The Boomtown Rats – I Don’t Like Mondays (1979)

I like The Boomtown Rats. I like their slightly bolshy attitude, being a group of upstarts from Ireland. I like how they mixed the energy and attitude of punk (as particularly shown by my beloved Damned) and fused it with a Nu Wave melodic sensibility, whilst having a bit of an attitude.  I particularly loved how their pianist, Johnny Fingers (what an excellent name), seemed to spend his life in pyjamas – kinda like a bedtime version of Captain Sensible. Yeah, that’s the kinda popstar that my 10 year old brain seemed to identify with at the time.

So before we leap into their epic “I Don’t Like Mondays”, let’s create a bit of context by showing you a typical example of what came before. So here is “Rat Trap” that took over the number one slot from John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John who seemed to occupy the number one space for several years with whatever song from “Grease” it was that was selling squillions.

 

Yeah, we’ll rip up a photo of Mr Travolta (was this before he became a Scientologist?) and then use a candelabra as a saxophone which probably broke Musician’s Union rules at the time. Mr Geldof can be seen to be gleeful in his “fuck you all” chopping away at the rules. Fun fun fun – even though the lyrics of the song have got a real social grit to them. I just never picked up on that element at the time – hey, I was young.

So the next time I come across The Boomtown Rats is with this:

 

Just utterly different from anything I had ever heard from The Rats before – possibly different from anything that I could hear on Radio One at the time, towards the end of the 70s. Sparse piano starts it all off, surrounded by some haunting orchestration, then a choir of voices comes into back up Bob Geldfof’s surprisingly tuneful voice, building up to the chorus before breaking back down again.

And that is without even thinking about the lyrical content.

The silicon chip inside her head
Gets switched to overload
And nobody’s gonna go to school today
She’s going to make them stay at home
And daddy doesn’t understand it
He always said she was as good as gold
And he can see no reason
‘Cause there are no reasons
What reason do you need to be sure

 

According to Bob Geldof, he wrote the song after reading a telex report whilst he was being interviewed at Georgia State University’s campus radio station, known as WRAS. The content of the telex report was concerned with the shooting spree of 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer, who fired shots at children in a school playground at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California, US on 29 January 1979, The shooting spree resulted in the killing of two adults and the injuring of eight children and one police officer. Spencer allegedly showed no remorse for her crime and her full explanation for her actions was “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day” when questioned by journalists.

When interviewed about the process of writing the song, Geldof said, “I was doing a radio interview in Atlanta with Fingers and there was a telex machine beside me. I read it as it came out. Not liking Mondays as a reason for doing somebody in is a bit strange. I was thinking about it on the way back to the hotel and I just said ‘Silicon chip inside her head had switched to overload’. I wrote that down. And the journalists interviewing her said, ‘Tell me why?’ It was such a senseless act. It was the perfect senseless act and this was the perfect senseless reason for doing it. So perhaps I wrote the perfect senseless song to illustrate it. It wasn’t an attempt to exploit tragedy.”

Tell me why
I don’t like Mondays
I want to shoot
The whole day down

 

This was no longer a case of hiding brutal social commentary within the poppier sound of the musical spectrum. The sparse and decidedly un-rocky territory of the music meant there was no other way to present it than straight and without pissing about.

I remember the video – it was one of the first wave of videos that received lots of airplay, especially during the weekly edition of “Top of The Pops” where it (according to my memory) was shown rather than have the band playing live in the studio. The whole image of the band stood on the school stage, and the creepy faces of the schoolchildren staring maniacally at the band is one that is imprinted upon my memory. And the bit where Johnny Fingers crosses from the monotone of the school hall into the brightly lit studio and everything goes full-on Technicolor, is another element of the video that I will always remember.

The Telex machine is kept so clean
As it types to a waiting world
And mother feels so shocked
Father’s world is rocked
And their thoughts turn to their own little girl
Sweet sixteen ain’t that peachy keen
Now, it ain’t so neat to admit defeat
They can see no reasons
‘Cause there are no reasons
What reason do you need oh, woah 

 

This was the first time I had ever heard about a school shooting, not through the news but through the singular power of a focused and intense piece of music. Sadly, it would not be the last time – as I got older, Dunblane happened. Then we learned about the horrors of Columbine and Sandy Hook, and hundreds of other school shootings that have happened prior to this and subsequently after the Sandy Hook shooting.

One of the most infamous incidents is the Columbine massacre, which was a school shooting that took place at the Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Senior schools students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, put together a highly planned attack that involved a fire bomb to divert firefighters, propane tanks that were converted to bombs and placed in the cafeteria, 99 explosive devices, and car bombs. They were responsible for the murders of 12 students and one teacher. They also injured 21 additional people, and three more were injured while attempting to escape the school. The pair subsequently committed before they were captured by armed police.

Columbine became an infamous incident in entertainment circles, as the motives of the perpetrators were examined in the closest possible detail. Small details, such as examples of the music of Marilyn Manson, which then resulted in the artist being targeted as having the blame for the murder. This issue (and the resulting impact upon Manson’s career) has been documented in a previous #RaisedOnRadio about Manson’s “Rock Is Dead” track: https://raisedonradio.wordpress.com/2017/04/14/marilyn-manson-rock-is-dead-1999/

Here’s a live version which is even more stripped down to basics than the recorded single version:

 

The massacre at Columbine sparked a furious debate over gun control laws, high school gangs and goth subcultures, school bullying.  “I Don’t Like Mondays” was starting to address similar concerns whilst Marilyn Manson was actually being of a similar age to me (being born in 1969 whilst I was born in 1968).  So what has happened since Brenda Ann Spencer took those lives that inspired Bob Geldof to write “I Don’t Like Mondays” in 1979?

I suppose the answer is not very much. America has a continually disturbing history of single-person shooting incidents, all the way up to recent events in Las Vegas where, on the night of October 1st 2017, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of 22,000 concertgoers at the annual Route 91 Harvest country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. This incident has been confirmed as one of the worst in American history, as 58 people were dead and 546 were injured. The shooter was 64 year old Stephen Paddock, who killed himself prior to being captured by the armed police squad who were about to storm his room at the Mandalay Bay hotel, where he had been firing high velocity semi-automatic weapons from.

Whilst not being a school shooting, it clearly shows the continuing and worsening problem that America has with guns – and my continued amazement at the total lack of willingness of their political representatives to put into place some form of logical gun controls, especially to lesson the possibilities of children being able to get their hands on these lethal weapons. In the USA in 2017 so far, 43 people have been fatally shot by children under the age of 4. So we not only have problem with children being shot by other children (or sometimes by adults on school premises) but now we have an issue with children shooting adults (who are often immediate family members).

All the playing’s stopped in the playground now
She wants to play with her toys a while
And school’s out early and soon we’ll be learning
And the lesson today is how to die
And then the bullhorn crackles
And the captain tackles
With the problems and the how’s and why’s
And he can see no reasons
‘Cause there are no reasons
What reason do you need to die, die

 

The song gained a slightly different resonance when The Boomtown Rats played as part of 1985’s Band Aid extravaganza, when those words listed above allowed a moment of reflection in amongst the cheers and jubilant partying that inevitably became part of such a groundbreaking live event.

