findingtimetowrite

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Archive for the tag “music”

Friday Fun with a Valentine Twist: Stromae

For those who prefer their Valentine’s Day with a bit of humour and bite, here is a fun single about men and women by that Belgian genius Stromae. Thanks to my children, who brought him to my attention, although his lyrics are maybe a bit too grown-up and cynical for their age-group. The voice of his generation (he is in his 20s, although he sometimes looks about 15), he has a very wise head on his shoulders, and manages to temper his cynicism and despair with humour and compassion. And not afraid to make fun of both sexes in this battle song à la Stromae:

Quick translation: ‘You men are all the same…/ a band of wimpish philanderers/ so predictable…  I’m not sure you deserve me/ You’re lucky that we love you/ You should thank me.

Easy to say that I’m too whiny/and that I like too much blablabla/ but no, no, what you call my moods are important/ life is for having children/ but it’s never the right time/ of course you’re there for making them/ but for raising them you’re all absent…

When I’m no longer beautiful/ or at least, not naturally so/ oh, stop, I know you’re lying/only Kate Moss is eternal./Ugly or stupid, it’s never good (enough)./Stupid or beautiful, it’s never good./Beautiful or me, it’s never good./ Her or me, that’s never good.

Jazz and Java

Frost1When rhythm kicks

when rhythm hits

I

feel the heat

wrap up in it

why

music fills all spaces in me

never claim to see          just wonder and be

but

no denying its power-grip

heart does a tock-salto-tick

it blends its dazzle into my soul

feel all the tension

feel all the edges

soften         making me whole.

The irresistible syncopation of the Claude Nougaro song ‘Le Jazz et la Java’ (see the link below) inspired this poem, which I am offering up with my best Christmas wishes to the last Open Link Night of the year. Let’s celebrate in style with dVerse Poets!

It’s All About the Voice

UntetheredYesterday I read my first official YA novel – because I am of that generation that didn’t have literature aimed specifically at my age-group, or paternalistic age-banding on books.  By the time YA literature made its official appearance, I had grown up and preferred to go back to my childhood favourites when I was in a nostalgic mood (Swallows and Amazons, Treasure Island, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase or Ballet Shoes). I had no desire to relive my late teens, when back in high school all I wanted to do was be as pretentiously grown-up as possible.

But for a friend and fellow member of the Geneva Writers’ Group (who moreover shares my love of popcorn!), the one-woman dynamo that is Katie Hayoz, I decided to forsake my stupid genre scepticism.  I find genre such a meaningless category anyway. Her book ‘Untethered’ is labelled YA fiction, as the protagonist is a teenage girl. (But then, The Lovely Bones, Catcher in the Rye and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter should all be categorised as teen fiction.) It’s also labelled a paranormal novel, which is more than a little misleading, although it does deal with astral projection.

However, this is not a post about genre fiction, fascinating though that subject may be. Instead, it is about the importance of narrative voice. The narrator of ‘Untethered’ has a remarkably clear voice of her own: self-absorbed and whiny at times, self-justifying and pretentious at others, but also sharply observant, funny and poignant. Unique and yet representative of teenagers everywhere. Or the teenager we think we remember we were.

This is the one thing that literary agents say over and over again about submissions: what makes them instantly prick up their ears and read on is this strong individual voice.  Yet it is far rarer than you might think.  I read so many books this year (140 at last count) and only a handful or two of those have that truly unique voice. Confidence, an above-average plot and a polished style: yes, there are dozens like that and I rank many of my favourite authors amongst these. But a voice that grabs you (even when you don’t much like it) and takes you into their world (however unfamiliar)… it is an exhilarating experience when that happens.  I’ve felt that this year with Katie Hayoz’s Sylvie, Denise Mina’s Garnethill, John Burdett’s Bangkok Eight, Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseille trilogy. All very different voices, but all whispering (sometimes shouting) potently in my ear.

Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin

Then I realised that it’s not just in literature, but also in music that I am bowled over by unique, strong, perhaps even unfashionable or unlikable voices. What I call ‘lived-in’ voices – people who have experienced much, suffered and not always overcome. Voices of experience, voices on the edge. Voices that you wouldn’t want to hear on your children, but in which you perhaps recognise just a little bit of yourself. Yes, I admire the perfect pitch, poise and modulations of great singers, but it’s these ‘broken’ voices, simultaneously world-weary and world-hungry, that make my heart do a double turn.

