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I'm so proud of Andrew, listening to a DJ Khaled song to put a little section of it in this week's episode of his podcast.

He's inflicting some modern music on himself to make the point that doo-wop chord changes are still part of popular music. (He made a little medley of Elvis, Dolly Parton and DJ Khaled.) he told me about this the other night, saying he'd found examples from "Lady Gaga and DJ somebody." I was suitably impressed.
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I'm glad I dragged myself to the phonology tutorial: I was the the only native English speaker there so had to answer the questions about native intuition: is the first syllable of cyclic like "sigh" or "sick"? how about the word cyclicity? Feel free to give your answer in the comments.

Then after my usual exhausting meeting with my "study mentor," I was off to see Stuart for a rare day we could spend together.

He'd asked if I wanted to go along to his model airplane flying afternoon in a local field (he'd want me to tell you it's the site of Manchester's first aerodrome). Having seen the planes he's building and hearing about his friends from the local model flying club for so long, I was delighted to be properly introduced to this hobby.

It was so much fun: I can't see the planes super-well in flight but I can see them, which is something I wasn't sure I'd be able to. Stuart wants to let me fly one one day, but not the one he had with him today: he said it was too fast and not as stable as the kinds that are good for learning on. I was fine with just watching today anyway. And it was extremely windy out there; it was damn cold actually. We stuck it as long as we could though, and watched Dave, Andy and John (who Stuart calls Mad John with such affection because he's always got some new crazy contraption) fly their planes. At one point when John's was flying, Dave said "Barry will be looking up at this. He's here, he wanted his ashes spread on the field." Barry was another model club member who passed away last year. He built the plane John was flying.

We'd thought about going to the cinema afterward, but nothing was inspiring us. So we just holed up in Stuart's bedroom with snacks and the plan to pick a movie to watch here. I happened to mention I'm reading the Springsteen biography and Stuart said "Well in that case..." and put on Wings for Wheels, a documentary about the making of Born to Run. It was delightful. (Not least because I might've helped puts Stuart's mind at rest about always pausing the airplane movies (The First of the Few and Dambusters) to tell me stuff. He always worries he's boring me but I love it. Here where I knew stuff myself, I stopped to talk about it at least as much as he did, probably more.)

Stuart told me about the summer where he bought Born to Run and played it all the time, his stereo on the veranda as he played cricket with his friends every day. "And it was the summer I got my first drum kit!" he said, as an afterthought when we'd started the movie back up. It sounded so much better than my introduction to it as a couple of random contextless songs on "classic rock" radio. I loved "Born to Run" of course, but I didn't understand "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" at all for such a long time; it took me forever to learn to like it.

If it were possible for me to love "Jungleland" any more than I already did, now I do.

And since then we've been napping and chatting, I've applied for another job with loads of help from Andrew (I'll talk more about it if I hear back), and it has generally been a great day.
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One of the Audible recommendations for me this month was a book Stuart loves and talked to me about a lot when he was reading it. I didn't want that for my book this month, but I wasn't sure what I did want.

I saw the recommendation because I was browsing rather than getting something from my wish list as I usually do. I haven't finished all the books I do have yet and the ones on the list are all pretty heavy in one way or another, so I wasn't in the mood for more of that just yet when this month's credit ticked over. But I didn't want anything too frivolous either. I like to pick something where I feel like I benefit from the format: less substantial books are easier for me to get through in print. I wasn't quite sure what would fit my idiosyncratic standards right now.

Thinking of that book I so associate with Stuart, which he wants to lend me once he gets it back from his friend he's already lent it to, made me think of another book he actually has lent me: Bruce Springsteen's autobiography (after we watched Springsteen on Broadway that one time). I'm so excited to read it, but it's a big book and it's hardcover too which is just always more awkward for me... I thought I'd see if Audible had it.

They did. Read by the author, even. I got it.

I can see why Springsteen on Broadway made Stuart think of this: some of the stories are taken from it and the beginning, that "DNA..." bit, is verbatim. And since he's reading it himself, it's just like the Broadway show except without the songs.

But I've been listening to a lot of them on my phone anyway -- to the point that this afternoon when I could hear the flat above us playing "Born in the U.S.A." so loudly I could hear the words from here, and then went into some other song I couldn't place but also sounded like him singing, I had to check my phone to see if it'd spontaneously started playing one of the Spotify playlists I've been mainlining lately. (Spotify wouldn't stop playing once last week, even when I'd not only tried to pause it by two or three of the usual methods but tried closing the app altogether (and yes that was during a Springsteen playlist too, it was on "Prove It All Night"). I was about to go into a meeting so I had to restart my damn phone to get it to stop. So it didn't seem beyond the realm of possibility that my Spotify app is haunted, especially if it's a ghost that wants to listen to more of The Boss.)

He's a good writer: the book is immersing me. Usually I listen to books on my commutes and stuff but here I'm so captivated I'm not always paying enough attention to the bus stops. This morning I woke up too early and laid in the dark for a couple of hours with his voice in my ears, and I felt like he was an old friend by the time I opened the blinds and made myself some tea -- and we're still only up to The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle! (To translate for less-obsessed people, that's his second album, he's still in his early twenties.) There's still so much book to go; I'm worried that by the end I'll want to marry him.
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"I noticed there's a Springsteen thing on Netflix," my fellow Springsteen devotee Stuart said when I went over Sunday evening. We agreed it sounded like a good thing to have on in the background while we had dinner. "We can chat and stuff," he said.

