The Singer, December/January 2008-9
A Column Calamity has occurred today. Having a limited, nay, pointblank refusal to embrace anything that resembles computer pragmatics; copying, pasting, tools, files and all things "attachable",(oh and should it really read "Windows IS shutting down"… like "the shops IS closed"? No. Quite.) I finished my column with lip smacking smugness and a feverish desire for your delightful Titian-tressed editor to lap up my laptopped words of post-ironic comic wonderment with cries of "hats off, a genius" and "Oh, Column King Of the Western World" and "We must quadruple the modest stipend proffered for these life-affirming paragraphs of gleaming insight and sparkling repertoire". Click.
After dropping Johann at the EasyBus stop at a quarter-to-milkfloat this morning so he could easyzoom over to Switzerland and catch the second computer science seminar of the day at his Zurich university, I drove through the grey early dawn from a delightfully deserted Victoria to my basement flat in Lambeth North. A few snatched hours curled up with Ash, the bold tortoiseshell from upstairs (he climbs in through my bedroom window,inspects the kitchen, paws the living room sofa and ends up on the bed) and my lunatic fingers are tippy-tappy-happy on the keyboard. Johann gave me the final, absolute step-by-step, sure-fire closing gestures to cybersend my thousand and one words.One slip of the dragdown at some point of computer mind fug and "Woops There Goes My Column", a farce, starring me, Ash the cat and a cooling cup of decaf now pouring cold comfort on my insanely depressing new situation black comedy "No Columnland".
No amount of loving words from my significant other to assure me that, although I shoulda done the column before, these things happen and it's all going to be fine could remove the notion that I am living in a new world with new ways and alien procedures that resolutely refuse to be part of my daily routines. My excuse has thus far been a pathetic whine that all things creative that I love to do ECLIPSE the access roads, the bypasses and fasttracks that are necessary to facilitate the frippery that pays my mortgage. Groan. Whatever Darling. Save As.
You see, there ARE creative types in basement flats all over London who are savvy in these areas. I know because I'm forever receiving yet another dreary flyer for another dreary evening of dreary songs, drearily sung. How can their artful brains ALLOW these mindnumbing "docs"to be created? Shouldn't they have people to do these precision tasks?. Allowing them to waft from gig to gig, show to show, session to session is surely an act of kindness on their part. Johann was very patient on the 'phone earlier today, explaining that my column must be somewhere and it's just the same as throwing it in the bin. I am here to tell you that this holds no water for me. YOU COULD GET IT OUT OF THE BIN! It may have a teabag and some eggshell stuck to it but… uncrumple and… there it is.
My burning yearning for all that is simple and therefore by definition, appropriate and profound when necessary is compounded these days by the endless dumptruck that is CELEBRITY. Nobody has that breathless starstruckness anymore because WH Smith's has swathes of glossy mags that trumpet the shock and bewilderment of Madonna getting divorced. Who really cares? Oh hang on, me… because I stood in the newsagent yesterday and speed read the whole post modern maelstrom that is La Mediocra's marital mash-up. Was anyone as starstruck as me seeing Kate Bush's first ever live show at the Liverpool Empire in 1978? Armed with my Jones Carousel Toploader Cassette Recorder with the plug-in microphone, hidden in the furry depths of the snorkel bit of my school parka, my bootleg of the said Kentish Banshee still lives on, although it could me a recording of an orchestra of noseflutes, captured in a barn three fields away, taped through two hessian sacks. That's our Kate on that cassette,leotarded and gothic, part operatic, part folky. I had posters and clippings, fanzines and keyrings. None of this could be downloaded or, come to think of it, lost. Unless you left it somewhere. But you just wouldn't.
Being Lost In Starstruck Space was, I think, a very different trip when I was a teen. My mother is still convinced that it was Bowie, Bolan and The Sweet that steered and detoured my burgeoning sexuality in the late seventies. It could have easily been a careful watch on the historical antics of divas Callas, Garland and Davis (Bette not Steve you understand)..and although these gals were a sparkly solace and fluffy escape route from all things North Walesian, like rugby, brass bands and abject racism, it was the afore-mentioned roster of glam and glitz that had me glued to Top Of The Pops every thursday evening. Gatefold sleeves were absorbed, traced and coloured-in, to be replicated with coloured foil onto black sugar paper at school,the sunday top twenties were taped with the previously described tape machine then if I borrowed Chris Whites similar appliance, a natty voice-over of your own could replace that of Jimmy Saville's or Tom Brown's, in a sound- engineering feat so complex, involved and unlikely, it piddled all over anything that was happening at Abbey Road. Burn.
My own particular brand of starstruckness continues to this day. Whilst early icons have included Kings And Queens Of England, Florence Nightingale, Valerie Singleton, Sweep and Orinoco Womble (I shook his rather velvety red gloved paw at a stiflingly hot Shrewsbury Flower Festival in the hot summer of 1976… Attach.
I remember years ago seeing Sarah Vaughan at The Festival Hall. It was one of her last ever shows and she was magnificent, a Rolls Royce of the jazz singing world. Clad in pink chiffon she trotted out an effortless two hours of the most awe-inspiring vocalising I will ever hear. Notes were elongated just for the sheer hell of it, the caramel contralto caressing Gershwin lyrics like they were designed for the Divine One, chromatics were teased into elastic shapes. I wept in the cheap seats. It was as if she was singing just for me that evening and all my early twenties angsts suddenly reconfigured and felt very different. I wanted badly to be able to do this. This wasn't mere fandom, this was a lesson in how a singer of popular songs can make each carefully crafted lyric a conduit for all human condition. Star-struck. Dunno. Struck by a star. Definitely. Close Window.
That feeling, that precious moment, galvanised by the colour of memory cannot be downloaded, burned, copied or pasted. Fact. Shutdown.