Dog's Dinner

"You're not loved because you're lovable, you're lovable 'cause you're loved."

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Food of Love

In answer to a questionnaire passed on to me by my friend and inspirator in bloggery, Sutton:

1. Total amount of music files on your computer: 0.
Total amount of computers owned by me: 0.
Total amount of music files on my girlfriend's computer: 8.65 gigabytes' worth.
Total amount of songs downloaded by me onto said computer: at least 86.5.

2. Last CD you bought:
The new version of "Do They Know It's Christmas / Feed the World"-- actually a maxi-single with the new version, old version and a live version of the old one. The old (1984) version featured Bono, Phil Collins, David Bowie, Simon LeBon, George Michael, Paul Young, and other aristos of the 1980s Anglo-Irish Renaissance preaching at times notunselfrighteously to their presumed audience of spoiled European & American teenagers about how It Could Be Worse: You Could Be Living in Africa; not the most Christian message perhaps, but the way Bono sings the line "Tonight thank God it's them... instead of you" leaves it open to multiple readings, and of course the song culminates in the call to positive action, "Feed the world! Let them know it's Christmas." The new version has Bono again, singing the same line I think, Dido, the guy from Coldplay, Atomic Kitten and other youngbloods giving it a spirited go but somehow not achieving quite the same grandeur. I bought it right before Christmas to listen to with the fam, particularly my older brother Geoff and sister Sarah since we used to listen to a 45 of the original back when it came out. It was a pleasant surprise to find that Sarah too was still a big fan of the original (I guess it was she who bought that 45; I had always thought it was Geoffrey, who was the big Anglophile in the family at that time) and we had fun singing along some. Unfortunately the CD didn't have the B-side of the old record, an instrumental version with the various luminaries saying hello.

3. Song you last listened to before reading this message?
A song by the Russian singer Zemfira, called "Znak bezkonechnost'" ("The infinity sign"-- on the tape cover the title is represented by the horizontal 8, the mathematical sign of infinity), from the album 14 Weeks of Silence ("Chetyrnadtsat' nedel' tishiny"). Hadn't listened to it for at least two years but decided to use that album (one of a dozen or so I've held on to from the old stash) for my bicycle workout today and it happened to play at the end, adding a certain poignant brooding quality to my relief and exhaustion. (Language note: technically to be grammatical it should be "Znak bezkonechnosti"-- genitive-- part of the genius of the song is how the line before the title line, a line beginning with "i" ("and"), wraps around it on repetition). The enigmatic Zemfira is one of the great talents of this decade, not only in Russian rock music but in music generally, and the song, while typifying her weakness for the anthemic, not to say apocalyptic, is one of her most [Four callow youths are standing around near me watching a fifth proceed through his grim-visaged vision quest on the adjacent computer and providing running commentary and encouragement, so my already uninspired writing is probably about to collapse into a tangle of incoherent cliches, sorry] intriguing works. Do you listen to her? If not, download some! If you can't do that, you better go to Russia.

4. Write down 5 songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you:

"Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" particularly as performed by the Kingston Trio is probably the most perfect song I can imagine, lyricswise and musicswise. The melody is heartbreaking, and the words are politically and philosophically astute, yet compassionate.

"Le petit pain au chocolat" by Joe Dassin is the most exuberant hymn to love that I know (except maybe "I'm Ready For Love" by Martha and the Vandellas, a song too beautiful for me to even contemplate writing about), a funny little story about a nearly sightless man and the sweet girl in the bakery who buys him a pair of glasses. It's the falling notes of the flute in the third verse that do it for me. There's also something bracing about the fact that it's told in the third person with Dassin playing a kind of wise, detached narrator-- like Maurice Chevalier in Gigi, the type of the boulevardier-raconteur. You might say that makes it more like a McCartney song than a Lennon song, but you'd be wrong: the emotion is untrammelled. The other great Dassin song is "L'equipe a Jojo," a bittersweet reminiscence of lost youth.