Good morning heartache, good morning Billie Holiday, Jim Morrison,

David Bowie, Janis Joplin, Maria Callas…

last.fm

Billie Holiday Jazz Blues

Billie Holiday, 23 March 1949

Billie Holiday, 23 March 1949 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lady sings the blues.  Her haunting voice and heart-breaking rendition of love-songs (and abuse songs) have marked me for life.  This is for that marvellous combination of jazz and poetry proposed by us tonight at dVerse Poets Pub.

Come in, sit down,

Your head just so

In weary pose.

Abstract yourself –

If you can –

From war-mongering news.

Turn your eyes away,

Shutter your mind.

And see me only

For I only have eyes for you.

May your questions fall shallow.

Pebbles barely breaking

The surface of our contentment.

Love we dare not probe

Nor look too far ahead.

For tonight is all we are given

and twinkly eyes all that are left.

We cannot search

To understand

Why I am yours and yours alone.

David Bowie is… all I expected and more

I had the pleasure of being in London last week.  Mostly for work, but I did get a day off for good behaviour and went to see the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A.  Any regular readers of my blog will know just what a big Bowie fan I have been since the age of about 10, when I bought my first single of ‘Scary Monsters, Super Creeps’. One of those small vinyl 45 records – remember those?

Singlecover

It was very, very busy, with visitors of all ages and nationalities.  I could see grandparents who had probably disapproved of Bowie at the time, youngsters who were toddlers when Bowie last toured.  One of the best things about the exhibition was that it was mainly about Bowie the artist, the sheer breadth of his vision, interpretations of his work, his cultural influences (what had an impact on him and how he in turn impacted others).  Not so much about his personal life, his marriages, his drug-taking and other adventures.  And that’s how it should be.

Maybe there was an oddly elegiac feel to the exhibition, not just celebrating his life and achievements, but almost rounding them off, stamping a seal of finality to it all, as if nothing more is to come.  Luckily, the man himself proved them wrong, releasing a new album just before the exhibition opened. ‘Here am I/ Not quite dying’ he sings slyly in ‘The Next Day’.  And it’s that deadpan humour, that dirty grin and naughty twinkle in his eyes that I have always loved about Bowie.

I prefer to rejoice in the music and words of the past five decades, equally fresh and enigmatic today. The exploration, the persona, chopping and changing, referencing the work of others and his own past work: there is so much richness and complexity there, you can never get bored. He contains multitudes.

Above all, what I find inspiring is that he was not only a genius (or at the very least a hugely talented musician and artist), but that he also worked very hard for all that he has achieved.  He left school at sixteen, but continued to educate himself throughout his life.  He makes fun of his pretentious suburban teenager self, choosing books whose titles would make him look good as they peaked out from his pockets.  Yet, somehow he devoured everything, absorbed everything, forced himself to learn, for example by listening to jazz ‘until I learnt to like it’.  He experimented with automatic writing, cut-up technique, Buddhism, expressionist art, German synthesizer music… and yes, drugs.  But he cleaned up just in time.

He had a very clear vision of the future, huge drive and no doubt that he would achieve stardom on his own terms. From the very start, when he was still a teenage singer and saxophonist in various bands, he was intent on controlling all of the aspects of stage production, not just music, but image, costumes, lighting, backdrop (more Ground Control than mere Major Tom, as one reviewer recently put it). Throughout, he never pandered to his fans, but continued to produce just the kind of music he wanted to make.  Thinking out loud, in a way, and taking his followers with him.  Or not.  But not really desperately caring either way.

The boy who was ahead of his time and years.  The man who never forgot the boy inside. Always open to learning, to trying something new, to collaboration.  And the new album?  Growing old gracefully and disgracefully, with all the pain and nostalgia that entails.  Beautiful.

Dawn Chorus

I was up early today and opened my window to the most amazing, glorious sound.  And of course tree blossoms of any kind always, always remind me of Japan, hence the variations on the haiku format below.

寒紅梅

Curlicued dawn calls.

My heart fills: joyful chorus

of effort not mine.

