Monday, January 12, 2009

Memories Can't Wait: New beginnings

Yes, at last, nearly two years after we packed up the gavel and wigs and wrapped up In The Dock, there's a new regular feature here on The Art Of Noise. The title's courtesy of Ian and the premise is this: every fortnight contributors dredge their memories and write about songs that remind them of a particular subject. It really is that simple.

So, without further ado, let's begin at the beginning...

This week's subject: New beginnings

'Ever Fallen In Love' - The Buzzcocks (Dr Migs)

There's always been music; music that made nice sounds, music that sounded chirpy, music to sing along to, music that made you happy. But there had never been music that spoke to my inner neuroses, or lyrics with which you have an inner discorse. Now maybe this was because at the tender age of 14 I was naive to some of life's darker torments, but there was darkness before the age of 14. So maybe it was because I simply wasn't listening in the right places.

However, as alluded to previously Sunday evenings in these early teen days became dedicated to Samantha's Sunday Night Party; a show hosted by Samantha Meah on Radio WM. It was an eclectic beast, and a quick check on YouTube reminded me about quite how local radio it was. For instance, the fact that their Scratch and House versions of the 'Worm Song' are still available for download to the desperate and reminiscent provides a pointer as to why it was Sunday night fodder. Although such freedom did come with its reward. The music wasn't some sanitised Smashy'n'Nicey-esque playlist that was so endemic of the early 90s, it was at the whim of the presenters. And hence the music was as equally eclectic as the features and chat. And thus my education began.

Being 14, it wasn't something subtle that was going to take me inward in my musical engagement. The transition from music being an entity that you engage with in an uplifting manner, to being an entity that you can internalise and mentally digest began with one song. And as is the way with such transitions, first there is the Eureka moment and freedom from having your problems understood, and then there is the subsequent low as you have found a conduit with which to wallow in with self doubt. Is this all getting a little too obtuse? Think of this as finding a musical and emotional equivalent of treating heartburn with a Burger King and a vodka and Coke; this is the music that you want to listen to, but until you can manage your intake it will leave you in a worse state than when you first listened to it.

And so it all began with 'Ever Fallen In Love' by The Buzzcocks. Who knows who it was that I was in love with at the time. But it was clearly someone that I shouldn't have been in love with. And as is the way with Sunday evenings, I was probably feeling reflective about the last week and pensive about the week to come. Add to that the hormonal cocktail that is puberty, and you can see that it wasn't going to be hard for the right song to eventually hit me in the stomach and leave me winded.

So to the song. 'Ever Fallen In Love' starts so directly, with the insecure punk sound of the Buzzcocks. The intro is purposeful, and then its briskly into the flesh and bones of the song:

"You spurn my natural emotions / You make me feel like dirt / And I'm hurt / And if I start a commotion / I run the risk of losing you / And that's worse / Ever fallen in love with someone / Ever fallen in love / In love with someone / Ever fallen in love / In love with someone / You shouldn't've fallen in love with."

And before you can catch yourself, the rest of the song carries on relentlessly until two minutes in. Here, there is an instrumental that is questioning, haunting and quickens the pulse, leading you straight into the final lyrics that tie the song up in a manner that ensures the ending isn't abrupt, but instead is teasingly reflective. And that's it. It's over. Just enough time for you to take in the message of the song, get lost in your thoughts, relate the lyrics to your contemporary heartache, whilst all the while being dragged along by pacy rawness. And to top it off, the ending results in you being left in a neurotic bundle of confusion. Marvelous. There's nothing like a quick dose of emotional self-harming in your early teens to ensure a nice and stable passage through the teenage years.

As you can image, I'm still attached to this song. And though the relationship turmoils of yesteryear have been replaced by the stability of marriage, it still resonates with me as a song; if only as a reflective piece (he says not wanting to find a decree nisi next to his bowl of muesli...). Soon enough, other songs came along to perform a similar function, with Gene songs being high on the list. You didn't disturb me at uni if Gene was on in my room... I wasn't worth speaking to and couldn't be reasoned with. However, I'll never lose a connection with this song, and each inevitable cover version gets a frank response; mostly negative. Only Nouvelle Vague have taken the song in a direction that complements the way I hear and relate to it. Their bossanova / jazz tempos capture the reflective nature of the piece without removing its reflectiveness and soul. However, the original is still the best in my book, and will always be my favourite.

And so, err, that's it. The new beginning that relates to this song was a new beginning of me turning to music for something more than what Stock, Aitken & Waterman had to offer. It was the beginning of me using music for introspection. And God am I glad that I found it.