 

As with many iconic songs, you will often get artists who do an interesting cover version. What follows is a version by Tori Amos who covered “I Don’t Like Mondays” as part of her “Strange Little Girls” album project which was based around covers of songs about female characters (real or fictional) that were written by men. Tori Amos decided to reinterpret those songs from a female perspective, therefore her version of “I Don’t Like Mondays” takes away all the bombast and implied tragedy of Geldof’s vocals and strips it right back to a female voice and a piano. What comes across is something that is fragile and perhaps hints at the possible mental condition of a girls who decides to take the lives of schoolchildren and teachers. It is totally different – and I really think that all the best cover versions do something totally different from the original.

 

Both version are stunning pieces of music, perhaps in totally different ways. Perhaps this is the real strength of a song that is destined to last decades.

 

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The Polyphonic Spree – Lithium (2008)

Sometimes a song manages to capture something: a feeling, a thought or a perspective. Sometimes it captures it so perfectly that you don’t have to find the words to explain or explore that particular state of mind – you only have to play the song. This song somehow manages to capture what I feel is sometimes going on inside my head – that unique tug of war between positivity and negativity, the continual war between the angels and the demons. It will go some way to explaining the state of my mental health, particularly as I strive to turn all my negatives into positives, and to turn my particular demons into angels.

I can’t pinpoint an exact moment when I suddenly started to think that I needed to explore and address my self-care and thought patterns, possibly because it seems to have been a part of my mental health issues for longer than perhaps I originally realised or potentially wanted to admit to myself. I’m going back to the me that I remember when I first met my better half, which is a difficult task as my memory seems to have degenerated to an appalling degree in the last few years. I’m thinking that has possibly always been in there to some degree and in some shape and form.

I’m sure that my wife would confirm that I wasn’t the happiest of teenagers when we first started going out with each other, but I don’t know how much of that could be attributed to general teenage angst and added artistic anguish – oh yes, I very much thought of myself as being the artist and performer when we started to go out with each other in sixth form, and I think that the generalised angst and anxiety that so often comes along with artistic struggle for inspiration was certainly a part of my psychological make-up back then.

Part of our initial relationship was based upon that shared experience of being part of the reject club (of which I have written before in my blog about David Bowie’s “Absolute Beginners” – click on the tag to find it and read it), being part of the artistic and academic struggle within our school’s sixth form arts scene (she was an artist and dancer, I was an artist and performer), and having a tempestuous relationship with one domineering parent (my wife with her mother, and me with my father)… all mixed with a liberal sprinkling of that “nobody understands me” anguish that seems to be an essential element of the teenage experience.

So we found each other, we fell in love with other and we saved each other.

Wouldn’t that be a brilliant end to the story?

Yup, but life fucks up the best stories, doesn’t it? Yeah, life always gets in the way of the happy ever after.

So, as I get older, I’m trying my hardest to make the stuff in my head sound more and more like the joy and happiness in the Polyphonic Spree’s version of “Lithium”, but we are all chained to our demons.

This is another on my list of funeral songs, just because I think the extended piano outro that you get on the album version would be quite a nice thing to finish on, as the mourners (for want of a better word) wander off into the hazy sunshine (or total pissing rain, which is more likely to be honest in this wonderful country of ours). You can guarantee it’ll be snowed off.

I also like the idea of everybody at my funeral jumping up and down like fucking unhinged orchestral rock hooligans shouting “Yeah Yeah Yeah” at the top of their lungs – actually, I’ll give bonus points to anybody who has the guts to play a bit of “air cello” whilst they are singing along too.

Thinking about it now, I’m even more tempted to insist that people wear Polyphonic Spree style robes to my funeral just so it looks like some strange cult gathering. Yes, I’m trying to engineer a situation where the police raid my funeral because they suspect there is some strange drug fuelled ritualistic orgy that has taken over the church / crematorium / tent in a field (wherever my family decide to host my farewell to this mortal coil – oh, “Hamlet” reference for those English teacher colleagues. I hope you all enjoyed that.).

I can see the stories lasting for years… “Do you remember when Jonesy was buried and the police tested his ashes coz they thought it was some hallucinogenic drug?”.

Ah yes, anything for a final giggle from beyond the grave.

I’m so happy because today
I’ve found my friends
They’re in my head
I’m so ugly, but that’s okay, cause so are you
We’ve broken our mirrors
Sunday morning is everyday for all I care
And I’m not scared
Light my candles in a daze
Cause I’ve found god

 

Anyway, enough talk of funerals, I’ve already kinda covered that with my blog post on “Do You Realise?” by the rather amazingly out there The Flaming Lips (you can go and find that one too). Go there to have all the usual comedy chit chat about death and funeral options – go on, help yourself to as much funeral chat as you could possibly want. Hey, I’m pretty certain the topic will arise again at some point – maybe talking about death so much is a Welsh thing?

I’m posting about this song today because this is all about vision. There are very few cover versions that come close to being better than the original but this version by The Polyphonic Spree is perhaps one of those few exceptions, where it takes a song that really sounds angry or self-destructive and turns it into something joyous and celebratory.

In order to fully appreciate what The Polyphonic Spree have achieved here, you have to go back to the original:

 

I hated Nirvana – yes, I know that is saying the unsayable but I did. Okay – maybe saying “hate” is a bit strong but perhaps it might be more appropriate to say that I just didn’t get them.  I really didn’t get what all the fuss was about, and I certainly didn’t spend hours pouring over the lyrics to discover hidden meanings. I certainly did not see them as the successors to punk – Grunge was about hating yourself whilst punk was about hating the society that made you hate yourself.

Yes, I loved “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Of course I did. Everybody loved that song but I quickly realised that, at the heart of Nirvana and pretty much the rest of the 90s Grunge movement that I was able to hear on mainstream radio, was a sense of self-destructive self-loathing that I really didn’t need in my life at the time – particularly because my head already seemed to have more than enough self-destructive self-loathing so I really didn’t need additional input as it was doing very well by itself thank you very much.

The later half of the 90s became a tough time for me as I was made redundant from my first full time teaching job, and I ended up moving my family down to Cornwall (3 hours away from our friends and families) with the intention of building a new life for ourselves. However, what I didn’t account for was exactly how much the redundancy experience had impacted upon my sense of self-confidence, my self-image as a fairly new member of the teaching profession and my general well-being (not that anybody thought of using the word “well-being” back then).

In today’s more enlightened atmosphere of openly discussing mental health concerns, I’m certain that I would have sought professional advice because there is no doubt in my opinion that I was suffering from depression – living in a freezing cold holiday flat, waiting for my family to join me as we were still in the process of selling the house that we owned in Bridgend, South Wales. However, back in the 90s, we didn’t have the more open culture regarding the discussion of mental health problems that we have now. In fact, I don’t remember any talk about mental health or depression other than when my wife experienced post-natal depression after the birth of our second child, but even that was expected to just magically go away at some point. We didn’t talk about this stuff back then –  so I just got on with my job and pushed any negative feelings into the back of my mind because life was going to be great again.

Unsurprisingly, as I’m sure that any medical professional will confirm, those feeling of inadequacy, insecurity and poor self-esteem that had been generated by the crushingly nasty process of redundancy (especially when you consider that I was the only person that was made redundant from my particular school – yeah, that didn’t make me feel picked on or singled out much, did it?) arose again when circumstances would once again combine to increase the levels of stress and anxiety in both my personal and professional lives.