 

Only in our dreams

Do birds contemplate:

Singing, breathing become one.

 

Oh, to fly into summer

on the wings of mellow tunes,

nestle in pink buds!

 

The Art of Science

When they uncovered the last of the bones

they placed them so gently

alongside the rest,

and brushed with soft caresses

the mould blooming in cavernous skulls.

 

When they found paths of eerie beauty

where particles had met

and shuddered to a halt,

they held up mirrors of foggy fascination

to conjure up bold dances to music overload.

 

When the lab mice get injected

to thrill to slightest sound,

vibrate in nervous tension,

they travel through synapses at speeds you cannot measure -

those words blushing with excitement at waking up on stage.

Wallflower

It is the swirl, ah, the twirl of laughter

blending hoops,

caressed, undressed with light fantastic,

small steps,

quick flicks.

We sway, away, tingling with burst of flight.

How trim, how sensual those Senegalese hips!

As the Bachata envelopes us in its languorous abandonment,

we rejoice in their envy-soaked grasp.

 

Drowned in cocktails and promise

of bloodened lips, how alone

she felt, past desire, amid the rhythms, the tropical beats.

Not young enough

or pretty enough

the sequins now scattered,

a face in the crowd, too much flesh in a sweat,

as she seeks to convey

all her love for the music,

and forget.

And forget.

 

Rebellious Songs

Today is another ominous, rainswept day and I turn once more to music to lift my mood.  Yesterday my good friend Nicky Wells posted the lyrics and translation of possibly one of the saddest (though most beautiful) songs in the world, which didn’t help.  So I turned to more revolutionary songs that meant a lot to me in my youth, like Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’.  But that was depressing too, so what to do?

Confession time: I was never an avid follower of fashion in either clothes, music or literature.  Especially with music, I just liked what I liked, usually becoming obsessive about a certain artist or band, following every single release and snippet of news about them.  Some of my choices were kind of obvious for the time (Madonna, Duran Duran), others were more unusual  or considered old-fashioned  (David Bowie, Queen, Dire Straits).  But one constant pattern in my life (which only really becomes obvious with the gift of hindsight) is my love for rebellious songs.  Perhaps it’s the legacy of growing up in a Communist dictatorship, but I’ve always had a soft spot for  songs that protest against the established order of things, that are critical of an unjust society, whether that society is democratic and capitalist (Bruce Springsteen) or more obviously in the grips of dictatorship (Mikis Theodorakis).

So here are two of my favourite songs, with very suggestive lyrics.  And, despite the serious subject matter, the music somehow manages to uplift rather than dampen me!

First, the classic Supertramp song that almost anyone can hum along to: ‘The Logical Song’.

Here’s a glimpse of Supertramp in action:

And these are the lyrics that get to me every single time:

But then they sent me away
To teach me how to be sensible
Logical, responsible, practical
And then they showed me a world
Where I could be so dependable
Clinical, intellectual, cynical

Secondly, a rather less well-known song ‘Superbacana’ by the great Brazilian singer,  composer and political activist Caetano Veloso.  He was briefly imprisoned by the military dictatorship in Brazil and had to go into exile in the late 1960s. I was unable to find a video of Caetano singing this, but here is an audio snippet:

My knowledge of Portuguese is very rudimentary, so my translation is probably not very accurate, but to me the song seems to be mocking the rhetoric of the absolutist Brazilian government of the time, promising ‘supersonic aircraft, electronic (high-tech) parks, atomic power, economic progress’, everything super-duper in fact, while contrasting it with the actual poverty of the vast majority of the population, who have ‘nothing in your pocket or your hands’.

Why do these songs cheer me up a little on such a gloomy day? [By the way, you may think I am harping overly much on the fact that it is raining, but I have been known to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, so it really is all in my mind!]  Because they express anger in a humorous way.  I find anger a more productive sentiment than sadness and despair, because it usually makes you want to do something to change matters.  And when anger is tinged with humour, it no longer is simply destructive, but becomes instructive and constructive.

What do you think of these songs?  Are you a fan of songs with ‘political’ messages?  Or does that create an obstacle in your appreciation of a song?  And what about songs in different languages, where you might not understand the subtext or even the outright meaning at all?  Can you still enjoy a song, even if you think it’s about something completely different?

 

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