Rituals

These days I need reading glasses.  I can’t see what’s in front of my face, as they say, and so on they go, the rest of the world receding into a blurry backdrop,   Putting on glasses is a ritual.  It’s like the raising or lowering  of a veil, or the laying of a table, perhaps the other-worldliness of submerging yourself in water (suddenly, baptism makes a lot of sense).  The dropping of the needle, the scratchy moments before the music begins, a marking out of a sacred space.  

Picture a Zen meditation class in Highbury, where some white middle class Englishmen in medieval Japanese robes explained that, within the confines of the space this room, there were no shoes allowed.  More lifestyle enlightenment, I thought, in a lifestylishly smug way, quite pleased with myself.  Tut tut.  The romantic nostalgia of these posh quasi-monks made me feel like an extra in a sixth form staging of “The Seven Samurai”.   On reflection, and after wanting to run them through with a big sword, I appreciated the “otherness”; once fully clothed, now barefoot in Islington.

Before beginning a solo performance, pianist Cecil Taylor danced across the stage towards the piano, pausing, circling like a vulture, raising a talon and sharpening his beak before almost attacking the instrument.  Let’s face it, it’s not much different to the popular pill popping, the purpose being broadly the same, but like a lucid dreamer he can snap out of it if he wants to.  Turn on and off the supply of whatever is taking him under.   I envy him.  That night he basically didn’t give a shit what we thought.  A silent titter seemed to waft around the audience, but the next hour saw them drawn in to that same space, his space, leaving their seats dizzy at the close of  the journey.  So, in that game where you have to choose one, my superpower would be that lack of inhibition.  That willingness to leave the real world.  Whilst everyone else is flying above the clouds and reading minds, I would simply dance myself a little mimed story in a purple tracksuit.

Rituals clear space, stop time, focus the mind and the body.  Religions are useful primarily for this reason, enforcing their strange and arbitrary timetables, sunrise and Sundays, days of rest and of celebration, a dash of incense here and there.  The nearest I get to that is to close my Facebook tab before writing a blog.  And that will be open again pretty soon.  People would get more done, and with better focus, if they had to get up a ladder to post on Facebook.  

It used to be different. In student days, I would break up the routine by watching “Neighbours” at 1.30.  It was hardly a call to prayer, but it did the job, my daily shift of practice and essays divided conveniently in two by the shattered dreams and emotional love stories of future Australian celebrities.  I was the turning over the LP of my otherwise formless day; side 1 and side 2.  A neutral space, a cerebral no-man’s land.  And needless to say, the repeat of “Neighboirs” at 5.30 was strictly off limits., my own personal heresy.

These altered states remind me of  what Margaret Atwood talks about in one of her lectures on writers and writing; the double.  A writer who writes, and a writer who does the dishes, two halves of a single body.   The writer who lives, and the one who lives on after that life.  The hand on the keyboard, or the pen, like the dropping needle, is a sign that he or she is somewhere else,  or someone else.  And perhaps the writing and the reading, playing and listening, are one in the same state.

So there’s me and there’s my musician.  My playing side is bold, carefree, mischievous in a temporarily suspended time, a guest in a hotel where someone else does all the housework.  And when he’s finished, after the applause (let’s be optimistic), the somewhat anxiety-ridden, earth bound chap that lurches and lumbers through life, me, takes over.

Nowadays we have access to these ritualised states very easily, but it’s difficult to go very deeply into them.  I am writing this on a tube train, on a so-called phone.  It’s very rare I call people on it.  But if I want to write something on it, preparation time is almost non-existent.  It’s about five seconds. Open app, click pen and paper shaped icon, begin.  It even suggests words you might consider before writing them.  Without a thought in my head, there is a guarantee that some words will appear.   With one eye on the stations, trying to notice if someone needs my seat, I’m not under yet, still in the real world.  But soon I’ll have my glasses on, and if I want to I can look over the top of them, an action which causes my eyebrows to be involuntarily raised in an apparent gesture of superiority.  I hope the other passengers don’t notice.  But I’ve arrived at the station and, with no time to pack my glasses away in their case (the other end of the ritual), they hang perilously tucked in the neck of my shirt as I pick up my bag , caught walking in the increasingly small space between real and imagined worlds.  Mind the gap and all that.

