Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Support Your Local* Author

(*"Local" as in "from our neck of the blogosphere".)

After reading the aforementioned Morrissey Autobiography, for a little light relief over the Christmas period, I splashed out on a copy of Drawn To The Deep End by Martin - yes, that Martin - Pond. I've got to say it cheered me up no end...

Martin will no doubt think I mean that sarcastically, but it really did, despite (or maybe because of) the rather downbeat subject matter. DTTDE is a novel Martin serialised while he was writing it on one of his old blogs a few years back , getting feedback as he went along. I remember reading parts of it there and always looked forward to seeing the finished novel. Well, it turned out Martin had stealth-published it a few months ago via Amazon, both digitally and in paper. And because I'm old-fashioned and always prefer to read books on paper (if god had wanted us to read books on kindles, he'd have made tree trunks out of microchips), I jumped at the chance to hold an actual copy in my hands for the ten minutes of reading I manage each night before nodding into unconsciousness.

Except... it actually turned out that Martin's book was so good I didn't nod off at all, and raced through it faster than I've read a book in ages. (Ah, how I remember those days when I used to read a book a week. Before I got a life.)

Drawn To The Deep End is an intense character study of Peter, a man driven to the verge of depression by the death of his girlfriend, trying desperately to claw his way out, grasping at any straw (often straw women) that bends his way. It's a book that has a lot to say about being a lonely 30-something man in this day and age... and as someone who was just that ten or so years ago (and maybe only my age has changed, in some ways), I related to it very much. It's also very funny - shot through with dark observational humour that makes you wince and nod and wish you'd written it yourself. You may end up screaming at Peter. He does make some very unwise decisions. But you'll understand why, every step of the way. What is "happiness", anyway?

Anyway, go read it. Find out more at Martin's other website, here.

Oh, yes, and obviously it goes without saying this book is named after one of the best albums of the 90s. Here's a truly great track from that...

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

The Day Morrissey (Almost) Came To My House

There have been rather a lot of Morrissey posts on this blog over the last few months for one reason or another. Thanks for putting up with them. This should be the last one for awhile, unless he announces he's going to be performing at Harry & Meghan's wedding or joining the cast of Eastenders as Dot Cotton's long lost son (a role that was apparently offered to him in years gone by).

As previously mentioned, I finally finished reading Autobiography before Christmas and it was an interesting, if frustrating (naturally) read. The early section involved Moz trying too hard to write about his childhood in cod-James Joyce prose, and while this was entertaining in places, it also aggravated me no end. (It was the reason I'd packed in reading this book when I originally bought it in 2013.) After this though, things became more enjoyable. His years with The Smiths felt rushed through - I'm sure many readers would have loved to read more about those days, but Moz obviously wanted to make the point that it was a very small part of his life and he's actually achieved far more success (and wealth) as a solo artist. The court case, on the other hand, went on and on and on... and, yes, we get the point, Morrissey, there's been no greater travesty of justice since they nailed that carpenter to the cross. And the judge was a bit of a wanker. Let's move on, shall we?

(Oh, and the less said about the beyond vicious attack on Julie Burchill, the better. It would be hilarious if it wasn't so juvenile. God knows what she wrote about him to deserve that!) 

Despite all this, there are some surprising passages within Autobiography that are more than worth the price of admission. As is usually the case with any Morrissey enterprise. Moments - no, whole sections - where we get to see behind the mask and... whisper it... Morrissey honestly comes across as a real human being with hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections and passions. Prick him and he does actually bleed!

The section which stood out the most for me is the night in the summer of 1989 when Morrissey goes for a drive on Saddleworth moor with his friends (yes, Morrissey has friends!) Linder, Tim Broad and James O'Brien. This is a part of the world I know very well as I've lived most of my life just a couple of miles away and spent a great many happy hours in my youth walking around the hills and reservoirs up there, so I was shocked to see Moz spend so long describing this one eventful night... 

