Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Once the cat is bitten, the mice will play shy" and other rubbish sayings...

Apparently, Malcolm Carter of Pennyblack Music fame thinks I should be selling "shed loads of albums". He says so in his Review of "The Ride of Our Lives". He's a kind man. Naive, but kind. 

Yes, selling CDs these days is insanely difficult. Though many punters are now accustomed to getting music for nothing, they often mistrust you if you actually do give it away. A sort of "If he's giving it away, it can't be any good" conundrum that's hard to battle. 

Best not to try, really. Just pour your heart and soul into it and let the chips fall where they may, is what I say. Of course, I'm also known to say - "A beauty bird in the hand is worth two in the bush of the beholder" on occasion, so I'm not sure I can be trusted.

Be that as it may, once in a while your music tickles someone's ear enough that they feel compelled to buy some of it; sometimes they even publish reviews, which is lovely. 

Yes, despite widespread economic malaise, financial doldrums and other assorted stultifying media catch-phrases, people have been very generous. Jonathon and Ophelia Titmarsh of Shingay-cum-Wendy in Cambridgeshire, England were even kind enough to buy several copies as gifts for family and friends, and although they wish to remain anonymous, I've mentioned them here because I think their names are adorable.

Further, Steven Ferra, the kindly gent at the Absolute Powerpop blog had this to say about my humble little EP, while Music To Eat's Rob Caldwell actually included it in his Top 15  of 2011.

You have to smile don't you? Small victories all, to be sure, but like I always say -" Too many hands in the cook make light work of the broth".

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Ride of Our Lives EP now available...

Yes, The Ride of Our Lives EP is finally available for purchase! Read on for the
What?, the Where?,
the How Much? and the Why?...

What?  I said - "Yes, The Ride of Our Lives EP is finally available for purchase!"  Are you not paying attention?

Where? Why, from all fine purveyors of nostalgic folk-that-poppery and finger-pluckery of course. But, since such vendors are a bit thin on the ground these days, you can always find it in my Bandcamp  store. There, you can either download it in your choice of format (including lossless .wav or aiff files - perfect for the audio snob in your life), or buy an actual compact disc thingy that doubles beautifully as a shaving mirror or beer mat. CD Baby is also selling them, of course, and downloads should be available at iTunes and other assorted download sites shortly. 

How much? A paltry $6 plus shipping. Isn't that a bit cheap? You bet your bottom six dollars it is! Not only that, the first 50 customers will also receive a never-to-be-sold-in-stores (and for good bloody reason) 12-piece set of kitchen knives with fairly sharp blades. 

Why? Why record and release overly nostalgic songs addled with midlife rumination and introspection? Er, now I'm flummoxed.... well, I suppose because the alternative is to not do it, which is a rubbish alternative in my opinion. For men of a certain age it's also cheaper and slightly less cheesy than buying a sports car. 

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Life is a Carnival...

Good times, clean rhymes and riddles. Ah, those were the days. Well, I'm assuming they were, although this footage is from the 40s which means I wasn't there, so don't take my word for it.

Come to think of it, I wasn't there in the 50s or 60s either, since this is Coney Island and I've never actually set foot in the place. Still, since the song's lyric does have an air of innocence and nostalgia about it, to me it does seem to fit the mood and theme of the visual somewhat. Ah, good old dramatic license...

Riddles is from the upcoming The Ride of Our Lives EP, which will be available very soon for purchase from reputable emporiums and dodgy vendors alike. Details to follow shortly, it says here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Random Public Service Announcement: went online in September 2003, offering live-streaming music over the Internet 24 hours a day. The hosted stream is produced by WKSU-FM in Kent, OH, which also built and maintains the web site. The Folk Alley playlist is created by senior host, Jim Blum, and Folk Alley Music Director Linda Fahey and features a distinctive blend of the best of singer/songwriter, Celtic, acoustic, Americana, traditional, and world sounds. is listener supported and relies on donations and sponsorships to fund the web site and the music streams. Folk Music is disappearing from radio playlists and store shelves. Folk Alley aims to reverse this trend by bringing traditional, Celtic, bluegrass, Americana, singer/songwriter, acoustic and world styles to music lovers – young and old – around the globe through the Internet. Click Here  to make a donation today.

