Monday, April 20, 2009

Memories Can't Wait: Happiness

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

This week's topic: Happiness

'The Nishikado' - Silvery (drmigs)

There are many different types of happiness, and if the forefathers of the English language hadn't been such a starch-collared bunch of scholars, we'd have a better distinction of the multiple types of happiness. Just like the Greeks had four major distinctions of love (agape, eros, philia and storge) and the Welsh have 4603889
distinctions of wet precipitation (I would type them but you'd think my keyboard was broken), English really needs more distinctions for the word happiness.

Slang and street language offer transient alternatives, for instance the happiness of being "made-up" is very different from the happiness of "woot". But turn to the OED and there's just "happiness". So I'm not going to write about my "happy" song, or a song that reminds me of a time of great happiness, I'm going to write about a song that evokes many types of happiness. The song in question is 'The Nishikado' by Silvery, and I'm afraid I'm
going to sink to paraphrasing Enigma to describe the many types of happiness. So...

Happiness Part 1.

Firstly, there's the face value of it. The kooky glam/indie sound and the hypnotically sing-along chorus just picks-up my attention, and tells me to ignore everything until the song is over. Within moments, the shoulders have been recruited, and there's a little bit of hands and arms, a bit of the two left feet, and I've gone. Just taken over by it. And each subsequent playing of the track just gets more involving. It's almost Pavlovian now. I'm transported to a silly euphoria of bad-uncle dancing at a wedding; I'm transcendentally involved with the music, whilst looking like I'm perpetually recreating a Monty Panesar wicket celebration. In all honesty, it's not a good look. But once the chorus starts, damn it, you can't help it, altogether now... "Toshihiro Nishikado, Toshihiro Nishikado, I miss my hero Nishikado, Toshihiro Nishikado". Its ohrworm potential 11. So this is a euphoric silly happiness that I associate with the song. Nothing more and nothing less.

Happiness Part 2.

Next there's the associative happiness. That satisfaction of trying to pin down what this sounds like, even though it is somehow unique, and the resultant memories of times past that such associations generate. There are undeniable links to the likes of Bowie etc, but the real hook for me is the comforting reminiscence to the psychedelic indie sound from the mid-nineties. Particularly the Parklife era of Blur. And so I'm led to the memories of those early forays into the diverse world of music, and the release from the saccharine emotional manipulation of pop. Parklife was very much a transitional album for me, and there is a little bit of Parklife in Silvery's sound. If only the organ...

Happiness Part 3.

Next we're on to the happiness of satisfying the inner geek. The happiness of finding something on your own, exploring it and being satisfied and surprised at the end of it. It's rare for me to discover a band that's had relatively little exposure, buy an album on the strength of one song and then be overwhelmed and infatuated when I play it. I've generally got too bad taste, don't listen to enough new music, or am just too tight to have this experience regularly. I'm certainly confident that this happens to me far less frequently than to most on this site. However, every once in a while I hear a song on an obscure radio show or via an obscure link that makes me impulsively indulge. When it all works out, I get attached to the album like a new favourite T-shirt, and usually get autistically attached to one track in particular. Other example tracks that could demonstrate this are the chillingly sincere 'The Freest Man' by Tilly And The Wall, or the vainly pompous 'Suspicious Character' by The Blood Arm. If you are not familiar with these tracks, I implore you to search them out.

Happiness Part 4.

The happiness of pithy journalism. David Quantick reviewed 'The Nishikado' thusly:

"'The Nishikado' resembles Suede's entire career in three minutes."

Happiness Part 5.

Then there's the scratching-under-the-surface happiness to understand more about a song. Whilst I was more than happy to sing along to "Toshihiro Nishikado, Toshihiro Nishikado, I miss my hero Nishikado, Toshihiro Nishikado", you can't listen to this too many times without wondering "Who the hell was Toshihiro Nishikado?" Turns out he was a computer programmer whose most famous programme was Space Invaders. Sometimes it's the title, or just a throwaway lyric that leads you to Wikipedia to find out more. Other songs in this category are the likes of 'Good Luck Mr Gorsky' by Sleeper, and 'St Swithin's Day' by Billy Bragg. I guess this is more a nerdy type of happiness, the satisfaction of learning and understanding.

