Excerpt from Autumn Journal by Louis MacNeice

I wanted to write this out as I was having trouble finding this particular except of  MacNeice’s “Autumn Journal”.  As a poem in itself, this excerpt is one of my all-time favourite pieces of literature – it’s just the most romantic, beautiful, human expression of love I’ve ever read.

“September has come and I wake
and I think with joy how whatever, now or in the future, the system
nothing whatever can take
the people away, ther will always be people
for friends or lovers though perhaps
the condistions of love will be changed and its vices diminished
and affection not lapse
to narrow possessiveness, jealousy founded on vanity.
Septamber has come, it is hers,
whose vitality leaps in the autumn,
whose nature prefers
trees without leave and a fire in the fire place;
So I give her this month and the next
though the whole of my year should be hers who has rendered already
so many of its days intolerable or perplexed
but so many more so happy;
who has left a scent on mky life and left my walls
dancing over and over with her shadow,
whose hair is twined in all my waterfalls
and all of London littered with remembered kisses.
So I am glad
that life contains her with her moods and moments
more shifting and more transient than I had
yet thought of as being integral to beauty;
whose mind is like the wind on a sea of wheat,
whose eyes are candour,
and assurance in her feet,
like a homing pigeon never by doubt diverted.
To whom I send my thanks
that the air has become shot silk, the streets are music,
and that the ranks of men are ranks of men, no more of cyphers.
So that if now alone I must pursue this life, it will not be a drag
from numbered stone to numbered stone
but a ladder of angels, river turning tidal.
Off-hand, at times hysterical, abrupt,
you are one I always shall remember,
whom cant can never corrupt
nor argument disinherit
Frivolous, always in a hurry, forgetting the address,
frowning too often, taking enormous notice
of hats and back-chat – how could I assert
the things that make you different?
You whom I remember glad or tired,
smiling in drink or scintillating anger,
inopportunely desired
on boats, on trains, on roads when walking.
Sometimes untidy, often elegant,
so easily hurt, so readily responsive,
to whom a trifle could be an irritant
or could be balm or manna.
Whose words would tumble over each other and pelt
from pure excitement,
whose fingers curl and melt
when you were friendly.
I shall remember you in bed with bright
eyes or in a cafe stirring coffee
abstractedly and on your plate the white
smoking stubs your lips had touched with crimson.
And I shall remember how your words could hurt
because they were so honest
and even your lies were able to attest
integrity of purpose.
And it is on the strength of knowing you
I reckon generous feeling more important
than mere deliberating what to do
when neither the pros nor cons affect the pulses.
And though I have suffered from your special strength
who never flatter for points nor fake responses
I should be proud if I could evolve at length
an equal thrust and pattern.”

Excerpt from Autumn Journal by Louis MacNeice

The live concert as a single, uninterrupted experience.

I went to see Sharon Jones & The Dapkings last night.  Among other things, it reminded me a lot of James Brown’s 1962 album “Live at the Apollo”.  I mean there’s the horns, the backing singers, the R&B.  It was an immensely fun experience and was the closest thing I’ve seen to what I imagine the “Live at the Apollo” show was like.

I’d been listening to the fantastic Sound Opinions podcast retrospective on the Brown album and one of the things that was raised was how Brown created the show that was recorded at the Apollo – but performed countless times before and after – with the aim to make a show that was absolutely arresting in every way, something that was absolutely seamless and completely engrossing and that would hold the audience in thrall throughout the show.  One of the key elements to doing that was having a show that was so polished, so perfectly performed, so well scripted that you simply had no reason or desire to look away.  Even the interludes in the show, short 15 second intervals where Brown was gathering himself, are tightly choreographed with music.

By now if you’re a music fan you’ll have heard the complaint that digital music has killed the album – that being able to pick and choose songs means we’ll never see an album that’s as seamless as, for example, Dark Side of the Moon, again.

And as an extension, it’s generally agreed that live performance is much more important today as a source of income for an artist.  But the way artists are performing live hasn’t really changed along with the shift, as far as I can see.  If live performance’s significance to an artist has increased, surely the amount of craft put into a live performance should increase accordingly.

I’d say about 99% of concerts I’ve been to have followed the format – song played by band, between songs the singer introduces the song/thanks the audience, band plays next song, rinse and repeat.  Perhaps there’s two songs in a row without the patter, but there’s always a break of some kind.  There’s always a pause where the audience can catch it’s breath and remember that they’re not elsewhere, that they are, in fact, just at a rock concert.  That seems like a missed opportunity to me.

