Poetry and Me

I like many fiction books. I like many non-fiction books. I like books about music. I like some biography books. I’m not much keen on self help books. I don’t like romantic fiction. I don’t really like poetry books.

I like different forms of writing, different styles, be it more direct, simple description, or more embellished, a beautiful flow and tone, a rhythm to the language. With that in mind, I’m not really keen on poetry.

I like music, I love the sound of music first, but I often find lyrics I love as well. I like the rhyming couplets of Morrissey (especially his lyrics in the Smiths), but  also find something in the stories of Bruce Springsteen (check for example lyrics like, The River, or Highway patrolman). But I don’t find much enjoyment in Poetry.

Why is this? I’m well aware that the great Poets use language very well, that well chosen words evoke powerful or colourful images, or juxtaposed words invoke a particular emotion or context. I know the power it is supposed to have. I know it it is great to learn from, I don’t hate it, so why do I just, not like it?

I think it started all started on a wrong foot and went down from there. The image of some drippy fop lying on the grass with his jumper tied round his shoulders, notepad on his lap composing an ode the women he loves, but is afraid to talk to, well that didn’t represent my life. It didn’t look like anything from my life at all, nor what I wanted it to be. It kind of felt a bit, well a bit like my second point, a bit snobby. Poetry seemed albeit along time ago in my life, to be a bit upper class toff, a thing for the snobs. Once I learnt more about it, and how it is often viewed as the upper tier of writing, the correct way to use language, then that just reinforced it. And you may have learnt already what I feel about snobbishness in writing. Sure I would subsequently learn that the use of language is no bad thing, even if I don’t agree that it is necessarily the pinnacle of writing, but the pattern was set. It didn’t feel like a club I wanted to be a part of, it felt like something to avoid. It felt like too much hard work.

Well that was then and this is now. These days I’ve had a complete turn around and I cannot get enough of it. It is the best thing ever. – No hold on, it isn’t. When I read some poetry now, I can appreciate it more for what it is, as an art form, and I try and evaluate the use of language. I’ve softened on it a bit, but I wouldn’t say we’re common acquaintances. We might have a passing hello and a quick catch up to ask how life is, how things are going, but we wouldn’t hang out. When I start reading poetry, after a short while my eyes begin to droop. It’s like one of those lectures you might have to attend about something you need to know, but once the lecturer gets going, the presentation makes you want to sleep. Oh Poetry, why must you be so dull to me? Must I have to offer you something in return?

Perhaps I do. Let me give something to it and see what I can get in return. In a few days I may attempt on this here blog, some “simple” poetry. I think I shall start with some Haiku. It will be unplanned, from the top of my head, the opening draft. Feel free to pop by and see how poorly I do.

Lexicon word of the day: Circumlocution.

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The 10 favourite music albums ever

Todays post is not so much about writing and again, more about music. I like music lists. I like music polls. I don’t necessarily believe them, or agree with them, but I like to look. Sometimes I find they remind me of good or great albums I already have, or albums that have been over looked, and they make me want to play them again. They can validate your own choices, if you need that sort of thing, which I rarely do these days, or they can give you the opposite, and something to argue against. I love the year end “album of the year” polls. I love the “greatest albums of the …” type polls.

With that in mind, considering my own favourites, my own lists, whilst not something I do a lot, is an occasional fun, if not somewhat trivial exercise. Still, so what? It is occasionally fun. Whilst ranting about the Grammys the other day, I mused on my favourite albums of last year. Today I shall consider my favourite albums of all time. To clarify, this is my favourite albums of all time, not necessarily the albums I consider to be the greatest of all time, which may be both similar and different. So here goes, in order (album title – artist – year):

