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.

The Horse Dealer

The horse dealer coughed from somewhere deep in his throat, turned his head to one side and aimed a wet gob of black tobacco juice into a rusty old spittoon behind him.  He turned back to the audience of tired cowhands, a few ranchers and a couple of bored looking cardsharps.  “Well folks, that’s just about it for t’day.  All the best horses are gone.  We have just one old nag left to sell, and I tell you folks – this horse ‘aint rightly worth wastin’ my time over. To tell the truth I feel downright ashamed to be insultin’ your intelligence by bringin’ her out – but we have to git rid of all our stock today. The ranch is bein’ sold and all along with it. Furniture, buildins and livestock.”

The tired old horse stumbled in; her coat was mangy, rubbed bald along her flanks, her knobbly knees seemed far too big for her spindly legs, her tail hung limp and ragged and her mane was knotted and greasy.  Her ears lay drooping forward and she barely raised her head above the rough dirt floor.  She looked so sad and bedraggled; literally on her last legs, as, shuffling along, she kept close to the rails in the deep shadow. The men around the corral stubbornly kept their hands in their pockets, some wandered off, some laughed.  “Come on folks.  Tell you what, I’ll accept any offer cos’ tomorrow, if she isn’t sold, she’ll be dog meat and glue.” He twisted the wad of chewing tobacco round his mouth, and spat another brown drool behind him.  “Last chance boys,”

The teenager perched on a top rail, looked at her sad old eyes. Yes, even the horse knew it was the end alright, there was no glimmer of hope left in those sad eyes – but as she stepped into a shaft of sunlight, she suddenly raised her head, shook off the flies that had settled on her face and whinnied defiantly. The boy was seized with emotion; his fingers searched desperately in his jeans and closed on the single dime. He knew what he had to do; his heart was bursting in his chest. He was nervous and sweating but he shouted out “A dime, mister, I’ll have her for a dime”.

“Now son, be sensible.  You know I can’t let her go for a dime, she’ll earn more than that for butcher’s meat.  Any serious offers now?”

“But you said you’d accept any bid Mister.”

“That was just colloquial speakin’ there, boy, you must realise that.”

One of the better-dressed men spoke up. “Call yourself a horse dealer?  You should be ashamed.  A deal’s a deal.  You said you’d accept any bid. Let the boy have the nag, it won’t make no difference to the owners, they’re bankrupt anyway.”  Murmurs went round the ring, heads were nodded, and soon a chorus of voices rang out.  “Let the boy have the horse.  Let the boy have the horse.”

The horse dealer closed his ledger with a slam and blinked into the sunlight.  Exasperated, he spoke at last, “Alright, alright” he knew the crowd was against him, he was tired and beaten and just wanted to get away – “Give the boy the horse.  It ‘ain’t no odds to me after all.  That’s it folks; I’m done.”  He got down off his step ladder to wild applause.  The teenager was hoisted on men’s shoulders and run around the ring, hats were flung high in the air.  The old nag walked slowly behind them, round and round the ring.  Shyly he approached her.  He held out his hand and she softly nuzzled his fingers.  He led her off, and as he passed the horse dealer a heavy hand was laid upon his thin shoulder.


“Son, don’t you ever pull a crazy stunt like that again.  If I see you in my audience another time, I’ll get you outta there so quick you’ll think your britches was on fire.”

“Okay mister.  It was just she looked so sad and all; I just had to have her. I’ll look after her – I promise I will.”

When he got the horse home his father went wild.  “Who do you think will pay for her feed, boy.  And if she gets sick she’ll just have to die, I can’t afford no vets bills, son.”

“I’ll get a job at the store, old Jackson is looking for a boy, I’ll go see him in the morning – just let me keep the horse Dad.”

And he did; he worked hard from morning to nightfall, he fed and washed his horse, he bathed her sore flanks, he put down fresh straw for her every night.

One day he threw an old blanket over her and standing on a wooden box  gingerly got up onto her back she turned her head, as if in surprise, and then, obediently walked forward.  She was too old to gallop but managed a half-hobbling trot.  The boy was so delighted with his old girl; they soon became the best of friends.  He rode her every night, just round the homestead and back.

