting. All that has only just come together again.
Even if there's no time now to reinstate the mysterious workings of deep love affairs so honestly -- or amusingly -- conveyed in music the way the wonderful Jen has so far this millennium, I would like to know more about the next pair, who are French, before the week's out.
Chucking both these pictures on line from inside a folder called "rhino" -- for those technically mad enough to check out things like my "page source" -- shouldn't send anyone to the Worldwide Fund for Nature. I know some were alarmed when I became a highly endangered species myself! With Oren and Jennifer there's no risk of that, though theirs still remains something of a cult following only and they deserve more.
It's hard to write up Elysian Fields well since in three of their albums, from 'Queen of the Meadow' in 2000 to the delectable 'Bum Raps and Love Taps' released just a few months ago, the couple have increasingly turned a deeply intimate relationship into a more public musical experience.
They have shared their affair with an intelligence and a style that's pretty unique, so the listener or audience is incited far less to any "voyeurism" than to new insight into the Big L as a force for good, the way this can happen with other people's love stories when they draw out what we have in ourselves. After all, why are romantic tales, real or imagined, so popular in the first place?
For now, however, that particular "rhino" file despatched to my Mac disk somewhere across the Atlantic is named for Rinôçérôse, who put so many accents in the one word I'm relieved to have a French keyboard while they're very close to the top of the iTunes bestsellers here. The Rinôçérôse group's own "official" web site (they have several about them, like the New York pair) comes in three languages. Tuesday night found me right in the mood for Patrice 'Patou' Carrie's and Jean-Philippe Freu's sort of "tone poems" for our time, especially with some good bonuses on the newly available iTMS France version.
For columns that may wrap up a week before I go back to work, I've begun reflecting -- with the help of such musicians -- on some similarities between these early years of our new century and a similar time frame in the last, which preceded one of the most terrible of global conflicts. I shan't tell you it's the same world, but people's basic needs haven't changed ... and nor have a few instincts on how to meet them.
"Et la tendresse? Bordel!" It's been many years since I was a kid while The Beatles reminded everybody that 'All you need is love'. After my recent experiences and talks I've had with people about my life and their own, I've rarely been so acutely aware how easy it is for us to lose sight of the simplest of truths and how vital it is in tough times for young people to be encouraged to dream and to be tough in holding on to their own ideals.
I shan't be logging nearly as often as sometimes I did.
There's a whole lot of world out there! Plenty in it still feels new to me while I reset my compass, so I've chucked a small handful of revisited log pieces into a "projects" dossier, to get on meanwhile with reading a copy of big school project the Kid's done with a couple of classmates.
To take on a survey 'L'Image de la Femme de l'Antiquité à nos jours' ('The Image of Women from Antiquity to Our Times') was an ambitious task at their age and the
outcome is a good and timely piece of work. Adults often tend to be dismissive about how perceptive the late teenage mind can be.
What I've kept of stuff I myself wrote in such years surprises me sometimes, when I recognise in it the insight I still stand by many decades later. And any world where your children remind you what your own ideals always have been and where they first came from can't be so bad!
But what then of Rinôçérôse and the return to "tone poems" -- and more -- in the music of our day? That's for the second part of this chapter...
12:47:54 AM link
lundi 15 mai 2006
A long, big set of Songlines I compiled and mailed to Lady E quite recently, which included much music suited to her less pressing but future requirements, still needs updating after my friend on April 30 delivered her "Baby Inside" into this beautiful, mixed-up world.
He's a boy and he looks just great!
Like an aunt of mine who had seven children and several other hard-working women I've known, most times I saw Ellie -- before I could call the lusty-voiced child "Baby Outside" then learned he had a name of his own -- she seemed barely slowed down. She pursued a demanding career with its long hours, getting up at times I'd hate myself, picky about what she ate as her belly grew -- those "endless boring salads" and suchlike -- and had that deep inner radiance many a marvelling painter or photographer has sought to capture in mothers-to-be.
The woman's only strictures on Songlines then were "But no rock, Nick" -- which was her instinctive shorthand for the kinds of rock music that Baby Inside really wouldn't have appreciated, as I knew -- and "I'll always need anti-stress Songlines."
Last night, this caught my eye: "Much has been made of the, as yet inconclusive, claims that exposing your child to classical music, Mozart in particular, can help increase the speed of his or her development."
