Saturday, 25 December 2010

Music for (your) pleasure, a Christmas bonus

Most Christmases, I send out a CD compilation of Christmas (etc) tracks. This year, I decided to go fully electronic and distribute it via Dropbox. If you're on my blogmail list you should have had a link message. If not email me (or leave a comment) and I'll link you up . . .

Whichever, whatever, here is the tracklist for the seasonal compilation, name of Christmash . . .

1 Santa Claus Is Coming to Town Bill Evans

2 Swinging For Christmas (Boppin' for Santa) Tom Archia

3 Gin For Christmas Lionel Hampton

4 Christmas Swing Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli

5 The Christmas Song Dexter Gordon

6 The Christmas Song Vince Guaraldi

7 Santa Claus Is Coming To Town Paul Bley

8 White Christmas Bobby Timmons

9 Winter Wonderland Bobby Timmons

10 White Christmas Earl Hines

11 Winter Wonderland Chet Baker

12 Winter Wonderland Allen Toussaint

13 Jingle Bells New Birth Brass Band

14 Jingle Bells Featuring Ed Calle, Arturo Sandoval And Jim G

15 The Christmas Song Gene Ammons

16 My Little Drum Vince Guaraldi

17 We Three Kings Of Orient Are Sergio Salvatore

18 O Tannenbaum (Oh Christmas Tree) Jesse Davis

Next up That long-promised next part of le comte de M Lacan and le con de Courbet

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Music for your pleasure, number seven

Finally, in this short series of my Theme Time Radio Hour writing, is something I wrote for the Ace magazine about the second volume in the series . . .

Imagine, for a moment, that you've lost your entire memory. You've forgotten everything you once knew about life and the world. Or maybe you're a Martian in possession of a good spaceship and in want of a wife on Earth.

In either case, imagine further that you are handed a copy of Theme Time Radio Hour with your host, Bob Dylan - Session 2 and told: let this be your guide. How will you do? What will you learn about life, love and the world? Will its 49-tracks - from many decades, places and genres - teach you enough to strike out on your own?

Saul Steinberg's famous New Yorker cover (March 29, 1976) imagined the 'View of the World from 9th Avenue' - that is, through the psychogeographical prism of uptown westsiders. The partiality of its vision is its truth. Here we have something similar: a View of the World from Studio B of the Abernathy Building. (Call me sceptic but I do sometimes wonder if that location actually has a zip code or phone number.)

What do you learn if you let Bob Dylan show you how the world looks out of that studio window? And how might that partial view measure up in practical terms? How much useful information will it give you about the physical and psychological environment of that big world out there that is currently a total blank to your cerebral cortex? (I'm guessing a little here, to be honest, about the details of Martian brain structure.)

Here is what I reckon you'd learn. Some of it, anyway - even the best of guide books leave you work of your own to do. Think of this as a top ten fact about the world as viewed from the Abernathy.

1. Human beings like to have sex with each other - and with each other's partners. This causes problems, sometimes to the point of violence (Loretta Lynn's Fist City), murder even (Porter Waggoner's Cold Hard Facts of Life).

2. Love is a complicated thing (Laura Lee's Separation Line, Jo-El Sonnier's Tear-Stained Letter, James Brown's Three Hearts In a Tangle, BB King's Walkin Dr Bill, The Dirtbombs' Your Love Belongs Under a Rock, Lucinda Williams' Changed The Lock).

3. Chickens have a special significance, particularly at celebratory events (Wanda Jackson's Let's Have A Party). They also choose to spent at least part of their time in trees (Mississippi John Hurt's The Chicken).

4. The French pass their early mornings pondering whether to wear a red or a blue sweater. Or, to be more specific, that's how young Franco-Tunisian women of the mid-1960s spent the first part of the day (Jacqueline Taïeb's 7 Heures du matin).

5. Cigarettes are both a central fact of night-time life and a contra-indicator to marital stability (Joe Maphis and Rose Lee's Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and Loud, Loud Music, Red Ingle's Cigareets, Whusky and Wild Wild Women).

6. People change their names, sometimes to somewhat silly ones (Sun Ra's Rocket Nine Takes Off For The Planet Venus, Swamp Dogg's Sam Stone).

7. Inter-generational conflict has an inevitable quality to it but it is also one which changed somewhat in the late 1950s (Mose Allison's Young Man's Blues).

8. If you're after bagging a big, stripy cat or two in the subcontinent, you could pick worse guides than the man from Toronto whose starlight years were the two in the mid-1920s that he spent working in an alcove of the New Princes Restaurant, Piccadilly (Hal Swain and his Band's Hunting Tigers Out in India).

9. Women are human beings of many parts, not all of them always the ones they were born with (Archibald's She's Scattered Everywhere).

10. When it comes to satisfying a man, you should not underestimate the attractions of a limp wrist (Charlie Feather's One Hand Loose).

Frankly, as catechisms go, I've come across worse guides to the many meanings of life, love and chickens.

Next up I finally get back to M Lacan and the comte d'un con

Monday, 20 December 2010

Music for (your) pleasure, number six

And here is something general that I wrote for the first Theme Time Radio Hour compilation . . .