"The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game" by the Marvelettes is, except for possibly Frank Sinatra's "Swingin' on a Star," the subtlest dose of Bodhidharma ever smuggled into the West in a smooth-like-butter, cool-like-iced-champagne arrangement of a pop song. (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' cover is also sublime, but less memorable.) It's a shame that its glory, like that of so many other mid-1960s Motown gems, has long dwelt in the shadow of the My Girl-My Guy-Heat Wave-Grapevine axis that dominates, or at any rate has historically dominated, the marketing of Motown. (I heard this song, along with several other relatively obscure classics, playing on the radio the other day while I was riding the tram. Strange to find a classic rock/pop radio station in Silesia that allows for more variety than many "Golden Oldies" stations back home.)

(And "Hunter" was one of the hits, back in the actual 60s [before the 60s became "The 60s"]. But there were other great songs that never even made it to a greatest hits album, like Tammi Terrell's miraculous cover of the Four Tops' [mediocre] "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You)," or David Ruffin's "My Whole World Ended (the Moment You Left Me)" or Gladys Knight and the Pips' "Either Way I Lose.")

I have trouble with lists that are supposed to end somewhere, and I would like to have included a number of male-female duets that are close to my heart, from the 60s, 80s and 90s, including Tammi & Marvin's "Sad Wedding" (so great because one of the only postwar non-Beatles pre-Morrissey songs that sees the beauty and the joy in sadness) and a number of others, Chuck Jackson and Maxine Brown's version of "Hold On, I'm Coming," a-ha's "You'll Never Get Over Me" (with Lauren Savoy) and Morrissey and Siouxsie's remake of Timi Yuro's "Interlude" (themesong for the film, Interlude), not to mention Bing Crosby and David Bowie's "Little Drummer Boy" or "Trespass" with Ices T and Cube. There is something about the dialogical form at its best that is well-nigh transcendent, and some (by no means all) of the best duets are male-female. (The presence of Atomic Kitten and Dido in the new "Feed the World" is, however, one improvement over the testosterone-heavy 1984 version.) The greatest duet of all time is almost certainly Mary Wells and Marvin Gaye's "Once Upon a Time," which, like U2's "Ultraviolet," evokes a sense of shimmering luminescence amid a vast darkness, in this case more tranquilly, lamps (Chinese lanterns, perhaps) reflected on the surface of a body of water late on a summer evening, the mood akin to that of the "On such a night" scene (V, i) in The Merchant of Venice.

The last song is one I just heard last night for the first time in a long time, "Three is a Magic Number," not the wonderful DeLaSoul song but the old (Schoolhouse Rock) one riffed on (& sampled?) by DeLa, written and composed by George R. Newall. Heard it while sitting in a cafe with two good friends. What I like best about the song, and it has many virtues, is that they actually recite the multiples of three, a kind of "found poetry" reminiscent of the nonfiction fragments found in Burroughs or Moby Dick (neither of which I've read, of course, but I like the idea). Also it makes me think about Rene Girard's theory of Triangular Desire, and the afternoons reading that book and similar works at the Paradise Cafe in Astoria while chain-smoking and drinking endless cups of coffee (nonstop refills there, and the Bohemian Beer Garden right round the corner should you eventually need to de-caffeinate).

5. Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

Jim, poet, filmmaker and painter, who's made many a fine mix for me in the past, and who is constantly discovering new things in many spheres.

Small Man, aka my brother Nick, poet, scholar, chef, former Hoagy Carmichael impersonator, and man of international intrigue, who's introduced me to some wonderful music of distant shores from Seattle to Shanghai.

My mother, Faith, poet and librarian, a devotee of gospel and bluegrass.

And, since I don't know if my brother counts, being on the proverbial "masthead," or if my mother will be game, I'll also pass the challenge on to my friend Kathleen, whom I haven't seen for at least ten years, but who writes a breezy, charming blog and who once made me a lovely mix tape of what I had boorishly dismissed in several conversations as "Hippie Music."


At 9:11 PM, Blogger jimeye said...

That I have actually heard Zemfira actually scares me a little bit in a very humorous way . . . I clearly remember the infinity symbol.

At 3:38 PM, Blogger Kathleen said...

And here I never even realized he was being boorish. That's what I get for being earnest in my teens.


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