The song is called Sodom, South Georgia. The band is called Iron and Wine.
Papa died smiling
Wide as the ring of a bell
Gone all star white
Small as a wish in a well
And Sodom, South Georgia
Woke like a tree full of bees
Buried in Christmas
Bows and a blanket of weeds
Papa died Sunday and I understood
All dead white boys say, “God is good”
White tongues hang out, “God is good”
Papa died while my
Girl Lady Edith was born
Both heads fell like
Eyes on a crack in the door
And Sodom, South Georgia
Slept on an acre of bones
Slept through Christmas
Slept like a bucket of snow
Papa died Sunday and I understood
All dead white boys say, “God is good”
White tongues hang out, “God is good”
A while back (last November to be exact) I posted a piece about my view on the current state of music.
It got a healthy response. You can scroll to the 4rth post down to read it if you wish.
Well, the topic doesn’t really ever stray too far from my noggin, and it appears that it has come into the thoughts of other folks too. Most notably in the podcasts I listen to.
A couple of months ago, whilst trucking around Perth, I was listening to the BBC’s Danny Baker podcast. During an interview the state of modern music was discussed and naturally my ears pricked up.
Danny came up with an insightful observation that has stuck with me. He countered the perceived, and broadly accepted idea that our world is spinning harder and faster than it ever has done with the claim that culturally, it is in fact doing the exact opposite. Culturally, and especially musically it is slowing down. He proved it with this simple analysis:
Think of 50’s music. Got it? Good
Think of 60’s music. Ok?
Now the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. And then……. it peters out. There is little distinction between music made from ten or fifteen years ago to today. It’s all much of a muchness.
Or maybe not.
Maybe that music is still too close to us and our hindsight isn’t 20/20 yet. Or maybe the hits of the last ten to fifteen years have all been classics. Classics endure. Hmmm. (Or maybe I’m just playing the devils advocate).
So a while later I’m listening to The Good Life Project and again the topic comes up. Will we ever have musical icons again? The list from the past is long. They started with the late Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash but I don’t have enough time, and neither do you, for me to list them.
We’ve lost a clutch of icons already this year. And the older the baby boomers get the less we will have. Sorry to get all gloomy on you. It’s just weird to think of a world without the them. Imagine there being not one Beatle left. No more guys from Led Zepplin or The Rolling Stones.
The world will seem a bit less shiny.
Then, just the other day I listened to Radiohead’s Thom Yorke being interviewed by Alec Baldwin of all people. Thom said that he knew “the game was up” when, around ten years ago, Nokia approached the band for content for their phones.
The fact a global company approached a global band for a marketing deal was not the issue. That’s happened since day dot.
The point Thom was concerned with was the key word content.
You don’t want music, or singing or anything like that, he thought.
All you want is content.
That’s a huge shift in perception.
Music is no longer seen as a stand alone entity. It’s used to fill the cracks in a massive wall of cultural noise. It’s around us so much and in every part of our lives that there is no distinction any more. It’s just more content.
It’s got so big and so blurry that it’s incredibly difficult to overhaul. To burst its bubble will take a colossal effort. And what will become of the individual(s) who rip open the blanket of content? (Someone will come along sooner or later. Nothing more sure of that. I have faith.)
That person will become an icon.
A musical legend.
1,651 days ago Naomi and I landed in Australia. It was August, 16th 2011. We were newlyweds, had two backpacks, not much cash and even less of a clue as to what we were doing on the opposite side of the world, from what we then called home.
We arrived just after dawn at a backpackers hostel. It was the Australian winter, screaming wind and horizontal rain hammered us from the nearby beach and the owner of the hostel wouldn’t get up out of his pit to let us in. It wasn’t a great start.
Last Thursday, the 18th of February 2016, slap bang in the heat of an Australian summer Naomi, Ethan and I gratefully became Australian citizens.
How we got from that hostel and its unwelcoming owner to a municipal building and a buoyant mayor (with a two year old son) is bewildering to me. Even though, back in 2011, I sensed we might get a break when we left Scotland on our honeymoon.
I distinctly remember predicting that we were going to get an opportunity and telling Naomi that we must take it no matter what. Obviously I could never have imagined that we would become Australian citizens. I was thinking something down the lines of possibly getting a job at some point, making new friends, doing a little more travelling, extending our trip… but not by four years!
We followed our noses and when we got one small achievement under our belt we set our sights on the next one, and the next one, and the next one. It was a long and often extremely challenging process with more hurdles, red tape, dollars, pregnancies and stress than I could have ever anticipated. Yet we done it.
You would think that having achieved such a goal we would have been ecstatic. We were, but also not so much at the same time. Last Wednesday night, the night before our citizenship ceremony, Naomi and I found ourselves on the couch, and to be honest completely down beat about the whole thing. We had known that the 18th would be our date for weeks. We also knew what we were doing was momentous, not only for us but also for our son Ethan and any children he might have, but there was the distinct feeling of ‘it’s just another day’ between us. We were tired, had a house like a bomb site and lacked all sorts of get-up-and-go juice such as enthusiasm, motivation, energy, etc etc.