Happiness Part 6.

And then there's the happiness of previously forgotten memories, which in this example were brought back by the last sub-category. Ahh, the tabletop Space Invaders in the Trent House in Newcastle. Memories of nipping over for a pint and a game of Space Invaders during an all-day practical, or for a quick one on the way home. Mind you, it was the worst place to start a pub crawl - no one would leave. The Trent House was too good, and the Space Invaders table was one of the many reasons for this. Apparently the table is now broken, but back in the day... fun fun fun.

I could go on, but I think I've well and truly made my point now. It's not my favourite song ever, it's not my happy song, but it is a song that reminds me of happiness, in its many and varied forms.

'Central Reservation' - Beth Orton (Paul)

Trying to pin down a song which I associate with happiness has proved to be something of a challenge. Not because I am a particularly moody so-and-so, but more because as an emotion it's not like I can think back to a night out, or for a song that is inextricably linked with a job or a person. At times I am happy. At times I am not. But every time I am, I don't have one song that plays on my internal jukebox.

But there are songs which make me smile almost without fail. Songs which prompt memories of times when I have been happy, and memories which I savour.

So it's to one of those that I turn.

The song is 'Central Reservation' by Beth Orton. It's a song about a romantic encounter the previous night - "I can still smell you on my fingers, and taste you on my breath" - and it's a really beautiful tune, which perfectly suits Orton's vocal talents.

It reminds me of my wife, and it makes me smile.

Before we were married we regularly used to drive to Newcastle to see my football team/parents (delete as appropriate) and the Beth Orton album was one which regularly accompanied the drive up the M1. We'd pile into our battered Nissan Micra on a Friday night, merrily chomping our way through biscuits, crisps and sweets, before phoning the (now sadly departed) local pizza shop once we got through the Tyne Tunnel.

Along with a couple of other CDs, it was that album which soundtracked numerous Friday night and Sunday afternoon drives (playing through the Micra's tape deck on one of those crappy personal CD car conversion kits).

'Love Will Tear Us Apart' - Joy Division (Caskared)

We had worked really hard for months preparing the exhibition and the final push was intense. I had invited my friend and colleague to work with me on the project to make it more fun and to share the load. It had proved to be a good plan as we had over 40 participants, which to do alone is overwhelming. My friend and I had met on our Masters course; we were both from the Midlands and shared a sensibility of buoyant fun underpinned with some meaty discourse. I had been working abroad already for two years by then so had the lay of the land, but had chronic bouts of homesickness. Having my friend over brought some wonderful familiarity to my new home and sharing the work was a joy.

The final few days managing the installation and working with the visiting artists preparing their performances and works led us to working round the clock plus preparing an ambitious yet slim catalogue with an over-worked designer. But it worked!

The opening of the show was a dream when it hit after the hectic behind-the-scenes machinations of cycling across town, picking up the vinyl lettering, finding the right cotton, setting up amps and a lot, lot more. The opening night saw a blinding performance by two artists, also from the Midlands, with their homemade instruments followed by two more DJing from their laptops, alternating tunes from 'The Wicker Man' to woobley electro played out across the decking of the gallery’s yard. We were all exhausted but elated, fizzing with adrenaline, wanting to dance but the track was never quite right, plus no one else at all wanted to dance.

And then, "Love, love will tear us apart, again". Up on our feet, three of us from the Midlands, elated, dancing crazy, not a care for anyone else around us. The song sounded so good, so right, so much from home. For the duration we danced like loons feeling every pulsing moment of baseline, each layer of synthesised sound, singing along as we flailed and span. We revelled in the song’s sheer brilliance and its familiarity, embracing the collective, albeit mini-collective, affection we had for Joy Division all heightened by our own sense of exhaustion and accomplishment. The lyrics carrying the dark to our glee, making us feel all the more knowing as we enjoyed the moment. As the supercool artworldistas might have looked on in derisive disdain, our peripheral vision switched off as we could not hold our excitement in. The fact of that song playing there and then made us three all so happy.

