Goodbye, tunes.

16 January 2012

This blog has been sadly neglected since I was invited to contribute to the International Crime Authors’ Reality Check, what with its familiar deadlines and whatnot. That’s the price of freedom and not having an editor breathing down your neck.
Anyway, music. It’s a sad little tale sparked by the news of a new Half Man Half Biscuit album that has completely passed me by. Somewhere along the line, music has deserted me and it’s like losing an old friend. I’m a child of the 60s and you’ve no idea how old saying that makes me feel, unless you’re a child of that, or an earlier, decade. An early musical memory is hearing Yellow Submarine blaring repeatedly from the bedroom window of the lad next door. That sort of set the pace, I’m afraid. I didn’t like the Beatles when I was six and I still don’t like their music much now.
My earliest musical memory was seeing the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band performing a number call Trouser Press Baby on Do Not Adjust Your Set. I liked that a lot more than the Beatles and all that soppy stuff about holding someone’s hand.
Then came the teenage stuff, and after flirting with and then discarding heavy metal, which in those days was Deep Purple, etc, Little Feat, the Grateful Dead and the mighty Captain Beefheart took over, along with Traffic, Love, the Strawbs, Richard Thompson, Nick Drake, the Edgar Broughton Band, Roy Harper, the Who, you get the picture. Not to mention the abiding delightfulness of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Viv Stanshall’s rambling epic Sir Henry at Rawlinson End is the only album I’ve owned on vinyl, cassette and CD, plus a few bootlegs, and would accompany me to a desert island if that bizarre choice should ever materialise.
Punk happened when I was about eighteen and I didn’t understand it or like it much at the time, mainly because I felt that my ears stuck out and so I didn’t fancy the idea of short hair. So, being a strange youth, the blues came next and have stayed with me ever since. Not the thin veneer of the blues that the Stones, Clapton, etc offered, but the real thing. Muddy Waters was magnificent, Howlin’ Wolf a revelation. Their music, along with Mississippi Fred McDowell (on the Arhoolie label), John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells, Magic Sam, Robert Nighthawk, Hound Dog Taylor, JB Hutto, T-Bone Walker, Otis Spann, Otis Rush. Then came Cedell Davis and RL Burnside. For some reason, these old men had so much more to say than middle-class hippies and discontented urban youth, and they said it so much better in fewer words. It took a while to discover the poetry of Ian Dury and Shane Macgowan and to appreciate wonderful oddballs like Wreckless Eric and Billy Childish who just don’t give a shit. And then there’s Half Man Half Biscuit, Ivor Cutler and other great stuff out there for those who want to search off the beaten track.
For years I could have music playing in the background, and normally did. Work was accompanied by music whenever possible, even if it meant turning the sound down when the bloody phone rang yet again. My first novel (mercifully unpublished) was written to a soundtrack of (mostly) the Who, Tinariwen and Sleepy John Estes. The beginnings of Frozen Out took shape mainly to Cornershop, Half Man Half Biscuit and the Len Bright Combo.
But then, something clicked, and the stereo clicked off. Suddenly, I couldn’t work with music any more. Cold Comfort, needless to say, was written in silence.
Maybe it’s an age thing. I still don’t understand it. Silence has become terribly important, and as I spend a great deal of time hunched over this machine cranking out words, there’s a lot of silence these days. It’s not that I dislike music, because I don’t. I think it’s the words that get in the way, and it’s the words that were always the important part of the music. But now it’s classical stuff that fills the gap, but even that’s likely to get impatiently clicked off, although it hurts to switch off Beethoven in full flow.
So these days things are quiet, although a car journey is a welcome change as a chance to crank up the tunes, although the question of what to listen to often tends to be forgotten and I just resort to switching between the Home Service and the Third Programme (Radio 4 and Radio 3). Like I said, maybe it’s an age thing.

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