As with many people, I’m actually pretty certain that the first signs of my mental health concerns started during my teenage years as I was going through that torturous process of changing myself into the person that I thought that I wanted to be, whilst also struggling with the combined pressures of O Level and then A Level academic demands – only to discover many years later that the person that I always had been was actually ok. However, I can’t really put my finger on any teenage moment when an alarm bell should have rung to indicate what the future would hold regarding my mental health. Yeah, I went through a period of going out and drinking stupid amounts of alcohol at the legendary rugby club discos but surely that was an indication of my stupidly immature attitude towards my own safety and the usual teenage feelings of complete indestructibility?

For a long time, I also put those feelings of negativity down to being a creative individual as I believed in the idea of creative inspiration and the “struggles” involved in the creative process, whether that is facing a blank canvas and wondering exactly how to fill it with an inspiring piece of art or facing a blank piece of paper and wondering how to create an inspirational piece of theatre out of nothing. So my confidence during my A Level studies would often fluctuate with process of creating some art, and the roller-coaster ride of highs and lows to get to the final product, which would usually turn out to be worth all the hassle and worry.

I miss those times. I miss the process of creating something, especially the process of creating art (and painting in particular), and the feeling of success when you eventually get to a stage when you feel it is finished (after the normal anguish of having to make that judgement – is it finished or could I add anything else, or have I actually done too much and fucked it up?).  I also miss the creative journey of making theatre. I miss the companionship of theatre productions, whether being a part of the cast or one of the backstage production team.

I miss those times because I eventually became what people call “a grown-up adult” and got myself a proper job as a drama teacher. Awesome, except being a drama teacher (at least in my experience) does not provide you with much time and space to pursue your own creativity. You go through an equally anguished process to figure out what students need to create to achieve the best grades in their drama exams (whether at GCSE or A Level). You figure out what your audience of parents, siblings, friends and, most importantly, school governors like to see in your school productions. You argue against those people who constantly tell you that drama teaching has no point because there are no jobs in it (even though there is more than enough evidence to show that the stage, film and television industries in this country generate a significant percentage towards our national economy). You constantly have to defend yourself and your subject against people who would suggest that your minuscule proportion of school curriculum time and budget would be better spent on more Maths or more English lessons.

Eventually you get drained of the creativity and imagination that made you a bloody good drama teacher when you first went into the job with your NQT status pinned proudly to your chest like some kind of gleaming sheriff’s star. You wonder if your own drama teachers ever felt the same way. You start to imagine whether that drained expression that you now remember was always there in reality.

You have to understand that schools are run on industrial models (when a state system of schooling started to develop during the industrial revolution, to cope with the need to generate lots of factory fodder for the quickly expanding industries out in the “real world”) of measurement and testing and proof and assessment and accountability and everything that eventually kills creativity stone dead – because creativity by its very nature is an unpredictable beast, and industrial systems of education have predictability at their very heart – they must because industrialisation places systems, measurement and predictability at the height of their most valued characteristics. If you can’t assess and easily record student results, then it becomes too complex for the system and it either ignores it or it cuts it out. This is not the fault of any individual school – it is just the reality of the system that is designed to make the education of millions of children to run as smoothly as possible according to the whims of whatever person just so happens to Secretary of State for Education at any particular time.

How on earth can you be expected to survive as a creative individual in this type of industrialised approach to educating children without bearing some mental wounds of the stress and anxiety that seems to come hand-in-hand with the joy of teaching? Yes, teaching is still a joy, even though I have left drama behind and taken on other subjects to champion. I still love my time in the classroom because of the students – they are the most valuable aspect of any teacher’s professional existence because they can always be guaranteed to make life continually interesting.

I’m so happy but that’s okay I shaved my head
And I’m not sad
And just maybe I’m to blame for all I’ve heard
But I’m not sure
I’m so excited, I can’t wait to meet you there
But I don’t care

 

I could go into all sorts of detail to explain why I eventually parted ways from being a drama teacher but now is certainly not the time to reveal the entire story. However, an opportunity came to move across into a different subject area and that is what I did. I know that it was the right decision although there are times when I especially miss teaching GCSE and A Level groups, and I particularly miss doing school productions. That takes nothing away from my dedication to what I am doing now, because I realise the impact upon student lives is perhaps more important than what I was doing as a drama teacher, but this is just the reality of how I feel.

Talking about creativity, if you search YouTube for “Lithium” cover versions, you will mostly come across substandard grunge pastiches (thank you Papa Roach) or rather glum acoustic interludes. The Polyphonic Spree cover stands out so much because it dares to rip up the Nirvana rule-book and throws out something so gleefully celebratory that it might as well be a completely original song. However, here was something that caught my eye:

 

 

How’s that for punk fecking rock? Eh? Eh?

Wait a minute – how do you fancy a choral version that replicates the celebration of the Spree with something a whole lot more haunted (or should that be haunting?)?

 

Isn’t that simply jaw-dropping?

Well let’s get a bit chilled with some jazzy laid back vibes that suit our Newquay vibes:

 

This is what that spirit of creativity is all about – I’m sure that Kurt Cobain would be proud… ish.

 

George Michael – Praying For Time (1990)

If I were to ask you to create a list of music mavericks, who would you put on it? Bowie? Obviously. Prince? Without a doubt. Bjork. Tom Waits. Peter Gabriel. All good calls. Would you decide to include George Michael? Somehow I doubt it because his Wham! days and “Faith” era megastar-status placed him firmly at the heart of the MTV playlist – indeed, he acknowledged himself that he aimed his career initially firmly in the direction of achieving those twin dreams of fame and fortune. Hardly what you would expect of an artist who pursued a singular vision of music creation whilst ignoring the fickle nature of popularity. Here was an artist who, at least in his early days, pursued the bright lights of fame and fortune with a singular vision that saw him aim for the brightest of pop melodies whilst wearing the tightest of shorts.

Let’s just pick a Wham! song at random just to remind ourselves of where George Michael was coming from before we can fully understand where he arrived at the time of “Praying For Time”:

 

However, those brightest of lights turned out to shine with an unforeseen intensity especially after George split his initial pop vehicle with partner Andrew Ridgeley in favour of striking out for fame and fortune across the Atlantic as a solo star. Let’s not forget that his level of success was huge. He was an MTV megastar of the same magnitude of Madonna, Prince and even Michael Jackson for a while.

Yes, it is true that his initial opening single, from his debut solo album, entitled “I Want Your Sex” was marred with controversy as radio announcers refused to play it, name it during chart countdowns or would simple call it “the new George Michael single” if it was played at all, he suddenly found himself thrown into an entirely new level of fame when “Faith” hit the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic ocean. In 1988, he started on the Faith World Tour that would earn $17.7 million and put him into the megastar status. “Faith” gathered award after award, including earning him Best Male Vocalist (Soul / R&B) at the American Music Awards – an award that was traditional given to black music artists, and which saw him become the target of significant criticism from artists like Public Enemy who saw it as the vanguard of whitewashing black American music and culture.

Let me digress here for a minute – firstly, I love the idea of George Michael being awarded best soul singer because, in my humble opinions, that is exactly what he was – possibly the best “blue eyed soul singer” since Rod Stewart or Paul Young. It is so important to view soul music as something wider than what it seems to be to today’s X Factor generation who, perhaps under some hypnotic spell created by Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey, seem to think that soul music only exists if you provide vocal pyrotechnics and provide 25 billion vocal inflections where two would be much more emotionally effective. Soul music, in my humble opinions, is all about connecting the soul of the singer with the soul of the audience – and George Michael was a master of this art.

