Archive for October, 2008

Walk into the Sea

“I could walk into the sea
And choke away the memory
Do I have to stay alive
Just to keep our dresses white?

You come to me in dreams
With all the other pretty things
You tell me about a Savior
And how the soul lives on forever

And time is just a hunger
It bleeds us out to nothing
And when it finally takes us over
I hope we’ll float away together

Yeah, time’s the great destroyer
Leaves every child a bastard
When it finally takes us over
I hope we’ll float away together”

From “Walk Into The Sea” by Low

Low are one of my favorite bands.  I hold them in such high regard musically and in terms of how they seem to conduct themselves in the music business.  I was saddened to hear of the difficulties lead singer Alan Sparhawk was going through a few years back, but given my recent feed of posts on the importance of John Peel, I thought I’d include another story in which his legacy lives on… 

I have seen Low play live more times than I remember.  I am so glad Alan has sought help and battled his demons and I think of this story every time I see them.  I think of the importance of his music to me and countless others.  I think of his wife, Mimi and their two kids.  I think of all the good causes he champions.  Life can be real dark at times, but I think we both believe in a saviour… 

Low’s Alan Sparhawk cancels tour because of mental instability

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Get well, Alan. We’re all big fans.

From the band’s messageboard [Via OneLouder]:
dear friends,the following is a lot of sentences starting with “i”. i’ve heard this is bad form and it tends to paint a very egocentric picture of the writer. good thing i’m a musician…

low has to cancel the shows we have booked in may and june – perhaps beyond. i have always tried to extend true respect to the fans of our music. it would be very easy to just cancel without proper explanation, and hope that the rumors tipped our way, perhaps adding to some crafted mystique. but, i’m a coward and i’ll leave that to the true artists.

i have not been very mentally stable for the last while. due to this, touring at this time has become too much of a burden on everyone involved. my current problems and instability create undue and unnecessary stress for everyone close to me, especially on the road, so despite coming back from several months of shows we have thoroughly enjoyed playing and being a part of, i have to respect their best judgment. those last several months have been some of the hardest to live through, and it is too much to ask those around me to have to put up with that any more.

for those of you who cling to details and think information is power; i have been speculated/diagnosed with everything from post-traumatic stress disorder, ADHD, bipolar whatever, suicidal depression/anxiety (“here’s some pills, call me if you are still alive next week – oh, wait, sorry, your small business insurance plan doesn’t cover all this…”), to paranoia, laziness, OCD, and good old-fashioned two-faced asshole-ness. i know – “big deal, who doesn’t have problems? you have a great and easy life! how bad can it be!?!” i wish i was a better person, and i’m working on that, much in the same way everyone else does. unfortunately, for one reason or another, that battle for me right now abruptly demands some drastic effort, sacrifice, and change – and that’s just to stay in the game… i feel like i’ve come through the worst of it, by there’s nothing uglier than lips speaking vain promises, so forgive me if i’m reluctant to be the cheerleader this time. i need to get healthy, and it’s apparent that something about touring right now is doing more damage than good.

several months ago, amid a couple “bad days”, i found myself standing in front of a photo of John Peel, on the wall outside one of the BBC studios on london. the image of his face in this photo is an image that exposes fools. i was ashamed to even look into his eyes. still, seeing his calm, wise face made me realize i had been letting my own selfish battle with sanity get in the way of the gift of music that i and we all are so privileged to be even a small part of. my thoughts raced.