  1. Beaster – Sugar (1993)
  2. OK Computer – Radiohead (1997)
  3. Giant Steps – The Boo Radleys (1993)
  4. The Soft Bulletin – The Flaming Lips (1999)
  5. Radiator – Super Furry Animals (1997)
  6. Brighten the Corners – Pavement (1997)
  7. The Queen is dead – The Smiths (1986)
  8. The Holy Bible – The Manic Street Preachers (1994)
  9. Copper Blue – Sugar (1992)
  10. Parklife – Blur (1994)
With the following close calls:
  • In Utero – Nirvana (1993)
  • Hatful of Hollow – The Smiths (1984)
  • Back in Black – AC/DC (1980)
  • Star – Belly (1993)
  • Teenager of the Year – Frank Black (1994)
  • The Seldom Seen Kid – Elbow (2008)
  • Dark Side of The Moon – Pink Floyd (1973)
  • In Sides – Orbital (1996)
I realise you could debate what is counted as an album here given that my arguable all time favourite is essentially a mini-album or EP, plus just outside the top 10, “Hatful of Hollow” is a compilation of singles, b-sides, and BBC sessions (and is better than the actual debut album), but for me they are included. I would exclude compilations that either contain more than one artist (not including the main artist plus guest), or compilations of hits, singles or similar. But that is just me. You or I can include what we want.
Also interesting to note is the years when the albums came out. Nine of the top ten came out in the nineties. These were my late teens to mid twenties, a time when generally speaking life was more fun. Actually I should rephrase that, over the last few years, my life is as much fun or mores than it was then. Back then it was a time of less responsibility, and of experiences that shaped the person that I am now. It is when I discovered much of the things I liked, and a time that is now, somewhat viewed through the mists of time, and the hazy glaze of nostalgia. This is not to say that there are not loads of albums I have gotten hold of in the last say, ten years, that are also fantastic, for there are plenty. The above list is just my favourites. A component of the criteria I suppose, is that they pass being a mere fashion, or album of the time, and continue to be there and “great” over a longer period of time, i.e. time shows the album to be just as good. That is why I have no choices from the last few years, they’re quite simply not old enough to be included yet. I’m not sure when that cut-off is exactly, it just needs to feel right. That is also demonstrated by the list not changing too much over time. About 5 to 10 years ago, the list was like this:
  1. Beaster – Sugar
  2. OK Computer – Radiohead
  3. Giant Steps – The Boo Radleys
  4. The Soft Bulletin – The Flaming Lips
  5. Radiator – Super Furry Animals
  6. Brighten the Corners – Pavement
  7. The Queen is dead – The Smiths
  8. The Holy Bible – The Manic Street Preachers
  9. Star – Belly
  10. Teenager of the Year – Frank Black

It is the last two which have changed. So I have some constant favourites. I could, I suppose, build a list of fifty or more although the order would get a little more disagreeable. It is a tough call in the top ten. The point with a longer list might be as much that something is included in it, more so than it’s rank in the list. I wish I hadn’t typed this idea now, I’m probably going to end up doing it. I am now kind of intrigued what might be included, how much of one artist and so on. On my iPod I have 35 days of music and this isn’t everything I own. Yes, I said iPod, there is too much space taken for my iPhone, – and that is kind of scary that iPod is starting to sound slightly out of date already. Although I prefer CD (I have a half decent stereo), and that sounds even more out of date, but i digress.

You can see my choices favour rock and pop more than dance music, only Orbital is near the top. That reflects my music collection at large. There is dance music (e.g. LCD Soundsystem as a recent favourite), and some hip hop, in there, but more of it is rock, pop, folk, alt-country, and things around the edges of that. I may post more on why I like some of the choices, in a later post. You may begin to see here why I like lists. It is the alternative viewpoint of looking at what I own, and they can give me some perspective on it. I like when they make me pick up something I haven’t played in a while and it is good all over again. I think you can tell I like music, a lot more than lists. What would your choices be?

Lexicon word of the day: mendacious.

Copper Blue 20 years old this summer

This past monday I was going to write some words on what Copper Blue by Bob Mould’s then band “Sugar” means to me, but I got distracted by the Grammys. It did have some relevance in the end, but it wasn’t what I was going to write about then. – Back in 1992 when I was finding out that I loved music, but was still finding out the beginnings of my taste, I would buy a variety of music magazines / music weeklies, often with a free cassette, so I could check out some tracks, and no doubt then, considered my music collection increased. These days I still buy Mojo magazine, but that point is distraction here. One such cassette from a magazine in those earlier times contained a track called “Changes” by a band I’d never heard of called Sugar. Back then there were lots of bands (especially Indie), that I had never heard of so it was nothing new in that regard. However “Changes” was one of those tracks that was different. It’s opening melody just stood out. It was guitar music but not like the hair metal or fret w*nking, of similar ilk to most eighties rock bands, nor was it the melodies of pop bands like the Smiths. This was a little more dirty sounding, a little more raw and basic (plus at this time I was still yet to hear Nirvana, which followed shortly after). But it felt real in a doable sense, and it rocked. So naturally I wanted to give the album a try.