A is for Aphex Twin : ‘CIRKLON3 [ Колхозная mix ]’ (video directed by Ryan Wyer).

2This music is new to me, and the fact that I am already going to “write about it” is so typical of “what is wrong with today’s world”.  But we all want to fit in, so I will do it anyway.    Don’t be a stick in the mud, be a beachball bouncing on the white water rapids of life, I said to myself, and now to whoever is reading this.  It helps that Aphex Twin, aka Richard D James, is familiar enough, three of his albums from the nineties are frequent companions.  But this track is new, discovered this morning as part of my recent, cautious tip-toeing through Spotify’s sweetshop.  So if you haven’t heard it either, we are in (almost) the same boat, and in the same strained metaphor.

Aphex Twin’s records have something that I admire in music more than anything else.  They are strangely likeable, and the more accessible he gets, the more I like it.  He does have some tricksy stuff up his sleeve, and some devilish rhythmic games, but there are simple tunes and basslines at its heart.  With three or four chords, a handful of notes, some catchy groove or another, he can make something that endures.  Invoked by obvious painstaking programming and editing, like endless rubbing of a lamp to summon a genie, there it is; the sheer likeableness.

His persona as seen in earlier videos by Chris Cunningham, is a kind of children’s doll from a horror film brought to life by vintage synthesisers, his head grafted gruesomely on to bodies of women and children.   The music, though, is pretty and lyrical in the places where it isn’t almost gory (“4” represents the former, “Come To Daddy” the latter), locked in a sort of “good twin, bad twin” oscillation.

This video, however, is directed by Ryan Wyer, discovered by the aforementioned Mr Twin on a gaming YouTube channel.  Mr Wyer, it emerges, is twelve years old.  He does what a lot of twelve year olds do.  He points his phone, equipped with a video camera, out of train windows.  He films his mates dancing and cartwheeling in front of his house; he slows up the film, he puts filters on it.  Nothing fancy.  He wears an Aphex Twin mask.  He likes, apparently, Mr Twin’s “Smojphace” E.P, a mix of this track by Bug ft. Daddy Freddy…in other words, he knows things that grown ups bemoaning his time spent on the internet will never know.   And he captures something.

To access his videos, you have to wade through an expensive looking advertisement for yoghurt.  I like yoghurt, but I’ve forgotten the brand already.  I would have given the yoghurt advertisement more attention, but the thing I am impatient to watch is at the end of it so I don’t.  All that money, that yoghurt money, down the drain.

What used to take patient research, long listening, searching out, I have discovered in ten minutes of daisy-chained clicks, one page directing to another, and then in turn another, like endlessly reproducing cells.  It’s like a gas in my brain, what once were, in a pre-internet world, solid facts as artifacts, now fleeting and floating molecules, fragments of collected sound and vision.  I don’t feel comfortable with it.  I am still in my pyjamas at 11.44.

YouTube is full of this stuff, of homemade videos to music people like.  It’s easy to do, maybe too easy.  And yet, Ryan’s video says more than any amount of hi-tech, focus group-led zeitgeisty flick can ever say, more than a yoghurt commercial and more than a multi million dollar swashbuckling scifi hit.  Kids, dancing around on a street in front of a house, is pure enjoyment without purpose.  It’s a window on the world, and I am going to watch it again.  There’s a certain lightness of touch in the way the sounds meander along to the action.  A woman with a buggy waves as she passes, an event which in no way is reflected in the music.

Aphex Twin’s music turns out to be written on, and about, a synthesiser.  The Cheetah MS800 is a famously awkward instrument to program; it takes a long time to produce the most basic sounds.  The album is called “Cheetah”, in the way that Everest climber Edmund Hilary’s autobiography is called “View From The Summit”.  A thing conquered, just for the sake of it.  Some slowness in a world of speed is OK too.  It’s good to dance, but sometimes it’s good to just sit in one’s pyjamas.