 

i remembered being in the man’s home and meeting his family. if there has ever been an example of a selfless man, he surely was/is. yet, it hurt more than looking at the sun than to look at him on some piece of paper!?!… in that instant, i knew i was a fool, and that i had become the enemy. to many this may sound like a very weird and/or dangerous realization, but i have a feeling that that moment will be one i will look back upon someday as “where things changed.” – where the eclipse peaked and began to wane. God bless the DJ.it breaks my heart. i love playing music and i love being able to play it for people, but i love the people i play music with the most. do the math. you have been so kind to us and the people we work with have been patient and selfless through all this, so despite complete faith that everyone probably understands and at least respects our decision, i still wish to extend my deepest apologies to all.
now, to wrap this up, a word or two regarding the individual inconvenience and monetary loss involved: i know this sounds a bit assuming but, in a cosmic, semi-mentally-ill way, i feel every subway fare spent to go downtown to buy and now refund the tickets, every plan made and day worked extra so the day of the low show would be open, every broken heart that was looking forward to feeling my righteous guitar riffs up close and live, and every dollar that will have to come out of the pockets of the promoters of all these shows (i’m serious… despite all the sleazy stuff that goes on the music biz, most of the promoters we work with are very honest people who are not getting rich off what they do, but they still do it because they love music and the community they live in… please go easy on ’em.)

thank you, and again, i am very sorry. i suggest that instead of going to the low show, go for a walk with a friend or two that day – somewhere where there’s trees or rocks and dirt or plants. i plan to do the same, each of those days, right here in beautiful duluth… or at the funny farm – who knows? either way….

and please please please go out and get the M.I.A. cd!

peace be with you.

sincerely,
g. alan sparhawk

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Freak Scene

Following on from my recent post on John Peel Day, I thought I’d answer the question I posed.

Q: What record would always make your playlist and why?

For me the answer would always have to be “Freak Scene” by Dinosaur Jr.

Why?

I associate it with the summer I graduated from Uni and was looking for my first job.  I had reluctantly cut my hair and shaved my goatee.  I feared losing the person I had become during my student days in order to pretend to be someone I didn’t want to be.  I dreaded the notion of a conveyor belt of pristine “yes men” desperate for their first chance to impress in the corporate world.  That wasn’t me and isn’t me.  I wanted to stand out rather than fit in.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do and didn’t have a clue where life was headed.  Few firms in the field I had studied in seemed to be recruiting as the market was in a slump.  I was living at home and there was real tension in the house.  I don’t think my parents could believe that a University education didn’t lead to a guaranteed job. 

Up until that point life had always had a routine…get up, go to school or uni, hang with friends, work, rest and play.  All of a sudden the comfort of that was gone and the great unknown loomed big on the immediate horizon.  My girlfriend at the time (who would later become my wife) had finished up her course and was leaving town to enroll on an art degree at Duncan of Jordonston and I didn’t know what city I’d be living in or what I’d be doing.  Unlike previous years I didn’t have a summer job, wasn’t earning and felt guilty about how I was spending my days.  It was a very confusing, stressful and difficult period.

Mudd Club was the choice of venue for a Monday night after a get together at Ma’Camerons.  It was an alternative music night that had run for years.  In the midst of all of that conflict, I remember dancing away with one of my longest standing friends who I consider to be a brother that I never had.  The sloppy guitar of Dinosaur Jr’s “Freak Scene” came on and it sounded like the sort of music that anyone could make in their bedrooms – loose, messy and fuelled with emotion.  As we shook our hair around on the dance floor the closing lines blared out of the PA and, as I looked my buddy right in the eye, I experienced a defining moment in life.  In that instant I just knew that a lifelong vow of friendship, commitment and accountability had been made during the song’s last few seconds…The words may not have been the way we would have articulated it, but the sentiment was and still is there.  The smiling and shrugging at the mess all around and my, seemingly, powerlessness to change any of it combined with my recognition that I couldn’t do it on my own.  The words and the sound actually seemed a truer refelection of what I felt than any of the ways I might have phrased or penned or said it aloud:- 

“Sometimes I don’t thrill you

Sometimes I think I’ll kill you

So don’t let me f–k up, will you?

Cause when I need a friend it’s still you.

What a mess….”

All these years later, that commitment to friendship and support remains as the two of us have journeyed on.  Keith bro’, you know that this one’s for you.