What "inconclusive claims"? That's one of the three sentences in a "product description" of 'Classic FM Mozart for Babies', an offering at Amazon UK.
There's a whole bunch of these compilations on the market, but one that made me particularly squirm -- whether pregnant women or the tiniest human animals are in the vehicle or not -- was seeing the snippets in 'Classic FM Music for Driving', particularly:
"9. Delibes: Lakmé - Flower Duet made famous by the British Airways TV commercial
and so on.
10. Händel: Sarabande made famous by the Levi's TV commercial"
Who squirmed so much?
Maybe that's just me being the "show-off snotty-nosed Brit" with a dislike of "bleeding chunks" that became deeper on realising when I worked for the BBC's "oh-so-serious" music radio network from 1976-80 and quickly discovered most people outside that cosy world also prefer to get their classics in full, the way the composers intended.
Händel, after all, is far beyond caring that the Sarabande they mean will long outlive some telly advertisement for jeans that I imagine Classic FM and Amazon UK will leave on the wrapper for years to come, as already they have for nearly two.
I'm like everyone else as well, though I only see television in other people's homes about twice a year, and occasionally also wonder, "Now I know that piece, but what was it?" It's like playing Trivial Pursuits ... and I always win if it's music and lose for most other things!
I don't do my Songlines that way, however, and whatever this Log has become, here I'll express it as a given, forgetting both reams of research and the marketing ploys of a consumer society, since there's no longer any doubt; the right music is of vital importance for personal growth, whether we're still in a small ocean of amniotic fluid or long past the breaking of those waters.
My Songlines are tailor-made listening suggestions for people based on my intuition, experience and knowledge of them as well as being told what's already in their libraries, like a friend who asked me for "high poetry" Songlines lately. I also listen to the intuition of others like Eleanor, who knew with those reservations of hers what was bad for Baby Inside -- and also for his mother -- at that particular time in her life.
It takes little imagination to be such a child if you want, how it must be where what you pick up while in the womb comes to you by various means, from the obvious ones like through a mother's "body wall" in the form of vibrations and sound waves to far more subtle channels I shall be pondering for a long time to come now I'm aware of them.
Those same researchers who recommend some of Mozart and Bach soon determined that the "wrong kind" of Beethoven -- when the man was in the volatile and stormy mood of his Fifth Symphony (made famous by Winston Churchill's "V for Victory" commercials during World War II and the BBC "free world" call sign in its broadcasts) -- is a shock to the system, like the hard rock Ellie didn't want right then.
Researchers into me have asked, "What are these Songlines and how do you get them right for people?" They do such probing because they see the results and treat "Nick's Songlines" -- which anybody I see may have from me if they give the elements I need -- like some kind of magic!
What goes into Songlines is only partly "magic". I much enjoy doing them as one form of relaxation, letting the train of subconscious responses to people who ask me take the strain. All I need for this is enough data to put on the train before sending it into the tunnel, then I wait for it to come out and set about the Songlines, which do pop up like a magic that isn't...
The data is mainly a snapshot of the person who does the asking and sometimes I find it helps when completing a list actually to have a picture of her or him if I've not seen them for a while, and I look into the eyes and they tell me who the person is.
The rest is about their circumstances. Mr "High Poetry Please", for instance, had a science thesis to work on and wanted "unscientific" music to help in the inspiration. A French researcher who vanished into the Orchard today with one of yesterday's joint Log entries prefaced his book on "Genius and Madness in Painting, Music and Literature" with the comment that when terrified by a blank page and ink, he resorted to a "powerful subterfuge to write these lines, which are owed to sole and untiring listening to the twenty-four preludes and fugues by Dmitri Shostakovich."
Philippe Brenot's thus expressed debt to the late Russian composer was a simple acknowledgement of the tremendous power of music in fostering his own creativity, by virtue of what I'd take for an exchange he had with Shostakovich, rather like many great writers consider the work drawn out of themselves and given to their readers are an invitation to a dance of ideas, stories and images. It's always an active process.
I've no time for artists, producers, reviewers, listeners and critics who claim that hearing music or reading a book are passive activities.
Such people who treat the "consumers" of art as no more than a "receptive audience" given the goods and then pretend the process is an objective one are fortunately an almost extinct species.