 

 

 

 

 

Strawberries The Size Of Footballs

I don’t know about you, but I like to have some idea of the size and scale of things.  The familiarity of place and time.  As a kid I used to have dreams where a kind of infinity surrounded me, falling down a spinning tunnel, then endlessly moving piles of things (usually football-sized strawberries) from one place to another, only to see them replaced with an identical amount, also to be moved.   That kind of thing. I always suspected this dream would worm its way into some reality, seeming to be about having no idea of what was happening, how big it was, where and why.

A few years ago, I transcribed around thirty Bill Evans trio performances (every note) for money (not enough). Transcription involves writing down everything that was played on to manuscript paper, which means endlessly rewinding the audio, writing down what you can hear, rewinding again, writing down and filling out and correcting….and then on to the next two seconds.  Some people hear it all first time.  I am not one of those people.  Imagine how effortlessly a baby can thump piano keys with his or her forearms; now imagine trying to find the exact notes and the rhythm they were played in.  Basically it’s quite a lot easier than that (Bill Evans knew what he was doing) and this was my only consolation.

Nevertheless it was what a teacher might call an interesting and informative exercise.  I am not against transcription in principle, a little can be helpful, but you spend your life trying to get back to that first “high”.  And this was transcription overdose, I was Gene Hackman in “French Connection 2”, a dribbling idiot tied to a bed in a yellow-walled room with the Bill Evans trio pumped into my veins.  It was abuse, a kind of paid addiction.

Treading in his footsteps from 9 til 5 (what a way to make a living) put me right in his head.  After a while, rather than merely listening to his music, I saw his hands on the keys, forming patterns that were as familiar to me as they were to him in 1962.  I could have carried on any performance exactly as he himself would have done.  I was operating the robot Bill Evans from the cockpit of his mind.  I was him. The problem was, I was me too, but only just.

Me looking at Bill Evans became Me and Bill, then the subtle change to Bill and Me, and then a kind of eternally squabbling hybrid as one fought the other.  The slow, gradual accumulation of ideas, techniques, feelings and experiences of a piano genius (that’s him, by the way) funnelled down the vertiginous and unending tunnel of my childhood nightmares, then spat finally on to a piece of paper in the most scholarly fashion I could muster.  This went on for four months.

And that’s just how it was with one person.

Now consider a Facebook feed on a typical morning. A video of someone receiving some award, or saving a cat from near death, playing Chopin faster than ever intended or looking beautiful, looking happy or having friends (who are they?), raising crowd funding money to build an entirely new country off the coast of Wales by jumping from a space shuttle, someone just being happy that everything is ok, sad stories with a happy ending, sad stories without one, people marching, someone shouting at a video of someone else shouting at a computer game, life coaches, things you need to do, must not miss, will not believe, should not click on.

There is something about Facebook that makes it look like the diary of a single person. Events appear as chronological, sequential and connected.  The way I read is subconsciously feeding me this information as if it all relates to one huge, unisex experiencer of things. It’s basically one person who is everywhere and is everyone all the time. And then you think, each of these facets of this one big person is a person having that same experience, more cats and more Chopin and more and more….a hall of mirrors full of mirrors.  It is like being omnipotent, like being present everywhere all the time. It is like being God.  God, but primarily in an administrative capacity.  A kind of nausea of immortality grips me, the suffering of a human body that cannot hold a consciousness that infinite.  Wait a minute…it’s the story of Jesus!

Too much?

Anyway, back to Bill Evans. After four months the job was done. I walked away a new man. I walked away a hollow corpse, eaten away by the parasite Bill Evans. I couldn’t play a note, because every note that came out was his, and so I tried to blank him out, and to override this I had to think of “someone else” and how they would play the same thing.  So now there were three of us.

Some months later, with my fragile consciousness restored, I eagerly awaited the publication of my work.  My name on the front of a book!  I would travel the world talking of left hand chord shapes and the benefits of harmonic accountability in improvisation.  I would finally be an expert on something (we still needed them in those days), people would imagine Bill Evans and I after my death, up in heaven on a cloud, talking to each other about Ravel.

Eventually the books arrived in the post.  And they left my name off. Not on all of the books, just two out of four, which meant it was an accident.  A very, very large publishing company made a very small mistake (to them), but for me an identity that had already been breached and overtaken was now finally removed by some editorial oversight of someone who was probably late for his or her game of golf.

