Tuesday, January 26, 2016

BAMS 2015: Were we even at the same year?

Now, I definitely wasn’t going to do a list of favourite records this year, because I hadn’t put in the legwork (earwork?) as usual, etc., etc. I apologised to Mike, and he said ‘oh go on’, so I did after all, hoping to bolster The Chills into a good position as I knew he loved Silver Bullets too. And do you know what? It wasn’t enough. In fact, nothing in my list made it into their list at all. Theirs is over there, with lots more on Twitter too; and here are the lovely seeds I cast upon their cold hard ground:
  1. Max Richter – Sleep
  2. The Chills – Silver Bullets
  3. Robert Forster – Songs To Play
  4. Four Tet – Morning / Evening
  5. Ela Orleans – Upper Hell
  6. Rozi Plain – Friend
  7. This Is The Kit – Bashed Out
  8. Twerps – Range Anxiety
  9. Mdou Moctar – Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai OST
  10. Flying Saucer Attack – Instrumentals 2015

Saturday, January 16, 2016

David Bowie

Monday morning, the day before my fortieth birthday, I went into the shower and switched on the radio. Nick Robinson was sort-of apologising for cutting an interview short, saying excitedly that they were pressed for time because of ‘the extraordinary news about David Bowie’. He was much too excited, actually, without seeming to give a damn for anything but the News Event side of it (mental note: stop listening to his programme). It seemed impossible news, three days after Bowie’s new album came out on his birthday. That’s not what happened the last time an album came out on his birthday. We know the drill now: he’s back, but he doesn’t want to talk. He’ll put out records that try to be David Bowie records again, and we’ll love him for it, even if they don’t quite manage to be. Maybe they even will, and he’ll close in on Scott Walker in terms of an accelerated late blossoming. ★ sounded good on Saturday, kept its tone better than The Next Day, I thought. He’s cleared the cobwebs, we’re ready for the off. I’m sure he won’t mind that I never bothered with Heathen, Reality, ‘Hours…’ or Earthling. He certainly won’t now, although looking online for Jon Wilde’s Melody Maker review of Tin Machine II, I found the aftermath: ‘Bowie’s PR later told me that Bowie read it and cried when he got to the last line. I’m not proud of that.’ The last line, from memory: ‘Sit down man, you’re a bloody disgrace’. He did care about the battering his reputation took, and the music press, in those days, could be as vicious as the tabloid press still is now. Wilde’s review set out the good against the bad, and contained a list of songs (‘Win’, ‘TVC 15’, ‘Heroes’, ‘Ashes to Ashes’) which served as a handy guide to the recent reissues of all those great ’70s albums. It was archetypal: don’t even think of listening to anything outside the Space Oddity-to-Scary Monsters window. That was the drill then. And now? It’s too late to be hateful. That’s a liberating thing.

Friday morning, 23rd January 1976. Eleven days old, I precociously set Station to Station on the turntable… well maybe not. But in 1991, I lapped up those re-issues. Ziggy Stardust makes me think of a nursery called Tiggywinkles at which I did work experience, and snuck in a first listen on the walk there from school, having borrowed it from Wolverhampton Central Library at lunchtime. Low makes me think of Florida, where you’re supposed to go to enjoy theme parks, but I still found a record shop and bought that. Back home, I got a non-re-issue of Aladdin Sane from Time Machine records, which someone had presumably sold in order to upgrade. “Heroes” was in Esso’s Tiger Tokens catalogue, and Dad kindly came through there. I don’t remember where I got Hunky Dory from, which probably means it was HMV. At university, my friend and flatmate Brian had a good line of argument about how dark Hunky Dory is. ‘And don’t give me that about “Fill Your Heart”, it’s a cover’. He listened to Bowie and Marvin Gaye non-stop, and I must admit this over-exposure over several years put me off a bit. He was more in love with the musicianship of the records than I was: another argument we had was about Bowie’s voice, which I said wasn’t that great, and he immediately walked off down a side street. He was right there, but what I was getting at was something to do with artifice and lack of warmth (Brian Wilson was my counter-argument). Momus’ beautiful tribute blog post has a riposte to that, playing with the idea that his death is a hoax:
He’d vicariously lap up the tributes, relish the tears, laughing at our sentimentality about someone we stereotyped, sometimes, as cocaine-cold, when in fact he was a histrionic volcano of emotion.
Poor Momus. Poor Brian. I hope they’re OK. I hope the explosion of affection there has been for Bowie on social media (which Brian probably hates) continues for a good while yet. It feels deserved, and Bowie’s exit feels like a riposte, itself, to the ’90s-and-onwards music press narrative. He’s outsmarted them all, with a move at once Pop and inarguably authentic. He has shown us that there is no such divide. Jon Wilde complained in 1991 that he couldn’t (or didn’t) do breathtaking anymore. With the last breath in his body, he has taken ours one last time. It’s not too late to be grateful.

