Haydn

Tha sreath phrògraman The Birth of British Music (le Charles Hazelwood, BBC 4) air iPlayer an-dràsta. Cha tuirt an dà chiad phrògram, mu Phurcell agus Handel, cus dhomh nach cuala mi a-cheana o chionn ghoirid ann an sreath eile, David Starkey’s Music and Monarchy. Ach chuir an treas fear, mu Haydn, iongnadh mòr orm gu dearbh.

Sa chiad àite, cha robh fhios agam idir gun deach Haydn a Bhreatainn riamh, gun guth a ràdh gun robh na daoine glè mheasail air agus air a’ cheòl aige, gun do sgrìobh e dusan simphnidh agus iomadh rud eile ann an Lunnainn, an Gypsy Rondo ainmeil nam measg.

Ach ’s e an t-iongnadh as motha dhomh a bha ann gun do grìobh e (air ais san Ostair, ach a-rèir coltais fo bhuaidh fhaighinn a-mach gun robh laoidh Breatannach ann) laoidh Ostaireach, Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser, agus gur e an aon phort sin – le faclan eile – am fear air a tha sinn eòlach an-diugh fon ainm Deutschlandlied: an laoidh Gearmailteach!

 

Leonard Cohen died

It may seem strange that an almost-lifelong-celibate gay like me should relate so much to songs of a singer-songwriter whom even obituaries call a ladies’ man. But then Cohen’s love songs are not of the “she loves you, yeah yeah yeah” kind. There is more love than sadness in them – but only just.

I have never considered him my favourite singer. But ever since I heard him for the first time – it was the I’m Your Man album, which luckily had the lyrics printed on the sleeve – there were a few of his songs I definitely did count among my favourites. In my early twenties these were Everybody Knows and I’m Your Man, joined in my mid-twenties by Bird on the Wire; in my mid-thirties they were Sisters of Mercy (only I twisted ‘sisters’ to ‘brother’) and Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye; now in my exile and my late forties they are Tower of Song and Closing Time.

Maybe there will be another when I find and read the lyrics of his latest – and last – album.

 

October ’16 news

For almost a half of the month I was still boozing and thus offline, but I stopped this in time to learn that Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (well deserved, there is no reason why songs’ lyrics should not be perceived as literature) and that Nicola Sturgeon announced the Indyref2 bill (published a week later – it is virtually the same as the first one).

As regards culture, it is also worth mentioning that the Burrell Collection (one of the few really famous Glasgow museums I never found time to visit) closed for a 4-year revamp. As regards politics, it is also worth mentioning that proposals for Westminster constituencies’ boundary changes were published (the Tory government sticking to the idea that there are too many MPs elected by voters and too few Lords chosen by the PM).

Getting a bit more international, the EU-Canada trade deal called CETA was blocked by Wallonia but after some more negotiating signed anyway (I wonder what they promised them). Getting completely international, it was amusing to read that the Icelandic Pirate Party became the joint second in number of seats in the Alþingi (with the Greens, which too tells us how different Icelandic politics is from ours most).

What else? The minimum price saga drags on, while the one of the oil rig grounded on Lewis is over (at least as far as we are concerned), and work to spoil Edinburgh city centre has begun.

 

View No 5

I pre-ordered Ropewalk and had it as early as last September, but only got round to listening to it last month. Initially I was too depressed in my exile; later I was simply afraid of being disappointed; and then again I probably hadn’t actually listened to a complete album for the first time since … well, since their previous one.

In the event, disappointed I was not. It naturally wasn’t such a ‘revelation’ as Hats Off to the Buskers, (very) occasionally I heard something which felt like they’d done it before, and for the first time there was no ‘hidden last track’; for all that, after a second listen (with lyrics this time) I concluded I liked it at least as well as Cheeky for a Reason.

The funny thing was that it felt as though they began writing in a certain style, after some time found it boring, so gradually began just fooling around: the album draws to a close and you realise that somehow you’re in a completely different place than the one you started at and have no idea how you’d got there. But you like it there as much – maybe even a wee bit more.
 

March ’16 news

Several things ended in March: For the first time, a professional 9-dan go player was defeated by software. Shortly after the Budget (whose main point, according to media, was the sugar tax), Iain Duncan Smith resigned as the DWP secretary: apparently even he had finally got fed up with the way Mr Osborne mishandles the revenue. The Holyrood Parliament was dissolved before the election: it was the last session for some MSPs, including Alex Salmond, who gave his (possibly) last speech there. On the same day the Longannet Power Station, the last coal-fired one in Scotland, was switched off for good.