I don’t know about you, but in my more melodramatic moods I feel like data is eating us alive.  Like shovelling strawberries in infinity, Facebook requires action (reading, worrying, admiring etc) that immediately requires, in turn, more action (google that word), and on and on.  As the world appears larger on screen, it gets smaller, the impossible microscopic expansion of our immediate surroundings obscures the world around us.  I know this has been pointed out many times, and here is one more.  Sometimes I just sit and put the fingertips of one hand on to those of the other and just see if I can feel a pulse.  Just so I know where I am.  If you do it long enough, it’s actually a interesting and pleasant sensation.

Stay safe.  Watch your self (whatever that is) out there.

“O” is for “On The Dunes” (Donald Fagen).

Donald Fagen has made an art form of cynicism.  Cynicism.  It’s a dirty word for some, an excuse for inaction and unpleasantness, the safe haven of the spoilsport. 

” Don’t you like anything?  Do you have to question everything?”

I want to hit these people, but if you seek an alternative way to channel that anger, Fagen is your man.  Like William Burroughs before him, he is a champion of the cynical, a spokesman for the terminally hard done by.  A heroic figure to those who lack any propensity towards heroism themselves.  The snidey and the grumpy, the world weary.  Donald Fagen takes their doubts and bathes them in luxurious musical complexities usually earmarked for dying lovers in an operatic suicide pact, or for the final triumph of some poster boy’s hard work and kindness in the face of something insurmountable.  In other words, he puts it up on the wall and says “this is what life is about”.

Even more than Cohen and Dylan, Fagen is not a poet, because the words don’t live on their own.  His genius is to shackle his first world problems to music of shiny optimism.  Fagen talks about his  solo album”Kamakiriad”, here.  Of all the albums about people driving bio-sustainable cars across America in the near future, it’s one of the best.  And one of the most striking songs on this album is “On The Dunes”, a wistful break-up song of unparalleled self pity. 

The scene is a beach, and Donald has been dumped there.  As Bill Hicks once said, the beach is “where dirt meets water”, and for Fagen the dunes, the epitomy of sun drenched, air brushed beauty, occupy similar territory:  here’s the opening verse.

“Drive along the sea

Far from the city’s twitch and smoke

To a misty beach

That’s where my life became a joke

On the dunes

On the dunes
(became a joke on the dunes)

Where rents are high

And seabirds cry

On the dunes”

Reading those lines in that grave voice reserved for poetry, they are simply angry with a touch of humour.  (Pam Ayres could read them).  Add the music though, and the brattish repetition of the phrase “on the dunes” (“on the dunes (became a joke on the dunes)” is somehow lifted up into the sophistication of the harmonies.  The music almost acts as Fagen’s confidante, comforting him and us in the hour of need.   Cut glass grooves, the coldness of a hostile world against Fagen’s warm and fragile vocals. It’s a bit too high for his voice and he knows it.  

The melodrama continues in verse two:
“As you spoke you must have known

It was a kind of homicide

I stood and watched my happiness

Drift outwards with the tide.”

That’s a lot of responsibility to put on a person Donald.

But the high point for me comes in the chorus, where he paints a beautiful picture of the scene in the first half, and then trashes it in the second half; Bill Hicks style:

“Pretty boats

Sweeping along the shore

In the faltering light

Pretty women

With their lovers by their side

It’s like an awful dream

I have most every night”

His voice here is masterful, full of pain (“in the faltering liiiiiieeeeeeght”) and yet soaring above the lush harmonies that open out purposefully in contrast to the hesitant side stepping of the verse. And then there’s the way he tucks the punchline (“it’s like an awful dream”) away right at the end of the phrase. This part of the song has such an uplifting musical effect that the anger is almost lost in the beauty of it.

 In a long and lingering coda, a sequence of chords rolls around like waves lapping at the sand, the drums and sax conversing sparingly.  Thoughts in the mind of the man on the dunes.  Pop’s short attention span has no space for jazz these days,  but Fagen loves it, knows that jazz can be about more than just macho posturing (“Whiplash” was twenty years in the future).  Here the music goes almost absent mindedly around in a lazy circle, but it never escalates.  Like the lingering shots of  Bob Hoskins at the end of “The Long Good Friday”, or Robert De Niro’s last scene in “Once Upon A Time In America”, things are just sinking in.  And it’s four minutes of an eight minute song.  It takes as long as it takes.

