Category Archives: Music

Love Is

What is love? It is an English word. A very old, Old English word. So how is French the language of love? These are things I have thinking about lately thanks to some of my favourite podcasts and a bit of reality TV.

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The TV show I’ve become addicted to is First Dates, where people with similar interests meet for the first time on a discretely filmed dinner-date. It makes me smile and feel good about life. These people often have very certain ideas about what love is. They just haven’t found it yet.

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So what is love? That is a question that can be answered in any number of ways, in film, story, song or life. But what it wasn’t when love (lufu) was used in Old English was romantic. It was a feeling of wanting, lusting for food or hunting. It wasn’t applied to romance in English until Eleanor of Aquitaine married the English king Henry II in the 1100s, bringing her favoured troubadours over to entertain her court with songs of devotion and unrequited love (themes that define our idea of love to this day).

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But where did Eleanor’s entertainers get this new-fangled idea of love? From her grandfather, William IX of Aquitaine, who loved to pursue women, married or not, and wrote verse about it (his most famous love was Dangereuse… pronounced “Danger-Rosa”!)Dangerosa

Aquitaine, being in the warm south of France, was free of constant fighting so they had time to contemplate love while the cold war-like north (like England) favoured heroic tales of battle and sacrifice.

Romantic literature was around before this, of course, just not in Western Europe. The Ancient Greeks wrote extensively about erotic love, as did the Roman poet Ovid (Shakespeare’s favourite), but it was banned by the time of Caesar c.60BC as people feared it promoted adultery and loose morals. So for 1000 years it was absent from Western culture.

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The south of France was also close to Muslim Andalusia where the great princess and poet, Wallada, held poetry salons in the early 11th century. gran_wallada2ce3She had a long, famously tortured romance with Spanish poet-philosopher Ibn Zaydun. After they met she wrote, “Wait for darkness, then visit me, for I believe that night is the best keeper of secrets”. From rival families, the Muslim Romeo and Juliet exchanged long love letters written in verse, where the gallant suitor humbled himself before his superior lover. Their poems were loved in Aquitaine influencing the idea of ‘courtly love’.

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This is the concept of love we inherited from Eleanor. An instant attraction. The fear of rejection. Longing. Unrequited lust. Devotion.

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These ideas permeate pop songs, rock songs, country music, opera, movies, television, books, blogs, our minds and hearts to this day. It’s certainly what the would-be suitors talk of in First Dates. How they decide if they want to see each other again. But what are they looking for? Big shoulders, nice teeth, blonde hair, a bald head? These are merely initial visual preferences based on what they have liked before. But what drives what they are feeling?

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We are visual creatures with huge visual cortices. When you see someone and go “wow, who’s that?” your brain has a massive hit of oxytocin, the drug of attraction. If you then talk to them you are rewarded with a blast of dopamine, which makes you feel pretty darn good. If you kiss technique is involved, but you are also tasting their MHC (major histocompatibility complex) which indicates if their genetic make-up is the same, or different, to yours. The more different the genes, the better they taste, indicating any ensuing offspring will be stronger with better immunity than if your genes are similar.

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But oxytocin degrades fast and those first hours/days/months of “wow!” do not last. At its max you have 18 months, probably less, to step up to beta endorphins, the natural opiates that take over in long-term relationships where you miss each other when apart and feel better in one another’s company.

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So which of these things is love? The wow of lust or comfort of companionship? The blind-daters, young and old, gay and straight, all seem to be looking for the later while gauging it by the former. They seem beholden to ideas of love born 1,000 years ago that make wonderful entertainment but often lead to poor choices.

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I’m no expert. But watching First Dates (while listening to podcasts about attraction and the history of love) has made me suspect that I have employed medieval ideas of love while holding tight to the original Old English idea of love as lust/desire, loving the thrill and excitement of a successful hunt.

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Once, in my 20s and working in television, a well-known TV presenter asked me if I was in love. We were alone in a rose garden, shooting a segment for Valentine’s Day. It was a sharp question. I had been in a relationship for 6 months but that thought had never occurred to me. I realised the answer was no. She then told me that her friends talked about “boing” (that moment of wow), and how it is not really love. It’s taken me decades to understand what that meant, to realise that entertainment may reflect life but it should not lead it.

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Finally I can recognise, and find, true love.

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So, what is love?

It is for you to decide.

Enamorados

 

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3 Days in Auckland (part 1)

In the air

I first visited Auckland nearly 30 years ago. It was a different city, I was a different person. A fresh-faced 20-year old on the road (in a plane) with the band I had played bass with since I was 16. I wasn’t a great bass player, we weren’t a great band, but we had something; energy, attitude, good tunes and a freshly-pressed EP to promote and sell.

Like a lot of people who had grown up in Christchurch, I was pretty dubious about Auckland, the brash, domineering big brother in the national media and consciousness. The largest city in the North Island, it was a natural rival for the biggest city in the South Island.