The difference between Songlines I give people -- either at their behest for a particular purpose or since I know they need a bit of help with anger management, impatience and whatever it might be -- and banal recommendations of the likes of Classic FM in Britain and its "mass public" counterparts is simply respect. I acknowledge the ability and intelligence of listeners to take music as intended by its creators, rather than in slices dripping blood at each end, along with the importance I give to the lyrics if it's "popular music".
People know what they like. If they just want parts of the whole, that's up to them, but I'll give them the choice, because that's the way musicians behave each time they release albums, though they also need singles to promote them, when they're not doing it for free on the Net as so many do nowadays.
The focus on neat "sound-bites" could be seen as a flaw in the iTunes Music Store system and its growing number of rivals. It's hard to see how else Apple and other producers of music could have done otherwise than to offer separate songs at 99 cents of a euro or a dollar a shot, while I'm also in favour of intelligent iMix "compilations" as much as anybody else and have been working on several slowly for months. But to "dumb down" too much is risky.
In my Songlines, I always serve up albums, and on the Log I usually write about the ones women make, pausing only occasionally to focus on songs when I find individual ones so outstanding they merit such attention and can often be a great incitement to discover much more.
To do otherwise is to fall right into the trap of consumerism with regard to a form of art that's both well and wickedly served by an "industry". You can never generalise in a world like this and some very decent, caring people still work for the majors that everybody loves to hate, though they rarely get to make the big decisions about their own Songlines.
Ellie, both when she was pregnant and even more now as a mother with high ideals for her new child, is someone who will enjoy, say, the Cocteau Twins (the"official" site for the band is one I don't remember seeing before, beyond a promise). Music of such fabulous quality, which also gets a Cocteau Café to its name along with places where people have paid much attention to individual "songs", will never suddenly lose its relevance because the group is defunct.
The Kid also got Elizabeth Frazer and company from me, along with other visionaries of her own lifetime, only to say, "Daddy, I don't like the Cocteau Twins and so and so very much." Fair enough. She's 17 and into rather different stuff she shares with me, but when I asked, "Do you want me to take them off your iPod then?" she said, "Oh no!"
Marianne wasn't trying to save me a few minutes' work; I believe she was rather saying, "I'm not ready for this yet," since she also asked, "Ooh, you couldn't give me Poe, please, if you've got some?"
"Sure," I said, "I've got 'Hello' if you'd like it. I don't know it myself very well at all yet, but it is up a dreamy path too, I think."
She did want it. It's nice now to be in a country where I'm no longer making mildly indiscreet revelations of "illegal activity" either, but France's new legislation remains mainly a different, ongoing story of an enlightenment (and how to pay for it wisely), in which the attitude of lawmakers has caught up with the real sharing aspirations of people among us who also value creative artists as we should.
For the short-sighted mercenaries out there, by the way, since there are many of them and I'm at war with Apple again over its arrogance but don't like to pollute the Log with those spats any more, Marianne reminded me of some logic ad absurdam in the splendid movie commercial about the iPod Flea (at K@MaZuTRa in that link, a very funny Belgian site where language is no barrier to the laughs), so play it and flee from "free market values" applied to art...
My Songlines for people often reach out from the dreamer in me, who needs his Dreamtime, to the wellspring of permanence amid change in their own lives. Depending on the individuals I dose them with the right kinds of humour as well. I know a lot of people who like "anti-idiot immune system" Songlines for when they get riled and upset, since it's always reassuring to discover that you're not alone in such a response to stupidity and how many a musician can defuse it for you by sharing similar sentiments.
Unless someone is very specific and wants Songlines for study purposes, I usually do rather better than Classic FM and others who just bung together compilations of music that's generally so widely known it demands minimum effort. I like to throw in a few "unknowns" nobody writes or talks about much, especially if they're bound to appeal either to the outgoing, active side of the person who asks or to most people's hunger for soul-food made to last them a while.
I know somebody who's named their iPod for dancing and then asks me for "Songlines of stillness", while there's someone else I've given "Songlines of tranquility" that are shifting into a few "Sets for serenity". It depends who they are and where they are in their lives.
As for me, though, I've got what I'm considering a new "Music week" starting today, before I return to the Factory on May 22. I'll put up one more short piece to sum up some big changes in me and refer you to what's now in the Orchard, and then we'll play it by ear.