Yes, Folk Alley is a bit of a treasure and deserves our support. I should add that his has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they just selected me as their Open Mic Artist of the Month.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

That one kills and this one saves...

Back when I was recording the Undercurrent CD, I was going to toss this song out because I didn't want to come across like a cheesy, overly earnest protest singer. I sent a bare bones version to co-producer/studio bully Ed Woltil for his opinion, and he forbade me to give up on it, sending it back with a fabulous string arrangement on it. What would I do without him?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part 7) 

Is there more wretched place than Florida in which to spend the summer months? I sometimes wonder.

Showy, sub-tropical fauna may be in full fanciful bloom around here, but enjoying it really has to be done from behind window glass. Unless you happen to be an alligator, venturing outside, even in the evening, is a sickeningly uncomfortable affair, and beads of sweat will populate your person within seconds. But, sooner or later, the bedraggled container plantings in your front yard will beg to be watered, and you have to venture outside to face the welcoming committee of equally thirsty mosquitoes.

So, last night, there I was with my trusty garden hose, valiantly swatting away battalions of bugs and trying to water weary hibiscus and Mexican petunia both - all the while cursing under my breath - when I heard the faint strains of my daughter's piano playing and singing emanating from the front room of the house. 

Now, listening to Emma play and sing is always good for whatever ails me, regardless of the song, but this particular performance was to prove especially uplifting. I moved in for a closer listen.

The chords were simple; the tempo slow and steady, but the melody was sweet and  intoxicating, and although it sounded familiar, I couldn't place it for a second. Of course I couldn't place it - 14-year-old girls aren't supposed to be singing Elephants by Crowded House for their own amusement are they? 

As I listened to her sing, I found myself grinning like a madman. Why wouldn't I? I doubt that many, if any, of Emma's peers are aware of, let alone in-tune with, the music of Crowded House. Hell, I doubt that many of her friends' parents are even aware that Crowded House are still a band and that Neil Finn continues to write music this beautiful. And yet, here I am, listening to my daughter's voice dancing in the night air -

"Elephants come down to the water hole at dusk
They feel the same as us about life
We all take a drink, the sun begins to sink
The alligator waits for his time"

Instinctively, I let the garden hose fall to the ground and ventured inside to attend to more important business. I made it just in time to join her in singing the refrain:

"Let admit the world don't turn around us
It's acting like we don't exist
A drunk that's sleeping in the corner
Sweet dreams, make waves, find bliss"

It was a sublime moment for me. I mean, I knew that she appreciated the quality music of the and all. The "Intriguer" CD (the album from whence Elephants came) had long been a fixture in the car's CD player, and I'd seen that knowing look in her eyes whenever we'd sing along to it in the car. But, the fact that she'd actually gone to the trouble of downloading the sheet music for it, so she could play it herself, thrilled me to no end. It was one of those moments when you just feel so blessed, you almost have to pinch yourself. 

Yeah, it's as miserable as sin outside, and there's still yard-work to be done, but right now I'm so content. I'm standing by the piano, singing along with my beautiful daughter as she plays a song by one of my all-time favourite songwriters. Life is good.

"... Sweet dreams, make waves, find bliss." 


Thursday, June 23, 2011

In a just world...

  • Michael Penn would be the more famous of the Penn siblings.
  • They'd make a real TV reality show about the impending death of TV reality shows.
  • Comedy films relying almost entirely on gross sight-gags involving bodily functions would be outlawed. In other words, there would be no more comedy films made. I think I could survive quite handily, thank you very much.
  • Owners of all corporate radio stations would be forced to actually listen to their radio stations. Cruel, but fair.
  • I'd be able to watch this video and enjoy it, rather than crying like a baby as soon as I hear George's guitar. So lovely.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Bliss at One's Elbow...