If this is an inner dialogue between words and music, for me the music wins.  Its lush romanticism eventually overwhelms us and him, words dissolving into sound and fading eventually into silence.  If this is cynicism, its the kind that sparkles with humanity and humour and God knows we could use that right now. 

X is for Xmas : Mariah Carey

In 1973, I played the angel Gabriel in my school nativity play.  In 1994, Mariah Carey released “All I Want For Xmas Is You“.  If, due to some kind of time-glitch, we could have met as these moments crossed, we would have had a lot to talk about.  Underneath the veneer of festive cheer there lay a deep seated ambivalence to Christmas in both of us.  I was five, she was twenty five.  Like Shostakovitch secretly sneaking in some musical modernism under the noses of the Stalinist regime, Mariah and I would secretly be sticking a finger to Xmas, me sporting my cardboard wings, her jumping around in the snow.  I, for one, am not fooled by that Santa outfit in her video….more of that later.

 

 

Every December, this song is everywhere again.  Like other Xmas songs, it is mainly used to block out the fear of silence that these obligatory festivities seem to invoke.  Does anyone ever listen to Xmas music?  It’s just on.  All the time.  It’s like tinsel; you put it up, therefore people are in the mood, they are “festive”.  It makes the room shiny and the mind follows suit accordingly.  But “All I Want For Xmas Is You” has a sinister side.  That santa shuffle drumbeat powers a dark heart, the heart of a woman for whom receiving presents has become a dull routine….

“I don’t want a lot for Christmas/There is just one thing I need/

I don’t care about the presents/Underneath the Christmas tree”

It’s hard to avoid the irony of hearing these words from behind the lopsided gait of an Asda trolley full of tat.  And yet, there’s more to come.  She hints that Santa’s duties perhaps extended to more than just deliveries in the Carey household…

“Santa Claus won’t make me happy/With a toy on Christmas Day”

Well, Santa is an easy target.  But really its the music that fascinates me.  It’s easy to see Mariah Carey as the typical plastic balloon animal served up as entertainment but, in addition to her singing abilities, she can write.  This music slips expertly in and out of stability like a drunken reveller avoiding vomit puddles in a suburban street.

It’s important to stress that she was not the first to see the bittersweet contrasts in Xmas.  “The Coventry Carol” is a sixteenth century composition and it veers from major to minor at an alarming rate.  Often music of this period ends on a major chord out of convention (a kind of musical intolerance for unhappy endings) but here even the fourth note slips into a major key before moving straight back to the minor, like a cheap line of coke that wears off too fast.  In short, no one really knew even then whether they were supposed to be enjoying Xmas or not.

So back to Mariah and her disturbing vision.  It all starts pretty conventionally; bells, chords, warbly R n B vocals.  But listen to that line at 0:25…”I just want for my own/More than you could ever know”; on the words “own” and “know”, that note, an Eb, it’s very unstable in G major.  And each time, the melody just jumps back on to the tonic note, a highly illegal move in melody writing.  In board game terms, it’s like going up the snakes and down the ladders.  Over and over through this song, the melody lingers around this same note like scratching a flea bite that only gets worse with the itching.  At 2:39, in the bridge, she lingers on that Eb in the bass on the words “and everyone is singing”, the beat surging optimistically on, the chords reflecting a deep disquiet.  I hear you Mariah, I thought the same in 1973 with my cardboard wings, soon-to-be-lost blonde hair and claustrophobic fear of choirs.  Whilst its easy to respond to this music in the usual way, drinking sherry or grinning at each other, there is a whole other level of emotional richness here.

And what about the video?  Viewed today in all its shaky, grainy nineties-ness, it looks like a cross between flashback footage of a murder victim from a Scandinavian thriller and something the victim of a stalking campaign might find in their inbox.  I made a list of some of the images;

  1. Spinning santa heads
  2. The woods, deserted
  3. Standing alone in the woods, deserted, as the sun rises
  4. Disembodied hand and forearm reaches for something
  5. Holding an incongruous rabbit aloft
  6. Unexplained digging in the snow (where is the rabbit?)

