‘Larks Tongues in Aspic?….

Don’t mind if I do, thanks…’

A famous philosopher once said ‘life is like a box of chocolates’. Ergo, so must be music, (for many) an integral part of life…. on first impressions it can seem soft, hard, sweet, tart, chewy, or can melt like just like liquid in your ears. It also contains a (dangerously?) high proportion of nuts. However, it also leaves an impression, an aftertaste, that with the best also leads to craving more… Looking back on the selection of treats on offer in 2011, here are some of my personal highlights – my artists of the year, who induced in me those ‘I like it I like it I like it !’ goosebumps with their art… and, left me wanting, yes, more…

Amy LaVere, double bass wielding belle whose Southern gothic Lynchian meditations were iced with some outstanding surf noir guitarwork

Fatoumata Diawara, music as beautiful, addictive, hypnotic and mysterious as any I have heard

Gillian Welch, as unique and timeless as ever

Wilco, storming back on their new label with what may well prove to be their definitive album

Mountain Man, sounding as old as the hills themselves, this female trio sent many a chill through my psyche with their otherworldy harmonies

Tom Waits, still ornery as hell and as slippery and gifted as ‘ol Springheel Jack himself, ornate crazy blues with fellow old jackal Keith Richards along for the ride

Jonathan Wilson, long hair/Topanga Canyon/Bob Harris/Jackson Browne/David Crosby are just some of the touchstones in his work, but the end result is uniquely his

Josh T Pearson, a truly stunning solo album ten years on from Lift To Experience

Other highlights and Honorable Mentions go to Edwyn Collins, continuing to astound in his recovery, with an amazing work rate not just as a writer/performer whose work is getting even better with each release, but also now as label boss (and often production chair)of the very wonderful AED Records, and indeed the AED singles and albums, particularly Linden & Rotifer, to Thomas Dolby (I rediscovered the chillingly beauteous ‘Airwaves’), Richmond Fontaine’s ‘High Country’, The Civil Wars, The Click Five live at Mith Samlanh , Colorama, and for rebooting my powerpop years the Japanese reissues on 1977 Records of my old band’s Radio City single and album-that-never-was, Sigur Ros with the atmospheric end of era ‘Inni’, the righteous racket that was the Jim Jones Revue, Rolling Stones live stuff from the early 70’s (Brussels Affair) and the ‘Some Girls’ reissue, Kurt Vile & co-conspirators the War on Drugs…

… and of course, there’s more, much more, where those came from…

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19th Nervous Breakdown

My goodness, The Rolling Stones are getting on a bit, aren’t they? Mr. Jagger is fast approaching his 65th birthday and lithe and lissome in performance he may well still be but he now looks, well, frankly… old. Very old. I was looking at some of the publicity pics for the new Martin Scorsese movie, ‘Shine A Light’, which documents in a ‘Last Waltz-ish’ manner an intimate (by their standards) Stones gig in 2006 at the Beacon Theatre in New York and lumme! Charlie looks younger than Mick and Keith! Ronnie is, well, very much the new boy (after nearly 30 years!) and still resembles an animatronic guitar playin’ crow. However, by all accounts, from critics young and old, the film is a revelation, stripping the old rockers of their stadium pretensions and letting them explore and inhabit their incredible songs, that mythic English take on the blues, nurtured in the Dartford delta and filtered through the expanding consciousness of 1960’s youth culture. I shall very much look forward to seeing it, and kudos to them for refusing the anti-ageing benefits of the surgeon’s knife…