Such is the way, it seems with big changing moments. I met Ethan’s birth with the same sense of relief and gratitude but there were no pyrotechnics there either. Just happy to be there, to have got it done. To have nailed it. And we did. We nailed it.
(We did finally get to celebrate the occasion (beer, wine and party hats) at the weekend with a huge bunch of friends. It was a great night.)
It’s been a while. Since around about November to be less than exact. That was the last time I posted anything on this blog, and to my best of memories it was something about the current state of music. I even went as so far as to say that I was going to post a second part to the piece as it garnered a such healthy response. So much for that.
My actual response was to shut up shop. It wasn’t intentional. I just felt that I had nothing to say; nothing worthwhile to write. I found that I was beginning to irritate myself and the blog itself to be of little use. I was stuck in a trap where I thought each post had to be of some great value, to be a golden nugget of wisdom that the reader could take away and put in there pocket for later. Not that I thought I ever achieved that but it did end up being rather stifling. So, whilst I continued to write my book I hit the pause button on the blog.
I asked Naomi (my wife) about it a while back. Should I continue to write even though I felt I had nothing to say, or should I only post a piece when the notion to do so struck me? (Like right now). Her response was a little bit longer but it went something like this: ‘The more you write the more you will find you have something to say’. She should know, she blogs three times a week. So I took that advice back in December and done jack shit with it. I hung it out to dry (although I could still see the washing line from the window.)
The simple truth is that my heart wasn’t in it, and what’s the point if your heart ain’t in it? Why should I churn out something that I don’t enjoy? People can tell, right?
Well the answer starts with an admission.
I don’t like blogging. It isn’t me. It doesn’t feel comfortable. I’m not much of a sharer, so to hoist myself up onto a platform, albeit as small and precarious as this one and give a weekly account of my thoughts really grinds my gears. I don’t know why. Maybe its the Scottish genes in me telling me to ‘wind yer neck in!’
So why pick it back up?
Well, I’ve thought about that a lot since November and the answer is the very same reason why I stopped. Because I don’t like it. I’ve decided to keep going and hopefully I will grow more comfortable with feeling awkward. Playing it safe gets you nowhere.
I was listening to the Off Camera Podcast interview with The National frontman, Matt Berninger. One of his many quotes that are worth passing off as your own really struck home (allow me to paraphrase here).
“If you are not failing at two out of three things you are doing then you aren’t moving forward.”
So, with that in mind I’ve decided to “skate on thin ice”, as Matt says and continue with the blog. Some of you may think that “skating on thin ice” might be something of a hyperbole when comparing writing a blog to putting yourself out there. Well, all I can say is that you just don’t know how much this page goes against my nature.
On a side note, and I’m sure I’ve said it before on these pages. Please don’t hold my poor grammar, punctuation or spelling against me. If you feel you really have to correct me then please leave a comment. I read them all and appreciate every single one of them. Honestly I do. And I do think that those things are important to a wanna be author but just not for now, not for these pages. That time consuming effort is for later on and for my book.
To use another great quote, “Done is better than perfect.”
Thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert for that one.
Over the last month or so I’ve had the same conversation a couple of times regarding music and I think it warrants a few inches of space on this here blog.
You see, nobody makes music that I listen to anymore. (Let me just shoot the inevitable jokes out the sky by saying that some people may be thankful of that.) It’s now getting to the point that my search for music is going further and further back in time, which I suppose is no bad thing. But it all points to one thing: Nobody is making the music that I listen to anymore.
As I write this I currently have a biro note on the back of my hand to remind me to look up the songs “The Wee Wee Hours” by Chuck Berry and “Key To The Highway” by Little Walter for Chris’ sakes! These were recommended by Keith Richards on the Desert Island Discs podcast. I’m getting my music recommendations from Desert Island Discs, People.
Today I have listened to Pantera (for those of you who don’t know, they were an ear bleeding Southern metal band whose M.O was to become heavier with each album. They achieved it), Black Sabbath (following a trend here), Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Kills and, thanks to Perth’s local radio station, Roxette.
Only one of those albums was made this century.
I’m not saying that nobody is making good heavy rock music anymore (I know I totally just said that very thing above). What I’m saying is that nobody is blowing the bloody doors off of rock music anymore. And I have a theory as to why.
Before we do that, let us go take a little trip back in time. (Check me out, coming across like a host for some retrospective tv show.)
Lets begin with Elvis. There were guys before him but he is the most iconic and notable so it’s a convenient place to kick this off. He blew the bloody doors off. Knocked a generation off its feet. Along with him came Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash et all.
Not long afterwards came The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, The Who, The Doors and a truck load of other incredible bands from the 60’s. From there music swung towards glam rock, Detroit punk rock, soul, then disco. (I know I’m missing a load of other genres here like R&B, metal and folk but hopefully you get my drift.)
By the 80’s electronica, new wave, the new romantics, thrash metal, pop and so on.
