Thursday, March 31, 2005

I came across the video for the U2/BB King collaboration "When Love Comes To Town" yesterday. In it, the legendary King says he's "no good" with chords!! I suppose this makes it all the more likely that I will become a master bluesman, eh? I think it has been somewhere in the region of a month since I tried to learn how to play the guitar, and admittedly I am ecstatic that for a change I haven't given up on it altogether just yet. However, I did think that after a month, I would be far more proficient than I actually am. But I'm not too disappointed, for although the last few weeks were by and large repetition of my small bag of riffs, of late I've tried to expand a bit further, one step at a time. I can't tell if it has worked or not, though - maybe this is why most websites recommend recording yourself in the early stages, no matter how dismal you think you are?

Friday, March 25, 2005

This is rather random, but I think the Futurama episode "Jurrasic Park", where Fry finds his old dog fossilised, is far too depressing. On a little reflection, I don't recall The Simpsons ever ending on a sad note; even when it was serious, it was usually handled with warmth. But the ending of said Futurama episode is just painful for me to watch. A sign that it was done well, sure, but the fact that it's so unsettling detracts from this.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

A while ago, I mentioned that the riff to the Doors' "Hello, I Love You" was based on the Kinks' "All Day And All Of The Night". I've found another potential reworking of a Kinks riff: listen to the riff from their song "Brainwashed" and I'm pretty sure you'll notice a similarity to the one Joy Divison used in "She's Lost Control". I've read that Joy Division sometimes borrowed riffs from Black Sabbath (!!), so it wouldn't be so surprising if the riff is indeed a reworking of the Kinks' song. This just makes me feel sorry for the Kinks: although to the public they're nowhere near as famous as their peers, it seems that other musicians were really quite enamoured with their work! (Then again, don't tell me that the bridge in the middle of "Mr. Churchill Says" doesn't sound awfully close to "It's Alright Ma"...)

While I'm on the subject of music, I was quite excited to see that a biography of Neil Young was on TV today, but I ended up being quite disappointed. I guess it's wrong to expect much from a one hour show - there really isn't adequate time to send across any sort of comprehensive message. But I found myself wondering who the biography was aimed at; fans (like me!) would be disappointed that there was virtually no talk about any of the albums, and not a single song clip!! People not really acquainted with Young's work wouldn't have gotten a lot out of it either, because the first half was spent talking about his roots and his early days. Such things are important, but there was a disproportional amount of time devoted to it; if it were used as a base for the rest of the program, I could understand it, but it was just sort of...there, and didn't do anything. I was so disappointed that I didn't even bother to see the Paul Simon biography that immediately followed. Once it was over though, I was told it was quite excellent actually. Don't I just have all the luck?!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Doors fans will love this video of a young Jim Morrison in a very uncharacteristic role back in his university days! From memory, Morrison was doing film studies before getting into music, but I have to say, he doesn't seem to be the best actor in the world!

Monday, March 21, 2005

There was a quote from Narziss And Goldmund that was playing at the back of my mind ever since I finished reading it. On more than one occasion, I tried flipping through to find it, but alas, to no avail. But today, I felt determined that I could find it if I tried hard enough. So I took the book out, and as though it were some magic sleight of the divine hand, I opened it on the exact page I was looking for. These are the times when I question whether there is an interventionist God or not, and for some reason, it makes me believe that everything's going to be alright.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

This is probably not all that surprising to some, but Sydney uni students have been caught cheating. Felix downplays it by saying it's the typical reaction of a confused student who doesn't add a footnote/reference, but I don't think this is the case on average. Most of the time, I think copying is quite intentional, at least in the first two years. I remember lunch-breaks where there was a whole table of students sharing around an assignment due on the day. Funnier still is a time when a complete stranger asked a friend for his assignment so that she could refer to it when writing out the solution. There'll be no moralizing from me here; I really don't see myself as above any of these people.

Admittedly, when I first saw the headline, for some inexplicable reason I was worried that I was going to be questioned, in fear that one of those hazy nights of collaboration unknowingly went too far. In part, I am also reminded of the strange incident where someone who shares my name (imagine that!) was caught copying an assignment which I also did. My friend, unaware of this namesake, anxiously asked me whether I had done anything wrong, and I replied "Err I don't think so!". It turned out that my namesake had quite freely copied someone else's assignment, and was harshly questioned by the lecturer. Yet to this day I am wary whenever the subject comes up!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

I've posted a fair few stories and poems that I'd written a long time ago, and pointed out how different my style was then, expounding on its flaws and quirks. Today, I got the opportunity to do something similar, but this time, it wasn't a poem or story I looked at, but a piece of code. Hardly captures the imagination, eh? I don't think code is looked on as an art form, but I think (as with most things) it can be, but this is rarely achieved. Elegant, succint code (and, let it be said, algorithms), can be aesthetically pleasing, but I don't think that's enough to call a piece of a code a work of art; I actually recall an argument about this on the net, and I think the argument for the case that code can be art suggested that it's the overall form and structure that needs to be considered. Hardly a precise definition, but this whole "Is this art?" business can be pretty murky. (I remember a snippet of a conversation where it was said that an "artist"'s latest piece was her getting plastic surgery when a group of people were looking on, singing opera or some such bizarre thing. It almost seemed to suggest that something's art if you don't understand it!)