'Never Let Her Slip Away' - Undercover (Lord Bargain)

You know how it is. You’re 18 years old, the sum total of "life with girls" has been some fruitless pursuits as a schoolkid and then you get landed in a world where everyone is the same age and fundamentally looking for the same thing. (The pursuit of knowledge, obv.)

It happened to me in a kitchen in a weirdly shaped hall of residence in a suburb of the city of Coventry. I remember the chain of events, if not the specifics. A screening of the odd narcoleptic drama 'My Own Private Idaho' was scheduled, and one by one my hallmates decided they couldn’t go until there was just two of us. We took a packet of value custard creams and went together.

It later became apparent (of course) that this had been deliberately staged in an attempt to match-make and, as these sorts of plans go, it was a relative success - we ended up being together for five years. I suppose there’s nothing else like your "first love" – however it pans out. New town, new friends, new independent adult life and now this new person who makes you understand all those esoteric things about love and emotions which you hadn’t encountered before.

Naturally, there is always some shameful musical accompaniment to these matters. For a while it was the not-very-well-remembered 'You' by Ten Sharp (a song that I remember also for spending three consecutive weeks at number ten in the singles chart – quite how I know these things I am not sure). For sheer apt lyrical content, however, it was short-lived covers band Undercover (see what they did, there?)’s version of the old Andrew Gold hit 'Never Let Her Slip Away' that was the soundtrack to my dream love life. With strange early 90s bibbety synthesizer, the follow-up to their previous smash hit 'Baker Street' (yes, that one) was on regular rotation in my uni room.

As a lovestruck teenager, you can’t argue with a song that goes "I really only met her 'bout a week ago / It doesn’t seem to matter to my heart / I know that I love her / I’m hoping that I never recover", can you?

Can you?

'Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye' - The Black Crowes (Swiss Toni)

It is 1992. My parents have now gone, and I'm left alone in my room one Sunday afternoon in September at the very beginning of what is supposed to be one of the golden periods of your life: university.

I hadn't really got very much to unpack, and I didn't have a TV, so I sat on the end of my bed, looking at Humbert, my already rather sickly looking rubber plant, and wondering what happened next. My hall of residence seemed oddly quiet, but although I knew that everybody else was probably feeling much the same as I was, I wasn't quite ready just yet to get up and knock on anyone's door and introduce myself. What if everyone else had already met and they were now all down at the bar making the friendships that would last them a lifetime? What if I didn't meet anyone? What if nobody liked me?

The silence and sense of isolation soon became stifling, so I wandered over to my stereo and quietly flipped through my CDs, trying to find the one that would match my mood but also just might entice anyone passing to pop their head round my door. Iron Maiden? Perhaps not. Metallica? Hardly. My youthful obsession with heavy metal largely meant that subtle textures were rather missing from my CD collection, and I somehow felt that the first record I played at the beginning of this new chapter of my life was imbued with significance. After a short period of contemplation, I selected a CD that seemed down-tempo enough to match my mood, but that I hoped at least wasn't going to scare anybody off. I loaded it carefully into my CD player and pressed play.

I'd like to say that the music filled my room and I soon had a stream of curious people knocking on the door wanting to meet the coolest cat in town, but the volume was pretty low and the record I'd selected was The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion by The Black Crowes, so it seemed hardly likely to mark me out the hippest kid in the halls. The album had only been released earlier that summer, so it was still pretty new to me and it was as good as anything to break the silence. By the time I got to 'Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye', which is a brilliant song, there was a small, tentative knock at my door and I met my new next-door neighbour. I'm not sure she was a Black Crowes fan exactly, and our friendship was soon to follow the old cliche that the first person you meet at university is the person you end up liking the least, but at the time I could have kissed her, and I still like to think that it was the Black Crowes, and 'Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye' in particular that got my university career started.

'The Cedar Room' - Doves (Ian)

You want to talk new beginnings? For me, this one has them in spades. Lost Souls came out in 2000, as I was going to university, and as this was back when I was still reading the NME (online, from Canada), when they raved over this new band and their awesome song 'The Cedar Room' I promptly downloaded it, fell in love, found a copy of the album at the student newspaper and took it in exchange for a perfunctory review. Doves have never quite hit the same heights as they did here, to my mind (and I found Some Cities mediocre enough that I got some hate mail), but I still look forward to whenever they get their next album out, because Lost Souls in general and 'The Cedar Room' specifically was one of many albums that not only resonate with my first year of university, but changed my musical taste.