Like fuck we could. It's Springsteen on Broadway and it's absolutely captivating. We hardly spoke. We muttered gueses at what songs he might be starting to play and got almost all of them wrong. At one point Stuart said "You can tell he misses Clarence," and this was before he talked about missing Clarence; this was just when the saxophone was the most obviously missing from the song when it's just one guy and his guitar on stage. But mostly we were silent, just taking it all in.

It reminded me of the old VH1 Storytellers series, only he wasn't telling stories about the songs (this is why we couldn't guess them), and he wasn't playing The Hits for the most part -- he was using some songs to tell the story of his life. His parents, the neighborhood where he grew up, driving cross-country before he had a license to go out to L.A. and get famous, his family, his band, losing people, politics being horrible, going back home, things changing...

I cried a lot and by the end of it I felt like my soul had been wrung out, washed clean and replaced better than new.

Today I'm working on my essay and I listened to some choral Christmas music for a while (trying to remind myself it's Christmas in a week because it still feels a couple of months away) and then I tried my current favorite chillhop playlist but for once it wasn't good music to work to and so when I wondered what else to reach for, I thought I might go for the unorthodox choice of this Springsteen best-of that's never far from the top of my Spotify playlists. He's on my mind because of the other evening (when Stuart and I could talk again, we talked about it so much that he ended up lending me Springsteen's autobiography).

I say "unorthodox" because some of these songs are terrible for me to listen to when I'm trying to do anything else. I remember once hearing "Thunder Road" in a shop and I was just paralyzed; I had to stand still, I marveled that they're even allowed to play stuff like this in public, and I think the fact I nearly cried indicates I might not have been the most spoonful that day but still. I know to almost everybody else it's another boring old classic rock song, and it's pretty acoustic and mellow so probably fine for background music in stores right? But it just floors me.

So I had to skip around a little while I wrote (I still have ~1000 words of essay to do), and the last strains of this lovely version of "Born to Run" were fading away as Andrew came up the stairs and says "I just heard about a thing on Netflix that you might like..." and I thought wouldn't it be funny if this is what he came here to tell me about?

And then it was. He'd seen Nicole Cliffe talking about it on Twitter and thought I'd like it. It was nice to be able to tell him he was right...

I've reverted to the best-of playlist again now, and I really appreciate the way these new songs have been integrated into it. The best is that "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," which is interspersed with words of so much love for Clarence Clemons, is followed by "Rosalita," the song I most strongly associate with his playing (and the one I included in the LJ post I wrote when he died (though it looks like that particular video is gone, which is just one of the reasons I hate YouTube; seven years is such a long time ago in internet time...and honestly I didn't think it was seven years ago that he died; it feels like two or three).
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tl;dr: Andrew has started a podcast! You might like it if you like music! If to support it on Patreon, you'll be helping us out a lot because we had a big drop in household income a few months ago!

That Patreon support would also get you access to short stories he hasn't printed publicly, all the many books he's read -- fiction and non, everything from music writing and science fiction to murder mysteries and historical thrillers -- and any new ones he writes. But he's pouring a lot of time and effort into this podcast now and people seem to like it, so I thought some of you might be interested in that too.

Under the cut, I'm going to quote a long section of a recent blog post where Andrew talks about the motivation to do this project; I think it's moving and interesting even if you don't think you care about any history of rock music. 'There is a wealth of music out there, important, wonderful music that has enriched my life, but it’s inaccessible to many people my age or younger. Without the cultural context, it sounds like a joke. And that’s something that’s going to carry on happening. )

You don't have to give him money to hear the podcast of course; feel free to give it a try and see what you think. It really is a labor of love for him and while it'd be nice if it paid some bills too, the love is clearly already there.

Small talk

Oct. 22nd, 2018 09:55 am
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Since I was the first one in the lecture theatre today (why do poeple stand outside an empty room and wait? I thought they might grow out of this when they stopped being freshers, but no) except the lecturer, and I sit in the front, she asked me if I'd had a nice weekend.

I said I did and that I'd been to a gig with friends. "Who did you see?" she asked.

"Richard Thompson," I said.

Her reaction was a sort of "oh, as expected, I have no idea what the young people of today are listening to," even though she's probably about Richard Thompson's age.
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On Tuesday night, Andrew and I went to the Royal Northern College of Music for "Goldberg City Variations." It was so wonderful. A familiar and much-loved piece of music, accompanied by a computer-generated cityscape video based on the sounds.

Watching abstract "landscapes" and "buildings" assemble themselves, with orderly rows of lines and angles flying into place like an IKEA instruction manual come to life, was endlessly fascinating and yet so soothing, like filling in one of those intricate mandala-type coloring pages. It gives the visual part of your brain something to do while you're taking in the music.

