Archive for February, 2008

After The Flood

February 22, 2008

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When I was a child it was the 1970s, and we listened to Radio Two. Specifically, we listened to Terry Wogan’s Breakfast Show, to get us up in the mornings for work and for school. Apart from the epic Radio 4 serialisations of The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy and Lord of the Rings on long rainy weekends, I don’t actually remember listening to the radio at any other time until, unbidden and certainly unapproved of, I discovered the poptastic tones of Radio One in my early teens.

 Wogan will always be remembered for his catchphrases, his banter and his gentle, mildly smutty, Anglo-Irish surrealism rather than for the music he played. And I’m sure he played a blandly diverse selection from across the middle of the road throughout the decade. But if my personal recollections are to be trusted, then Terry seemed to have been wallowing, for all of those years, in an almost endless tide of melancholy, adult-oriented soft rock and post-hippy musical detritus.

 ‘Horse with No Name,’ by America. ‘Woodstock,’ by Matthews Southern Comfort. ‘The Cat’s in the Cradle’ by Harry Chapin. They kept on coming; songs suffused with such an unbearable autumnal melancholy that it’s a wonder we ever mustered the strength and optimism to get out of bed at all.

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Maybe it’s just my selective memory; maybe my temperament is such that it’s always the sad songs that stay with me. But certainly these brushed denim ballads, uncool as they always were, struck a chord in some deep part of my pre-teen psyche. Despite the fact that I was living in smalltown Yorkshire, part of me identified unconsciously with an airbrushed and cocaine-damaged California, sliding quite passively, from the sound of things, into the depths of the Pacific bay.

 ‘Heart of Gold’ by Neil Young. ‘After the Goldrush’ by Prelude. ‘Me and You and a Dog named Boo’ by Lobo. Where other people remember childhood as being all long hot summer days that never ended, I remember grey rainy mornings soundtracked by minor-key acoustic guitars, plaintive mournful harmonies and lyrics about riding across the desert and trying to get back to the garden. Watergate, Vietnam, Altamont and Charles Manson meant nothing to me, but I was nevertheless immersed in the cultural fallout from these events, wearing mirror shades in the glare of the setting sun as the Aquarian dream turned sour, and the beautiful people all wondered where their future went.

 ‘Hotel California’ by The Eagles. ‘On the Road Again’ by Canned Heat. Almost anything by Crosby, Stills and Nash or Jackson Browne. In these songs, people always seemed to be travelling long distances across empty, dusty landscapes, driven by disappointment and doubt, and with little hope of redemption at their journey’s end. These were not songs of, by, or for youth; they were full of the dissillusionment that comes with age and experience, songs of mourning for an idealistic golden age that was now irrevocably lost, elegaic hymns to some misplaced innocence.

 They say it never rains in Southern California, but it pours, man, it pours. Truly, I felt, I was living after the flood. 

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Live: Eamon Hamilton, the Hand in Hand, Brighton

February 16, 2008

There are secret gigs, and then there are secret gigs. I mean, there are those shows when a big name band plays a slightly too small venue to try out new material or create a buzz, and everyone is alerted by text message earlier in the day, and the press all know and there’s a huge guest list and a gaggle of hardcore fans congregating around the doors in the afternoon desperate to get in- and then there is Eamon Hamilton, erstwhile British Seapower member and frontman of Rough Trade recording artistes Brakes, playing a solo acoustic set at my local. A show announced that same day solely via a handwritten sheet of paper stuck on the pub door. That nobody seems to have read.

Brakes are a popular, hip and very credible indie band, with two critically-acclaimed LPs under their belts. They have toured Europe and America, where they are particularly well-loved, and in their hometown of Brighton they’ve previously headlined the 1150-capacity Corn Exchange. The Hand in Hand struggles to hold 50 people. It is a small cosy room attached to the Kemptown micro-brewery, usually haunted by ruddy-faced men in late middle age who have little truck with the vagaries of fashion or the arty whims of esoteric pop groups. But presumably tonight the regulars have been usurped by an influx of youthful and enthusiastic Brakes fans, keen to hear Eamon perform stripped-down versions of all their favourite numbers? Erm, no. Like I said, this was a secret gig. He really hasn’t told anybody. And it’s pretty much the usual crowd.