So why not think of your live show as a single unit, with the aim of being totally engrossing throughout – what about aiming for 45 mins of seamless choreography, music, sound, light – relentless, uninterrupted entertainment?

I guess my point is that I know I’d spend serious money to have a concert experience today like the one James Brown rolled out in 1962.  And I know I’d be telling everyone I knew about a show like that – just like I’m telling everyone about how great the Dapkings were last night.  That kind of completely immersive escape is what everyone needs now and then.

The live concert as a single, uninterrupted experience.

Sean O’Boyle

Sean O'Boyle Recording Picture

My grandfather, Sean O’Boyle, died 35 years ago today. He was a sound archivist for the BBC in the 1950s during the advent of portable tape recorders, charged with collecting in recorded form “for the purposes of broadcasting, as much of the surviving folk music and local forms of speech as possible” from around Ireland.

The picture is from the summer of 1953 – Mrs Gallagher (over 90 years old) performed 30 songs from memory over 3 hours, 10 in English and 20 in Irish during this recording session.

https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2022/1046/Archivist_7_1_slocombe.pdf?sequence=1

Sean O’Boyle

And one day you’ll wake
long before the sun
with your ribs in tetanic contraction
lungs bruised from breathing.

and know you’ll spend the day
searching for the single wound that caused it all.  As if
breaking what’s happened
into hooded figures
was the answer.

You don’t want to know
that each black moment is made taut
in concert,
like the lugs on a drum skin.

You don’t want to know that tonight
dream-darkness will come again like winter
thick and lidded over the fields
and you’ll stand ice cold and mute
as the mice run away from your feet.

Aside

The blue table cloth on the balcony is wash-faded,
on the water the boats are dry with heat,
clear voices, unintelligible, are rising up from the beach.

Across the port, the peninsula has been scooped out
by some great rolling storm surge.
Shorn into cliff face
Tufts of scrub and rock are dug in like fingernails.

The sea has dried your curls into tight ringlets
amber and brass, they fall to your shoulders like
chains.
You leave the chair and now I can see in it, in the marks on the fabric,
the pressure left by other bodies.

On the white-washed wall there’s one tile, just one,
full and brown and sea-green like a sapling.

I’ll stand in this bare room, stock still
cold creeping up my toes from the concrete floor
walls breathing, like the silence.
the muddy perspex window is smaller than my eyes
my one good eye
sees cold spring finding a way in
past the graying fences.

If I could fly out of here I’d simply find another
standing spot
use my one good eye on the swan, the reeds, the dark shore,
cold still creeping up my legs from the mud.
freed from one small box,
straight into another,
just to stand staring at the water.

Aside

The sea-captain raised an eyebrow and said
“Tell him he can have
my own good name, a mouthful of eggs
all these receipts,
a window smudged with oil, a black cat, black tea, no
milk and a dead mackeral.
He can take this rounded off screw (no rust)
6p, in 2s
and this spoon shined hard with my spit – that’s it.”
I climbed back up the high sides of the ship
to our cabin, elated,
to tell you, finally, who was in charge.

Aside

My Favourite Albums of 2012

So it’s about 3 months later than the rest of the internet, but AT LEAST I’m squeezing it in under the wire of January.  Last year, I posted a chart of my most listened to albums of 2011.  Nothing to do with albums released that year, but based on the cold hard data of my LastFM scrobbles (click to see the charts) – a scrobble is another word for a single track played and that play then noted by LastFM.

I’ve included links to albums and songs from the chart on Spotify, so just click and play if you fancy it.

#tldr version:  Lambchop make me sad and happy at the same time, Field Music have very short songs, The Mountain Goats are angry and I want Paul Buchanan to sing me sleep.

So, here’s the list:

10: The Blue Nile  (252 scrobbles)

I found The Blue Nile’s “Heatwave” from the “Walk Acrosss the Rooftops” album via the Radiohead Office Charts playlist on Spotify (deconstruct THAT, music marketers everywhere 🙂  There’s such a nostalgia to the entire sound of that record, it’s 80s – but not bashing you over the head with it.  I’d been listening to a lot of Talking Heads (later on this list), so I suppose it actually felt like the flip side of the coin – like The Blue Nile were the softer, more playful – even wistful – younger brother of Talking Heads’ angular, dinstinctive pop.  Right in the middle of both bands of course, is that VOICE.  I’d say Paul Buchanan’s voice is just as distinctive as David Byrne’s, and that was really attractive to me – there’s something important (soothing? something I needed a lot this year) not just in what he’s saying, but in the very particular tone of voice he uses to say it.  Same thing as with hip-hop, I suppose.

