Archive for the 'Music' Category

Gospel Truth

Seeing as it’s Good Friday, some gospel:


‘The industry inside us is vipers with fangs trying to bite us
Drug suppliers is the health care providers
We cakin’ makin’ narcotics outta household products
We ain’t workin’ out til we exorcise the demons that’s inside us
Plus they seem to just provide us with enough rope to hang ourselves
Enough dope to slang ourselves, enough toast to bang ourselves
It’s officially nigga season, these niggas is bleedin’
That’s why I’m spittin’ freedom, we had enough of trigger squeezin’’

Sing It Loud (Or Not)

A common fear is speaking in front of groups of people. I have never had too much difficulty in speaking in public, though most of my audiences have been relatively captive, since there was some degree of common interest in whatever it was I was talking about, and the character of the occasions were generally such that it would have required an exceptional irruption of individual will to sabotage my appearance.

It is fair to say that I prefer to speak -as the old Hitler cartoon would have it- without fear of contradiction.

Not that I have ever required battallions of paramilitaries to speak: simply, all my experience of speaking in public has been in the context of relatively polite society. I have never had to confront a lynch mob, and no-one has ever acted upon the urge to get up and belt me, though, and if my own experience of sitting through various speeches is anything to go by, this urge is nearly always present among the assembled. Many’s a time I sat through a dreary homily convincing myself that, on the count of ten, I would rise from the pew and deliver an uppercut to the teeth-grindingly dreary pastor. …3,2,1….he was lucky this time. In most situations of public speaking, at least in the society I inhabit, there are strong unspoken conventions restraining disruptive behaviour.

I once knew a rather diffident and awkward individual who signed up to Toastmasters. Speaking to him about it, he felt that there was a general fear of speaking in public he could overcome, and that by attending the classes, he would become a little more like Peter Ustinov. He thought that learning to speak with confidence in public would improve his own confidence in himself. He might have been right to a point, since practice helps, but he was disregarding the fact that speaking confidently in public has a lot more to do with the specifics of the situation than any underlying character trait.

If you know what you’re talking about and you are interested in it and you want other people to hear about it, and you are doing so in a fundamentally receptive situation, you are a lot more likely to speak confidently than if, say, with no prior experience of the topic, you suddenly find yourself addressing the general assembly of the UN about global rates of bowel cancer in your underwear. One of the reasons motivational speakers exude confidence is because they know their audience lacks confidence. If they didn’t, why else would they be there? Like Hitler, they too speak without fear of contradiction.

So, I have no real fear of speaking in public. The idea of singing in public, however, I find terrifying. Singing solo, of course. Singing in a choir or in a pub sing-song is easy. In fact, I find it excruciating to sing in front of one other person, even though I know I can hold a tune quite competently. I contrive to avoid any situation where I might end up having to sing on my own. (I’ve sung in karaoke on a few occasions, but only after several pints and in the knowledge that the rest of the people in the room are too drunk to remember. Even now, I find myself looking back and frowning aghast at the awfulness of my rendition of Suspicious Minds) I can’t do what most singers seem to do, which is to treat my voice as though it were a musical instrument. For me it is as though, by singing, I am not just exhibiting my voice, but putting the history of my entire body on show. It is as though the light, reedy quality of my singing voice were revealing something fundamental about who I am, in a way that standing up in front of a crowd of people and speaking -whatever the considerations about accent, intonation and eloquence- does not.

Although both are types of performance, one key difference between public speaking and public singing (in my terms, singing in front of one or more persons) is that the former at least provides the possibility of all manner of improvisation, whereas the latter has certain formal constraints: rhythm, melody, words, sequence of verses and chorus, and so on. In the former, you can ad-lib a joke, or re-iterate a point you didn’t get across properly, and even come across better for it. That doesn’t work when you’re singing: repeating a bum sequence of notes comes across as a definite sign of failure.

But why are we compelled to think about singing in terms of success or failure? Plenty of adults claim that they can’t sing, or are tone deaf, but I suspect that the majority of these people have simply no confidence in their ability to make sounds at a set pitch. We think of singing as an innate function, but you learn to sing just as you learn to write, read, speak etc. If you’re told at an early age that you can’t sing -often a humiliating experience that marks you as innately deficient- you’re unlikely to learn. In future years, when someone asks you to sing, you will point blank refuse, unwilling to repeat the original humiliation. Or, you will be so self-conscious and lacking in confidence that you will end up re-enacting the initial feeling of humiliation for yourself.