But all too soon he realised that the horse dealer had been right – she was well past her best.  That winter when the snows came, she developed a hacking cough.  The vet came out as a favour to his father, and said she should be kept indoors.  He gave the boy an old bottle of cough elixir he found in the back of his office.  But she got worse and worse, her nose and eyes were running, her head hung low, she was shivering all over.  But she clung on and some-how she pulled through. She perked up just as the sticky buds were first appearing on the trees.

But later that summer she got ill again and the vet said there was nothing else he could do for her.  It was her heart this time and her breathing was ragged and splutteringly painful. The vet offered to shoot her to put her out of her misery, but the boy begged for another week to see if she got better.  The vet walked away shaking his head.  The boy made himself up a bed in her stable and held her head, gently stroking her face as she fitfully tried to sleep.  He whispered into her ear, “Stay with me, old girl.  Don’t leave me like this.  Don’t die yet my beauty.”   In the end, even the boy was forced to agree that her time was up; she hadn’t the energy to even lift her poor old head.

He couldn’t watch as the vet pulled the big black gun out of his bag.  He shuddered as he heard the shot, and a few seconds later the dull thud as she hit the ground.  He didn’t turn around until the men had dragged her away.

A few years passed.  The boy was now a man, he eventually became manager of the store and a few years later took over from old Jackson himself.  He married and had children of his own.  As an old man he often told his grandchildren the story of the horse he bought for a dime.  How, caring for that horse had turned him from a boy, a feckless teenager to be honest, into a man.  He would reach over to the little desk and pull out a battered old matchbox and say “And the best part was that miserable old horse dealer wasn’t so clever after all. I bid a dime, that was all I owned, my entire worldly wealth.  And you know what – that old horse dealer was so disgusted that I’d gotten the horse for next to nothing that he forgot to ask me for the dime.  Here she is in this matchbox, see. I’ve never spent that dime and I never will either.  That horse, that battered old wreck that nobody wanted, that sad old girl, became my best friend.  She taught me how to love something other than myself, the most important lesson anyone can learn.  When I looked into her eyes as she lay dying in my arms I felt her pain, but I also saw her beauty, her pride – and she knew I loved her too, she knew I cared.

If I ever see that horse dealer again, which I won’t ‘cos he musta been dead a long time now – I‘ll shake him by the hand. Yes, my dears, that was the best dime I never even spent.”

My Record Collection 50

Harry Chapin – This is a real old favourite, from those years of discovery and exploration in my musical education.  Now, hard to believe, but Noel Edmonds used to be a Radio 1 D.J.   He had a Sunday morning show; he used to feature an album of the week and  and Artist of the week.  He introduced me to so many brilliant West Coast singer songwriters – as well as the stars like Joni and Neil Young there were minor wonders such as Judee Sill, John Stewart and of course Harry.   Now Harry was different.  He didn’t look at all like a pop-star for a start, he was thirty years old – and he wasn’t interested in Fame and Fortune – except as a platform to be a Humanitarian.  He campaigned tirelessly against World Hunger and he was awarded (posthumously) the Congressional Gold Medal (a rare award).

He emerged in 1972 with an incredible debut album ‘Heads and Tales’. Every song has a certain timeless magic quality; they are all small stories about ordinary people, full of compassion and love – ‘Greyhound’ about a long bus trip, ‘DogTown’ about the loneliness of a whaling community, and most famously ‘Taxi’ – how a taxi driver picks up an old love who is now a famous actress but is unhappy in her fame “And I hear she’s acting happy in her handsome home, and me – I’m flying in my taxi, taking tips and getting high.’  His lyrics are always thoughtful, and his big thing was that we are all lonely and all need each other.  This record and the two that followed are among my very favourite records of all time.  Later the same year he brought out ‘Sniper’ – almost as good as the debut.  He must have written many songs and was just waiting to record them.  The title song is about that very American loner who is desperate to be understood but who takes it to the limit by shooting people in order to be noticed.  There are songs about a girl who burns herself with cigarettes, one about a lonely bar-maid, and ‘Barefoot Boy’ about a country boy coming to the city.  There is a song about an abortion, and maybe his most famous song ‘Circle’ “All my life’s a circle”. Another classic album.

The following year came his third album Short Stories. Another classic, though the stories are milder now, less violent, less obscure – but still moving.  There is the story of a dry-cleaner who tries to become an opera singer, there is ‘Mail order Annie’ who arrives in North Dakota without knowing who her husband is.  And of course the brilliant ‘W O L D’ about a DJ appealing to his ex-wife for another chance; this was a hit single worldwide, and a great song.  And Harry seemed to not only bring us beautiful melodies but great lyrics too.