Anyhow, back to the code. I noticed such troubling snippets as this:

void Score::WriteScore (Score score)
// Write the scores on screen
WriteText("Score: ", 7, 10, 700, 14);
WriteText("Score: ", 7, 900, 700, 14);

char *s = new char[9];

s = itoa(score.UScore, s, 10);
WriteText(s, strlen(s), 55, 700, 14);

s = itoa(score.CScore, s, 10);
WriteText(s, strlen(s), 945, 700, 14);

Magic numbers, using char * where std::string is much more suited, itoa where a std::stringstream might be better, and (most troubling of all!), a memory leak. All in just 7 lines!! The perils of being a self-taught programmer, you see. The date on the file suggests it was written just under 3 years ago, and by that measure I've improved by leaps and bounds - I've gone from a poor programmer to an average one. At this point, I'm more or less able to write visually clean code, and avoid the majority of beginner-mistakes (about time!). This has led people to remark that I am a good-enough programmer, because my code looks nice enough, neatly indented with fairly detailed documentation and flashes of good habits. Yet this is very superficial, because under the hood it's a different story: design-wise, my brain doesn't seem to be able to handle complex problems. The same people who give me encouragement would probably run away if they'd seen some of the terrible monstrosities I've coded, and the truly apalling ways I've "debugged" pieces of code.

Of late, I've lost the interest in programming that I used to have a long time ago. I slowly feel like it's returning, albeit with a regret that I've wasted so many years when I could've improved even further, and made up for any inherent limitations I have when it comes to making up a design. After a good year or so, I took out the Python book I've had my eye on, and have started to dip my feet into the strange world of quasi-functional programming. Let this blog be a reference with which I can gauge my progress.
I think that to nearly any other person in the world, it would hardly be a memorable day, but I seem to revel in celebrating the non-descript. There is a problem then in attempting to capture the overwhelming beauty of what others take to be meaningless, and I run the risk of sounding like a fool (a role, thankfully, that I am used to playing). I suppose that's the way it’s always going to be; what's intensely memorable to me can seem to be laughably trivial when spelt out in words. No matter how powerfully persuasive one’s writing is, there are always some things that transcend succinct encapsulation. This is especially true with matters of a spiritual nature, which, as anyone who knows me will tell you, is how I occupy most of my time.

There have been numerous occasions when I've tried to assert that there is so much beauty in this world for one to appreciate, yet I've never been totally convincing, even to myself. I’m quite certain that nearly everything in this fair world can strike my imagination on a particular day, and make me so struck with it that I am inspired to express myself, such as with this piece of writing. This is understanable enough, but what's perilous about it is that I put myself in a particularly vulnerable position every time I attempt to open up and speak of beauty. It's true that these expressions are the result of some truly profound moment in my day that really speaks to me, and as such I tend to hold them close to my heart. As such, when such powerful sentiments are put into writing, by making a false step in my writing, it is as though I am blighting the sentiment itself!

I sometimes think it all very odd though, when at some arbitrary point of the day my mind drifts and begins to focus on the curious matters of life. Whether or not this foible is shared by the rest of the world I’ll never know, but it does make me ponder how others perceive me. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve sat staring aimlessly into space, filling my mind with strange, fanciful notions, and suddenly becoming aware of this. At these points, I look at the faces around me, and wonder whether anyone would believe that the person they see in front of them is capable of such thoughts. I wonder whether they'd believe that I am capable of viewing the world in the way I do, with an almost detached air of curiosity. Admittedly, I can't see anyone else think like I do.

On this particular day, I don’t remember much of what ensued in my morning and evening. It must have been sometime before lunch that I started to feel genuinely content. Lord help me if I sound out of my mind, but it was as though for a moment I saw my place in this universe, and gladly accepted it. Rationally reconsidering such a statement would of course lead me to state it was little more than some nebulous philosophizing, yet that would be inaccurate; as I mentioned earlier, there is an element of futility in discussing these things.

