Sunday, 29 November 2015

Songs About Cities

I've done previous charts about London and songs about each of the US states  so I thought it was about time the rest of the world got a look in. So here's a music chart compiled from songs about some of the great cities of the world other than those of the UK and the US. The only other stipulation for this chart is that there are no songs by Mountain Goats, since they seem to have sung about every major city in the world in their prodigious discography.

1) Scritti Politti - "Asylums In Jerusalem"
A band supposedly chockfull of both political and philosophical references (They cited french philosopher Jacques Derrida as an inspiration) but I never quite got all that. They just seemed to write rather catchy and sweet pop songs about romance like this one.

2) They Might Be Giants - "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"
Barking mad and yet catchy. so catchy it's the only song of theirs I know.

3) Dub Syndicate - "Kingston 14"
Wonderful dub paean to Kingston Jamaica, in calling for an end to the drug and crime related violence.

4) Ultravox - "Vienna"
Overwrought, overblown like bad opera, but then that's what I thought of most of the New Romantic output. Just my opinion mind. This is also why Freddie Mercury's "Barcelona" won't make this chart. I forgot they were so big at the time of Live Aid. Let's conquer world famine by wearing our foppish dandy clothes and playing music that echoes royal pageantry to raise money.

5) Pere Ubu - "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo"
Ah that's better, something a bit more edgy and under-produced. You can sing about pizzicato strings as above, or you can sing about a pilot about to drop an atomic bomb over Japan...

6) Rush - "A Passage To Bangkok"
Rush, there's a band you didn't imagine would appear on this blog, but there you go. Drummers who wear headbands to keep the sweat out of their eyes, you know you're talking heavy rock, even when the drummer's hair has all fallen out. You'll have to take my word that this song is about Bangkok, because Geddy lee's vocals are unintelligible to my ear.

7) Test Dept - "Gdansk"
Named after a city that symbolises Europe's history of empire and conflict as it's been known as Danzig when owned by the Germans and Gdansk when Polish and of course the wellspring of the Polish Trade Union Solidarity that began the slow journey to democracy and liberation from the Soviet yoke. Sorry about the lousy low in the mix sound quality of this, but the studio version seems to have gone from YouTube.

8) Durutti Column - "Bordeaux"
So Marc, why isn't this treated the same as that Ultravox song you gave such a panning to?
Well fair blog visitor, because it's not pompous and it's musical is considerably more fragile and delicate methinks.

9) Scott Walker - "Amsterdam"
Okay something considerably less controversial, Scott Walker's voice. Nuff said

10) The Fall - "Bremen Nacht"
From the sublime to the ridiculous. Scott Walker to Mark E Smith. You always know a band is reaching the end of its useful life when they are so busy touring they experience nothing else in life and so pen songs about stays in hotel rooms and apparently amusing incidents backstage. not the Fall though, Smith's still going strong with his social observations on life.

11) Lou Reed "Berlin"
Lou reed RIP

12) Martha And The Muffins - "Saigon"
It's funny, after the interesting instrumental opening (including a keyboard lick I just realised was ripped off in one of my favourite hip hop songs), the music basically reverts to "Echo Beach" their most well known hit.

13) New Fast Automatic Daffodils - "Stockholm"
There were so many bands of this ilk in the 80s, but their guitar based indie rock was rather eclipsed by the preference for the synthesiser. I must admit they sort of passed me by too.

14) The Stranglers - "Goodbye Toulouse"
Not the run of the mill lament for leaving some favoured city, but an apocalyptic evaporation of the city through nuclear destruction. Wonder why they picked Toulouse of all places?

15) Joy Division - "Warsaw"
The earliest Joy Division release, coming after a brief flirtation with Warsaw as a band name in homage to David Bowie's song "Warszawa". The elements of what they would later become were all present here, if a little raw, but the references and the cover art also display a disconcerting Nazi fixation.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Arose By Any Other Name - novel extract