Forget the glib "Coldplay with beards" comments bandied about in assorted hipper-than-thou music pages whenever Manchester band, Elbow are mentioned. These guys are disturbingly good. 

When my friend Ed Woltil turned me on to their 2006 release, The Seldom Seen Kid, I was floored. I just didn't think that I could be that startled by a band anymore. I mean, don't you usually have those apoplectic moments in your youth and carry them with you into geezerdom? Then you get to regale all young whippersnappers within earshot, with nuggets of wisdom like "Back in my day, you had to pay your dues" " or "The production on that album has never been bettered".

For me, listening to Elbow, is to be at once inspired and bewildered. Each song sounds like it's been lovingly arranged, performed and recorded. They sound like they really, really matter to the band members themselves. Now, they really matter to me, and inspire me to want to do better. No matter how many times I hear singer Guy Garvey deliver the tender opening line to Mirrorball (" I plant the kind of kiss that wouldn't wake a baby, on the self same face that wouldn't let me sleep") I'm in awe. 

What's incredible to contemplate, though - and this is the bewildering part- is that over the pond at least, these guys are winning awards, having hit records and selling out major venues. How is this possible? It beggars belief that in the coarsened, celebrity gossip-fuelled morass of childish bad taste and mindless auto-tuned mediocrity that passes for pop culture these days, something so undeniably excellent can still make inroads. It's damn encouraging, I tell you.

If you ever listen to the affable Mr. Garvey's interviews and hear him wax poetic about Manchester, it quickly becomes apparent how much his hometown means to him and the music he writes. To be honest, it makes me squirm a little. Perhaps it's because it leaves me with a vague sense of melancholy, remorse, or even guilt about having left the place I was born. I mean, here's a bloke who undoubtedly has the means to move out if he wants to. Instead, he stays and champions the place where he lives. Grey skies and soggy climate notwithstanding, he feels like he belongs there, and he embraces the whole package, warts and all. There's a nobility in it, an authenticity that springs from it, and as much as it warms my heart to hear him speak of it, it also brings these strange feelings to the surface for me.  Other than lard and incessant drizzle, I can't help but wonder if I might have missed out on something when I left. 

It makes me think about the idea that the longer you're away from home, the more you gradually become aware of the fact that you've lost a fair bit of your accent, and it's easy to wonder if perhaps you've lost some of your identity along with it. While I occasionally feel a little jarred when I hear American-accented words tumble from my mouth, I've also felt the same twinge when occasionally retreating to heavily accented slang phrases from yesteryear. It's almost like I'm acting or stuck inside some weird cultural transatlantic no-man's land or something. 

Being the transplant that I am, I suppose I suffer from a sort of envy of those who are so rooted in their surroundings, that they're able to deliver music that's pure, and seemingly devoid of artifice and pretense. If I listen to, say, an Irish folkie or even an Appalachian bluegrass band, I instantly envy their stylistic integrity, and musically, at least, it can make me feel like a bit of a phony. I mean, if I attempt to write a country song in the style of say, Lyle Lovett, it's going to sound like an exercise. I'm so obviously not from Texas, and to even try to approximate such stylings would be awkward and embarrassing. 

Oh well, as one famous permanent exile once sang -"What can a poor boy do?". I suppose there's no shame in using these vague feelings of alienation and rootlessness as food for songs. Who's to say that it's not an equally valid muse from which to draw inspiration? Perhaps I need to stop being concerned with silly restrictions like geography and genre? Yeah, that's the ticket. You know, I'm feeling better about this all the time.  

I'll bet it's pissing down in Manchester.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mum.

Bit of a melancholy day today, really. May 24th is my dear departed mum's birthday, and I've been thinking quite a bit about her, and old times back in old Blighty.