A waft of gentle breeze greeted me, and played on my eyes for a while. Temporarily distracted, I looked out the window and was greeted by a tranquil blue sky. I realize it sounds overly dramatic if I say that I saw the infinite capacity for beauty in the world, but that is in fact the truth. I told myself that there was a point to it all, and that it is beauty. I took out a book, having an intuition that this was the perfect atmosphere to read, and with the hope that the words would carry special meaning. The first page read:

"But every man is not only himself; he is also the unique, particular, always significant and remarkable point where the phenomena of the world intersect once and for all and never again. That is why every man's story is important, eternal, sacred; and why every man while he lives and fulfils the will of nature is a wonderful creature, deserving the utmost attention"

At that point, it didn’t matter just what was being said. No, all that really mattered was the spirit of it all, the soft, subdued yet overwhelming force that was exuding out of it. The ghost of Huxley reminded me not to take art too seriously, and I nodded, but there I was on an entirely different level of appreciation. The words sprung off the page as though they were being written at the very time I was reading them! I was reminded of another old friend who managed to capture my precise feelings at the time:

"And each and every one of them words rang true and glowed like burning coal,
Pouring off of each page, like it was written in my soul"

Through one of my fictional creations, I once remarked indirectly that I hadn’t cried in a long, long time, but when I said that I had associated crying with sadness. But thinking about that little window of time where everything fit into its place, I think I can come close to shedding a tear of joy. Again, I come off as overly dramatic and far too romantic to be taken seriously, but with matters so close to my heart, I find it hard to be any other way.
Lately, whenever it has rained, I’ve been reminded of things as they were a couple of years ago. Those cold, wet days really captured my imagination, because I look back at them with fondness. I remember humming “Powderfinger” on the way to uni one morning, and in particular remember thinking how Rust Never Sleeps was going to be a milestone purchase, one that would become the best album in my collection. Heh, but nowadays, perhaps I would harshly criticize said album, given the vagaries of my taste. There was a particular period where I couldn't wait to get home, where I would read up on discographies of various artists through the AllMusic site. There was always an air of expectation and excitement, because it felt like I had been turned onto something truly profound and uplifting - music! I was very much a neophyte back then, with my only exposure being Dylan, the Dead, and a lone Crosby, Stills & Nash CD (which led me to Neil Young's catalogue). I spent the second half of the holidays scouring through the CD collection in my house, and trying to listen to as many albums as possible, trying to branch out. Back then, I had no clue who Led Zeppelin where, and “Stairway To Heaven” sounded interesting enough, but I had never heard anything about the song. I still remember how it was a cold morning when I placed the CD inside my player with bated breath, and found the opening “Black Dog” to be wickedly good! There was just something about it that made me beam uncontrollably, and think that I’d found something precious.

This all makes me wonder what things of the recent past have sufficiently impressed me, enough to be recalled at some point in the future. Yet I don't think I want to know until the magical moment arrives that I am drawn back, perhaps out of a sense of deja vu, to a time long gone but which lives on in my mind!
Only a few seconds ago, I was thinking that I would make a post celebrating Dinesh Karthik's first hundred against Pakistan, possibly then reminiscing even further about how strange it is that I once played alongside this young lad. Alas, he was dismissed for 93, bowled around his legs by Kaneria (who, incidentally, has impressed me a lot - perhaps the next Saqlain-style strike bowler?). Anyhow, a fine effort, and I'm sure he'll reach the milestone soon enough!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

I've harped on a lot about the power of music, but I wonder if it literally has the power to cure lethargy, and energize a tired person? I've found that listening to something (preferrably something really soothing, so no Birthday Party! Though Cave's The Good Soon is what motivated this post) in the evenings sometimes can make me shed, at least for a while, the strains of the day that has passed, and provide a burst of energy. I can't say that I understand it; soft music being soothing, I can understand, but this seems more along the lines of refilling the gumption engines.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

"Do The Strand", where have you been all this while? Wow, best song of the '70s for sure (no, only joking gentle reader - this post is the product of a certain euphoria which I spoke of yesterday, one that only music seems to be able to generate. A euphoria which makes me want to really "do the strand". Ugh, me dancing? A shocking thought!!).

You know, every once in a while I wonder whether I've heard every song worth hearing. In a way, it's understandable; I've already convinced myself that there will never be another "When The Music's Over", nor a "Terrapin Station" (hard to compete with something that is associated with intensely personal memories, no?). But as this song has reminded me, it's always a pleasure to be proved wrong. A related thought is whether I've heard every melody worth hearing. Heck, listening to the Beatles' catalogue can do that to a person. It takes songs like "Catblack" to again prove me wrong, and again I thoroughly enjoy being proved wrong in these matters!