Secondly, back in the 80s, it was all about the crossover. I don’t remember anybody accusing Michael Jackson of cultural misappropriation when he got Eddie Van Halen to provide metal guitar shredding for his straight ahead rock song “Beat It” (or “Dirty Diana” later). If Aretha Franklin was willing to duet with you, surely that is enough to qualify you as having “soul”?

 

It seemed as if George Michael had the world at his feet. However, during this period, George became increasingly isolated as he struggled to hide his true sexuality under pressure from his record company, Sony, who thought it would threaten his popularity amongst his legion of female fans. Exhausted, lonely and increasingly isolated during this time, George decided to put his mental and physical health before commercial success and informed Sony that he would not participate in any publicity for his next record release – this would include no interviews, videos, photographs, record covers, or anything that would potentially damage his artistic development. He wanted to be in the music industry for the long haul – he had no intention of being a burned out wreck before he could reach album number three.

“Praying For Time” clearly shows the artistic leap that his music was making, moving away from the frothy pop of his “Club Tropicana” era in Wham! and even the more soul inspired grooves of his “Faith” singles that had dominated the charts only a few years earlier.

When it was released, it caused confusion for two reasons: firstly, here was a sophisticated piece of orchestrated social commentary that wouldn’t have sounded out of place if it had been performed by John Lennon during his “Imagine” days; secondly, the video created a stir because there was nothing other than the lyrics that appeared on the screen in the most basic of typefaces and appearances (even more basic in style then the video for Prince’s “Sign O’ The Times” with which it shares obvious stylistic similarities). Even today, it is a remarkable piece of music and a moving video in terms of the directness and simplicity that it offers a complex and emotional subject matter.

In other words, it is a work of genius:

 

Yup, I know that we took quite a long time to get to the song today, but I felt it was necessary to give that background to the circumstances surrounding “Praying For Time” because it is simply stunning when put into the context of George Michael’s music up until this point.

These are the days of the open hand
They will not be the last
Look around now
These are the days of the beggars and the choosers

This is the year of the hungry man
Whose place is in the past
Hand in hand with ignorance
And legitimate excuses

 

In the recently aired documentary “George Michael: Freedom”, George Michael suggests he titled his follow-up to the huge success of “Faith” in response to allegations that he was appropriating black culture, particularly by winning those awards for Soul / R&B vocals. In the documentary he says, “I suddenly couldn’t get anywhere near black radio, and that was the reason “Listen Without Prejudice” was called “Listen Without Prejudice”. It was me saying, ‘here’s an album that has bits of gospel, bits of R&B, some very white stuff.’ It was time to say, ‘let me be both of these things without having to be one or the other.'” It reflects a particularly British attitude towards music where there has not been the cultural history of separating black music from white music (at least not until the dawn of digital radio).

You can clearly hear the influence of The Beatles in “Praying For Time” at a time (before Britpop made all things Beatles to be cool again) when it was extremely un-trendy to declare any love for the fab four let alone actually try to sound like them – as judged by much of the critical derision that was aimed at Tears For Fears when they clearly channelled the spirit of The Beatles when they released “The Seeds of Love” in 1989. “I was big into Abbey Road and Revolver,” he states in the recent documentary. “I made one record to show how much I loved Lennon [“Praying for Time”], I made another record to show how much I loved McCartney [“Heal the Pain”].” Paul McCartney would go onto record vocals for a new version of “Heal The Pain” for George Michael’s greatest hits collection, “25” in 2006.

It’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
Then maybe we should all be praying for time

 

The social commentary of Lennon can be clearly heard in the lyrics as George Michael’s declares his concerns for a world that he sees slowly falling apart due to selfishness and corruption, and he hangs the song onto the possibility of hope that things might be solved through the healing influence of time – if we are granted that time to eventually make things right. It is a song that deals with the social and the political but ultimately finds it has enduring appeal for generation after generation through the core humanity that it displays (and we later discovered was actually a genuine part of George Michael’s core psychology as story after story was released about his charitable and humane actions after he passed away in his sleep on Christmas morning in December 2016).

With the benefit of hindsight, it is now clear to see what a remarkably brave decision it was for him to step away from the ultra successful blueprint that he had mastered with “Faith” and to move in the direction of creating music that was less instantly accessible in terms of providing massive hit singles but much more personal in terms of creating music that had depth and personal meaning (on top of the socio-political commentary of “Praying For Time”.

It is also important to note that the “George Michael: Freedom” documentary was very pointed in focusing primarily on the troubles and issues that were raised by his decision not to record “Faith Pt 2”; and then the personal issues and traumas that created such turmoil for him (and ultimately added to the decision to take Sony to court to change his contract that he clearly regretted in later years). If I decide to write about any of the singles that were released off his third album, “Older”, then that would certainly be the best place to list the various traumatic events that fuelled his anger which found a target in the form of his record company and recording contract, many years before Prince changed his recording name and would start writing “Slave” upon his own face. Yes, George Michael was blazing a maverick path before one of the most maverick artists that found international fame in the 1980s.

George Michael never turned away from the songs on “Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1” as they were often a staple of his live performances, always clearly showing his heartfelt and soulful vocals that were such a central element of his massive appeal.

Here is a fantastic example from his MTV Unplugged performance, which has just been released alongside a remastered version of “Listen Without Prejudice”:

 

Isn’t that a fragile work of soulful genius?

Think that I’m being over-dramatic? How about listening to the orchestral version that he played on his last tour, the Symphonica tour from 2011-12:

 

Isn’t that clearly a thing of wonder and beauty?

Well except for one thing – yup, the rather clunky rewrite of some of the lyrics that take away part of the most most cynical but undoubtedly most powerful moments in the entire song:

So you scream from behind your door
Say, “What’s mine is mine and not yours”
I may have too much but I’ll take my chances
‘Cause God’s stopped keeping score
And you cling to the things they sold you
Did you cover your eyes when they told you
That he can’t come back
‘Cause he has no children to come back for

 

I can understand that perhaps George Michael, at this point, perhaps felt that he had seen too much darkness and pain and wanted to offer something not quite so bleak as offered in the original set of lyrics as reproduced above – hey, it is his song, his lyrics and his vision so who can pick an argument if he decides that something needs to be changed?

This would not be the final time that George Michael would address social and political issues in his music (anybody remember the controversy that surrounded the lyrical content and the animated video for “Shoot THe Dog”?). Nor would it be the last time that he would go on to apply such lush orchestral symphonic layers to provide mature sophistication to his music. In his recent documentary, George Michael clearly stated that he thought third album, “Older”, was his masterwork – maybe I will be write something about “Jesus To A Child” at a later date, or perhaps the more upbeat joy to be found in “FastLove”, or perhaps even to celebrate the jazzy overtones of “Spinning The Wheel”. However, nothing will probably ever match the moment when it became clear that George Micheal was something greater than another mass produced frothy pop star and was an artist (in the truest sense of the word) of real emotional depth and maturity as brilliantly evidenced in “Praying For Time”.

Or maybe I might just compare the Robbie Williams version of “Freedom! 90” with the original that can also be found on “Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1”? Who knows?

Thanks for the music George. RIP.

 

 

 

 

Sinead O’Connor – Mandinka (1987)

1987 was a weird point in my life – when “Mandinka” was released as a single in the December of the year, I had finished my A Level examinations (which had proven to be a bizarre combination of some of the most stressful days of my life up until that point combined with some of the best experiences with some of the best friends that I could ever hope to have) and I had moved on to studying at Newport College of Art on the Foundation Art Course – expecting that I would go on to study a degree in theatre design. Most importantly, I had been in a steady and committed relationship for over a year (and in which I would remain until the day that I am writing these words, and I expect until the day that I die).