Once in a while, people ask me if I ever miss England. It's an increasingly tough question to answer in a way, because although there may be the occasional thing about England that I miss (pubs), I wonder if I'm just being nostalgic for a bygone era. Despite the fact that it was the decade that gave us high-waisted A-line flared trousers, platform shoes and Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree, it would appear that I miss the England of the 1970s. (And pubs.)

I miss blustery day trips to the seaside with my grandparents; I miss watching T.Rex performing Telegram Sam on Top Of The Pops on a Thursday evening and then rushing out to Ashley's record stall in Scunthorpe Market on a Saturday afternoon, to get my grubby mitts on my own copy; I miss skulking around the neighborhood listening to Radio Luxembourg on a tiny, tinny transistor radio while sneaking sips from cans of illegally obtained dry cider. Most of all, I miss my mum being alive.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lowry Park Bandshell, Tampa

Steve & Ed (with Maggie Council DiPietra looking over our shoulder)

Thanks to all who came out to see The Ditchflowers as part of the Friday Extra Concert Series, last Friday evening. Head Ditchflower Ed Woltil and I opened the show, and I must say that it was nice to blow off a few of the old cobwebs and try out a couple of the new songs. It made me realise what a lazy pillock I am when it comes to this live performance thing, and I must say that I'm quite excited about the idea of doing it again. Of course,
you would too, if you had Ed Woltil flanking you on stage, saving your arse at every turn.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Come Back (CD Update #2)

They say you can never go back. You can go back, of course. The thing is, when you do, people look at you funny, and you can feel a bit like a tourist, or worse still, an intruder.

The last time I went back to my hometown of Scunthorpe, was some 15 years ago. It was my first visit in four or five years and I wanted to indulge my nostalgic side by driving down my old street for a look at the old house where I used to live. If was expecting to feel all warm and fuzzy about the experience, I could have saved myself the trip. At the very least, I could have packed a pair of glasses with some seriously tinted lenses.

I remember pulling into the close, at the rear of the house and glancing over at the old garden gate that I'd opened and closed so many times over the years. Ideally it should have been a tender, poignant moment, but it didn't quite turn out that way. A group of young kids were kicking around a football, just like I'd done with my mates all those years ago, and seeing a car they didn't recognise, they ambled over for a closer look. 

It's worth mentioning that this was a council housing estate. Of course, the word estate is a bit of a misnomer, since it suggests, on this side of the Atlantic at least, a rambling country homestead with an elegant manor house to match. In reality, it's social housing for the working classes - more urban blight than country life - so things can get a little rough around the edges, you might say. (The photo above is of Westcliffe Shopping Precinct, just across the road from my old house. I must have walked that little strip thousands of times while growing up. Can't say I remember leaving beer bottles on the ground, though. Not Stella Artois ones, anyway.)

Anyway, these kids were very young, probably no more than 5 or 6 years old, but with their football hooligan-in-training buzz-cuts and best menacing scowls on display, they already had the rough around the edges thing down. As the boldest one sided up to the car window for a better look at whoever was invading his territory, I looked up, and our eyes met just long enough for him to dismiss me with a swiftly delivered reverse V-sign hand gesture.

What? Had I really just been advised to fuck off , by a snot-nosed 6-year old kid right outside my old house? I mean, I wasn't expecting a parade or anything, but this was depressing. 

Apparently, things had changed. I had changed too, of course. Specifically, I'd changed my mind about wanting to hang around my old house, and instead I quickly retired to my old local public house in order to console myself with a couple of pints of John Smith's bitter. As melodramatic as it sounds, I remember feeling a little like a door had truly closed on my past, and I felt like such an outsider. It was really an odd experience, and I've yet to return. I think I'm a little frightened of what I might find next time.