The note said from 7, so I got there at 8.30, thinking it’ll probably be full, I probably won’t get in, but it’s not far to go home again and- oh, okay, there’s about a dozen people here as usual. Three or four nattily-dressed youngsters at the bar, getting in the way and laughing loudly at each other, but otherwise just the usual old soaks with their dogs and balding blokes in fleeces talking about cars and taxes. No buzz. No sign of any live music being planned. I nurse my pint of Old Trout for an hour (the Dragon’s Blood was off), reading the local free paper from cover to cover, watching the backs of the guys stood in front of me, wondering if maybe I misread the notice and it’s all happening somewhere else, or on another night. Someone knocks a glass of wine off the table, pushing past to get to the toilet. It’s filling up, anyway.  

 Then about 9.30 a beer crate is placed in the far corner and Eamon climbs on top of it, clutching a battered acoustic guitar. I stand up and move forward. Well, by a couple of feet. He’s completely unamplified, not even a microphone, and the regulars are doing their best to ignore this unwanted interruption of their evening. This is less a British Seapower-style situationist performance in an unusual location, and more a Brakes song brought to life- as in, ‘won’t you shut the fuck up, I’m just trying to watch the band.’  

So Eamon is singing ‘Ring a Ding Ding,’ possibly, but it’s hard to tell as I’m stuck behind this grey-haired scouser holding forth to his cronies about how his ex-wife is getting fuck all money from him, she’s getting a fiver a week and that’s all, she can try living on that and see how she likes it. Eamon is delivering the homesick country blues of ‘NY Pie,’ but the ex-wife has gone to university you see, she thinks she’s better than him now, she says she hasn’t got a boyfriend but he knows she’s seeing this fucking hippy, some long-haired twat- ‘Porcupine or Pineapple,’ Eamon wonders, in the manner of a skinny, English Black Francis, but his daughter’s gone to university now as well and she’s just as bad as her mum, she keeps ringing him up and giving it all this, she’s fucking 17, thinks she fucking knows it all, she’s got no use for him now, he says to her, who’s been telling you things, who’s been putting ideas into your head? And on the other side of me, sat at the bar, a bearded young groover is telling his girl yah, I rilly wanna go to ATP this year, but I don’t know, the line-up just doesn’t do it for me- Eamon airs a new song, possibly entitled ‘Consumer Producer Chicken Egg,’ in the same tradition of directness and brevity as Brakes classics ‘Cheney,’ ‘Comma Comma Comma Full Stop’ and ‘Pick Up the Phone,’ which are also performed tonight. “These kids, they all think that’s great music- that’s a fucking university education for you, innit? I don’t fucking understand it, it’s just weird. It’s not music. It’s like speaking another fucking language, innit?”

Afterwards Eamon is at the bar, meeting his public. “I usually play with a band called Brakes,” he’s saying. “No, B-R-A-K-E-S…” So are they all your own songs, this bloke wants to know, have you ever tried selling your songs to other people? I know it’s all just hype, but at the end of the day they need a good song, don’t they?

They do. “Put Phil Collins on!” someone shouts desperately as soon as Eamon finishes, with the genuine Brakes hit single ‘All Night Disco Party.’ The bar staff oblige. Eamon’s solo tour continues throughout the month- see www.brakesbrakesbrakes.com for details.    

Baby Dee- Safe Inside the Day

February 12, 2008

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Anyone still thinking of the early ’90s dance act who hit big with ‘Let Me Be Your Fantasy,’ get wise. That was Baby D. God knows, she may still be out there somewhere. This is Baby Dee; a 54-year-old, transexual harp player and former performance artist from Cleveland, via New York. Including her shock of frizzy ginger hair, she’s not much under six feet tall, with an exaggerated stage accent somewhere between a Brooklyn cabbie and a Batman supervillain, and a frequent, irresistible laugh that has to be heard to be believed. She’s performed as a grotesque Shirley Temple tribute, a fake hermaphrodite, a touring circus freak and as the musical director of one of New York’s most respected Catholic churches. She’s worked with Antony and the Johnsons and Current 93, too.

None of which is really relevant, but on the other hand it is, because while Safe Inside the Day, her third album, is a remarkable record on any terms, it’s also a highly personal and autobiographical work that draws heavily on Dee’s intriguing, unconventional life history. Something else that doesn’t matter, but also totally does, is that Safe Inside the Day is produced by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Matt Sweeney, who also play on the record, leading a band that includes, amongst others, a surprisingly subdued Andrew WK. The reason this doesn’t matter is that you should love this record regardless of whatever well-known, hip, cult names are attached to it, but the reason it does is that Billy, Matt and friends have done an incredible job.

