Happy Valentine’s Day: “Chardonnay”

           - Gravity: Summer Solstice, 1992

Go tell it to the sea, 
how he should let go
his moonstruck,

his shameless high tides – 
climbing each day, each night
kissing at her cloudless 

Perhaps he'd answer
that it's all cyclical – hope
driving him up the beach and the brooding
low tides.

Even so, most of his time is chasing
fish into nets, lobbing
bodysurfers towards shore,

and coming to grips with a notion –

	there is nothing new under the sun,
	what goes up must come down.

Crabs have always scuttled among the rocks.


“Chardonnay originally appeared in The Dead Mule in April, 2003.

RT at the BBC

photoBBC Radio 4 has this neat show–Master Tapes— where they bring in some artist to discuss one of their important albums. It’s a Q&A for the interviewer, John Wilson, and the audience to find out what makes artists tick in some manner, and to discuss why they do what they do in the way they do it. It’s a cool idea, and this past year they’ve had Suzanne Vega discussing Solitude Standing, Ray Davies discussing Muswell Hillbillies, Paul Weller discussing The Gift (The Jam’s final album), Billy Bragg discussing Talking with the Taxman about Poetry, and (my favorite) The Zombies discussing Odyssey and Oracle (one of the many, many seminal albums of 1969.) And last night they had Richard Thompson discussing Rumour and Sigh, from 1991.

Now, I wouldn’t even say that this is RT’s best album, by a long shot, but it’s certainly up there in the top half dozen. (Imagine an artist about whom you could confidently say something like that. There aren’t many.) But it’s got some of his best known songs on it, including 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, which has been covered everywhere, including by Del McCoury, a version which won it a Bluegrass Song of the Year award, which Thompson thought was a hoot. (Interestingly, it’s not even his most covered song—that would be Dimming of the Day, covered most recently by Tom Jones, which Thompson thought was an even bigger hoot.) It’s also one of his most representative albums, in that Thompson as a songwriter draws from an alarmingly broad range of sources and traditions, and a whole lot of them are here. We range from straight up rock and roll to ballads to the uncategorizable, including an honorarium to Scottish singer and performer Jimmy Shand, and the totally weird song Psycho Street, which Thomson admitted probably didn’t even belong on the album. It’s an album that got a whole lot of airplay in the Wufnik family Saab on long trips to Maine and Vermont.

So we trundled in out of the rainy cold and stood in the hall for a while, and then got ushered into the studio, where, in some sort of cosmic coup, we got some of the best seats in the house, along the front row next to the stage. So the photo above, courtesy of Mrs W, was pretty much our view for the entire evening. And it was all great fun—Thompson sang some songs from the album (Vincent Black Lightning, of course, along with Read about Love, It Feel So Good, Why Must I Plead, God Loves a Drunk, and closed the set with I Misunderstood.) So that was cool. Even better was just the interaction. Wilson would ask a pretty good question, and Thompson would answer it. It’s amazing how well this works when the questions are sensible and articulate. And the audience questions were even better. So we learned quite a lot about how Thompson writes his songs, his growing up in North London (his father was a detective at Scotland Yard,) why he still mostly writes about London and Britain even though he lives in Santa Monica, how he orders tracks on a record, and lots of other stuff that essentially spanned his career.

Thompson has been doing this for five decades now, from his start in Fairport Convention in 1967, to a long and successful solo career. He admits to writing over 400 songs, and not being able to remember all of them. He’s got some favorites, He’s also got some songs he refuses to sing. He gave us a version of Meet on the Ledge, the song with which Fairport Convention still closes its annual Cropredy festival, with 20,000 people singing it, but it’s clear he doesn’t like it that much. He wrote it when he was 19, he said, sort of apologizing for it. (Well, it’s still a good song for 20,000 people to sing the chorus of.) He doesn’t think his songs—many of which are about misfits of some sort and the socially marginal—are that weird; he grew up listening to English and Scottish folk music, which of course is full of murder, incest, and early death. So he feels he fits right in.

