The music map of me, and you

(Image courtesy of Microsoft Clipart)

In most cultures around the world, in some way, our lives are linked to music. It might be through traditional songs that tell stories of our culture, it might be from songs in the music charts, it might be songs you hear on a tv show, or it might be songs used to stir emotions which on the surface might seem more primitive, but have a deep underlying resonance. Underlying this might be how we universally have an innate capability to understand music, and to distinguish different musical notes and tones, even if we understand none of it. “This is your brain on music” by Daniel Levitin is an excellent book on this subject, but that is a different blog piece. I’m interested on a different take, and in particular how it works in Western cultures.

Any excuse to mention this album again huh?

Much as songs are used in some cultures to document historical events, and passed on from generation to generation, Western cultures experience this in a different way. There is so much music around these days, and we get exposed to a lot of it. We might have similar interests in music, and have experienced different events with the same music, but all our experience will be different. If you were able to draw a map highlighting how music has impacted your life, you will see that certain songs or pieces of music link to certain events. It could be that you like a song a lot and use it at a significant life event such as a wedding, or it might just be that something was playing as something happened. I’m not talking about your favourite tracks necessarily, it might not be something you chose, or even like, but nevertheless, in some way it is linked. If you were able to somehow extract all these different songs and pieces of music, you would have a music map of you. It would need some translation, but I would hazard a guess that everyones map would be quite different, even if some destinations are shared. I wrote a short piece of fiction called “the unusual map” that began to explore this idea, which I published on the blog last week, however let me examine that idea further with some examples from my life.

In the early days of January 1994, I was in a branch of the long since departed UK music chain “Our Price”, actually one of the earliest casualties of music downloads, and approached a listening post. They had on several not big selling, but critical hits from the year before to listen to. One of these was “Giant Steps” from a band called The Boo Radleys. I had heard of the album, it being Select magazine, and the NME’s album of the year. I had not hear anything from it. I listened to first track “I hang suspended” and immediately knew it was for me. I bought the album. It subsequently soundtracked a significant part of college, and my first year of university, and is still one of my all time favourite albums. This one event however, had a big influence on where my music tastes went, and as regular readers know, I’m a big fan of music.

Sometime in the early 2000’s I was in a fast car with a good friend of mine. He was driving down country lanes at night far too fast. Don’t worry he said, I know these roads well. He has pretty much terrible taste in music. The track playing at the time was “Money for nothing” by Dire Straits, not a favourite of mine it has to be said. I was convinced as a music snob of varying degrees, that I was going to die an ironic death soundtracked to this. Thankfully we got home safe although every time I hear that track now it still reminds me of that drive.

I have an album I like a lot but by someone not really cool, which I call my guilty pleasure. I won’t tell you what that is, because I have a post about it soon.

Bunsen burner” a fun track by musics biggest failure (his words), John Ottway, was a nice live moment which myself and my then girlfriend, now wife, experienced at the half moon pub in Putney back in 2007. It was unexpected fun as we thought the gig would be crap, and still reminds us of those early days together and what seems quite a different time back in England.

“Changes” a track by Sugar I originally got in 1992 on a cassette from long dead UK music magazine “Vox”was incredibly significant in where my music tastes went, even more so than the Boo Radleys. The album the track came from “Copper Blue” was the first CD I ever bought, and one of my favourite all time albums. I heard this album played live by Bob Mould last week in its entirety which I loved. This cassette moment reminds me of my old walkman, some lazy times hiding in my bedroom at my parents house, a fun time in buying / reading the music press, as I discovered a lot of new things, and evenings this summer blasting the remastered version of the album through great headphones. That track and album lives with me.

Elbow’s beautiful track “One day like this” which has become a wedding favourite, was used as the money dance for my wedding. It obviously reminds me of that, actually one of my favourite parts of the wedding, but also of the times around it, and of leaving most of my family to move to the US. If you don’t know the track, take five minutes to check it out below. I’ll be surprised if you don’t like it.