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But that wasn’t on my mind so much when I flew in with my four bandmates, it was the gigs and interviews we had lined-up. The boxes of records we hoped to sell, and the crucial uncertainty of whether or not Radio With Pictures would play our video before we left town.

30 years in a long time in the life of any city. It’s the life of a human generation (although desperate marketeers and journalists have been shortening that natural span in the last few decades). Pressed-vinyl EPs are no longer the best way to get music to punters and music videos are available at the swipe of a device (as opposed to being confined to a single showing in a dedicated TV show once or twice a week. Miss the show or fail to programme your VCR correctly and you would have to imagine it from the descriptions of your friends).

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Our first gig was a daytime performance on a stage set up in the grassy quad at Auckland University. We banged and strummed away. The students ate their lunch. Maybe we drank beer. Afterwards we did an interview on BFM, the student radio station, promoting the EP and the pub gigs we were doing with The Letter 5 (was it? was it?! Or the Battling Strings?)

Then it was off to walk into the record shops dotted along Queen Street, trying to sell our wares at $6.99, sale or return. I think we got rid of a pitiful 1 or 2 in a couple of shops.

Queen Street was long, wide and steep to me. Chch is a flat city. I headed off up to explore the famous/infamous K’ Road at the top of Queen Street by myself, fuelled by one or two beers (and the Valium one of the singers had scored from a friendly doctor to calm our nerves).

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Why am I reminiscing about my first visit to Auckland? Because I am flying there now. At the moment we are passing over Kapiti Island, having taken off from Wellington into 120km winds. The take-off was as bumpy as it was sitting on the tarmac, buffeted and battered , waiting to taxi. But I’m a pretty solid traveller, I never feel queasy. Plus I was distracted by being allowed to write this while we were taking off…a first for me as I have been used to the ‘switch off all electronic devices’ rule that has only just been relaxed.

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It’s 3 years since I was last in Auckland. That time I spent little time in the city, heading straight to the ferry and 2 nights on Waiheke, my island home in the Hauraki Gulf I left 8 years ago. I spent that visit swimming at Palm Beach, my favourite bit of paradise. I had hoped to squeak in a visit this time, but I am only in Auckland for a little over 48 hours so it looks a bit tight. Plus I have been alerted by a friend to the fact that Waiheke is experiencing an outbreak of sea lice due to the exceptional, record-breaking summer. I ache to re-visit paradise and swim in the eternity of summers past. But sea lice?! Hmm.

The volcanic rump of Mt. Ruapehu has disappeared from my window and the plane has started to descend. I’m being offered sweets (hooray for the traditions of Air New Zealand which also gave me a snack and a drink without asking for payment).

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What will these (nearly) 3 days in Auckland hold? Memories and observations by the bucket load, I imagine. I lived there for 13 years. Flew into the watery isthmus countless times. As I am travelling alone my only plan is to write and reflect. Walk the old paths. Seek the old favourite eats. I may try and meet friends, I may not. I would be nice but time is short. We are all older with commitments of time and responsibility of all sorts.

The excuse for this trip (taken on a whim and Airpoints) is an old TV colleague’s 50th. I’ve never been to a 50th. It makes me feel old. A bit excited. Curious. Nervous. I hope I don’t bottle out. I’m terrible for that sort of thing.

There will be people there from all those years I worked in telly, including a few who I trained with at the NZ Broadcasting School in Chch 22 years ago. A small reunion of sorts. How did we get this old? What is everyone doing now? Why did we create a dormant group on Facebook?

Questions never end. Nor should they.

How have 30 years passed since I first flew into Auckland?

We are landing. Auckland is here.

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4 Days in Christchurch (part 5)

A Run, Sunday Grey

Sunday morning emerged cool, grey. Quiet. The ceaseless sounds of re-build were taking a rest. Up early, as I always am after a drink or two, I headed out for a run. When I was here a year ago I ran around Hagley Park. This time I was at the southern boundary of the Four Aves (Moorhouse, Bealy, Fitzgerald, Deans) that form a square box around the CBD, so I decided to head south along Colombo Street, to Sydenham. It was eerily silent, a misty rain falling. As I ran over the overbridge that seemed so high when I lived in this flat city I looked to the gap where the railway station used to be. Its absence was disconcerting. It’s no exaggeration to say my stomach lurched.

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At first, Sydenham seemed like a gem. The old artisanal village on the southside of Christchurch was covered in wonderful street art. But as I passed empty shop after empty shop I realised that the Colombo, the box mall further down Colombo Street, has sucked all the life out of the area. IMG_9857

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Even the relocated Honey Pot café, one of my old favs from the CBD, had gone bust. I ran towards Beckenham, swimming in memories from my childhood and youth (fairs at the school my mother attended as a child in the 1930s; the band practice room I shot a video for a ‘90s grunge band; the pet shop where I got Alf and Sid, my pet mice; the Hot Bread Shop I had my first job, earning $$ for my music gear and cameras; the snooker hall where I played on full-size tables with comical ineptitude; the church I watched my girlfriend dance covered in oil with $$ stuck to her by parishioners, and so on and so on). All gone.