Pointless edit: I remember that I posted something in a similar vein when I listened to Band On The Run. But heck, now that Ram is playing, I have to say, I really think that this is the best '70s pop-album I've heard. Yeah, superior to Band On The Run, the subject of this post (For Your Pleasure, which I think is underrated actually; or is the rest of Roxy's catalogue just so much superior!?), Rumours, et al. Then again, I haven't listened to very many '70s pop-albums, so this statement is really rather pointless. Although, you know, to me, now that Ram has formed an intense emotional attachment, it's quite likely that it will be my favourite '70s pop-album for a while now, and anything quasi-objectively superior won't be able to shake its place - bold words, but I'll stick by them!

Friday, March 11, 2005

Lately, I decided to revisit the strange world of online radio again, and have come out feeling somewhat dissatisfied yet again. I've long since given up on MSN radio, because asking it to play oldies invariably ends up with it playing certain popular artists that I, at this point, don't want to listen to at all. I don't have any real qualms with the likes of Styx, but like I said, I simply don't want to listen to that sort of thing. Yahoo Radio is better in that one can get "fan radio" stations for particular artists, which means it plays other songs which fans of the artist also like. In theory, good, but the problem is it can lead to some oddities. See, I can understand combining Nick Cave with Sisters Of Mercy, but Portishead? Not that I have anything against Portishead, mind you, heck, some of the songs are actually quite good (who would've guessed!?), but it just isn't the sort of thing I want to listen to when I ask for Cave-style music. I guess I shouldn't really be complaining when the station is offering good songs, regardless of whether they're related to the artist or not, but I suppose my goal at this point is rather short-term: to find something similar to artist X, not to find something else that is interesting nonetheless. In small doses it's no problem, but when it reappears time and time again, well.. Another caveat is that the station usually doesn't play the artist you say you like - perhaps it assumes you've heard the artist to death!? There blows my chances of getting a taste of "The Killing Moon" (on the rare occasions that I've had the luck of hearing a Bunnymen song, it's usually been, well, nonsense. Perhaps "The Killing Moon" will fare no better?)

I'm sure there are good independent radio stations out there, I just haven't a clue how to find them. The Winamp ones are decent enough, but still maybe a bit too mainstream. Of course, I complain too much; if I did find a non-mainstream station, I'd probably complain that they're playing too many artists I've never heard of or something. In truth, perhaps what I want is the station to play exactly the artists I'm interested in, which is asking a bit much.
Gary Kasparov has retired from the chess world, and on reading the news I experience a strange sensation. For starters, it takes me many years back, to days in school where my friends were obsessed with the game of chess and spent every free moment practising some new opening or challenging each other's wits. That time is then closely tied with chess, and of Anand and Kasparov (and Deep Blue!). I was never good at chess, but like most things, I made up for it with a near unmatched enthusiasm (obsession?). What I lacked in talent I masked by memorizing openings, without trying to comprehend the structures lying beneath. By that I mean that I never appreciate the reason behind the moves; I treated them as a set of things you did to get into a good position. Yet I never tried to see why this was the case - perhaps if I did, I wouldn't be tied to a linear set of steps, but rather be able to formulate my own strategies. Alas, those times are now gone, and so I suppose the retirement is in some sense a reminder of how those times have long passed; a "retirement" of that part of my childhood!
A course on the "poetry of rock"?! I wonder how that got approved by the english department. After all, rock-poetry and plain poetry are still worlds apart in many ways. Still, I sure wish I were doing it though, one of the recommendations for an exercise is, would you believe it, to listen to some of Dylan's albums! Ahhh, now that's a homework exercise. Although, dissecting lyrics, like dissecting poems, would be painful.

On the subject of rock-poetry, the critic Robert Christgau has an interesting article on his site entitled Rock Lyrics Are Poetry (Maybe). Essentially, he asserts that most of rock-poetry is simply good songwriting, and that it's wrong to consider rock-poets as modern-poets in the conventional sense of the word. In it, he makes what I think is a crucial point, that often lyrics are endowed with "...nebulousness that passes for depth among so many lovers of rock poetry". Debatable, but of late I think I'd side with him on this one. There are definitely a lot of cases where I find myself thinking "Wow, this is really deep", when in fact what I really mean is "Wow, this is really indecipherable". However, having said that, let me make two further points. Firstly, that the same holds for normal poetry - it isn't immune to this equation of vagueness to genius. Second, that for every case of mystification, there is another case where there is no clear meaning, but there is a powerful feeling generated. Yet, in many cases, this is through the musical backing. So, rock-poetry is an interesting beast, really. I'd consider it as the child of poetry and music (when it's done right), but it's a bit of a stretch to say it's supersedes either parent in terms of pure artistic merit (probably in terms of "relevance" and acceptance, though).

