Monday, March 06, 2006

From Snow to Sand

To warm things up a bit, and for what it's worth, here's my desert island discs selection as requested/required by Lisa:

1: Death of the European, by the Three Johns, 12" vinyl version.

Somewhere deep in the feculent bowels of Special Branch's archives, there’s a photo of me with a tache, beard and homburg, sporting a shirt that reads, on the front, “U.S. Imperialist Running Dogs Out of Europe Now!” and on the reverse, “And Take Thatcher with You.” Never known for my sartorial elegance, I was wearing it at a rally protesting the U.S. bombing of Libya in 1986, the day after attending a Three Johns concert at The International club in Manchester, during which they had encouraged the audience to attend the rally.

Their exhortation that Friday night was followed by a performance of this song, a threnody for Europe, a protest against American cultural imperialism, a lament for what was lost as a consequence of cold war realpolitik, and, in its 12-inch vinyl version at full blast, the most amazing six minutes of visceral, pounding, throbbing, urgent rock I’ve ever heard.

This is the nearest thing to sex I’ve heard on vinyl (sex the way I do it anyway, which is probably a disastrous admission), from the initial slow thumping and John Hyatt’s hortatory “Big Mouth/Open Wide/Open Up Those Pearly Gates of Freedom” to the final, orgasmic crescendo and the subsequent, post-climactic melancholia perfectly encapsulated in John Wayne’s faltering statement of self-doubt, “Who am I working for this time?” repeated over and over and increasingly fractured, until a final, extended drawl brings the song to a close on a note of sadness and exhaustion. It’s the tune I want to have played as they lower me into the ground/shoot me into space/suck me up the hoover/feed me to the dog.

2: Memphis, Egypt, by the Mekons, from the album Rock and Roll.

"Destroy your safe and happy lives, before it is too late. The battles we fought were long and hard, just not to be consumed by rock and roll."

The early to mid-80s saw me working in a diecasting factory in Ancoats, making parts for gas cookers, washing machines, street lamps. A cruddy job but well-paid, and for someone still living at home, as I was, it meant wads of disposable cash. That, in turn, meant I was out clubbing every night, getting pissed out of my tree, and shagging anything that moved (if she/it/the band would let me). I was a one-man Me generation, justifying my hedonism and lack of consideration for others by regular appeal to The Book of Pleasures and The Revolution of Everyday Life. The second track on the Rock and Roll album, "Club Mekon," probably better encapsulates my attitudes and behaviour in those days: a decadent, sordid, cheery fin de siecle nihilism. This song, however, a paean to Herbert Marcuse and a call to arms for the anti-postmodern generation, just rocks. The sentiments mean a lot to me, but for pure exhilaration, and as opening tracks to albums go, I haven't heard it beaten yet.

3: Worlds in Collision, by Pere Ubu, from the album Worlds in Collision.

Okay, I am Greil Marcus. Sorry.

4: Holiday in Cambodia, by the Dead Kennedys, 12" vinyl.

My favourite anti-totalitarian left song. Used to play it first thing every morning at full volume just to put a spring in my step. Full of rage at the smugness of the left's condescension in supporting Third World national liberation movements in the belief that my enemy's enemy is my friend. Delightful.

5: Wild Mountain Berries, by Kelly Hogan, from the album Beneath the Country Underdog.

Also delightful, but in a very different way. I've been in love with Kelly Hogan's voice since I first heard it (and saw her) on the Bloodshot Records tour in Manchester. I could pick any track off this album, but this song presents her at her most free-spirited and wildest. Always makes me smile.

6: My Sister's Tiny Hands, by the Handsome Family, from the album Through the Trees.

"We came in this world together. Legs wrapped round each other. My cheek against my sister's, we were born like tangled vine. We lived along the river where the black clouds never lingered. The sunlight spread like honey in my sister's tiny hands. But, while picking sour apples in the wild waving grasses, sister stumbled in a briar and was bitten by a snake. Every creature casts a shadow under the sun's golden finger, but when the sun sinks past the waving grass, some shadows are dragged along. Alone, I took to drinking bottles of cheap whiskey and staggering through the back woods killing snakes with a sharpened stick. But, still I heard her laughing in those wild, waving grasses. Still her tiny hands went splashing at the river's sparkling shore. So, I took my rusty gas can and an old iron shovel. I set the woods to burning and choked the river up with stones."

This song always makes me laugh. The spitefulness and futility of the narrator's actions against inanimate nature, the massacre of snakes, the depth of his closeness to his sister. The standard heart-rending weirdness of the Handsomes; beautifully crafted, surreal, psychotic.

7: Dirty Old Town, by the Pogues, from the album Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash.

Salford, Ewan MacColl, Shane MacGowan. I know that factory, those gasworks, that girl. I kissed her in the pub doorway, though.

8: Paraffin Brain, by Eton Crop, 12" vinyl with A Bundle Of Bucks (For A Dead Dog Is A Bargain)

No, I'm not being wilfully obscure. Besides, this was originally a Nightingales song, so I claim the privilege of Brummie connections (there is such a thing, trust me).

If I ever have one regret in life, it will be not having seen Eton Crop live. They were meant to support the Three Johns in Manchester one night in 86 or 87, but their ferry from Holland was cancelled, and a local band, The Mud-Hutters, stood in for them. So, this is a sort of Nostalgie de Bou.


Any fellow Counagoans want to take up this challenge, too? It'll take up some space and show everyone how much groovier you are than I.


Martin said...

Ok. All those again but The Nightingales version.

Cheat! Cheat! Cheat! Cheat!

Martin said...

Off the top of my head and without explanations:
1.Set Out Running-Neko Case
2.Rainy Night in Soho-The Pogues
3.Sucker-Kevin Tihista's Red Terror
4.Try a Little Tenderness- Otis Redding
5.I Get the Sweetest Feeling-Jackie Wilson
7.Giant of Illinois-Handsome Family

John said...

