All posts by adrian

My Record Collection 57

Leonard Cohen – Continued

Another long lay-off for Leonard, another possible crisis of confidence – who knows.  He released very quietly Various Positions in 1984.  A terrible cover photo did not help sales; the boss of CBS records apparently said to him “Leonard, we know you are great – but are you any good?”  The album sold poorly despite being sublime and containing what would grow to become his most famous song ‘Hallelujah’.  In fact the whole album is quite religious. Best songs ‘Dance me to the end of love’, ‘The Captain’ and of course ‘Hallelujah’.  But I really love the closer ‘If It Be Your Will’ – a beautiful resigning to God’s power, and even as a non-believer I can love this song.  Best line ‘if it be you will, that I speak no more, and my voice be still, as it was before, I will speak no more, I will abide until, I am spoken for, if it be your will.  Although the record sold very poorly at first, over time it has grown in popularity and Leonard was till singing two or three songs from it almost thirty years later.

After the failure of Various Positions to re-establish Leonard, one of his female singers Jennifer Warnes (see W) decided to release an album of Leonard’s songs including two newer ones. Famous Blue Raincoat was a minor hit and helped to persuade Leonard not to give up.  He started using synthesisers and drum machines to compose more upbeat songs and the resultant album four years later I’m Your Man was a triumphant success.  I saw him on the live tour of this album and he was superb.  The songs are all brilliant, although I have never really liked ‘Jazz Police’.  The title song helped establish Leonard’s reputation as a ladies man, ‘Ain’t No Cure For Love’ is another winner.  He put music to a poem by Lorca ‘Take This Waltz’ and it works superbly.  But the album’s very best song is the closer ‘Tower of Song’ – a wonderfully simple melody and a great lyric – “I was born like this, I had no choice, I was born with the gift of a golden voice”.  Simplicity itself, and like all great records it leaves you wanting more.

Four years later and Leonard almost repeated the trick with The Future.  Two brilliant, almost political (well, the closest Leonard would ever get to political) songs; the title track and ‘Democracy’, the rousing ‘Closing Time’, which many fans choose as their funeral song (I know, but you have to listen to the lyrics to understand why). The smooth ‘Light as the breeze’ and the best song in almost his whole repertoire ‘Anthem’ – “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering – there is a crack, a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in”  Two cover love songs, sung brilliantly I must admit – and an instrumental closer ‘Tacoma Trailer’.

And what did laughing Len do next?  Why, he simply vanished  – for nine years.  He had always been deeply religious; Jewish, but fascinated by Christianity (Joan of Arc and many other references), but in 1993 he decamped to a Zen Buddhist monastery on Mount Baldy near L A.  He later claimed he wasn’t looking for spiritual enlightenment but simply he wanted to change his life.  He became a servant and pupil of a Buddhist monk.  In reality he did come down from the mountain a few times, but on the whole – this was a retreat.  And as we heard nothing we may have assumed that was it.

His record company released a live album with the uninspiring title Cohen Live featuring concerts from ’85 and ’93.  It is okay but not very exciting.  Better is a bootleg I have ‘Above The Soul’ of a whole ’93 concert.  Same songs but much more atmosphere.   Also a 1988 radio broadcast from Toronto Back in the Motherland which is quite good too.  The thing about live albums, especially by Leonard is you aren’t really looking for anything different at all.  It is just an excuse to drench yourself once more in his voice, his words, his world.  I don’t play them that often – just running my fingers over the CD cases is sometimes enough.

Image result for pictures of leonard cohen

 