He really lit up when talking about a couple if musical eras—someone asked based on his project 1000 Years of Popular Song, which he toured on a few years back, what musical eras would he like to live in? Well, the time of the troubadours, Tudor England, and the 1920s. And he really went off on the Moorish music of Spain (one of my favorites as well). Thomson converted to Sufism decades ago, and he doesn’t drink, and it occasionally seeps into his music. In response to a question about how he wrote such good songs about drunkenness when he doesn’t drink, Thomson responded with the fact that he didn’t always not drink. He discussed about where stuff comes from—One Door Opens resulted from his studying John Dowland for his 1000 Years of Song project. He talked about how rooms, wooden rooms, soak up notes, much the way guitars soak up notes, and change their sound over time. He’s got about 15 guitars—no more, because he wants to make sure that they get played.

And I’ve never been part of a radio audience before. This is two half hour shows when broadcast (May or June sometime), culled from the two hours plus that we were there. So we got to do things like applaud and cheer wildly on cue, many times, especially when they had to do repeats. There was lots of impromptu between Wilson and Thompson, and lots of mugging by Thompson, neither of which will be usable—the former because it will be cut, the latter because it’s radio. Since it was the BBC, they wouldn’t let Thompson use his forty year old amplifier because it had a crack in the plug—health and safety. The crowd was great—old farts like us, and many (like us) with their kids (and kids spouses, no doubt.) Overall, a good age range, but you can tell that most Thompson fans, like me, go back a ways.

So a great evening. I haven’t picked up the new album (Electric—fantastic cover!) yet, but will soon—and we’re heading back to see him in two weeks at the Barbican. Happy days!

(If I were just starting out on Thomson, this is where I’d start, in addition to Rumour and Sigh: Live from Austin, Hand of Kindness, and Amnesia; with his ex-wife Linda, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight and Pour Down Like Silver; and with Fairport, Liege and Lief. There are also numerous sets, and some great covers, including Beat the Retreat. And, of course, the Live in Providence DVD. Here’s a complete list.)

ArtsWeek: Ms. Bronte, meet Ms. Austen…

Anne Bronte as drawn by her sister Charlotte (courtesy, Wikimedia)

“I could only conclude that excessive vanity, like drunkenness, hardens the heart,enslaves the faculties, and perverts the feelings, and that dogs are not the only creatures which, when gorged to the throat, will yet gloat over what they cannot devour.”  – Anne  Brontë, Agnes Grey 

The (to us) least well known Brontë sister (that most tragic family of English literature: of six children born to Reverend Patrick and Maria Brontë, none lived to reach the age of 40), wrote two novels, one wildly popular in her lifetime (The Tenant of Wildfell Halland the novel of which I write here, Agnes Grey. She also contributed poetry to the volume that was the Brontë sisters’ first “real” publication, Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell(the male pseudonyms used, as was common in the 19th century, to conceal the fact that the authors were “ladies” who were not considered “sensible” enough to pursue a serious artistic/intellectual pursuit such as writing literature). Anne’s nom de plume, “Acton Bell” (the first letter of each male name corresponds to the first letter of the author’s real name,. i.e., “Currer” = Charlotte and “Ellis” = Emily as “Acton” = Anne. Of course, the first letter of the shared last name, “B,” corresponds to the family name Brontë) was also the name used for the author when Agnes Grey was first published in 1847.

If you’ve paid any attention to my 2013 Reading List (which I doubt – Why are we all so busy, anyway? Wasn’t technology supposed to give us all oodles of free time to do things we love? But it seems we’re forever distracted by – oh, there’s my mobile, can you hang on a few…?), you’ve noted that Agnes Grey isn’t the next book in that reading list. I’ll get to that book next week. I was in a used book store and spotted a copy of this Anne Brontë  novel on the shelves and bought it immediately. I’d long wanted to complete my “Brontë trifecta” by reading something by Anne Brontë. Even before I’d  finished the Fred Chappell book of poems from last week, I started Agnes Grey.

I wrote my master’s thesis on Jane Austen’s novels, as I’ve noted before, and have often looked at the other Brontë sisters’ novels (Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Charlotte’s Jane Eyre) as Romantic reactions against Austen’s “little bit of ivory”: Austen explores the lives of women in roles other than as brides, wives – or “old maids” – as well as critiquing the social behaviors – both “correctness” and faux pas galore – of her time. The Brontë sisters’ heroines fight against (or are destroyed by, like Cathy Earnshaw Linton) the unfair conventions that control women’s lives.