It's a story I've heard before, but not in Morrissey's own words. Always fascinated by the area because its where Myra Hindle & Ian Brady buried many of their victims, Moz and his friends end up turning off the A635 in their car near Black Hill, just above the village of Holme. They subsequently get lost in the fog, and then see a "ghost": a semi-naked young man (around 18 years old), wearing only an anorak, who throws up his arms and screams in horror at their car. Moz and his pals screech away and spend many a long hour afterwards pondering whether it was actually a ghost... or just some kids mucking about. They drive until they reach the nearby village of Marsden, which Moz amusingly describes as being closed at 8pm, "its inhabitants pulling their chairs closer to the glow of a low fire" where they find a phone box on Wessendenhead Road and call the local police. The police tell them to "keep an open mind" and that "a lot of strange things have been reported" up there... which is all very League of Gentleman (appropriate, really, since the exterior scenes of The Local Shop For Local People were shot just a mile or so's walk away from where Morrissey had his gruesome sighting).

However, one thing puzzled me... how the hell did Morrissey get from Black Hill above Holme to Wessenden Road in Marsden... without coming through the village of Meltham (where I currently live) and then driving past the farm my mum and dad have lived on for the past 60 years which lies on the only main road connecting the two places? The map below shows what I mean. The arrow at the bottom shows the A635. The one at the top shows Marsden. The only road between them involves going through Meltham in the upper right corner... yet Meltham does not feature in Morrissey's story at all.

But then I thought a little harder. As I've said, I've walked these hill many a time... particularly when I was a younger man. And there is another road which links the two places... but it's not the kind of road you'd normally drive on... you wouldn't be able to these days since it's been gated off to all but walkers. Back in 1989, however, maybe that gate wasn't there. Or perhaps someone had left it open...

Morrissey and his pals returned to the scene of their terrifying experience the following day and found only "a pair of y-front underpants, discoloured with dirt, but certainly of the type which an 18-year-old might wear". They consider all the options, including the dark possibility that "the boy had possibly broken free and fled from a nearby farmhouse where he had been subjected to either violence or rape... and saw our Mercedes as his only hope". (At no point does anyone suggest doggers. Just saying.) But Moz inevitably concludes the whole event was even more scary than that...

"How many unfortunate souls have Saddleworth Moor as their final resting place? Or are there still people so disfigured that they cannot live at society's lack of mercy, and can only find solace in dark places? There may very well be spirits of 1780 who still roam, begging for release by prayer - buried without ceremony, out of the way, beyond gaze, blotted out of creation just for knowing too much, or for saying too much, or for being witness to some dark crime; rent boys and runaways, troubled teens and latchkey kids, motherless druggies and hastily pregnant Carol Annes, now silenced good and proper, deliberately dumped so far from their homes that even a most determined spirit could not find its way back."

The whole story makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, particularly as I know that lonely track above so well, having walked it many times, especially when I was a teenager...

I was 17 in 1989, Morrissey... and do you know what? I'd like my underpants back, please.

Monday, 15 January 2018

My Top Ten Bette Davis Songs

I've been very much enjoying the series Feud: Bette & Joan which ran on TV over Christmas. Great to see 60s America recreated so faithfully and the performances by Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange and Alfred Molina were terrific. Stanley Tucci was hilarious as Jack Warner too. Of the two, Sarandon's Bette Davis probably comes out best, being shown as both the better actress and the more sympathetic human being (most of the time).

Not done an Actory Top Ten for awhile, so here's ten songs about Bette and her films...

10. Rod Stewart - Baby Jane

Well, we've got to start with this one, haven't we? As seen in Feud, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? was the film that cemented the rivalry between Bette and Joan.

Some debate on t'internet as to whether Rod's song has anything to do with the movie... and quite a lot of old Rod The Mod fans bemoaning his 80s ouvre, of which this is seen as a particularly irksome entry. You can have the Belle & Sebastian version if you prefer. Or perhaps a completely different Baby Jane from Dr. Feelgood.