Blog: 17th May 2006 / 27th Rabia Awal 1427
Another- the last- fitting for my nuptial dress. Has me more than a little nervous. Only natural of course. My fingers are trembling and I cant do up a single clasp. The seamstress clicks her tongue in sharp disapproval and says such conduct would be unbecoming on the big day itself. The girdle feels tight, even though I have barely eaten this last week, despite cautioning from those around me to maintain my strength. I have even surrendered up my beloved gelatis. But today I feel I can treat myself to a bombe glacée. A last trifling indulgence, before the most profound change occurs in my life. And if I spread a couple of inches under its calorific assault, then Ill just have to suck in my stomach, which with the likely state of my breathing tomorrow, shouldnt be too hard a task. I force myself to think pure thoughts by envisioning my betrothed before me, as the seamstress gingerly packs up my raiment. And in conjuring such happy thoughts, a smile breaks out to envelop the worry lines around my pensive brow. Now my lips quiver only with joy. Such a remedy never fails. Tomorrow we shall be conjoined for ever. I leave the premises to search out my ice cream, once I have safely stored the vestments. Now it is just a question of killing time.
With all the trepidation, its been a very long and sleepless night. As the light faded, my thoughts flared around me, projected into the formless shadows moving on the wall. Car headlights seared their way through my shutters and churned and roiled my ceiling, making me dizzy and disoriented. Shutting my eyes did nothing, as they managed to prise through the membranes of my eyelids. How thin and insubstantial all of my body feels at this time. My flesh a flimsy curtain, partitioning the unknown chambers ahead.
I rose from bed and am now carving this for the want of something to do. Of course they left me no means of communicating with the outside world. But they did leave me a knife for self-protection and when I had blunted that, I used the flints sheared off from the stone walls of the room itself. Had other brides and grooms to be, been put up here before me? Then the building will tell its tale as well as my own.
My overriding thought right now, would to please be permitted some sleep, so I am not too befuddled for tomorr- or later today as it now is. Im going back to bed, doubtless to joust some more with my ceiling-borne demons overhead. Whence death seemingly always comes, in our insignificant part of the world. Where the sky is forever falling in.
A pealing siren outside woke me, even though it was far away in the distance. A presentiment of ill-fortune? But again I just marinade my mind with thoughts of my beloved opening his arms in welcome and all such anxieties melt away and me with it back into my furtive dreams. Wherein my Mother soon intercedes. Bustling and barging the angelic bystanders as she cuts a direct path to me. Standing now right in my face, eclipsing even the joy of my light, for she would not approve of such an espousal. This is not exactly an elopement, yet still she cannot know till after the event. I have recorded her a message to explain the matter. But her forceful image has demanded an explanation of me before she is even in the know. A lingering last vestige of guilt.
Mother, the sole message is I love you. Even as I seemingly repudiate you by this act. I am not propelling myself away from you. This you must understand. How I love you more than anything else on this earth and I am beaming this message to you, with greater force than all the generative force soon to adorn my belly, that will pull us apart merely on this plane. In my absence, you will receive only greater honour. Till we are ultimately reconciled in Paradise. My Mother and I hug, seemingly unconditionally as she did when I was a baby. And finally I fall into a dreamless sleep.
18th May 2006 / 28th Rabia Awal 1427
I imagine hearing another siren, but as I groggily come round, I realise it is my beeping alarm clock. An adhan summoning me to my calling. My salvation. I shut it off. Ill be present at my union soon enough. Lying here, I try and evoke an image of the light of my life in the future, but nothing comes. Its as if my thoughts are like birds, flying in confusion and without navigation during an eclipse, as my rapidly beating heart has blotted out the sun. So I do what Ive been steeled to do and I use it to my advantage. I am to enter the core of this black sun, and ball it up in my hand. Driving the fingers till they seal my palm. Thereby readmitting the light to embrace me once again. Ha, already the quickened pulse recedes. Resumes its orderly place in the background. But do not be fooled. That faint tick, tick, ticking, is the sound of my seething heart, walled up behind the thorns and briars of my sin. How they dam up my heart from God. Now is the time to purge them like an infernal machine, back whence they came. Return my pure being back to the bosom of God. For He cannot be contained. My heart is fit to irrupt, its furious palpitations cannot be accommodated a moment longer.
I swing my legs out of bed. My bare feet meet the cold stone of the flags. All the more felicitous then, since a grave will be yet colder. I wash myself from a bowl of water, letting the precious liquid trickle back down to its source. Our adversaries would deny us even this most basic of elements. As I bathe them, I devote each one of the two hundred bones in my body to you my Love. And by my actions, I imagine we will share them in turn with five times that amount of suitors, dispersed like passing out wedges of wedding cake. Spearing into their trespassing hearts, as we entwine and are yoked together into death. Then there is the added confetti of nails and ball bearings, only this time it will be the bride showering the congregation. Even my virginal veil of modesty shall be aflame and sail through the air combusting all it brushes against. My flying blood will baste their foreheads with the indelible sign of their guilt. The liquid in the bowl is still once again.