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These are just a few of the destinations on what would be my music map. An alternative way of looking at your life and how it has been affected in some way by a small part of your culture. I hope you followed what I was getting at, maybe found the journey interesting, and hopefully made you think of some significant links in your life. If you have time, tell me below of a destination on your map, the track and how it relates to you.

On another occasion I think I might revisit the character from the short fiction and use him as part of a different story. But that is a different post.

Lexicon word of the day: distrain.

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Short Fiction – The unusual map

Two things changed my original idea for this Friday’s post. On Tuesday I went to see Bon Mould play in L.A. where he did a complete run through of the album “Copper Blue”, which he recorded under the band name “Sugar”. This album, one of my all time favorites, meant I was really looking forward to it. He also played some of the new album and a few other “oldies” of his. I had never seen him live before, I loved it. The band played really well. Hearing a complete run through of Copper Blue live was, well, worth the wait. For me anyway. It made me want to use it in some small way.

Last Tuesday night at the El Rey

My original idea for this post was to write another 100 word fiction. However the second thing that changed the post, was the idea of writing a short story to tie in with another post I am going to put up soon. I think the gig more tied in with doing that post, than this one. It is a post I thought of a few months back, but had not gotten round to write yet. More on that idea at the end. It was however, clear then that 100 words were not nearly enough for the short story. I think this one ended at 300+ words so it is still a short read, but way over the 100 word exercise. I did this in about 30 mins so apologies if it needs a few corrections.

The Unusual Map

In the moonlight, the Man stood for a moment, closed his eyes, and cast out his net. He took a deep breath, then with a flash of light, it began. For he was not a normal man, and this was not a net of rope and hole. He was what is known to some, as a net-caster. He who saw things in a different way. His cast, a net that could attract unusual maps and people. You might call these music maps if it helps you understand. They can tell you a lot about a person, their stories mostly, how these songs attach to people. These things being what he existed for.

A few seconds later, he withdrew to check if it was working, and to see if there were any bites. Already there were. Adjusting a frequency, like you might tune a radio, he found a track called “Changes” by a band called “Sugar”, and he found a young man attached to it. A rock band, a young man beginning to find his identity, nothing unusual there. Tapping a slender Index finger on his chin, the net-caster ran his eyes over the map. The young man was not young anymore, and there was much more to his story. He hung this map up on his review board. It would require more time and effort later. For now in his net, there was a map seemingly incomplete.

Louis Armstrong’s “Wonderful world” was a destination on many maps, yet this one very significant. A man called Lewis, 27 years old with bad ideas. He wanted to try many things once, odd things like jump from a plane, and attach this song as a soundtrack. One of these bad ideas was to enter a freeway exit the wrong way. To the net-caster this seemed especially strange as there did not seem to be a plan for how he might turn around again. As it turned out, there wasn’t. Lewis hit another car head on. As the map demonstrated “A wonderful world” linked to many of his daft ideas, his life events, to his end, and ironically, his funeral. Lady Gaga’s “Poker face” was the end for the two people he hit head on with his car. The net-caster did not know what to make of this. You often do not choose what fits on a map, but that is what it is.

The net-caster thought humans were strange sometimes. Like the way they describe the reflected light from the moon as cold.

The post this links to, or should I say will link to, is themed around how certain music tracks are linked to you, through certain events in your life. They may not always seem significant. They may not be things you would necessarily choose, but nevertheless they are there. You will hear the song, it puts you in a particular place. The post looks at this from the other side. I will likely put it up next friday.

Lexicon word of the day: oniochalasia.

 

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Some small thoughts on “routine” travel

I originally started writing this post on saturday where (at the time) I was about to start the post with the word “Yesterday”. What I actually meant was Thursday. To add further confusion I’m posting this days later to keep with my promise to myself, and my wife, of reducing my blog postings. It’s the foggy brain syndrome with travelling. So after starting on a tangent, albeit a relevant one, on thursday afternoon, I caught a flight from LAX to Heathrow in the UK. I’m not staying too long and on this trip, for various reasons, I’m travelling on my own. I’m going to miss my wife and son loads, but it is not for a long time. We are planning to visit as a family in a few more months. Incidentally, for those who asked about my son, he is much better, almost back to normal just a few remaining cough symptoms from time to time, and the odd blocked nose, but otherwise back to normal. So normal that Thursday began at 6.15 AM when he decided it was time to get up.