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By the time I reached Sydenham Park I felt so good I wanted to run all the way to the hills but as soon as that thought hit the calf of the leg where I had my Achilles’ operation two years ago suddenly constricted in pain and I was forced to start walking: 10 minutes into a gentle run. Grrr. Two years to being 100%? Seems it’s going to be more than that. I stretched and tried not to limp all the way back into the CBD.

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After showering (and stretching, and stretching some more), I checked out of my hotel, took my bag to the lockers at the bus station and returned to wandering the CBD, taking photos and writing down my thoughts. Which can get you enquiring looks when you’re travelling by yourself. People can regard you with suspicion, or that’s the way it sometimes seems from the way they look at lone males. Maybe the locals are sick of disaster tourists taking snaps of the corpse. Fair enough. More than once I would stop and point my camera at some piece of rebuild or tumbled pile only to find other wandering tourists suddenly stop and photograph the same thing, as if by obligation. I began to feel I should be leaving a tip for the locals.

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Not fancying the overwhelmingly fried food at the pop-up mall I headed across the Square to the other anchor of normality, New Regent Street. Like last night, it was full of people hanging out and walking by. I overheard some locals complain about the fabulous piece of giant art at the end of the street “How many millions has that cost us?” stopping myself from saying it looks even better when lit up at night. I cruised the overflowing cafes trying to decide where I would have my lunch/breakfast, saw two wizards having coffee (that felt reassuring), then stumped for the only café with no one in it: often a bad sign.

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How many millions?

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Selfie with the Wizard of Chch (& apprentice)

‘Shop Eight’ looked pretty. Stylish, recycled, handcrafted furniture. The menu: sparse. Just half a dozen items for lunch. Handpicked, biodynamic. Served cold. Hmm. I went in. The waitress looked tired, spoke too quietly, saying both my choices (the chicken, and asparagus & egg) were off the menu. Undeterred, I chose the wild pork and rabbit terrine. I sat on the street watching the trams slide by, eerily within reach, listening to the jazz guitarist across the way noodle out gorgeous tunes, and the old ladies at the overflowing muffin shop next door remark “Look, you could imagine you’re in a different country!” while wondering what a terrine was.

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When the waitress brought me my lunch she forcefully pointed to a corner of the plate and said “that’s the chutney!” My $18 open sandwich was fantastic. Tasty, filling, a joy to eat.

 

Sun Comes Out, Head Inside

In the afternoon I did something I have never done in NZ: I rented a holiday car. I have rented heaps for work or when overseas, but there has always been a car available when I had family or friends to visit in Christchurch. I could have caught a bus to visit my friends in New Brighton, but I had an urge to tiki around bits I hadn’t seen in a while. And at $58 for a 24hr cheapie it was a perfect way to experience the pot-holed, dug up, resurfaced, re-dug up and resurfaced (and repeat) again and again, ever-changing roads of Christchurch.

 

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Heading East

I could write heaps about New Brighton, the sea-side suburb on the east of Christchurch. The ‘70s heyday as one of only two place in NZ where you could shop on a Saturday. The excitement and bustle, the treat of going there. The big long beach at the edge of the Pacific. Getting smashed by the surf. Nothing between the horizon and Chile. The whale park. The pier(s). The Shoreline Cabaret where a crooning Val Lamond (who I had only seen on the telly) sang to my father on his 50th. The decline and neglect (post and pre-quake).

 

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Dad’s 50th Shoreline Cabaret 1975

I saw out the day in a garden shed in the company of two good, old friends listening to music, drinking snake-bites mixed from a chilly bin. We have known each other since school, shared a lifetime of experiences. Become parents. Had many holidays at Jonathan’s family bach perched on rocks on a rugged West Coast beach. Made a lot of music and art amongst us. It was reading Blair’s music blog that inspired me to start my blog. He writes a music memoir and posts his art at blairparkes.wordpress.com We were in bands in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Jonathan made the giant kaleidoscope that stands at the top of New Regent Street (and many other pieces around the city). He organises Greening the Rubble, volunteers installing public spaces on rubble that won’t be rebuilt for some time (they have a Facebook page if you’re interested). We played in a disco covers band in the ‘80s that never made it out of the practice room, even though we had a great name, ‘The Hot’.

 

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Nightshift studio, Beckenham 1985

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The Kaleidoscope, New Regent Street

We talked and talked. Laughed and laughed. There’s nothing like old friends. Time collapses. The past becomes present and the world seems less harsh. I wish we lived closer.

Rage Against the Light

I’m thinking of going to see the Buzzcocks. I love their songs. Perfect tunes that sound as fresh as they did in the 1970s. I want to sing along with these legends of the punk/pop pantheon. But it’s a work night. And I’m getting old. No longer able to shake off a late night.