And then there were the deaths: George Martin, without whom the Beatles in all probability wouldn’t have been as trailblazing as they were, and Ray Tomlinson, generally seen as the inventor of one of the most important features the internet’s ever had: the email.

But Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba can be seen both as an end and a beginning, and the closure of the Glasgow Queen Street railway station’s upper level for a renovation of the adjacent tunnel is definitely more about the future than about the past. As were the approving of the Scotland Bill (which would later in Westminster become the Scotland Act ) and the Land Reform Bill by the Scottish Parliament before its dissolution.

But I’ve no idea where belongs the news that Ben Nevis is somewhat higher than we used to think.

 

Kris Kristofferson at 79

I had on this iPlayer programme from The Chieftains’ Celtic Connections concert in Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall thinking “no bad” when . . .

You see, for me Kris Kristofferson was always the independent, sensitive-yet-tough 30- or 40-something who’s written Help Me Make It Through the Night, For the Good Times, Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down, Stallion, Rocket to Stardom and so on, the hero of Convoy and Flashpoint, the guy who claimed he’d like the first three lines of Leonard Cohen’s Bird on the Wire put on his tombstone . . .

Now I saw him come and . . . first there was a close-up on the gentle wizened face and then he began singing that particular song in such a mild, kindly way . . . I later found out in he’s actually older than my father, but for a while there I almost felt like it was me who was approaching 80, and – presumably unlike him – just sitting in some care home, patiently waiting for the end . . .

I did manage to supress the tears coming in my eyes, but only just.

 

Bereft of favourite music

I loved you when our love was blessed, I love you now there’s nothing left but sorrow and a sense of overtime. And I missed you since the place got wrecked, and I just don’t care what happens next, it looks like freedom but it feels like death, it’s something in between I guess: it’s closing time.

(Leonard Cohen: Closing Time)

 

Having no future has its advantages: nothing disappoints you; you have nothing to worry about; it’s a relatively effortless life . . . Still, the disadvantages prevail: you have nothing to look forward to; you experience no strong negative emotions, but neither you experience any strong positive ones; in short, you don’t live – you just plod along, waiting for the end.

One of the unexpected disadvantages was that I found out I could no longer listen to most of my favourite songs. Except for those by determinedly melancholic authors like Simon and Cohen, all of my best-loved albums feature one or more songs firmly associated in my mind with some pleasant memory of the days when there was still some hope left. They could have hurt too much: I became afraid of what I had loved best and began deliberately avoiding it.

 

Spiritless

On 28th August it was exactly a quarter of a century since I first entered Scotland. On 31st I successfully completed my 3-month probation in my current job. On 5th September it was a quarter of a century since I promised myself in St James Church in St Andrews I’d be back.

Until recently, each of these would be a reason for celebrating; at the very least for an individual blog. Nowadays, I may not even have noticed them if I hadn’t put them down in my calendar.

Similarly, I’ve bought several things to make my life easier lately: proper pillow, fleece jacket, doormat and more. I paid off what was left of my debt to Rob. I finally sorted the flat’s door. All the pleasure these things brought was little more than the satisfaction one feels when one can tick off a completed task.

The View’s newly released Ropewalk CD arrived five days ago; it’s copied onto my hard drive but hasn’t been listened to yet. Tomorrow I’ll pick up the fleece from the post office; I’m not sure I’m even looking forward much to that, however useful (with nostalgic value added) it will inevitably be.

On the other hand, all life is in balance. Big pleasures are invariably followed by big miseries; small pleasures mostly only by small miseries.

 

Quote: Lars Ulrich about new music

One of the main reasons I connect less with new music in my life now is because there’s less great new music to connect with. A lot of the stuff that’s been played is just regurgitated, this year’s flavour, this thing, but it’s not people on the leading edge like the Beatles or the Miles Davises or the Jimi Hendrixes taking us all by the hand into these completely unknown, uncharted musical territories.

 

RIP, Pete Seeger

On 27 January, one of the best-known American folk singer-songwriters, Pete Seeger, died aged 94.

Having grown up in the then Soviet bloc, I wasn’t all that impressed by his politics. (I wonder whether he knew that We Shall Overcome was one of the “anthems” of the ’89 anti-communist demonstrations.)

But I’ll never forget that it was his Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season) which brought my attention to Ecclesiastes 3, arguably the best passage in the Bible. (Not that there is much competition, but that is a different story).

That it was in his renditions that I heard for the first time Barbara Allen, A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall and Hobo’s Lullaby.

And that it was he who wrote My Rainbow Race with the sage words “Don’t you know you can’t kill all the unbelievers? There’s no shortcut to freedom.”