Excellent choices. I wanted to stick in Mano Negra, Neko Case, and the Weddoes as well but ran out of space. Maybe Jose or Jordi can help out.

Martin said...

Griif's yer man for this. He has lists of songs burnt into his memory.

Reidski said...

great choice - I wanted to put California Uber Alles into my list but couldn't quite make the room for it

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Martin: if you add even the teensi-est commentary to your list I will happily post a link from within my collection point.

And Griff: I think there's a shout out for yours to come!

And John: that Handsome Family track somehow calls to mind "My Sister" by the Tindersticks...

Great list by the way: Greil Marcus indeed!

Bill said...

A hastily compiled list:

1. The Beach Boys, ‘God Only Knows’
The heartfelt lyric, the purity of Carl Wilson’s vocal, the unusual and sophisticated chord changes, the Bach-like interlude, the adventurous—as always, with Brian Wilson—orchestration: who else would combine French horn, harpsichord, accordion, twin flutes, home-made percussion, etc. in such a way?

2. Beethoven, ‘Symphony no. 5’
Enlightenment universality, optimism and humanism. The mad little melody in triplets in the first movement that makes me laugh and dance.

3. Tom Waits, ‘Somewhere’
Even in its original setting in West Side Story it’s achingly tragic and simultaneously full of utopian yearning, all intensified with the gruff tenderness of Waits’s singing, and a mournfully lush orchestra with solo trumpet.

4. Kool and the Gang, ‘Celebration’
Exactly what the title says—it’s a celebration, like all the best disco, of pure hedonism. What else is there to do on a desert island but to dance joyously? And disco music is the only music for dancing. Apart from that bit in the Beethoven. Subtle, intricate rhythms and rich, jazzy arrangements. I want this at my funeral.

5. Miles Davis and The Gil Evans Orchestra, ‘Bess, You Is My Woman Now’
Incredible subtle colours of Evans’s orchestrations, pierced through by Miles’s mournful variant on one of Gershwin’s most beautiful melodies (and he wrote many)—it’s somehow immensely sad despite the apparent ecstasy of new love. I wish I had the space to include more Gershwin, particularly the ‘Piano Concerto in F’. Especially the slow trumpet-and-piano blues of the second movement, which I sometimes imagine Miles doing a wonderful version of.

6. Ella Fitzgerald, ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’
Cole Porter’s witty lyric, passing from the wearied despair of the urban chic into exhilarated passion, with Ella’s effortlessly soaring voice carrying the brilliant pentuple internal rhymes of ‘FLYing too HIGH with some GUY in the SKY is my I-dea of nothing to do’ up to a melodic peak and down again. And her moving interpretations of Gershwin, too.

7. Chopin, ‘Fantasie-Impromptu in C# minor, Op. 66’
The first record I was ever given—when I was about 6 by my dad on an HMV 45 rpm—because I loved it so much. Passionate piano music—intense and fiery, then slow and lyrical, with touches of melancholy, and of unbelievable technical intricacy.

8. T. Rex, ‘Get It On’
Because it’s fun. A great riff, chugging with excitement and the mad faerypunk lyrics. It’s the only rock track I like really—that’s why there’s no punk and that among my choices. I used to have long ringlets like Bolan and I like the way he made sexual ambiguity trendy.

I’d also like Caetano Veloso, Robert Wyatt, Air, Debussy, Scott Walker, Kylie, Brian Eno, Chic, Dusty Springfield, Michael Jackson, Messiaen, Aretha Franklin, Motown, Stravinsky, Talking Heads, Grieg, Bjork, Goldfrapp, Dylan, Handsome Family, Hendrix, but I suppose the island would get a bit cluttered. I never really understood that rule—why eight?

Martin said...


It's usually ten but the other two are The Bible and Shakespeare's Sister.

John said...

I started reading that list from the top down, thinking, "Oh, Griff has responded," then I got to Beethoven and Kool & the Gang and thought, "Ah fuck, it's Bill."

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Cheers Bill, I'll add you to the listing: you make it 15!

BTW, John, yeah, I was a bit confused when I got to Kool & the Gang (it didn't chime with what I expected from Griff!)

jordi said...

OK, here's my list (in no particular order):

1. Ever fallen in love? - Buzzcocks
2. I wanna live my life - The Ramones
3. The Cutter - Echo & the Bunnymen
4. Days - The Kinks
5. Do you realize?? - The Flaming Lips
6. This charming man - The Smiths
7. Whole Wide World - Wreckless Eric
8. I'll be your mirror - Velvet Underground & Nico

Since this is more about songs that may have some significance in one's life than about bands I had to leave out some of my favourite groups, like Pixies, the Chameleons or the Go-Betweens. Oh, and I resisted the temptation to include Elvis Costello's (I don't want to go to) Chelsea. It came to my mind this week, for some reason...

Reidski said...

Apologies to everyone else on the blogosphere but ... jordi's list is the greatest list in the world ever ever ever and I'm soooo not exaggerating. Jordi is the greatest human being who has ever lived!

Fuck, people might think I'm drunk while writing this!

jordi said...

Wow, thank you very much for your comments reidski, but, certainly, you must have been drunk!

Reidski said...

Jordi, I was totally blootered (that means drunk in Scotland), but, looking at your list in the cold sober light of day, wow, it's stunning!

Martin said...

Jordi, you'll want to see The Flaming Lips in June then I take it?

jordi said...

Hi Reidski, well, thank you for your comments, I'm glad you like my list so much!
And, yes, Martin, I'll tick the Flaming Lips at the Primavera Sound program, saw them life in London some time ago and they were great!