Which leads me to form the opinion that the power of rock-poetry is usually quite closely tied to the musical backing. The gothic, majestic "The Crystal Ship" reads pretty good on paper, but it just isn't the same without the piano: the words take on a new meaning when set to music. As always, there will be exceptions - "Horse Latitudes" reads equally good on paper, in fact the song is possibly inferior to the poem!

It's an interesting exercise to try and figure out what exactly is there in the words that we shouldn't call rock-poetry as just plain poetry. In general, even without backing music, I'd say that rock-poetry can be held as normal poetry, only it's the quality is what's debatable (is this a semantics issue? I truly don't know, it depends what other people mean when they say "This isn't poetry!"). I wonder what rock-poetry is bereft of to motivate me to say that the quality is debatable. I think one of the main reasons is because it does have some sort of predictability to it, and the boundaries as they stand have rarely been transcended. The verse-structure for one is for the most part fairly predictable. It's definitely true that surrealist and psychedelic imagery has been thoroughly explored, and it's interesting that most rock-poets have written a lot of their work in these forms. Not exclusively, of course, at least, not the cream of the crop.

Another big factor is perhaps the range of subjects covered, and the way they are addressed. It was only to the end of the '60s that rock became truly introspective, and rock-poetry I think matured greatly after 1966 or so. It's true that the love song is still alive and well, and it risked becoming a cliche in the early '60s. Still, I think rock-poetry has done well in the way it has managed to deal with these things - starting off with the simple naivety of '60s pop, we now have (as I talked about yesterday) songs like "Where The Wild Roses Grow". It's not only a dark song, but it's done with style, and it's warming to see that rock has at the very least matured over the years.

I think that rock-poetry has definitely touched upon more subjects than you would think, it's just that the way it's been done has sometimes left a little to be desired; it takes the best of the lot to pull it off. Neil Young's "Powderfinger" comes to mind as a touching, tragic song about fading away, and a wasted life, definitely no pedestrian topic, and it's definitely no pedestrian lyric. Still, a good poem? Why do I hesitate to call it so?

I think the doubt in my mind about whether rock-poetry is good poetry is also it's because of the relative lack of complexity. Which makes me think that I must be wrong, for surely something which communicates an idea in a complicated way is no better than something that does the same in a simple way? Ouch, my brain's hurting, I've confused myself by repeatedly changing my mind in the writing of this post. Hmm, it's true that a lot of classical poetry can be fairly abstract, whereas most rock-poetry is dismissed as wordplay or cliche. Yet is it also the fact that it can be easy in most cases to digest rock-poetry, to figure out intent? Is it the lack of understated subtlety, the economy of expression and the sublime grace of the words that the best poetry offers? Bleh, I don't know anymore! Heck, is this a poem or a lyric?

Four o'clock in the afternoon
And i didn't feel like very much.
I said to myself, "where are you golden boy,
Where is your famous golden touch?"
I thought you knew where
All of the elephants lie down,
I thought you were the crown prince
Of all the wheels in ivory town.
Just take a look at your body now,
There's nothing much to save
And a bitter voice in the mirror cries,
"hey, prince, you need a shave."
Now if you can manage to get
Your trembling fingers to behave,
Why don't you try unwrapping
A stainless steel razor blade?
That's right, it's come to this,
Yes it's come to this,
And wasn't it a long way down,
Wasn't it a strange way down?

There's no hot water
And the cold is running thin.
Well, what do you expect from
The kind of places you've been living in?
Don't drink from that cup,
It's all caked and cracked along the rim.
That's not the electric light, my friend,
That is your vision growing dim.
Cover up your face with soap, there,
Now you're santa claus.
And you've got a gift for anyone
Who will give you his applause.
I thought you were a racing man,
Ah, but you couldn't take the pace.
That's a funeral in the mirror
And it's stopping at your face.
That's right, it's come to this,
Yes it's come to this,
And wasn't it a long way down,
Ah wasn't it a strange way down?

Once there was a path
And a girl with chestnut hair,
And you passed the summers
Picking all of the berries that grew there;
There were times she was a woman,
Oh, there were times she was just a child,
And you held her in the shadows
Where the raspberries grow wild.
And you climbed the twilight mountains
And you sang about the view,
And everywhere that you wandered
Love seemed to go along with you.
That's a hard one to remember,
Yes it makes you clench your fist.
And then the veins stand out like highways,
All along your wrist.
And yes it's come to this,
It's come to this,
And wasn't it a long way down,
Wasn't it a strange way down?