Yet more Stones. I recently rediscovered (Thank you I-Pod! Thank you Ani!) ‘Exile on Main Street’, pretty much the bee’s knee’s of their recorded oeuvre, which led me to then revisit one of their great lost albums, the much maligned ‘Goats Head Soup’. I find it pretty hard to have a favourite Stones album as that honour changes according to the mood I’m in, but I would have to say that if push came to shove etc, etc, I would probably grab ‘Goats’ (and ‘Exile’… oh, and pass me ‘Let it Bleed’, thanks!) as I leapt for the lifeboats as my boat went down. Critics dismissed it as a rag-bag of half baked ideas that pales against its immediate illustrious predecessor, but as I recall they didn’t much like that at the time either. I was sick (German Measles, as I recall) the day ‘Goats Head Soup’ was released, a late August Monday in 1973, so dispatched my long-suffering dad to the record shop to buy it and Alice Cooper’s ‘Muscle of Love’. He was secretly very amused by Alice Cooper, and had shown (for him) an inordinate amount of interest in the ‘Killer’ album (‘She’s a bit rough looking, isn’t she? I’d hang myself too if I heard a racket like that all the time..’ etc etc) I would love to be able to chew the fat with him now on our diverse musical tastes… we had so much more in common than either of us would admit to. Big Tom and the Mainliners, anyone? I remember that no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get track one side two (‘Silver Train’) to play without skipping (even with a couple of pennies sellotaped to the tone arm) so when I finally got the album on CD about ten years ago it took me weeks to get used to the version without the jumps… aaah, the joy of vinyl. The sleeve insert was also a pretty gruesome picture of a cauldron of the aforesaid soup, and included some sepia tinted photographs of the Stones and entourage… come to think of it, it wasn’t the best outer sleeve of a Stone’s album either (‘oh, gawd, do we ‘ave to ‘ave our pictures taken? Soft focus? Awlright lets wrap our ‘eads in some yellow chiffon. Yeah, that’s what I said – chiffon…c’mon Charlie, smile fawgawdsakes!’) but the music, the music was simply excellent. Adventurous, well played, and covering so many of the sonic bases they had touched as they hurtled through the 60’s, yet the album is still remembered by most as the spawning ground of ‘Angie’, which critics largely ridiculed as the Stones going ‘soft’…

I have to say that ‘Angie’ is not my favourite track by any stretch – it’s very pretty, and hearkens back to the ‘As Tears Go By’ baroque pop that they did so well in the 60’s, and it has a chord sequence that is a joy to play on the acoustic guitar (muso alert!), but it is rather… how can I say this without being too dismissive… fluffy. Yes, fluffy. There. Now, that’s that out of the way, lets carry on. The rest is pretty much a joy all the way. Mostly recorded in Kingston, Jamaica, the influence of reggae is all over the album. I’m sorry, that’s a lie. Reggae doesn’t really bubble to the musical surface until the next album, ‘it’s only Rock ‘n’ Roll’, but the feel, the laid back ambiance that they were recording in permeates the grooves. It’s a sticky, lazy feel, right from the drawn out spindly voodoo guitars and clavinet of ‘Dancing with Mr. D’ that opens to the Chuck Berry-behind-the-beat-isms of ‘Star Star’ that close side two. There’s the hazy shimmer of ‘Can You Feel The Music’ drawing us back into the summer of Satanic Majesty, the living in the city funkiness of ‘Heartbreaker’ and the ‘tour de force des arbres’ that is ‘100 Years Ago’, a song about a walk in the woods. Yes, you did read that correctly. The drugged up misogynists and cocaine jet setters wrote and performed a truly wonderful song about going for a walk in the woods. It also contains the immortal advice by which I seem to live my life… ‘don’cha think, it’s sometimes wise not to grow up…’ prophetic words from the Peter Pan of rock ‘n’ roll. The other ballads are also particularly stunning, ‘Winter’ is full of startlingly beautiful imagery where ‘the lights on all the Christmas trees go out’, ‘Coming Down Again’ sees Keith in tender mode and singing like the choirboy he was. Words don’t really do this album justice. If you don’t know it and have even a passing interest in the Rolling Stones, please seek out and listen. If you don’t like them, then nothing I think or say or write is going to change your mind.

Enough music for the moment, let us now turn our gaze onto… mental illness. Wah-hay! Now there’s an exciting subject… Ani tried to persuade me the other night that I should spend one valuable hour and twenty minutes of my life watching a movie called ‘Numb’. Starring Matthew Perry. Excuse me? Isn’t that…Chandler? From ‘Friends’? I leapt the banister and sprinted for the front door, but too late, the highly trained Dobermans positioned either side of the gate in the razor wire fencing surrounding our Phnom Penh estate snapped at my knee tendons and I sank to the ground sobbing. I was then dragged back into the house by our smiling but sadistic guard (you would be surprised at how much of this is true) strapped into a leather chair, wrists and ankles bound with straps, and my eyelids forced open with eyelash curlers (much as Alex in ‘A Clockwork Orange’, my Droogies…) before the aforesaid moving picture was played for me.