Not so with Anne Brontë’s Agnes Grey. While, yes, the novel is the story of the younger daughter of a curate in reduced circumstances who tries to help her family  by working as a governess, it is in this sole feature – working as a governess – that the novel bears any similarity to elder sister Charlotte’s magnum opus, Jane Eyre. Agnes, the titular character, takes on governess posts voluntarily to help her loving, tight-knit family. The father, a well-meaning man, is as weak, foolish, and ineffectual as Mr. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice or Mr. Woodhouse in Emma. But, like those men in Austen’s novels, he is well loved by his wife and daughters (Agnes and her sister Mary bear at least a passing resemblance to Jane and Elizabeth Bennett from P&P while Mrs. Grey is a more idealized version of Mrs. Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility).

But the bulk of the novel recounts Agnes’s struggles to be a “good” governess among “bad” employers – and their spoiled, largely unteachable children. Her first appointment is a disaster – she is dismissed from her post for her inability to make progress in educating children whose parents undermine her authority at every turn. The rest of the book recounts for the most part her “survival” among a family (the Murrays) whose lack of propriety and self-governance reminds one of the Bertrams in Austen’s Mansfield Park. The  mother is “tolerant” of her lack of progress with her daughters Rosalie and Matilda (unruly sons have been sent away to boarding school) because she is aware – if only mildly disturned by – her daughters’ foibles. She “indulges” Agnes more as a companion (and possibly role model) for her daughters than as a governess.

And in this role Agnes shines. Her incisive comments on the behavior of Rosalie and Matilda Weston show at times the biting wit of Elizabeth Bennett (see the opening quote), at times the tentative disapproval of Fanny Price, as in this moment when the elder daughter, Rosalie Murray, flirts unconscionably with the object of Agnes’ affection, Mr. Weston, a curate like her father: “It might be owing to my own stupidity, my want of tact and assurance; but I felt myself wronged.”

For, as in an Austen novel, there is a “Mr. Right.” It is this same Mr. Weston, a sensible, correct behaving man of discretion and discernment. Agnes’s initial reaction to him is much like Fanny Price’s to Edmund Bertram or Catherine Moreland’s uncertain reactions to the attentions of Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey – she at first cannot believe herself the possible object of the affections of one she “admires and esteems.” Later, she can only think of the attraction as one-sided: her diffidence and modesty will not let her believe that, though she has fallen in love with Mr. Weston, he might return those feelings towards her.

At the novel’s end Agnes escapes the Murrays and joins her mother, now a widow, in running a school. It is there in a seaside town that Mr. Weston finds her again, having, like George Knightley with Emma Woodhouse, planned for a future with Agnes that is happier (though, to give Brontë her ground as a bit of a prig, a highly serious and moral future full of “improvements” in the practice of faith) than any she could have ever imagined.

It’s an absolutely Austenian ending to a novel by a Brontë.


Our favorite lyrics: S&R describes why we love certain lyrics, if not necessarily the song

CATEGORY: MusicPopularCultureOver the years I’ve come to a realization – some of my favorite songs have really stupid lyrics, and some of my favorite lyrics are in songs I’m not a big fan of or, in at least one case, I can’t stand. As a result, I put the following question to my fellow Scrogues: what are some of your favorite lyrics?

I’ve collected their responses below. Enjoy, and feel free to add your own in the comments.

Brian Angliss
While I enjoy Led Zepplin, they were never my favorite band. But anyone who puts a reference to The Lord of the Rings in a song is allright by me. From Ramble On,

T’was in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair.
But Gollum, and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her, her, her….yeah. (source)

In the last few years, I’ve come to greatly enjoy goth-influenced, techno, and industrial music. And one of the acts I’ve come to enjoy greatly is Assemblage 23. There’s one song on the album “Storm” that is very hard for me to listen to, as amazing as the lyrics are. Here’s the opening verse from 30kft:

Hello, if you’re there pick up the phone
I’m calling from thirty thousand feet above you
The captain’s just informed us that our plane is going down
So I’m calling for one last time to say I love you (source)

I’ll leave off with some of lyrics from what may well be my favorite song that I almost never listen to. Some songs just hit too close to home, in ways both good and bad:

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home dad?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
You know we’ll have a good time then (source)


In the season of boll weivel speakin evil in you ear
And pile of manure fertilizing all your fears
Yabadaba do all the way to Shangra La
Here it is with the rock and roll outlaw

Cause it’s just silly word play, otherwise I could just nominate all of the Clutch catalog for my favorite lyrics.