‘The Good People of America’ – The Wanderin’ Allstars vs. The Cuban Boys (Skif)

Songs that remind me of happiness would, by definition, be all the songs that I like. I like ‘em cos they makes my face all full of smile and teef 'n' that. Over the years there’s nothing I’ve liked more than to make compilations, holding on to the tape format far longer than perhaps wise, considering the decrease in the friends with the capability to play them. These compilations haven’t changed anybody’s world or radically altered their musical tastes but the journey’s the thing, and retreading that journey by playing the second copy you made for yourself whilst at it over and over.

It’s like a long holiday slideshow really, more entertaining for those giving the show than those viewing it. The point is that all the songs we like are great and putting all your favourites in one place is bound to be a joyous thrill-ride that you can keep on taking until familiarity breeds if not contempt then, at least, fewer goosebumps than before. There are millions of these I could list here, but the modus here requires a singlet, so let’s see...

Songs that remind you of happiness might equally remind you of being on a dance floor, such as the night of my graduation ball when ATB’s '9PM: ‘Til I Come' came on and I went a little nuts possibly from the euphoria of a well-received karaoke performance.

They might be songs that sounded triumphant at a special gig – for me no Cardiacs gig is complete without 'Big Ship' and its tidal wave coda which has me leaping like a fourteen year old with joy so unconfined it’s got the freedom of every major city and a skeleton key for all the others.

Aside from nights out (which have been covered in this series already), these sounds may bring to mind a special lady (hopefully the current one) and, in this case, I’d be picking 'Your Charms' by Cinerama. Or they might be evocative of your team winning (Showaddywaddy’s 'Under The Moon Of Love' having been turned into Havant & Waterlooville FC’s terrace glory anthem) or of being on a great holiday (a busking skiffle band on Prague’s King Charles Bridge in 2002 performing an astonishing version of 'Sweet Georgia Brown'). All dizzy times, nostalgia for which is stirred by song.

However there are times when the happy comes at home, when a song in your collection can be relied upon to grab you and force you into a smile surer than if it had slashed your cheeks from the corner of your mouth up to your ears. I have this experience with a B-side remix of The Wanderin’ Allstars’ 'The Good People of America', released on the finest-named label in all Christendom, Artists Against Success, also home to the equally joyous MJ Hibbett & The Validators.

Quite simply, 'The Good People Of America' is the most preposterously giddy piece of electronic music I’ve ever heard. It’s off-kilter enough in its original form, even before The Cuban Boys added their patented happy hardcore tweak and heady camp abandon.

As it is it causes ridiculous shapes all over the room which means it counts Colourbox’s 'Official Colourbox World Cup Theme' and the Pilooski remix of Von Südenfed’s 'The Rhinohead' amongst its peers, but 'The Good People Of America' can always be relied upon to cheer me up, and the fact I can think of no one else I know who would see any merit in it whatsoever means it is a pleasure all of my own.

Feel free to add your own "self-gratification" remark at this point but I have no time to countenance your onanistic accusations, as I’ve got a bedroom to leap around.

'Om Namah Shivaya' - Future Pilot AKA (Ian)

It’s hard for me to connect a pop or rock song to happiness, really; songs that already are happy can be good and interesting, but not usually because they put me in a better mood, and it’d be wrong to say that the songs I really love make me happy in a direct sense. There’s something else going on. So of course I resort to a cover, if you can call it that, of one of the most important traditional Sanskrit hymns/mantras relating to the god Shiva. A devotional song in a language I don’t know, for a religion I have only a passing familiarity with (hey, I got 90% in my Indian Philosophy course) – that’s what really makes me happy.

