Jonathan Richman and the Handwritten Interview

    Great story about interviewing Jonathan Richman, by writing a letter to him and receiving one back.

    ‘Jonathan doesn’t use the internet, email etc. and has never owned a computer or cell phone.’

    – Oscar Zambuto, An interview with American music legend Jonathan Richman – all in handwriting

    Though he does have an assistant who can say that.

    Mark E Smith (Co-)Wrote a Screenplay

    A screenplay by Mark E Smith, cowritten with Graham Duff? Sounds like it could have been great:

    … Smith was an unexplored writer of strange fiction. Duff sums up the narrative of the film: “Essentially, the Fall are trying to record an EP at a studio on Pendle Hill, while the surrounding countryside is at the mercy of a satanic biker gang and a squad of Jacobites who have slipped through a wormhole in time.”

    – John Doran, Satanic bikers, time portals and the Fall: the story of Mark E Smith’s secret screenplay

    Never made, sadly, but it’s coming out as a book: The Otherwise: The Screenplay for a Horror Film That Never Was.

    ‘New single by Belly': not what you expect to see on your phone in 2021. Thanks, MusicHarbor.

    However, as I wrote in ‘Colliding Names,’ back in October, this is a different performer with the same name. The Wikipedia article tells us that ‘our’ Belly are active again, though.

    A Year Passes Like Nothing

    It’s exactly a year since I last went out to an event.1

    I referred to ‘being out on a cold, virus-infested night’ to see Glen Matlock in Leytonstone, and it seems really weird now that I did it.

    What were we thinking? Gathering together in a small hall, where people were singing and shouting. And not a mask to be seen! Masks? who had masks? How would we have drunk our beer while wearing a mask? You probably wouldn’t have been let in if you had turned up wearing a mask.

    Although I had good social distancing at the start, when I was almost the only one there.

    Memory, eh?

    1. I actually thought it was on the last day of February 2020, which was the 29th, not the 28th, making it hard to hit the exact anniversary, but my blog and calendar both tell me I was wrong. ↩︎

    Xstabeth by David Keenan (Books 2020, 29)

    Following on from number 27, then, we have David Keenan’s latest novel. Again we’re in a kind of magic-realist setting, without any obvious magic. In St Petersburg a young woman lives with her father, who is a failed or fading musician. The daughter – who is the viewpoint character – starts a relationship with her father’s friend, and gets pregnant. She keeps all of this from her father.

    Her father, meanwhile, puts on a show at which he performs some seemingly-otherworldly music. He starts to believe that it was actually created by some sort of mystical entity called Xstabeth.

    For reasons that escape me at the moment they go to St Andrews,1 where they get involved with a professional golfer. The ‘tenuous, ambiguous, confusing event’ that I referred to in the earlier note happens from this side too, but you’d only notice it if you’d read The Towers The Fields The Transmitters.

    The novel is presented as if it were an academic work about a novel calle Xstabeth, by someone called ‘David Keenan,’ who killed himself by jumping from a tower in St Andrews. So there are cod-academic sections or extracts between the chapters.

    It’s all very meta, and I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure I totally understood it. The strangest thing about it, in some ways, is the use of punctuation. Almost the only punctuation used is the full stop. But that doesn’t just mean he’s avoided using commas and semicolons, and constructed appropriately short sentences. It reads as if he wrote it with conventional punctuation around dialogue and so on, and then replaced every other mark with the full stop.

    For example, consider this:

    This is singular. He said. This is music that cannot be repeated. This is music that can never be toured. This is music that can never be applauded. I pointed out to him that there was applause on the record. Muted Applause. Awkward applause. Uncomprehending applause. But still. Applause. What is the sound of one audience member clapping. I asked him. He laughed. Yes. He said. Yes. Yes. There is no mechanic in the world for this music. He said.