Yes, I was gloriously happy and I look back on these day with huge nostalgia and joy because they were, without a doubt, some of the best days of my life.

However, there is one element that I do look back on with a certain air of dissatisfaction when I think back to the days in the latter half of the 1980s – the music. In my post about the mad and unhinged brilliance of Zodiac Mindwarp, I have written about how I went through the obligatory metal/rawk phase that every boy seemed to go through at some point in the 1980s – and how I was influenced in my rawk direction by some excellent friends (who I still consider to be important and valued friends to this very day). So I found myself listening to the likes of “Turbo” by Judas Priest, “Hysteria” by Def Lepard, “Whitesnake 1987” by Whitesnake and “Permenent Vacation” by Aerosmith.

Now I’m not about to go into rubbishing these albums or these bands, especially as many of them are actually some of the best in their chosen musical genre. And is it any surprise that I found myself drawn into the rock sound when Guns ‘n’ Roses became one of the biggest bands in the world when they released “Appetite For Destruction” in 1987? Infact, it seemed to be a general travel of direction that bands went through a rock phase themselves – ABC showed this clearly when they released their second album, “Beauty Stab”, much earlier in the 80s. It featured a harder edged, guitar driven sound that contrasted significantly from the orchestral drenched funk pop of their classic debut album, “The Lexicon of Love”. Unsurprisingly, the record buying public were confused by such a dramatic change in direction and “Beauty Stab” failed to sell the mega bucket-loads that “The Lexicon of Love” had achieved only a few years earlier.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood repeated this trick later in the 80s when they released the rockier sound of “Liverpool” to a confused public who were expecting a “Welcome To The Pleasure Dome” volume two.

However, this move into a rockier sound did not always result in commercial suicide. Tears For Fears initially found success with the electronic driven “The Hurting” album that featured such hit singles as “Mad World”, “Change”, “Pale Shelter” and “Suffer The Children”. However, they returned with the much bigger and guitar driven sound of “Songs From The Big Chair” that produced singles such as “Shout” and “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”. No, in the post Live Aid reality of the late 80s, getting yer rock on was where it was at.

However, rock never completely sat totally comfortably with me – I had embraced the synthetic textures of the early 80s so totally because I wanted to identify with a sound that was utterly and completely different from the Led Zeps, Rolling Stones, Beatles etc that I could hear from my older brothers if I managed to sneak into their record collections. Yet, here in the late 80s, I was frustrated by the lack of options that I could pick up on from the radio – not listening to the John Peel show being my greatest mistake at the time. It seems surprising now that I was somehow not filling my life with the interesting end of the musical spectrum into which the debut album, “The Lion and The Cobra”, certainly fits.

So when I heard this angry howling female banshee (not entirely different from what I remembered of the actual Banshees) screaming to a punk influenced scuzzy guitar (which I only recently discovered was played by Marco Pirroni of Adam and the Ants fame), I was immediately interested.

Listen to it – yes, perhaps some elements of the production could be argued to have been marred by some of the more dated production techniques of the late 80s, particularly that Phil Collins inspired big drum sound, but just listen to that voice:

 

Even today, that voice makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as if to say “what the fuck is that?”!!

Little did I realise that this was going to be my introduction into a fascinating world of what would become known as alternative music.

I’m dancing the seven veils
Want you to pick up my scarf
See how the black moon fades
Soon I can give you my heart

 

Before long, I became aware that there was another aspect of Sinead O’Connor that the music press (and the wider press) seemed fascinated with – her appearance. Why is that you ask? Hey, look back at that video and you can see her shaved head.

Oh, you guys appear to be shrugging with complete indifference.

Strange that – as I felt completely the same. I had grown up through the gender and sexuality wars of the early 80s. I had grown up with Annie Lennox and Grace Jones cutting all their hair off, wearing suits, and looking like they could kick the shit out of a wimpy arty farty fey boy like me. I had grown up with the likes of Boy George and Marilyn looking more female than lots of females that I knew in real life. I had thought we had got past this stuff. It would seem that I was wrong as the media devoted more and more space to the shock of the shaved head.

Well, I loved the shaved head because I decided that Sinead O’Connor was a person worth understanding, as I immediately felt the power in her music. I was immediately attracted to the fierce punk warrior attitude that Sinead O’Connor seemed to display in those early days. She reminded me of the attitude that I loved in Toyah Wilcox when I was younger as she bounded around TOTP or Cheggers Plays Pop with endless energy singing about teenage rebellion, thunder in mountains and wanting to be free. Yeah, fucking great – what teenage does not want to be free – especially when there is the added bonus of thunder in those mountains.

Of course, there is another side to Sinead O’Connor that we would become familiar with over the next few years as she moved from being a young and empowered punk princess with amazon warrior attitude into an international pop-phenomenon and then into years of self-imposed musical exile. Watch her performance at the 1989 Grammy awards, where she performs “Mandinka” by herself on a large stage before an audience of the greatest pop and music stars of the time:

 

You can see the rebellion and punk attitude clearly displayed by the wearing of the Public Enemy logo that is shaved and coloured into the side of her head. It is there in the shredded jeans and Doc Martin boots that she clearly relished stomping into the stage. However, you can also see a sense of fragility, shown through the slightly hunched up body language and sometimes awkward shuffling, that indicates she is somewhat uncomfortable belting out a song that was, by then, over a year old in front of the “industry” bods that clearly wanted to control her – resulting in her shaving her head to display her unwillingness to be made into another pop product.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this performance because we all now have the benefit of hindsight, and we all know where this story is going.

I don’t know no shame
I feel no pain
I can’t see the flame
But I do know Man-din-ka
I do know Man-din-ka
I do know Man-din-ka
I do

 

On 3 October 1992, Sinead O’Connor appeared on an edition of Saturday Night Live to sing an unaccompanied vocal only version of the Bob Marley song “War”, intended to signal her increasingly vocal protest against issues of sexual abuse of children within the Catholic church. During the rehearsal, she had presented a photograph of a refugee child to the camera for a close up, to emphasis the emotional impact of the statement that she was intending to make. However, she had a plan to create a much bigger impact. During the live broadcast, she replaced that photograph with one of Pop John Paul II which she then proceeded to tear into several pieces whilst singing the word “evil”. She said “Fight the real enemy” and then threw the torn pieces at the camera.

It is an undeniably powerful piece of performance as clearly shown by there being an uncomfortable silence in the audience as she finished her song. It was a turning point in her public persona which, following her international success with her unique and emotionally draining cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”, had seen her become a controversial but respected bastion of free speech. However, the knives now came out for her with people like Madonna lining up to criticise her for daring to be airing her views on the Catholic church. The comments became nastier and more vindictive and she was called “mad” by an increasing number of media commentators looking to increase their own profiles.

You can watch the controversial performance:

 

Of course, there is a massive irony at play here – at the time, the media lined up to criticise Sinead O’Connor for daring to suggest that the Catholic Church had been complicit in covering up child sexual abuse by some of its priests – something which has now been acknowledged whilst several priests have been convicted for crimes against children. However, it would take years before popular opinion turned to support the views that Sinead O’Connor has been putting forward in such a dramatic manner that night on Saturday Night Live – but the damage to her career would never really be repaired (with some damage being inflicted by her own choices of what material to record as she determined to find her own musical path), and the impact upon her mental health would become even more dramatic.