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Leonard Cohen  – 2.  There are certain artists who can re-invent themselves; Bowie, Dylan and of course Leonard.   He suffered throughout his life with both depression and writer’s block; he worked repeatedly and meticulously on his writing – poems and songs, constantly revising, re-reading, searching for that elusive yet perfect turn of phrase.  To his record company’s frustration he often took years before new material arrived, and many times he simply decided that enough was enough; the well had run dry.  It was three years since ‘Songs of Love and Hate’; his weird ‘Live Songs’ had been mauled by the critics and sold poorly.  And yet in 1974 he produced another sublime and yet different collection of songs.  The anger, the self-loathing seemed to have slipped away.  A calmer Leonard emerged, like a butterfly from a chrysalis.  New Skin For The Old Ceremony was the record that re-introduced Leonard to the world.   The title an allusion to sex and the cover a medieval woodcut of a religious and sexual experience.  The new producer John Lissauer used sparse orchestration rather than Leonard’s guitar creating a different texture to the album.  The songs are varied, a couple slightly upbeat ‘There is a War’ and ‘Field Commander Cohen’, several quite gentle like ‘Chelsea Hotel#2’ which was about a sexual encounter with Janis Joplin, and ‘Lover Lover Lover’, there is also ‘Who By Fire’ about ways of dying and a re-imagined mediaeval folk-song ‘Leaving Greensleeves’ where Leonard leaves us almost screaming.  There is the perennial concert closer ‘I Tried To Leave You’ and ‘A Singer Must Die’ – a sad farewell to another lover.  Altogether one of his better records.  Best line ‘Your vison was right, my vision was wrong – I’m sorry for smudging the air with my song.’

Leonard toured this album, mostly in Europe and I have a live album; a Paris radio broadcast, again only released recently.  No real surprises here, except a song ‘Store Room’ which was never officially released (no wonder – it is pretty dire), but nice renditions all the same.

But resurrection was soon followed by almost crucifixion.  In a moment of madness Leonard agreed for Phil Spector to produce his next record; 1977’s Death Of A Ladies Man.  One can barely imagine a less appropriate pairing, and the result was interesting to say the least.  Both Leonard and Phil were high on drugs; there were guns and bullets in the studio and a collection of session players.  Phil apparently took the tapes home every night and no-one heard them until the album was released.  It is almost impossible to assess the quality of Leonard’s writing at this point, but I do discern moments of genius amidst the madness of the production.   Despite Phil’s preposterous production Leonard’s words still shine, though some of his songs are poor, one or two shine through. ‘Paper Thin Hotel’ is very good, the title track also.  Leonard practically disowned the record and failed to tour it, but in a strange way I like it.  Best line – “The walls of this Hotel are paper thein, last night I heard you making love to him.  A heavy burden lifted from my soul, I learnt that Love was out of my control.”

Two years later and Leonard was resurrected.  1979 saw the release of one of his best records ‘Recent Songs’ – a deceptively simple title for a work of genius.  This is still one of my very favourite of his records.  It is almost perfection; not a bad track – and a new, more open, gentler voice; the songs are less vicious – if no less real and meaningful.  Lots of plaintive violin and deep bass, almost a waltzy feel to many of the songs too.  The album opens with ‘The Guests’ – one by one the guests arrive – as if welcoming one into the warmth of the record.  ‘Humbled In Love’ follows –‘ and you say you’ve been humbled in love, forced to kneel in the mud next to me’.  ‘The Window’ and ‘Came So far For Beauty’  areelegiac.  Then we have the sprightly tune to the sad French song ‘Un Canadien Errant’

Side two opens with two more sad songs ‘The Traitor’ and ‘Our Lady Of Solitude’ followed by a concert favourite ‘My Gypsy Wife’ Leonard saves the best for last; a sensuous duet with Jennifer Warnes ‘The Smokey Life’ and the final song ‘The Ballad Of The Absent Mare’.  I simply adore this record – it is really all of one piece – and maybe more than any other record established the idea of Leonard being ‘Depressing’ in the general population.  But I have always felt much much happier after listening to this one.  My reaction si almost always to want to play it again.

A live album of the 1979 tour came out in the late nineties – Field Commander Cohen; the band are in fine form and a great selection of songs, many from Recent Songs .  Best line ‘Take a lesson from these Autumn Leaves, they waste no time waiting for the snow – keep it light, light enough to let it go.’

Just recently, sucker that I am, I bought a live radio concert from the same year – Upon a Smokey Evening.  It’s pkay -sound quality a bit poor and no surprises.

Recent Songs

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Leonard Cohen

From the ridiculous (at times) to the sublime.  And I know that many people think Leonard is depressing, but I have found him to be understanding, serious at times, funny at others and ultimately uplifting.  To even attempt to understand matters of the heart is incredibly difficult, I know this as a writer myself; but to write unbelievable poetry – and put it to unique and warm melodies is simply incredible.  Only Dylan and Joni have really come anywhere close to Leonard in the modern era.

