The Price of a Song

March 17, 2021

Let me tell you the story of when I went back

Back for three hundred years

The earth it was barren, the people were grey

And they watered the ground with their tears

The people they wailed, they were chewing their tails

And they said these are the worst of times

They said we are vexed, we are so sore oppressed

With gangsters and all of their crimes

The world is in trouble, the well it is dry

And we may not live for very long

We’re in need of some comfort, some music, some joy

And we’d give our whole lives for a song

So I picked up my banjo and started to play

And the people they started to cheer

They sang and they danced

As I played on and on

They had not been so happy in years

And the banjo grew louder and louder to hear

And the earth and the waters did shake

And the singing grew louder, yes louder than hail

And the hills and the mountains did break

And the sky it went black and the earth it did crack

And it swallowed them up with a blink

And I stole all their money, and I stole all their gold

Without ever stopping to think

And now I am back in my place in the sun

Just me and all my machines

There is no one around and never a sound

And no one to tell where I’ve been

So I sit on the ground and I stare at the screens

And I know that the day will be long

So I count all my money, I count all my gold

For I know the price of a song


Review of “Wagnerism” by Alex Ross

February 19, 2021

“As an American ashamed of my country’s recent conduct on the international stage, I reflected that much devastation has been visited on the world since May 1945, and that very little of it has emanated from Germany. The endlessly relitigated case of Wagner makes wonder about the less fashionable question of how popular culture has participated in the politics and economics of American hegemony”

Alex Ross, page 658, “Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music”

Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” is a protest song. It’s an attack on war and imperialism from the point of view of one its’ victims: an ordinary joe shipped off to kill the oppressed and then thrown aside when he gets back home.

“Born in the USA” (the original recording) is also a fist pumping, chest beating, celebration that you can bawl your head off to in a huge room. It’s the “Star Spangled Banner” on steroids. What’s that exciting noise just before the fade? Gunfire? A rocket attack? A building collapsing?

So when Alex Ross asserts that Wagner’s Ring Cycle is an attack on lust for power and gold, I’ll take his word for it. But The Ring also gives its audience the opportunity to celebrate and vicariously experience that violence, lust and destruction. At a safe distance.

But Bruce Springsteen is a liberal, and a democrat with a small and a capital D. Wagner was a notorious anti-Semite, and an advocate of nationalism and revolution.

I don’t think we should judge the art of the past by the moral standards of the present. But Wagner’s racism and politics were well known, and condemned when he was alive.

Bruce is the boss. Your colleague, your co-worker, possibly even your friend.

Wagner is the Master. You can only be a slave to a master. Although there’s always a transgressive thrill in pretending to be a slave.

“Wagnerism” Alex Ross’s mammoth survey of Wagner’s influence on Western art and culture is, as you would expect from the author of the brilliant “The Rest is Noise”, rich with detail and accessible. It’s also disturbing and terrifying.

Like any decent human being would be, Ross is appalled by the many of the things he uncovers. But his ambiguous regard for Wagner’s music occasionally seems to blind him to some of the ironies in his own prose.

For example this quote on page 515:

“Many leading historians of the Third Reich are disinclined to take him (Hitler) at his word, and doubt that Wagner played a significant role in the dictator’s political development.”

Is followed on page 530 by this:

‘At the end of September 1923, Hitler arrived at Beyruth to speak at a “German Day” gathering. There… …he affirmed that the National Socialist Movement was “anchored in the works of Richard Wagner”‘

Clearly, Adolf Hitler is not a reliable expert on the Third Reich.

Similarly when at the very end of the book, Ross reports Donald Trump’s negative reaction to a performance of the Ring, it seems like he’s trying to get Wagner’s music off the hook. The point is not whether Trump likes Wagner, but whether Trump is like Wagner.

Let’s see what they have in common.

Good at building a personal brand – check.