And these first three records really stand out as something special.  But then with his next record, Verities and Balderdash, the following year of course (they worked them hard back then) despite a number one US hit single and sales of 3.5 million – the record seemed to me a bit flat, tired and veering very much to the middle of the road.  There was nothing really wrong with the songs; ‘Cats in the Cradle’ is brilliant, ’30,000 Pounds of Bananas’ is funny, as is ‘Six String Orchestra’ but he now seemed to be playing to an audience rather than singing just for the lonely boy in the bedsitter.  Maybe four albums in it becomes inevitable.  Of course I continued buying his records anyway…well, you sort of have to, don’t you?

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My Record Collection 49

Johnny CASH –  What a colossus, the Man in Black; seems like he has always been around.  I can clearly remember the San Quentin film on telly as a kid.  Great stuff and great memories – and he was there right from the beginning at Sun records when Elvis came in and recorded ‘That’s Alright Mama’.   I have a couple of hits albums – great to hear those old songs from the Fifties and early sixties; ‘Boy Named Sue’, ’16 tons’ and ‘Tenessee Flat Top’ along with the hits ‘I Walk The Line’ and Ring Of Fire’.  The constant is that voice, deep and true, ringing out of every song.  Great Stuff.  Best album is a double ‘The Legend Lives On’ with a few live tracks on it too.   But I still almost feel like I am a traitor listening to this pure unadulterated country music; a real guilty pleasure. A few years ago I picked up a CD in a second hand shop ‘The Mystery of Life’   This was a late 80’s record, I really like it.  Best songs – The title track and ‘Lionel train’.  But the best of Johnny Cash came very late in his life.  He began a series of albums with producer Rick Rubin for American records.  There were about 7 in all.  Johnny usually just on acoustic guitar and an older softer quieter voice – these are splendid records.  A few original songs and some splendid cover versions.  He even sings a brilliant version of Leonard’s ‘Bird on the Wire’.  The great thing about these songs is that they sound as if he had just walked into the studio, picked up his guitar and sung them, no rehearsal, no second takes, no studio wizardry.  The truth is probably somewhat different, but anyway I love them.  They are timeless, and a fitting tribute to the great man.  Maybe his best song in the series was ‘Hurt’.   For my money there are a few too many religious songs, but you can’t have everything.

Nick Cave – I keep hearing people comparing Nick (and the Bad seeds) to Leonard or Dylan even – so I bought his Greatest Hits.  Verdict – he is good – but not in the top league by a long way.  I like some of the songs, especially ‘Red Right Hand’ and ‘Winter Song’ – but many left me cold, unmoved, strangely bored….maybe I’m just getting old.

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My Record Collection 48

J J CALE  – I really don’t know that much about this American country singer.  He is very unpublicised but has written some great songs, a couple recorded by Clapton (see c).  He plays a sort of chugging blues, like an acoustic ZZ Top.  I only have two albums – Special Edition – a sort of greatest hits.  This is the epitome of relaxed background music – the songs barely rise from each other and the record is over before you know it.  Best songs ‘Cocaine’ and ‘After Midnight’, but maybe that’s because I know them from Clapton.  This is pure America, but also almost narcotic.   I also have 5, another charity shop purchase.  This is so similar as to appear the same record.  Equally pleasant, but really you only need one J J Cale album.

CAMEL – A strange one, this.  I only bought this on a good friend’s recommendation.  Music from the film The Snow Goose.  And the lesson for today children is never listen to recomendtions.  When I have finally filled up my CD racks (not far off either) this is one for the charity shop.

CARS –  An American MOR rock band, who came to prominence in the mid-eightie – largely because of the song and video ‘Drive’ at Live Aid.  They had a string of hits and I have the Greatest Hits.  It is very good, competent, but somehow too samey for me.  Still, best songs – ‘Drive’ ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ and ‘Just What I Wanted’


Lost In The Wild

Lost in the wild tangle of emotions I cannot sleep.  I toss and turn, throw the duvet off and instantly retrieve it, turn the pillows over, discard one then bring it back with a thump under my head.  Sleep still evades me.  My hand reaches over to the empty half of the bed; your empty; your cold half of the bed – and the nightmare thoughts flood back, overwhelming me like some freak wave.  I am wide awake; blinking back the salty tears.  I glance over at the clock – 2.30, and still you are out.  Out there somewhere.  Drinking in some late-night den, laughing, smiling into someone else’s eyes.  Or worse, in their bed.  Oh God, the thoughts simply won’t go away.