It’s actually really good and quite funny, if mental health issues can really be described as funny. It’s about facing the problem of ‘depersonalisation’, which apparently is now gaining acceptance as an actual mental condition. In essence, it’s the feeling that you are not really ‘there’, wherever ‘there’ may be, that you are somehow removed from your surroundings and are not ‘in’ your body, or as I like to call it (and I will not charge you $200 an hour for this diagnosis) ‘living in cloud cuckoo land’. A good example (here comes music again) would be the great David Byrne – ‘Once in a Lifetime’ exhibits all the traits that constitute the depersonalized (‘I ask myself – How did I get here?’). Sufferers tend to have particular obsessions and are not very good at interpersonal relationships. As I watched and laughed (inwardly – didn’t want to give A the impression I was actually enjoying this) it gradually dawned on me that there were many behavioural similarities between the character and me (oh no! I’m like Chandler from ‘Friends’ – I always thought I was more like a cross between Phoebe and Joey! Not that I ever watched it…). Next day I did a little more research on the internet and… yes, I’m ticking quite a few of those boxes… It is at once alarming to realize that I may well be suffering from this syndrome, as I often feel very removed from reality (or deliberately try and remove myself from reality) but strangely comforting that it seems I am clearly not alone. There are many, many of the depersonalised out there, living in strange lands and inside bodies that they do not really know or understand… The journey back should be very interesting…

Last words come (again) from someone who was comfortably numb long before it was fashionable.

‘It’s awfully considerate of you to think of me here
and I’m most obliged to you for m-making it clear
that I’m not here…

…and what exactly is a dream
…and what exactly is a joke?’

Syd Barrett ‘Jugband Blues’

Something In The Air

A little bit of extra craziness is in the Phnom Penh air at the moment. This Friday through Sunday the Water Festival takes place. Over 400 narrow rowing boats, the Dragon Boats, take part in races which start at the confluence of the three rivers, the Mekong, the Tonle Sap and the Tonle Bassac, and progress along the riverside of Phnom Penh finishing just opposite the Royal Palace. As the boats and contestants come from far and wide across the Kingdom, so to do the spectators – this year an estimated 2-3 million will quadruple the population of the central city and turn the streets in and around the centre into a riot of people, colour, music, food, fireworks, carnivals… that’s enough of that – that last section read like something from a bad travel guide and abjectly failed to convey the excitement of the festival, when throngs of people abandon their rural idyll to wend their colourful way… blah, blah and thrice blah. If you really want know about Water Festival, read or log on to the Lonely Planet Guide, which is MUCH better at that travel writing malarkey. However, it is true that the capital is reclaimed by the people for the week in which the festival falls, and of course we expats are issued with the usual dire warnings about the fate that will befall us if we venture out alone, so many of us head for the hills, or jet off for an expensive weekend in a high-rise luxury hotel or a weekend on the beach somewhere else in Asia. I hereby announce that my family and I (©Brenda Windsor, 2007) will forego that pleasure in order to get down in the ‘hood and hang out with our Khmer bro’s and sis’s. Or watch it on TV. This will be my third Water Festival, and I confess a time I love to mingle with the people and soak up the smells and sights of the provincial masses as they invade the relative calm of the capital (and close the roads to those blooming 4×4’s and Lexuses (Lexi?) that proliferate everywhere – hurrah!), but I will be sure to take care, as crime against foreigners seems to be on the increase in the city.

Let’s pause here for some gravity. Last week a young French woman died when she was struck by a minivan after falling from her moto taxi. Thieves on a speeding motorbike had tried to snatch her bag in the densely packed lunchtime traffic weaving down Monivong Boulevard, one of the main streets in the city. She resisted and apparently fell into the path of the oncoming traffic and was killed instantly. Even the normally measured (certainly in its choice of photo journalism) Phnom Penh Post ran a photo of her body sprawled in the street, with her handbag beside her, and of course no-one helping for fear of being implicated in her death. The perpetrators of the attempted crime, the driver of the minivan and the moto taxi driver who she was riding with had of course long departed the scene before the police arrived. And the police, ever aware of downplaying crime to keep their lives relatively easy, commented in their usual obliquely incredible fashion – ‘…it was obviously just a road traffic accident, not an attempted theft. The thieves did not even stop to grab her bag after she was killed.’ Duh?
So I shall take a bit more care when (if?) I wander out and about during the Festival, I promise.