She has openly claimed that she was herself the victim of child abuse primarily at the hands of her mother, after her parents divorced and the Irish courts gave custardy to her mother as was traditional at the time. On 4 October 2007, during a broadcast of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Sinead O’Connor discussed being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and claimed to have attempted suicide on her 33rd birthday in 1999. She later claimed the diagnosis had been incorrect, although seems to have claimed this diagnosis again, and her mental health problems have seemingly continued to grow – often publicised by herself through social media as family issues have been fought very openly and often with dramatic consequences upon her mental state.

In August 2017, she posted a 12-minute video recording on her Facebook page in which she put forward a sense of her increasing isolation resulting from losing custody of her 13-year-old son, stating that for the past two years she had wanted to kill herself. She claimed that only her doctor and psychiatrist were “keeping her alive”. This exploded into an increasingly bitter series of social media arguments between her and various members of her family.  The story has all the terrible potential and feeling of dread inevitability of spiralling into nothing less than massive potential tragedy, and I hope beyond hope that things can be repaired before she is lost.

They’re throwing it all this way
Dragging it back to the start
And they say, “See how the glass is raised?”
I have refused to take part
I told them “drink something new”
Please let me pull something through

 

For my own shame, my musical development took me away from Sinead O’Connor at exactly the time she went mega-huge. I was in my second year of university living in a shared house with another student from my BA (Hons) Creative Arts degree course and three students who were studying textiles design. The girl who had the room directly underneath mine played “Nothing Compares 2 U” endlessly – no, I do mean endlessly. The moment the song finished, the needle would return to the start of the song – again and again and again. I fucking hated the song after hearing it for the hundredth time. I just couldn’t listen to that incredible voice for some time, and I genuinely feel very sad about that because I know that I missed out on some incredible music for a while. However, there are times when over-familiarity breeds contempt and I certainly experienced that for a while.

Oh, but that voice…

Here she is singing live on Letterman:

 

I reconnected with the music of Sinead O’Connor when I heard a song from her album “How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?” and I started to explore the music that I had missed as she dropped off the mainstream media and travelled the roads that are generally less explored – and often produce the more interesting results. I hope that I will be able to blog about more music from this wonderful, interesting and (yes) controversial artist – but when did we suddenly start acting surprised when musicians started to make controversial and politically charged statements.

Again, I grew up in a time when Bronski Beat would be making statements about the importance of changing the law about consent for homosexual people to achieve equality with their heterosexual peers. I grew up with Morrissey proclaiming stuff like “Hang the DJ” and that all the shoplifters of the world should unite whilst flouncing in a woman’s blouse on TOTP. I grew up with all these amazing characters who said and did amazing things and made my life all the richer for it. It goes back to Bowie performing fellatio upon Mick Ronson’s guitar. It goes back to John Lydon saying a naughty word on live national television. It has driven my love for musicians who have that maverick spirit to go out and create music that says “fuck the consequences, this is my art and my heart on my sleeve”.

I do not want my musicians to be media trained and to spout the sort of bland media shite that is spoken by X-Factor contestants so they don’t possibly offend any potential voters. Hey, I’m offended by your very lack of personality so I refuse to spend a single penny in voting charges to kick start your music career.

So when Sinead O’Connor releases new music, go out and spend your money and purchase it because she deserves our support and will make our lives all the richer for it.

David Bowie – Absolute Beginners (1986)

“Absolute Beginners” is a love song. Therefore it should come as no surprise that today’s blog is primarily about the power of love (yes, feel free to either start singing either the Jennifer Rush operatic power ballad or the Frankie Goes To Hollywood festive epic, depending upon which now is winning for dominance inside your head).

I’m posting this as Sal and I celebrate 25 years as a married couple (not forgetting the that we have actually been together for 31 years as a couple following the historical events of the 6th March 1986 at legendary Newport nightspot, Lazers Nightclub, Stow Hill, Newport), and are embarking on our own silly week of celebrations just because we bloody well can.

“Absolute Beginners” is our song. It was released on 3rd March 1986, just as we were getting together (with the invaluable assistance of friends from both sides who could see that something was going on between the two of us). Yes, it involved me pulling her off a chair and causing a slight back injury. Yes, it involved some serious decisions about what to wear. It also involved finding ourselves in the centre of a bar fight with the result of a table full of drinks getting tipped over us. Ah, the power of romance, eh?

As the single tracked up the singles chart, it seemed to perfectly match the heady rush of that initial burst of falling in love – it only reached number 2 (which in retrospect seems to equally perfectly capture the perfectly imperfect nature of our personal history together, but more of that later maybe). It is perhaps one of Bowie’s greatest love songs, and certainly qualifies as perhaps the highlight of his entire post-“Let’s Dance” 80s output… unless you happen to be a fan of Tin Machine (but let’s not open up that particular container of worms).

Ready for some romance? Here goes:

 

It is practically perfect as a love song.

“Absolute Beginners” was written as the title song for the film of the same name, itself based upon the book of the same name that was written by Colin MacInnes and set in the jazz revolution of 1950s London, telling a story of young love in the midst of race riots and teenage rebellion. Bowie had been approached by the director of the film, infamous Sex Pistols associate Julian Temple (who had directed the long form video for Bowie’s single “Blue Jean” from the disappointing “Tonight” album), to write the title song and only agreed upon condition that he was cast in the film as the “villain” – advertising executive, Vendice Partners.

The film was expected to be the British cinematic event of 1986, featuring such acting talent of the new starlet Patsy Kensit, Eddie O’Connell, James Fox and Steven Berkoff mixed in with such British music luminaries such as Sade, Ray Davies (of The Kinks) and Ed Tudor-Pole (of Tenpole Tudor). It flopped. Not only did it flop, it was was also critically beaten about the head until it suffered traumatic injuries – which was sad because it was not entirely the terrible stinker of a film that it was made out to be at the time. It suffered from such extreme hype that it was never ever going to live up to expectations. You can get it on blu-ray and dvd depending upon your chosen viewing platform. It is worth a watch.

Honestly… you can trust me.

However, I digress. Bowie’s title song sparkled and gained a life outside and unconnected with the film, including becoming “our song”:

I’ve nothing much to offer
There’s nothing much to take
I’m an absolute beginner
But I’m absolutely sane
As long as we’re together
The rest can go to hell
I absolutely love you
But we’re absolute beginners
With eyes completely open
But nervous all the same

 

If you have read my blog on the Iggy Pop song “Shades”, you will already know something about my 30+years relationship with Sal, who has now been my wife for twenty five years. Our relationship has been a defining factor in both our lives, since the day that we started going our with each other when we were both sixth students in the same comprehensive school sixth form.

We have managed to continue our relationship through our university years: she lived at home and went to her local teacher training college where she did her BEd (Hons) degree so she could become a primary school teacher (although she had actually wanted to become a nursery nurse but had been told that she was too clever and should aim for teaching), whereas I went off to Nottingham for three years to undertake a degree in Creative Arts thinking that I would spin off into a life of imaginative, inspirational artistic adventure across various media outlets. Then I realised that I needed to get a “proper job” so I spent another year living in the multicultural delights of Birmingham where I did my year of teacher training on a PGCE course, whilst Sal moved to Aldershot to start her career as a primary school teacher. We lived in Hampshire for a while, then we moved to Bridgend in South Wales where I worked as the only drama teacher in a tiny secondary school in the devastated mining valleys, before we moved down to Newquay where we have made our home now for twenty years, and have raised our two boys.

Has it been easy?