So, here is a brilliant live version of the song which captures all the shambollic sloppiness and chaos that makes it so important to me.  The clip is introduced by indie music demi-godess, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth no less…raaawwwwwkkkk!

Teenage Kicks

I need excitement, oh, I need it bad

And it’s the best I’ve ever had”

From “Teenage Kicks” by The Undertones.

Today is the fourth anniversary of John Peel’s death.  I didn’t have a blog back then, but the photo is taken from a scrap book we were keeping at the time.

I still miss “The Peel Session” on Radio 1 and “Home Truths” on Radio 4.  I feel nostalgic and happy and sad all at the same time if I ever hear his voice broadcast.

Many of us will have our favourite Peel moments.  For me they include:

  • His broadcast of the Chemikal Underground Records 10th anniversary party where my mate’s band were introduced as “Cumbernauld’s number one death metal band” (no surprises to learn that they were neither from Cumbernauld nor death metal);
  • Dave Gedge of The Wedding Present’s brief chat with Michael Aspel on “This Is Your Life” which appears half way through this short you tube link after Mark E Smith of The Fall; 
  • My friend, Andrew, getting his first 7″ single played by John Peel;
  • Aereogramme’s live set at the Gronegan festival in Holland which had a particularly amusing bit when Peely was interviewing the band wherein some punters in the background started shouting, “John Peel – we’re not worthy!”, to which he dryly chuckled, “No, you’re not”.

The lyrics at the top are from what is famously known as John Peel’s favourite record.  Exact Science mentioned it in passing on a recent comment on my blog by noting, “Just to touch on John Peel, cause you mention him. In referring to Teenage Kicks he said that he didn’t think there was anything you could add or take away to make it better. I think that is the crux of all great art.”

John Peel carried a copy of “Teenage Kicks” with him everytime he was DJing at some event. 

What record would always make your playlist and why?

 

Imitation Of Life

“You want the greatest thing
The greatest thing since bread came sliced.
You’ve got it all, you’ve got it sized.
Like a Friday fashion show teenager
Freezing in the corner
Trying to look like you don’t try”

From “Imitation Of Life” by R.E.M.

So I found myself sat staring into thin air in one of those great British institutions, the roadside service station, a few weeks back after a coffee that can at best be described as mediocre and way too large.  You know the sort, it burns your taste buds at first slurp and is lukewarm by the time you get halfway down its supersized cup.  It was accompanied by a sandwich I didn’t even like the look of.  I had that fuggy headed sensation caused from driving for several hours combined with my retinas adjusting to the artificial lighting in the sticky food court. 

As I waited for my wife and daughter to return from the toilets I found myself playing drums on my knees in time with “Sweet Child O’ Mine” as it came over the tannoy system.  I was on auto-pilot and knew exactly how the cymbals sound in time with the bass guitar notes after Slash’s guitar intro. 

I got to thinking, how many millions of people must have learned to play this song over the past 22 years?  Hundreds of thousands of teenagers learning guitar in their bedrooms, jamming with friends or forming their first bands – tens of thousands of folks mimicking the guitar riff on “Guitar Hero” on their games consoles – thousands of kids trying out guitars they will never be able to afford in music shops the world over…

Yet, once upon a time, someone came up with the notes for that famous guitar intro.  Some friends busked along in a rehearsal space that gave birth to a classic rock song that largely catapulted Guns ‘n’ Roses into international stardom.  Even folks who don’t like metal or rock music probably recognise the song.

Why do so many people play cover versions of other people’s music?  Re-interpreting songs is one thing, but playing straight cover versions or murdering the original versions is something quite different.  

It doesn’t really hold true for other art forms, does it?  How often do film directors re-make someone else’s work story board by story board?  How often does a novelist try to commit their own favourite work to memory and then re-write it verbatim?  How often does an artist try to recreate every brushstroke and tonal variation of a classic piece on their own piece of canvas?