    A more conventional way to punctuate that and lay it out, might be:

    ‘This is singular,’ he said. ‘This is music that cannot be repeated; this is music that can never be toured; this is music that can never be applauded.’

    I pointed out to him that there was applause on the record. Muted applause; awkward applause; uncomprehending applause; but still: applause.

    ‘What is the sound of one audience member clapping?’ I asked him.

    He laughed. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘yes, yes. There is no mechanic in the world for this music,’ he said.

    There are, of course, other ways you could present it. As an experimental way of presenting text, it’s interesting enough. I found it intruded, in that I constantly noticed it; but not so much as to be annoying. Though there were places where it was slightly confusing. I paid particular attention to it because we recently discussed ways to present dialogue on my course.

    1. Still needs an apostrophe. ↩︎

    Honestly, it’s great: I love the fact that I can stream all the albums in the world for one flat monthly fee.

    I just wish that so many of them didn’t end their titles with ‘(Expanded Edition)’.

    Or at least that the ‘Original Edition’ was there too.

    The soundtrack for today starts with Earthquake Weather. How can Joe Strummer have been dead for eighteen years already?

    I know, that’s just the way time works. The music lives on.

    Colliding Names

    A few years ago I wrote about how I was notified about the wrong band called (The) Nails. In that case the names were different, though only by the subtle presence or absence of the definite article. Things have got even more confusing recently.

    I have an app on my phone called Music Harbor (sic). The idea is, you give it access to your music library, and it notifies you of forthcoming releases by artists you already have tracks by. It sometimes throws up some oddities, like people I’ve never heard of just because they’re ‘featured’ on something I have. But mostly it’s pretty good. It’s how I know that Bruce Springsteen has a new album coming out in a few days, for example.

    A few years back I heard a track called ‘Bass Down Low,’ by someone called Dev. I liked it, both musically and lyrically. I mean, it’s not profound, but ‘I like my beats fast and my bass down low’ is a sentiment I can get behind.

    So there was a new track by Dev out today. However, the guy rapping on ‘El Erb’, is not, I feel sure, Dev, the female singer & rapper of ‘Bass Down Low.’

    It’s also a scunner of a name to search for, what with it being an abbreviation for developer, the TV show, and Google completely owning the .dev top-level domain.

    Multiple people with the same name: it’s a problem. It’s why actors have Equity names, I guess.

    Still, there should be no problem with the early nineties Scottish indiepoppers Bis, right? Who’d have thought they’d be back with a new single, this long after ‘The Secret Vampire EP’?

    No-one, it turns out. This Bis is someone else (and his single ‘Streets’ is also nothing to do with The Streets).1 It’s also hard to search for, not least because it’s an abbreviation for several different organisations. I even used to work for a company called BIS.

    I don’t think the English language is running out of names, but if you’re planning on using a short one as your professional persona or brand, you probably want to check out whether or not someone has already used it in your field. Though it’s not always that easy, as I’ve noted.

    There’s even a music magazine called Clash, which has nothing to do with The Clash.

    Still, ‘Sugar sugar kandy pop/Push it down and pull it up,’ as I’m sure we can all agree.

    1. Shit, and I’ve just found out he was murdered last year. ↩︎

    It’s funny when you hear the DJ on BBC 6Music saying, ‘I borrowed some records from the John Peel Archive’; and then you realise it’s Tom Ravenscroft. ‘I got some records from my dad’s collection’ doesn’t sound quite so… distinguished.

    Listening to the Bikini Kill Peel Session, and it does have Peel’s intros. So good to hear his voice again.

    Peel Sessions

    Warren Ellis draws our attention to this incredible listing of links to Peel Sessions. They’re on YouTube, so there’s always the chance that any of them will go away, but in the meantime, what a resource.

    Got to ask, why doesn’t the BBC make this available officially?

    I have only one complaint about that page: it needs use stop-words in its sorting, or otherwise deal with bands called ‘The’ Something. I scrolled down to the ‘F’ section and thought, ‘Well there’s a bit of a large gap here, surely?’ Until I scrolled down to ‘T’, where we find The Fall.