Lisa Wright

you’re just an empty cage girl if you kill the bird

it’s sooooo lame and cliche, and i cant believe that i am owning up to this, but the lyric has been something that i have held on to ever since i heard it when i was 14 or so.

Mine’s no better. Lyrics to Volunteers of America by Jefferson airplane, and the immortal, “let’s go on a picnic honey, we’ll have so much fun. You can handle the hotdog baby, I can handle the buns.” By wet willie (a regional band who got big for awhile)

saint in the city by springsteen. “rock hard look of cobra, born blue and weathered but burst just like a supernova, I can walk like brando into the sun, and dance just like a casanova…”

Alex Polombo
Call me out for being lame if you want, but “God give me style, God give me grace” sort of stuck with me from Coldplay.

Sam Smith

All the light that shines on you
Is from a dying star
The star’s been dead a billion years
Now it’s shining off your car
To light your way……

-Jeffrey Dean Foster, “Summer of the Son of Sam”

Reach out and touch me now
Aphrodite said
You aren’t the only one
with armies in your head

– Fiction 8, “Hegemony”

You’ve never dared where the angels tread
You think there’s time for heaven when you’re dead
But here’s the thing that the angels stole
A demon helix with a consecrated soul

– Fiction 8, “Winter Rain”

Now, maybe we should disqualify those last two since I wrote them….

I have argued – loudly and vehemently – that lyrics are almost never poetry. They’re simply different forms, and I don’t mean to denigrate lyrics in saying that. Painting isn’t dancing, but that doesn’t mean painting is useless. I say this as a guy who has done both.

Occasionally, though, lyrics DO stand as poetry. Like here, with Marillion’s “Pseudo Silk Kimono,” with the words by Fish:

Huddled in the safety of a pseudo silk kimono
Wearing bracelets of smoke, naked of understanding.
Nicotine smears, long, long dried tears, invisible tears.
Safe in my own words, learning from my own words,
Cruel joke, cruel joke.
Huddled in the safety of a pseudo silk kimono
A morning mare rides, in the starless shutters of my eyes.
The spirit of a misplaced childhood is rising to speak his mind,
To this orphan of heartbreak, disillusioned and scorned,
A refugee, refugee.
(Safe in the sanctuary, safe)

Mike Sheehan
John Lennon, Roger Waters, Randy Newman, Warren Zevon, Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, and Andy Partridge wrote more than a few of my favorite lyrics, as I enjoy clever imagery, ambiguity, innuendo, sarcasm, and (preferably scathing) social satire. Bernie Taupin can get tiresomely overwrought but “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” is still a brilliant, liberating anthem. I love Van Dyke Parks’s words in “Surf’s Up” though I don’t really understand them (nor does Brian Wilson himself, I reckon). But there is one song and one album in particular whose lyrics still deeply impress me every time I hear them.

Grace Slick, “Do It the Hard Way.” She absolutely belts this one, written and recorded in the late 1970’s as she was struggling with alcoholism. You really have to hear her tear through the last two verses, with lines like:

She said, “I’ve got to make ’em all think I’m winning, so I’ll just tell ’em lies.
That way I can make sure that no one ever knows just exactly what I mean.
Then I can beat the drums and yell it to the skies:
‘I’m the queen of the nuthouse… I’m the queen!'”

Donald Fagen, the entirety of ‘The Nightfly.’ In Steely Dan, Fagen’s lyrics typically featured saucy double-entendres, clever drug references, amusing cynicism, etc. On his first solo LP, Fagen fully bared his sentimental teenaged soul, which longed for the idyllic late 1950s with the invigorating threat of the Cold War and the promise of the Space Age. The gorgeously recorded album is laden with wry reflections on the awkward audacity of youth, to wit:

Do you have a steady boyfriend?
‘Cause honey I’ve been watching you
I hear you’re mad about Brubeck
I like your eyes I like him too
He’s an artist, a pioneer
We’ve got to have some music on the new frontier.
(from “New Frontier“)

You’d never believe it
But once there was a time
When love was in my life
I sometimes wonder
What happened to that flame
The answer’s still the same
It was you… you… it was you
Tonight you’re still on my mind.
(from “The Nightfly“)

Mexico City is like another world
Nice this year they say
You’ll be my señorita
In jeans and pearls
But first let’s get off this highway.
(from “Maxine“)

On that train, all graphite and glitter
Undersea by rail
90 minutes from New York to Paris
(More leisure for artists everywhere)
A just machine to make big decisions
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
We’ll be clean when their work is done
We’ll be eternally free, yes, and eternally young.
(from “I.G.Y.“)

Cat White
From left field:

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

“This Land Was Made for You and Me,” Woody Guthrie

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older
Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long
And wouldn’t it be nice to live together
In the kind of world where we belong

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Tony Asher

I see skies of blue….. clouds of white
Bright blessed days….dark sacred nights
And I think to myself …..what a wonderful world.