So, Come Back is one of the songs (there are others; you have been warned!) that sprang from some of the conflicting emotions that can rise to the surface when looking back at a fateful decision to leave the place where you were born. It seems like there's always a part of you that feels like you might still belong there, yet you've gone and made a home and a new life in another place entirely. With this, comes that vague, yet persistent feeling of rootlessness that you carry with you. And let's not forget the slow, guilt-ridden realisation that you once saw fit to ditch your family and turn your back on your heritage and all that, which is something that weighs more heavily on your mind as you watch your own child grow into adulthood (one of my biggest karmic fears is that my daughter will end up marrying an Englishman and move to the land of my birth!)

So, the world spins madly on; family members come and go; your old hometown changes, and you change too. Then, one day you wake up and realise that you've been gone for 28 years. It hardly seems possible, but I've now lived  considerably longer in the US than I did in the UK. It's a strange feeling, I can tell you. Yeah, so much has changed, and still you have all these questions: Could I ever go back? Would they want me to come back? Did anyone actually notice that I left? Could I have another pint of bitter please?

I'd come back if only you'd let me in

I'd be there bearing roses

I'd endeavour to crawl upon hand and knee

While you all stare down your noses

I have changed like you

Rearranged and new

I'll show you proof

When I come back to you

I'd come back if only you'd change some things

I'd be there without warning

Bring back pennies, steam trains and Slade Alive!

I'd be there there by the morning

You have changed like me

Rearranged, I see

I'll tell the truth

When I come back to you

Places to go, love to take or to leave

Big consequences we never conceived

Time on the clock ticking over

So far away is much closer

Than we might believe

I'd come back if only you'd talk to me

I would answer your questions

Where did I go and why did I let you down?

Funny that you should mention...

We have changed, it's true

Edges frayed and unglued

We'll know the truth 

When I come back to you

Come Back ©2011 Across The Water Music (BMI)

(Photograph by Dominic Romney)

Monday, March 07, 2011

Giddy up! (CD Update #1)

Don't fall over, but the recording for the upcoming solo EP (The Ride Of Our Lives) is over. It's not really finished of course, but it is over. Thanks for asking.

Of course, there are always things you wish you'd done differently, just as there are always a few overdub ideas that you never got around to trying. There comes a time, though, when you realise that you could easily spend the rest of your life labouring over these songs without ever finishing any of them, and so you come to accept that it's time to let them go. That way, you can start labouring over the next batch.

So, guitars and microphones have been put away, and under the expert guidance of Brian and Ed Ditchflower, mixing has begun. And what fun it is, too. I mean, I love just being in the company of these extremely fine and talented gentlemen at the best of times, but joining them in the cozy confines of Mr Merrill's Studio Bee in order to fine tune and polish these little songs over a couple of fine fermented beverages? It's damn uplifting, I tell you.

First order of mixing business was the title track, which is actually the last song on the record (I said it was fun; I never said it was orderly). This song means a lot to me, since it's built around a true story (unlike the majority of my material which is gleaned from unsubstantiated rumours and bald-faced lies). The Ride Of Our Lives tells the story of my mother, Jean, and her best friend, Mary, growing up together in post-war England, and how their friendship endured into adulthood. Although my mother remained in England, and Mary ended up marrying an American and settled in the US, their lives (and the lives of their children) remained entwined. Mary's American husband would become my Godfather, and in case anyone wants to point fingers, it was his invitation for me to come over to America, back in 1978, that resulted in me actually moving here.

Acoustic guitar-based, with a dash of mandolin, this might be the folkiest-sounding concoction I've come up with yet. No apologies there though; the lyrics almost insisted upon it, really. I'll admit that early on in the recording process, I was a little concerned that it might sound a little too fake-Celtic or something, but I've stopped worrying about it. Instead, I'd rather focus on how thrilled I am with the viola part that Nashville-based string maestro, Tim Lorsch, added to the song. I'd originally asked him for a fiddle track, and he suggested using a viola instead. It ended up adding a nice plaintive touch of melancholy that seems to suit the song perfectly. Having said that, if any reviewer does end up levelling the fake-Celtic barb at this effort, Tim will, of course, get the blame.