It isn’t even jealousy.  I am long past jealousy.  It is the longing, the desperate yearning that keeps tormenting me.  I long for her touch, her smile even – but all I get is her scorn, her sarcasm, her evil taunting of me, comparing me to him.  And yet…. still I love her.  I plead with her, I cry, I weep in front of her, begging for forgiveness.  Forgiveness for whatever I might have done, or not have done, for my inadequacy, for letting her down, for forcing her to reject me.  And none of it has any effect, she simply brushes past me, in her new red high-heel shoes and that little black velvet dress I bought last year for her birthday.  And as she sweeps past I have to admit that she looks incredible.  So stunningly beautiful, there is no denying that she is becoming simply irresistible.  Even at five months pregnant she looks wonderful, radiant, and with her slightly pouting belly and rounded breasts she looks splendid.  For all the good that does me.  It makes it all far, far worse, of course.

I think back to when I first met her, she was slightly plump then, a five-foot-two chubby teenager with spots and glasses, and lank slightly greasy hair.  But I loved her. It was love at first sight; her with her blinking eyes and long fringe that kept falling over her face.  I loved her back then when she was just sixteen and shy.  Oh, how shy she was.  I worked so hard to open her up to even my kisses.

No good thinking back though to that time of innocence.  We are long past innocence.  I suppose I stole her innocence.  Yes, you could say that.  But I was barely two years older than her.  She was my first, my only girlfriend.  The only girl I have ever loved.  Of course, we – well, I, was stupid and she got pregnant so soon, and twice at that.  And now she has shredded that love, torn it up and tossed it like so much wasted confetti into my face.  Confetti? We had no confetti at our wedding, and barely any guests.  It was a sad affair, the registry office cold and dismal.  Her parents refused to come, as did mine.  And even then, I knew I was losing her; that fervour in her kisses was missing by now, too often she would turn her face away and stare vacantly at the wall when we made love.

And we had had to fight so hard for everything.  When she was first pregnant she begged me to take her away; from her mother, from her father and his drunken rages. We fled to Scotland where we heard you could get married at sixteen.  All that bus journey, as she slept soundly beside me, her head on my shoulder – I stared out of the window at the rainy night sky, as the town signs drifted by, Cambridge, Lincoln, York, Newcastle.  I was scared and alone; I had mucked up yet again.  All I had was this sleeping beauty beside me and the treasure she carried.  My very own family, after the one I had rejected a year earlier when I too had fled the life I felt trapped in – for a new life and a new start in London.  And now I realised I was messing up again, and not only my own life but hers too.  This was just another trap I was tumbling into.

It was dawn as the bus pulled into Edinburgh.  I trudged up steep streets and found a tenement with a sign ‘Room to Let’.  Five floors up, and I can still recall the stone staircase, each step hollowed out by millions of tired feet.  I went out to find a job and came back elated that I had found some temporary bar work.  She was suddenly smiling.  She had phoned her mother and gained a degree of forgiveness.  ‘We have to go back, it’s alright’ she said ‘My Mum said we can have the baby and live with her.  My Dad is sort of okay about it too.’  I had spent almost all of my money, just enough for the bus fare back.  And as the bus wound its long return journey and the towns drifted by in reverse order, she slept soundly on my shoulder and I stared out all night at the bleak rainy darkness.  It rained and rained and as I kept wiping the condensation from the window with the side of my hand – still, all I could see was rain.

Sometimes I feel it hasn’t stopped raining since.  Her father kicked us out six months after the baby was born. We ended up in a homeless hostel, and then in a temporary ground floor of a house waiting to be demolished.  It was here that she fell pregnant again, but worse than that she started going out with the woman from upstairs.  Drinking in pubs down the Holloway Road, while I stayed in looking after the baby.

And now she stays out until the early hours, and I lay awake, occasionally rocking the baby’s cradle, listening for the sound of a car pulling up and her drunken giggle and the click-clack of those red high-heels as she stumbles up our steps.  Which is worse, the waiting or her arrival?  I really don’t know.  I dread her not coming back, and I dread her coming in and taunting me with how good a lover he is, and how useless I am.  And still I put up with it, I stay and look after the baby, changing his nappy, making his food, washing his clothes, and worrying what the hell my sometimes wife is getting up to.  Hoping against hope that she will tire of him, of her ‘freedom’, that she will realise that he is simply offering her another trap.  That she will give him up and come back to me.

