Sunday, 15 March 2009

I am a musical moron

I did not post yesterday, and only the truly OCD can understand the trauma that is causing me. Nooo! Voices in my head have been insistently whispering to me that this constitutes Failure, and moreover it may mean that I never have anything even moderately amusing to say again ever, and I might as well go down the bottom of the garden (which, given the size of the garden, will take me 1/100 of a second) and eat worms. Or dog shit. Or both. Or slugs, which are like the bastard offspring of worms and dog shit.

Let us assume that is true for a minute. Not the slug bit. There's enough science nerdery around here without me hypothesising about slug evolution. (Like, this morning, conversation in the car was about whether the Earth or the Sun came first after the Big Bang. Who gives a shit? Has Madonna had a brow lift, or just fillers? Can I afford another Sonia skirt?) That I am a spent husk and have nothing else to say. That lets me off the hook and I can be a boring bastard today and just deal with one of the memes I have been ignoring. The voices are telling me very insistently at this point that I am Selling You Short! Again! But I will soldier on. I have only negotiated an hour hiding from the gardening apocalypse that I can hear taking place beneath me, so I must press on.

Mrs Jones asked me this question.

Think of 20 albums that had such a profound effect on you that they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that, no matter what they were thought of musically, shaped your world.

There are NO albums like this in my life. The older I get, the less I want to listen to music, and as the CFO will testify, the wrong music at the wrong time (arbitrarily decided by me) is like unglazed pottery scraping across my soul. I am a freak. Also, I really like silence. Mmm. Silence. It is such a rarity. I do not come from a loud family. For ten years it was just me and Mum, and after a couple of years of the Space Cadette shrieking like a rabbit in a trap, we returned to companiable silence, each in a corner of the house with a book (and the Space Cadette probably out saving whales or babies or trees or giving her clothes to beggars something). Now, to my eternal bewilderment, I live in a loud family. Everyone must speak simultaneously or the world will stop spinning on its axis. Everyone must have the last word, and if the word can be shouted, bellowed or shrieked, all the better. Also, why say something once quietly when you could roar it until your head threatens to fall off? I am sitting on my bed and you would not BELIEVE the cacophony from downstairs. My ears are permanently bleeding.

Uh, where was I? Got distracted. This happens a lot, what with the Mamaaaaaaan woof woof Shackass Bordel de chien Je vais compter jusqu'à trois il m'a poussé waaaaaah mamaaan??? And of course, here comes a child, wishing to sleep quietly with me (ha! ha!) because an hour alone is too much to ask.

Music. Yes. I no longer seek it out and 90% of what the CFO would choose to listen to is aural torture for me for one reason or another. Does this make me fucked up? Probably. But Everything But the Girl, Squarepusher, Chopin Nocturnes IN THE MORNING make me physically ill. Sorry.

So I had to cast my mind way back when music was actually important and exciting to me to think of any albums that made any kind of impression. And even then, it's more about what the moment in time than the music. These aren't my favourite albums, but the minute I hear them (in several cases never because they've sunk without trace) they take me to somewhere utterly specific.

1. Voice of the Beehive - Let it Bee

My god, I listened to parts of this again on YouTube today and it took me right back to being 13, but the good bits (probably about 4% of the total of being 13). I can even tell you it must have come out in the summer, since I associate it with the merciful summer uniform of blue skirt, rather than the cruel winter maroon kilt. We listened to this (on Natural History field trips, in pottery class, in my bedroom) until the tape wore out again and again. It's still quite listenable in a bouncy daft pop fashion. And the outfits! That whole polka dot, tulle, full skirt, black opaques thing they're wearing on that video? It got its claws into me early and hard. I still love it.

2. Bob Marley - Legend

This was our car album growing up (looooong tedious journeys to a field somewhere, Prog Rock with his one legged glasses and a those strange floury sweets that come in round golden tins, with one of us inevitably being sick. I have the dubious claim to fame of having been sick on a live guinea fowl once), and we still have it in the car now. It's the album of long journeys en famille, and better than most at making the bitter recriminations over who was supposed to bring the camera/map/passports dissipate. We had No Woman No Cry at my mum's funeral and it was beautiful and gentle and right. It didn't even make me think of vomiting out of the window of a Citroen BX somewhere in the Scottish Highlands once. I couldn't listen to it for a couple of years after that, but I've got past that now and it's back in the car.