I didn’t need to be at the airport until 2.30 so we used the morning to pop out and do a few things. Over the last 5 years or so I have done the LA to London route many times, and it struck me how much of it has become routine, and how many routines surround it. It starts with packing a day or two early. I would often forget one or two things when packing so I realised that if I packed a day or two early, then I have time to remember what I’ve forgotten. It seems to work. I also pack my case a certain way. Always roll trousers and shirts. They can be put into the case around the edges working a bit like structural sections. But, having lived out of a suitcase on numerous trips, they also make it easy to remove things and put things back again, without disrupting the whole case.

I’m not superstitious, but I like to wear the same t-shirt when travelling. We have had some good trips in the past, so it is like having an old friend there.

At around 2.30 I got to the airport. We always use the quick drop off to avoid long winded goodbyes. I always use online check in so I can reserve a seat and quicken the bag drop off. Security at LAX (through terminal 3) now involves the body scan. I don’t much care if it appears intrusive, the person at the scanner will see thousands a day. I cannot see how it would be more intrusive than my wife’s gynaecologist, and she has to have a conversation with that person. I went through fine, almost forgetting to remove my sunglasses from my head, but it was ok to hold them. The guy in front got pulled aside, the look on his face as they swabbed his hand was priceless.

Once through security I have a small routine around getting a drink, where to sit to avoid being bothered too often, and when to use the bathroom before getting on the plane. The flight, around 10 hours give or take, can be boring so I try to mix it up with a few films, and reading, a glass of red wine with the meal, and some of my own snacks. I tried to avoid films that I might watch later with my wife so I watched “Warrior” and “Chronicle”, the former better than the latter. The book was the third Game of Thrones book “A storm of swords”. I couldn’t sleep on the plane. I gave it a go, but I couldn’t get comfortable, so I just had shut eye without the sleep.

At the other end the plane arrived on time. I had a bit of a wait for the suitcase, the downside of arriving early at the airport. First in, last out. The best bit was when I went through customs. I had a few gifts with me, but I went through “nothing to declare”. I immediately, and for the first time ever, got stopped by security who asked where I had come from. I misheard, and then with my foggy head, paused before answering. He asked to see my boarding pass, which was in my bag so I said I would have to find it, so he pulled me aside. I found the pass and he asked me to put my case on the desk. He said the classic “you have walked through nothing to declare, do you have anything to declare?”, I grinned and said no. He asked if he had my permission to look through my case. I decided to front it, unclipped the clip around the case, smiled again and said something along the lines of “help yourself mate”. He looked in one corner, spotting some chocolates, then the other corner under some clothes, and that was it! He smiled back and said I could go. Most of the gifts were in the middle. On the way out I spotted Michael Bisping (he is a British UFC fighter), I almost stopped to ask him when he was fighting again, and to wish him well, but I continued on my way. I’m not into celebrity spotting, I was more impressed with that.

I’m staying at my parents, who I usually try to talk to on the webcam at least once a week. We usually do this around 9.30 am pacific time, 5.30 pm UK time. My wife and I decided we would stick with this time so we could catch up after I arrived, and also for me to see my son. It was nice to see them and a bit odd given they had slept the night but it was still like the same day for me. We agreed to try do this again the following day. Later I recalled I was going to try to play a small round of golf the following morning so I said I might not be home in time. My wife asked if I will be playing until 5.30? In foggy brain state I got confused with the time and thought I would be going online at 9.30. Oops. Anyway I did make it to bed later that night, at around 11pm at the end of an almost 33 hour awake day. I did make it up at 7.15 the following morning for golf. I was rubbish at it. The rest of the routine worked though.

Oh also waiting for me when I got to my parents was a copy of Sugar’s re-released and expanded edition of their debut album “Copper Blue”, pictured below. Some readers may recall it is one of my favourite albums!

20 Years old in new remastered and expanded form – yay!

Lexicon word of the day: gomer.