Bach's music, especially Goldberg (written to soothe an insomniac who was rich enough to be able to employ poor Goldberg to stay up all night and play for him) is so warm and alive, it might not seem the most intuitive accompaniment to greyscale rectilinear architecture. But of course there's too nothing modern for Bach: when his music was suggested for inclusion on Voyager's "golden record," to explain humanity to any aliens that might find it one day, Carl Sagan famously declared that'd be "just showing off." I'm as happy to have Bach represent me to any alien as Sagan was.

At the end of the performance, a message came up on the screen saying that it was inspired by "Cosmic City" by Iannis Xenakis, who I'd never heard of so I've looked him up now and...My beloved Messiaen thought he was too weird to give music lessons to. An architect who wrote music that evokes "the physics and patterning of the natural world, of the stars, of gas molecules, and the proliferating possibilities of mathematical principles."

He sounds like someone I should be listening to. (I've tried his music out on Spotify now.)
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This morning on Mastodon I saw somebody say
15 years old: listening to Billy Joel authentically

26 years old: listening to billy joel ironically

32 years old: listening to billy joel authentically
and I realized that if you take about 12 years off of all those ages, the same is true of me and Bruce Springsteen.

So then naturally I had to listen to some Bruce Springsteen. I danced around the kitchen while I was making my french toast for breakfast.

Andrew woke up and came downstairs so I turned off the music when I sat down to eat. He was clearly still earwormed though, because he started singing the guitar riff from "Born to Run."

I laughed and said "You're actually pretty good at singing like his guitar! It's not like one of those things you think you're good at but I don't..."

"It's also the Blondie guitar sound!" he added helpfully.

"...Oh yeah," I said, thinking particularly of "Atomic." "I suppose that makes sense, they're sorta from the same kind of era..."

"And they're from the same geographical area!" Andrew said.

I laughed. "...Yeah I don't think guitar sounds evolve into local populations like that."

"There's a very famous guitar tree on the New Jersey turnpike," he told me very earnestly. I laughed a lot.
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Sessions attended: Just one! Queering Shakespeare, which I loved. I've been before and it's always my favorite.

We're given extracts from mostly Shakespeare plays (though some of it's not plays and some of it's other early modern writers) for small groups of people to act out for the rest of the workshop attendees. For instance, in my group I was Antony getting ready for battle, Stuart was Cleopatra insisting on helping me with my armor even though she didn't seem to know what she was doing, and our friend Zoe played soldiers who were actually trying to help me and tell me stuff. It's clear at the end of the scene that Antony's much happier going off to war, leaving Cleopatra for "a soldier's kiss, rebukable." Watching how some of the other groups interpreted their selections was hysterical, with special mention going to the fairies acting as a Greek chorus while Oberon and Titania were arguing, jumping around and shouting comments: when Titania says "Met we on hill, on dale..." and the others shout out "Who's Dale?!"

Stuart said afterwards "the extracts were well picked, we were well coached and encouraged and the atmosphere was one of support and participation and the spirit of the work. And knob gags. And ladygarden gags."

My answers got long, so I'll put most of this under a cut. )

Volunteering done (can be anything even small thing like picking up litter or buying organisers a drink): Thursday and Friday were all volunteering for me. Stuart had properly signed up for a couple of shifts on the desk and as a gopher on Thursday and I came along to do whatever needed doing: I put up lots of signs directing people where to go, I helped some people find their accommodation, stuff like that.

Friday was the busy day for this: we packed up all Stuart's drums, a couple of guitars, a keyboard, a mandolin, a banjo, and I can't even remember what else into the back of his Micra and (via buying mandolin strings and picking up a bass borrowed from his bandmate), came back to BiCon and started setting up. I made countless trips back and forth, up and down stairs, carrying stuff. I got to help by hitting the drums so Stuart could hear what they'd sound like from the room; that was the most fun. "Start with the kick drum," he said and I did, and the sound was so good made his face light up. Then as soon as it was done we had to take everything down for the silent disco. I carried lots of stuff around, I didn't have to make a lot of decisions because I don't understand exactly what needs doing (though I felt better at that by the end of Friday!), I just had to fetch and carry and it was delightfully straightforward after too much time in my own head.

Other notable things: 1. I wonder if this will end up being the BiCon of It Suddenly Going Pitch-Black When You Pee or Shower. Whose idea is it to put motion-activated lights in bathrooms? And why do they turn off after only seven seconds of no movement? And why are there no sensors in the shower so that you have to reach your hand out and waggle it around if you don't want to take a shower in the dark?

I just elected to take the shower in the dark, and I snarkily posted on my Facebook that I'm sure the uni have done this in order to induce greater empathy with visually impaired people.

2. Stuart said at one point, "I've been to a lot of cons, and BiCon is the best one, because" -- and I tried to guess what he was going to say next but even if I'd had more time I'd have totally failed -- "it's like all the other cons rolled into one." I like that; I've been thinking about it ever since.
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It's funny how "Spitfire" emded up being the song I'm obsessed with after yesterday. A year and a half obsessed with the Race for Space album, could practically recite it to you, and here I am thinking all the time about this song from an album I only recnetly realized was on Spotify so I could easily start listening to it.

