Write Here, Write Now: 12.24 – One of Those Rivers

Dodgy – One of these rivers. “Let’s not worry about, what we haven’t got”

Going back to 1996, and to a song be that was released in the UK when I was out of the country and so muted it on first time round.

Dodgy are one of those bands I just saw as being Britpop runalongs – doing something similar to more successful bands.

Bit this is a gloriously optimistic song with such an uplifting chorus. The chunky acoustic guitar string, the take-off with the banjo plucking, the harmonised singing, it all makes for tremendously relaxed listening, and gives hope that will still be well.

Get help but by the by

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Write Here, Write Now: 12.23 – Johnny Come Home

Fine Young Cannibals – Johnny Come Home. “What is wrong?

I remember that first time I saw the video for this song, on the Tube, and being impressed by Roland Gift’s distinctive voice, his urgent, open-mouthed way of singing, and as much with the fantastic rhythm that came with the song, the muted trumpet vibrating its tinny tone throughout the track. However, it’s only now that I notice the other rhythmic sounds going on in the background.

It became a bit of an ear work for me. Whenever I hear the words “What is wrong…” I mentally fill in the gaps from the song, whether or not I’ve had a drink that night or not. It’s more often to come in handy as a form of mantra when in under stress.

It’s an exciting song, such that even the guitarists dance around to the infectious beat. It fades out a bit at the end, and now I focus on the background before, I find that rather intrusive. Nevertheless, a great tune.

Write Here, Write Now: 12.22 – Lucky Man

The Verve – Lucky Man “just a change in me.¬†Something in my liberty”

For a while, I struggled to find the song for 1998. It’s not a year I recollect as being great for new music, nor do I remember being captivated by a band or record during that time. I bought Urban Hymns, but apart from the big singles, don’t think I was blown away by the rest of the album. Ironic, because I think of Bittersweet Symphony and The Drugs Don’t Work as being overblown anthems.

Lucky Man is similarly big, but the feel of the song is much more optimistic. It feels like a bright sunny morning with the sun coming up on a clear blue sky. And for that reason, it is a suitable song for me for this pivotal year.

It was the year I moved up from Essex and a long period of unemployment to instant temping job and then the Street of a 6 year job working for the Quakers, which was something I’d been going to be able to do for a long time. Not only that, I moved into a 17-person housing coop that opened me up to many interesting people passing through and a very good location from which to get acquainted with the capital, again a place I’d often wondered about being able to live in.

It was the last year of my twenties, and after a decade of somewhat rootless exploration of different options, some successful, others terrible failures, it really did seem that I was a lucky man falling on my feet. I would spend the next six years of my life getting to know the city, making my own internal map of the place, as well as a while lot of remarkable people who lived there. I started the first steps of the career I’m still engaged in, all these years later.

Most importantly, it brought me into contact with the love of my life, the person who walked into my life, grabbed hold, and took me on perhaps the most fascinating adventure of all. “Gotta love that’ll never die

Looking back now, it appears to me as if all the pieces of the jigsaw were fitting into place – that I had learned the lessons I needed to get to that point, from which I could move on to where I am now. Of course, there no inevitability to any of it, it’s just a story spun to fit the elements. “how many corners do I have to turn? How¬†many times do I have to learn?”

This whole year of blogging had been about spinning little stories, loosely around songs, more and more about my life and who I’ve been. In a way, the choice of doing has been coincidental, accidental. By listening to each one over and over again, I think I found the thing I wanted to say that day, making the song express something about me, even as I tried to say something about the song.

Having reached the end of my twenties, there isn’t time in the rest of the month, of the blog in fact, to reflect on any more of my personal history. If I have time to do the blog in these busy family days, it may just be to go back to the early days – just choosing songs I like and saying something about why I like them.

I have been a lucky man, all things considered.

Write Here, Write Now: 12.21 – Big My Secret

Michael Nyman – Big My Secret

Still in 1997 and The Piano was a big part of my life. The passions and range of emotions captured in this soundtrack album take me back to an unexpectedly adventurous and captivating time in my life. I was knocked off my feet and experienced deep emotional pleasure and pain in equal measure.

The unvoiced feelings that pour out of this recording touch me so exquisitely and take me back to memories of events that were so extraordinary to me, and yet so comfortingly familiar, that at times I felt blessed and others in torment.

Recently we have had a piano in our house and The Piano score is one that I bought to see if I could play it. Even the few simple bars and runs that I am capable of calm and exhilarate me.

Some tracks are full of foreboding, others are jaunty and silly, some take the same basic theme and have a run at it in a bold or in a soft manner. There is definitely the sense of a story told, of a beginning, a climax and of an ending. This track is close to the beginning, and has the feel of exploration, of running up and down the piano keyboard, simple in its touch of the notes, freshly reaching out to nerve endings anticipating contact.

In some ways, listening to this album is like experiencing an aural massage. I can drift off and feel the sound coaxing relaxation into my muscles, gently stretching limbs and torso to reach greater levels of comfort. It is a balm that I do not explore to often for fear of dullness through repetition. But when I come to it anew, each time it is a delight.

Write Here, Write Now: 12.20 – Kowalski

Primal Scream – Kowalski. “The question is not when he’s gonna stop

1997 and I was back from the USA, living with my parents. It was a year dominated by Spice Girls, Radiohead and Diana’s death. For me it was a year of helping my dad build a house and driving out to gigs in my mum’s old VW Golf.