You can still find a job,
Go out and talk to a friend.
On the back of every magazine
There are those coupons you can send.
Why don't you join the rosicrucians,
They can give you back your hope,
You can find your love with diagrams
On a plain brown envelope.
But you've used up all your coupons
Except the one that seems
To be written on your wrist
Along with several thousand dreams.
Now santa claus comes forward,
That's a razor in his mit;
And he puts on his dark glasses
And he shows you where to hit;
And then the cameras pan,
The stand in stunt man,
Dress rehearsal rag,
It's just the dress rehearsal rag,
You know this dress rehearsal rag,
It's just a dress rehearsal rag.

-- Leonard Cohen, "Dress Rehersal Rag"

It's probably unfair to use Cohen though, he was a poet before he became a songwriter. One mighty dark lyric, wouldn't you say? It seems to be about a man who stands in front of a mirror and contemplates slitting his wrists, but pulls out at the last minute because it's "a dress rehersal rag". Scary stuff! An equally good choice of lyric that is mighty close to being a poem would be "Famous Blue Raincoat":

It's four in the morning, the end of December
I'm writing you now just to see if you're better
New York is cold, but I like where I'm living
There's music on Clinton Street all through the evening.

I hear that you're building your little house deep in the desert
You're living for nothing now, I hope you're keeping some kind of record.

Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
Did you ever go clear?

Ah, the last time we saw you you looked so much older
Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder
You'd been to the station to meet every train
And you came home without Lili Marlene

And you treated my woman to a flake of your life
And when she came back she was nobody's wife.

Well I see you there with the rose in your teeth
One more thin gypsy thief
Well I see Jane's awake --

She sends her regards.

And what can I tell you my brother, my killer
What can I possibly say?
I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you
I'm glad you stood in my way.

If you ever come by here, for Jane or for me
Your enemy is sleeping, and his woman is free.

Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes
I thought it was there for good so I never tried.

And Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear

Sincerely, L. Cohen

Anyhow, I truly don't know what my opinion is on the finer points of this issue.

A strange, confusing post this one. I hope I didn't come off as contradictory, heck I'm not sure what I think anymore. I started off writing with the intent of defending rock-poetry, and I have, but not in the sense I originally planned. Basically, I think it definitely can be poetry, just perhaps not as good/refined as the poetry of yore (although maybe it is, I can't say anymore), although in a musical context it takes on a life on its own. I suppose something like "poetry for the masses", in that in most cases it's easier to digest than reading a poem (helped no doubt by the musical backing). Whether that's a good thing or not, well... I'm definitely enamoured with rock-poetry, given my limited intellect and capacity to absorb (and write) real poetry, and even if it has its limits, it's mighty rewardin!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Purely by accident, I came across a radio programme on (who else?) Nick Cave, featuring readings from his famous lecture The Secret Life Of The Love Song. It's more than enough to convince me that said lecture would be a worthy purchase, even if I don't necessarily agree with everything he says in it. For instance,

"The writer who refuses to explore the darker regions of the heart will never be able to write convincingly about the wonder, the magic and the joy of love for just as goodness cannot be trusted unless it has breathed the same air as evil - the enduring metaphor of Christ crucified between two criminals comes to mind here - so within the fabric of the love song, within its melody, its lyric, one must sense an acknowledgement of its capacity for suffering"

Eloquent as always, but I don't know if I agree entirely with him. In a way, I'm torn - I don't agree that a piece of art needs to have a tinge of darkness to be resonant or convincing, yet at the same time, a prolonged absense would be harmful. If I were to listen to hours on end of songs excitedly proclaiming the power of love, I'd probably get a little sick after a while, and reach out for Murder Ballads! Of course, if I listened for hours on end to some of the more depressing music out there, I'd probably reach for some sunny-pop to help me snap out of a potential depression. I guess what I'm saying is that both ways are valid, and further that having a sample of both is not necessarily the best way to go. Really, is there anything wrong with a ditty like "Ram On", sitting at an inoffensive two minutes?

Yes, it's definitely possible to come up with some expression of love while embracing the darkness, so as to speak; the programme features a clip of "Where The Wild Roses Grow", a chilling, eerie song that is in some perverted sense a love song ("As I kissed her goodbye, I said, 'All beauty must die'"). Yet I disagree that shutting one's eyes to the gloom leads to an unconvincing piece of art. In some sense, art is a distillation of ideas, and if something chooses to focus on one side, so be it. To me, "Love Minus Zero" is as beautiful a love song as anything else in this world; the fact that Dylan doesn't choose to express the pain he endured on the way is of little consequence to me.