Partly it's stuck with me because it was the song Public Service Broadcasting played after three songs in a row from Every Valley, an incredible portrayal of the heartbreaking effects that the end of the Welsh coal-mining industry had on the people who lived through it. By the end of the second one, Bethan was saying "play some space songs!" and by the end of the third, whichever of PSB does the talking onstage said "now, something different" in a way that reminded me a little of Jefferson in Hamilton saying "Can we get back to politics?"

So we got back to songs that make my heart soar (rather than sore, oh dear I didn't even see I'd done that...), with "Spitfire." The music is beautiful, it gets the heart racing just to hear that simple, perfect guitar riff. It's the kind that when you first hear it already feels familiar, it's somehow so right and pleasing that you can't believe you didn't always know it. I've been humming it all day and I always feel better when I catch myself thinking about it much less listening to it. I feel like I can't dance to it enough to properly express even with my whole body how happy it makes me.

I've argued (especially when I'm trying to convince Andrew that he might appreciate them (not like them, because he won't like the style of the music, but I think he could see what's good about them even if he wouldn't enjoy listening to them) that Public Service Broadcasting are making radio ballads, which that link describes as "a form of narrative documentary in which the story is told entirely in the words of the actual participants themselves as recorded in real life; in sound effects which are also recorded on the spot, and in songs which are based upon these recordings, and which utilise traditional or 'folk-song' modes of expression." I stumbled upon some of the original Ewan MacColl ones on Radio 2 one day, probably a decade or more ago,* and was utterly enchanted and endeared by them.

PSB's versions don't always have the voices of original participants interlaced in their songs as the proper Radio Ballads did, though they often do. The "Spitfire" samples are taken from a movie, Wikipedia tells me, The First of the Few, which is about the designer of the plane.

Being a movie maybe helps make his thoughts into poetry: the song starts
The birds fly a lot better than we do
See how they wheel and bank and fly, perfect
And all in one
Wings body tail
All in one
Someday I'm going to build a plane just like a bird
It isn't exactly a bird I'm creating, is it?
At least a curious odd bird
A bird that breathes fire and spits out death and destruction
A spitfire bird
What has most resonated with me though is the second sample of this speaker, which starts with the line I've used for my subject here.
It is tiring always stretching out for something that's just out of reach
But I'll get it
After all what I want isn't as easy as all that
It's gotta do 400 miles an hour
Turn on a sixpence
Climb ten thousand feet in a few minutes
Dive at 500 without the wings coming off
Carry eight machine guns
Stuart loves planes and knows a lot about them, and Spitfires particularly, so for eight years now they've made me think of him, details like this espeically so. I have no idea what's high or fast or difficult for any kind of airplane of any age, but I do know how tiring it is when everything is out of reach.

I'm unreasonably delighted that he said "tiring" there, rather than disappointing or challenging or whatever else might fit the usual narrative we're given. It's wearying. Exhausting. I quoted this line as a Facebook post this morning when I was listening to this song for the first of many times today, on the bus to work. I let it trail off there but Bethan commented with the all-important next line: But I'll get it. And Mr. Spitfire Man certainly seemed to. So maybe I will as well, even if I don't have as defined an "it" as he did.

I meant this to be an introduction to me talking about the whole day yesterday, but it's turned out to be too long on its own. I promise I won't have this much to say about all the songs.


* It might have even been when the BBC commissioned the newer radio ballads, which Wikipedia tells me was 2006; I remember hearing that one about the decline of the Sheffield steel industry anyway; I still can sing bits of the beautiful song sung by Kate Rusby although I don't think I've heard it since; it's so striking and powerful. Also it was one of the first times I heard her name and I've adored her voice ever since.
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They are the kind of lovely people who don't act like they know how good a band they are.

Sadly, too few people knows how good they are either.

But a few more do tonight, including Stuart who helped with the last-minute chaotic logistics.

At one point he went from looking over his shoulder at them (the booth where he was sitting faced away from the stage), to turning around and sitting on his knees to get a better view over the back of the booth, to leaning over it like a dog with its head out of a car window in unmitigated glee.

Andrew said on the way home that musicians appreciate Blake Jones and the Trike Shop best because anybody can tell they're good but other musicians can tell how many very difficult things they make sound very easy. I think that's what was going on here!

#

I'm still too wired to sleep, an hour after I got home. I have been awake since 5:30am (20 hours now!) and if I'm not up by at least 8am (6.5 hours from now) my parents will get up to all sorts of judgmental mischief on their own.

But tonight was still worth it. When I spend this much time around my parents I almost forget who I am, and this helped remind me.
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Stressful day. I'm still an edge case, this time when it comes to Student Finance England, who don't know what to do with someone who's a UK citizen but doesn't have a UK passport or birth certificate. After three lots of contradictory advice that couldn't be verified on a website that was down, after I shouted and stomped and lost my temper with poor Andrew who wasn't the cause of any of my anger or stress, we established that I had to send my passport and my naturalization certificate. Originals, no copies would do.

My most vital documents. I felt like I was going to throw up, handing them over at the post office. I literally have nightmares about losing them.

And as soon as I get them back, I'll have to post them away again, to get a UK passport.

