Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I had originally written a long and consequently (for me) tepid post that tried to deal with the incident that sparked the following piece. It turned out to be too heavily influenced by the style of Notes from Underground, and so I decided it was best left as it was. The following was actually part of it, and in my best Notes style I had included it mockingly, lamenting on how it provided a momentary thrill that gave way to the realization that it basically came to nought. It sometimes happens with this sort of light-hearted self-deprecation that it no longer becomes clear what one's true opinion really is, and this is one of those cases. I'm not sure if this is one of my worst writings - there is an element of "awfulness" to it, but the aspects of it that seem pre-meditated (notions of height, irony, etc.) are in fact not. Whether such things suddenly gain worth simply because they just "come" to me is another matter, of course...

Sarcasm, that lowest of devices
Surely too far beneath one like you?
Sitting in your tower, above us all
Surely it would suffice to show us the view.
It is hard to get the requisite humour across here.

"I want to be a writer, sir", I said with complete earnesty, wide-eyes staring expectantly at him.
He had none of it, and gruffly said "To write, you have to know people, understand them".
After a slight pause, I excitedly quipped "Ah, but I know myself!", and half-imagined I had broken his defense.
But he just smiled at me, and clinched victory with the wry words "Then perhaps you know why it will not be".

Thursday, January 04, 2007

I seem to keep these feelings under check most of the time, but sometimes they come out of the cracks. "On paper", I think, "I might be another one of those people, but in my heart I know I am not". It does not take much, unsurprisingly, to make me feel this way; a small comment here or there, or worse yet a photo (which is the culprit this time). I don't want to imagine engaging in conversations that do not interest me, which makes me wonder what I am doing staying where I am in the first place. "It is meant for someone who has a true interest", I sadly tell myself, before sighing and trying my best to forget.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

There might be others like me, but I doubt it; most people with blogs either seem to have no end to the amount of things they can write about, or else choose to abruptly end without any concern. The former is beyond me, and so I seem to be fixated with avoiding the latter fate, out of some quaint sense of loyalty to the blog itself (which, incidentally, is now three years old). I don't even want to think about how many times I've written these meta-posts, because it does not matter. Each one has been relevant, if uninteresting (even to me). It does beg the question of why I should write it at all, but again, it is as if the blog demands it...

The past year was pretty poor in terms of posting, and I have wanted to make it better. But try as I might, I cannot conjure up anything of interest, fictional or otherwise. My quality-control filter has become far harsher, and I reject a lot more than I used to. I suppose that is good, but I cannot help but feel as though I am on the slow path to a quiet exit. Not that the world will realize; after all, I have effectively put off most readers by my idiosyncracy, not to mention my irregularity.

'Tis a weird sort of thing, this creation of mine. I wonder what can be gleaned from it when I am not writing fiction, which is a rarity these days. The veil I use to cover the true events from my life is so thick that there are now writings that I myself cannot decipher. The events and memories they entail have long slipped away into the recesses of my mind, and now they are inseparable from fiction. I think that is a sad fate, for no doubt there was something in them if they were able to prompt a post from me (especially given how lax I seem to be in writing anything at all).

I half thought of hanging up my boots here and now - what better time than the start of a new year to do away with the baggage of years gone by? I am not quite sure what has stopped me; some silly belief that there will somehow be another glorious patch as there was this time last year. Regardless, I suppose that means I am not over and done with it just yet. The future's uncertain and the end is always near!

Musical retrospective 2006

It is always interesting to reflect on the musical year, as it seems to reveal things that are on one level remarkable, but on another seem rather ordinary. For instance, the past year is memorable in that I managed, in the space of 8 months or so, to develop a near complete Paul Simon collection (barring the soundtrack to One Trick Pony; but to make up, I have the VHS of the movie...), and I am not sure how to react. Sure, it is quite a collection, and I would not say it is money wasted. At the same time, it is maybe a little scary how resolute and determined I was towards a goal that is inherently ephemeral; I am almost left asking "And where has this got me?". But in truth, as the man said, maybe I think too much for my own good.