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I used to see everything that came to town. Loved it. Loved the music, the lights, the noise, the people. Two years ago I went see Garbage. It was my first proper concert in many years. I didn’t known they were in town. Saw an ad on telly offering cheap tickets. Went along. Loved it to bits. I was never a fan but the sound was great, the band full of energy and the joy of performance.

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Good Garbage Wellington

Buoyed along by the experience I went to see Neil Young and Crazy Horse a month later. I love his music. He is a major player in the rock pantheon. But the whole thing paled next to Garbage, the rock tiddlers. Neil was good but the band felt tired. Fair enough. They are getting on. Shuffling around like shadows of the past.

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Neil Young & Crazy Horse Wellington

That’s why when an old friend/bandmate asked if wanted to go see The Fall recently I had to yes… but no. Back in the day Mark E. Smith could trot out compellingly crap/good performances. Now he is known to wander around the stage like a grumpy pensioner who can’t find the toilet.

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Angry young man

The first proper concert I saw was Glen Campbell when I was eight. My mother took me to see him at the Christchurch Town Hall.

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Bill & Boyd

Which is wonderfully young for your first proper concert. Yay for Mum. I loved it. We sat upstairs in the front row with my cousin Linda. Bill and Boyd opened the show. I knew them from telly. They were funny. Long hair and droopy moustaches. They sang ‘Put Another Log On the Fire’, which we sang at school. Women’s libbers and male chauvinist pigs. Hee hee. It was 1975.

 

9064625But Glen was the star. Top of his game. Hit after hit with jokes and stories. He played along to a comical silent film of him as a cowboy. Did a great imitation of Vegas dinner-show Elvis.

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The Rhinestone Cowboy

I couldn’t help singing along and was stopped many times by my mother. No photos allowed. No recordings of any kind. How things have changed.

I saw him again in 1991 as an adult at the same venue. This time sitting downstairs with rock band friends, Blair and John. It was good but I remember little. No doubt we pre-loaded in rock ‘n roll fashion. Maybe Glen had, too. He had a dark booze and cocaine period.

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Last week I watched I’ll Be Me, the documentary about Glen Campbell’s final tour and descent into Alzheimer’s. I felt ambivalent about watching it. It’s a pig of a way to go. It took my father. I recognized the same coping methods my father used to deflect the condition. Jokes. Side-steps. Anger. Distress. But what raised the doco above horrorshow was watching the tour. The danger the band felt (which included three of his children) not knowing if Glen could keep it together through the song, through the set. He did. It was astounding. A full-blown Alzheimer’s causality coming alive with lights, music and applause.

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Yes, he was reading the lyrics from an auto-cue, but so did Brian Wilson when I saw him 10 years ago. And Glen could shred up wonderful guitar solos when required. Didn’t need anyone to guide him through every move.

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Tonight Elton John is playing here in Wellington. We’re told it’s our last time to see him. Only $99. I will be a great show. He’s a consummate performer, but doesn’t pique my interest. ilxe9exYesterday I watched a video posted on Facebook of Fleetwood Mac playing in Dunedin two nights ago. They are more to my ‘see-the-gods-of-yore!’ liking. Christine McVie is with them for the first time in years.

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Fleetwood Dunners

In a couple of weeks AC/DC are here at the stadium. The Aussie pub band that done good. But so many of the members have shuffled from the stage (booze/speed/Alzheimer’s) there’s only AC (or DC?) left.

 

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Fun for the whole family

The say all political careers end in failure. It seems to be the same with music. Hits disappear, crowds vanish. Those with commercial success are bitter the critics don’t rate them. Those with acclaim resent the lack of money. So old bands/acts are now coming to your town. It’s how they make money with record sales dead.

Last month I picked up a bass for the first time in over a decade (back when I had randomly jammed with Voom).

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Buzz from Voom!

I was at my friend Mark’s 50th and we were jamming in celebration. A friend has a great band set-up, can play solid drums and snarly blues guitar. We played Sympathy for the Devil for ages and it sounded pretty darn good. Better than the Stones. Of now, not yore. It was energetic, sharp, on the edge of danger. It made me think for the first time in years that I would love to play bass again.

I haven’t played live since the late ‘90s. At the King’s Arms in Auckland. It was awful. A lounge bar on a Sunday afternoon. Two guys with guitars and a drum machine as The Letter 5. No stage to lift you above the indifferent clinking of glass.

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But last month I was astonished by how good it felt playing bass with a punchy rock drummers and guitarists (there was four of us). Maybe it was the snakebites in the sun, or the cookie to top it off, but I felt like I was in my early twenties again.

Playing Shirley Boys'& Marion High School Dance 21 June 1986 (photo by Damian Zelas)

Teenage bass

Somehow I can’t imagine Pete Shelley reading his lyrics from an auto-cue. But if he needs to, that’s what comes with age, I guess. Like a big belly and thinning hair.