There are two or three women I really want to write up, maybe this week, since they have some wonderful stories to share, but I also have several people whose Songlines have become overdue and a fair bit of other stuff to get on with...
People who would like Songlines, in addition to what goes here on the Log, have for the moment to be among those I frequently see, though this may change, I don't know. I write that because I've found that while I have a prodigiously large musical library acquired with an ear to the future, others too in my local environment have collections -- I prefer the word "library" with its connotations of sharing rather than consuming -- and tell me they thought they knew what was in them until approached with my kind of ears!
This is apparently because of my lifelong way of "networking" stuff -- a mode of hearing and thinking that can occasionally be annoying for others when they find I digress without meaning to do so. I must bear this in mind more when I write now I'm really aware of it, but there is a good side when I hear "links" others don't and they say, "Oh, that's a great idea, why didn't I think of it?"
"Because we don't think the same way," is the simple and right answer, but I really like it when I do Songlines for musicians -- especially some of the women here when I dare on account of something I've heard and can say, "What if you were to try such and such or get together with so and so?"
Occasionally they get back to me.
I didn't do any Songlines for Heather Nova (her lively Network is another new link here), but I did send her a "thank you" mail for stuff I've written about that she's done for me in her music.
She's too busy for any Songlines and far too good at her own, but I told her about the Concerto I'd love to write with her if I could ... and for that, the train is indeed taking the strain: I dream the thing! This summer, I may have to take a train because she is getting a European tour together again and France isn't on it yet, but she's going to countries I'd like to visit again.
I'll take the big iPod and that reminds me of one last thing. I very often do this myself, which means I usually import albums into iTunes and thus on to the iPod in higher quality format than Apple's default ones, but failed to realise -- just as I had with my capacity to "network" other people's music libraries for them -- that some simply see iPods as travelling devices still and forget it just takes a simple cable with the right bits on each end to use one with your home stereo system.
Using the iPod as a remote for your hi-fi system is a good way of coming up with your own Songlines too, because it's such a simple means of changing your tune. You can be ever so lazy about it. If you hadn't thought of it, give it a go. Even a high-quality cable doesn't cost very much and life can be full of surprises then!
3:52:49 PM link
samedi 6 mai 2006
Pictures added on May 8 to celebrate Ms Hoffman's own recent "VE Day", now she's absconded from the New York recording scene.
We shall soon embark on a far-ranging search, likely to take prominence occasionally in the coming months, to find out very much more about who the mysterious Lilith of myth, legend and sometimes esoteric domains is.
The ancestral "white Eve": I've heard or seen this woman important in some musical circles called that, along with many other names synonymous with other "first ladies". These crop up in numerous cultures with a deep attachment to natural cycles.
Some of these notions and cycles are rarely evoked and seemingly vanished in modern societies and urban or other artificial environments where life is remote from most natural roots. Many point particularly to Cecilia as the woman for musicians, but for Bethany F. Jenkins, she is the patron saint of church music.
That's a pretty telling distinction. It's easy to forget, in today's highly industrialised world, how the kinds of music we take almost for granted were once considered profane at best and sacrilegious at worst. I don't see this entry's musician, snapped here at the '97 Lilith Fair, being beatified, since it's hard to imagine this:
"On her wedding day, she prayed to the Lord and asked Him to protect her virginity."
So says Jenkins in her account of the Saint Cecilia of Roman Catholicism. Apparently the young lady's man, Valerian, said he'd play along with this and go without sex! They came to very unfortunate ends.
By the opening "we", I mean anyone who cares to stay the course with me or drop in sometimes on the log, whose nature -- a shared learning of life and exploration of our relationships -- has recently been disclosed less in my own words than those given me by other teachers, including friends.
That's how I like it, now I've done a whole year's using work with music to say many other things too. However, in some quiet research and talking with people, it's been Lilith to the fore, as the woman for whom many creative people here name a lot more than their music festivals.
With the musicians, I plan fairly shortly to resume writing on a recurrent theme that runs deep, including its overtly sexual side, but disappeared when the music log "crashed" in the winter and a month's worth of entries with it.
Nearly all of those are back, but some deliberately were left aside for a while. It struck me that other columns I've yet to reinstate need an overhaul, since they concern voices of women whose creative achievements and attitude should be dealt with sometimes as a theme in itself.