One of the statements Cave makes is particularly interesting. Cave is certainly a good, maybe even great lyricist (I reserve such high praise only because I'm not as familiar with his work as I should be). He's known to have a great interest in literature and painting, so it begs the question: why does he pursue rock music, which, as he says, is often regarded as the lowest form of art? His answer may surprise some. He states that music is the most mysterious art form, something I think we can all agree on that to some extent. But he further says that rock music in particular is the only art form he knows that can stir up specific emotions, such as rage. He says he could never feel angry or violent after reading a book or watching a painting, but he can when listening to something. As I think about this, I find myself agreeing with him; listening to Cave's own "Tupelo", and the Doors' "When The Music's Over" say, just wants me to scream out loud. Not with rage or anger, mind you, but there is a certain euphoria that the music is able to kindle which I don't think any other form has managed to do for me. The Birthday Party's "Junkyard" brings up a very different emotion - pure fear, really. Hearing Cave scream is just spooky at the start, but by the end I get truly creeped out. Of course, this isn't to say that there aren't things that other forms can make one feel which music can't; harking back to my previous post, I doubt all the songs in the world could impart the same feeling as reading Narziss And Goldmund late at night, or for that matter seeing some of the photos from the trip I took recently. This is all perhaps something of a moot point, but I've often wondered what someone obviously so richly connected to the more traditionally focussed streams of art thinks of the form he's currently pursuing. It turns out he wouldn't have it any other way!

Early in the programme, there is some talk about Cave's motivation to write. Speaking of the tragedy of the early death of his father, and the resulting emptiness it created, he says:

"The way I learned to fill this hole, this void, was to write. My father taught me this as if to prepare me for his own passing. To write allowed me direct access to my imagination, to inspiration and ultimately to God. I found through the use of language, that I wrote god into existence. Language became the blanket that I threw over the invisible man, that gave him shape and form"

How beautifully put! It vaguely echoes the sentiment I reserved when I was writing on a regular basis. As he says much later on in the segment, "The word is immortal". You know, when I started listening to the programme, my intent at the time was to write. However, I was at a loss for inspiration, or any idea to base my writing upon. Some thirty minutes later, listening to some of the words pierce through and get to the crux of things, hearing tales of Cave's father reading Shakespeare to him, I've found my inspiration - strangely enough, not only to write, but to read as well.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Yes, I know I stated that I don't have writer's block, but what the heck, this seems appropriate anyway:

I look at you, and you look at me, and deep in our hearts know it,
That you weren't much of a muse, but then I wasn't much of a poet

By that Australian marvel Nick Cave, from a song about writer's block ("There She Goes, My Beautiful World"). I suppose what makes it even more appropriate is the fact that tomorrow is the start of another potentially torturous year at university, an event which in the past has resulted in a mad spewing of musings on how quickly time passes, the meaning of it all, the lament for the loss of freedom, and what have you. But today, I've got nothing for you. I don't know whether this is the result of apathy or contentment.

It's almost time to sink into the final sleep of these holidays, which has made me feel obliged to remark about what a strange period of time it's been. I vividly remember the sheer disgust and anger I felt towards the end of November, with a seemingly endless barrage of problems and worries being thrown my way. In many ways, I think I knew that there was bound to be some sort of mass exodus of emotion, and it turned out to be an implosion of sorts. All thanks to the trip. It's more than a month now since I returned to this strange land, and thinking again about the subtle shades of beauty that revealed themselves back home makes me believe that I think I would have gone crazy had I not reconnected with the world, and more importantly, myself.

What is this mystical nonsense I'm going on about? I wish I were a better writer that I could explain what I mean. I was quite enamoured with Herman Hesse's writing at some point in these holidays, because he seemed to know exactly what I mean, only he managed to express his thoughts in a most elegant fashion. The copy of Narziss And Goldmund I have is an old Penguin Classics version, with browning pages. I'm glad I didn't have a newer version, because the condition of the book just fit in so perfectly with the content. All the while through, I felt as though I was reading some ancient parchment, and in a very personal sense I was. I suppose I needed to read something like that, to affirm some belief that there's hope for the world, that there is something that can triumph over all the misery and pain.

Back to the topic of my mystical nonsense (now a favourite phrase of mine), I actually don't think that being a better writer would help me very much in expressing myself. By nature, I'm rather reserved in how much I'm willing to share, even to an anonymous mass-audience (!). The things I experienced, the thoughts and musings, they're all too intensely personal for me to want to share. To put it in some perspective, there are moments which I can quite safely say I'll remember for a long time as being times where I saved myself (from spiralling into insanity). I originally thought I'd have quite a few posts heralding my miraculous recovery, but instead since my return this blog has been relatively low-key and quiet. I wouldn't have it any other way though, gentle reader. At one point I still remember clearly, I looked to Lou Reed for inspiration, and found it: "In a world that seems mad, all the dancers seem sad / Heavenly arms, reach out to me", and in a way that sums it all up really (was that even vaguer?).