The Grammys.

It’s not about the Grammys, but a small nod to this blog here (by Aly Hughes) which is in similar spirit to what I’m trying to do with writing lately, and has had to put up with a couple of my comments this past weekend.

I am not American, I am English, and I live in California. I’m not a big fan of the Grammys anymore than I am of the Brit awards, the English equivalent. For me they are an excuse for big mainstream acts, i.e. those which have sold a lot, to back slap each other and tell each other how great they are. It excludes plenty of bands who may do well critically, but for a variety of reasons, have not hit the interest of the public at large, and thus not had the sales. They are mostly flirting with acts I’m not overly thrilled at, with a token indie act pulled in as though to show they’re making an effort. This year see Bon Iver. For a comparison, here is a list of albums I really liked from last year (currently in order but the order may change over time) :

  • 10 Bill Callahan – Apocalypse
  • 09 Tom Waits – Bad As Me
  • 08 Washed Out – Within and Without
  • 07 White Denim – D
  • 06 St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
  • 05 The Horrors – Skying
  • 04 Elbow – Build a rocket
  • 03 Wilco – The Whole Love
  • 02 Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know
  • 01 PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

To add to that, you could say these ones where floating around the surface:

  • — Radiohead: The King Of Limbs
  • — Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
  • — Arctic Monkeys – Suck It And See
  • — Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
  • — Drive-By Truckers – Go-Go Boots
  • — My Morning Jacket – Circuital
  • — Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
  • — Kurt Vile – Smoke Rings For My Halo
  • — Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow
  • — Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
  • — Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
  • — The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

So I say compare this with the Grammys. See what I mean? Now I’ve nothing against Adele, she is very good, but not really for me, so well done to her. The Foo fighters I like but I’ve not listened to that one much so it is not on my list above (yet). The rest, I cannot even remember even though I watched the tv coverage! However that said, the live performances are often decent. The highlights for me:

  • Bruce Springsteen opening.
  • The Beach boys reunion. Brian Wilson kind of looks like an old man let out for the day who is not entirely sure where he is, or what he is doing, but thinks he ought to soldier on anyway. – Still it was great to see.
  • Adele’s live performance. Good return from surgery, knocked that one out.
  • Paul Mccartney’s finale with the “guitar off”. It put me in mind of the “Base off” that Spinal tap did at (I think) Live 8. It was clear that Dave Grohl & Bruce Springsteen were really enjoying themselves, although I think the latter broke a guitar string. That shines through and was fun to watch. I liked the bit where Paul sang at the end but Dave was still in shot over his shoulder and singing along as though it was him on the mike. This for me is a little of what music is about.

I suppose I should mention Whitney Houston. Not a fave of mine it has to be said, although she was an incredible vocalist. I could have done without the prayer at the beginning but no big deal. I suppose they treated the scenario in a dignified way without going too much over the top. However if this had happened a few months back, I cannot help think that she would have been little more than included in the “those lost” section with Amy Winehouse et al, and a song tribute would not have been necessary. It is only as it was the big news item the night before (and likely for the next few days) that it was felt as needed to be dealt with here

So no PJ Harvey even mentioned at the Grammys or no Wilco either. I’m not sure what the cut-off is for inclusion (and quite frankly have no wish to look it up right now). I saw Wilco live a few weeks ago, they are fantastic right now, playing like a band who know each other and are comfortable together.

I was going to write about the album “Copper blue” by Sugar, twenty years old this summer today. I will do that another day. A great album, and Bob Mould is a music legend. He demonstrates my point about the Grammys too, in that in music circles he is a legend for what he has done / written, but as never a big seller, is not part of that club. It is almost like he might not have existed, where to us who are fans, he means a lot more than many of the forgettable acts who have appeared on the Grammys over the years (This year Chris Brown, however much you try, I’m talking about you).

N.B. 2 PM update. I remembered earlier something I forgot to mention about token indie act Bon Iver. He won best new act – for his second album under this monicker. His first album was a critical hit although not a big seller. Why is that best new act? Are they referring to breakthrough, as in sales?

Lexicon word of the day: Mountebank.