I could go on.  It’s all pretty weird, straddling a line between true love and bizarre fixation.  All I Want For Xmas Is You.  In a box.  It’s a brilliantly double edged sword, a Trojan horse of disturbed emotions smuggled in under the guise of a simple “Christmas Song ” and, coincidentally, one which went on to be the best selling holiday ringtone of all time.

And as I re-read what I have written, I feel a bit guilty.    Because actually I have to confess to liking this song.  I wish I could listen to it more often, but it’s not built for that.  Considered as a piece of music separate from it’s function, it loses its power.  Unlike a dog, a Xmas song is just for Xmas.  This one makes my Xmas a bit more interesting.

 

 

 

G is for Glass

What do Philip Glass, Michael Brecker and Charlie Parker have in common?  They all became “influential”; their music was therefore admired, dissected for easily digestible nuggets of information, and promptly looted.  Music conceived in a long flowing gesture of inspiration can be chopped up like a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces left in a pile to be put back together as people see fit.

Brecker and Parker have, from time to time, become synonymous with a kind of jazz “authenticity”, a level of technical expertise, a badge earned.  It is proof of ability, and often impresses, like vaulting over the highest wall at the back of the school playground.  But the way these players put ideas together, the storytelling, the artistry, is often all but ignored in favour of attention to the short term logic of  flashiness, with a sound like wasps in a jam jar, as saxophonist Stan Sulzmann, master aphorist, once said. 

 Imagine, as a point of reference, an edit of “The French Connection” featuring only the car chases.

Glass wrote recently about ownership of music in the Internet age.  If anyone has fiercely protected their intellectual property whilst allowing his “brand” a free rein it is Philip Glass. His gently undulating chords have acquired a kind of omnipotence, on tv they roll out like wallpaper over any quantity of cinematic dialogue, sweeping landscapes or, well, almost anything.  They are everywhere, almost so easy to write that they write themselves.  My god , those arpeggios.  Save me from those arpeggios.  Like Michael Nyman, he looked back to the baroque for inspiration, taking the music’s chordal accompaniments (arpeggios, broken chords, whatever) and promoting them to a lead role by removing, to put it rather crudely, the “tune”.  They are, in many ways, nothing more or less than a box of paints looking for an outline. 

And yet in his early work, Glass focused almost entirely on the rate of change of these chords, or eventual adding of a single note to a repeating pattern, like a Persian rug design that grows an inch if you look at it hard enough.  These alterations were exquisitely paced, dropped like rocks in a sand garden, few and far between for maximum impact. And, for me, it works, a process that is in itself a beautiful thing.  Before he eventually followed his own followers into a bland orchestral mush of symphonic turd polishing, largely of his own making, Glass had something.  He had something so huge it had to be monetised.

Structure is a long term phenomenon, it happens over time.  An effective structure urges you to anticipate and reflect simultaneously, to experience what is to come with the weight of past moments in mind.  It’s like a massage, it gets better if you stay with it, and like a massage, this is not always true if it is clumsily handled.  As time passes, the skill required in maintaining an atmosphere, telling a story, increases.  And whether pre concieved or improvised on the spot, you either stay for the whole thing or you miss its essence.

And yet, in the midst of this strange decline in attentiveness, we have the Box Set.  Netflix, Amazon Prime and others enable us to digest long term structures, and some, like “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” are extraordinary.  We can digest them in a single sitting.  Or not.

And that’s the key.  We choose the pace of our cultural consumption.  I watched an episode of the “The Good Wife” in my pants a few mornings ago.  If I wanted to I could pause it in my underwear and watch the conclusion in a dinner jacket.  You can’t do that with an opera.  There is a kind of entitlement to our own leisure time tabling, to have absolute choice over which thing on a phone we look at and when and for how long.  Some people in the arts are very creative in addressing this need, feeding it whilst maintaining some kind of artistic integrity.  I am envious of them, and would like some pointers, to be honest.  