One singer-songwriter has come a long way since the years of which she recently said:
"as a teenager i felt completely fucked-up: angry, different, depressed, outraged by the world, by societal norms and expectations; i was self-destructive and i under-achieved ... but, alone in my room, i taught myself the guitar and wrote songs. it was something that seemed like it mattered. it was a release, it was a place of honesty."
That extract from Lauren Hoffman's notes at CD Baby reminds me of a friend whose personal correspondence is so similar in style that mailing her with "proper" punctuation I avoid when being brief. Still, it runs against what's ingrained in me, for my own style was learned when only the likes of e.e. cummings (Poets.org) and his imitators were allowed to get away with it by most "educators".
Hoffman's adolescent feelings take me back to days when like many people, I was rather the same, including under-achieving as a social animal at least. I used no guitar but for two terrific periods, I had access to great organs on which to express similar and other sentiments in usually empty churches.
When people came in I eased off if the noise I was making was excessively stormy and got out some sheet music instead. However, a huge pipe organ with lots of pedals and stops is a marvellous instrument for unleashing some kinds of "body music", for playing one can be strenuous physical exercise.
Lauren made a very fine start with
'Megiddo', then turned her back on the United States. She declared she planned to do the same with music, made the passage to India a lot of us have since the 1960s and this year, Hoffman did a comeback on CD with 'Choreography'. Now that album is one of those lost pieces of "body music" indeed.
More recently quite a poser for Womanrock (blogrolled), Lauren's a changed woman and the 'Choreography' released in January is such a capital achievement that on listening again, after a promise to get back to her, found me deciding it's time to write more in the Orchard about other 'Altered egos and natural states'.*
In that more personal entry, you'll find out just how much I'm feeling my own way forward now in a fashion you may know well enough, but which comes as a novel and again capital experience for me -- an agreeable one!
I'm in good company with Lauren Hoffman too, since though I've put some allegedly in parts "weirder stuff" in the Orchard, I couldn't pull on beyond my recently logged experiences without thinking a bit like her:
"And I wish I could hang out up in the sky and be the light to shine you home
Just those splendid lines from one song on 'Choreography' say a lot about a woman who has wised up to life with a wicked sense of humour and sometimes chisels her wit very fine.
So I write another fucking song about the darkness
And how you're not alone."
We'll be back to her since even sex is something I plan to tackle from some very fresh angles, as generally recommended for the maximum enjoyment of our pleasures.
This merry May, in that Orchard where every month gets a title as some of you have observed, seems set fair to be one with "unclouded confessionals". So I've already chosen its name -- but let's not get things mixed up. Mainly the non-churchgoing confessions shall come from mouths other than my own.
For now, I've got more personal spaces to explore again while getting the rest of a life back. And I like it that way too. These include compiling Songlines for other people whose paths have seen big turnings of late, so the log will roll on unpredictably ... and slowly.
Until we hear a little more of Ms Hoffman's style in a different and illustrated context, here's a poser, for a long weekend in places where a bank holiday marks an end of one bit of war, from Lauren's 'Love Gone Wrong':
"I've got to crawl out of this whole
Yes, I also like being slowed down and dreamy again.
What is love? I want to feel something real
Like a car crash, when I land I will be shaken,
Now, like a flash in a dream of the waking world."
*The stone circle in the picture is a scanned detail from a card I quote from in the Orchard.
You can find more by a man who says what he does "is informed by the cyclic principles on which nature works" at Martin Hill's Sustainability by Design.
I'd contend we're all of us best informed, if we have got any sense, by such principles...
11:52:22 PM link
jeudi 4 mai 2006
It was during my late teens I most remember the "progressive" bands of the day teaming up with one of the big London symphonic formations, like Deep Purple (home) did with the LSO in 1970 for a concerto for rock group and orchestra, and some of the results weren't bad.
Leonard Bernstein was one of the great conductors doing his excellent best at rendering classical music accessible to everybody and "crossover" was the word a lot of people used for music like fellow American William Russo's Three Pieces for Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra (Amazon UK). It's never been off the market, though my own old double LP of the piece was more generously coupled than this version -- everyone thinks of using Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue' for one of the other morsels. You do get a Russo piece I'd like to know called 'Street Music' there, though. Its name has me wondering what the man got up to then. A rapper's rhapsody...?
