Stephen Fry talking to Professor John Mullan, on Reading Aloud, R4
“We take for granted, that this thing we have, this language, this sound of the tongue hitting the back of our teeth and the labials and the dentals and the fricatives, and all these strange little things our mouths can do – has a beauty, it can dance in our head – and when the words are the words of a magician, a great, great writer then the rhythm and the flow and the glide of language in one’s ear is a solace and a beauty that very little else can replace, wouldn’t you agree?”
Leonard Cohen, “Almost Like The Blues”
First song from Leonard’s latest album, the wonderfully titled Popular Problems. And it’s sounding pretty fine, continuing the minimal late-night urban blues feel that he’s lately found. And featuring, of course, the mordant and downbeat lyrics that he writes so well:
“I saw some people starving/There was murder, there was rape
Their villages were burning/They were trying to escape
I couldn’t meet their glances/I was staring at my shoes
It was acid, it was tragic/It was almost like the blues/It was almost like the blues”
Interesting that both he and Dylan are staking out a claim on this wellspring territory as they age – there’s something so natural about their voices negotiating that I-IV chord change.
“I’m not a morose person, I just like morose music!”
Malcolm Gladwell on Billy Bragg’s “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” on Desert Island Discs: “To my mind, music is at its finest when it explores the melancholy side of human nature. And [this song] has the most depressing opening couplet, I think, in the history of modern music… I mean it’s an extraordinary achievement! “With the money from her accident, she bought herself a mobile home/So at least she could get some enjoyment out of being alone…” I don’t think you can top that. The achievement of bringing someone to tears is infinitely greater than the achievement of bringing them to laughter. I happen to be obsessed with this notion: we laugh all the time, and easily… and yet we continue to reward people who bring us to laughter, as if it’s some great feat. It’s not, it’s the easiest thing in the world. I will make you laugh over the next whatever minutes. I will not make you cry. I am simply not good enough to make you cry. So I think that people who bring us at least to the brink of tears are geniuses, and to do it in two lines? I’m ready to be moved after I hear those two lines…”
When the internet isn’t trying to sell me Michael Kors handbags or Oakley sunglasses, it can be a very useful thing. And after reading Thom Hickey’s Immortal Jukebox on Willy (Mink) DeVille, I went on a YouTube bender. And what terrific stuff I found. I hadn’t appreciated how good he was, and why Jack Nitzsche (a man with pretty stellar taste, if you look at a list of his collaborations) why so enamoured of him. There’s a really nice Dutch fan film in five parts and a great set from Montreux with Freddy Koella on guitar. Larger than life, and cooler than Keith Richard.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Last of the Belles
Reading this brilliantly written and poignant short story, I liked this paragraph’s description of the narrator’s unattainable love-interest, Ailie Calhoun, and the country club’s Saturday night:
“On Saturday night she and Bill Knowles came to the country club. They were very handsome together and once more I felt envious and sad. As they danced out on the floor the three-piece orchestra was playing “After You’ve Gone”, in a poignant incomplete way that I can hear yet, as if each bar were trickling off a precious minute of that time. I knew then that I had grown to love Tarleton, and I glanced about half in panic to see if some face wouldn’t come in for me out of that warm, singing, outer darkness that yielded up couple after couple in organdie and olive drab. It was a time of youth and war, and there was never so much love around”. Which sent me looking for versions of “After You’ve Gone” and finding rather lovely ones by Dinah Washington (great, as you’d imagine), Chet Atkins & Suzy Bogguss (cute and jazzy, and I dug the twin guitars), Written in 1918 (when the story was set by FSF) and covered by Bessie Smith, Judy Garland and, oh, nearly everyone in the world. But Nina Simone’s version? That’s something special. Live in a small club with an almost out-of-focus backing – bass, drums and guitar – there’s a great build and release into her piano solo, and a fantastic vocal throughout.