In the expert if under-valued hands of Sushil K. Dade, it sure does. Dade has been around the Glasow indie scene for a long time and has the list of guest stars to prove it, and here, on the lynchpin track from the Tiny Waves, Mighty Sea album (which I can only assume is incredible - it’s impossible to find in Canada/online) he gets Stuart Murdoch of all people to ever-so-gently croon said mantra for about ten minutes. There’s a gorgeous violin part that kind of shades along behind him, and a lush arrangement that flutters in the background, but really it’s about the calm and peace Murdoch effortlessly portrays. It’s one of his best vocal performances, and it sounds like nothing else but a lullabye for the whole world.

In its loving resignation, 'Om Namah Shivaya' (lit. "Om, adoration Shiva") feels a bit like being cupped in a big fluffy blanket and being rocked gently to oblivion. Without a language I understand getting in the way, it hits me in a purely visceral way, and it’s all about the textures of the instruments and Stuart’s voice.

It’s such a benevolent song, in fact, that if I’m in a really bad mood I can’t or won’t listen to it; not because I’m afraid it will cheer me up, but because it feels mean and petty to hear Future Pilot AKA’s take on 'Om Namah Shivaya' without being at least basically open to the feeling of the song. It’s maybe the only track on my computer out of thousands that I feel that way about, and a testament to its beauty and its power. It’s easy enough to find a song that’s trying to make you feel happy – I’m more struck by the way this one seems almost bruised by your cynicism if you’re not.

'Surfin' USA' - Beach Boys (Ben)

Friday 24th June 2005, 9am. The previous day - which felt like the hottest of the year - is very much a distant memory. The heavens opened several hours ago and are not only showing no signs of closing but seem instead to be opening wider still. The Big Fella Upstairs appears to be mightily cheesed off, intent on literally raining down his wrath upon tents, tepees and toilets, fields, farm and festival-goers - upon what is, for this hallowed weekend each year, the most populous settlement in Somerset.

On coming into contact with the ground, baked hard by days of fierce sun, the rainwater forms a clear river that rushes across the grass, sweeping straight through our campsite, soaking a weekend's worth of clothes, destroying tents, carrying a box of wine and a pair of flip-flops off down the hill like a smash-and-grab looter with a TV under his arm.

At the bottom of Pennard Hill the scene is sorrier still - a muddied lagoon, the tips of tents barely breaking the surface, stunned would-be revellers staggering around in disbelief, a handful ignoring the warning sign of the floating Portaloos and wading in in the forlorn hope of retrieving their car keys and money from the canvas Atlantis.

And what consolation on the radio around which we're huddled? Chris Moyles, cocooned warm and dry in a London studio, chuckling about the conditions we're having to endure. The fat cock.

Fast forward two days to Sunday 26th June, 5.47pm. Brian Wilson and his band take to the Pyramid Stage. An enormous roar. "We've brought the Californian weather with us." An even more enormous roar. And then the first bar of music.

About an hour later, in the encore, as the penultimate song, he plays 'Surfin' USA'. The melody of Chuck Berry's 'Sweet Little Sixteen' married to lyrics inspired by popular surfing spots reeled off by Jimmy Bowles, the little brother of Wilson's girlfriend Judy. Of its time, you might think. Perhaps - but, if so, its time has come again.

In the early evening, beneath beautiful blue skies, before a huge crowd grooving, twisting and shouting away, drunk on sunshine and much, much else besides. A huge crowd who, just two days earlier, might have been seriously contemplating surfing as a means of getting around the site. A huge crowd who refused to be phased or disheartened by the weather and ensuing carnage, got stuck in and have survived, made it through to the end.

This is the reward for keeping the faith - and what a reward.

The song which followed it, the last of the set? 'Fun Fun Fun'. Of course.

* * * * *

Thanks to drmigs, Paul, Caskared, Skif and Ian for their contributions this week.

The next subject, in a fortnight's time, is sadness. For the sake of symmetry, y'see.


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