You see, the full band arrangements on Safe Inside the Day sound very different from what you’ll have heard if you’ve seen Dee live over the last couple of years. Then, she’d have been singing and performing solo at the harp, occasionally taking a turn at the piano only if there happened to be one in the venue. But here, there’s actually hardly any harp at all. Any worries that a conventional band setting would dilute and tame Dee’s unique appeal prove unfounded, however; Matt and Billy more than do her songs justice, putting a whole different spin on them and evoking at various points Brecht and Weill, Celtic ballads, German lieder, French chanson, and contemporary artists like Tom Waits, Lou Reed, The Tiger Lillies and David Bowie, who have drawn on similar pre-rock, European chamber music in their own work. Safe Inside the Day is at times dark, tender, uplifting, frightening, funny, serious, raw, stylised, innocent and knowing; a high-wire act teetering between soul-baring vulnerability and contrived, vaudevillian performance, and all the more effective for it.

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Dee was born in 1953 in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of a firefighting chief who was himself a somewhat eccentric, larger than life character; a man who was used to giving orders and having them followed, and who collected crowbars, a hobby alluded to in the song ‘The Dance of Diminishing Possibilities’ (“my father’s affection for his crowbar collection was Freudian to say the least”).  He also insisted on his children having piano lessons, and was particularly keen on hearing them play Schubert’s Der Erlkonig. This was a musical setting of the Goethe poem of the same name, a dark and haunting piece about a dying child being spirited away by the faerie king of the title, who uses first seduction and then force to drag the child into the realm of eternal sleep.

The family resonance was hardly surprising. Dee had an older brother who died in childhood before she was born, an event which dominated and overshadowed her existence until she left home, at eighteen, to finally begin her own life as a portrait painter in New York. This was in 1971, and in the Big Apple it was the era of Andy Warhol, Max’s Kansas City and The New York Dolls, but Dee remained almost entirely divorced from contemporary popular culture. Despite being a self-confessed high school hippy with a love for Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Cash, the rock scene of the late sixties had touched her only in passing and, renting a loft on 23rd Street, she completely ignored the goings-on at the Chelsea Hotel next door, concentrating instead on painting huge canvasses that filled her entire room. She also bought herself a piano, and later a harp, something she’d wanted ever since as a child she’d seen her Cleveland neighbours drag an old upright piano onto their lawn and smash it to pieces; the iron harp inside was the one thing that they couldn’t destroy, and for Dee it became an enduring symbol of the eternal, that essence that survives all assaults and transmogrification, even death.

Gradually, Dee found she was painting less and making music more. She began busking on the New York streets with her harp, and made a good income from it too. She decided to study classical music seriously, something she later put down to youthful insecurity and a need to fit in, but she soon found that she really didn’t belong in the uptight, conservative conservatory scene. She learnt her chops though, and was also introduced to perhaps the great passion of her life: Gregorian music.

Dee became obsessed with Gregorian chants and songs. With discovering them and owning them, in the sense that once you learn and understand them they become part of you, they’re inside you forever. They were so simple, but so vast and important and profound, that they seemed to contain the whole universe. Oh yeah, Dee was hooked alright. And she knew her stuff. Well enough to become the musical director of one of New York’s major Catholic churches, despite her lack of formal qualifications, or any formal religious faith, for that matter. For ten years she led the choir and headed up all the concerts, taking it very seriously, proud that they never played any schmaltzy crap during her tenure, not even a Schubert Ave Maria. It was strictly quality, and eventually Dee even made enough money for her sex change, so that she could really become a she. Unfortunately, this was a step too far for the church, and despite her ability and success, Dee rapidly found her position somewhat untenable.

It was time for the next phase of Dee’s mythical career. By this time it was the early nineties, and throughout the next decade Baby Dee became a legendary figure on the New York streets, performing on her customised tricycle with the harp fitted on the back, singing and playing the accordion, smoking a cigar and dressed as Shirley Temple, or a cat, or a bee, or… well, you know. It was Baby Dee. It was make ’em laugh, make a buck, move on. And she was good at it. Some nights she would perform in clubs, but she had to take a cut in her income to do so, because there was no way they could afford to pay her what she was making on the streets. She even brought her act over to Europe, and the Edinburgh Festival, billing it as ‘The Invasion of the money-grabbing hermaphrodites.’ The former classical scholar had developed a real taste for the sleazy, carny imagery of places like Coney Island, where she worked for a summer as a bilateral hermaphrodite act, dressing one side of her body male and the other female, and falling in love with an angry young dwarf whose act included being crucified, crushed beneath slabs of concrete and broken glass, and dragging huge weights around with his penis. Other circus and freakshow gigs included stints with the Voluptuous Oddballs Circus Sideshow and the Brindlestiff Family Circus. They were crazy, heady times.