How do we engage with culture?  Do we shun it?  Do we embrace it?  Do we mimic it?  Do we try to influence it or create it?

Several folks from the small group who regularly meet in our house have attended something called the Q Conference in America over the past few years.  They have come back energised and stimulated by ideas.  That, in and of itself, has been fairly contagious.  The simple notion of people seeing how to use their skill base in the places they find themselves in order to change things –  whether as entrepreneurs, influencers, artists, musicians, thinkers, writers, bloggers, ordinary radicals or whatever…

One of the things I got linked to through that was the Fermi Project.  Their Society Room DVDs and the Fermi Shorts series of essays are thoroughly stimulating.  I came across a brilliantly engaging essay they produced about all these idioms of culture and our response to it which you can find out more about here.

Naked As We Came

“She says wake up, it’s no use pretending
I’ll keep stealing, breathing her
Birds are leaving over autumn’s ending
One of us will die inside these arms

Eyes wide open
Naked as we came
One will spread our
Ashes round the yard

She says if I leave before you darling
Don’t you waste me in the ground
I lay smiling like our sleeping children
One of us will die inside these arms

Eyes wide open
Naked as we came
One will spread our
Ashes round the yard”

From “Naked As We Came” by Iron & Wine

I hope that you are not too offended by the above picture.  In truth, I don’t think the photo does justice to this piece by Ron Mueck.  I first saw this at the Saatchi Gallery in London back in 2003.  It’s entitled “Dead Dad” and is an incredibly life-like model of the artist’s father.  What the photo fails to capture is the fact that the model is only 102 cm long.  The attention to detail, to every little body hair is captivating.  I genuinely expected this little person to jump up from the display at any moment as if it had only been playing dead.

In Ron Mueck’s explanation of this piece, he wrote of how when he saw his dead Dad’s body he was instantly struck by how his Dad wasn’t there.  The body before his, tear stained, eyes was merely a shell.  His Dad had left and the soul and spirit had departed.

I’m proud of the fact that the company I work for sponsored Ron Mueck’s exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh back in 2006.  The figures on display caught the imagination of thousands of visitors.  The very fact that the scale was wrong (they are either huge or minute) threw people and made them confront aspects of the human condition.  

Art has the power to address the issues we consider taboo or don’t discuss in our everyday conversation.  It has the power to touch, inspire, provoke and shock.  It has the power to disarm.  The conversations I had at a private viewing one evening with clients’ of the firm were more genuine and scratched much deeper below the surface than many of the bland pleasantries that too often fill our, seemingly endless, numbered days. 

I really appreciate “Dead Dad”, although upon reading the plaque I could feel a lump in my throat and a sting in my eyes.  It scares me to think that I may have to face such a confrontation of my own one day.  It also makes me squirm to think that, if timings take their natural course, my daughter may one day have to do the same to me.  Maybe these little posts and musings on this blog will convey something of the thoughts I held, the priorities I had and the passions that drove me…

 

I Can Hear Her Breathing

I hope you can hear me

recalling from memory

all that you promised might be”

From “I Can Hear Her Breathing” by calamateur

Is it a trait of all indie music fans that we have a tendency to be snobby about the music we like?  As soon as a band achieve critical acclaim outside of our own little circle of trusted information sources, we begin to distance ourselves from them in the search of something newer, fresher or more underground…

One of the artists who has had heaviest, consistent, rotation on my iPod over the past good few years goes under the moniker of calamateur.  If you’ve not done so already, you can check things out by clicking on the link under the “Websites That Matter” heading on the right hand side of this page.

Anyhow, you can catch them on SKY or FREESAT this Wednesday night at 10.30.  The show is repeated on Friday 17th October at 11 pm and the details are here

I have access to neither – could anyone out there record it to DVD for me?

Lucky

“It’s gonna be a glorious day”

From “Lucky” by Radiohead

When Thom Yorke delivers the above line, it is a crecendo which soars and lifts my spirit.