Come to think of it, he was a stronger influence in my life than I realised.

 

Mondegreens

For some reason, I’ve lately seen several articles with this theme. It’s reassuring to find so many other people too often get it wrong. (Although admittedly, I often don’t get it at all, rather than wrong.) According to one poll, most people misheard Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams: instead of “Sweet dreams are made of this/Who am I to disagree?” they hear “Sweet dreams are made of cheese”. Personally, I’ve always heard “Sweet dreams are made of beings/Whoever might can disagree.” Not that either of the three makes much sense.

Sometimes, though, a mondegreen can make as much sense as the real thing – only a different sense. Like the Paperback Writer couplet “It’s a dirty story of a dirty man/And his clinging wife doesn’t understand.” Now what I’ve thought until very recently McCartney was singing, “his cleaning wife”, isn’t such a bad version either, is it?

 

Piracy and sales

HBO programming president Michael Lombardo is probably the first person in the business to publicly admit that web piracy, in this case Game of Thrones, didn’t negatively impact the DVD sales. This confirms an Institute for Prospective Technological Studies research, according to which freely streamed music even provides a small boost to sales figures.

The study says that “it seems that the majority of the music that is consumed illegally by the individuals in our sample would not have been purchased if illegal downloading websites were not available to them”. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry doesn’t counter this with a different study, but with a proclamation based on their gut feeling: “If a large proportion of illegal downloaders do not buy any music (and yet consume, in some cases, large amounts of it), it cannot be logical that illegal behaviour stimulates legal download sales.”

I say gut feeling, because their “logic” is twisted. Hearing about an album or a film, but not buying it unless and until you’ve checked on YouTube or somewhere that it’s really worth your money, whether legal or not, is perfectly logical. The existence of a large proportion of illegal downloaders who never buy anything doesn’t exclude the existence of a large proportion of those who do.

The problem possibly lies elsewhere. These buyers are what is called informed customers, and I suspect that few big businesses really like this sort of people, because they tend to shop according to their own, as opposed to the seller’s, preferences.

 

Aberdeen (Edinburgh & Dryburgh)

True, the guys to join us were Polish immigrants; they’ve been here for some time, but maybe not for long. Still, it was a funny feeling. I sat in our van and listened to our Glaswegian driver explaining to these Edinburgh folk, who took the wrong exit and were heading on the M8 towards Glasgow, what to do to get back and how to find our Edinburgh meeting place.

I finally took the opportunity to look out for Dryburgh when passing Dundee on the A90. And shortly before Dryburgh Industrial Estate on the left, the houses on the right definitely did resemble those I’d seen in the early videos by The View. Only now I’m looking them up on Google Earth and Ordnance Survey, they’re apparently in Charleston. Oh well, a near miss.

Anyway, on our way back I began listening to Cheeky for a Reason and only then realized that we were approaching Dundee again. For more embarrasing symbolism, it was Dundee where we were stuck in a bit of a rush-hour tailback, so I heard quite a big proportion of the album there, with The Clock in the Dryburgh/Charleston area.

And having only caught an hour’s sleep at night and about an hour’s nap after leaving Aberdeen, I’ve had about two hours’ worth of sleep in some thirty-eight or forty. Obviously I’m not all that old and feeble yet.

 

Some stuff is stronger

One character in Per Wahlöö’s Uppdraget says that for some people, cynicism is a prerequisite for existence. Generally I’m pretty good at it, but certain things are stronger than me.

Like The Wall by Pink Floyd. I’ve seen it for the first time when I was still in my teens, a few more times since then, but when I’ve watched it tonight after a couple of years, once again I couldn’t help getting highly emotional every now and then. When, for example, they sang

Hush now baby baby don’t you cry
Mama’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true
Mama’s gonna put all of her fears into you
Mama’s gonna keep you right here under her wing
She won’t let you fly but she might let you sing
Mama’s gonna keep baby cozy and warm
Ooooh babe, ooooh babe, ooooh babe
Of course mama’s gonna help build the wall

I’ve almost drowned in self-pity. Still, a residue of cynicism reminded me that there must be (and must have been) lots of other people whose lives have been enormously damaged by too much parental love. And I watched the film through, despite several other successful attacks on my imperturbability. But I had to write this self-centered piece to shake the despair and anxiety off me.

I didn’t mean to say I regret having watched it again. It’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen, and after all, to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose.

 

Mishearing lyrics

As far as I can tell, most people find it easier to understand what other people say than to express themselves, but I’m among the other group. Of course, things get worse in a foreign language and likewise when there’s some background noise. Telephoning too is usually a nightmare for me, even in my native tongue.