I hope my laving is suitably thorough, but I am without any mirror for inspection. One isnt to wake on the morn of ones self-appointed expiration and glimpse dread in the eyes. No photos to kiss either, no earthly tugs at all to corrode the will. To blunt my whetted mind. Instead I picture weaving my own carpet. I who have nothing, can still donate this wedding gift. As they deny us the wool because we have no land to breed sheep and we have no looms to spin it within our flimsy, cramped houses, so then will I fashion mine from blood and bone. I aim to weave the largest rug that is humanly possible from my frame, to drape the entire tarmac between two bus stops. And my signature, will be my essence mingled in with theirs. They who are so precious about collecting and burying every last drop of their blood spilt, will not be able to determine if it is mine or theirs. Blotting me up with their paper as they do with their own. How they will waste such resources in taking precise, forensic care of my remains, it will almost be like they are forced to yield me the same worth as their own burnt offerings. But for all this, I will yield them no insights. Other than reinforcing that which they choose to remain wilfully blind to.
Im ready. This time I rig myself with barely a faltering in my fingers. The clasps all snap home. The girdle still feels tight, but now hangs heavy, arrayed with the wedding gifts lavished last night by my escort. What a most generous gift he has seen fit to bestow upon me. The needles to unstitch with. The pattern in my mind. At last, for the first time in our despoiled land, my belly feels fecund.
19th May 2006
20th May 2006
21st May 2006
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Got your attention now?
Posted by Rough Beast. 12/08/06
I will disclose at once, that the above is a fictionalised account. I composed it, based on several interviews Ive carried out with jailed Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel. Now, Ill admit that in itself has been a tad frustrating, since by definition the ones in prisons are FAILED suicide bombers. Would-be suicide bombers. The defeated and the fatigible. Those betrayed by fate. By their own inexperience. By the will of God. Or their own humanity, their own inner struggle, however deeply overlaid and suppressed.
For the bottom line sees the human spirit remarkably tenacious at preserving itself. The body is stockpiled with a whole battery of reflexes to resist its own cessation and death. Its default setting is for life. So mental illness aside, how can this possibly be overridden? It requires an abstergent, in order to yield a blank screen upon which any message can be projected. Including graduation from a human being, into a human bomb. The knack, is to change the bombers desires from embracing life, into a hankering after death.
Interview after interview, I was presented with similar, reedily intoned versions of how this was brought about. One strand had them sat drooling at the feet of some hierophant in a madrassa, as he categorically untangles the frayed threads of life, while they scratch their carpet-fluff beards and nod accordance. Ill tell you something, if I was promised myriad virgins in the Afterlife, Id probably enlist myself. Blissfully blow myself to Kingdom Come. Presumably, its one virgin to tend each bit of the body atomised by high-explosive. Of course, rather than nubile women, why couldnt it equally be the ghosts of the 72 camels slain for Fatimas wedding? Thats the drawback with numerical symbolism. Its open to double counting.
Alternatively, they drilled before a paramilitary hawk, sharpening the recruits claws on his steel gauntlet. The logic he advances, is that the mission should be beyond fear, for no other soldier has such certainty of whether he will return alive or dead from his next action. Whereas the suicide bomber knows to the precise minute. What a boon.
By whichever method, these fellows are striking a deal with their egos. They dont shut them off, rather they believe they are swapping a pretty squalid life not for death, but for another, improved life up in the clouds. A literal leap of faith. Trouble is, when their heads are blown upwards off their body towards Heaven, sure as hell it hurtles back down to earth under the prosaic ministrations of gravity. Does each bomber actually possess the finer shades of understanding, exactly what the Holy Text suggests is in store for them? Ultimately, they remain just teenagers on the most extreme and ugly of promises. And as to the secularist bombers, they too are left in no uncertain terms that they will become pin-up poster boys on the walls of Gaza and Baghdad. This is the poor mans version of celebrity. A pension from Iran or Syria will see that their family is well provided for, a sort of posthumous dower. Or a divorce settlement.
When one of the plump-bellied commanders or hierophants squeezes into a belt, rather than a whey-faced waif; when one of those educated-in-the-universities-of-their-foes strategists puts his own body on the line, then Ill afford them credence that theyre not just exploiting and manipulating these bomb mules. Winding up the key of taut and tutored desperation in their backs and setting them off towards mayhem. See, the thing with successful missions as the Japanese kamikazes demonstrated, is that you cull your elite talent. No such thing as a suicide veteran. You need a constant stream of fresh volunteers. But unlike Iraq, where Jihadists are crossing over the borders all the time, Palestine is sealed off. So the quality of the bomber pool declines. They started sending children and simpletons. I saw them in the prisons too, though I didnt abuse them any further by requesting to interview them. Even those with the slightest sympathy for the strength of will of the suicide bomber, ought to be repulsed by this abasement. Bad strategic decision.
So I return to these prompters, these whisperers from offstage. The puppet master, pedlars of death. What these men do so successfully, is to take the everyday currency of death in their blighted land and raise it to the ultimate value. The reward they offer, confirmed as instantly as a scratch-card, is the status of martyr. They market death as a lifestyle. Conferring an off the peg posterity. Of soldier; freedom fighter; liberator; hero; martyr; patriot; bomber. When life circumstances have prevented the volunteer from being secure in the roles of lover, father, son, worker, provider, man of leisure. Such appeals strike at the very core of anxiety and neurosis. Become a sapper rather than merely sapped.