9. The Gaslight Anthem - Mae

There's an argument to be had that Brian Fallon hasn't had an original idea in his life, but everybody loves Noel Gallagher for the same crime, so cut The Gaslight Anthem a break...
Stay the same, don’t ever change
'Cause I’d miss your ways
With your Bette Davis eyes
And your mama's party dress
8. Al Stewart - Next Time

Not the first time Al has cropped up here name-dropping famous actresses. Probably won't be the last.
When you were just a kid you loved
To go to movies in the afternoon
And so you left the factory
And got a job in the projection-room
Bette Davis plays
Ran away with the passing days
You'll be a movie-star
Next time
7. Good Charlotte - Silver Screen Romance

Hit the chorus, lads...!

You're my Bette Davis I'm your Cary Grant
Let's make love all night don't get up at the prohibition
The big depression's over lets have a drink to them
We'll stay young forever living in our silver screen romance

(It's gonna be harder to do my Cary Grant Top Ten now.)

6. Marc Almond - My Love

Hilarious lyrics from Marc on this whole song... and just watch the way he performs the Bette Davis lines in the video: perfect!
My love
Likes tattoos in biro
Love bites and lager
And long menthol fags
My love
Smokes like Bette Davis
In short... 

5. Iggy Pop - Get Up & Get Out

Turns out Iggy was part of the whole #metoo movement almost 40 years before the rest of the world. This is from 1980!
I'm wondering fellas if you've heard the news
The chicks are sick and tired of being abused
Now I saw all this on the wide screen
You know that chick Bette Davis split right out of the scene
4. Dire Straits - Industrial Disease

Leave your Dire Straits prejudices at the door, please.
Sociologists invent words that mean 'Industrial Disease'
Doctor Parkinson declared 'I'm not surprised to see you here
You've got smokers cough from smoking, brewer's droop from drinking beer
I don't know how you came to get the Bette Davis knees
But worst of all young man you've got Industrial Disease
3. The Wedding Present - All About Eve

Nothing to do with the movie, more about the year Davd Gedge spent in South Africa as a child and his memories of Apartheid. Of course, All About Eve also gave its name to these guys. Bette's legacy lives on!

2. Bob Dylan - Desolation Row

Undeniably great. (Though I also like the My Chemical Romance version.)
Cinderella, she seems so easy 
"It takes one to know one," she smiles 
And puts her hands in her back pockets 
Bette Davis style 
And in comes Romeo, he's moaning, 
"You belong to Me I Believe" 
And someone says, "You're in the wrong place, my friend. You better leave" 
And the only sound that's left 
After the ambulances go 
Is Cinderella sweeping up 
On Desolation Row.
1. Kim Carnes - Bette Davis Eyes

The obvious #1, though I'm sure it'll be shunned as "too 80s" by many. You may prefer Jackie DeShannon's original... though it's a VERY different song. For a hipper "indie" version, try the Sexton Blake cover or this rather over-produced version by My Gold Mask. I'm sure it's been covered by a dozen other people, but those are the only ones to make it into my collection.

Kim Carnes is worth another post sometime though. Known to most people in the UK as a one hit wonder, her career actually stretches from the late 60s through to the present day, and her Best Of collection shows a lot of interesting work over that time. Try Gypsy Honeymoon as a taster, it might change your idea of her.

Think I can't follow that with a Joan Crawford Top Ten. Go on, dare me!

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Saturday Snapshots #14 - The Answers

Arise, Sir Ringo. As for the rest of you...

10. Last men standing after staring down a rocky pussycat.

Last men standing would be the survivors.

You stare with your eyes.

A big pussycat is a tiger.

This comes from Rocky III. Mr. T rules!

Survivor - Eye Of The Tiger

There is some excellent walking in this video.

George won this with no shame. I like that.

9. Get hurt pogoing at home.

Pogoing is jumping around.