Having moaned on Facebook I wanted a drink, [personal profile] diffrentcolours offered to meet me inna pub this evening. It's been ages since I've been in a pub when it wasn't part of a WI committee meeting or a Biphoria thing. It's been ages since I've seen [personal profile] diffrentcolours for something other than Lib Demmery (and even today there was a bit of that because he handed over stuff for me to mail to this week's Pride). We were just friends having some time together and it was great.

Then I got home, already sleepy, and ended up talking to Andrew for a long time about a song a friend of ours asked me to write. He's doing this big musical/opera kind of thing, full of great ideas. He wanted me to write a song about the Shipping Forecast, and I've been not doing it for years, but tonight we started working on it and I'm so excited about it now. Based on a sea shanty, with instrumentation like oboe, moog and Neptune (recorded by NASA), it's turning out fiendishly clever.
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Note to self: find out how Andrew wants to restructure this paragraph in light of the fact that EDM is not a new musical fad.

Bless him. He rightly writes about 60s music most of the time, since he knows nothing about most music made in his lifetime. But when one of those 60s bands carries on until now, he can run up against some issues.

Admittedly not as many as the Beach Boys fans he told me about the other day, who are pleased that one of them is doing a song with the guy from Sugar Ray because it means he's helping "young musicians." The guy's in his forties and Sugar Ray was a thing when I was in high school...

Being as charitable as I can: to people obsessed with musicians in their seventies, this guy must seem like quite the whippersnapper. But really, I suspect they just think that anyone they haven't heard of can't really be famous yet.
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For our anniversary treat tonight, Andrew and I went to see Martin Carthy at the Band on the Wall -- a venue Andrew had been to before but I hadn't, and I really liked it. Seemed to have nice veggie/vegan food (I had just eaten today but I want to try it another time) and the beer was good, as well as having a lot of the kind of music I normally like better than Andrew does, despite not having been there myself!

We got settled into seats right in the front row, folding chairs in tightly-packed rows. The woman next to me started chatting; she was friendly and enthusiastic about her boyfriend's tastes in music, totally new to folk. Hadn't heard of Martin Carthy before. I almost envied her the revelation ahead of her, but had to hope she'd see it that way: as Andrew and I told each other on the walk to the bus stop, there must be people who don't like Martin Carthy, but we can't understand how.

I was just playing The Imagined Village songs to Stuart yesterday; he'd done me the favor of giving me a good excuse to get out of the house and away from social media on such a dark day for my country and the world and I repaid the favor, inadvertantly, by introducing him to this music. Looking through my Recently Played, I thought this would be most to his liking and it turned out he hadn't heard of them and was delighted.

So the version of "John Barleycorn" we got as the second or third song tonight was familiar to me from one of the Imagined Village records...but so much more captivating in person of course. I'm someone who's lacked the attention span to read a paragraph lately, whose biggest problem with running 5k is I get bored and want to see if I've got any new things to look at on the internet about one hundred times while I'm running. But here I was tonight, listening to all umpty-million verses of "Sir Patrick Spens" and all that time I am not doing anything else. I'm not thinking of anything else, I don't want to be anywhere else.

There's something compelling to me about folk songs, old songs: you can almost feel the weight of the years on them, the different people who've sung them in different circumstances. Carthy introduced "Sir Patrick Spens" by saying that if this were a real event it would've happened in 1282, and my mind got a bit dizzy trying to imagine such a year, much less that anything could tie such a time to us sitting now in our folding chairs. Of course the song itself is nothing like that old (Wikipedia tells me a version was published first in 1765), and of course many older artifacts of our culture persist, not least the language we speak! But still I am a little in awe of how casually this man carries around in his head versions of things that have been in so many other people's heads, and ears, and voices.

My attention span didn't last the whole evening (and this was an old-person's gig for old people; it had a curfew of 9:45, so it wasn't a long evening!), but it did spike up again when I heard another Imagined Village favorite, "My Son John."
If you listen carefully you might recognize elements of the song's plot: Carthy mentioned it having been recorded by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior in the sixties, and apparently the sleeve notes of that album explain it a little.
Fred Hamer collected this song in Bedfordshire from the singing of David Parrott. A father and his disabled son are before a naval surgeon who is trying to cheat him of his disablement pension by claiming that he was careless to stand in the way of the cannon ball which shot his legs off.
It fits right in with Atos and the DWP today, doesn't it, to blame a man for getting his legs shot off so that they don't have to give him any money.

I always come away from folk gigs wishing I listened to more folk music. Andrew likes it fine (of course he's the one who's introduced me to Martin Carthy and all the British folk, just as the nice lady next to me (Debbie, she was called) is being introduced to it by her boyfriend tonight) but it's not as well represented in his music collection as other things, and it's usually his music that's playing. He's always careful to tell me I can play whatever I want, and of course I know I can, but if I'm not bothered about whether there's music playing and he is, we mostly hear his music.

But, the Unthanks are playing in March. I really like them. I think I'd like to go see them.

Poppycock

Jan. 8th, 2017 11:22 pm
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Before I forget: I went to see Poppycock on Friday!