These manipulators, these programmers, are marketing geniuses. For being able to turn death around like that and make it an attractive option. An aspirational choice. They ought to be employed in Soho and Madison Avenue, having their work plastered across giant hoardings and on TV. Then theyd be earning enough money to send back to revive their homeland economy. But these mavens of destruction would presumably baulk at the job title of Creative Director.

extract taken from the kindle novel "Not In My Name" available from Amazon

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Love Songs

Those that know me as a writer say I don't write many stories about love. I'd disagree with this and indeed in my latest collection there are a couple of heart-rendering love stories, but yeah it's true, they don 't end well. Actually, there's a third story "Eyes In The Back of His Hands" that's an intense portrayal of love with a blind lover. You can read it here.

So I thought my next music themed chart should be love related. But I'm not really one for the classic pap love song, sorry I meant pop love song. But here's ten of my favourite love tinged songs.

Ramones - "Baby I Love You"
Two-minute thrash rockers go all slow strings and syrupy on this track and I Loooove it!

Keith Rowe - "Groovy Situation"
When Keith belts out "This is how I feel" towards the end, it sends shivers down my spine. He means it he really, really means it. He's in love, with all of his soul. Mesmerising despite a reasonably unpromising beginning to the song.

Undertones - "You Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It?)"
Hey I never said the love had to be requited in these songs did I? Love this song as I did of so many of the Undertones' output. Perfectly crafted 3 minute pop-punk, cheeky and belligerent at the same time, with catchy choruses, which when push comes to shove, no one really gets hurt in the end.

CSS - "Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death from Above"
Probably wins the award for best titled live song. Don't know if anyone else feels this, but it has the feel of a post-coital song to me, lying back on the bed, smoking a cigarette and letting your thoughts float free. Oh just me then...

Infadels - "Love Like Semtex"
The only song of theirs I really liked. It's not particularly coherent lyrics wise, but it manages to convince through the beat and the delivery.

New Order - "Love Vigilantes"
Joy Division wrote the searing "Love Will Tea Us Apart" with it's mea culpa and realistic sensibilities about the flaws and failings  within a relationship. New Order pen this potty ditty about a soldier returning home from war to his wife who believes him dead. It lacks any gravitas or even much in the way of credibility, but it's bouncy and hummable and I like it in spite of myself.

The Rezillos - "I love My Baby Cos She Does Could Sculptures"
What better reason could there be? Never overlook the significant part Art Colleges played in the rise of UK punk in the middle of the 1970s. Perhaps that's why Paul Weller penned such an acerbic song called "Art School" to distance people from the notion that The Jam were associated with punk. Anyway, hilarious intro to this song about how the band hated each other.

The Pogues - "Kitty"
Shane Macgowan was a master of writing aching love songs full of loss and regret, often tied up to exile and leaving your country behind. Of course everyone knows "Fairytale Of New York", but for sheer weary emotion I don't think you can top this.

Boss Hog - "I Dig You"
Husband and wife team Jon Spencer and Cristina Martinez pen a daft song pledging their troth towards one another. But I loved this band with their blend of swamp dirt blues and Spencer's later incarnation Jon Spencer's Blues Explosion that deconstructs and reconstructs the Blues with a particular 21st Century spin.

Gun Club - "Fire Of Love"
The primal sound of love, lust, concupiscence the whole shooting match. The fire of love, does exactly what it says on the tin.