The next one up was "Come Back", which is to be the opening song on the record. Lyrically, this one has me looking back at Old Blighty (again) and sprang from me thinking about my decision to leave, all those years ago. They say you can never go back, and Lord knows I'm not going to argue with that, but it is a bit of a deep and murky issue for me, and one that I have trouble dealing with, and articulating. So, I did what any self-respecting, repressed Englishman would do: I trivialised and made light of it by dressing it up as a 4-minute disposable poppy-folk song.

I have to say that Brian did an admirable job of blending in Ed's snazzy, foraging electric guitar embellishments and assorted atmospherics in order to tart up what otherwise is another rather stark, acoustic guitar song (anyone noticing a trend here?) Truth be told, I'm really pleased with how this one came out, and am particularly proud of the fact that I managed to work references to both steam trains and Slade, into one song. It makes little sense of course, but it makes me happy. Giddy, even.

Meanwhile, my old Headlights comrade-in-arms, Steve Connelly, has worked his usual magic over at Zen Recording, mixing track #3 for the record. This one's called Bed Of Nails, which is one I've had kicking around for a while. In fact, it was originally intended for "Undercurrent" but it never got finished. The drum track (courtesy of the charming and talented Chuck Darling) actually dates from the Undercurrent sessions, and like everything Chuck does, it makes me giddy. 

This week we'll be mixing the final two songs: Middle of Life, and Riddles. Middle of Life is another folky one, and is an homage to my ballroom dancing expertise. Ok, it's really not, but it is in 3/4 time, waltz you very much.  Once again featuring the mighty Tim Lorsch with his acrobatic fiddle, along with the sublime Miss Emma Robinson on some sweet backing vocals, it also has the term "glottal stop" inserted into the first verse. Giddy? Yep.

As for Riddles? Well, it's one I've yet to figure out.

Good times, clean rhymes and riddles

Be kind, don't lie or

Fiddle about (don't shout!)

We'll tell you what you need to know

Not what you want to hear

Listen to me

I sound just like you

Old ways, long days to dally

New toys, old boys

Carrying on, with bells on

Tell us what we need to know

Not what we want to hear

Listen to you

You sound just like me

Feel your heart break

Back in the neighbourhood

The faces we make

Sometimes stay that way for good

Good times, clean rhymes and riddles

©2011 Across The Water Music (BMI)

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part 6)

For this pasty-faced adolescent in the UK, David Bowie's appearance on Top Of The Pops in 1972 was a bit of a life-changer. And what an appearance it was; I'd certainly never seen or heard anything like it. I had no idea what hazy cosmic jive was, but the minute he sang of it, whatever it was, I wanted a piece of it. Amid the New Seekers and Donny Osmond-strewn pop landscape, it felt a bit like an alien had landed in the living room to save us all. Nothing would be the same again. 

The next day, I went into town, marched into WH Smith's record department and plonked down two pounds and nineteen pence for a copy of The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders from Mars, the album from whence Starman came. It was the first album I ever bought, and listening to it today still thrills me to no end. 

It's funny, this is the only record I remember everyone in our house being in agreement on. My sister fell for it hard, and quickly took to pasting pictures of the Starman himself over every square inch of her bedroom walls. Amusingly enough, a glance or two at our old family photo albums from the 70s suggests that she may have even been looking to him for makeup and hair-colouring tips, but we'll not go into that, just in case she decides to offer up retaliatory photographic evidence of my one-time predilection for gaily colored platform-soled footwear. 

My dad loved Ziggy, too, and I'd often catch him listening to it on his headphones. He'd usually have his eyes closed, but every now and then he'd look over, raise his eyebrows and point at the gooseflesh on his forearms during one of the many spine-tingling moments on the album, as if to let me know that he really was getting it. It tickles me now, to think of this man whose listening habits had previously revolved around Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass and easy listening icons like Bert Kaempfert and James Last, sitting in his recliner, all blissed-out in his own private moonage daydream. Brilliant.

