What a Long Strange Trip it’s Been…

‘and in the end, the love you take
is equal to the love you make’

The Beatles ‘The End’

This is going to be The Last Post from me for the foreseeable future and I really want to talk a bit about music again, despite the fact that, yes, I know I’d promised something a little different for my next blog last time, but of course I’m nothing if not unreliable. So, in an effort to soften the blow of my final blathering I asked my friend Skip if he had anything interesting to share. He’s been writing various bits and pieces over the months with a view to putting together a children’s book of cautionary verse, but we all know he never finishes anything so I’ve managed to persuade him to release one poem to an unsuspecting world. Here follows the sad tale of a little chap who stood out from the rest of the little chaps around him. Suitable for children? You decide…

The Sad T(r)ail of Mollusc Boy

Mollusc boy was different from
The other kids in town
He kept his house upon his back
And always wore a frown
He had no legs to speak of
Just an elongated tail
And everywhere this strange boy went
He left a silver trail

He wandered ‘round the neighbourhood
On paving stones and walls
and left his slimy signature
Wherever he would crawl
His friends (of which there were but few)
Would say (to no avail)
‘please do not crawl across our floor
and leave your sticky trail!’

and so he grew and went away
to where the grass was greener
and got a job (surprised? I was!)
as a high-rise window cleaner
as he could stick to brick or wall
with ease, and lean right over
to polish glass with pail and mop –
for now he was in clover!

But nothing in this world can last
and changes they must come…
poor Mollusc Boy, he lost his job
and boy, was that boy glum
he slithered off into the night
and when the dawn appeared
they found him in a garden quiet
drowned in a pint of beer…

©Skip Cormack 2008. All rights of the author reserved. Please don’t copy or use any part of this without asking me or I’ll get upset and cry.

He’s a strange one, that Skip… anyway, back to music. I’ve only relatively recently realised the power of music. That’s a strange acknowledgement to make, I know, but true. I spent the greater part of my adult life involved in selling, producing and playing music, but always had a kind of selfish approach to it, in that it was just for me or my immediate circle of friends to understand how deeply a particular piece could affect an individual or a group. I scoffed at the statement at the time, but that tree-hugging yoghurt knitter Jon Anderson from Yes probably summed it up pretty well when he said in the booklet accompanying ‘Fragile’

‘Music’s chosen colours move the soul –
War music, Peace music, Love music,
We move to it all.’

As I type this I am listening to Cheb Khaled, the Algerian Rai singer, on my I-pod. I’m not really meant to be, as it should actually be John McLaughlin’s Shakti, but the guy from the CD shop put the wrong CD in the sleeve and… I now have to say, that more than twenty years on, Olaf Cowan, you were right. Olaf was a regular customer who was into all kinds of music, particularly folk and world music (though at that time it wasn’t even called world music) and would often try to get me to listen to some of the artists he liked (Khaled being one) to no avail, as I knew what I liked, and it certainly wasn’t some singer from North Africa who didn’t even sing in English… but I was wrong, and my narrow mind has at last expanded to recognise the worth of more than just skinny white kids with guitars (although they probably will always be my major musical influence).
Some final thoughts and recommendations then, before I fade into the sunset…
sunset… hmmm… I can think of two great contemporary songs about sunset… ‘The Consul at Sunset’, by Jack Bruce (which works in so many ways… bit of a genius, Mr. Bruce) and ‘Sunset’ from Roxy Music’s weary masterpiece, Stranded. The most perfect ennui song ever, bar none, with one of the most evocative opening lines of all time ‘oh, look at the sun, it’s all aglow… slow burning orb, sinking low…’. How I wish I could write like that. Sorry, that was a bit stream of consciousness wasn’t it? That’s how my mind is working at the moment, flitting from thought to thought just like a butterfly, alighting for just a moment then spiraling off into the blue.
Calexico’s new album ‘Carried to Dust’ is going to become a favourite; I can feel it in my bones. It’s low-key, and dusty, and hazy, Cormac McCarthy-ish and a real grower methinks. I love a few tracks off Elbow’s ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’, particularly the tracks ‘Mirrorball’ and ‘Grounds for Divorce’ where the album’s title originates. They really remind me of Gabriel-era Genesis, which is no bad thing round my ranch. Epic 45 have been a fixture in my ears for the last couple of months also – their album ‘May Your Heart Be The Map’ is just so evocative of a mythical English summer, all acoustic guitars and hazy samples and church bells and wispy vocals – mind pictures of dappled sunlight through green trees, combined with aural honey for the synapses. The US has responded by bestowing the Gabe Dixon Band, who summon up the ghosts of early Jackson Browne and ‘Madman/Tumbleweed’ era Elton, and wrap it in an album cover that is so 70’s, very American Gothic. I like them a great deal. As usual, there’s oodles (Is that a word? Must ask Skip..) of other stuff out there, but you’re all smart enough to figure that out.