This is a big deal because I've been meaning to since my friend Stuart joined the band a while ago. He's the drummer, and the only man of the eight or so of them in the band. It is a thing that's brought him much happiness and sense of achievement at a time in his life when there are not enough things to do that, so for that alone I'd be grateful but it turns out they're a great band too.

It was the first time I'd been to A Gig By A Band That My Friend Is In for quite a while, and it was possibly the best one yet. All three bands were from the label Poppycock is on, which Stuart told me has rules like "If you sound like Oasis, Coldplay or [something else he forgot but you can probably get the idea], don't bother with us." Andrew and I had both bought tickets but he wasn't feeling up to going which is a shame because I think he'd have really appreciated this. He used to be an a band, and thus listen to other bands, at a time when everybody did want to sound like Oasis, or the Fall, or whatever. Except him. He still wants to be in bands that don't have guitars in them and wishes for things like a bass harmonica or a harpsichord.

Poppycock have guitars, a fairly standard line-up really -- though everyone but the rhythm section and one singer played more than one thing and there was a flute put to good use in some of the songs -- but they still stand out. Just having that many women on stage gave me a weird feeling I am starting to have more often, like when I saw Ghostbusters last year: there's something crazy about seeing more than one woman in any group, and her not being "the girl one." And they are great at it, and Una writes good songs, and it was so good to see Stuart play guitar again.

I call him a friend but he's not just that; he's an ex too, singular in several ways because he's the only one I really talk to and also the only one I really miss. It was bittersweet to watch him play again, reminded me of going to see his old band (and there I really was there just because he was in it! -- they were all right but not really my cup of tea) and feeling like I might burst with pride and happiness at getting to know and be involved with such a person, and just having the joy of watching someone do something they're really good at.

Extra-surprisingly for going-to-see-your-mate's-band, the other two on the bill were pretty good too! First was Four Candles, whose set I arrived halfway through and the second half I confess I mostly spent catching up with Stuart and [livejournal.com profile] scarletts_web because it was the first time I'd seen her in four years, how did that happen!?

It's extra a-thing-that-should-not-have-happened because she's a huge fan of Poppycock and travels from the other side of Warrington to see them play in Manchester all the time and this was the first gig I'd managed to get to and that only because it's literally a five-minute walk from my house.

Anyway, Stuart said of the first band "brilliantly venomous and heartfelt lyrics combined with fantastically inventive playing from guitar, bass and drums." The singer had been in a band called The Hamsters before and people seemed to know and like him.

And the second band, Patchwork Rattlebag (good name but oh my god everybody I talked to kept forgetting it, it's just lots of interchangeable nouns!) I probably liked more than most; [livejournal.com profile] scarletts_web pronounced them a bit fey but I love that kind of chilled out music, it's what I play whenever Andrew's not around. So that wouldn't have been his favorite, but he'd have had to agree the singer had an incredible voice, strong and laden with emotion over the electronica background, I was a bit disappointed none of the merch at the little stall was their music (though I was reassured it's on the way) or else I'd have bought some. Which is really much more an Andrew thing to do than a me thing to do; I think the last time I bought a CD at a gig was at the IPO (International Pop Overthrow, a fun thing in Liverpool) maaany years ago and mostly that was because the guy made me laugh by asking if anyone had heard of Des Moines and then didn't believe me when I said I'd been there.

And then Poppycock, but not before some in-between, setting-up music which I thought I recognized as one of my favorite albums from last year -- it's a few years old but I didn't hear it until last year -- by The Imagined Village. As it was playing I was chatting to someone who said "oh, this is Poppycock...they've started?" I chuckled and said no, this was Eliza Carthy singing, but that as far as I was concerned if they could be mistaken for sounding like this I'd be pleased.

And I was!

Afterward I helped a little (hoping I wasn't more of a hindrance) get the gear packed up and out to the car, stuck around for a drink (someone I remember from the last time I was at this place, getting drunk on Han's birthday, bought me a pint and we talked about 80s Bob Dylan; old men with beards and rollies are so easy for me to get along with) and I'd meant to stick around and say hi to Stuart again but there was Important Band Meeting going on so I just went home. All gigs should be so fun and so easy to get to.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
I found myself humming "awesome, wow!" when I was walking the dog this morning and realised that if Groffsauce doesn't spend the twentieth of January singing "do you know how hard it is to lead?" and "oceans rise, empires fall" and basically all the rest of "What Comes Next?" for us, I will be sorely disappointed.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
I've watched a few episodes of Futurama, but I didn't know that Leela's full name was Turanga Leela. It makes a pretty name, though!
Messiaen derived the title from two Sanskrit words, turanga and lîla, which roughly translate into English as "love song and hymn of joy, time, movement, rhythm, life, and death", and described the joy of Turangalîla as "superhuman, overflowing, dazzling and abandoned"
I'm going to see Turangalila-Symphonie tonight because a month or two ago I turned on the radio, as I instinctively do when I'm in the kitchen because cleaning and cooking are so boring otherwise, and found the BBC Philharmonic halfway through Turangalila. Doing the dishes had never seemed so fun, or dramatic. When Andrew got home I asked if he could download the recording from the iPlayer for me, and after a bit of typing he realized that we could go see this live at the Bridgewater Hall in the vaguely near future. And now it turns out that vague future is tonight!