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Then, in 1999, she gave it all up. She went back to Cleveland and nursed her father through his final illness. She took a job as a tree surgeon, satisfying her love of heights, and for the first time, began writing songs. Alright, not quite for the first time; she had written songs before, but comic songs, parody songs, bawdy, vaudeville numbers that would work out on the street or in a crowded drunken bar. But the new songs were different. They were personal, sensitive, introspective; they reflected Dee’s love of early classical music, her bittersweet experience of life and her feelings about people, the universe, and the sheer wonder of existence even amid the encroaching darkness. She sat at her piano in her room in Cleveland, writing and recording these songs, and when they were finished she would send them back to her friend in New York, Antony Hegarty.

Dee and Antony had met years ago on the city’s gay, transvestite, performance art scene, and had worked and played together many times. With his band The Johnsons, Antony had just released his debut album, for which Dee had arranged all of the string parts. Now she was hoping that Antony might like to cover one of her songs. Instead, he was sending them on to David Tibet, who had released Antony’s album on his Durtro label. Tibet, of course, is also the leader of the long-running experimental music collective Current 93, who have gone from being pioneers of gothic and industrial music in the early eighties to being founders of what’s now known as dark, apocalyptic or freak folk on albums like 1988’s classic Earth covers Earth. Tibet loved Dee’s demos just as they were, and released them as the first of several CDs she would put out on Durto.

This could have been the end of the story, had not fate intervened one more time. Apart from the odd gig with Current 93, Dee had no intention of playing her songs live, and wouldn’t have known how- her vaudeville background hadn’t exactly prepared her for presenting such personal, introverted material on stage. That is, until she dropped a tree on someone’s house. A little old lady named Mrs Ferrara, who Dee recalls to this day as a saint, emerged, thankfully unscathed, from the ruins of her home not to rage at Dee, who was in floods of tears, but to console her. It’s okay, Dee, she said; everything happens for a reason. Dee took the hint, and that night called every contact she had, looking for a way to get out of the tree business, and back into the music business. David Tibet put her onto Matt and Billy, who were coming through Cleveland touring their collaborative Superwolf album, and needed an opening act, and… well, that’s where we came in. Dee rearranged her songs for the harp, so that she could take them on tour, singing and playing the harp simulataneously for the first time ever. Well, a gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do; there were cats to feed, after all. 

Since then, Dee’s toured Europe and America several times, opened for Marc Almond at his post-bike crash comeback show (where he covered two of her songs), and oh yeah, recorded this astonishing album for new label Drag City. The valedictory title track works as a powerful love song and even as a kind of hymn, but most effectively as a celebration of music’s power to heal even the gravest of wounds, and its ability to provide at least a temporary sanctuary from the world’s pain.

Dee’s voice is cartoon-like as it shifts from stage whisper to emphatic declaration, and the songs themselves could easily have come from some classic old Disney movie. The cartoon quality actually adds to the emotional power and depth of the songs, bringing something of the chilling resonance of nursery rhyme and fairy tale to the performance, and Dee herself seems almost like a vintage Disney character, with all of the darkness and pathos that implies.

‘The Earlie king’ is a case in point, a re-working of Der Erlkonig that uses the original song-poem to reflect on Dee’s relationship with her own father, and the piece’s resonance within their own lives. It also deals with the idea that real-life tragedy, and actions that determine our entire destiny, often have no grounding in reason and no rational cause. When we try to trace back the chain of thought and deed to where it all began, it leads nowhere, the trail disappearing in a haze of smoke and mirrors, phantoms and illusions, “fairy tales and falderal.” But by the time we realise this, it’s too late. And the song itself sounds like Disney’s Fantasia as re-imagined by Tom Waits, provoking first uncertain laughter, then chills, then finally alone in the dead of night tears of mingled joy and terror. For me, this is the album’s finest moment, and a key track in the overall narrative.