If you got hurt at home, it might be a house of pain.

House of Pain - Jump Around

The Swede obviously remembered jumping around to this one. As did C.

8. Pretentious (pretentious... pretentious...) place where James Brown lives.

Pretentious = Pseudo.

Is there an echo in here?

James Brown lives in Funkytown, obviously.

Pseudo Echo - Funkytown

C cracked the cryptic clue, then claimed to have blanked any memory of Pseudo Echo's "hit" from her mind. Brian came to the rescue, saying, "We are laughing our asses off listening right now. Worse than I even remember." Now remember, Brian, every record featured in Saturday Snapshots comes from my own personal collection. I'd never feature an artist here that I don't own at least one song by. So watch what you...

No, you're right. It's pretty awful.

7. A Rutger Hauer film makes Mica hot.

No, this is not The Hitcher. Or Blade Runner. It's Ladyhawke.

If Mica Paris got hot, she would be burning.

Ladyhawke - Paris Is Burning

George was on fire again today too. Chris got it too, but too late was the cry.

6. What Roy Orbison, Huey Lewis, Billy Bragg, Transvision Vamp, The Black Keys and The Charlatans (almost) have in common. A song for Princess Leia.

Roy Orbison

Huey Lewis & The News

Billy Bragg

Transvision Vamp

The Black Keys

The Charlatans

At the end of The Empire Strikes Back, the ghost of Yoda tells the ghost of Obi Wan, "that boy was our only hope." Ben replies, "no, there is another..." His sister...

The Only Ones - Another Girl, Another Planet

I was surprised nobody got this before The Swede too.

5. Huxley's perception catches a bus in the clouds.

Too easy!

The Doors are named after Aldous Huxley's book The Doors Of Perception.

If you caught a bus in the clouds, you'd be a...

The Doors - Riders On The Storm

What. A. Song.

A clear victory for George.

4. Welsh LP records worship Onan.

Dai is a popular Welsh name.

LP records are vinyl.

You can look Onan up for yourselves.

The Divinyls - I Touch Myself

The Swede beat off all challengers to take this one. (Sorry.)

3. This is irrelevant. Get in your car and go, James.

No explanation needed, surely?

It's Immaterial - Driving Away From Home (Jim's Tune)

A good win for Alyson (though nobody recalled Jim's Tune).

2. Southern state loses its bottom half. Ha - and you fell for it!

Texas is a southern state. If it lost its ass, it'd be Tex.

I gotcha!

Joe Tex - I Gotcha!

CC got Joe Tex, then stumbled on the song. George came along to collect the Noel Edmonds trophy.

1. Nobility in the police force. The bridge is apt.

The police are Bobbies (well, in Britain... they used to be).

Nobility are Gentry.

What did she throw off that bridge?

Unsurprisingly, Charity Chic got this one straight away.

Bobbie Gentry - Ode To Billy Joe

More next week. Some, even worse.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Saturday Snapshots #15

Happy Saturday.

You know the drill... identify ten artists and ten songs from the pictures & cryptics clues.


10. Last men standing after staring down a rocky pussycat.

9. Get hurt pogoing at home.

8. Pretentious (pretentious... pretentious...) place where James Brown lives.

7. A Rutger Hauer film makes Mica hot.

6. What Roy Orbison, Huey Lewis, Billy Bragg, Transvision Vamp, The Black Keys and The Charlatans (almost) have in common. A song for Princess Leia.

5. Huxley's perception catches a bus in the clouds.

4. Welsh LP records worship Onan.

3. This is irrelevant. Get in your car and go, James.

2. Southern state loses its bottom half. Ha - and you fell for it!

1. Nobility in the police force. The bridge is apt.

I'm going out to see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri today. I expect these done by the time I get back.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Radio Songs #24: It's A Shame About Rol

It's been so long since I did one of these, a little recap is probably needed...

"Previously on My Life In Radio..."