 You tried it just the once, found it alright for kicks

But now you found out, that it’s a habit that sticks

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The second time I saw Glen Campbell

Re-collection

I started collecting music in 1979 when I paid $1.99 for ‘Lucky Number’ by Lene Lovich. I had seen her on Ready to Roll and the quirky energy of her ‘New Wave’ sound (and look) appealed to my 12 year old mind. At the time, the song wasn’t played on the radio so buying a personal copy was the only way to hear the hooks and melody stuck in my head. Within a year I was spending a lot of my free time in record stores meticulously flicking through LPs, agonizing over whether I should spend $7.99 on a whole album of songs when I only ever wanted to listen to the single over and over again.

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What’s not to love about Lene Lovich?

Over the next 10 years I amassed a collection of several hundred records, spending several thousand dollars constructing a personal narrative of music history. Of course, there was no need to buy everything as likeminded friends could tape their albums for you, but if you truly loved something, you wanted it on vinyl.

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Doing radio on the telly c.1986

Once at university I became a student radio DJ getting access to their massive collection of the best music, enthusiastically sharing my taste many times a week, most happily on the weekend all-nighters where from 11pm to 7am there were no programmed playlists just 8 hours of me (and a friend or girlfriend, and a sly bottle of nasty) broadcasting the music I loved to the world (at least, to the greater Christchurch area).

Like a lot of people I no longer have a turntable so my vinyl collection, now worth much more than I ever spent, sits in dusty crates under my house. When CDs came out there was a media blitz telling everyone to discard their records as CDs were perfect and lasted forever. It was a good sales pitch. My CD collection now sits beside the records, un-played, with little resale value.

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Like most people my phone has swallowed my music collection. All my CDs are digitized and the vinyl replaced by digital copies. I have 6,358 songs constantly in my pocket, more than I would ever want to listen to. At a guess, 90% have never been played (in this format, at least). Which says something about the nature of collecting; it is as much about the act as the result. Maybe that is why I have resisted the move towards streaming services like Spotify which by their nature seem to deny the joy of collecting.records

A few weeks ago I stepped into a record store for the first time in decades. The place was full of people actively searching through vinyl as I once did. The vinyl revival is real. Sales are growing faster than any digital format and specific vinyl charts have returned because 1. They just sound better 2. Collecting is about searching for, and acquiring, something you can hold (even something as ephemeral as thoughts are nothing until collected and turned into a form someone else can grasp, like a book).

Last week I experienced a cute moment of near symmetry when I bought a digital copy of ‘Lucky Number’ for $1.79 so I could play it to my daughter. While the price is satisfyingly similar to my first outlay, the equivalence feels hollow as the digital copy lacks the urgent energy of the 45 (it is heavily compressed for tiny speakers, devoid of the original piezoelectric spark of crystal in groove). But, most of all, it cannot sit in a box like a piece of treasure from the past, slowly acquiring value, waiting to be re-discovered and admired.

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Profits of the Future

I’ve just finished reading the most wonderful book. It is gripping, funny and thought provoking with a command of narrative and metaphor that has me shaking my head in wonder. It’s a popular history book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, and while this is not a review, I urge any thinking person to read it (Sapiens, as in Homo sapiens, means ‘wise’ human).

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Harari says fiction makes us human

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1970’s view of the future

Like all history it addresses the present (we can only understand today by looking at the past). However, in the final chapter it looks ahead making the point that visions of the future are often hopelessly rooted in the past, blind to imagination. He makes this point by saying that in 1948 the future was full of an apocalyptic nuclear WWIII, while visions from the 1960s were all about rockets and colonising space.

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Slow Boat Records

All this was made clear to me the other day when I revisited my past in the most peculiar way. I was in a record shop flicking through LPs, something I had not done in decades. As I was doing it I couldn’t help reflect on how much time I spent in my teens scouring album racks, searching for music I might want to buy. I did it several times a week. What was it all for? With no record player all those albums I bought now sit un-played in crates under the house and all the ones I hunger to hear have been replaced by digital copies I can scroll through on my phone.

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Vinyl Heaven

As I watched the surprising amount of people, young and old, looking through the music I got several messages from the stranger I was waiting to meet. He was delayed, so I started to look for specific albums, ones that I owned, and I was shocked to find that all were worth a lot more than I had imagined. Not just the rare or obscure ones, but the mass-produced commercial ones that I would get from my mother for Christmas were at least three times the original price.

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$10 when I got it for Xmas 1981 …$30 now!

Yes, there has been inflation, so a $10 LP from 1980 may well be worth $30 in 2015… except that is not how it was meant to play out. From the mid ‘80s on we were told by a chorus of media experts and retailers that LPs were worthless relics which needed to be replaced with everlasting CDs. People dumped LPs en masse. A lover of old things, I would often pick them up for a buck or two at charity stores, adding to my neglected, unplayable collection.

So what’s happening? I got a bit of an insight when the person I was meeting turned up, sweating heavily in the mild late summer 22 degrees of Wellington having recently left the -20 degrees of snowbound Toronto.

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Playing a lunchtime school gig Sept ’84

Matt had made contact with me the week before after reading my post from last year, It Was 30 Years Ago, where I reminisced about my final September at school in 1984.