3. Colourblind James Experience - The Colourblind James Experience

Another one I haven't even thought about for years, but all the lyrics came right back to me as soon as I did. This one is from my chin stroking, NME reading, desperately serious muso phase (ages 14-17). It is so obscure that there isn't a single clip on YouTube. Anyway. The music is sort of demented circus Cajun and the lyrics are weird as fuck but I used to love it. It's hardly seminal and isn't associated with any pivotal moments in my life. Um, remind me what I am doing again? Oh yes. But it does remind of actually being fascinated by music, treating ugly black band tshirts like the Turin Shroud and reverently recording every single utterance of John Peel. The other option would have been Shonen Knife, but the bastard boyfriend who chucked me in the Kings Arms pub in York kept it, so I don't remember it quite as well. Asshole.

4. William Sheller - Sheller en Solitaire
Ah, this represents my "Oh god I'm miserable my life is complex and agonised and HAVE YOU NOTICED? I LISTEN TO FRENCH MUSIC because I am unutterably cultured and exotic" phase at Oxford. Especially this song. Gah. I'd rather rip my ears off than listen to it now. I find myself at this age thoroughly ridiculous in hindsight, though I know it was no joke at the time. I should be a little more charitable with my 20 year old self. It's hard being that age and having a gloomy Frenchman living in your cupboard as you try and write a 25 page essay on Henry II in a day that will be dismissed as trite.

5. Joni Mitchell - Blue
This is my mum's album and as a result it's my childhood album. Every track is full of her. There were a couple of 70s female chanteuse type things in a similar vein she listened to a lot. I could have picked Dory Previn's Mythical Kings and Iguanas but then I looked at the clips and they scared the holy crap out of me. That is a hell of a hair/glasses combo. She'll be chasing me through my dreams tonight. Or Janis Ian. But Joni, I actually still love. She has a fantastic voice and Carey is one of my favourite songs ever. Also the introduction to California. Ah, all of it really. Hippy scum that I am.

6. Cerys Matthews - Cockahoop
I listened to this in labour with Fingers. It's a very short album. It was a very short labour - only 2 hours, enough time to listen to Cerys, walk down Tottenham Court Road wincing, get to the hospital and have him (with only time for a brief comedy interlude with a suppository and a medical student, and a brief ER moment when his shoulder got stuck and suddenly 800 people were barrelling down the corridor carrying scalpels and the like. Thankfully averted by immensely cunning midwife.). Funnily enough, in labour with Lashes (late at night, that one) I listened to John Peel. I like this track best on Cockahoop, though I can't really listen to it at the moment. It's another album I associate with my mum, from our last holiday in Dorset, July 2003, when I told her I was pregnant again, and also nearly drowned on Burton Bradstock beach. Cerys Matthews has of course now lost any shred of edginess or mystique she ever had after going on I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and dating Gianni de Marco from Eastenders. Fie, Cerys! Fie! Fie!

I have to stop now. I have totally overrun my allotted hour, shouted at Fingers and left Lashes to deal with the Jehova's Witnesses. I encourage you to do this (the album thing, not leave your six year old to reason with two spookily polite young people intent on telling you how the octopus beak is proof of a divine creator). Stick one in the comments and tell me why. It was oddly poignant. Unfortunately now I REALLY want a tulle polka dot skirt but no longer have the legs for it.

Because this post is pretty crappy, I am giving you a bonus quote much favoured by Mr Ross, the Quaker school French teacher who had a nervous breakdown after 2 months trying to teach Tricolor to children called Seth and Silas in hand knitted jumpers with pictures of pigeons on. Those are the ones you need to look out for, Mr Ross. I bet Alfred de Vigny could have taught you a thing or two about the perils of shaggy haired children in handknits. He used to mutter it to himself as the blond twins who spoke their own special language performed ritual sacrifices at the back of the class.

"Seul le silence est grand, tout le reste est faiblesse".

I think it's a bit portentous and crap, but tonight after 18 hour aural assault, I kind of see where he was coming from.


Pochyemu said...

Oooh, this is almost like confessional for me!

Without doubt, my most life changing album ever was '( )' by Sigur Ros.

This album, and all the rest of the music that I am still passionately in love with was introduced to me by one person, who was actually the greatest love of my life. Too bad he didn't feel the same. 8 years later, I still love him and we're still friends, and today I bought him a $30 iTunes voucher for his birthday.

Persephone said...

Mott by Mott the Hoople.

I used to put this on the earphones and stand by the stereo at 8am, working up the courage to go to school one more day.