Probably the extreme example of my unability to understand what somebody sang was Future World by Helloween back in the 80s. At one moment there was something which I heard as “The feeling of /kɔˈhjahanɪʃʌn/ always at your side”. This troubled me a lot as except for the American suffix the word sounded so un-English. Later I came across the written lyrics and discovered that what they actually sang was “The feeling of togetherness is always at your side”. I suppose you may ask how can anybody hear /kɔˈhjahanɪʃʌn/ instead of /təˈgɛðənɪsɪz/. Don’t ask me, but that’s the way it was. A less extreme example might be ABBA’s King Kong Song, where I still hear “a big bad wonderella”, even though by now I know it’s actually “a big black wild gorilla”. Likewise, I’m virtually never sure whether what I’ve just heard was can or can’t. (Long live Scots cannae…)

Things seem to be slowly getting better. Looking up the lyrics of Cheeky for a Reason I found out that my “Milton Sound” was actually “milk turned sour”: /’mɪltən ‘saʊnd/ and /ˌmɪlk tɜ:nd ‘saʊə/ are certainly closer than the above examples. Even so… Tacky Tattoo has a part in which they repeat more than once “I’m not waiting around for the lost or the found to come back around”. What did I hear before finding out in writing? Actually, I wasn’t even certain what language they sang in at the moment, and rather suspected it was Spanish…

 

View No 4

I discovered The View in 2010 and gradually bought all of their albums. Hats Off to the Buskers became the second of my two favourites, reaching the position which had been for two decades occupied solely by the Waterboys’ Room to Roam. The following two are not so close to my heart, to a great deal because of the lyrics; the shining exceptions are Shock Horror from the second and Witches from the third.

Recently they have released a fourth. After listening to it for the first time, I noted down in my diary that I was slightly disappointed by the 80s disco sound now and then, though less than I feared (the beginning of the “pre-released” Hold On Now unpleasantly reminded me of Ein Kessel Buntes); that Kieren was singing solos again (unlike on the previous one I think), with “his” Hole in the Bed atoning for what preceded; and that “the cheeky bastards did make me laugh by the very end of the album”.

I’ve heard it two or three more times by now and I’m getting used to the hints of 80s, but I doubt that after I find and read the lyrics I’ll rank the album higher than the preceding two. On the other hand, I have already found the text of Hole in the Bed and it seems that that one will stand as this album’s exception next to Shock Horror and Witches

 

Mòd Sheonaidh

In the regular column Saoghal Sheonaidh of the latest number of Cothrom (issue 72) the author expresses under the heading Tha clann feumach air gaisgich ùra ‘s fealla-dhà his concern that the Royal National Mod, or at least the way it’s carried out, does little to promote Gaelic among children. While I generally agreed with his argument, the wittiest passage made me first laugh…

Tha na h-òrain a gheibh a’ chlann sean-fhasanta […] tha fhathast aon òran ann […] mu ghaol a th’ aig caileag do chìobair a shiùbhlas nam beann a’ marbhadh nam fiadh. […] Nam eòlas, bidh na nigheanan seo a’ meas leithid Lady Gaga no Katy Perry mar ghaisgich, no ‘s dòcha Cris Hoy no Usain Bolt. Do na balaich, tha òran gruamach eile mu bhàta a sheòlas ann an droch aimsir far oirthir Ìle. Chan eil guth air Lionel Messi no Seumas Bond. […] Seo cuid [chuspairean] bho na beagan bhliadhnaichean a dh’fhalbh: an cìobair a bha siud air a’ bheinn, sealgairean dàna a loisgeas air fèidh, banarach is a’ bhò aice, sionnach a’ reubadh cearc às a chèile is banntrach a’ caoidh a leannain mhairbh is an ceann aige pios bhuaipe ‘air stob daraich’. An gabhadh e a bhith na bu mhiosa?!

(The songs which children are given are out of date […] there is still one song […] about the love a lass has for a shepherd who roams the mountains killing deer. […] In my experience, girls are more likely to admire Lady Gaga or Katy Perry or perhaps Chris Hoy or Usain Bolt. For the boys, we have another dirge about a boat that sails in bad weather off the coast of Islay. Not a word about Lionel Messi or James Bond. […] Here are some [subjects] from recent years: yon herdsman on the mountain, brave hunters who shoot deer, a milkmaid and her cow, a fox ripping a hen to shreds and a widow mourning her dead lover whose head is impaled on an oaken stave a short distance from her. Could it be any worse?!)