In my high school years, no doubt for reasons of age and hormones as much as anything else, I was always looking for music that was louder, faster, MORE than I’d already heard (even if, oddly enough, I was never all that interested in metal and rather selective in my punk tastes). Anything from Mogwai’s 'With Portfolio' to Super Furry Animals’ 'Do Or Die' was instantly and hungrily absorbed, and if I liked the albums they came on, it was despite the quieter, more gently paced material around songs like these than because of it. These days, of course, I’m more likely to put 'Tracy' or 'Some Things Come From Nothing' on a mix, and 'The Cedar Room' is one of the earlier stops on that route. I’d already been interested (via Spiritualized and Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, mostly) in a certain musical conception of, for lack of a better word, grandness, and when the NME trumpeted just how magnificently, sky-scrapingly sad 'The Cedar Room' was, I just had to try it. It’s a great song, I’d still argue today, but it is kind of glacially paced (that is, slow but accumulating and powerful). As I began to fall for more songs like that I found myself paying more attention to bands like Low and Red House Painters and even far more abstract propositions like The Necks, acts I once would have found impossible to sit through.

A few years later, I'd record my initial series of reactions to the song (and like every writer, I flinch a little at everything my younger self did). I don’t write that rawly about past or present emotional states that much any more, not from embarrassment so much as because... I don’t have to, really. I’ve grown up, more has happened to me, it doesn’t seem less important so much as less urgent. But at the time, and then again three years later, it did seem vital, and I remember many a late night listening to 'The Cedar Room' and its still wrenching chorus, sometimes on repeat. That’s another reason why 'The Cedar Room' reminds me of beginnings – in my post-high school life, in my romantic life (albeit embarrassingly late and painfully lopsidedly), in my music-listening life, and also in my writing life. That article was the first Seconds: Perfect Moments In Pop column I’d write for Stylus Magazine, the first place to give me any sort of a writing job and still (in my heavily biased opinion) one of the finest outlets the internet has ever seen for high quality writing about popular (and not so popular) music. Seconds was one of my favourite columns, and one where I did a lot of work and much of my best work – but if I hadn’t found a song I just NEEDED to write about as much as I did 'The Cedar Room' (three years later marked the re-entry of the woman in question back into my life – we kissed, once, and I swear to you the lights dimmed), I might not have ventured there at all, or if I did I might not have found myself as fearless about topics and styles of writing as I was after I’d ripped off the scab with that article.

So leave aside that 'The Cedar Room' is inarguably a classic of turn-of-the-century Brit-rock – I’d cherish it for all of the things it triggered for me even if it wasn't a great song. And on the right night, if I’m alone and in a slightly melancholy mood (i.e. tipsy) and you wander past my apartment door, you might even hear me bellowing along...

And I tried to sleeeep alooooooone, but I couldn’t dooo it! / You could be sittingnexttomeee, and I wouldn’t knoww it!

'Skip To The End' - The Futureheads (Pete)

It's a classic line from Simon Pegg's character in 'Spaced', what's not to like? But seriously, at first I was unsure as to what song to choose for this topic. New beginnings? Hmmm. Then I thought back to the start of my last two relationships and I was reminded that this song seemed to be played more frequently than others on both occasions (not only through my earphones, but, mysteriously, on the radio as well). I'd always liked the punchy, aggressive, yet upbeat intro and the Barry Hyde's shouty voice, but since the beginning of 2008, the apt lyrics were what caught my ear:

"If I could cheat, I would skip to the end / And decide if it's worth going through with. / Skip to the last, paragraph, just before we start, / To see the happy ending, or the broken heart."

Compared to other songs (more of which in a later topic) it's not so much about the above-mentioned persons in question, but more about my general mood at the time, i.e. I've met someone new and I'm not sure how it'll all work out, but it's fresh and the muddle-through optimist in me believes it can only end in a happy ending (hah). Even so, nevertheless the impatient part of me still wants to know... well... if it's worth going through with.

'Music Is Moving' - Cortina (Mike)

Beware of false epiphanies. Especially dancefloor e-piphanies, of the artificially induced kind. Since that false dawn of December 1994, my quest for profundity through pharmaceuticals had undergone a steady process of mission-shrink, to the point where all that remained was a restless urge for transitory oblivion. Weary of chasing rainbows, disillusioned by diminishing returns, and rapidly approaching my sell-by date (Malone, the hedonistic figurehead of 'Dancer From The Dance', Andrew Holleran’s fictionalised memoir of gay clublife in 1970s New York, had staged his disappearance at the age of 37; I was four months shy of entering my fortieth year), I knew the game was nearly up.