But it wasn't all roses these past few months, and indeed I'm glad that I was able to see that life doesn't exist at either extreme even in the heights of my existential depression. I remember one incident in particular where I was truly stunned by how grey and vague situations can get; how judgement should always be suspended to the very end! At the time, I don't think I appreciated it very much, indeed it only served to make me all the more unhinged. But in hindsight, I think it was an important lesson that I needed to be reacquainted with. In fact, it revealed a seriously troubling flaw in the way I sometimes think of people. Forgive me for being rather coy about the specifics, but such things are rather private, and I don't think it appropriate to share them here.

On the whole, it was interesting time to be sure. I started off finding myself getting depressed with Jim Morrison ("All our lives we sweat and save / Building for a shallow grave"), and have ended up more or less content, with a belief that there's hope for us all. It's funny that I happened to quote Nick Cave earlier this morning, because there's something else of his that seems appropriate to this little lecture: "He said, that in the end it is beauty / That is going to save the world". I couldn't have put it better myself.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Bob Dylan is clearly not impressed with most modern musicians. I think Bobby is getting a lot more controversial in his old age (or is he reclaiming the controversy of his youth?). I've read bits and pieces of his biography Chronicles, including sections where he distances himself from the people of the '60s who looked to him as some sort of messiah. It was a bit of a surprise to read him expressing so much distaste for those who labelled him "the voice of the generation"; I'd heard him being branded that before, but took it to be just another of those compliments. But to Dylan, one comes to realize, it meant the complete opposite of who he wanted to be, much to his chagrin. In this light, I suppose the mystery behind Self-Portrait is more or less solved - I imagine it was just Dylan deciding that he'd had enough of it all, and wanted to have some fun with the listeners, no doubt anxiously awaiting a masterpiece.

Reading through some discussions on Dylan's comments, such as this, it seems that people are interpreting what he said in different ways. I don't think Dylan cares anymore how people interpret him, but anyway - I don't think he's attacking all modern music, just the sort of mainstream songs you see on MTV or Channel V which is promoted as being great beyond words. I'm pretty sure Dylan's aware of some of the less-commercial groups and artists out there today, and don't think he wanted to make a blanket statement dismissing all modern music.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

This another piece of the "what I was doing a year ago" thread. According to this post, I was trying to learn the guitar, but abruptly stopped for some reason. Now, one year on, I find myself in the same position - although I haven't stopped just as yet. Voices of self-doubt crop up every day or so, yet I've somehow managed to keep it at it for almost a week. Not that there any perceptible improvements in my technique or playing - at this stage, there are simply days when it all works, and days when it doesn't.

What strikes me as fascinating is the concept of melody and catchiness, and how it can be measured and analyzed. In particular, one of the exercises that I'm currently pursuing is to play some of the more memorable rock riffs, just to increase finger speed and strength (and, of course, to serve as some motivation to continue!). In a riff with multiple repititions of the same note (for instance, the riff of "Five To One"), even omitting a single one of these repeated notes can make the whole thing sound completely different, and in fact makes it sound far less memorable. Perhaps this is an obvious fact to some, but I was truly amazed when I tried this out and found that I couldn't just "appropriate" the riff, I had to play it note for note if I wanted it to sound "right", as though it were complete and the way it was meant to be. What also puzzles me is how some riffs can be so simple yet so unforgettable. Taking "Five To One" again as an example, the riff is probably the easiest you can find, yet when it comes on at the end of Waiting For The Sun, it's positively chilling! And, like any good riff I suppose, it's something that just lodges in your head forever. (Funnily enough, I saw an ad in a cinema once for some sort of perfume, where they used this very riff...hmm, so was the point to emphasise "They got the guns, but we got the numbers?"!?!) These sorts of questions make me want to learn more about the theory of music, and see whether others have figured out just what makes one piece sound melodic, and another just like noise.

But I also wonder where I want to take the playing of this instrument. Do I just want to be able to read up tabs and chords on the internet of various songs and learn how to play 95% of them? Or do I want to go further than that? Truth be told, I get the impression that going further is usually paired with the playing shifting from a mere hobby to something serious (playing gigs I suppose). Going a bit deeper into the theory of it all sounds quite interesting, but I doubt that I can fathom most of it. Maybe I just think too much, it's far too early to make such long term decisions; I can't even change chords!