I wasn’t quite sure how to take his interest, but he seemed genuine and I was happy to scour my photo collection for pictures he might use for the book he is writing.

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Midnight Espresso. Nice muffins. Perfect atmosphere

Initially, I assumed he was a New Zealander living in Canada, who else would bother to write a book about the early years of obscure NZ record label Flying Nun? But as we crossed the road to Midnight Espresso I found out he was a historian with an interest in DIY pop culture. He had come across the label while living in London after doing his doctorate, falling in love with the music (and the story). Then, once he began working in publishing, he tried to find a book that charted the history of Flying Nun, finding nothing. Eventually, after talking to NZers at the Frankfurt Book Fair, he decided he had to do it himself.

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Before Garageband, it helped to know someone who could build a mixer from scratch

The historian (and writer) in me was fascinated by this tale. So much so that it was a while before I stopped ‘interviewing’ him and he pulled out his phone and started asking me questions.

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The Flying Nun Xmas Party ’86. There was bath tub full of beer

It was a strange experience. Being bought food and a drink. Talking about the past. That’s the thing, some things are so familiar you take them for granted and have little idea how they appear to others. Yeah, stuff happened. I played in bands in the FN scene. We weren’t famous, successful or noted. So what?

I had been aware that the EP the schoolboy band I played in (which included a girl, and I once found filed under Women’s Music) has fetched ridiculous prices on the internet ($500 in one auction) but I assumed that was an aberration, fuelled by vinyl geeks completing a collection, rather than out of enthusiasm for the obscure 30 year old music of All Fall Down.

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A quick Google finds the EP retailing for $225 today

But Matt’s eyes lit up when he talked about it, how everyone knew about all the big FN bands and how good the music was, how the vinyl was worth big $$ around the world, but AFD was a mysterious lacuna. With only 200 pressed it was hard to get a copy of the EP so the only way to hear the music was to pay way too much money, or watch two videos on YouTube (which he loved).

AFD Supporting Great Unwashed, Clyde Quay Tavern (The Pulse) 14 Dec 1984 (photo Clifton Fuller)

Supporting The Great Unwashed in Wellington 1984. All well under-age

The past and the future collapsed for me in that moment.

When I was collecting vinyl in the ‘80s, so much was unavailable. I read Rip It Up, NME et al cover to cover, reading more words than ever listening to the songs. There were only a couple of music video shows a week showing a handful of new stuff. And student radio only broadcast for a few hours a day, a few months a year. Scarcity drove deep interest and if you wanted to hear something obscure or beyond the ken of the corporate masters that ran commercial radio and the pressing plants, you had to read about it, then import it from overseas, hoping like hell you liked it (or found it in a second-hand bin somewhere).

Of course, this is not a dewy-eyed harking back for a past age. I love the 21st Century and the availability of music fuelled by the internet, YouTube, iTunes, Wikipedia, ebay/TradeMe etc. I love that I can edit some photos to a beautiful song by the forgotten band I once played in, purely as a tribute to a lost friend and band mate, and people I do not know can watch it anywhere in the world and find something worthwhile.

Yes, it was heartbreaking in 1987 to put so much time, effort and money into an EP and struggle to get retailers to take it for $6.99 (sale or return). And yes, it is kind of galling to see people paying hundreds of dollars for it now.

But it is also satisfying.

Great Unwashed + AFD 1984It was even more satisfying to see the look on Matt’s face when I gave him a copy of the EP he has only read about, to see him pull out the vinyl to check out the grooves like an enthusiast (like I used to), to have him ask about the engraved matrix which he and his friends have speculated about.

Ironically in this time of constant media and ever-present past, he’s having a tough time finding pictures from back then. People just didn’t take photos at gigs. It was either frowned on or illegal (oh, how times have changed. A friend recently posted a whole song on Facebook of Peter Hook playing a Joy Division song in Auckland… they used to call that bootlegging).

afd-auckland-newspaper

A clipping from Auckland gig

And the newspaper archives are little use. Apparently the papers don’t think ‘entertainment’ stories were worth keeping so they got dumped at some point or other.

No one knows what the future holds.

But, as a historian, what I do know is that which we unthinkingly discard always accumulates value, and prophets of the future tend to be more concerned with their own profits than anything else.

I can’t wait to see the book Matt’s putting together. To see scant pictures of the past turned into history and story.

It makes this ‘wise’ hominid smile.

AFD (Esther, me Blair) playing the 21st party Feb 1986 Photo taken by Jonathan Hall

Rockin’ on & on in 1986

3 Songs I sing LOUD!!!

I love music. I love singing. I love hearing stories. I love telling stories. In my mind all these things are part of the same unique human urge. I have referred to this belief in various posts about music, earworms and songs: Needles and Plastic, Songs of September, Quiet Loud Listen Sing, It Was 30 Years Ago…, A Curious Thing, and Music Is A Story.