If you look at any of the Pop Idol-style programmes, a large part is dedicated to portraying people with grandiose ideas about their own singing abilities as ridiculous. But Pop Idol and the rest represent singing as though the only sole point of it all were to raise cheers of adulation from the paying public. Pop Idol tells you -and it is not alone in this- that unless you can sing like an angel there is no point, so stop deluding yourself.

In many public situations in the UK and Ireland, singing is simply unacceptable. In the queue at the supermarket, you can jabber away on a mobile phone at sustained high volume, gurgling forth all sorts of banality and no-one will pay any heed. If you sing out loud at the same volume, people will sweat in fear of the psychopath about to cause a scene.

So, the odds are heavily stacked against many people singing solo, beyond the confines of the unaccompanied shower. Personally speaking, I find it hard to even listen to my own voice in the shower.

It turns out, though, that I’ve been doing a fair bit of solo singing recently, albeit with a captive -though receptive- audience with very low standards. One thing I’ve discovered is that there are few songs I actually know the complete words to. So most of the songs start off with the first verse (which I normally do remember), the chorus, then a bit of humming, a bit of whistling, then the first verse again. And even in those I do know completely, tiredness frequently causes me to fluff my lines (e.g.: ‘and on that farm he had some pigs/with a baa baa here, a baa baa there’). So far, my uneven efforts have been treated with patient silence and the odd appreciative gurgle.

Lyricists I Like Vol 1: Tom T. Hall

Is it wrong? I think he’s a great lyricist. If Bono ever wrote lyrics half as good as those in a Tom T. Hall song, he’d have to throw himself off the highest tower block he’d been developing.

Here, he explains why he likes beer:

A medley of his, performed with Johnny Cash:

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a rendition of ‘Who’s gonna feed them hogs’, perhaps his finest moment.

Rock On Tommy

Some things you never imagine yourself saying. Like Tom Petty kicks ass.

I have avoided some bands out of bigotry rather than aesthetic sensibility. I think I avoided Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers because in the grunge age, when I started listening to music proper, Tom Petty wore a hat and was in the Travelling Wilburys. Also he was rotten ugly. And I associated him with Jeff Lynne, who was highly uncool at the time. So I always thought of him as a sort of MOR grandee instead of a hard-ass rocker. I was wrong.
I Need To Know:

American Girl:


He rocks so righteously he makes me want to kick over my ergonomic swivel chair and headbutt my neatly ordered desk.

Sort of Got Me

Noting that:


  • Haven’t listened to the Kinks in donkeys
  • Not a huge Kinks fan anyway, but like ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ and ‘Arthur…’
  • Usually very suspicious of free CDs, especially from Sunday Times


I listened this morning to Ray Davies’s new record, Working Man’s Cafe




  • Theme is dislocation and not fitting in.
  • Title track’s search for ‘Working Man’s Cafe’ is lament for times past. Nothing new there, then.
  • Other songs about war, globalization, imperialism, bureaucratic machines: quite surprising. Was expecting songs mainly about Ginsters pork pies and seaside trips.
  • Tunes quite good, production v. uninspiring, lyrics rather angry.
  • No-one will buy it, but it’s excellent.

Baiting For The Man

John Harris has a silly piece in today’s Guardian, in defence of major labels:

Any half-decent record collection bulges with logos symbolising commercial clout and recurrent musical brilliance: CBS, Parlophone, Reprise, Elektra, Atlantic, Geffen. It’s instructive to remember that despite the conveyor-belt cynicism that defines the world of The X Factor, the best labels still take punts on the basis of taste and belief; no one, I’d wager, signed such recent sensations as Kasabian or Klaxons with an eye on the balance sheet.

He must think that popular capitalist wisdom such as ‘you’ve got to speculate to accumulate’ does not apply to those working in the record industry. If labels ‘take punts’ based on taste and belief, it’s partly because they think their taste and belief will lead to a hit record. And, I’ll wager, their ‘taste and belief’ is largely a function of the amount of capital they have at their disposal.

It’s worth pointing out, though, that the strategic vision of a record label need not entail making every record a hit (was it Adorno who talked about how military language gets instrumentalised by the culture industry in order to better ‘target’ the public?). That would be ludicrous. Indeed the function of a record label may not be to sell vast quantities of records at all, but to fulfil a strategic objective of the corporation of which it is a subsidiary. Granted, a by-product of this may be the odd listenable record. But it seems slavish to write paeans to The Man on this basis.

Marching Season Ends

Phil Ochs. There’s a beautiful comment on the youtube page where this came from. It says:

If it wasn’t for those people who did do the marching this piece of shit wouldn’t be able to sing the shit he sings…….You Liberal bastards make me sick wanting your freedoms and right but loving to hate the men and women that make those freedoms and rights possible

Amen to that.

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June 2020