About his catalogue, then - it is very good, certainly a worthy successor to the Simon & Garfunkel one, and in keeping with the ancient tradition of me discovering an artist's entire catalogue in the span of year, it has basically overshadowed all other competition (although I do think about the Moz a fair bit, but anyway). Not that I mind, since it is quite a rewarding collection of songs the man has penned. And funnily enough, some of the most memorable ones come from a seemingly inconsequential album from 2000, You're The One, which makes it all the better, seeing as how I have discovered a lost trove of negotations & love songs that even Simon fans write off as a desparate attempt to reach the commercial mass. I'm not all that sure that it did (reach the masses, that is), you know, but although I see where they're coming from, it does nothing to dilute my love of the album. It is in keeping with my discovery each year of an album that is in some way magical. It may not be his best album (Graceland), or even my favourite of his (Hearts and Bones), but it is his most mysterious, and possibly his most consistent.

I do not think it wise to spend a lot of time analyzing lyrics and the like, because they need the warmth of the music. I will say that he is a fine lyricist, and certainly one of the more unique ones I've heard. I'd wager that a lot of people understandably, but mistakenly, judge him solely on Graceland for lyrical talent - and I don't think it is wholly representative of what he can do. "Graceland" is a fine song lyrically, and it is clear enough that you are dealing with an interesting songwriter ("I Know What I Know" and "Gumboots", for instance, are not conventional songs), but he has done other things. If you take Graceland alone, you would miss gems on his debut, Paul Simon, which was good enough to make Robert Chrisigau smile. "Mother and Child Reunion" is obviously excellent, "Duncan" slightly less obviously so, but my secret treasures here are "Run That Body Down" and even more esoterically, "Papa Hobo" ("It's carbon and monoxide / The old Detroit perfume"). There is more still to be found on Hearts and Bones (what immediately comes to mind are the title track, and "Train In The Distance") and You're The One ("The Teacher", and of course "Hurricane Eye"), but it gets a bit tedious listing out all the well written tracks after a point. Suffice to say, he can write, and in my book he is nowhere near being the simple Dylan follower he could so easily have been painted as when he started out. In fact, his catalogue is done a favour by the fact that by the time of his first album, he had already been writing for quite a few years with Simon & Garfunkel - as a result, he starts off quite polished already, having matured as a songwriter.

Not that there was no-one else in the year. The Moz, as I mentioned, was always around in spirit, even though I only really listened to Your Arsenal, one of those "good but not great" albums. The big figue at the start of the year was McCartney, with London Town, which belongs in the same category I guess, but which deserves a bit more recognition for the fact that there are so many good songs, even if he doesn't seem to be able to produce that one truly blissful song, as he did on all previous albums I've heard. But "London Town", "Famous Groupies", "Deliver Your Children" and, of course, "The Backwards Traveller"? Well, any album with all that is worth whatever other flaws it may possess. There was more McCartney, you know - Venus and Mars, to be precise, which was a disappointment though; take "Call Me Back Again". The first ten seconds seem to set up something truly special; I seem to have a soft spot for '50s rockers as done by either of the Beatles' frontmen. But then it turns into something merely listenable, for me anyway, and the opportunity seems lost. There are some highs - "Love In Song" is a great song, the kind I missed on London Town, but in all I just went in expecting too much. I think it needs a little time and perseverance, and as such it is not a bad album.

Oh, and there was some Dylan too. To be precise, some bootleg songs that have really taken me by surprise. I usually don't have the patience to listen to outtakes and demos and what have you, and haven't yet felt the need to explore these alternate catalogues of artists. If I were to do it for anyone, it would be Dylan of course, and so I dutifully listened to some of the songs on The Genuine Bootleg Series (don't be fooled by the "genuine" in the title, though, this is not an official release). It was better than expected, and unearthed some truly good songs that ought to be on some official release. I really liked the version of "Blind Willie McTell" that finally made me like the song (the one on the official bootleg series just seemed ok to me), but certainly the best discovery was "I'm Not There". I've seen it described as Dylan's most "musical" song, which may well be true, but for me it confirms that there is some sort of genius to the man. It is hard to put one's finger on it, but I felt that it was truly a stroke of luck to come across it, and at the same time it was shocking that a normal Dylan fan could go through his/her life without ever hearing this song. Somewhere in Invisible Republic, there is a quote from a book whose narrator hears the song playing at a party, and then proceeds to tell the person next to her (to paraphrase) "This may be the finest song ever written". With a quote like that, even if you disagree, you sometimes stop to wonder...