What, I wonder, do we dream of when we dream of Bob Dylan? And, more intriguingly, what does Bob Dylan dream of when he dreams of us?

This is what I think: he dreams of a small boy called Robert who lives in a small city, an industrial centre in a rural landscape. It's a nowhere town that was once called Alice but had its name changed when an enormous hole was dug where its new name used to be. That giant hole was - and still is - the biggest of its kind in the world, an open-cast iron mine.

It's a place that seems to doze on the periphery but is, in fact, also surprisingly at the heart of things. When Robert was growing up, it had the most lavishly appointed high school auditorium in the whole country. He played there, in a rock and roll band.

It's the head point for the drainages to three great seas, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. Swim up any of the great rivers of the eastern United States (Canada, too) and it's where you'll end up, like a salmon returning to spawn.

It's where the Greyhound Bus company was founded and headquartered for many years. It sits between the two great spinal cords of the continent - to the west, the eternal geographical one, the Mississippi River, to the east, the old national one, Highway 61.

Here, young Robert took in all the musics that swam to him up all those rivers, that spilled out of all those long-haul buses, that drifted up the great natural wonder that the Cheyenne called Big Greasy River - and the first European to see it called the River of the Holy Ghost.

Blues and folk and country and R&B, that's what Robert's dreams were made of. And I think he had a dream of a radio dee-jay out there somewhere, distant enough to be mythic, close enough to be real. This dee-jay would play records for Robert and his imaginary friends. He'd link song with song, mixing and matching and combining and recombining them. It'd be a bridal outfit of a radio show: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. And the dee-jay would tell stories to go with the songs: about them, inspired by them, around them.

In dreams begin responsibilities, wrote Delmore Schwartz, poet, drunk, Lou Reed's teacher. And so Robert eventually became his own dream, hosting Theme Time Radio Hour, week in, week out. Last time, I looked there had been 69 shows. I've got them all in my iTunes and so, whenever I shuffle-play, I'll always hear Bob Dylan's voice, reading me a Robert Frost poem or making one of those wry digs he makes every time he plays a Beatles track. It's strange: one of the most elusive of performers now shares his thoughts with me on an almost daily basis.

Theme Time Radio Hour is the mix-tapes collection we've all dreamed of making. It's both a taxonomy and a topography of 20th century popular musics. Not all of them, it's true. There's no Charles Trenet, say. No Abba, either. But Grandpa Jones is there. Jack Teagarden, Charles Mingus, the Donays and the White Stripes, too. The show is always as happy to let songs collide and divorce as it is following them up the aisle or encouraging them to cuddle up in bed together.

Dylan (and his collaborators, I guess) approach 20th century pop the way 18th century naturalists figured out how tomatoes are related to tobacco and where swallows go to in the winter. Making sense of things nearly always involves categorising them somehow.

As these things do, it started with life's basics, things like Weather, Mother, Father. And it's pretty much stuck with the everyday: School, Sleep, Food, Tears. It's addressed life's two great certainties, Death and Taxes - though not yet the third, Nurses. It's travelled a bit: Tennessee, New York. It's even found space for a little product placement: Cadillac.

Roger Armstrong (and his collaborators, I should imagine) have taken this great, ongoing taxonomic and topographic project and refined it down into an elegant precis of the original. A taxonomy of a taxonomy, a topography of a topography. I found myself thinking about something I was told only recently: that any chip of any diamond will always be a mini-version of the whole diamond, a microcosm of all its glories.

So this double CD, too, takes and shakes the everyday world, raising all kinds of new questions and notions along the way. Listen - carefully or lightly, or both - and you find new thoughts on something as old and universal as the Heart (show 41, Billie Holiday's Good Morning Heartache) or the potential erotogenic symbolism of Musical Instruments (show 37, Dinah Washington's Big Long Slidin' Thing) or the bibbity-bobbity relationship between family life, heredity and alcoholic Drink (show 3, Mary Gauthier's I Drink).

Then there's the two versions - one black, one white - of Pistol Packin' Mama (show 25, Guns). They got me thinking afresh about what really is one of pop's oddest megahits. It had a 15-year run as a scene-maker, from around the time the time the world went to war to the time Elvis went into the army. Maybe there's another song recorded by both Bing Crosby (plus Andrews Sisters) and Gene Vincent (plus Blue Caps). I never heard it.

If it weren't for the jauntiness and accordion of Al Dexter's original, I'd have realised long ago that it's a pop musical parallel to the same period's film noir, with the same anxieties about women's new place in a new world (and the bedroom). Personally, I see Joan Crawford in the lead, reprising her role in Mildred Pierce, only with a blam-blam-blam in every hand, as Dylan put it in John Wesley Harding.

A fast dance tune about sex and violence, drink, guns and girls that ends with the singer's murder. If you can't find your own dreams, schemes and themes in there somewhere, I doubt you're human.

Plus A little seasonal story-telling

Next up What does the world look like through Bob Dylan's eyes?