I went on a bit of a minor DVD/CD splurge last week. I suppose that I have to recognize now that it isn’t just purely the obsessive love of music and movies that motivates me, but partly comfort. When I’m a little down, as I have been, then it’s a nice feeling to splash out a couple of dollars on something new, or something I’ve always meant to get. So, to avoid sinking this missive in more of the gloom and despondency that seems to be hanging around me and my keyboard of late, here is a print-out-and-throw-away guide to the interminably boring world of ‘things I have bought; why I have bought them, what I think of them, and why they could change your world for the better (or not) in my not-so-humble opinion.

• Rolling Stones CD ‘Through the vaults darkly’ – a great wee bootleg CD of rarities (including the very rude ‘Schoolboy Blues’ and a stonking (what a word!) version of ‘Brown Sugar’ featuring Eric Clapton on guitar. Forking out your $1.50 also gets you some bafflingly awful jams and for some inexplicable reason The Animals original single of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ amongst the Jagger/Richards treasure trove.
• ‘Bossa ’n’ Stones Vol 2’ CD – Yes! Bossa nova versions of such greats as ‘Honky Tonk Women’ and ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, perfect for that poolside cocktail party on those balmy evenings. Absolutely bonkers concept, brilliantly executed and performed without any passion or irony whatsoever, and real contender for CD of the year so far.
• Eagles ‘Long Road Out of Eden” CD – I will freely admit to having really liked mid-period Eagles (Desperado, On the Border, One Of These Nights), but pretty much loathed ‘Hotel California’ and ‘The Long Run’. To the loathing list we can now add this vacuous waste of the pirate CD’ers art. A dreadful waste of time all round, and I do believe that Don Henley in particular knows that… ‘Boys of Summer’ indeed…! $1.50 wasted…
• Ryan Adams ‘Easy Tiger’ CD – Ryan is just so darn prolific that his quality control sometimes slips out the window and hangs by it’s fingernails on the diddley-doodley narrow ledge just above bland and boring. This is not a bad album, but not a particularly good one either. Strangely, the track I like the most (Halloweenhead) is the one that most critics disliked the most, dismissing it as ponderous heavy rock by numbers… hmmm.
• Love ‘Forever Changes Live’ – DVD – a real favourite album of my wife and I, here recorded live a few years ago at the Festival Hall. The late Arthur Lee is heartbreakingly good, the band amazing, the songs transcendental. Otis likes to bop to it also. Great extras too. Happy Happy Joy Joy all round.
• REM ‘Perfect Square’ – another great live DVD (Germany), the chaps on top form, best version of ‘Man on the Moon’ EVER, plus a quaint mini-documentary of their visit to Stirling which really does look as if they have landed smack in the middle of ‘The Sunday Post/People’s Friend’ land. ‘Gosh Mrs McGlumphy, there’s that wee Michael Stipe, he disnae look weel, does he?’ ‘Och, dinnae worry, he’s ane o’ them vegetabalarians, is he no? Michty, a wee drap o’ Sweetheart Stout wid dae him the warld o’ good…’
• ‘Easy Rider’ – DVD – ‘set your motor runnin’ – bam-bam-bam-baam-baam!’… please don’t ask why… I used to have that poster on my wall for most of my teenage years… I still have a hankering for the freedom of the speeding sickle on the open road, wind blowing through my hair transplant and the distant rumble of the heavy metal thunder of Steppenwolf…. Probably end up having my bag snatched tho’ ….

Most of the above are in the vein of ‘classic rock’, which seems to be, as my Granny used to say, a ‘phrase’ I am going through at the moment. Or, perhaps more accurately, a ‘paragraph’. Mind you, I have been veering toward the Brazilian these last couple of days (which sounds like an extract from a football commentary or something a bit rude to do with waxing – no, not surfboards), and I now have a sizeable collection of variations on the theme of ‘Girl from Ipanema’. And I am thinking that bossa nova versions of punk songs might be a bit of a crowd puller with the jaded youth of the trendy Phnom Penh nightspots… However, the wind is changing and I think I can feel a bout of free jazz approaching from the West, with maybe a smattering of Bluegrass on it’s way when the weather clears – I’m so glad that I still love all this stuff … still crazy after all these years, eh…

Goodnight, and may your dog go with you.