Nobody that I've overexcitedly mentioned this to, when they've asked about my weekend plans, has heard of it, so here it is, if you're interested. Don't worry if you don't get it or you don't like it though: that'd put you in good company. The reaction of critics at the work’s first performances was far more one of bafflement and hostility than admiration. Virgil Thomson complained that it came "straight from the Hollywood cornfields." The central musical theme was dismissed as something that "might be ascribed to Hindu Hillbillies, if there be such."

Messiaen always seems to require the juxtaposition of seemingly-unconnected things, if we're to have any hope of describing his music. I myself struggled to write before of the experience of seeing a performance of my favorite Messiaen piece, one of my favorite pieces of music of all time really, the Quartet for the End of Time.

I told [personal profile] bethanthepurple about this today and, even though this is Not Her Period, she listened and told me "31.20 sounds like music from a futuristic western!" which really made me smile. That's not a bad description of a lot of Messiaen's music, actually. Again an apparent juxtaposition of opposites. From The Rest Is Noise I learned that Messiaen (who was French) traveled to the national parks of Utah and was hugely inspired by the landscapes there; he wrote Des canyons aux etoiles ("from the canyons to the stars") about those landscapes, which sounds like the perfect name for the futuristic western. The canyons and the stars both evoke the edges of our knowledge, the sites of our discoveries, the strange things we'll never quite make familiar.

Messiaen would sound futuristic whatever instruments he used (the Quartet for the End of Time proves this!) but I want to talk about the ondes Martenot because it is the coolest goddam thing and really important to Turangalila.

The ondes Martenot is a early electronic instrument, sort of like a theremin but a lot more so -- in that it both is more complicated than a theremin and can make a lot of other kinds of noises besides the theremin-like ones. I've read a lot (well, a lot more than I ever expected to, not actually very much) about them but the best way I've found to learn about them is this video.
Turangalila is one of the musical homes of the ondes Martenot (the others seemingly being Radiohead and movie scores), and if eighty minutes of Turangalila is too much for you, I'd suggest this movement, "Joie du Sang des Étoiles," which displays the ondes Martenot to great effect (you see a lot of it here; it's the yellow thing that looks like a piano but with a box of electronics coming out of the left side of it).

There's so much going on here, (another of Bethan's comments: "Don't care if it's in 4/4, wouldn't want to play it"...which I can totally understand that from my limited experience playing some of these instruments!) but Messiaen never complicates things with overlong explanations of what he was thinking or intending.
When asked about the meaning of the work's duration in its ten movements and the reason for the use of the ondes Martenot, Messiaen simply replied, "It's a love song."
In the end, that has to be enough. And it is, really.

The Current

Jan. 3rd, 2015 07:52 pm
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
I'm unduly excited that I finally got my favorite radio station working on the internet for me. I do a lot of digital-radio-listening on my phone, and it hadn't worked for me since I got this phone last March! That's a long time to go without the steady, reliable flow of music I love, music I am content listening to, and music I need to know about. One reason 2014 didn't seem a very musical year was that I didn't have easy new(-to-me) music discoveries from The Current.

Today I found a workaround (as a note to myself, since I'm sure this won't mean anything to anyone else: the main Twin Cities station doesn't work, but the Northfield one does! I don't get it, but whatever) and I'm basking in aural joy.

Bill DeVille's on! He's a DJ (my favorite even before The Current existed! I remember him on Cities97!) He played "September Gurls" a bit ago and though I hear Big Star a lot now cos Andrew loves them, it was this guy who introduced me to their music. He seems to like similar things to me, but he knows about a lot more than me! An ideal musical guide. Plus his voice kinda reminds me of my dad.

I love The Current partly for being full of the kind of DJs associated with rock music's early days on the radio; maybe not quite as larger-than-life as those characters -- this is still Minnesota! we're never more than the same size as life -- but there is a sense of personality and enthusiasm behind the music that's lacking from more rigidly programmed stations.

(Plus I'm utterly fascinated by the weather reports. They're so unlike anything else I hear these days that I can't help but stop reading my book when I notice one, and I am somehow soothed and homesick at the same time.)
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"Does the Goldberg Variations count as one song?"

Andrew laughed at me. "No."

"Well, one of them then," I said.

I'd never before had the terribly British experience of being asked what my Desert Island Discs would be, and I was making this up as I went along.

My first couple of answers were similar to what James and Andrew had given -- pieces of music that were particularly important to me, or particular favorites of mine -- I have to include "Born in the U.S.A.," and "Finale" from Dvorak's New World Symphony, and the song that a favorite musician of Andrew's and mine wrote for our wedding.

I think I asked about the Goldberg Variations right after that, though, because on some level I realized that if I was on a desert island I'd be really upset and I'd really miss Andrew, so "Now's Eternity" (the song at our wedding) would just hurt and make me sad. So I thought of soothing things, and of course the first that leapt to mind was Goldberg.