Changes were just around the corner every few years. Someone was waiting to rip up the rule book and take the music scene on a completely different course.
Lets focus on a few bands. Or lets put this another way. Lets focus on bands I was into.
Guns n Roses chucked hairspray rock into the bin, Nirvana then blew them out the water a few years later. After Kurt killed himself Nu Metal took over but was mercifully snuffed out by Queens Of The Stone Age who stripped heavy rock right back to its bones. That’s four complete U-Turns in just over a decade within one single genre. That’s not taking into account the whole rave culture, Brit Pop, The Pixies, hordes of enormous American metal acts, multitudes of Manchester bands, rap, pop and Michael Jackson. These were all going on at the same time. Incredible.
Since the late 90’s/ early 2000’s.
Nothing. A barren wasteland.
Sure there have been big bands and big pop artists (Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Adele, Florence and the Machine) But no big rock band has came off the streets and blown the bloody doors off. Why?
Or as my mate Johnny put it- You no longer have genres fighting against each other. You have artists fighting against each other.
Playlists fight one another in a digital stream, Spotify (which I use and love) gives a daily update of new songs and albums to listen to, which you would think would have people queuing up for albums. It seems that it has the opposite effect. Its music overload, record companies aren’t making a great deal of money out of it (not like they used to) so they aren’t investing in bands. Bands don’t get the bucks to back them therefore they don’t get the time to establish themselves so they fall through the cracks into a sea of musicians all trying to find their way online. Then U2 lob themselves onto your iTunes library over night.
I like heavy rock music. Lots of it. I just want someone to come along and knock the whole thing over again. How they actually go about doing it is a different matter altogether. I have the feeling it would have to be a kinda renegade, self promoted, self recorded artist that goes viral. As long as they are the dogs balls. That’s all I care about.
On a side note I think its worth mentioning that some people, in the past got into music, or a band, by noticing the cover of an album. They seen it before they heard it. Digital music has robbed people of that connection.
(Before I go and look up Chuck Berry I just want to throw a few stats out there about Guns n Roses. Their debut album Appetite For Destruction is the biggest selling debut album of all time. It has sold more copies than Bob Dylan has sold albums in his entire career. It sold more copies than U2 sold during the entire 1980’s, that includes their huge Joshua Tree album. All done by a bunch of delinquents who were either drug addicts, alcoholics or a raging narcissist. ‘ You think they would get the time of day in the current market?)
I would love it if you could take the time to leave any recommendations.
I’ve never owned a house but I’ve made plenty homes.
Apartments, flats, a studio, houses. You name it, I’ve rented it. You can make a comfortable home out of rented accommodation no problem at all but as for the physical four walls with a lid on top. Nope.
In my 20’s I always felt that having a mortgage would pin me down. Rightly or wrongly I found the very idea constrictive and the literal translation of mortgage (death pledge) utterly disconcerting.
All around me my friends bought their houses yet I never did. I was glad I never had a mortgage when Naomi and I left Scotland on our travels. We met plenty other travellers enduring the headache and anxiety of covering bills whilst they cavorted around South East Asia whilst we were pretty much free to roam. A few years previously, when the economy crashed I was grateful that I never had to endure the dread of negative equity and sinking house prices.
Yet with pros you will always have cons. The short term-ism which goes hand in hand with renting means you never truly invest in your future. You wont buy that couch, that bed, that awesome piece of art. You constantly tell yourself, ‘What’s the point? I’ll be out of here in six months anyway.’ The ‘forever’ items aren’t worth buying, or they are already there waiting for you in your fully furnished apartment. I’ve been repeatedly told that I’m throwing my money away, that I’m paying off someone else’s death pledge. And I am. Hands up. You got me. And if I want to look at uber long term renting then I can kiss the idea of retirement goodbye.
Naomi and I have a new problem. Not unique. But new to us. The question has been bubbling away for a while now.
Where is home? That is an entirely different question when put into context that we emigrated over four years ago.
It’s the ultimate question you can ask any ex-pat and you’ll get a different answer each time.
‘Why would you want to go home?’
‘Some day I’ll go back.’
‘Home is for holidays.’
‘Back home the coffee is always in the same cupboard.’
‘You’ll never know where home is. You will always think it is the place you just left.’
That particularly cheery last quote came from a Polish bloke I work with who has lived in Australia since the 80’s. Since. The. 80’s. And even he is still none the wiser. Mind you he is possibly the most miserable person I’ve ever encountered in my life.
(I think I have just passed judgement on someone for the first time on this blog. Oh well, it’s the truth.)
A particularly common answer to the question Where is home? is ‘Why would I go back? Nothing changes at home.’ It relates back to the ‘… coffee is in the same cupboard’ gem. Yeah, maybe nothing changes at home and who is to say that is a bad thing? There is a lot to be said for continuity. Most people in the would shudder at the idea of having to up-root every year or so. It never used to bother me.
Home may not have changed but maybe I have.
(Speaking of home my mum is trying to Facetime me so I must go.)