Blogging is pretty much an egocentrical kind of thing, and I suppose I hadn’t thought too much about boredom levels, or levels of possible offence, or other things I should have been thinking of in any audience out there when I write these things. I probably basically just haven’t thought,full stop. I’m afraid I’m totally incapable of writing the diary type of thing that a blog should be, so I’ve decided to knock this on the head for the foreseeable future. For those who are wondering, day to day life is probably pretty much like yours at the moment. We just muddle along, getting things right and wrong and steering a middle path most of the time.

It’s been fun being Lost in Space – maybe one day I’ll fire up the supersonic rocket ship engines and get lost again. Until then, thank you so much for your support, you cyberspace friends out there.

‘ If you have a revolution, do it for fun.’

Goodbye, and may your God go with you.

James

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The consul at sunset

Graythorpe stepped down from the covered shelter of the gangplank and into the midday furnace, blinking the sweat from his eyes as he struggled to set down his bulky leather portmanteau whilst rummaging in sundry pockets for the crumpled rag he termed his handkerchief. The dense wall of heat was suffocating, and he panted for breath as he searched frantically for the cotton square to mop the stinging liquid from his eyes and face.

Found! A triumphant flourish and flick, off with his wire-rimmed spectacles and then he buried his sweat-streaked visage in the grubby off-white material, gasping, snuffling, snorting, before emerging ruddy cheeked and surprised moments later.

Surprised…

Surprised at the tall thin shadow that now stood between him and the blazing shimmer of the sun, its edges seeming to blur and undulate like the rippling outline of a mirage. One bead of sweat burned unchecked into his eyeball and as he winced in acute discomfort the shadow stepped forward and took form. Blinking rapidly, Graythorpe stared nervously up at the immaculately dressed gentleman before him.

‘You are, I presume, Mr. Graythorpe?’ The voice was peculiar, not deep, nor fluting, but pitched between. To Graythorpe it seemed… well… almost natural. Natural in the sense of nature, as of the bubble and gossip of a stream over pebbles, or the busy rustling of crisp autumn leaves in a swirling eddy of wind. These fleeting thoughts briefly comforted him in the baking swelter of that dockside, and then almost as soon as they slipped from his mind he became aware that he was now in shade. The tall man had opened a large bright yellow umbrella which he held delicately in his white bony fingers above them. Graythorpe was astonished that time now seemed stilled, and that an inordinate amount of it had passed without a reply from him to the tall man’s question.

He cleared his throat and spoke ‘I – I am indeed. And you sir?’
“I, sir, am the Count’s aide. He has sent me here to assist you in your passage. Welcome to Cambodia. Now, if you would please come with me…’

Graythorpe felt himself move forward as if he were doing so outwith his own control. He picked up his portmanteau easily, and flowed alongside the tall man in the direction of a black motor taxi parked a few metres from the dockside. The umbrella seemed to shield them from much more than the intense heat of the noon sun. It seemed to create a vortex around them, and Graythorpe realized he had not been aware of his surroundings or the few people moving through the stifling day as everything seemed blurred or distorted, as if in a peculiar drunken haze.

In the cool of the taxi he took stock of his surroundings and in particular of his strange companion. He had not even been aware of his portmanteau being placed in the boot of the vehicle, and he puzzled further that the air in this rear compartment, shielded from the driver by darkened glass, was chill. There came no sound or indication of ventilation device…

The tall gentleman was stooped slightly in his seat, and the manner in which he inclined his head toward Graythorpe made his appearance more angular than he had first noticed. The man’s face was pale – deathly pale, Graythorpe realized, giving an involuntary shudder as he did so. The man turned his limpid gaze on Graythorpe and spoke again.

‘ I trust you have the information the Count requested?’
‘My dear sir, please be assured that I have all the Count requested with me and It will be my pleasure to convey this to him in person. Pray tell me, what manner of man is your employer?’

The tall man seemed to laugh as he replied. “Manner of man? Manner of man indeed… that you will find out in time enough and you may well regret the asking. He is a very busy man, Mr. Graythorpe. He is a family man, which occupies much of his time, and he has divers additional interests… you are familiar with the I-Pod?’

The question took Graythorpe by surprise. ‘Why, yes of course I am sir. A boon to the traveler and a great solace to the lover of music. Your employer has one such device?’

“He has… my employer is very old, and he was a young man in the age of vinyl…’

Graythorpe felt an unaccountable terror seize at his heart as he heard these words. Now he began to sweat again, but this was a cold sweat. The man continued. ‘Now he wishes to be more acquaint with this wondrous digital age. He spends much time in his room…’ here he paused, and leaned toward his now terrified companion, so that the spectrally aqualine face almost touched him. ‘… downloading…’

At that word, Graythorpe felt the compartment begin to spin, his vision blurring and his consciousness slipping away into a swirling darkness he had never before known. As he slumped into the seat, the last sound he heard was the tall man rapping on the darkened glass and ordering the driver to take them ‘home’… but via Lucky Market…