    Also, it would be even better if we had Peelie’s introductions, but I guess those aren’t in the released versions.

    I’m listening to Dolly Mixture as I write. Who remembers them? Well, hardly even me, to be honest. But they introduce themselves in their very first track.

    The Beat(les) Generation is Slipping Away

    Sad to read in The Guardian that Astrid Kirchherr1 has died. She was 81. That’s not a bad age, and it’s not like I had followed her career. I just knew her as a photographer who had worked with The Beatles, and been Stuart Sutcliffe’s partner till he died.

    But from my early reading of Beatles books – like The Beatles: An Illustrated Record – onward, I was aware of her as part of their story, their mythology.

    More than that, though, as the article above, as well as her obituary, will tell you: she was the one who gave them their early look. She made them the “lovable moptops.” They’d have been successful without the haircuts, of course, but there’s no denying the importance of that early image.

    I think I’m saddened more because of what her death represents. I was born the year The Beatles took America. They had long split up by the time I developed any musical awareness.2 But they were the first band I really got interested in, when my sister gave me a tape. They were my favourites until punk came along, and I love them still.

    But that whole generation is ageing – well, who isn’t, of course – and will soon be gone. And mine not too far behind it. So what it all comes down to is that Astrid’s death reminds me of my own mortality, and there’s no excuse for that!

    Brilliant photos, though.

    1. I note that I always thought her name was Kirchnerr. But there’s no “n” to be found. ↩︎

    2. Though I did shock my grandma when I was very small, by singing “Obla-di, Obla-da.” She thought I was “swearing”. And it might have been The Marmalade’s version that I’d heard at that time. ↩︎

    No More...

    Sad to hear of the death of Dave Greenfield from Covid-19. The Stranglers were not really like other punk bands. But they were the band that got me into punk. I heard ‘No More Heroes’ on the radio one weekend, after hearing my school friends talk about punk, and I never really looked back.

    I never saw them live, and I didn’t follow their career after the first three or four albums; but there’s a lot of good stuff in those early ones.

    Greenfield is, I think, the first musician of that generation to die from the pandemic.

    The Clash On Display

    Paul Simenon’s Smashed Bas
    Paul Simenon’s Smashed Bass

    My favourite band have become a museum piece.

    Or at least, some of their instruments, clothing, lyrics, and memorabilia are in an exhibition which the Museum of London1 has been running since the fortieth anniversary of London Calling in December. I popped along today.

    Clash Shirts and Guitars
    Clash Shirts and Guitars

    It’s small, but pretty good. The centrepiece is Paul Simenon’s smashed bass from the famous cover photo. It lies under glass on a red velvet cushion, like a fallen warrior lying in state (see above).

    It’s actually kind of gruesome. “That’s no way to treat an expensive musical instrument,” as someone once said.

    Joe Strummer’s White Telecaster
    Joe Strummer’s White Telecaster

    I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know, I don’t think. Except maybe that Joe had a backup white Telecaster, that I don’t think I’ve ever seen him use, either live, in video, or in photos. His iconic black one is in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, I believe. Or another museum.

    Oh, and see the poster in that shot? “Two for a fiver”? When I bought London Calling it was only £3.99. Both times, as I’ve written about before.

    Anyway, worth checking out, especially since it’s free. My main complaint: there are a lot of songs that could have been playing, even if they kept it to the relevant album. Instead they had a loop of just three (“London Calling,” “Train in Vain,” and “Clampdown,” the latter two live versions).

    Big Display of the London Calling cover
    Big Display of the London Calling cover

    1. Which I had never before visited, in thirty-two years living here. 

    Glen Matlock Remembers How to Rock, but Nearly Forgets the Songs That Put Him Where He Is

    Glen Matlock doesn’t seem to have much time for the past, except the past as he sees it. Cover versions of the New York Dolls, or one or other size of The Faces, are fine. But the songs that he co-wrote? The songs that are responsible for what fame he has — for 200 people being out on a cold, virus-infested night, to see him?