Friday, January 01, 2016


My nephew (2¾) is going through a Rapunzel phase at the moment. I think it originated with Tangled, but it takes in every version of the story he can get, not to mention every tower, and every ribbon or rope he can make believe is Rapunzel’s hair. Visiting over Christmas, I read several versions of the story, and found some interesting differences. There is some censorship going on, I think, but also some Chinese whispers. At the beginning of the story, a woman looks from a window at her neighbour’s garden, and is overcome with a desire to eat something she sees growing there: either salad, lettuce, or rampion, depending on the version. The word ‘rampion’ is related to ‘rapunzel’, so it would make sense for that to be the right one. My dictionary traces both words back to ‘rapum’ (turnip) in Latin, and defines it as ‘A kind of bellflower, Campanula rapunculus, of which the white tuberous roots are sometimes used as a salad.’ Botanical.com has this:
The larger roots are reserved for boiling, sometimes the young roots are eaten raw with vinegar and pepper, and occasionally the leaves, as well as the roots, are eaten as a winter salad.
If the leaves of the plant are only occasionally used, it could be that there has been a misunderstanding of ‘salad’ with some of the translations and re-tellings, equating it with lettuce. The version of the story S. remembers has radishes as the tempting vegetable, which opens an intriguing link to The Tale of Peter Rabbit, another of my nephew’s favourites, also about stealing produce from a garden.

The husband steals the salad leaves, lettuce or rampion, and when he goes back for more the next day, gets caught by the owner of the garden, a witch. She demands his wife’s baby – if she has one – in payment for the stolen goods. In the old Ladybird version, there is no hint that the wife is pregnant at this point (she is described as thin), so the husband’s agreement to these terms comes over as a gamble that she will not conceive. This version makes little sense: if she’s starving, lettuce won’t help much, and in all the other versions it is the pregnancy which explains the unusual craving. To have the husband give up a baby he knows is coming makes for a better story, and makes clear the strength of the desire behind the craving. A different Ladybird version (two pages of which are available online) removes another of the story’s edges, having the witch steal the baby, rather than the parents handing her over.

Rapunzel meets a prince, who visits her by night, climbing up her hair as the witch does during the day, bringing her material from which to make a rope (he couldn’t just bring her a ready-made rope?) All versions agree that she gives the game away by telling the witch in an unguarded moment that she is heavier than the prince. None of them mention that she gets pregnant herself during one of the prince’s visits until later, and the more modern versions leave this out completely. When the witch surprises the prince and he falls and blinds himself in a thorn bush, I think of Rochester in Jane Eyre; in fact, that kind of symbolic event works much better in a fairy tale than a realist novel. Symbolic of what, though? The mystery and power of the story (and of many fairy tales) lies partly in the fact that it is not an allegory, I think. There is a point being made about the danger of desire – for rapunzel the plant, Rapunzel the baby, Rapunzel the woman, and (from her perspective) for the prince. It’s not exactly a warning, more an actuating force, driving events through contortions that only really come to make sense through repeated readings, when they become inevitable, but never quite lose their weird fascination. ‘No door,’ my nephew will explain, given half a chance. ‘Long, long hair’.


‘Rapunzel’ at Adelaide Ebooks.
More illustrations.

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