The miscellania include Eno's Here Come The Warm Jets (which for some reason doesn't click just yet) and Prince's Purple Rain (bought solely at the behest of the 'Capn, and it has turned out to be surprisingly good), but not much else. Although I did have a brief revelation after seeing a Beach Boys documentary, wherein I felt that they were musical geniuses I had unjustly neglected. I came upon their Good Vibrations boxset, which I will try to listen to more in '07 (thus far, I am happy at finally having a version of "Heroes And Villains", which is funny and catchy; a rare mix!).

A slowish year, but not slow enough to make me skip the lists.

Most rewarding purchase: Paul Simon's Paul Simon, which I got on the heels of listening to Bridge Over Troubled Water. I was greeted with "Mother And Child Reunion", and the rest is history.

Favourite album: Paul Simon's Hearts And Bones, which I have come to think of as one of those "songwise perfect" albums, where there is nary a weak number in sight. Musically and lyrically, a true gem, and rightfully a fan favourite.

Favourite (standard) songs:
1. Bob Dylan, "I'm Not There" - Unfair, really, because it seems like one of those songs from a different plane
2. Paul Simon, "Think Too Much (a)" - When you manage to hit home lyrically and do it in an interesting manner (I'm almost sure the musical effects are courtesy of Philip Glass), you usually get my attention
3. Paul Simon, "Slip Slidin' Away" - Don't be fooled, it is serious, even though it is effortlessly melodic

Favourite (esoteric) songs:
1. Paul McCartney, "The Backwards Traveller" - It's only 1 minute, but this is an esoteric list
2. Paul Simon, "Papa Hobo" - The feel is enough to carry the song
3. Bob Dylan, "I'm Your Teenage Prayer" - It is always nice to hear Bobby having a good time, because it often results in memorable songs

Most wrongly dismissed (by the public) album: In my opinion, Paul Simon's Songs From The Capeman, which I love for reasons I cannot explain. I actually tried to find out more about the theory of doo-wop to see why something so simple can feel so powerful, but I was unsuccessful. "Adios Hermanos" and "Satin Summer Nights" have been stuck in my head for a long time, with no sign of tiring.

Most satisfying re-evaluation: Nick Cave's No More Shall We Part, which I once thought was dull and "samey-sounding". Uh, right. "Fifteen Feet Of Pure White Snow" is the work of a genius, and I find myself oddly captivated by the striking piano notes in "The Sorrowful Wife". "As I Sat Sadly By Her Side" is still my favourite here, and is probably too good an opener in that it sets too high a standard for the rest to follow. Still, the album is far more enjoyable than I thought.

Most amazing first-listen: Close - I would call a tie between Paul Simon's "Adios Hermanos" and John Cale's "Dying On The Vine". The latter features a delightful piano melody that reaffirmed my interest in classical music - it reveals that the instrument needn't only be used for slow ballads.

It's interesting to note, by the way, that I should be completely neglecting Surprise, Modern Times, and Ringleader Of The Tormentors, the actual '06 releases, but I guess that is the way I am with music (always one step ahead of the pack, you see).

There are no particular predictions for next year - last year's, by the way, were dismally wrong, for I did not purchase a single album by the Cocteau twins, Sparks or Ween. I suspect the Cave collection may see a new addition, and maybe a Prince album here and there, but otherwise who knows? Things are getting out of hand in the "to listen to" department - I probably have enough to get me through the whole year, but what fun would that be?