In a recent double bill of Stravinsky’s “Oedipus Rex” and “Symphony Of Psalms”, the director Peter Sellars had Oedipus, blinded and broken, walk across the stage in the middle of the second piece, a double fugue interrupted by a clumsy piece of theatre where Sellars attempted to link the impersonal detachment of Greek mythology with the penance of Christian psalms.  And on he came at the end with his stupid trousers,  and silly hair to take a bow, Stravinsky spun in his grave.  But what are we to do?  Keep trotting out the same stuff?  We have to keep busy, reinterpret, find new meanings and connections in a world where time and space no longer separate the events of innumerable lives throughout history.  It’s my personal sacred space that Peter Sellars invaded, but for others he may have brought that music to life.  I can go back to the composer’s recording for my kicks.

Don’t get me wrong, it could be that this is all fascinating, an opportunity for new forms of art.  I know I am old, and it is my inevitable fate to look on, befuddled and bemused, as those youngsters devoted to a new utopia, having grown up with the cloud, fashion it’s silver lining.

And as I sink into season 5 of “The Good Wife”, a twisting, turning, long-game playing legal saga, I hear again those fucking arpeggios again, bittersweet, major to minor, signifying nothing.  Another missed royalty for Philip Glass, taken by some other composer who hired that music rather than owned it.

“Q” is for…

“Q Samba” : Arto Lindsay, from “Mundo Civilizado”

https://youtu.be/JkEMwcm4vbM

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Arto Lindsay.  The geeky, skinny kid at school, scribbling in his notebook when he thinks no one’s looking, or when he thinks that people think he thinks no one’s looking.  Probably just schoolboy crush scribbles, arrows through hearts, epigrams.  Eyes almost upstaged by his owl-like lenses, which are looking straight at you, and it’s a hard stare to look back at.  People don’t.  Prom Queens, though, might take him home in one of those High School movies, people would learn to look beyond appearances, towards new experiences, everyone would learn things and nothing would change.  Music, credits, thank yous, etcetera.

But he’s an eccentric.  A real one, not a muscle boy they put in glasses to indicate intelligence, reticence and hostility to games lessons.  He is thin, thin like he lives on some unknown energy, some ambiguous pulse.  He plays guitar, but no real notes, just a noise, and only when it’s called for. Mostly it just hangs around his neck, as it does on this song.  The weight of it might kill him.

Through the gate, now the path winds to the door, you pass sculptures, perpendicular pagan gods staring down suburban sidewalks, old amplifiers, guitar strings wound around slow growing creepers. Carnival melting into darkness and out again.   It’s taking forever to get to the door.

Shall we listen to some music?  He reaches for a cd, the cover a photo of a woman’s face, or maybe a girl’s, her expression masked by the blood red smear of a rose.  Smiling eyes though; maybe.  A strange, disjointed guitar, Brazilian, lurches into a kind of beat that doesn’t belong where it is, as a voice, half-spoken, half sung, asks:

How do you do that?  

Did you just make it up?  

Is there a special need for that?

Now don’t just make it up”

Not exactly poetry, this is like a kid asking questions at school.  But he grows up fast;

“How do you shake just that and not shake all the rest

Breaking all those beats apart you careless hypnotist”

A careless hypnotist, still thinking about what that implies.  The lyrics feel like they are meaning something, but they sometimes fold in on themselves, like…

You dance like you’re not alone

You dance like I’m not here

Often they seem like a study in a single sound…

Your supple cheekiness

Supreme funkiness

Your sure footedness

And you pelvic finesse.”

But that last line,”pelvic finesse”, what the hell is that?  Animal sexuality crossed with featherlight delicacy?  The music echoes the words, mismatched but familiar sounds, somehow stitched together, a brash and buzzy keyboard flooding the light and sunny samba like chilli sauce in Angel Delight, its line left jagged and raw like the edges of an awkward conversation.  Samba school drums sucked into a lop-sided sample, another piece in the jigsaw of disorder, of musical and verbal memories, those memories that for each person are their own.

Except for the Prom Queen. Tradition dictates that her head must be empty, as she trots home to recount, perhaps reluctantly, some other version of these few short minutes.

 

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