    Those songs — that single song, in fact 1 — is relegated to the encore.

    Glen Matlock and his band at the Red Lion Ballroom in Leytonstone
    Glen Matlock and his band at the Red Lion Ballroom in Leytonstone

    There’s nothing wrong with keeping your best-known songs for the encore, of course. But when the ticket site said “Curfew: 10:30,” and it’s 10:27 and there hasn’t been a single Pistols song, you can start to get a bit twitchy.

    On the plus side, he did introduce “Pretty Vacant” by saying, “This is ‘SOS’,” referring to his borrowing of the intro riff from the Abba song.

    It was a good night, though. His originals and the covers were all fine. It’s just that, if you heard a no-name pub band playing those songs — well, you wouldn’t bother going out specially for it.

    The night was billed as “Glen Matlock + Earl Slick.” I’m embarrassed to admit I had to look up who Slick was. Turns out he only replaced Mick Ronson in Bowie’s band, and worked with John & Yoko! And now he’s playing lead guitar in Glen Matlock’s band. Oh well.

    1. There’s no point in asking what that is. You’ll get no reply. 

    Eyes Full of Tinsel and Fire

    Christmas is the time of year when the devil doesn’t have all the best tunes. The other side gets some of them too.

    I love Christmas songs. Not all of them. of course, but many. And that includes some of the Christmas carols. A full choir singing ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing,’ or ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’? I’m there.

    The best Christmas songs, though, do belong to the — let’s say — secular side of things. I have a hierarchy of my personal favourites. Things move around a bit, and very occasionally new ones arrive; and you won’t be surprised to learn that ‘Fairytale of New York’ remains unassailable in the top spot.

    One of my other favourites is Greg Lake’s 1975 hit, ‘I Believe in Father Christmas.’ Now, if you haven’t listened to the words too closely — written, I’m surprised to discover, by Peter Sinfield, of whom I had barely heard before researching this — you might think it’s a simple celebration of Christmas, set to a jaunty tune, much like Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody,’ from a couple of years earlier (and every year since). It’s not, though. It’s much darker and more interesting than that:

    They sold me a dream of Christmas
    They sold me a Silent Night
    They told me a fairy story
    Till I believed in the Israelite

    And that closing couplet:

    Hallelujah, Noel, be it Heaven or hell
    The Christmas we get we deserve

    Lake and Sinfield have argued that it’s not anti-religious or atheistic. Well, you can have your interpretation, guys. I know what I think.

    I mainly wrote this because I’ve wanted to use the line I’ve stolen as a title for years. And I’ll leave you with the wishes the song provides:

    I wish you a hopeful Christmas
    I wish you a brave New Year

    I think we’re all going to need some hope and some bravery in 2020.

    Calling From London

    Forgetting for a minute the slightly-disappointing conclusion of a 42-year-old story that we spoke about the other day, this month gives us the 40th anniversary of an even more significant creation, for me at least.

    The Clash released London Calling in December 1979. Rolling Stone went on to call it the best album of the 80s, but it got a later release in America. And in any case, many wouldn’t have heard it until 1980. 1

    Including me. I remember being at school, at the start of a term, so it must have been January, and Watty saying, “I envy you: you haven’t heard London Calling yet.” That idea of how important the first listen is. I’ve said similar things myself over the years, about various things.

    But honestly, I couldn’t tell you anything about my first hearing. I had probably heard the title track — it was a single, after all — and I went and bought the album, most likely at John Menzies in Dumbarton (though maybe at Hall Audio, the nearby hi-fi shop, or Woolies, or Boots, who used to sell records in those days). I do know it cost £3.99, because the band took a reduction in their royalties so it — a double album — could be sold at the same price as a single album. Excellent value, for one of the greatest records ever made.