Cassandra said...

I am not really a music person either. So I went and married a musician!!! Just call me CLEVER CLOGS. If you think you've got it bad, come and hang out here and you'll hear all manner of hideous plinky-plonk shite. The album, though, has to be Nirvana's Nevermind - massively nostalgic return to the 6th form and golden youth and salad days and having it all ahead and yes, relatively good legs....CX

The Spicers said...

I can't tell you how relieved I am to learn of another person who prefers silence. I too grew up in a very quiet family, my dad a college professor, and everyone in their own corner reading or writing.
I listen to music rarely, and generally accidentally, in stores or the gym. Where I once passionately followed the Grateful Dead across America, music matters so little to me now that I'd be hard-pressed to come up with names.
My WV is "cretin." Apt.

Helen Brocklebank said...

Many years ago I had a relationship so illicit it was conducted only by the exchange of playlists (or whatever we called them in those days, pre-iTunes) recorded onto CD and placed covertly into the top of a convenient handbag or laptop case. Then one had to decode the message/sentiment via the selection of music. Obviously, hugely thrilling at the time, as all such secret squirrel stuff is, but at this distance, all I can be bothered with is music that doesn't turn me into a cryptographer. Am reduced to two albums: Bach Goldberg Variations and Miles Davies Kinda Blue. Have been thinking, rather sychronicitously, about music over weekend. Thinking of reviving my interest in it. Perhaps. X

justme said...

Mostly, if I am on my own, I listen to silence. Except in the car, where I like ALL sorts! But nothing as definative as your choices. Interesting.

Liberty London Girl said...

The albumthat immediately came into my head and that I haven't thought of, let alone listened to in YEARS, is The Band of Holy Joy. For one summer, it must be 1989 cos I just looked it up) their album Manic, Magic, Majestic was always being played. They were on Rough Trade, completely obscure & the NME loved them, therefore I did too. It reminds me of going to stay in Peterborough at Nicole's ( my best friend from boarding school) house and chasing boys in the shopping centre there and my first kiss. LLGxx

Liberty London Girl said...

ps I'm down with silence now I'm old. I go through phases, but generally I just forget to play anything. I'm happier that way. I don't hear music when I write anyway and as that's how I spend my days...LLGxx

ps WV: diumb. Telling, I feel.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

I adore music, JW, but don't listen to it as much as I would like...

I like silence too, and if you are a little like me, then the fact that your home is very male-dominated (are any of the tortoises female?), will mean that it is endlessly chaotic and noisy for poor you, and you have to resort to screaming to get by.

I want to choose something classy and cultural for my life-changing album, but I'll be honest - It was the Rumours LP (not even CD, I'm that old...) from Fleetwood Mac, and specifically all the tracks written by the divine sorceress, Stevie Nicks, which led my down an altogether enchanting track in life...

katyboo1 said...

I used to love Voice of the Beehive. I think I have Let It Bee on CD somewhere. Do you want a copy?

For me it was The Wonderstuff's Eight Legged Groove Machine and The Stone Roses by The Stone Roses. Heard them at a party when I was sixteen and they melted my mind. Played them for years and years and years.

I don't listen to music much anymore either, although every now and again I will have a moment. My last one was listening to lots of Georgie Fame and pretending that I was living in the Swinging Sixties and not in the drug den of hell in the midlands.

Anonymous said...

I've come to the conclusion that living with Megaphone Males creates a desperate need for silence,though I still love Hejira by Joni Mitchell-beautiful lyrics full of longing and the bass playing always catches at my heart.

Anonymous said...

I am really not into music. In fact you have spurred me into putting on the radio in a vain attempt to become a more interesting person.

Anonymous said...

There are many, may albums I could list, but the one that first comes to mind is the first Smiths album merely called the Smiths. I was 17, it was spring, I was in my room headed out to an evening of danger and lawlessness in Dupont Circle and abandoned houses, and a song came on the radio and I stopped what I was doing and knew that this was different from even the emotional punk and the Bowie and the Patti Smith. Still the only Smiths album I like.

Fat Controller said...

'Garden Shed' by England. Now THAT's real prog rock. So obscure that nobody has ever heard of it. I was totally absorbed by it during my first year at uni in 1977. I used it as hangover music, to be played at full volume through ridiculous monster-sized headphones on sunday mornings, before taking a long walk through the deserted streets of the City of London. (In 1977, Cheapside, Bishopsgate, Threadneedle Street were always pretty empty on a Sunday morning. The only signs of life were in Brick Lane.)