Now, a bit of History.  I first heard Leonard in 1969.  His first album had crept out, practically unnoticed two years earlier.  Carol and I were temporarily staying with three Canadians I was working with.  We had been thrown out again by her parents.  We slept on the sofa in a basement flat, sharing with not only the Canadians but an ever-changing mix of young women and men.  It seemed one long constant party; lots of drinking, smoking and loud music.  But as the nights wore on Leonard’s first album was put on the turntable and I fell in love with it.  Each song is basically just guitar (and he is a very good player too) and voice.  His producer paid Leonard the compliment of reading a book during the recording and interfering not at all.  When I got my first record player this was the first record I bought.  I must have played it thousands of times – and I never tire of it.  Every song is brilliant from ‘Suzanne’, through ‘The Sisters Of Mercy’ and ‘So Long Marianne’ right through to ‘One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong’.

Now Leonard was already 33 in 1967, an author and poet; and had been singing his poems to friends for a few years.  I think that the songs on this debut were probably the best he had at that time; he notoriously takes a long time to perfect his lyrics.  In many ways this album has never been bettered, in its bleak but very effective production it lays bare the words beautifully.  Love it.   Best line “If your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn, I will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem”

1969 saw his second album Songs From A Room. It is of course excellent, though I have always relegated it to the second tier – despite three great songs ‘Bird On The Wire’, ‘Nancy’ and Lady Midnight’.  Maybe it is the production with the Electric Guitar and Orchestra seemimg to impinge on his vocals, maybe it is the bleak few songs about fathers and sons, maybe it is just me – because on re=listening it is of course great.  Just maybe not as great as his debut.  Best line – ‘Nancy was alone, a 45 beside her head, an open telephone’.  That simple item – an open telephone – is the moment of genius in the song.

Next – we have a live album ‘Live at The Isle of Wight 1970’.  This was not released until this century but it fits on here, as he was singing songs from mostly his first two records.  Well here we have a very early and nervous Leonard, talking a bit too much and uncertain of the crowd – many of whom would never have heard him before.  No real surprises here, but good renditions of his early songs.  Nice to hear him talking between songs, even if he was talking nonsense at times.  He recited a few snippets of poems too.   Best lines “Like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir – I have tried in my way to be free” an old song but a great line

Third album came a year later – and this is simply one of the very best – ‘Songs Of Love and Hate’.  What a great title – and the cover photo of an almost drunk Leonard sets the scene for some really emotional songs.   And from the opener ‘Avalanche’ the scene is set; some self-loathing, some worship, a lot of confusion – and miles of poetic intensity.  Musically it is a step forward too, the almost jolly ‘Diamonds in the Mine’ and the almost spoken ‘Last Year’s Man’.  But though all the songs are excellent the best are the two which were still in his live shows right to the end – ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ with it’s confusing trio (or is it a quartet) of characters – and ‘Joan of Arc’ a wonderful evocation of emotion and sacrifice, an epic poem indeed.  But the best line is ‘The skylight is like skin for a drum I’ll never mend.’  I am never sure what this really means but like all great poetry it simply works.

To complete this section we have maybe the strangest record in Leonard’s catalogue – Live Songs. (although Dear Heather comes close). Maybe because Leonard had not released anything for two years – a lifetime back then for recording artists – this mish-mash was released.  A handful of rather bland live versions of songs from his second album plus a 13 minute track ‘Please Don’t Pass Me By’ which he never officially released.  This song sounds almost as if was just a chorus and the rest made up during the performance.  He also sings a folk standard ‘Passing through’ which is quite wonderful. .  But the record is completed by a live reading of his morbid poem ‘Queen Victoria’ in a hotel room.  Bizarre in the extreme.  He later said ‘The album Live Songs represented a very confused and directionless time. The thing I like about it is that it documents this phase very clearly.’ Best line “Please don’t pass me by, for I am blind but you can see – Oh I’ve been blinded totally, please don’t pass me by.”

Songs Of Leonard Cohen

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Cockney Rebel – This group, the creation of lead singer and songwriter Steve Harley ( see H), burst onto the scene in 1972 or maybe it was ’73.  Anyway.  Heavily influenced in their style by Bowie – make-up and brilliantly designed satin-lapelled dinner jackets, but musically far more unique.  And Steve had a very sarcastic pronounced vocal delivery, instantly recognisable.  Featuring a resident electric violin and for the first 2 albums a full orchestra on most songs, they were certainly different.  In their way almost as influential as Bowie and T Rex, who the music press lumped them in with; I think they probably influenced Roxy too.