9:   Here We Go Magic (A Different Ship, mostly) (259 scrobbles)

A funny album this.  The songs are minimal, sparse in arrangement and without any real “surprise” sections i.e. bits of a song that hook in the ear.  I imagine each track as someone who walks into a room, says something fairly unremarkable in a remarkable way, and exits.  No fuss.  I know that sounds like a diss, but it really isn’t.  There’s something very refreshing about the way the songs on this album don’t overthink themselves but are still massively affecting.  A lot of the credit for that has to go to producer Nigel Godrich, I think.  But nevertheless, I found myself coming back to the simplicity of songs like “How Do I Know (if I Love You” with it’s jubiliant “a-whoo-woo”s at the songs apex.

8:   Master & Dog (268 scrobbles)

Well, this is new.  Master & Dog represent the first “local” band that I’ve had in my year’s Top 10 – full disclosure, the lads are friends of mine.  Belfast based Master & Dog released their first album this year and after one or two listens, it just worked for me – very quickly – and I kept coming back to it.  Number #1 reason for this?  It just SOUNDS beautiful.  “The Way That You Stand” is the standout track for me, but you could really pick 5 or 6 songs that are just exemplary in terms of pure soundcraft.  The music and arrangements are so nuanced and beautiful that it unfolds for you on every listen – you can actually hear the love and effort put into crafting this record and it really is a beautiful listen.  They’d released the single “Canada” in 2011, and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t taken with it at all – it’s a bit over-long without any significant changes in direction.  But in the context of this beautifully crafted, inexorably sad, dark and emotionally crushing record, it’s a wonderful and forgiving lift.

7:   Deerhoof (271 scrobbles)

Can’t really say much more about Deerhoof and what they’ve meant to me over the years and this year as well.  I ran back to their seminal record “The Runners Four” a few times (the ideal place to start if you’re new to them).  Last year’s Deerhoof Vs. Evil is still a favourite and their new album in 2012 “Breakup Song” got LOTS of time from me.  It’s the same thing as always, and why I love them:  they write songs that seem to be constantly careening toward chaos, songs that are barely distinguishable as songs: – all blasting drums and screaming guitars, that are hemmed in by some of the loveliest wee riffs.  They’re a complete music maelstrom, and I LOVE being in the middle of that sometimes.  But they’re also COMPLETELY unpredictable – they write a mind-bender of an album like Breakup Song, then they come back with THIS piece of gorgeous, straight ahead pop last year too called “Sexy/Sparkly” – go download it for free on Bandcamp, you’ll thank me.  LOVE YOU DEERHOOF.

6:   The Mountain Goats (287 scrobbles)

I think it was my friend Lisa who’d mentioned The Mountain Goat’s main-man John Darnielle on Facebook that got me thinking I wanted to seek him out again.  2006’s The Sunset Tree got a lot of positive reviews and I enjoyed it back then, but it was a little dark for my mindset at the time, and John’s nasal delivery and razor clear yet  dark, self-punishing lyrics turned me off at the time.  I needed some harsh reality in my music in 2013 (as my obsession with Lambchop (below) will further show) and BOY do Mountain Goats deliver.  We Shall Be Healed, Tallahassee and Transcendental Youth have basically been on repeat for 6 weeks at this stage.  Each record is remarkably different (Transcendental Youth having a distinct bitter-Sufjan-Stevens flavour, all horns and rock riffs) with the other two having much more the confessional song-writer vibe to them.  But he never cloys, you can tell he’s lived the vitriol he’s spitting out and that shit is NOT OK.  And that’s OK.  Have a listen to “Against Pollution“, “Slow West Vultures” or “No Children” for a flavour.  John Darnielle will not bullshit you, will not sugar coat anything, and he’ll do so by describing perfectly the most mundane situations, with just the right amount of anger.

5:   Dirty Projectors (297 scrobbles)

This entry’s probably a bit more of a cop-out.  Although they released their new album this year, I can’t honestly remember the name of it and I’ve probably only listened to it 2-3 times.  It just hasn’t stuck with me but I know it will eventually – I just don’t have the energy to give to the record yet.  So these plays are mostly from 2011’s Bitte Orca coz it’s one of my fave records ever and sometimes you just need to be comforted by familiarity.  I don’t want things to be new ALL the time.