“Wonderful World,” Louis Armstrong

Open a new window,
Open a new door,
Travel a new highway,
That’s never been tried before;
Before you find you’re a dull fellow,
Punching the same clock,
Walking the same tight rope
As everyone on the block.

“Open a New Window,” *Mame*, Jerry Herman
*Mame *was my first musical–I was 14. As I have gotten older I marvel at what a formative experience that 5 months was on my attitudes, outlook, and path in life.

Jim Booth
Hey! I want in on this “let’s promote our own lyrics” thing….

But seriously:

Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

Bob Dylan, “Mr. Tambourine Man”

And this:

My hypothesis is that I exist, let’s test this.
Raise your fist if you experience consciousness.
Now let me hear you say cogitamus ergo sumus
Or if you’re not down with that say hell yes.
So thinking is being and knowing is seeing
Or hearing or smelling or tasting or feeling
Or otherwise dealing with external stimuli
Wonder why I’m alive. Hey you up in the sky,
I’m guessing if I can hear myself when I speak
So can that person looking back at me and listening
Which means I need a system of epistemology
To know what to call my LP, you follow me?

“Experimental Railroad” Doco

Frank Balsinger
I’m in with 2…first, something positive. This is of those cases where I think the video actually does add something by way of clarity. As to why it’s one of my faves, it strikes a certain mystical chord with me

Peter Gabriel, Sledgehammer

You could have a steam train
If you’d just lay down your tracks
You could have an aeroplane flying
If you bring your blue sky back

All you do is call me
I’ll be anything you need

You could have a big dipper
Going up and down, all around the bends
You could have a bumper car, bumping
This amusement never ends

I want to be your sledgehammer
Why don’t you call my name
Oh let me be your sledgehammer
This will be my testimony
Show me round your fruitcage
‘cos I will be your honey bee
Open up your fruitcage
Where the fruit is as sweet as can be

I want to be your sledgehammer
Why don’t you call my name
You’d better call the sledgehammer
Put your mind at rest
I’m going to be-the sledgehammer
This can be my testimony
I’m your sledgehammer
Let there be no doubt about it

Sledge sledge sledgehammer

I’ve kicked the habit
Shed my skin
This is the new stuff
I go dancing in, we go dancing in
Oh won’t you show for me
And I will show for you
Show for me, I will show for you
Yea, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I do mean you
Only you
You’ve been coming through
Going to build that powerr
Build, build up that power, hey
I’ve been feeding the rhythm
I’ve been feeding the rhythm
Going to feel that power, build in you
Come on, come on, help me do
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, you
I’ve been feeding the rhythm
I’ve been feeding the rhythm
It’s what we’re doing, doing
All day and night

Then something negative, this one from Legendary Pink Dots. I think Ed Ka-Spell does a lovely job of summing up most of my angst.

Seven seas he sailed on
With cannons blazing in the night
He had shiny medals
For his eyes in Kryptonite (with lasers)

With every nail he hammered
Came the rush of flying hands
They pasted fliers
They planted flags
We watched him hover higher (higher)

Crucifix and lyrics
Holy holy sense surround
Lord, he never touched the ground

From state to state he wandered
He could have been the boy next door
You could feel that patriotic roar
Come pouring through the cracks of our existence

He took the fear away with whitewash
And scorched earth
Majorettes and cool disciples
Cigarettes and red hot bibles
And the buses ran on time

Slaves of Kali Hari-karied
On bayonets in poison ivy
We held this torch up high
Can you see? Can you see?

All the girls he never had
And all the boys who stood and laughed
And all the dopes and
All the dealers, sheilas, peelers, squealers, feelers

Come watch me fall
Watch me drown
I’m kneeling in your mirror.
See me cower in the corner of your room.

Watch me desecrate the contents of your tomb