There are many gems, however. ‘A Compass of the Light’ feels like an ancient Irish ballad, a song that WB Yeats might have written new words for, Dee’s tender piano playing augmented by beautifully subtle curlicues of Lou Reed-like guitar from Matt Sweeney, and strings from Max Moston, Bill Breeze and John Contreras. Andrew WK brushes the traps softly in the background. ‘The Only Bones that Show’ has Dee playing some understated, funky stride piano, locking in perfectly with Andrew WK on bass- his playing really is a joy throughout- as gradually they’re joined by James Lo on drums and Matt Sweeney on clipped wah-wah guitar, and then the strings and woodwind doing a fine impression of a Stax brass section, via a tipsy 1920s tea dance, as Dee celebrates that existential moment when you know you’re really alive, inspired by her tree climbing experience.

 ‘Fresh Out of Candles’ opens with the poignant lines, “Back in the fifties, Clark Kent died… it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s suicide”, and concludes by asking, “when did it start feelin’ like a sin to hope, a sin to pray?” In between are images of religious dissillusionment, loss of faith and innocence, over a tense, low-key groove straight from Transformer, choppy guitars and bass underpinning Dee’s wistful vocal, the high, elegaic strings and a twist of woodwind. 

Dee is alone at the piano for the rambunctious vaudeville stomp of ‘Big Titty B-Girl from Dino Town,’ some ribald light relief declaring how “you just can’t keep a good albino down.” Two instrumentals follow: ‘A Christmas Jig for a Three-legged Cat,’ which sounds just like its title and could easily pass for an authentic seasonal tune from Medieval times, with Robbie Lee taking the lead melody on the recorder, and ‘Flowers on the Tracks,’ a gorgeously understated chamber piece featuring Dee on both piano and harp, accompanied by Max Moston on violin and John Contreras on cello.

‘The Dance of Diminishing Possibilities’ is the other key narrative track, telling the story of how Bobby Slot and Freddy Weiss went to town on that old upright all those years ago in Cleveland, and how when they did it was love at first sight for Dee. “There’s a harp in that piano, and there’s a girl inside that boy, and my daddy’s crowbars are his pride and joy,” she sings, belting it out like some drunken hillbilly showtune. Another instrumental follows, the queasy, seasick ‘Bad Kidneys,’ a Weill-esque interlude showcasing Dee’s accordion skills, before we conclude with ‘You’ll Find Your Footing,’ another celtic-sounding ballad, with Dee singing back through the mists of time (excuse the cliche, but you can feel the mist) to her younger self, reassuring her that, eventually, it will all be relatively alright. Just like in a Disney movie, you will find the place that you belong.

   Baby Dee UK tour dates:

March 19 Newcastle The Cluny

March 24 Coventry Taylor John’s House

March 25 Norwich Arts Centre

March 26 London Bush Hall

March 27 Reading South Street Arts Centre

March 28 Bristol Cube Cinema

Safe Inside the Day is out now.         

www.babydee.org

www.myspace.com/theonlybabydee

A Last Dance among the Ruins

February 9, 2008

I was already fifteen by the time I became passionate about pop music. Before, I had liked it, but indiscriminately; it was just something to laugh at on Top of the Pops, to sing along to on the radio, to dance to at the disco. It was background sound, entertainment, be it Kim Wilde or Adam and the Ants, Madness or the Jam, ’99 Red Balloons’ or early Madonna. It was great, but it wasn’t central to my existence. It didn’t affect the way I dressed or styled my hair, and I certainly didn’t spend my pocket money on it. But then, something changed.

Maybe it was just hormones, and becoming a teenager; I wanted to be cool, and in my adolescent awkwardness, music gave me a way to reinvent myself, to create a new identity quite distinct from that foisted upon me in childhood. It was a way to be creative, to live in my imagination, and to have a social life and hopefully a sexual one as well. It was a world where being an outsider misfit meant that you actually belonged.

Me and millions of others. But part of that process of reinvention was that I started reading the music press. And isolated and poor out in the sticks, there was a sense that NME, Sounds, Melody Maker and zines like Jamming and Tongue in Cheek were just as important as the music itself in opening up a new world to me. I discovered the music through the press, which by explaining and analysing, celebrating and criticising, alternately mythologising and deconstructing, opened my eyes and ears to rock and pop’s place within a broader cultural, social and political context, and made me realise that the music, at its best, was more than just entertainment. It meant something.

The idea that music is more than just entertainment is not one that holds much currency these days. It smacks of the discredited spirit of ’76, or worse, the naive hippy idealism of the drug-addled ’60s counter-culture, and we all know how that turned out. Now, everything is available, and nothing is special. It’s all equally disposable, entirely utilitarian, IPOD fodder for a distracted, ADD generation.

