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David Bowie’s ‚David Bowie‘ contains 14 Schneekugeln. I had high hopes for doing them all here, but no. It’s time to call time. Not because the remaining 7 aren’t any good: of course they are

It’s just that it’s a listening thing. David Bowie’s ‚David Bowie‘. Doing the first 7 you realise this shit is like William Blake’s ‚Songs of Innocence and Experience‘: the simple ain’t simple, time ain’t time, gravity ain’t gravity. Nothing to throw adjectives or musicological pseudo-theory at

Or: Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen

And iiii am at Plac Zamkowy and it’s raining

My friends, goodbye. I left you there on the street. I had an idea for a time machine

| Влади́мир Ильи́ч Улья́нов | dohánybolt| vážně | грязный | & twoim otoczeniu | & there was no curfew

But I am not at Plac Zamkowy, it’s not raining

And when I live my dream I’ll forget the things you told me And the empty man you left behind It’s a broken heart that dreams, it’s a broken heart you left me Only love can live in my dream I’ll wish, and the thunder clouds will vanish

And I am in a coffee shop in Łódź, on the corner of Nawrot and Sienkiewicza. I am sitting down with my coffee when this group of absolute nutters invades the place. One has on a Guy Fawkes mask, one has a guitar, one has a tinsel wig, and one appears to be carrying a tray with the nativity scene on it. One of them is doing a morris dance. I just ignore it but it’s pretty funny.

I can’t hear the song they play anyway, as I have my red and white urBeats in-ear phones on, and My Truth by Cocteau Twins is playing at full volume into my head (from my Android phone) which alongside the weird side effects of the decongestants I’m taking has the effect of partial environmental block-out. Valuably subtracting any element of sincerity from this exercise in psychogeography. What’s meaning, and what’s meant? And today, Łódź is Las Vegas and everything is repairable: everything is broken

But I am not in a coffee shop in Łódź on the corner of Nawrot and Sienkiewicza. I am in beautiful Bucharest, huddled in a doorway on the Strada Maria Rosetti, which with decongestant side-effects and half-closed eyes, could almost be Palermo. And my urBeats are playing Damage

And when I live my dream, please be there to meet me

„From light we come, and to light we go.

From the light of this understanding I moved against the human aberration of War
and followed its tribal roots down into the dark bowels of recorded history and beyond.

Never did I imagine such an incredible journey.“

Stan Hall (1936 -2008)
 

We Are Hungry Men, the 6th track on the first David Bowie album, starts off, typically, with firing sparks of genius. „Here is the news …“ it goes, in an a voice that takes its caricature of RP beyond caricature or even satire and into a place that its target deserves: nowhere.

RP was the accent adopted by English broadcasters in the middle of the 20th century. RP – received pronunciation. It’s an infinitely stupid term, as is enacted by the artist in those 4 words. RP is meant to be the speaking voice of reasoned thought, but was in practice a vessel for the 20th century’s colonial (soon to be very postcolonial) insecurities. Here is the news. Fuck the news, and its bombast. Tomorrow is yesterday. Phonemic subversion becomes diphthongal intifada.

The lyrics that follow examine catastrophism, ecologocentrism, Victorian patricianism and globalisation with humour and a lightness of touch. This is the news: the news is not news but history. And history is just facts but not the vibration/iration of everyday life.

The far future tells us so – a look to the relatively near past for intimations of the eschaton throws up just as much as a look to yesterday, tomorrow or anytime else in any epoch of any lithosphere.

There Is A Happy Land is the title of the fifth track on Schneekugeln. And what fucking depression.

Keen readers will know the title from two places: first from the awful, depressing 19th century hymn that’s about as spiritual as drinking paint. Second, from the infinitely depressing (but great) 1957 Keith Waterhouse novel by the same name. The hymn is what it is. The novel is pure unadulterated cosmos. A genius book, whose acuity of perception is so sharp that to re-read it would be vandalism.

It’s impossible to imagine this song’s iration without the influence of the novel. Part of Bowie’s genius was the ability to throw references forward without the need to poststructualise. In this case, throwing forward from the primordial paint of the life-reducing hymn and the mega fucked-up Sistine of Waterhouse’s novel. To the last song on the record.

The first four songs are an acceleration. This is a brake.

Love You Till Tuesday’s backing track is a weird jaunty department store jingle. An unlikely basis for the linguistic play it supports. The lyrics address a paradox: „my passion’s never ending and I’ll love you ‚til Tuesday“. Except it’s only a paradox for the object of love. The subject here is mercurial/comedic- you can hear it in the comedy aspect of the vocal – especially the second vowel in the word ‚romance‘ which opens up a whole book of English phonology that there’s no space to go into here. Let’s just put it like this: nobody in England (or Scotland/Ireland/Wales/USA) pronounces the word like that. Phonemic subversion! Perfect. You can also hear comedy in the (presumably scripted, non-corpsing) burst of laughter that follows for a brief second. Amid the silliness, something serious is said. The parting shot: „well, I might stretch it ‚til Wednesday“ is superfluous, and deliberately misplaced. Go on, it’s saying. Throw in a pseudo-denouement where none’s required. Keep listening, it’s saying. There’s so much more to come. A an interlude within a music hall interlude within a music hall interlude: a weird jolt, a narratological impetus.

Another snowstorm full of plutonium snowflakes. Rubber Band is (of course) a play on words – it means Gummiband, as well as something less well defined: a band who aren’t very good, presumably they sound so bad it’s as if they are playing with makeshift strings.

The band aren’t recording artistes (it’s 1910) and the only individual who critiques them is their (perhaps only) audience, the song’s singer.