The months roll on and it gets no better.  Then the baby is due and we go together to the Hospital.  She holds my hand, digging her nails in as her contractions come one by one.  I am nervous, apprehensive. Desperately hoping that things have changed, that she still loves me.  But hope is all I have.  Hope is all I have ever had.

Six weeks later and she has gone.  With him.  She has taken the new baby, but has left me with the other one, now just 18 months old.  And this child, who smiles through everything knows nothing of the turmoil we have been through.  The desperate nights, the hours of lonely waiting were nothing to him.  He smiled though it all.  And as I drop the good-bye note and pick him up I realise that he probably has saved my life.

We start again; I paint the rooms, I find him a nursery, I buy some better second-hand furniture. We move into a GLC flat in Hackney.  I begin to get over her.  But I will never forget those nights, lying awake, listening for the click-clack of her heels, the drunken giggle, the fumble of her key in the lock.

I grow stronger, I will fall in love again, I will have more children.  But I will never forget her, her shy smile, those blinking eyes, that little black velvet dress and how beautiful she looked.  I will forgive her, maybe I had always forgiven her – but I cannot forget those wild nights, when I was lost in the tangle of my emotions.  When I wasn’t sure if I still loved her, or just the memory of her; when all I knew was that I was losing her.  I was lost in those wild times, and sometimes I am not sure I have ever recovered, if I ever found my way home – or if I am still wandering, still tossing and turning in my frantic search for some peace.   Even now somewhere inside, there is a little bit of me that still loves the memory of her, even if she did smile as she ground her high heeled shoe in the space in my heart I’d laid open for her.

Such is love.


My Record Collection 47

The Byrds (continued)  Soon after recording The Notorious Byrd Brothers, McGuinn, on Chris Hillman’s advice recruited Gram Parsons to the band.  They had a few live tryouts nd it seemed to work, but Gram slowly began to take over the band.  Their direction went completely country, or more precisely what would become country-rock and eventually be Known as America.  Several groups were moving this way at the same time, most notably The Band, and Artists like Johnny Cash (see C) had never left the stage and were still having huge hits which sometimes crossed over to the Pop charts.  The eventual late ’68 album was called Sweetheart of the Rodeo.   And it really divided Byrds fans, many felt (just like with Dylan) that this was some sort of betrayal.  In fact the band never recovered their former popularity despite some fine albums and a few minor hits.  The album is pretty full-on country, but without the yee-ha; it still has those lovely chiming guitars and gorgeous harmonies.  Best songs ‘You ‘int Going Nowhere’ (another Dylan classic) the splendid ‘Hickory Wind’ and ‘Nothing Was Delivered’.  But a fine album.  Even though Gram Parsons had almost taken over the group he up and left after just this one record, later taking Chris Hillman with him, leaving McGuinn as the sole remaining Original Byrd.  One has to wonder if all these departures were more to do with him than with ‘musical differences’.  Still he did not give up, but recruited 3 new Byrds and went back to the studio.   The new album, Doctor Byrd and Mr. Hyde was a bit heavier, a bit looser, more bluesy but still with country inflections.  Best songs ‘This Wheel’s on Fire’ (another Dylan song), the country tinged ‘Drug Store Truck Driving Man’ and ‘Nashville West’ – but not really their best record. Better was 1970’s (Untitled) – a double featuring both live and unreleased songs.  I only recently got this on CD, and really it is excellent, especially the live songs.  I s aw them live at the rainbow in early ’72 and this reminds me so much of a great concert. Best of the new songs – ‘Old Blue’, ‘Yesterdays Train’ and ‘Well Come Back’.  But this album failed to chart, as did the next Byrdmaniax; though I have always liked this one.  Great songs – ‘Citizen Kane’ ‘Absolute Happiness’ and Jamaica say you will’ – a happier sound, but still the Byrds great vocals and ringing guitar.  This could almost be my favourite of theirs.