The 1980s were a low and treacherous decade, filled with bad music and worse haircuts. They began with the assasination of Lennon and the suicide of Ian Curtis, and went downhill from there. Nevertheless, those of us who were young in those godforsaken times still look back on them with a certain bittersweet fondness. There were still some fine records released among the slurry, and as I grow older even the worst of them sometimes seem preferable to the dreck that passes for pop music today, indie, mainstream or otherwise.

But let’s not fall for nostalgia. It’s a drug as deadly, insidious and addictive as crack, and just as prevalent within the music business. The ’80s are gone and I, for one, wouldn’t want them back. Certainly not as some kind of hideous, ironic, re-animated po-mo zombie half-life of ZX computer fonts, Flock of Seagulls fringes and smirking Thundercats t-shirts worn by gormless goons who were barely born when the Thatcher decade ended.

No, the ’80s were a wasteland, something that even Wayne Hussey and Frankie goes to Hollywood eventually realised. But the thing about growing up in a cultural wasteland is that when you do finally stumble across something that matters, it really matters, to the extent that it can change your life. But who has the time to have their life changed by a pop song these days? Who would even want to? There are DVD box sets to watch, and Facebook applications to enjoy. Now, everything is just more stuff, and we download our music by the ton, without ever asking what it means.       

These days, every aspect of the music press is ruthlessly aimed at a specific target audience, whose preferences, likes and dislikes are systematically assessed by crack teams of market researchers, and all content and tone is determined accordingly. But there was a time when papers like the NME set out to challenge their readership, if not to alienate them completely. As a typical white, lower middle-class indie-goth NME reader in the mid-eighties, I fully expected a weekly helping of contempt, scorn and vitriol to be directed at me for my narrow, parochial, predictable taste and lifestyle, and for generally being the enfeebled, reactionary rump of a pampered and complacent ruling elite. I was treated like a dog, and the NME was right to do so. It was character building.

Nobody would buy a music paper to be abused and sneered at these days, and who can blame them? They will stay in their comfort zones, happy to be segregated and niche marketed to, buying the publication that tells them about the kind of music that they already like. Music journalism has become just a product guide, giving you a CD’s technical specifications and rating it according to how well it performs on those terms.

And why not? Why should we stop people from getting what they want? We are all rocking in the free world now after all, and we have fought long and hard for our 24-hour opening, instant gratification, all you can eat consumer society, where we are guaranteed as much choice as we can handle, if not more.

I don’t know. I sometimes wonder if music journalism is really something for a grown man to aspire to. Leave it to the kids, or the dogs, whoever gets to it first. Sure, some of the greatest pure writing of the latter half of the Twentieth Century happened to be about pop or rock, but those days are over, and does anybody really care? The NME, as is well known, is a joke, a disservice even to the sixteen-year-olds it so blatantly patronises. Q, Uncut and Mojo are just toothless marketing rags, consumer guides promoting the product and keeping the record company back catalogue steadily rotating in the public eye. Their writers, in the end, are just artful advertising men. And as for the music sections of the broadsheet newspapers- well, no-one buy the Daily Telegraph expecting to be blown away by its gonzo rock coverage. 

Nowhere anymore is there any sense of rock as a separate culture, to be treated with the savagery and passion we would expect from anyone who genuinely cared. There is practically no distinction between the articles and the adverts. Look closely at either Mojo or NME and you’ll find ‘promotional features’ that are indistinguishable, but for that discreet caption, from the supposedly serious interviews beside them.

But maybe it doesn’t matter anymore. Maybe the music doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all just processed information and noise after all, and maybe it’s some kind of neurosis of capitalist society to fall in love with the product and to care so much about its form. Much healthier and more realistic to see it for what it is, to stop pretending that it has some kind of higher significance, to swallow our soma and dream on. 

And yet… pop music, rock music, often in its dumbest, most debased form, still says more to me than almost anything else. Not when it aspires to be high art, or when it starts to take itself seriously, but when it reveals vast depths of meaning and profundity almost in spite of itself. Music is an unfinished art form- it requires that you bring something of yourself to it, your own life, your own experiences and emotions, in order to complete the circuit. It is different for everyone, but sometimes it comes close to being the same. That is why I still like to read about how other people respond to music, especially if they write well, with feeling and insight and sensitivity. And that is why, in spite of everything, I still want to write about it myself.

Someone once said, notoriously and disparagingly, that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

Well… I’m asking.

Even though the once-mighty flying buttresses are now so much rubble, and the other jivers have long since left or are just going through the motions…

Let’s have one last dance among the ruins.