Even my mum was in on the act. She had little time for most of the music I'd listen to, but for some reason, something about the Ziggy Stardust record tickled her ear. She always used to say - "I like something I can 'la-la-la' to", which was her way of saying that she was only interested in easily digestible, and easily hummable, melodies. As a result, her musical diet was generally very white-bread, leaning towards cabaret-style acts like Englebert Humperdink, Tony Orlando & Dawn, and maybe even a little Neil Diamond (if she was in an edgier mood). I think the closest she got to anything remotely exotic was a little daffy Euro-pap from a continental crooner like Sasha Distel (don't ask), so the fact that Ziggy grabbed her, says something. I don't know what it says, exactly, but in retrospect, I love the fact that she looked past the glam space alien schtick and simply enjoyed the noise that Bowie was making. I suppose that Starman, with its catchy "La-la-la-la..." refrain, literally fit her musical requirements, while for me, an impressionable young teen recently armed with his first guitar, it marked the arrival of a whole slew of new ones.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Enjoying the ride...

"So much ahead of you, so much behind
Keeping your balance while walking the wire
Flying your flag, any colour you like
Happy as sin in the middle of life."

I'd like to dispel rumours about my upcoming EP release, "The Ride Of Our Lives". To clarify, I have not taken to singing in an impossibly high-pitched voice while vamping on an electric piano. Further, the CD's title is not "Crisis? What Midlife Crisis?". 

Admittedly, the record in question is a little reflective, and it does contain a few nostalgic nods to the old country as I remember it. It also, dare I say it, features a song called "Middle of Life", which might sound alarm bells for some, but it's really not an angst-ridden lament, by any stretch. In fact, to my ears, its overall vibe is more celebratory in nature; a sort of -  "I've made it through the first act relatively unscathed; I've learned a bit on the way, and with this new-found maturity and self-assuredness, I'm better equipped to navigate the second act without as many cock-ups, thank you very much" angle. At least, I hope it comes across that way. Come to think of it, I hope it works out that way, too (especially the maturity and self-assured part...)

It's a tricky subject though, isn't it? I mean, I'm as wary as the next bloke when it comes to listening to the self-absorbed bleatings of whiny songwriters struggling with their emotional baggage and ennui. But your whole way of looking at the world changes as you get into those middle years, especially when you have a beautiful child who's turning into a beautiful little adult right before your eyes, and you simply have to write about it. 

So, all apologies for that. Look on the bright side though - at least I don't have sticky, mid-life divorce proceedings as my muse. Then, I'd be turning into Phil Collins.

Friday, February 04, 2011

"If there were no music
Then I would not get through
I don't know why
I know these things, but I do" 

The cynic in me wants to view these lines from Shawn Colvin's I Don't Know Why as a bit melodramatic, but sometimes the cynic in me really needs to just sit down and be quiet. 

Yes, this could easily be another Reasons To Be Cheerful post, in which I extoll the virtues of the fabulous Ms. Colvin. But, since she has previously won Grammy awards, I suspect that most of us already realise just how special a singer, writer and performer she is, so I'll refrain from too much ungainly gushing. Instead, I want to consider the power and truth inherent in the above-quoted lyric (gulp).

I mean, is music really that important to some of us? 

I'm beginning to think that it might be. I've often heard performers make comments along the lines that the only time they feel really comfortable is when they're on-stage or in the studio creating music. So often, it strikes me as a little self-aggrandizing; almost like they're furthering some over-romanticized notion of the struggling artist. You know, a misunderstood, tortured soul lurking outside of the zeitgeist, who can only find redemption and self-expression through his art.