Then came (still waiting to be listened to) Farther Along’.  Continued arguments and one by one band members left.  Then it was decided to reform the 5 original Byrds for a new record on new label – Assylum,  The record came out in 1973.  I bought it and really loved it – though again it flopped.  In some ways this

is their most realised record – though as usual the band members, McGuinn in particular, were quite dissatisfied with it, and the planned tour and follow-up record were abandoned.  After this indeed McGuinn finally closed the book on the Byrds.  The band members went on to solo careers, which with the exception of David rosby, fizzled out.

Still, they were some group, and listening again they sound so modern, much more like todays music than even the Beatles.

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My Record Collection 46

The Byrds – I heard the single ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ long before I knew Dylan’s original version.  In fact, The Byrds brought Dylan to a much wider audience. Their take on the song was simply brilliant, those fabulous ringing guitars and the sweet vocals just make the song wonderful.   But back then in 1965 I was so in love with the Beatles that I had no time for these new American kids -they seemed to be copying the Fabs with their haircuts and all. But listening now to their records which I bought much later, I realise they were just as important, just on a different trajectory.  Their first album, Mr. Tambourine Man, has all the landmarks of the Byrds sound – the country twang, the chiming guitars and the gorgeous harmonies.  Best songs ‘I’ll feel a whole lot better’, ‘Bells of Rhymney’ and another Dylan classic ‘Spanish Harlem Incident.’  An incredible debut.   Later that same year they released Turn Turn Turn; this is a more folky record, maybe in the rush to release a follow-up they had not written quite so many new songs.  The record companies worked bands pretty hard in those days.  There are, as became their trademark, a handful of Dylan covers and a few traditional folk songs.  The best was the title track , ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune’ and ‘He Was A Friend Of Mine’ plus a bonus track on the CD re-issue ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’.  1966 saw Fifth Dimension, and you could really feel the band moving on.  This was the year The Beatles put our Revolver; in many ways ’66 was the revolutionary year, when Psychedelia was just beginning.  This record was far more experimental with the wonderful ‘8 Miles High’, which many took as a drug song when it is about flying to London, the weird ‘What’s Happenin’ and the brilliant ‘Mr. Spaceman – there was still room for the more traditional and beautiful ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’.  Lead singer Gene Clark (see C) left in the middle of recording and vocals were completed by Crosby (see C) and McGuinn.  Interestingly no Dylan covers this time – the band were now writing their own material.   A year later they released ‘Younger Than Yesterday’, a somewhat mixed record, it doesn’t seem to hang together.  Maybe the band was struggling or experimenting with acid by now.  Some songs are good ‘So You Wanna Be A Rock’n’Roll Star’ and the Dylan cover ‘My Back Pages’, some really spaced out weird guitar breaks McGuinn called Raga Rock, vaguely Indian but meandering and boring.  And a couple of Crosby slow songs which seem to be going nowhere.  Early ’68 saw a better album The Notorious Byrd Brothers.  But even here the band seem a bit disjointed; hardly surprising as drummer Michael Clark and Crosby both left during the recording of the record, though they both feature on many of the songs.  Not a bad record surprisingly – the band moving into newer sounds and using brass in some tracks even.  The delightful ‘Goin’ Back’ – a Goffin King song, never bettered reminds us of the original folk-pop sound of the Byrds. Now many people say that the country-folk sound first came about on ‘Sweetheart’ , their next album with Gram Parsons – but the seeds were sown and are all too apparent on this very good record.  Songs like ‘Old John Robertson’ would fit perfectly on the follow-up.  But really there isn’t a poor song on the record – a treat; in some ways the excesses of ’67 were being redressed, just as The Beatles were doing with the White Album, the Byrds were doing with Notorious.  Fave songs also include ‘Draft Morning’ and ‘Wasn’t Born To Follow’



My Record Collection 45

Tim Buckley This was Jeff Buckley’s father, though he died when Jeff was a small boy.  Tim was a singer songwriter in the mid-sixties; he never really achieved fame, but he was around.  He died of a heroin overdose in 1975.  I only have one record  – Goodbye and Hello from 1967.  Strangely for a 1967 record it sounds more dated than the Beatles and the Byrds records.  But I still like it; naïve and gentle and angry by turns it still sounds good. Best songs…’No Man Can Find The War’, ‘Once I Was’ and the psychadelic ‘Phantasmagoria in Two’.  A sweet record.