But this post isn’t about earworms, my crackpot theories or those songs. It’s about three songs I sang repeatedly (and loudly) as I drove the 20 kms into (or from) work in the lead up to Christmas. I loved singing them. They both expressed joy (and caused it), salved pain and cured tiredness. Each time that I sang them (at the top of my voice, with maximum passion), oblivious to any looks from fellow commuters I found something new in some part of the musical composition or production, in the lyrics or vocal expression.

stock-footage-man-singing-and-dancing-happy-driving-car-in-city

Not my car. Not my song. Probably not me.

Primal-Scream-at-The-Regency-Ballroom-shot-by-Jason-Miller-@Jasonmillerca-21

Exactly what I look like

What’s more, even though the three songs ended up quite randomly at the start of my ‘Singlesman’ playlist and came from three different decades and musical genres, they slowly revealed themselves to have very striking similarities.

Song #1 is from 1971, Aire of Good Feeling by Wellington band The Quincy Conserve.

quinI have loved this song since the first time I heard it on a vinyl disc of New Zealand ‘SuperHits’ purchased in the late ‘80s for $6.99. I snaffled this LP for the usual suspects of Ray Columbus and the Invaders, Craig Scott, Alison Durban, Blerta, Mark Williams, Shane, The La De Das, Shona Laing, Bunny Walters et al…. ‘60s-’70s TV light ent. music, if you will.

super hits

Lazy cover. Great Compilation

It’s hard to remember but at the time (mid/late ‘80s) that style of music was deeply unfashionable, the ‘Classic Hits’ brand of radio was yet to be foisted on us, there was no internet to research or download music so relics like the Quincy Conserve were rare treats to be relished (pun intended). So, as a keen fan of music (and budding musician) I played it many times on the radio shows I DJ-ed on student radio station Radio U (later UFM). I loved the busyness of the drums, the horns, the barely repressed growl of the vocals, the happiness of the lyric and general feel… and the fact that I had only ever heard it on this strange, cheap compilation with an awful yellow cover.

Hip hooray, let’s smile for a day

Aire of Good Feeling, comin’ over me

quincyconserve3For me, it was a bit of a private treasure that I subsequently lost as music became digital and I was unable to enjoy my records (my vinyl collection sits in crates under the house awaiting the day a record player returns to my living room).

That was until just before Christmas when I saw this condiment on the shelf. quince conserveUnsure if the pun was intended, I had to buy it. Disclosure: I love Anathoth (jams, chutneys, relishes) and the quince conserve is typically outstanding (especially with blue cheese on a walnut oat cracker!) Of course, the one song I knew of the Quincy Conserve came back into my head along with a need to hear it. $100 would buy me an okay record player with a USB outlet but $1.97 got me the re-released track on i-Tunes. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I LOVE the 21st century!

bruno

Bruno!

quincey liveYes, the busy jazz/Keith Moon drums were there (was it super-cool actor/drummer/wild man Bruno Lawrence? I hoped so at the time but doubt it now), but that’s not what struck me as I re-engaged with the old track, thrashing it every time I jumped in the car (it is the meatiest/truest stereo I own). It was the way the bass is up front pumping a repetitive scale/run that drives the tune along on a ride that doesn’t stop. quincy cYes, the horns punch and lift, but it is the distinctive vocals of Malcolm Hayman (threatening to explode but somehow held back like a team of restless bullocks) that share front of stage with the bass. The 30 to 40 times I have sung along to this track have been spent trying to understand (and mimic) his wonderful voice.

Song #2 is a bit of a segue that feels as natural as breathing to me: Rocks by Primal ScreamPrimal-Scream-Rocks-CD-Single-165379930_ML I wasn’t familiar with this song until I trawled through Singstar playlists a couple of years ago trying to find something to sing with Singstar buddies who tend to favour Abba and ‘80s kitsch. The straight forward boom-smack Stones/Faces/Sly Stone swagger is fun to sing (especially with a few drinks under the belt), and the lyrics are ironically simple and playful (as good lyrics should be),

Dealers keep dealing, thieves keep a-thieving,

whores keep a-whoring, junkies keep scoring

Rocks vid

What I look like Rocking Singstar

The repetition of form fits the big fat cookie-cutter production (floor toms start smacking along with tambourine, then gat track, then 2nd gat, then bass, then vox… and away we go!!!)

Best of all it fits my rock voice wonderfully…. especially the refrain where the horns sneak in with a sly honky-tonk piano,

Ain’t no use in pray-in’, that’s the way it’s stay-in’, bay-by

Johnny ain’t so cray-zy, he’s always got a line for the lay-dies… yeah, yeah, yeah

I loved doing this song to bits but my singing friends were never so keen, always pushing to do something ‘deceptively complex’ like Fernando.