I bought the first album The Human Menagerie after hearing the incredible single ‘Sebastian’, which though never a hit was played on Radio 1 a lot.  To say I had never heard anything quite like it, is a cliché – but almost true in this case.  The songs were, to say the least, weird.  Sebastian itself is about – well I really don’t know despite thousands of listens.  There were very short songs like ‘Chameleon’ which builds and then stops; a couple of rockers – ‘Crazy Raver’ and ‘Mirror Freak’; and the piece de resistance, the final track ‘Death Trip’, which despite the title is quite an optimistic lyric (maybe); this song is a tour de force, a mini-symphony with grand swoops of strings and brass, choirs and recurring themes and at least three great melodies.  It remains one of the all-time classics and possibly my favourite Cockney Rebel album.  I saw them a few times with Joybells and we both loved them.  And still barely anyone knew about them.  This is often the most exciting period for both fans and band.

Within a year they released a second album – the much rawer ‘The Psychomodo’. This one spawned the hits ‘Judy Teen’ and ‘Mr. Soft.’, but overall it is not such a likeable record; too many shouty songs with no charm to them.  The record is saved by two classic songs; ‘Cavaliers’ and ‘Tumbling Down’ which resurrect the orchestral sweeps and great melodies of the first album.  But already the cracks were appearing and the band more or less revolted. Harley either let them go, or sacked them, depending on who you listen to.  There was no doubt that he was incredibly arrogant, and although a great songwriter he obviously had a higher opinion of himself than most of the music press, who he pissed off royally.  Mind you the departure of the band inspired him to write his biggest selling song ever – ‘Come Up and See Me (Make me Smile)’ which became a number one hit and is a favourite on the radio still.  Steve’s next record, The Best years Of Our Lives, credited now to Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel had a completely new band except for the drummer.  It is certainly better than Psychomodo, but there is no orchestra now at all and the songs, though good seem to lack something.  Maybe I am just being hypercritical.  Best songs ‘It Wasn’t Me’, ‘Panorama’ the title track – and of course ‘Come Up and See Me.’  And of course as so often happens – listening again, this is really quite a good record.

Album number four soon arrived – ‘Timeless Flight’.  And suddenly all the bombast and posing was over; this was almost a grown-up record; quieter, more reflective and actually really good.  Best songs are ‘Red is a Mean Mean Colour’, ‘All Men Are Hungry’ and the classic ‘Nothing Is Sacred’.  But the whole mood of the record is almost gentle, more slow numbers – and his vocals are better too.  Steve has (at a concert I attended) almost apologised for this record; no need to apologise – it is great as it is.

Later the same year and the last real Cockney Rebel album came out ‘Love’s A Prima Donna’.  The addition of Duncan Mackay, who later joined 10cc (see T) deepened the sound and two tracks are practically instrumentals and down to Duncan.  Steve returned to full on rock/pop group with this, which turned out to be the last official Cockney Rebel album. Some good songs overall and a splendid cover of George Harrison’s ‘Here Comes The Sun’.  Best songs – the title track and ‘Love Compared To You’.  But on the final track ‘Is It True What they Say’ Steve enters a world of his own adoration and disappears up his own arsehole….

Which is apposite as after this he went solo, dropping the Cockney Rebel completely.  And apart from a couple of cracking live albums and compilations – that is it from Cockney Rebel – at times the glammest of the glam, and a great little band.

The Human Menagerie

Where Are we? Does Anyone Really Know?

I could ask that question about almost anything these days; in fact it is probably the first thought I have on waking.  And truly I don’t think that anyone knows anything anymore.  The internet with all of that information, every encyclopaedia in the World and more is simply too much for anyone to take in.  The news leaves me more confused than before switching it on.  There are Climate Change Doomsayers and Deniers.  There are Trump Haters and Worshippers.  And most of all Brexit is still the huge dividing line in Britain.