Jake Bugg For those of you who may feel that I have yet to move into the current Century, I do, quite regularly, try out new artists.  One such was Jake Bugg; and really he is quite good; very much in the singer-songwriter vein – this record could have been released any time in the last sixty years.  It is remarkably lyrical and gentle.  But…somehow it hasn’t made me jump up and go straight onto Amazon to buy more – I have the one self-titled album.  Not that there is anything wrong with it – just that my playlist (ever-changing) is full of new stuff by established artists, as well as re-listening constantly and in alphabetical order (no-one ever said I wasn’t anal) to my old favourites.  Best songs ‘Lightning Bolt’aand ‘Simple as This’.  But the name is stuck in my back-boiler mind and while whiling away time in charity shops if I come across any others of his I may well snap them up.

Buffalo Springfield – Well, this was the band that many people think started it all.  The country-rock thing, which has turned into Americana.  But the Byrds (see B soon) were well down this road too; the truth is always more complicated.   The band was just one of those emerging out of California in the mid-sixties.  But it did have Neil Young and Stephen Stills in it.  I have a collection (they only made three records, and Neil had left by the last one), called Retrospective.  It is pretty good, but Neil’s songs really stand out; best songs – ‘For What it’s Worth’ ‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing’ and ‘Broken Arrow’ – but it is all quite good really. Just over two years and the band had split – the rest is History.

Eric Burden – again a charity shop purchase.  Of course I knew him from the Animals. I s aw the CD and thought I would see what he was up to…it is a live album and quite good, very bluesy, and he does a few Animals songs too.  But this was simply a touch of nostalgia on my part.  An excellent version of Tobacco Road too.

Kate Bush – just how many fantastic Artists flourished and flowered in the fertile soil of the Sixties and early Seventies?  Kate was just one more precocious teenager who sung like an angel and had the classic English rose looks too.  I have only her greatest hits (and Red Shoes on cassette) but have always meant to buy others of hers.  Her debut single ‘Wuthering Heights’ has hardly been bettered, even by Kate; it is preposterous and crazy and quite wonderful.

Bernard Butler – he was the guitarist with Suede, one of the Britpop bands of the mid-nineties, not one of my favourite groups – but sort of okay.  The record, Friends and Lovers is alright, I quite like it.  But not enough to buy anything else by him.  So it goes…


Three Revolutions

1 – America  1776 This was a Revolution by relatively wealthy landowners and merchants who had colonised the east coast of America.  They rebelled against the authority of the British Crown; essentially this was a revolt against taxation without representation.  Largely because these colonies were so far away the revolution was not easily supressed.  Eventually these separatist colonies formed a Union and elected a President, who unlike the kings of Europe had no hereditary succession but were to be elected.  They also had a declaration of citizens rights.  These were two new departures and had lasting consequences.  The importance of the individual and the idea of the pursuit of happiness, even if in early drafts this was the pursuit of property – were indeed a new basis on which to run society.   And this persists to this day in the ideas of Conservativism, that individual freedom is more important than any consideration for others.

2 – France 1789 This was really a different type of revolution, driven by poverty and oppression of the masses by the Aristocracy.  The Revolution was soon hijacked by a few radical individuals who pursued those born into riches and power ruthlessly.  Eventually this led to the rise of a new ‘king’ – Napoleon.  But the ideas of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality are still at the heart of the French constitution; that all men (not sure anyone was that concerned about women) are brothers and free from oppression and equal under the law.  These ideas have been more or less universally accepted by most Western countries – and are in some ways the opposite of the American ideal.

3 – Russia 1917 This was again brought about by incredible hardship, but also military defeats and an unbending Royalty.  This was a longer lasting revolution, and again it was taken over by a corrupt elite.  The main idea of this communist pursuit was that the individual was completely at the service of the state; the state being the physical manifestation of the will of the people.  Of course, this failed, but not after scaring the ruling elites in most other Nations to their core; the fear of the mob was the main driver of the huge increases in standards of living for poorer people in the West.  Without the Russian revolution decent working conditions, decent housing, health services and education would have been far harder to achieve.  Without the example of Communism they are slowly being eroded.

No-one can say if there will be any further Revolutions, but it doesn’t seem likely.  But the battles continue – the individual versus society, the freedom to do as one likes against the freedom from the oppression by those who are stronger than others, Government for the rich and powerful or for the many, the power of the individual against the power of the state.  Many died, especially in the last two revolutions – but the ides still live on.  We must never forget them.