Anonymous said...

Although I too am a huge fan of silence now, four important albums for me were Rumours by Fleetwood Mac (Woman of no importance: we must discuss this some day!), the first Cars album entitled, strangely enough, The Cars, Ghost in the machine by the Police, and Boston's self-titled first album. All of them instantly bring me back to my much younger, angsty self, searching for who-knows-what and certain that I was SOOOO unique in my soulsearching. Today I have almost all the tracks from those albums on my iPod, and still know all the words by memory.

Anonymous said...

I just have to say that one of the things that I genuinely love about living in the future is the way that we all use YouTube for going: "This song, here, have a listen." It's so implausible and odd--the relative irrelevance of the video which is necessary for the medium of transmission, in combination the scaffolding of all that vast investment in the already rather strange and unlikely genre of the music video--so futuristic yet unpredicted in any work of science fiction I have ever encountered, and so handy. Hooray future.

lisahgolden said...

Too often, I have a barrage of racket coming at me so I, too, crave silence.

I can think of a couple of albums that might have been the huge and magical for me. The most recent was Amy Winehouse's Back to Black. It fit that time in my life perfectly.

Lately, though, when I'm driving, I'm listening to French pop music on XM satellite radio. I think it's a clear indication that I must go back to France sooner rather than later.

Mutter said...

Think of the noisiest day in your house then double it. That's my house. If any one puts on music I am known to respond, "Turn off that awful racket!" The kids love music and dance wildly to obscure bands I've never heard of on the Domestic God's iPod. If I had to choose one album it would be Simon and Garfunkel's Sounds of Silence. They were the first band I ever saw live, at the reunion concert at Wembley Stadium. I'm showing my age here but it was my sixteenth birthday.

Sarah Lulu said...

Music has always been very significant for me ..I can't live without it ...

Some special albums that changed my heart or my mind would be ..

Rubber Soul
The Beatles (1965)

Cat Stevens
Tea for the Tillerman 1970

Simon and Garfunkel
Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Déjà vu (1970)

Neil Young
Harvest (1972)

Stevie Wonder
Songs in the Key of Life (1976)

John Farnham
Whispering Jack (1986)

...John Farnham dominated Australian music in the 80's.

indigo16 said...

Oh, I am with you 100% on the sound of silence front. I love to have complete peace all around me, maybe because it is so very rare in a household of six.
If you think your CFO music choice is bad trust me nothing will ever top the caterwailing of his Kurdish folk music! often heard via a badly tuned car radio. This is closely followed by my youngest bitterly resented violin practise.

Waffle said...

Pochyemu - ah, that is very civilised to be exchanging vouchers. Sigh.

Persephone - think Lashes needs similar anthem at moment.

cassandra - ooh what does the muso husband drive you insane with?

Iheart - we crave peace. It's not our fault.

MrsT - this does sound terribly romantic. Updated version of the mix tape!

Justme - yes, I agree, the car is different.

LLG - ooh, yes, it had to be Rough Trade didn't it? Automatic credibility.

Woman - there's one female tortoise, but we're still terribly outnumbered.

katyboo - ooh yes please. bouncy nonsense!

Jenny - this is very true. I like 'Megaphone Males'.

More than a Mother - I am very reassured by how many of us have crept out of the woodwork on this. Mmm. Silence.

Jessica K - anything with lots of Johnny Marr playing jangly guitar was good for me. I do envy you your youth of danger and lawlessness. I was probably watching medical drama with my mum.

Fat Controller - it hasn't changed that much at all. Bishopsgate more lively, but the rest still eerily quiet.

Pinklea - those songs kick you right back there don't you? Better than a madeleine. Well, not actually, because cake beats music anyday.

Redfox - yes, it's wonderful. Remember labouriously taping the Top 40 off the radio every Sunday. Seems a lifetime away.

Lisa - voluntarily listening to French music is a sign of profound mental turmoil. I am concerned.

Sarah Lulu - you have some seriously classy choices. Am impressed.

Indigo16 - oh violin practise! Scree scree delicious torture! Poor you. Poor poor you.
Wife in HK

Phoenix Berries said...

Not an album, but Janis Joplin's "Bobby McGee" was in my head throughout the immediate aftermath of birth and my son's first two weeks of life. Its rhythm was all that kept me focused through that exhaustion. Love kept me going, but Janis kept me sane. Ironic?

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