Rocks Glastonbury 2013

Primals at Glastonbury 2013

Well, those drinking/singing buddies left town over a year ago so I stopped hearing that song until just before Christmas when I scored some cheap iTunes credit (vouchers 30% off makes singles cheaper that when I started buying them in 1979 at $1.99 each), and decided to add to my Singlesman playlist (I’ve always preferred singles to albums which are so often stuffed with fillers). Rocks had been in my head (ho ho) for some time (but not my ears) so I got a copy for $2.39 and, wow, does it sound good on my car stereo. Simone-Butler-enjoys-playing-bass-in-Primal-ScreamWhen those floor toms start as Good Feeling ends I feel like I’m right in the room with them, filled with a physical pleasure only certain sounds can bring. The production is astoundingly simple (and clever) slowly building to a stage full of big-band sound that never overwhelms the essential simplicity of the song.

So that’s how I came to belting out

Get your rocks off, get your rocks off honey!

at 7 am in the morning, on a busy motorway into Wellington, ignoring the strange looks, revealing in the harmonies of the beautiful black-girl BVs (who may in fact be white, but that’s the style) opening up the heavens.Primal-Scream-performing--006

Song #3 (and this is not a ranking just how they ended up on the playlist and, consequently, how the musical progression makes sense to me) is Ride Like the Wind by Christopher Cross, the only song of the three I was aware of when it was released. Christopher-Cross-Ride-Like-The-Win-176682It came out at the beginning of 1980, the start of a new decade, just before I became a teen, a few months after I started buying records. If Good Feeling is pure ‘70s and Rocks is solid ‘90s, this is that cold decade in between. Not that this song is cold, it is full of power and life (in a soft-rock kind of way) and is much more late ‘70s in feel than electro ‘80s.

solid gold 23

Best Solid Gold Hits LP from the year before Chris

I was no big fan when it came out, my 12-year old ears much preferred the power pop/new wave of the time (I loved Blondie’s Call Me which kept Ride from hitting #1). To me while the song was catchy, Christopher Cross was deeply unappealing so I never sought out the single. But I believe we used to play it at home courtesy of a Sold Gold Hits LP bought for me and my sisters by my parents (I loved those compilations and maybe they are part of why I remain a singles man to this day).

yacht_rock_press_photoHowever, I ended up buying a digital copy of the song two years ago after reading about the hilarious (fake) musical genre ‘Yacht Rock’, which is a grouping made up after the event to describe certain cheesy songs of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s (ultra-smooth California soft-rock like Toto, Stevie Nicks, Little River Band, Michael McDonald etc). I found the whole idea hilarious and bought several Yacht Rock tracks which I played for a bit before wearying of the jokey nostalgia.

England dan

Nights Are Forever?! No, they just feel that way, boys

(The most enduring has been I’d Really Love to See You Tonight by England Dan & John Ford Coley… the song that comes after Ride on my playlist… pure A.M. cheese and fun to sing with tortured passion, especially the astoundingly bizarre

stay and home and watch TV,

it really doesn’t matter much to me-e-e

And the way they dress, and the hair…wow, I remember when every man looked like that…still waiting for that particular fashion to come back).

chris & ron

Chris & Ron Burgundy. No joke

Anyway, a month or so before Christmas there was a random story on Huffington Post about Ride which said that Christopher Cross had written the song while on LSD in the desert. It seemed so improbable (given his image) that I had to listen to the song again. And through that re-engagement it ended up on my sing-every-day list. I started to see the drama of the narrative (a killer on the run fleeing for the border on a stolen horse), and how the tension was expressed in the clipped power of the vocal delivery, help back in the fear of flight. I loved trying to mimic it, and it even began to remind me of the way Malcolm Hayman approached Good Feeling, holding the voice in the gut, letting the repressed power speak for itself, hitting the final consonants hard (something singers usually resist/fudge, wanting the rounded smoothness of vowels).

It is the night, my body’s weak

I’m on the run, no time to speak

soft rock acid

Soft rock & acid. Don’t do it kids

And while Bobby Gillespie approaches Rocks in a quite a different manner (almost bored, joking) it too resists the urge to belt out and warble like a talent show Pop Idol or karaoke klutz. The power is held, hinted at, allowed to sneak out for a peak only when required.

Like the other two songs (Good Feeling and Rocks) it is a big production number requiring at least a dozen people on stage to perform. Ride is driven by congas and an unrelenting repetitive piano riff, but is essentially a trad. rock band set up beefed-up with the usual suspects of horn and string stabs, piano and backing vox (some courtesy of Mr Yacht Rock himself, Michael McDonald).

I doubt if anyone else on Earth has seen the connectedness of these three songs. Or sung them, one after the other, repeatedly. At volume.

Narrative is a strange beast. It comes both at the start, and at the end, while the tune is forming, and once the song is sung.

This post has been in my head since before Christmas, aching for some space to come out. It’s been a fiendishly busy time and I have only just (temporarily) stepped off the treadmill. But with these words excreted on to the page (or screen) every step becomes so much easier.

I no longer sing these songs every day; I sing three quite different songs.

But that, as they say, is another story.

England-Dan-&-John-Ford-8

‘Nuff said