4:   Grizzly Bear (315 scrobbles)

GB have been a favourite for years but unlike Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear’s 2012 album “Shields” stuck immediately.  It’s hard to describe what I love most about Grizzly Bear, but I suppose I’ll let the drummer in me speak first.  Probably because Chris Bear is a multi-instrumentalist first, and drummer second, he’s able to do things on the drums that I think are completely unique in modern indie/rock.  He reminds me a bit of Glenn Kotche from Wilco in his understanding of music rather than just drums.  For example, I admire Everything Everything’s drummer for his chops, but he’s not even in the same league as Bear in terms of musicality, of lifting the songs with rhythm.  I suppose himself and Kotche are two of the drummers currently around to whom I’d most aspire, and that’s fun to listen to.  But unlike Kotche who, it seems, has to release a solo record to really show his musicality – his skills seem very hemmed in by the songwriting of Wilco – you can really hear Bear’s musical influence across everything Grizzly Bear have released.

3:   Talking Heads (316 scrobbles)

This is a weird one, too – I’ve been a fan for years, but early this year I really couldn’t NOT listen to Talking Heads – Remain in Light, ’77 and Speaking in Tongues in particular.  I think it started when my friend Amy posted David Byrne’s TED talk about the relationship between architecture and music.  It reminded me how much I wanted to just walk about in Byrne’s head for a while.  Then, of course, there’s his VOICE; which is both nervous and confident, neurotic and full-steam ahead.  That paradox really spoke to me I think in the bleakness of February.  There’s something under the skin of these albums, something hidden in plain sight – an uncompromising stance, an all-in, who-gives-a-fuck? attitude that during REALLY weird times for me, the music served as a reminder that often there’s simply no way out but through.

2:   Lambchop (Is A Woman, OH (Ohio) and Damaged, mostly) (637 scrobbles)

There seems to be a lot about my relationship with Lambchop that is duplicated with The Mountain Goats.  I think I was seeking a lack of bullshit, a lack of hype, or skinny jeans posturing and just COURAGE.  Yeah, that’s it.  I wanted to listen to music that was COURAGEOUS, that didn’t flinch, that didn’t balk at pain or lonliness or despair and order another round to forget the messes it’d made or hide reality behind a blanket of hand-wringing, obscure lyrical spouting or musical noodling.  JUST GIVE IT TO ME STRAIGHT, PEOPLE.  I’ve well and truly had enough of this “och, it’ll all be OK, let’s have another drink and get on with it” bullshit.  It completely fucking negates peoples ACTUAL experience, and thus completely negates people.  So thank god for Lambchop – the vocals are droll, the lyrics so often drunken, mundane, unrevealing – other than for the pure power of the metaphors he uses.  But it’s not miserable music, either – there is such beauty – actual, honest to goodness LOVE in here –  in songs like “Prepared”, “Hold of You” and “Beers before the Barbican”.   Like Master & Dog’s album, you can hear the care with which these songs are recorded and arranged – but there’s a ramshackle element, a bed-head and un-tidied apartment sound to everything, like it’s all just been thrown together before they rushed out the door to work.  This might be a bit deep, but I love the paradox this music brings to me: – It says “everything’s a fucking mess, it’s crushingly painful but when you speak about it, keep that pain in i – keep that hate, that despair in it – don’t be afraid to.  Because THAT’S where the beauty is. ” 

1:   Field Music (1,117 scrobbles) 

Ah, Field Music.  I make no apologies for the utter nerdiness of this band.  Last year’s show in the Black Box was peopled primarily by 25-35 y/o males in thick rimmed glasses.  Field Music are our Justin Bieber – we’d scream uncontrollably if we weren’t so concerned about keeping our shit together so we can appear disinterested.  The fandom at the merch table after the show allowed a wee bit of hero worship though.  I’ve said everything I possible could hope to about Field Music’s Mercury-nominated 2012 album “Plumb” in this article – go read it.  Suffice to say, for the purposes of this chart, none of the tracks on “Plumb” clock in longer than 3:59, which would explain why they’ve got so many scrobbles on the chart. Still means I listened to the album 75 times this year, which is A LOT.   