I recently heard a story about how the Goldberg Variations were written, thanks to one of my new obsessions: Jarvis Cocker's Wireless Nights, an occasional series I love and find really captivating; that link has all the episodes as podcasts and I can't recommend them enough if you like humans or music or poetry or life. Anyway, the story Jarvis Cocker whispered into my ears (I find to my amusement I can only listen to Wireless Nights when it is night, or when I'm on a train -- something about the expansiveness and intensity of it seems to suit those things particularly -- and at those times I use headphones) goes something like this:
[For this work] we have to thank the instigation of the former Russian ambassador to the electoral court of Saxony, Count Kaiserling, who often stopped in Leipzig and brought there with him the aforementioned Goldberg, in order to have him given musical instruction by Bach. The Count was often ill and had sleepless nights. At such times, Goldberg, who lived in his house, had to spend the night in an antechamber, so as to play for him during his insomnia. ... Once the Count mentioned in Bach's presence that he would like to have some clavier pieces for Goldberg, which should be of such a smooth and somewhat lively character that he might be a little cheered up by them in his sleepless nights. Bach thought himself best able to fulfill this wish by means of Variations, the writing of which he had until then considered an ungrateful task on account of the repeatedly similar harmonic foundation. But since at this time all his works were already models of art, such also these variations became under his hand. Yet he produced only a single work of this kind. Thereafter the Count always called them his variations. He never tired of them, and for a long time sleepless nights meant: 'Dear Goldberg, do play me one of my variations.'
As a chronic insomniac, I was intrigued and maybe even delighted to find that I wasn't the only one who wanted something soothing and yet distracting to listen to during my sleepless hours. I've often wondered what I'd do before the podcasts and audiobooks I use: turns out, if I were lucky enough to be a Count who knew J.S. Bach, I could've had him write me something. What a delicious idea.

But, whether the story is true or not, I can imagine they'd be good for insomnia: soothing and yet cheerful. The Goldberg variations are not stupefying or dense; they may not inspire awe like some of Bach's other skilled and impressive work, but I wouldn't want to be left alone on an island with the distant, inspirational Bach. I'd want this cozy, bedroom-antechamber Bach. I'd want the company on the desert island.

And from there the rest of my "Desert Island Discs" amused me by sort of missing the point of the game, which is to pick songs you particularly like or that say something about you or have a meaning or a story or something entertaining associated with them. I picked songs to comfort me in my isolation and get me through what would no doubt be a terrible experience for me. Quartet for the End of Time* (which should be awfully sad, drenched in the Holocaust as it is, but inexplicably is a favorite of mine; still if I want less somber Messaien, there's always Turangalila). I think I said Ave Maria, too. And maybe The Flower Duet. And Gymnopédie, naturally.

It's strange to think of the things I fall back on. I wouldn't have expected it to be all western art music I find so durable, able to withstand the hatred I have for anything played too often.

But still, I am happy I am not stranded on a desert island, and able to listen to lots of music, and talk to people, and do lots of things.


* That's a particularly cool video I stumbled across there, I think, because it shows you the sheet music so if you're a music nerd like me you can follow along as they play...or just sit back and be even more impressed than you were that people manage to play these things at all, especially in the circumstances of the original performance:
Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered World War II. He was captured by the German army in June 1940 and imprisoned in Stalag VIII-A, a prisoner-of-war camp in Görlitz, Germany (now Zgorzelec, Poland). While in transit to the camp, Messiaen showed the clarinetist Henri Akoka, also a prisoner, the sketches for what would become Abîme des oiseaux. Two other professional musicians, violinist Jean le Boulaire and cellist Étienne Pasquier, were among his fellow prisoners, and after he managed to obtain some paper and a small pencil from a sympathetic guard, Messiaen wrote a short trio for them; this piece developed into the Quatuor for the same trio with himself at the piano...

The quartet was premiered at the camp, outdoors and in the rain, on January 15, 1941. The musicians had decrepit instruments and an audience of about 400 fellow prisoners and guards.
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Despite Andrew getting fed up with the mosh pit, and us getting separated when I failed to follow him away from it on account of having insufficient mass to overcome the momentum imparted on me by selfish men all around me, it was almost worth being right at the front for the beginning of the Hold Steady gig.

Craig Finn comes onstage with his arms outstretched like a magnanimous messiah who really does love us all. There's such intensity in the frenzied way he thrusts his arms, hands, fingers at us as he delivers his lines with the speed and power of a machine gun. His eye contact seems genuine no matter how quickly it moves from one area of the crowd to another. It wasn't long before his gaze fell upon me, with a renewed smile and a thumbs-up for the Twins jersey I was wearing.

Finn doesn't sing as much as he tells stories, and for a while those stories were loosely connected by a small group of characters, one of whom is called Holly (short for Hallelujah). A lot of the stories center on Minneapolis, "my hometown" Finn always explains in the live gigs in the middle of "Your Little Hoodrat Friend." So much as I admire him, and as much joy as his work has brought to me, I've no desire to meet him; having to introduce myself as Holly from Minnesota would hardly be believed, especially so far from home.

Yet you don't have to have my name and my provenance, or even my Twins paraphernalia, to feel special. If you stand within Craig Finn's sphere of attention at a Hold Steady gig, you won't go home without feeling you matter, and you are important, and you belong somewhere or at least you can if you want to.

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