Good at merchandising that brand – check

Trangressive – trashes norms of behaviour, breaks the rules, focuses on taboo subjects – check

Repeats the same things over and over (like a leitmotiv?) until his audience is transported – check

Human beings are very good at imagining their own destruction. How many Hollywood movies have you seen where you can enjoy the White House going up in flames? But humans also seem very bad at doing anything practical about avoiding that destruction.

This book provokes the thought that the destructive impulses captured in Wagner’s music are not just common in all humans, but are, at this point, out of control in both culture and politics.

Perhaps Wagner’s music marks the point where Western culture started to get too big, too large, too total, too global, too much. But in a period where the planet might go down in a flaming Gotterdammerung and an exTV presenter nearly brought down the US Government by encouraging an armed mob to riot, some of whom looked like extras from a bad opera, maybe we need to think harder about the consequences of our creative impulses and choices.

Before reading this book my attitude to Wagner’s music was one of hostile ignorance. Now I’m less ignorant. And a lot more hostile.


Merry Blogmas 2020!

December 12, 2020

So every year I write a kind of Christmas card on my blog.

This year words seem entirely inadequate. Too many words have been written about this dreadful year already.

So if you are reading this, I hope you are safe, healthy and well and you continue to all be those things in 2021.

Here’s some music.

Album of the year: “Strange Lights Over Garth Mountain” by Gwenifer Raymond

Gwenifer Raymond is now my favourite guitarist since Derek Bailey. On the start of the title track of this album she even sounds like Derek Bailey. A great record which should be listened to in full from start to finish.

Gig of the year: J Frisco at The Vortex club

On J Frisco’s website they are described as “avant guard jazz”.

What does that even mean in 2020?! They don’t sound like Ornette Coleman for sure. “Avant guard jazz” means “you might not like this as it gets noisy”.

But I like it when it gets noisy, and at the Vortex J Frisco were a reminder of the joy of what happens when good people make great music. You should listen to and buy their new album. This track sounds like Pere Ubu covering “Deep” by East 17.

(no one under under 40 will understand that last sentence).

J Frisco’s sax player Lara Jones is charming and was very nice to me this year so thanks very much to her.

I also enjoyed:

Angelica Garcia’s album of powerful modern latino pop “Cha Cha Palace”:

Bree Runway and Yung Baby Tate telling a tale. Revenge pop for the Instagram generation.

Damn Daniel

INDIE ROCK KINGS SHAME HAVE DROPPED A NEW TRACK AND IT’S A BANGER!”

My friend Jack made a video. He looks very well.

I made a lockdown album with my friend John. It was all good, but I liked this one particularly:

“Vortex”

I also listened to the Beatles a lot this year. I like them. They have fun.

Whoever you are, where ever you are, keep yourself well…


Weekend listening: “Abandoned Face Mask”

August 29, 2020

The title track of the forthcoming album:

DJ Southwold on organ. Thanks to him.


Weekend listening: “Reptile Brain”

August 22, 2020

A new genre is born: Spaceabilly!

Taken from the forthcoming album “Abandoned Face Mask”.


Weekend listening: summertime in a vortex

August 1, 2020

Taken from the forthcoming lock down album “Abandoned Face Mask”.

Thanks as always to DJ Southwold.

Sometimes it rains, sometimes it doesn’t…


Weekend listening: somewhere in Summertime #lockdown

July 4, 2020

My good friend John and I are working on a “lockdown” album. His guitar playing is very good. My contributions are variable but doing this is keeping me sane, so thanks to him.

Below are the latest 2 tracks:

And…


Weekend listening: “Hurricane Whatzername”

May 30, 2020

So have you ever had a song arrive in your head from nowhere?

Have you ever had a song arrive in your head that sounds like AC/DC?

No?

Must be just me then…

Thanks to DJ Southwold for some high quality guitar work contrasting with my rather ham fisted approach.

Rock on!


Weekend listening: “Spark”

May 2, 2020

DJ Southwold in top form here. Thanks to him.

#SoundCloud #np


Weekend listening: “Isolated Blues”

April 18, 2020

Art made at home. DJ Southwold has done a great job here.

With best wishes for anyone who may happen to listen.