We now have spent almost two years to come up with a deal for exiting, but still no real idea of the future trading relationship….exactly what were they doing in that time?   And even this deal, imperfect, flawed, but at least something is almost doomed to fail at the second hurdle (having limped over an ever distrustful and fractious Cabinet).  It seems almost certain that the ‘deal’ will not command a majority in Parliament.   Labour, because they are the Opposition, will of course oppose it; the SNP, because they are Scots, will oppose it, as will the few smaller parties.  But far more seriously the DUP, who May has pandered shamelessly to – will vote it down.  But worse than that many, maybe as many as 80 Mad Brexiteers will also vote it down, preferring the chaos of an immediate and final break with the EU rather than any degree of sense or continuity.

So, I repeat, where are we now – does anyone know?  Labour’s demands for a general election will not happen.  It would take many Tory votes to get this and they are running scared at the moment.  The idea of a Second Referendum is slowly gaining traction but unless either Corbyn or May asks for it, it won’t happen.  And even then the EU would have to grant us time to organise it – probably six months.  Then what would everyone be voting on?  The original question again? Or the current ‘failed’  deal or No deal,  or a three way including Remain?  And even worse – what if we get the same result – or even a very close one again.

Nothing will begin to heal the wounds of Brexit.  And the country will continue to drift aimlessly while everything just gets worse.

 

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Eric Clapton – It was the early seventies when graffiti started appearing saying “Clapton is God”.  Now I must declare that I never subscribed to this point of view; in fact I didn’t really like him that much.  I sort of missed Cream, and Led Zeppelin too, in fact at that time it was all too heavy for me – I was into singer-songwriter music, mostly acoustic too.  That is not to say that I don’t recognize that Eric was a genius guitarist; and, later on, an excellent singwriter and a half-decent singer.  I did once tape a series of his concerts at The Royal Albert Hall, amd has a greatest hits on Vinyl.  Now, all I possess is ‘Complete Clapton’, which of course is not at all complete, but a decent double album none the less.   I like the big hits best ‘I shot the Sherriff’ ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ and ‘Wonderful Tonight’.  He also did great version of ‘Cocaine’ and ‘Round Midnight’ by J.J. Cale (see C earlier).  The album is in chronological order, and I like the middle (late Seventies, early Eighties) perios best.  A nice listen, but it hasn’t encouraged me to either buy any more or to deify him.

Gene Clark – was lead singer in The Byrds (see B).  but he left after a handful of albums.  He seems to have drifted somewhat and had a sporadic and pretty unsuccessful solo career. My sole album of his is No Other.   It is okay – but not half as good as any Byrds record.  Oh Well.

Guy Clark – Thus is (yet) another old American country singer.  Just the one album again, ‘Platinum Collection’ I really quite like it, as I nearly always do country music.  Sometimes I wonder why I ever listen to anything else….hahaha.  Guy sings sweetly and writes most of his own songs – best are ‘Comfort and Crazy’, ;Rita Balou; and ‘She’s crazy For Leavin’’.  I do have a live album of Guy, Waylon and Townes Van Zeldt (see V) which is excellent too.

Petula Clark – Now, before you die of laughter – this was a give-away CD in one of the Sunday papers, which has maybe doen more to kill the Music business than even X factor.  I picked this up in a charity shop, and it brings back old memories…okay, so it is corny.  And it was actually quite enjoyable too.

 

Remember The Fallen

Sunday 11th November 2018

Today of all days, exactly 100 years after the end of The Great War we will be remembering the fallen.  That war, though fought because of stupidity from the politicians and kings of the time, changed so much – and yet so little.  And the senseless loss of life, the mud and the blood and the rats and the lice of the trenches, the noise of the ceaseless heavy artillery, the stench of the rotting bodies, the cutting down of a generation of young men – was for so very very little.

And every year our very own politicians will lay wreathes and declare how sad it all was, and how we must never forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and then tomorrow go merrily on their way selling arms to the Saudis, cutting vital public services and rewarding the rich.

But as well as remembering, even if it just for a day, the dead of that and other conflicts – we must never forget how the end of The Great War solved nothing; how just a mere twenty years later we were plunged into another World War, where millions more, mostly civilians, were to die.  We must never forget how the punishment levied by the ‘Victors’ led almost inevitably to Fascism.  And we must never forget how Nationalism and the culture of scapegoating others (in that case the Jews) led to Dictators, Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin – strong men all, who killed millions in their crazed ideaologies.  And how dangerous the blaming of others (in this case Muslims) will lead us down that same dangerous road.  We must watch our very own strong men – Xi-Ping, Erdoghan, Netanyahu and Trump, as they erode our freedoms……..