Today I was awoken by the my daughter’s calls for me which have become my Sunday morning alarm.  Once I got focused, I realised that I had a heart and head full of content thoughts having spent the last two evenings in the company of important friends, chatting to the wee small hours over good food and red wine. 

After a read of yesterday’s Guardian whilst my daughter watched a little TV, I pulled on my jeans and wind-cheater and strolled down the road to our favourite, nearby, cafe to pick up fresh coffees and pastries.  The sun was still low in the sky and bright enough for me to squint into it for most of the walk.  The air had that frosty chill when you inhale deeply followed by steam exiting my nostrils.  My Bloody Valentine provided a perfect sound-scape from my headphones as I tried to dampen the muffled sound of the passing cars and their long shadows.  There were copper leaves in the gutter and middle aged women carefully delivering communion galsses to the local church.

Sunday is often referred to as a day of rest.  We had the best laid plans of making it to the early service at 9.30 as my wife was heading off to a class with a friend at 12.  We were nowhere near making 9.30 and had thought of just ditching the 11.15 service in exchange for a family day together and, maybe, a drive in the car listening to last week’s sermon on iTunes.  20 minutes before the 11.15 service, our nearly four year old started saying how much she wanted to go to church.  Five minutes later the two of us were properly dressed and bundled into the car with her singing “Worthy, You Are Worthy” the whole way there.  (It is usually that, or “The Milkman of Human Kindness” from the child seat these days and either is fine with me).

We made it to church on time and joined some close friends in the pew.  The music was great and my daughter was desperate to go down the front and do some actions she had learned to “Worthy You Are Worthy”, before disappearing to Sunday Club all by herself like a proper little indie pop kid.

The sermon was powerful.  Our Senior Pastor Karl noted, “We are here today because God brought you here”.  I was there because my insistent nearly 4 year old wanted to be at church enough to kick my butt into action and I am more than grateful to her for it.  As I type this, my wife has headed out to the evening service to hear the same sermon.  As I look at the scribbled notes I took during the sermon, I wonder what specifically I was meant to hear?  What is to be illuminated to me and how will I respond?

The afternoon was spent helping my daughter on her bike, aping around in crunchy, fallen, leaves, playing in the swing-park, eating a late lunch and playing “nurseries” whilst being scolded any time I tried to sneak off to play my drums.

All in all, it has been a glorious day. 

I once heard Rob Bell deliver an amazingly helpful sermon on what it means to keep the Sabbath.  He described it as “the day when my work is complete, even if it’s not”.  A time to intentionally set aside the things that so often consume us, to rest and be fed instead.  He encouraged the listeners to find out what feeds their souls and to do that.  For me, I really miss church if I’m not there on a Sunday – not out of any sense of religious guilt, but, simply because it is a great place to be.  A place where I am accepted, stimulated, challenged and leave with a bunch of thoughts and ideas scribbled in my notebook and bouncing around my  head.

Feeding my soul might include anything from spending a lazy day with my family, a cozy afternoon in our home with the rain drumming off the skylights or paddling out into the sea on my surfboard to try and catch some waves – just feeling small in the vastness of nature, but fully alive.  And yet, any of those activities would take second place for me when compared with getting to one of our Sunday services.

Morrisey once beautifully sang, “Every day is like Sunday.  Every day is silent and grey”.  I no longer see Sundays or Sabbaths as something to be endured, but rather as something to be embraced.  As the Icicle Works put it “Love is full of wonderful colour”…or as REM put it, “That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spotlight losing my religion”.  But, what I have found is something stripped of tradition and ritual and yet appreciative of what those things point to or can help with.  My faith has felt more alive and stimulated in the last three or four years than it has done in a quite some time.


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"The priest in the booth had a photographic memory for all he had heard. He took all of my sins and he wrote a pocket novel called "The State That I'm In"". From "The State I Am In" by Belle and Sebastian
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