After working (unpaid) Saturday mornings at the radio station while I did my A Levels, rather than go off to university... which would have been the sensible thing to do... I left school to go and work at the radio station full time (still unpaid). Ah, the folly of youth...

What did the job involve?

What didn't it involve?

I'd help the jocks out. Answer the phones (still in another studio from the presenter!) Drive the odd "music mix". Sort and pile up the ad carts. (Maybe erase them every now and then. That was fun.) Venture up into the sales department and get the piss taken out of me by the "creatives" while the sales people talked utter shit. (Of all those, especially the latter, much more later.) But the bit of my new job I enjoyed the most was in the record library. OF COURSE!

At that time, the station's record library was run by a slightly dizzy blonde who knew nothing about music and used to interview the odd band that strayed into the station lost every now and then (or if their tour bus had broken down) for a weekly magazine show in which her first question was always: "So how did you get your name?"

"Londonbeat... how did you get your name?"

"Sonia... how did you get your name?"

"DNA... how did you get your name? And why isn't Suzanne Vega with you?"

Yes, this was 1990. The absolute nadir of popular music. I defy you to name a worse year for chart pop. (I don't count Suzanne Vega in that. She's always been brilliant.) This was the stuff they were playing on the radio. This was the stuff WE were playing on the radio. And anything half good... anything alternative... anything remotely edgy...

It went in The Chuck-Out Box.

Yes, you heard it right. The Chuck-Out Box. (Insert short excerpt from the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah here.)

So what if I wasn't getting paid for my new job in the record library? I now had direct, first-come, first-served access to all the records our "head librarian" had never heard of. I've often thought of running a feature here of artists I discovered through The Chuck Out Box: many of them would go on to become lifelong favourites.


Aimee Mann.

The Lemonheads.

That'll do for now. Here's one straight out of The Chuck Out Box...

#24: The Lemonheads - It's A Shame About Ray

I clearly remember the first time I listened to this album, thinking it was pretty edgy and alternative. Listen to much of it now and it has a laid-back country vibe I obviously responded to at the time...but just didn't recognise.

Oh, and Jellyfish too. Let's not forget Jellyfish.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

2017 Latecomers: Get Malled By Fred

Ooh look, another new feature. Well, not that new: I did something similar last year. Basically, good albums from the year just gone which may well have featured in My Top 17 of 2017... if I'd heard them in time. Let's see how many I discover this year...

Back in the early 00s when my indie cred was at its highest (not very) and I could easily have written a blog that would have been respected and lauded by the cool muso blogosphere (yeah, right), rather than laughed at and shunned (I did still like Billy Joel back then, I just kept quiet about it), I was quite into Fred Thomas's lofi indie soul band, Saturday Looks Good To Me. I'm sure you'll remember them if you were cool back in 2000. (Typically, this was about 6 years before I started my first blog. Always too late.)

Since then, the band and their lead singer have rather slipped off my radar... until my still much-cooler pal Steve recommended Fred's latest offering, Changer. It's an interesting change of direction (though there's probably been a gradual evolution while I've been away) to a more guitar led sound reminiscent in places of Green-era REM, Pavement, Jonathan Richman... maybe even a little Kozelek. I dunno, it probably sounds like a bunch of other things entirely to you. But it's worth a listen. Love the way the guitar really kicks in around the 50 second mark.

Oh, and it's another great mid-life crisis song too...
Does something feel slower?
Or is this just the same daydreamed death where you see yourself lowered
Into the cold, greedy ground as your parents and plagiarists lose their shit
Sobbing over your casket
And you broadcast it every couple of hours
When you’re not busy with customers
Selling cell phone cases and cords at that kiosk in the middle of the mall

Air-conditioned days in this insufferable summer
And at night you watch your friends dance around
Feeling weird about fucking each other
And you wonder “Do I even need to be here?” and “Why does this hurt?”

The rest of the album's not bad either. Listen and like.

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