And even after that Second World War, how quickly conflicts sprung up – Malaya, Korea, Vietnam – as new enemies were dreamt up by our leaders.  We must never forget that despite all the grand words and the creation of the UN, it was deliberately emasculated from the start.

And we must never forget that despite the ‘lessons’ learnt from Wars, we keep starting them.  Iraq, Syria and now the Yemen, not to mention the almost constant wars in Africa.  Our leaders will profess how they abhor the horrors of War – as they sell their true weapons of mass destruction, as they sign for a new generation of Nuclear Weapons, as they design ever more devastating missiles, as they plan Cyber warfare, as they commission drones and robot weapons.

No, we must remember the fallen – but we must also work relentlessly to prevent the fallen of the future.

Image result for poppy images free remembrance

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Mary Chapin-Carpenter – is an American singer-songwriter in the new Country/Americana style.  She emerged in the late eighties, early nineties and I bought three of her albums.  A lovely rich warm expressive voice, especially on the ballads, and she could rock out too.  I saw her live once, and she was very very good.  Something about American performers – they seem so professional, so natural in being up on stage, whereas often British artists seem nervous – almost undeserving to receive the applause.  First album was ‘Stones in the Road’ – best songs; the title song and ‘John Doe No. 24’ and of course the song which made me buy the record ‘Shut Up and Kiss Me’ (if only women had said that to me….hahaha).  Her best record was the follow up ‘Come On, Come On’.  This is a triumph – it just rolls along from song to song.  My favourites are ‘He thinks He’ll Keep Her’ (a feminist anthem if ever there was one), ‘The Bug’ a Dire Straits song sung better even than Knopfler, and the classic ‘Passionate Kisses’.  It seems rare for any performer – let alone a woman, to really express sexual desire in their songs; Joan Armatrading springs to mind too.  There really is nothing wrong with wanting kisses, and the more passionate – the better.  The last of hers I bought was ‘Party Doll’, which at the time I didn’t realise was a live album.  Now, I used to have an issue with live albums – oh, I still bought them if they were by Dylan or Leonard or a real favourite – but they so often didn’t contain anything new, no new tracks and almost studio perfect renditions, that I shied away from them.  Of late I find I can’t get enough of them – so, it goes.  This is a brilliant album – and I now ask myself why I haven’t bought more of hers…  And there is no answer, I buy albums on a whim, or some sort of desperate need to own everything by certain artists.  And with Dylan for instance – no matter how bad they are I still keep coming back, tongue drooling, for more.

Tracy Chapman – We first saw and heard her, I think, during the Nelson Mandela Birthday Concert (he was still jailed at this time, but the concert was huge and BBC showed it.  I taped it of course).  She was one of those fill-in people while the roadies changed stuff back stage.  And she was incredible, a simple acoustic guitar and a voice – oh, that voice.  And her songs were of struggles of poor people at the hands of the rich, women at the hands of men, and they blew everyone away.  She became a huge star and her debut album was massive – but then her star faded, she soon burnt out.  It seemed she really only had a few songs of great quality.  But wow, what quality.  I did have a couple of her records on vinyl, but now only have a Greatest Hits Collection.  And the best are of course from her debut album ‘Fast Car’ and ‘Talkin Bout A Revolution’.

Chemical Brothers – I am reminded of that scene in ‘Death In Venice’ where Dirk Bogarde goes into an Italian barbers and has his hair and moustache painted with black ochre – in order to appear much younger than he really is.  I went to a couple of V. festivals with my daughter and watched as the Chemical brothers did an incredible show.  Pulsating dance music, lights flashing and the whole crowd jumping around.  And in a live setting this stuff works; in the quiet of your front room it is hardly the same.  My daughter regularly buys me ‘new’ music (which is actually probably twenty years old) and mostly I like it.  Though not my genre at all, I can see why it works – except for Rap, which I still do not really like.  Anyway I have one album of these dance artists ‘Surrender’.  I think….well, just like Dirk Bogarde with black running down my face like clowns tears I really don’t like it that much, or rather I have no real connection with it.  Probably we all love the music of our younger years for just that reason.