Is it ever?

Nothing much could happen
Nothing we can’t shake
Oh, we’re absolute beginners
With nothing much at stake
As long as you’re still smiling
There’s nothing more I need
I absolutely love you
But we’re absolute beginners
But if my love is your love
We’re certain to succeed

 

We both felt like rejects during our teenage years, and very little has really happened to change that feeling of not fitting in either with the way that society tells us we should be living our lives, or what we should be doing with our time, or all the other combined pressures that can be brought to bear upon individuals – you know the phrase “death by a thousand cuts”?. Yeah, I think society operates like that.

We found strength in each other, even though people were surprised when we initially became a couple because we were quite unlike each other in terms of personality – Sal was a very quiet and quite introverted character who was passionate about dance and art and all things musical theatre, whilst I had gained a bit of a reputation for being a class clown and constant performing idiot which is not really surprising considering that I had my own passions about theatre and art and music. People were surprised as we were considered to be polar opposites: she was quiet to the point of almost hardly ever saying a word whilst I would be egocentric to the point of almost possibly never shutting up.

Time has brought us closer to each other in that she now has loads more confidence, and comes across with much more self-confidence (although I know that Sal would say that she feels as insecure as she always felt back then), and I’ve seen her grow through a couple of career changes including standing for election as a county councillor. On the other hand, I have quietened down to the point of being extremely quiet and now take much longer to take decisions to speak coz I believe that it needs to be worthwhile or it is probably best not to say anything, even though many of my students would probably say I still have an excess of character (but that is part and parcel of the job – you’ve got to make it interesting and engaging other wise you and the students might as well bugger off home if they are not interested enough to actually attempt to do some learning).

We still feel like it is us against the world – sometimes this has been good because sometimes the world has conspired to fuck things up for us. Sometimes it has not been good because there have been times when perhaps we may have made our home too much like a castle to protect our family. You can only look back on things with the benefit of hindsight and decide that there may have been a better or simply different way of dealing with things. We both have regrets, and that is good – I don’t trust people who say they have no regrets.

Oh let’s do a live version for a minute…

 

So do I have any words of wisdom gleaned from 25 years of marriage, and 31 years of being part of a partnership? Not really.

My eldest boy has been in a committed relationship for several years now and they have a wonderful two year old daughter – they are doing things their way. Not the way I would have done things but I can’t say for definite that I know my way has been the right way – because they have been times when I’ve felt that it wasn’t. I went to university, got a well paid job and then had to cope with all the stresses and struggles that come with the life of working in education. The only thing that I ask is that they do what they believe if right – to bring up their daughter in the way they feel is right, and to earn their living in the way they feel is right, and to treat people in the way they feel is right.

I can put my hand on my heart and say that I tried my very best to always do what I thought was right – most of the time. Hey, nobody is perfect.

If our love song
Could fly over mountains
Could laugh at the ocean
Just like the films
There’s no reason
To feel all the hard times
To lay down the hard lines
It’s absolutely true

 

So happy anniversary to us – we are treating ourselves to whatever we bloody well feel like, because we have worked hard and not given up even when things turned to shit and life became really fucking hard… because that’s what you do when you love somebody – you don’t give up on them, and they don’t give up on you.

That will be the story of the next 25 years, if we are lucky enough to live long enough to see our 50th wedding anniversary. I fully expect to see difficult times ahead. I also fully expect to see good times filled with fun and laughter.

Fuck it – have another live version

 

So if you are lucky enough to find “the one” – that special person who is your soul mate, treasure every single aspect of that experience (even the shit times) because I can’t and don’t want to imagine life without her.

Where’s the champagne and the hot tub?

 

Christine and The Queens – Tilted (2016)

One of the saddest signs of getting older (yeah, that’s the polite way of saying old) is when you stop giving a damn about what new music is being released, and what exciting new musicians are creating brilliant new styles of music and sound out there in the weird and wacky world that we call home. It happened to at some point in the 2010s… or it might have been earlier… I think.

To be honest, I can’t really tell you the point that I stopped actively exploring and caring about hearing new music. I can’t remember a specific day when I remember saying “screw that new sounding stuff”. I don’t know whether it was to do with the rise of online streaming services rather than listening to the radio (which I sadly do less and less these days than at any previous point in my personal history). I don’t know whether it was a conscious decision to stop looking out for new artists and new genres or something that just crept upon me entirely by accident. I think it was probably a slow decline and surely was something that became less and less important in my life as I found myself listening to less radio.

Why? Well, I see radio DJs as guardians of the mystical portal to new music experiences through the decisions that are made when it comes to deciding what music to put on playlist (and what music to leave off). I wonder what amazing and mind-blowing songs I missed during the 70s, 80s and 90s because DJs decided not to include them in their playlists. However, at least decisions were made that resulted in new music being played that got me into countless artists across countless singles and albums and countless musical movements. However, with the advent of streaming services, I found myself in the position of having to make all those decisions myself – yes, they might make recommendations based upon my listening habits but it feels like the choices are more on my shoulders to click on that link or not, often based upon single or album cover image and some often spurious link with some aspect of my music collection. Oh my goodness, this is stupendously difficult. How do I make that choice of musicians that I’ve never heard of? Albums artwork? Recommended albums by whatever algorithm the streaming service uses? Random bleeding luck?

I have to confess that “Tilted” is not a song that I heard first on the radio – I know, damn this blog for a slight cheat. I saw Christine and The Queens on television. What I saw blew my mind.

This is what I saw:

 

I don’t know if it the combination of the dance choreography that was different from the usual pop choreography styling (yeah, you know that stuff that I’m talking about), the French tilt to the vocals (did you see what I did there? thank you very much) or the simple brilliance of the song? Whatever it was that was the magic ingredient, I thought that it was a brilliant piece of pop music.

Amazing!

I’ll die way before Methuselah
So I’ll fight sleep with ammonia
And every morning, with eyes all red
I’ll miss them for all the tears they shed
But I’m actually good
Can’t help it if we’re tilted
I’m actually good
Can’t help it if we

 

It catapulted Christine and The Queens (and just exactly who or what are these mystical Queens, are they the dancers and the makers of the music – and that shows a slightly sexist assumption that Christine herself is not the magical maker of the music, so apologies for that) into pop stardom, resulting in nominations for BRIT awards, and another brilliant performance at the BRIT nominations show.

 

She knows her moves.

I am actually good
Can’t help it if we’re tilted
I am actually good
Can’t help it if we
I am actually good
Can’t help it if we’re tilted

 

Of course “Christine” is not really Christine at all but in fact she is actually Héloïse Letissier – singer, dancer, songwriter and producer, and all round creative and individual free-spirit. There is reason for her “Queens” too! It was upon visiting London in 2010 that she visited some drag queen performances, and adopted the Christine and The Queens stage persona in recognition of the influence of drag queen culture upon her music (and general outlook in life), which she has described as “freakpop”, perhaps reflecting her absolute acceptance of people of all sexualities and genders (as she refers to herself as pansexual). Her initial EP releases were sung in her native French – and the original French language version of “Tilted” was actually called “Christine” and was perhaps the signature, introductory song to the concept of the band.

Even in French, which I don’t speak at all, the song remains incredibly catchy – oh, and take not of that brilliant video performance:

 

However, something extra special happened with it was decided to release an English language version of the song (although still with significant sections still making use of French, perhaps reflecting her very twenty-first century outlook upon life that refuses to be defined by simple labels).