… and then stop and reflect. (Not about having to find out in Wikipedia who Perry, Bolt and Messi might be. I know I’m undereducated in popular culture.) It occurred to me that for the majority of people, as long as they like the melody, musical style &c, the lyrics of a song are not necessarily important.

I remembered how just one of the people in the folklore band I was once a member of knew (or indeed, cared) what a certain obsolete word meant, despite its featuring in our signature tune. I remembered the lyrics of a Moravian song, one that is among the most often sung not just in folklore performances, but also spontaneously in pubs, at parties and so on, which go like this: “They bound a she-goat to a blackthorn / She broke away at night / A high juniper / As high as me / Jump over it my dear / With straight legs.” Could it be any worse?! And I remembered some of the songs we liked to sing in summer camps. For example John Brown’s Body, which in Czech begins “The black man lived under the whip of the slaveholder…” and gets no more contemporary as it goes on.

It seems to me that an interesting text can make a song even better for anybody; that (perhaps except during adolescence) most people are quite capable of enjoying the crappest words as long as they enjoy the music; and that this is even more so with pre-pubescent children.

 

Old country revisited 6 – Going home

I was up after five in the morning. The last minutes spent in my flat of a dozen years were anything but nostalgic: my mind was focused on checking I haven’t forgotten anything. Ending his shift Rob then drove me to the Cobra, where we sat and talked for some time, and after the last symbolic shot of Smuggler we went on to the bus station – and parted.

Initially I was understandably slightly down, but after a piss-and-fag break at Telč I found out I was feeling all right again, eventually realizing I was on the road again. On the road back home. I wouldn’t exactly say I was enjoying the flights, I was more looking forward to having it over and done with, but at last I was in Glasgow airport, taxis being spare took the shuttle to Buchanan St station, decided to walk the final one and a half miles despite the weight of my luggage – and around midnight I was back at Firhill Court.

I had a more or less pleasant trip. I do mean to visit the old country every few years or so, if only to meet my friends from the college and Rob; they’ll always be among the most important people in my life. But except for that, to quote the end of the song after which this blog was named, I’ve left this ship forever / There’s no treasure to be found.

 

Les Chansons d’amour

I came across Ma mémoire sale on YT by sheer accident, but I liked it a lot. (Well, not enough to pursue the matter more than reading the film’s ‘pedia article.) After a few months I also saw J’ai cru entendre; eventually, having seen As-tu déjà aimé? (and read the songs’ lyrics) I decided to buy the DVD.

Frankly, I was somewhat disappointed. Being a cynic I can shamelessly admit that primarily I wanted to see more of Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet who looks simply gorgeous. He only appeared after half the film was over, and in just one song I hadn’t already seen. (Moreover, this also means that the first half of the film is purely straight-and-lesbian.)

Still, I don’t regret the purchase. There are two moments I would otherwise have missed. First, the scene where Alice asks Erwann whether he and Ismaël are together. I wouldn’t be surprised if he agreed, whether happily or cautiously, or disagreed, whether gloomily or insicerely, or was evasive or… but I certainly didn’t expect this. The all-of-a-sudden cheerful smile and especially the phrasing of the answer, “J’ espère que si”, set me literally laughing with pleasure.

The other moment? Finding out that the splendid sentence with which one of the songs I had seen on YT ends, “Aime-moi moins mais aime-moi longtemps”, is actually the very last sentence of the whole film…

 

Getting even older

How do you recognize you’re getting old? You’ll find many answers to that question in literature and folk wisdom. You’ll even find many good answers, so you can take your pick.

I’ll never forget the definition according to which you’re getting old when you no longer like new music. For I’ll never forget how we were discussing rap after it came to this country in 1990. We’re in our last Tech year in the Topas club, I’m explaining my theory that the first song made on the principles of rap was Give Peace a Chance, Falcon retorts that the principle of rap consists in pissing him off, and Ševča musingly adds that that’s how he knows his youth has gone – new styles irritate, rather than fascinate him.

And now we’re getting even older. How? What I’ve just described had happened back in ’90 or ’91. A month ago I overheard a local radio jock announce “Next day’s a RETRO day! From midnight to midnight we’re only broadcasting THE NINETIES!” I realized that in the eyes of today’s teenagers my generation is no longer old – it must be already ancient.

I told this second anecdote to a few of my old Tech mates ten days ago at our reunion as we were smoking outside the pub, and everybody had that “know exactly what you mean” look.

After all, the oldest offspring of some of us is already past the teenage stage, and we even have the first grandfather among us…
 

(First published on Blogger on 27 Sep ’11, give or take a day.)