At this time I owned little music, the indie scene was considered a little bit cool, and (this sounds completely daft now), you didn’t want to make any embarrassing mistakes buying the wrong album. Describing what music you were into was a bit like describing your personality then, although now I come to think of it I can usually tell what someone is into now and vice versa after spending a bit of time with them. Also I find it hard to buy an album after it has done big sales in the charts. It feels like everybody’s then, and not as personal, and that I’m buying it on everyone else’s recommendation and not my own. I want to eliminate most of the snobbishness in writing, but in some ways, I will always be a bit of a music snob. Ho hum.

So to cut a slight tangent off and get back to the point, I bought Copper blue. It was a good choice, didn’t hurt my “music coolness factor”, well actually it probably improved it (not that I was ever cool but you might see what I mean). I listened to it a lot. It was a bit punk, a bit melodic. The singer seemed to be putting a lot into it. It was part of the soundtrack to my college years. This music was real. I still don’t know what I mean exactly, by that. Tracks like “The act we act”, “Good Idea”, “If I can’t change your mind” all seemed to mean something to me, although perhaps as I would come to find out, a little different to what they meant to Bob. But this is how a good album works. It might not sound good at first, but it grows on you, then grows into you, so that it becomes a part of you. The songs become a part of your life, they soundtrack certain things, and remind you of certain things, both of which might be the same. This is what Copper Blue did to me. I still love playing it now of course, otherwise this post might be taking on a different meaning. It went on to become the NME’s best album in the year end poll for 1992, so it validated my pick, but also validated some of my choices in where my music tastes were going. I thought this was important at the time. Is it still now?

It occurs to me that I often find new music by reading the music press (or these days sites like Pitchfork). I’ve read so much of it over the years that I can usually tell by how an album is favoured across a few different publications whether it will be something I would like. This is aside from listening to it on the radio or online. In comparison the itunes / Amazon previews online rarely give me an indicator of this, perhaps because there is only song fragments and I need to listen a number of times. It may have been experiences such as the one with Copper Blue that provided the grounding for doing this, after all I don’t use it as the proverbial bible, but just a starting point. I’m beginning to think Copper Blue has more to answer for than I first thought.

I subsequently learned more Sugar, and about Bob mould (Sugar was essentially a Bob Mould band under a moniker). Bob had been a big influence in the punk scene as part of the band Husker Du, which was a lot rawer, and less melodic than Sugar, or even Bob’s solo material. Later in the nineties, Bob was outed as a gay man so there was the potential issue of the love / relationship songs being sung about another man rather than a woman. Was I bothered about this? Well no actually, and why should I be? I kind of figure that when a song is out there it can be about whoever. Plus relationships have the same underlying emotions regardless of whoever is involved, I’m secure enough in myself that I don’t have to have concerns it they happened to have been written about two men. The music was far too good for that anyway, and I’m also not a homophobic idiot.

Not too many months after Copper Blue came out, a six track mini-album called “Beaster” was released. This was much more raw, and a lot more emotional and cathartic for Bob, you could pretty much tell this from the vocals. These tracks it turned out, were also recorded at the Copper Blue sessions but deemed to intense for that album, so were released separately. I loved this even more. At a push I might even name it as my favourite album, even now. It was just brilliant, – noisy and intense, and at odds from a lot of other music I had been buying (I was likely getting into The Smiths at this point as well). It served as part Yin to the rest of it as Yang, if you want to view it like that, and to which I guess is partially true. It is also played less than Copper Blue. Beaster is a more intense experience and preserved as so by not playing it too often. Copper Blue, brilliant, a little more towards Pop, less intense, arguably Bob’s best album (and my second favourite of his). Incredibly, almost twenty years old (and I suppose with it, Beaster). It still sounds as fresh now, a brings back lots of memories of times long gone. Well that and some new ones. Still good see! – Bob will be playing the album in full, in San Francisco, on February 24th 2012, followed by some European dates.

Lexicon Word of the Day: Lollygag.