In the days of my youth, this kind of airy-fairy behaviour would have been ill-advised, at best. A grimy council-estate in a decaying northern English steeltown in the 1970s (think US government housing, but with rougher accents and uglier carpets),  was hardly the time or place for such arty posturing. That is, unless of course, you were partial to scorn, ridicule and the occasional outbreak of physical violence. (I once heard Big Country frontman, Stuart Adamson, remark that as a kid growing up in Dundee, Scotland, he kept his guitar playing a secret for fear that he'd be beaten up if his sissy musical proclivities were to be made public. I fear he wasn't exaggerating.)

Of course, at this point I'm no longer in northern England, nor am I living in days remotely resembling those of my youth, having long ago left the cold and damp of Lincolnshire for the hot and damp of Florida. As far as I can tell, the threat of schoolyard bullies has retreated somewhat, so maybe it's safe to own up to the fact that I too, have occasionally (ok, often) been prone to seeking comfort in that skulking, pained and struggling artist territory that makes me so queasy. 

You know, it's a sobering thought, but on paper at least,  I now qualify as a mature, middle-aged man (Please, no laughing at the back!), and so all manner of male menopause symptoms abound. Night sweats? I have them during the day too. Mood swings? Yeah. (No.) Overly nostalgic and  sentimental? Please. I get teary-eyed watching Laurel & Hardy silents.

Yes, those crushing feelings of existential angst commonly associated with middle age have been having their wicked way with me for a good couple of years now. Fears, regrets, frustration and the occasional outbreak of despair may work well as a title for an imaginary Morrissey compilation album, but in reality such dastardly emotions can put a real damper on your social life.  Apparently, they often herald the arrival of the much-ballyhooed "midlife crisis", often involving a tawdry affair with a young girlfriend, or a reckless trip to the local sports car dealership. Not for me though. I've never liked sports cars, anyway. They strike me as rather sad and desperate, and I would never want to be seen in one. Or a young girlfriend, for that matter ...

So, a couple of weeks ago, there I was, having a bit of an episode, as they say. I'd been feeling totally out-of-sorts for a couple of days, and a rather fitful night's sleep had intensified my rather dour mood for most of the following day. By evening, I was feeling emotionally frazzled, without really knowing why. That night, I sat down at the piano, turned on my trusty Korg recorder and managed to finish writing, and then record, a demo of a new song. I was lucky enough to have a few hours to myself, and boy did I take advantage. As I'm prone to do, I totally lost myself in the music,  and all else (including my sense of time) melted away into the periphery. If my wife hadn't returned home and asked me why I hadn't turned on the lights, picked up the mail, or even eaten dinner, I might still be sitting there. 

Now, I don't really know how good the song is, or whether people will like it (although I may soon find out, since it seems destined for inclusion on the upcoming Steve Robinson/Ed Woltil collaboration.) It hardly seems important, though. Getting into that zen-like state where you are right in the moment and are able to focus entirely on the task at hand, especially doing something that you love,  should be reward enough. I mean, it's a beautiful thing even when it's fleeting; when you're fortunate enough to experience it for several hours, it's like a bloody miracle. As an added bonus,  I slept like a baby that night. A really content baby. 

I suppose music really is that important to me.  Like it or not, music is where I've often retreated to in times of duress. I feel like a pretentious prat saying it, and writing it down here is certainly making me squirm a little, but writing songs and singing them is the most liberating and cathartic process I know of. I really don't know how else to work through stuff. Therapists are so damn expensive, and if word got back to the UK, I fear that a schoolyard bully or two may come out of retirement.

So what if there really was no music? Well, I suppose Shawn Colvin would have to find a different way to get by, as would I. I have no idea what Shawn would do, but as for me -  well, ideally, I'd like to think that I would invest my time and creative energy into perhaps making something a little more practical and useful than songs. Maybe I'd take up carpentry and learn how to make coffee tables, or something useful like that. Come to think of it, making furniture would be a lot more beneficial to the household than making music, wouldn't it? It would certainly make my wife a lot happier. 

I don't know how I know these things, but I do.