Sorry for the protracted absence, dear reader, but I have been as busy as the Count with life, family and work. Oh, and ‘downloading’. I will try to be a better blogger, honest I will, but please forgive my occasional abstention. In the interim, the little O has now become a walkin’ talkin’ drummin’ BIG O (breaking the hearts of toddling baby girls all over Phnom Penh), poor Ani has had to become much more patient with both of us, the cost of living has shot through the pointy pagoda-style roof, the days are getting hotter, I played at being James Burke for the children of the International School, Easter was a welter of chocolate, Dave has returned to Cambodge and the Tuesday quiz, and coming up we have a Ukranian food and Vodka party (!), a flea market, I’m off to Laos to see UXO and things for a week with my boss, and then la famille Sutherland-Mathur are jetting off to Sri Lanka for a bit of a break over Khmer New Year. Whew! Keep watching the skies, and (this Lost in) Space. Hope you are all well and happy, it’s good to be back!

Listening to – The Word Podcast (men of a certain age will find this hugely entertaining and very funny); The Divine Comedy ‘Promenade’ (Hannon’s best, methinks); Goldfrapp new album (very Wicker-mannish); Jack Bruce ‘the consul at sunset’ (great song); Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66 (aye caramba!) and tons of other things.

Got slightly tipsy in the relocated Zeppelin Rock Bar last night (with Dave) and was delighted that owner Jun played Deep Purple ‘Flight of the Rat’ just for me. He even talked me into agreeing to play a solo gig there (ulp! Better start some serious practicing…). When I was about 16 that would have been my fantasy… over 1,000 vinyl LP’s and MY VERY OWN BAR to play them in… come to think of it, that still is my fantasy…

Goodnight, Vienna…

tons of sobs

Free were a truly great band, were they not? In the field of contemporary rock music (sound of large plug of partially-chewed tobacco being expectorated into highly resonant spitoon) we have become so used to digital sound and production with its exaggerated top end frequencies and the tendency of producers to strive for the totally polished and unreal sound that we have forgotten that the best music is often made from several people in a room playing off one another, circling each other like predatory cats planning the kill… and when it comes together… yes!
Free were the masters of space – not space the final frontier, but space the… well, space the space between us all. Absolute epitome of the oft quoted dictum, it’s not what ya play, it’s what ya don’t play, they knew when to lean back and simply let the atoms and molecules hum along. When in the yUK I bought the soundtrack to ‘Life on Mars’, which contains a more than fair smattering of classic 70’s tracks. Of course they are remastered, which means that every cymbal ping slices the eardrum like a Mach 3 Turbo Extra Plus Superglide or-whatever-the-hell-it-is slashes through the morning stubble (legs or face, whatever fits the bill, ladies or gents), but the sheer quality of the source material transcends the modern Frankenstein studio mangling. Sitting in amongst the many gems (Lindisfarne – ‘Meet Me On The Corner’ – more genuine warmth than your grannie’s hotplate when she was making griddle (or, as we used to say in Caithness, girdle) scones) is ‘Little Bit of Love’ by Free. Critics say that Free were past their best by then, but Pshaw! What do critics know? Get a hold of it (preferably on vinyl) and listen… listen to the sound of mastery of space – every note counts, every note in its right place… and Andy Fraser… he’s up there with the Jack Bruce’s, Paul McCartney’s and Raymond Henderson’s of this world – what a bass player! Most of the track HE DOES NOT EVEN PLAY! I’m even inclined to forgive Paul Rogers for hanging out with Queen and Paul Kossof for dying young. Simon Kirke’s drumming has that lazy 60’s just behind the beat feel down pat (and this was the 70’s, natch!), someone (probably Rabbit) remembers to occasionally hit a piano in the same key and the whole earmelting liquid gold that oozes from the speakers just wants to make me rush out into the street wearing an ‘I’m with Stupid’ T-shirt and a pair of frayed 28-inch bottom loon pants. Yeah!

(but what would the monks say…)

I’m going through a re-evaluation of who and where I am musically (don’t worry world, this is only taking place inside my own head) – I was astonished the other night when Otis (7 months and crawling/standing now – look out civilisation, your end is nigh!) and I were watching the Cream reunion DVD – what an exciting life we expats lead! – he sat absolutely transfixed by 7 minutes or so of Ginger Baker’s drum solo… something I confess I find slightly hard to do even now… but sometimes, as the Byrds say, it’s really worth Goin’ Back…
regular readers can probably expect to find more of this ‘pointless nostalgia’ in the weeks and months to come, but for now, well, you’ll have to excuse me for a few minutes (or one side of an LP) for I feel a psychedelic twelve-bar improvisation coming on…

Things to set the scene:

Cheesecloth Shirt
denim loons
army/navy greatcoat
patchouli oil
pewter pendant
t-shirt with scoop neck and bell sleeves, with mushroom print
afghan jacket

all the above could be purchased at Lorna Humphries wee hippy shop, next to George Downie’s, High street, Thurso… but only in the 70’s…

soundtrack… Bodie and Leo and Paranoya (those who know will know…)

more next time, maybe…