Vanishing Point was a great album for putting on in the car and chugging along Essex A roads and backlanes. For a start, it was practically the only album I could hear over the Golf’s engine and more importantly, it was the sort of album made to be played in such a setting – the noises were a backing choir to the deep bass and bold guitar notes, and in the case of Kowalski, the DJ from the film Vanishing Point.

A totally immersive, not to say headache-inducing sound. I think when later I was doing voluntary work on the Isle of Man, the album soundtracked my speeding and braking and turns around the inly place in the UK with no speed limit.

I’ve just finished watching Detectorists, set in the same countryside where I used to race around. Having a car opened up similarly beautiful landscapes – certainly in North Essex – it was quite remarkable that there could be such empty, undisturbed rural areas that close to London. Andy and Lance never had such raucous soundtracks in their motors.

I did love the freedom of it all, even if it was often quite a solitary existence. I think my dad came to see Flux of the Pink Indians in Chelmsford once, but that was a rare exception. I went to gigs on my own. Primal Scream ably filled in the void.

Write Here, Write Now: 12.19 – What If God Was One Of Us?

Joan Osborne – What If God Was One If Us? “Just a slob

Part of my can’t quite believe I am blogging about this song. from the first time I heard it, it set my teeth on edge with how cheesy some of the lines and chosen rhymes were. But it was a hit in the US and a song I heard frequently on the radio in my room in the Quaker college where I was a resident.

It’s particularly pertinent because Christians generally are more confident of their faith in the US than in the UK and Quakers come in a wider range of varieties than just the liberal, silent worshiping non-literal breed that dominates in Britain. While east coast Quakers are of a form that British ‘Friends’ would recognize, the college I was at had representatives from those branches of the worldwide Quaker family who are more akin to a conventional bible-adhering church, often with priests, church services, hymns and sermons. Others still wear the plain dress seen on early Quakers and some present day Amish and Mennonites. How were we part of the same tradition? It was fascinating listening to the words of literalist Quaker academics justifying and explaining their adherence to creeds that would have no place among British Quakers.

Relaxing my uneasiness about such varieties of faith and belief, in fact coming to understand that all these different forms of Quakerism had their roots in the first days of the church, back in the turbulent times of the English civil war was shadowed by my accepting this song as valid – maybe not my cup of tea, but of value to some of those who also called themselves Quakers.

The song itself is laboured and simplistic. The melody is followed through both by guitar and singer, the drumbeat is heavy handed and drags – maybe a simple expression of faith, but nothing much for my ears. For me its only value is as a memory cue to go back to those days of mixing it up with new agers, dreamers, hardheaded pragmatists, and a delightful Franciscan nun who proclaimed her vows of chastity, poverty and obedience as liberating her from the pressures and pursuit of sexuality, wealth and power, and who seemed more interested in earth ethics than that laid down in the Catholic church. Some remarkable people I encountered there, and testament to there being far more rich seams of culture and community in the US than I had appreciated before I visited the country.

Write Here, Write Now: 12.18 – New Jersey Turnpike

Laurie Anderson – New Jersey Turnpike “it’s more like the bus

Travelling across the United States by Greyhound was something of a ritual.Rucksack stowed under the bus, seat on the right next to the window with a daypack, water bottle, sliced white bread and individually-wrapped cheese slices, both square, so convenient for making ‘fresh’ sandwiches, a pot of TCBY (vanilla), possibly something to read, and the 4 volumes of Laurie Anderson’s United States Live on cassette.

Oftentimes, as the bus sped along the interstate, whether from Chicago to San Francisco, or from San Francisco to Philadelphia, I would just gaze out of the window, staring at the passing fields, changing oh so slowly as we moved westwards or eastwards.

This song is pretty appropriate for the blog. It references Chicago, San Francisco and, of course, the New Jersey turnpike. On the final leg of the trip, from San Francisco to Philadelphia, we travelled pretty much non-stop all the way – I remember it taking some 24 hours, though looking it up now, some 21 years later, the journey is estimated to take 3 days. Anyway, barring a hold up in Sacramento when the police were called in to investigate theft on the first overnight leg, we travelled without incident until we reached the New Jersey turnpike, when the bus broke down and we had to wait several hours before we were picked up.

A lot of the time, the life on the road would drift past. We were not on a journey somewhere – we were already there – on the bus, the journey and the space occupied on it, was where we were. deserted roadside diners, early morning or late evenings when the bus would stop for a toilet break and, stepping out onto the parking lot, the desert skies would reveal an infinity of stars – far more than I have ever seen in light-polluted Europe.

And similarly to the stop-start episodic nature of this song, the journey would slip from landscape to landscape, disgorging and picking up passengers, so that the scenery and the cast of the stage show would change before your eyes and ears.

I knew Laurie Anderson’s more pop records – Big Science, Mister Heartbreak and Strange Angels – layered, atmospheric, witty, yet clearly songs. United States and this song in particular, are much more relaxed about the form and content of the performances, even while they are somewhat random, disjointed and unpredictable in what will come next.

Relaxed, and yet full of danger – deaf OAP drivers, bombs on planes, serial killings, space rockets burning up,. nuclear attacks. Aside from the thefts on the bus, on the first leg, there was someone smuggling a baby crocodile in a Tupperware box – not life-threatening, but all (low)life was there.

The underside of America and a coast-to-coast ride were things I had not expected to see when I arrived in the States in 1996. But it was good and made more memorable by the soundtrack provided by Laurie.