Monday, 1 September 2014

time was

Telephone exchanges click while there's nobody there
The Martians could land in the car park and no one would care
Closed-circuit cameras in department stores
Shoot the same movie every day
And the stars of these films neither die nor get killed
Just survive constant action replay

And nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all
The needle returns to the start of the song
And we all sing along like before

There's nothing more likely to bring a wince than a cheesy synthesised organ sound or gated drums (fine on Kate Bush's Hounds of Love but think of practically anything by Phil Collins) or a clunky drum machine. Why? Because it reminds us of the eighties or nineties. I like Springsteen's Tunnel of Love album but the cheesy organ sound locks it in Time like the "freezers" from Christopher Priest's An Infinite Summer. It makes it slightly uncomfortable to listen to music that is heavily locked in Time, especially a time that you don't care for that much.

Whilst it may be obvious that certain records will bring back memories - good or bad - songs can be updated quite easily. My future son-in-law saw Richard Thompson for the first time recently and realised that he knew one of his songs (Beeswing) because one of his favourite bands have covered it. But to me, it's the lyrics that can sometimes be the jarring point. 

Whilst Robbie Robertson or RT himself may want to use archaic language or objects to evoke certain times, some writers use contemporary objects which may become totally alien to future audiences. For instance, a folk singer may want to sing The Old Changing Way that references Tinkers and fixing up "your kettles, please dear Missus, we'll sharpen your knives" and that sounds fine because it had already been designed to create a sense of time past. There are plenty of similar songs by RT - especially those on Henry the Human Fly and I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight* - that bring a sense of Thomas Hardy or A E Coppard. However, look at the lyrics by Justin Currie quoted above.

The lyrics come from the del Amitri song Nothing Ever Happens which records the general banality of everyday life (although the final line is a kick in the teeth to all of us in its reference to Kristallnacht). The song came up on my iPod the other day whilst I was driving along and the lyrics certainly lock it in Time as I mentioned above. There are various references in the song that are a snapshot of images that all seem to have happened in a life that is so different today, many younger listeners would not have a clue about. For instance, "Gentlemen time please, you know we can't serve any more" suggests those long-gone days of drinking up time and 10:30 closing times.

The lines above from the third verse mention that "telephone exchanges click" but they probably don't do that nowadays. The fourth verse does seem to keep fairly contemporary:

And bill hoardings advertise products that nobody needs
While "Angry from Manchester" writes to complain about
All the repeats on TV
Computer terminals report some gains in the values of copper and tin
While American businessmen snap up Van Goghs
For the price of a hospital wing

However, I guess not too many people write in to anyone to complain about "all the repeats on tv" given the choice of channels available now. If you want to watch endless repeats then there are stations like Dave that cater for that so it's easy to avoid them. Now we can all record programmes and not bother to watch them nowadays or only watch films and series by choosing Netflix, we can avoid advertising too to a certain extent. The implied letter writing is totally on the decline, too. That fact alone makes a mockery of the use of the letter form in English lessons and exams. Perhaps letter writing should now be the province of History lessons?

It's the chorus of Nothing Ever Happens where the song seems permanently frozen or locked into a particular time. Many youngsters would have absolutely no idea of what he's on about: "the needle returns to the start of the song and we all sing along like before". The song itself was first released in 1989 just as record players were being superseded by cds. So the action itself was almost already anachronistic. It's long been reported that many people nowadays don't pay for music, let alone buy it in any other form but digital.

But, interestingly, it appears that the sales of vinyl and turntables is on the rise. I read an article in the local press about how a second hand record shop is moving all its cds to the back of the shop and bringing all the vinyl forward. I also read somewhere of someone who had sold all of his vinyl years ago to replace his collection with cds only now to be selling them to fund re-buying it on vinyl! A few weeks ago I was in a record shop called Earwax Records in Williamsburg in Brooklyn who also told me that the bottom had fallen out of the market in cd sales about three years ago. Now they were selling mainly vinyl. That was good for me as the cd I wanted, Another Self Portrait by his Bobness, had been reduced. As the pound is quite strong, it only cost me about ten quid. Bargain.

Anyhow, so perhaps the act of a needle hitting the grooves of a vinyl record won't be so alien a concept to people in the future. I'm not sure whether or not modern turntables have the facility to leave the arm up for endless repeats like I used to do - John Martyn's One World was great for that. But somehow, the song still seems to be frozen in its time despite the acoustics and accordian as main instruments. Perhaps it's that video of them looking "all windswept and interesting" as Derek Brimstone used to say.

Right, I'm off to try to find out when the first usage of the mobile phones was in a song . . .

* Thankfully RT has recently started giving his albums shorter titles 


Andy Wright said...

Great post Dave. Enjoyed reading it very much and glad to see you are back after your summer retreat.

Dave Leeke said...

Hi Andy,

Thank you very much and it's great to be back. Americans don't drink really, do they?

I can't believe that so much time has slipped by since I last wrote a blog but what a busy time we had throughout July and August.

Anyway, I'll be writing lots more and there'll be plenty of music stuff. Promise.

As for drinking and talking: I'm not working on Fridays any more,so there's no excuse for not meeting up methinks. You'll love the new Fludyers - the food is great. It's also only about 200 yards from Leeke Towers - a catching up session is required.


Martyn Cornell said...

"The implied letter writing is totally on the decline, too. "

Mate, you obviously don't look at the comment sectons on the Graudian or Daily Bellylaugh websites. The letter-writters have all migrated to the internet now, and the bile they churn out is probably 100 times greater than it was when their only outlet was dead tree media.

Dave Leeke said...

Hi Martyn,

Sorry, your comment was languishing in "Awaiting Moderation" for a while. I've only just noticed it.

I do occasionally look at those comment sections in the Independent. What amuses me is the way that the first couple of comments are quite sensible and linked to the story, then someone starts up an argument, then there's one asking if you want to earn $100 dollars an hour followed by the moronic bile accusing everyone else of being scum!

I suppose it serves some purpose. I wonder if they send their comments in green ink?