A Gummiband is of course infinite – it’s a loop. Travel round it and you will never stop. And resilient. And possibly even has a memory (…sort of…) given that it displays hysteresis: stretch a rubber band and it doesn’t immediately return to its original state, instead undergoing irreversible thermodynamic change. They also expand in cold and contract in heat.

All of which forms an odd metaphor that is unclear – out of tune though the band may be, on his return from overseas about 4 years later, the singer finds out that the band leader stole his girl. The elastic of love and longing has been stretched too far, and his parting shot is a comedic wish that the band leader ‚breaks his baton‘ – a sharp return to reality, and a slightly more prosaic example of thermodynamic change.

In a very strange way, Rubber Band is a eulogy to the transformative power of performance. A yet-to-be world famous artist sketching out a scene that takes place 50 years or more in the past, with (you’d imagine) no idea just how powerful the act of performance would be in his own life in time to come.

While Rubber Band doesn’t quite achieve the pathos of the two preceding songs on the album, it does address some very interesting ideas – the limited projection of the Rubber Band versus the stadia and satellite world of the 1960s, as well as themes of attraction, orbit: perigee/apogee and of course tea and scones.

A winter’s day, a bitter snowflake on my face …

‚Sell Me A Coat‘ has long been one of my favourite Bowie songs.
Like a lot of Bowie’s coolest stuff, it’s just a pop song.
But then you look at it more closely and it’s a Schneekugel.
(Which I guess is an appropriate seasonal comparison.)

It’s a winter scene, a solitary individual in a winter landscape.
My mind’s eye sees it as a kind of grey urban space like in a Lowry painting.
The song immediately works its magic by fixing itself in time – the bitter snowflake is ultratransience, it will melt or disintegrate in seconds.
And so the song takes place in this most brief sliver of time.

What I like about this is its forlornness – love lost but no anger or reproach, or even much self pity – it’s more just baleful self-analysis.
The language here is just fantastically effective – I really love it, it does what the best lyrics should do.
What should they do, the best lyrics?
Perform benign, cosmos-changing magic, that’s what.

Sell me a coat is an a commercial ‚call to action‘ in reverse.
(Call To Action examples – ‚BUVEZ Coca-Cola‘, ‚Buy Today 10% off‘ etc.)
It’s unclear as to whom is being asked to do the actual selling.
This lack of obvious addressee gives the song’s main refrain a prayerful tinge.
So what we have is a world where polarities have changed.
Warmth has become unwarmth, time has become untime.
It’s almost like something out of the i-Ching.
Fire from the mountain, the eagle circles the summit.
Summer will give way to winter soon and your prize will fly into the blue.
Everything you touch, you change – everything you change, changes you.
The universe is change, our life is what our thoughts make it.
Supreme success if you hold your course.

And of course he has no coat – and therefore is no Joseph.
Asking to be sold a coat.
With patch pockets.
Somewhere to keep your hands warm!
In a jingly song.
A jingly song sounds that like it was recorded in a small room that was virtually opaque with the smoke from Players No 6 cigarettes.

Is this the same guy who ten years later would sing the weird pseudo-Romanian incantations on Warszawa?

Wow.
 
 
 

 

Uncle Arthur is a nano-epic, packing a lot into its all-too-brief 2 minute 13 seconds running time. It’s a nano-epic from the outside, but from the inside, from Arthur’s viewpoint, it’s a big story, the story of a psychic perihelion he’d probably rather forget. Arthur is in his 30s, a socially ‚other‘ character probably broadly not dissimilar to Tim Roth’s character in the film ‚Meantime‘ or Craig Cash’s character Malcolm from the sitcom ‚Mrs Merton and Malcolm‘. Or maybe even Ronnie Corbett’s character from the sitcom ‚Sorry‘.

The backdrop is a small town, rendered in almost cartoon-like motion, with Uncle Arthur making his way past the gasworks, past the river, down the high street on his bicycle. Back to mother. Until one day love finds him. Mother disapproves but he absconds anyway. Then he returns because his love, Sally, can’t cook.

Narratologically this nano-epic is fascinating. The tragedy in it is that at the end, nothing – nothing at all – has changed for Arthur. He’s back working at the family shop, still going past the gasworks and the river down the high street. His decision is made. He’s back with mum. But things will change eventually – entropy will see to that.

The story changes between past and present tenses, the latter giving it uncomfortable focus, the former making it seem like it’s some family legend. The handclaps and jaunty singalong feel add a sense of jovial unreality – as if its story is intended as a mix of twisted didacticism and mild Schadenfreude. A psychedelic Strewwelepeter singalong.

The song is also clearly about subatomic particles – its three characters representing subatomic elementary particles whose substructure is unknown. They are quarks: Mother is ‚down‘ Sally is ‚charm‘ and Arthur is ’strange‘.

2016 12 Jan

Liebeskomödie

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If you are to fall in love
Then where should you stand to begin with?
And when the falling’s done
How bad should you plan to get injured?
And if you land on your feet
Do it count as a fall or a jump?
And do it feel like a fall
When the hands that pushed you were holding you up?
 
 
 

 

2016 12 Jan

Blood comedy

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Here is an important letter from Transylvania. The Count wishes to buy a house in our city.
It’s a good opportunity for you. The Count is rich, and free with his money.
You will have a marvelous journey.
 
And, young as you are, what matter if it costs you some pain – or even a little blood?
 
The house facing yours … that should suit him. Leave at once, my young friend. And don’t be frightened if people speak of Transylvania as the land of
 
 
 
phantoms.


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