For the past six years, the London after-hours club Trade had been my Shangri-La. It was a unique subterranean melting pot, where artists and academics rubbed sweat-slicked shoulders with pumped-up ‘roid-ragers and off-duty rent; where the fuck-off-I’m-fabulous queens checked their attitudes at the door; where Cupid and Psyche necked beneath the strobes, before noshing each other off in the bogs. It was equal parts heaven and hell; salvation and damnation; Plato’s Symposium and Dante’s Limbo. It could unfurl your inner eye, or it could hollow out your soul.

I loved it.

I feared it.

I had to haul myself clear.

On the weekend of Trade’s tenth birthday party, we completed on the cottage: a bucolic bolthole on the edge of a national park, with an oil-fired Aga and a funky rustic-modern makeover. Seagrass on the stairs; Farrow and Ball stripes in the bathroom; rare-breed cattle grazing over the road. An eagerly awaited lifestyle paradigm shift, that would save us from the reductive cycle of Saturday night excess and Sunday evening regret.

But fuck all that for now; I had a ticket in my bag, and unfinished business to conclude.

It was the perfect grand finale. All the old faces had turned out, willing the club to recapture its glories: before the death of DJ Tony, high priest of the eight-to-ten slot; before the raid; before the hubristic global branding; before fucking ketamine; before the music even had a name.

It was a night of mwah-mwah-how-are-YOU breast bumps, of oh-my-God-it’s-THIS-one fist pumps, of wall-to-wall, back-to-back, solid gold, all-time-classic Trade Anthems. 'Let’s Rock' by E-Trax. 'Marmion' by Schoneberg. Vincent De Moor’s 'Flowtation' and Armin’s 'Blue Fear'. The Tony De Vit mix of Diddy’s 'Give Me Love'.

Are you all READY?

WHAT would you like to hear again?

BRING the beat back, BRING the beat back...

BRAIN is the weapon! That’s what I TOLD you!"

And in amongst the classics, a single new tune – or at least new-ish, for I was already losing my trainspotter’s touch – had been placed on near-hourly rotation: a catchy, fluffy, piano-driven, almost handbaggy confection called 'Music Is Moving' (fast forward to 2:00 for the good bit), which was evidently working its way through the ranks, and heading towards the canon of greats. With each successive play, the whoops of recognition got fractionally louder: just like that night in '95 when 'Hooked' was breaking, or that night in '97 when 'Give Me Love' brought the whole club together for one of those unsurpassable we’re-all-in-this-crazy-ship-together moments, or...

Well, I wouldn’t be around to witness its progress. Six years on from that false dawn, I was finally standing on the threshold of my – and, crucially, of our – true new beginning. And while the Trade juggernaut might have lumbered on for a few more increasingly undistinguished years to come, this was where I visualised the end credits rolling, the slowly fading refrain of its final anthem wrapping around itself again and again and again.

True to my pledge, I never returned.

"Closure", as the kind-eyed stranger in the middle of the dancefloor put it.

"Like being unchained from a lunatic" – Sophocles, via Molly Parkin.

* * * * *

Thanks to Dr Migs, Lord Bargain, Swiss Toni, Ian, Pete and Mike for their contributions this week.

The next subject, in a fortnight's time (by which time I might feel sufficiently inspired to contribute myself), is winter. In the meantime, though, there's another new feature starting next Monday. You lucky, lucky people...


Blogger swisslet said...

Oh God - LB has just reminded me of another "new beginning" soundtrack that I could have picked here. The song that was playing in the (oh-so-glamarous) setting of the Tamworth Services on the M42 when I first kissed my future wife? "Happy to be Stuck with You" by Huey Lewis and the News.

Oh yes. It doesn't get any better than that.

Good start lads. Looking forward to the rest of these!


10:59 am  
Blogger Ben said...

ST: Tamworth Services?! You certainly know how to pick your moment, don't you? You old romantic...

Pete: Yep, who'd have thunk it - thought-provoking lyrics and an AC/DC riff?

Mike: I think I almost 'got something in my eye' while reading your piece there - and that's no mean feat on your part given that I'm an avowed non-clubber.

6:31 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bloody hell, I just clicked on the music is moving link and had a flashback!

Still reeling.

I once drove from Manchester to London, leaving Mcr at 11.30pm, just so I could spend the early hours at Trade and drive back to Mcr 24 hours later. There's a lot more to the story than that, and it's a good one, but I've told it before...

11:02 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who knows where to download XRumer 5.0 Palladium?
Help, please. All recommend this program to effectively advertise on the Internet, this is the best program!

1:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, nice that you didn't forget to mention The Black Crowes, they are such a great band. I love " viagra for the mind" and their "Sympathy for the devil" version.

5:25 pm  

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