    Though I paid for it a couple more times over the years. Someone walked off with my copy during a party at my student flat in Edinburgh. I replaced it with a second-hand copy, probably from Record Shak (sic) on Clerk Street. Though possibly that was much later and in London. I had a tape of it to tide me over. I do know that the replacement cost the same: £3.99.

    The CD must have cost me a bit more, but I didn’t get that until the 25th-anniversary version, with The Vanilla Tapes, the rehearsal-room recordings of early versions of several of the songs.

    I could probably tell you a few things about the 7852 2 times I’ve heard it subsequently, though. But it would be better for you to listen to it yourself.

    And lastly, just a reminder that tomorrow is the 17th anniversary of Joe Strummer’s death.

    1. Or at any time in the intervening 40 years, to be fair. 
    2. Approximately. 

    You Gev It Away

    I got Whammed1 in the bakery this afternoon. Walked in, took my earphones out, and, Wham! there it was. George Michael geving his heart to someone. Ever noticed that? He doesn’t say “gave,” he says “gev.” My daughter pointed this out a couple of years back, and now I can’t unhear it.

    Oh well, there was never a chance of not hearing it, and to be honest, I don’t hate it like I used to. Remember back when we thought that bands like Wham! or Duran Duran were somehow “the enemy”? Those were stupid ideas. Music is music, and people have different tastes. Let’s let everyone enjoy what they like without judging them.

    The most amusing part was that I heard a little girl in the queue behind me saying to her mum, “I just got Whammed.”

    Also it’s odd that I haven’t heard ‘Fairytale of New York’ yet this year, except as a weird brass band version that was on the telly advertising some programme.

    1. Sense 2 at the time of writing. There doesn’t seem to be a way to link to a specific definition, which is surprising. 

    Jason & Dan

    If you saw my post the other day complaining about typography, you might have been confused. I went to see Jason & The Scorchers last Friday. They were playing in a co-headline tour with the Kentucky Headhunters and Dan Baird & Homemade Sin.

    On the night we saw them, the order they took the stage was: Headhunters, Scorchers, Homemade Sin.

    That was completely the wrong order, at least for the audience at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire on that night. The energy and connection of the Scorchers meant that the peak for the whole event came as they finished their set — in the middle of the evening.

    No doubt you think I just think that because I’m a fan of the Scorchers, and not particularly of Dan Baird. And there is some truth to that. But I watched the last twenty minutes or so from off to one side — OK, I was standing at the bar — so I had a good view of the front of the crowd; and it was clear that they weren’t as excited, as into it, as involved, as they had been an hour before.

    No matter, it was still a great night, and I’m sure some people were happy that the running order was that way round. What drove me to post that picture, though, was the distraction that backdrop caused me. I couldn’t really appreciate the music for staring at it.

    In case it’s not obvious to you, take a look at the ampersand, and tell me how there’s any possible way it can make sense in that orientation.

    The Beats: a Very Short Introduction (Books 2019, 4)

    The Beats VSI alongside a heart-shaped pottery gift
    The Beats VSI alongside a heart-shaped pottery gift

    Since I announced back in October that I’m writing a novel called Delta Blues: Beat Poet of the Spaceways, I thought I should learn a bit more about the Beats. Not that my character is necessarily going to be very like the actual Beats, and maybe her poetry won’t be like theirs either, but you need to know about what you’re using for inspiration, right?

    Books in the “Very Short Introduction” series do exactly what their shared subtitle suggests, and this is no exception. You get a brief prehistory and history of the movement, then a look at the major novelists, another at the major poets, and then a piece on their influence.

    In common with the last two books I read, The Clash get a mention, because Allen Ginsberg worked with them, adding spoken-word part to “Ghetto Defendant,” on the Combat Rock album.

    I know more about the Beats now than when I started, and that’s exactly what I wanted out of this book.

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