I miss prosthesis and mended souls
Trample over beauty while singing their thoughts
I match them with my euphoria
When they said, “je suis plus folle que toi”

 

When I heard “Tilted”, I admit that I feel in love with the song (and possibly a little with the idea of Christine and her Queens), and found myself playing it many times. Yes, it has synthesised similarities with many 80s artists of my youth, but the unrepentant international nature of the song brought something additional to the mix. Was this after the EU referendum? I don’t know and I don’t care to be honest because I grew up in times when this country (and the people in it) were proud to be outward looking citizens of the world rather than the small-minded protectionist and (worryingly) increasingly racist anti-foreign zealots that seem to have taken control of so much of the hearts and minds of this once-great nation.

Is that putting it too strongly?

Well, that’s how I think and I refuse to be bullied by some new religion that suggests a single referendum is the end of debate and discussion and growth and change.

Wow – that was an unexpected direction to take…

Enjoy the bloody song:

 

Yeah, love it.

Unsurprising really considering that I grew up on Bowie’s androgyny and Roxy’s gutter glamour, and then the joy of the early electronic 80s.

Yeah, I’m pretending to be French and loving it.

So send me your suggestions for new music – I’m ready for it all again.

Thanks Christine!

 

 

Linkin Park – Numb (2003)

So here we find ourselves again – desperately sadly, it was announced two days ago that Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin Park, had taken his own life at the age of 41. If only to emphasise the terrible sense of tragedy and loss, Chester Bennington took his own life on what would have been the birthday of his friend and inspiration Chris Cornell, who also died by taking his own life earlier this year. Both were musical icons: Cornell of the Seattle based Grunge movement (popularised by Nirvana, who also lost their lead singer, Kurt Cobain, to suicide) whilst Bennington was perhaps the emotional centre of the Nu-Metal movement (popularised by Limp Bizkit). Both battled with demons. Both succumbed to the darkest of moments.

Nu-metal was a musical movement that I struggled to get into. I bought a copy of Limp Bizkit’s “Significant Other” album (released in 1999) purely upon the basis of one track called “Break Stuff” which seemed to fuel my then desire for some angry music, but quickly realised that it was mostly a pile of shite. As I investigated the various other bands that made up the nu-metal lexicon, I came to the perhaps unfair conclusion that much of the nu-metal music was being made by “jocks” of the variety that I had never got on with during my school years. If you are unfamiliar with the events that took place during and after Limp Bizkit’s performance at Woodstock ’99, there was violence against property and people including a number of sexual offenses.

However, Chester Bennington particularly did not fall into this “jock” stereotype. Slight of figure, often wearing spectacles, he seemed to be much closer to the image of people like Rivers Cuomo of indie-rock wimpsters Weezer. The music created by Linkin Park was perhaps (along with Korn) the best expression of nu-metal’s mash-up (hey, check the modern lingo) of metal and hip-hop inspired turntable squeeks and squarls.

“Numb” may not have been the first song by Linkin Park that I heard on the radio but it certainly was their first that captured my attention:

 

“Numb” is a great slice of the type of self-loathing rock that America seems to be so great at producing – think of Nirvana and so many of the other grunge bands like Soundgarden who targeted their punk ire at their own perceived inadequacies. If I sound a bit superior here, I don’t mean to be. When I think of British angry, punkish music, it tends to target outward sources to vent against whereas some of the best equally angry, American punkish music tends to focus inwards. Maybe this is a consequence of  the American fascination with therapy culture? I don’t know.

I’m tired of being what you want me to be
Feeling so faithless, lost under the surface
I don’t know what you’re expecting of me
Put under the pressure of walking in your shoes
Caught in the undertow, just caught in the undertow
Every step that I take is another mistake to you
Caught in the undertow, just caught in the undertow

 

When I wrote a blog about the Audioslave song “Be Yourself” in response to the tragic death of Chris Cornell, I wrote that I hoped people would use this as an opportunity to talk about the epidemic of male suicide that certainly seems to be sweeping the UK and the USA at the moment. We live in times when, according to figures released in 2015, male suicide was the biggest cause of death for men under the age of 45 – more so than cancer, violent murder (whether by knife-crime or gun-crime), or heart disease etc. The current estimation is that an average of 12 men take their own lives every day in the UK – yes, that means one man kills himself every two hours on average.

So what can be done?

Well, there are organisations that are starting to try to change the culture that make it difficult for men to seek help at those darkest of moments.

I previously mentioned an organisation called CALM: the Campaign Against Living Miserably. Here is a video they have produced:

 

The statistics are really frightening, as shown in this video produced by CALM:

 

What I find truly shocking is that CALM was founded in 2006, and the figures are still at a worryingly high level now over ten years since it first started (and that is in no way intended as an excellent criticism of the excellent work that CALM does). Why? Even though people say that mental health provision deserves equal attention and provision, the reality of living in times of austerity is that people will direct limited money and resources to the areas that are perhaps the most obvious and visible or just popular to deal with. Mental health is difficult – and difficult things are often the things that are difficult to attract funding.

However, a number of other organisations are now also starting to step up and try to find the practical solutions to help men when it comes to these troubling issues. For example, there is a collection of barber shops who recognise they have a key position to be able to provide men with a forum for being able to talk about their problems. It is called the The Lions Barber Collective. Here is the link to their website:

http://www.thelionsbarbercollective.com/about-us

Then you have the “Men’s Sheds” organisation, who encourage older men to come together in a workshop style practical setting, where they can talk to each other whilst engaged in practical tasks like renovating furniture etc. The theory is that men are more likely to be open about their worries and problems when they don’t directly face other men but are able to talk whilst focused on their practical tasks, working side by side with other men (and women) who have similar interests. Here is the link to their website:

http://menssheds.org.uk/

 

I’ve become so numb, I can’t feel you there
Become so tired, so much more aware
By becoming this all I want to do
Is be more like me and be less like you

 

I know people have been deeply affected by both the suicide of Chester Bennington and the previous death of Chris Cornell. I’d like to think that I won’t be posting another blog about another middle aged musician who takes his own life but I just don’t see us getting to the heart of the issues that quickly. Particularly when you get reactions like the one posted in a Twitter tweet by Brian “Head” Welch, the 46 year old guitarist of nu-metal pioneers Korn, who described Bennington’s suicide as “cowardly”. This attitude typifies the stigma that is often a central reason why so many men will not seek help when their depression or individual demons start to get the better of them. This is something that needs to be challenged with a zero tolerance attitude. Unsurprisingly, Brian Welch deleted the tweet when it became clear how upset many people were of his attitude towards Bennington’s death.

Can’t you see that you’re smothering me?
Holding too tightly, afraid to lose control
‘Cause everything that you thought I would be
Has fallen apart right in front of you
Caught in the undertow, just caught in the undertow
Every step that I take is another mistake to you
Caught in the undertow, just caught in the undertow
And every second I waste is more than I can take!

 

I’m certain that over the next few weeks people will trawl through every single Linkin Park lyric, especially from the latest album (“One More Light”) that was only released a month before Bennington’s death. It won’t be surprising of they uncover anything as the lyrics were very open in their treatment of the anxieties felt by Chester Bennington. What needs to be examined is the larger issue of why men, particularly in their 30s/40s/50s are killing themselves in such high numbers.

We need to talk about this.

So, if you have a brother… talk to him.

If you have a father… talk to him.

If you have a husband or brother… talk to him.

If you have a son… talk to him.

Maybe that will be a start…

Take care of each other.