I'm still thinking about classical music and rock chicks combined after that dream of a concerto for the stunning Heather Nova (Wikipedia), which has somehow privately taken off in my head. I can hear the long opening of one of the slow movements, where a wordless vocalise would ease into lyrics of my own devising, and a large chunk of snappy allegro where Ms Nova would get to write the words.
What reminded me to listen to Kirsty is that she did it, combining herself, her band and orchestra on some terrific tracks. One of the finest 'Titanic Days' itself, bringing symphonic instruments slowly in to work up near the end to a climax that winks hard in the direction of Sergeant Pepper. Then when you think the song's done, there comes a smooth, sweet adagio for strings and seagulls in which to hear another wink, this one to the tale of how the orchestra went on playing between the times the liner hit the iceberg and chill water drowned the woodwinds.
Someone I'd let slip again since her tragic death made headlines in 2000, when a speedboat sliced into her in front of her two kids while she was scuba-diving off the Mexican coast, is also a woman with a superb voice who could turn her hand to many musics.
I hate those damned speedboats on the southern French coast, having myself seen two or three near misses with swimmers through stupidity by some rich prat in the Mediterranean and I shouldn't have forgotten Kirsty MacColl. For me, she was a locally born girl during that same youthful period in London's southern suburbs before I started working and in the capital itself.
Kirsty has been my companion today, because last year's re-release of 'Titanic Days' as a truly generous dual CD was a splendid idea. It's a great treat for her fans. Or if you like women "rockers" with a wide musical and emotional range, who are also smart lyricists, and haven't yet heard of Kirsty MacColl, the compilation is a must-have worth six of those five Amazon stars! There's a first time for everything, isn't there?
It's perhaps a little too generous of the Ztt label to have given us five different mixes of 'Angel' as well as the song itself, but what the heck, they are quite fun and don't take up much space that could have gone to something else.
I'm bound to get back to the late MacColl, particularly as an astute lyricist as well as the great musician she was, an ideal, often funny lady to have in my head on a day much about town. While it's right and understandable that a Justice for Kirsty campaign has been under way for some while, given the appalling circumstances of her demise, it would be a terrible thing to let a death that has taken up so much space in the media, including the Net, overshadow the considerable achievements of her brief life.
MacColl was born in 1959, four years after me, in Croydon, the town where I went to school, which frankly had little else to recommend it apart from a first-rate concert hall complex stranded in the middle of a horrendous and then dangerous spaghetti junction, which could well explain my lifelong dislike of cars, especially when used by thousands of single drivers who should be promoting public transport but complain about my smoking instead...
The photo above is pinched from the web site of the band The Pogues not since it's one of them. It could have been anyone with whom Kirsty is sharing a bad habit or two, and being the very sociable creature she was, but such pictures aren't the norm. There's this thing we tend do to with death that means when somebody much and widely loved does "pass on", to use that silly circumlocution, they immediately acquire a halo with the same speed as political leaders too many in the media calls "autocratic" while they're still being complete sons of bitches in office, who then become "dictators" and "mass murderers" the instant they are ousted or kick the bucket.
Everyday bitching and slang is the kind of language Kirsty herself uses in some of her wittiest songs with semi-serious intent, such as 'Bad', about a woman with man trouble who feels she's in sore need of a gun. On this log anyway, such people don't become angels on dying.
I can readily imagine MacColl wondering, "Now what am I meant to do with the wings? I've sung enough about flapping women as it is." But she didn't because of a boat, so let's make the most of what she did. This is no place for weepy, sickly memorials...
For those who've written they're expecting further logged news of my own health, really I'm confining that mostly to phone calls and brief mails now. In a word, I've begun "convalescence". I think everybody's had their fill of bipolar blog pieces, though when it's ruefully funny I'll tell you about recovery.
I knew, however, that it was opening a whopping great picnic basket to bring up symphonic music the other day. You'll certainly get more since it's so good for my centre of gravity apart from anything else, but the "voices of women" themselves will still mostly be popular ones or those whom I'd like to hear better known. It's too late in my life to embark on an operatic career and start telling you about all those ladies.
I've got a more modest concerto to get on with also. Pity I'm the only one who can hear it, perhaps, but then such was the daily street music I made for myself when Kirsty and me walked the same roads...
Oh, and her voice is far better than mine.
7:47:46 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