Tuesday, 12 January 2010

the ethereal radio

Where to start?  1978 seems like a good year.  I was quite young, free and rushing nowhere fast.  I remember waking up what? Two or three o’clock one morning – in recollection, I’m sure it was a Saturday morning – with a song in my head.  Not just a few words but a SONG – lyrics, chorus, central riff and chords all fully formed.  Okay, so now looking back it sounds like a cross between Richard Thompson’s “Poor Ditching Boy” and Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood” but that’s not really the point.  It expressed an emotion at the time – unrequited love I suppose – but it was created by me lurching out of bed, picking up my acoustic conveniently propped up near the bed and strumming out this masterpiece in one go.  Reaching across for a pen and paper (a Bic or whatever was to hand in those days – I’m much more particular today about what I use) and jotting down this paean to my latest heart-throb, I then crashed back out for a few hours.  When I awoke, there it was!  A fully formed song.  Although I can barely remember lyrics or even what I was thinking about an hour ago, I can still play it and (more-or-less) remember most of the lyrics after all this time.  It is basically unchanged – although I will admit to adding a bit to the song within the following day after a chance comment by my good friend Terry.  He mentioned Saturday being a “razor-blade day”.  Great line, I couldn’t ignore that one!  We were sitting in the Wimpy in Stevenage – no McDonalds in those days.  So, I remember it well.  The song, known amongst the three of us that have ever heard it as “The Old Fashioned Girl”, falls into a genre the great singer-songwriter Bill Caddick called “Fake-Traddie”.  However, much as it is probably embarrassing now and laughable to sophisticated 21st Century iconoclasts like yourselves, it came from somewhere.  Everything comes from somewhere.

I’ve often read interviews with songwriters (believe me, I’ve read a lot of them) where they mention songs coming from SOMEWHERE – almost a gift.  The apocryphal story of Keith Richard springs to mind – him lurching out of bed and playing the riff to “Satisfaction” on his acoustic – yes, propped up by his bed – and playing it into his cassette player.  Come the morning, there it is fully formed.  The rest is history.  Keef went on to riches and fame, whereas I still have my own blood and (most of) my own teeth.  But the point is, gentle reader, where does this gift come from?

Moving on a few years forward (or backward, depending on your pov) to 2002.  There I was sitting in an exam room at a time when common-or-garden teachers still did invigilation, and my mind starts wandering.  Pondering this very phenomenon, I realised that songs (poetry/stories/inventions etc) do come from somewhere.  They are probably a gift – possibly from another place we can only access at particularly intuitive times.  I called this phenomenon the “Ethereal Radio”.  There’s something almost spiritual about writing, as there is with creating any art. I’m not claiming to be producing art, but someone, somewhere wanted me to create that song.  I haven’t really created anything similar since.  Again, it’s not perfect as a song but it did (does) summon up a particular place and a particular time.  She never heard it, though.

Driving across the South-West of America a few years back, I was quite taken with the miles of desert highways, ghost towns, Joshua Trees and telegraph wires.  Although I’m not a fan of long-distance driving in Britain, I enjoyed it in the States – and these images kept reminding me of this “spiritual radio” that seems to transmit ideas, songs, poetry, art etc to those of us that are receptive to it.  I have occasionally written stuff that I feel inspired by but rarely have I felt touched by something “out there” again.  John Tams talks of “song-making” rather than song writing, and I think that it’s a more apposite term quite often.I write this to explain to my various friends that over the years may have heard me mention the term – or indeed used it as a heading for a string of emails.  The ethereal radio is something I’m sure we all tune into at times.  You may have your own term for it.

Out across the desert
It's not the wind that howls
Where dust-parched travellers
Hear mournful vowels
Hang like windhovers with nowhere to go
It's the sound of the ethereal radio


Brendini said...

Dave, at the risk of sounding like a character from Gigi, I remember it well. Your notion of an etheral radio chimes in with the idea of a Spiritus Mundi that Yeats kept dribbling on about. There is also the story Paul McCartney tells about the writing of Yesterday. He woke up one morning (dar-lang dar-lang) with the melody fully formed in his head. He was convinced that he had heard it somewhere and was worried that he might be plagiarising someone else's work. Mais non! C'etait tous his own travail.
Or was it?

Dave Leeke said...

Yes, good old Yeats - "dribbling on"?

McCartney wrote the words "scrambled eggs" to "Yesterday" at first - possibly it was the melody alone that he received via the ethereal radio. Much like Keef, I guess. I suppose I was just surprised by the fact that it all came fully formed in one transmission.

Yes, you are one of the three mentioned. She did ask if I'd ever written a song for her - the night after we walked back from Cambridge (Albion Band). I didn't let on.

Mike C. said...

The natural enemy of the Ethereal Radio is the Man from Porlock, of course... Poor old STC never quite got it all down before he had to answer the door and sign for his parcel.

This has reminded me of something I had intended to blog about myself, which I may do later today. "People as radios" is something that has interested me for many years, perhaps going as far back as sitting over a tea in the Krazy Kettle by Stevenage bus station.


Dave Leeke said...

I think I'm leaning towards Coleridge more than Yeats here.Yeats was influenced by Jung whereas Coleridge was easily distracted after enjoying some unusual refreshments. A glass or two of St Peter's finest and I come up with some great ideas. However, I must admit that I don't need a Man From Porlock - or anywhere to disrupt my flow of thoughts!

If my memory fails me correctly wasn't the Wimpy mentioned in the blog ("razor blade day") The Krazy Kettle previously? Up in the corner near SPCK? Is this synchronicity?

Mike C. said...

The Kettle was certainly up by SPCK (only in a godforsaken town like Stevenage would the only bookshop be a branch of SPCK -- the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge), so quite possibly. The KK was a good place (OK, the only place) for Saturday afternoon craic over tea and a fag, when the weather ruled out sitting on the side of the clock tower pool.

Synchronicity? Nah, just extremely limited choices...

Dave Leeke said...

Okay, good point. Generally the Wimpy was the next place after The Marquis of Lorne closed about 2-ish on a Saturday afternoon.

As it generally rained anyway, that was where we would go. It was a long wait until the Marquis opened again at 6 o'clock.

Given the song mentioned was written in 1978, I assume you were enjoying life as a student whilst I was suffering the "joys" of working at Sunblest. We all need a dream to hang on to.

Actually, I need to think this through - I had given up working by the time the incident (let us not forget that this was about a song)occurred.

When I say "given up working" I meant that I had ambitions way beyond my circumstances and felt that Life offered so much.

I never did run off to Greece to become a fisherman.

Brendini said...

Zorba the Leeke?