My Favourite Albums of 2012

Sunday notes & errata

Thinking about: “There can be no question:  the psychological dangers through which earlier generations were guided by the symbols and spiritual exercises of they mythological and religious inheiritance, we today (in so far as we are unbelievers, or, if believers, in so far as our inherited beliefs fail to represent the real problems of contemporary life) must face alone, or, at best, with only tentative, impromptu, and not often very effective guidance.  This is our problem as modern “enlightened” individuals, for whom all gods and devils have been rationalized out of existence.” Joseph Campbell

Also, BEST POEM.  love love love.

Antilamentation by Dorianne Laux:

Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook.
Not the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication.
Not the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punchline, the door, or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don’t regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.
You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed
coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You’ve walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs
window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied
of expectation. Relax. Don’t bother remembering any of it.
Let’s stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.

 

Sunday notes & errata

There’s no such thing as a “standard” language.

I’ve been fascinated for years with language but specifically the constant struggle between language as its spoken, and language as it should be spoken.  If you have an opinion on this, and even if you don’t, an interesting experiment is to consider the word “literally”.  If people who use “literally” as an intensifier (a la Jamie Redknapp in that article “That pass to Rooney was literally on a plate”) make your blood boil, you’re probably in the prescriptivist camp.  If you’re a bit more laissez faire – mainly because what Jamie’s saying makes sense to most people who’ll hear it – you’re probably more a language descriptivist.

I’m more in the descriptivist camp – prescriptivists with whom I’ve talked have argued that the main reason for their stance on “proper” usage is primarily due to intelligibility.  We can and need to better understand each other – if we’re all singing off the same hymn-sheet, they argue, there’s less chance of confusion and thus less chance of misunderstanding.  Holding language this way, there’s a respect created in the combustibility of language – the very nature of its ability to change someone’s mood for the worse, or to start an all out war – means that the rules must be taken seriously if we’re to reduce that chance.  In short:  language is important, so don’t be flippant with it.

I can see where this idea has its merits:  in communicating vital or factual information, for example, intelligibility is paramount.  But what I find most difficult about this view, is the fact that in any linguistic communication there are always two parties.   I feel in the majority of cases – when people are communicating opinions, thoughts or especially emotion, the writer or speaker must to some extent respect the intelligence of the reader/listener.  In these cases, it’s the writer’s prerogative and perhaps even the writer’s duty to press the bounds of intelligibility in order to fully express what he’s trying to say – “life’s potential for adjustability and transformation; with a reality of shifting proportions, surprising angles and creative awrynesses.  (writers) show us that if the world is a mirror of thoughts, no straightforwardly literal statement will ever be enough to help us see it more clearly”.  But again, let’s not read this as permission to be flippant with language – as the article above points out, Rushdie & Joyce were very selective in their misuses of English.

But the most pressing evidence for the descriptivist case is the fact that “literally” is in very good company – very and really evolved in the same way – ““very” itself evolved from “true, real, genuine” via “actual, sheer” to its current role as intensifier.” – “Language, in all its glory, is the most complete, the most complex, and perhaps the most beautiful of all humanity’s creations. It is irrational, illogical, arbitrary, clever, dumb, rich, poor, deluded and enlightened. In that respect, it is a perfect match for mankind’s view of the world, which is irrational, illogical, arbitrary, clever, dumb, rich, poor, deluded and enlightened in equal measure. To refuse to see this cornucopia as anything but a nice plate with one kind of food arranged in one kind of pattern, is the highest sin a professed lover of language can commit.”

I don’t think either position is “right” per se, but it’s here I find again the delicious face of paradox staring back at me once again.  The poet, the words-craftsman and artist, carefully selects each word, phrase and syllable to fit a very particular package of communication, a very particular message within a poem.  And yet within that delicate, highly intricate craft there are vast mountains of interpretability – metaphors mostly, but also familiar images and signs – some even subconscious – that are only opened and fully realized when the reader approaches the page and finally puts his experience to the poet’s words.  The poem is a relic without the reader.

And this is where the prescriptivist stance toward language falls down.  When you discount the input of the listener by insisting that language is prepared and presented in a certain way, you can eliminate certain misunderstandings.  But you’re also ignoring what a glorious mess language – and life – really is.  Language breathes, and it’s cycled through people and filtered back out again into something new.  And that is the essence of creativity – language is irrational, gloriously so.

 

There’s no such thing as a “standard” language.