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Harry Chapin continued No-one could ever accuse Harry of laziness.  He produced at least one record a year during the Seventies.  Portrait Gallery was a bit dull compared to his better records.  He begun a return to form with The Road to Kingdom Come (1976). Most of the songs are very good – ;The Mayor of Candor Lied’ and ‘Corey’s Coming’ are the highlights.  A quiter album this time. The following year he released a double album Dance Band On The Titanic.  This was a great return to form, some great songs and a new passion in his voice – maybe it should have been edited down to a single album, but I suppose he was on a songwriting spree – and just wanted to get them all down on vinyl (as it was in those days).  Best songs ‘Country Dreams’, ‘Bluesman’ and ‘Manhood’.  The record ends with a person valediction ‘There really was only one choice’, explaining his need to write and sing and play music in an attempt to make the world a better place.  He was very very busy, writing, recording, playing many charity gigs, organizing committees to fight hunger and being a father and husband.  His record company ‘Elektra’ didn’t seem to promote his records at all.  Harry really didn’t fit in to their hip rockster style – he was a bit old-fashioned, a bit passe – despite the fact that his lowest selling album still notched up 250,000 units.  Which would be amazing for any artist today.  In 1978 he released his eighth album of original songs in just 6 years.  Living Room Suite is another classic, if slightly mellower record.  Great opener ‘Dancin Boy’ about his son, ‘Poor Damned Fool’ and ‘Jenny’ are very good too – but really there isn’t a poor song here.  Amazingly he was then dropped by Elektra.  He had sold about 6 million albums and had a number one single (most of his other singles charted well also),  But there you go.

Harry was adrift with no contract.  Undaunted he carried on touring and organizing hunger marches and writing.  He collected almost a million dollars for charity every year.  He got a one album deal with a new label and released Sequel in 1980.  The title song is a conclusion of almost his first song ‘Taxi’, but the record also includes many other fine songs – ‘Story of a Life’ is particularly good.

But ironically Harry’s time really was up.  He died in a car crash in early ’81.  He had spent nearly all his money on charities and supporting his extended family.  But his legend lived on, at least for a while – and occasionally when I mention his name, I get a smile of recognition.  Truly a wonderful Artist and by all accounts a wonderful man.  There was one extra album – The Last Protest Singer – from demos already in the can.  It is okay, but understandably not his very best.  I also, of course have his Greatest Hits and a double live album.

 

Sarchasm – the Gulf between Wit and Wisdom

I was a sarky bugger at school. I was the smallest in my class at eleven, when I surprised everyone by passing my 11-plus and landing against all expectations at Grammar School.  Bullying was almost institutionalised; in fact, the whole school was based along public school lines.  Prefects paraded the playground, doling out punishment with scant regard to guilt.  Caning was the preserve of the Headmaster, but ruler whacks and clips round the ear were acceptable, even recommended, means of controlling us pupils. It was expected of each year to bully the one beneath them – and, as a small kid I was bullied relentlessly.  Too small to retaliate I learned to be cheeky, to be sarcastic, which I thought was clever at the time.  It even endeared me to some of the Sixth form boys who treated me like a ‘fag’; I tagged along and ran errands and was occasionally accepted in the cigarette circle behind the bike sheds.

But this habit of cheeky and sarcastic comments continued when I started working.  I really couldn’t help myself, my mouth opened and out popped a, sometimes really nasty but what I thought was funny, comment.  Once, at a Heads of Department meeting the Managing Director was really quite angry and said “I don’t want any of you taking me for a C…” I immediately said, “But Paul, it’s such an easy mistake to make.”  I was nearly sacked for that one. And with e-mails, there was no stopping me.  Answering e-mails with no time to think, to consider if it was wise, just get the quick and witty remark out there as fast as possible.  And no chance of retraction either.  E-mails are forever.  It took me a long time to realise that sarcasm is really the poor relation of wit, and far removed from wisdom.  And worse of all it is designed to hurt. My mother instilled in me “Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  Well, I am sure I hurt quite a few people with my barbed comments.

Have I learnt my lesson?  A bit, but old habits die hard. I try nowadays to just think for a second or two before coming out with a witticism – and if it is genuinely funny or maybe contains a touch of wisdom I continue, but if it is simply spiteful I bite my tongue.  Or try to anyway.

But sarcasm is also sometimes the only weapon we have against the powerful; politicians are immune to most criticism but sometimes sarcasm can say far more than simple criticism.  The wisdom comes in deciding when to use it.