Gang Of Four - "Love Like Anthrax"
Okay, so I just couldn't help myself and reverted to type. A song that deconstructs the notion of love as mythologised in 3 minute pop songs. Apart from what's going on musically, this is really interesting in the way the two vocal narratives cut across one another with no concern as to which one the listener gloms on to. A bit like a married couple having an argument, which kind of summed up the relationship of guitarist Andy Gill & lead singer Jon King who periodically broke up and came back together/. I think right now King has left the band again.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

(Don't) Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before - The atrocities in Paris

It saddens me that that in the light of events in Paris I find myself having to post yet another blog post like this (Charlie Hebdo, ISIS, Lee Rigby murder). Social media is in meltdown with two types of reaction. Either that of political opportunism, (Bomb Syria, ban migrants etc), or that of sheer incomprehension and vapid pronouncements of solidarity.

1) These events are not beyond incomprehension
2) These events are not beyond words
3) These events, monstrous as they are, cannot be labelled and thereby dismissed as 'evil'; they are utterly ascribable to the hand of man.

If you want to show solidarity, inform yourself of the ideas and motivations that lead to events like this. Do not wring your hands uselessly and then throw those hands up in the air asking 'how?' Put in some work and you'll have a pretty good picture of how and why. Then and only then might both citizens and their politicians have a better idea for how to cope and deal with this threat.

I have never worked in the armed forces or the intelligence services. I am not an academic. I am not a politician or civil servant. I am just a citizen. For the 30+ years of my adult life, I have looked around me, observed my world and pursued my own study of the state of affairs in certain key areas. After 9/11, the Madrid train bombings and the suicide bombs on the London Underground, the area of Radical Islamic terrorism became one of those key areas for me. I read books (not newspapers). I educated myself. I tried to establish what the different voices and perspectives were saying whether I agreed with them or not. One of the problems with the response of social media is that no one is actually listening to anyone else, rather talking over each other. It absolutely behoves us to try and penetrate all the logics and rationales being advanced by everyone involved in these events. Because until you do, you will never understand what you are confronting.

I wrote a book in 2010 (published in 2011) about these issues. I traced some of the logic behind non-Islamic terrorism of the 60s and 70s, because terrorist logic remains largely the same. (1960s US dissidents/ domestic terrorists The Weather Underground coined the phrase 'bringing the war back home' through their campaign against US domestic targets to make the citizenry experience the same as the Vietnamese during America's military campaign there). I explored at length the depth of emotion behind suicide (domestic as well as ideological) because the theme of death and its ready acceptance is a key factor at work here. I traced the possible journey to radicalisation of your own citizens. And while I didn't predict ISIS and the establishment of the Islamic State, I did probe the notion of a Caliphate as an aspiration within some strands of radical Islam. Again, let me stress, I am not involved in any of the professions who might be involved in analysing such factors. But I did my reading. The book represents many different voices, but not as a mere cacophony, but with each strand untangled.

Read my book or don't read it (I'm not even putting a link to it here, that's not what this piece is about). Read non-fiction treatments as I did in order to end up being able to write a book on the subject. But please, no longer throw your arms up in uncomprehending despair. Arm yourself with knowledge, open up your ears to what the issues are here. Our nations can pull together and show solidarity by putting in the necessary work to inform itself and to help reach informed decisions. Incomprehension is no longer a defence, either in argument or in actuality to meet an armed threat.

Beheadings, suicide bombings, murdering civilians are not evil acts. Because to dismiss something as evil externalises it, makes it appear to originate from some unknowable, irresistible force, when it utterly and inescapably emanates from within men. Such acts are consciously calculated by its perpetrators for their impact. Terror acts are finely calibrated, for inducing fear in civilian populations to both get them to apply pressure to their politicians and to change their way of life; for the PR value in playing to the terrorists' own communities, fostering further recruitment; strategically to extend the war from far away in the Middle East to the cities of Europe, 'so they know what it feels like, so they live in the same state of anxiety'; ergo for revenge as well; to suggest the cause of the terrorists is very much alive and kicking and cannot be defeated... All this is not to say that there were also some impulses as well as ideas and objectives. The guys who shoot people in a concert hall enjoyed it. Guys who use rape as a weapon of war (against the Yazidis for example) enjoy it. Suicide bombers accept death. These are the impulses of serial killers and mass murderers. But unlike serial killers, even those who have some warped logic tying together their actions in their own minds as 'logical', these killers share and are united by their rationales. It is a collective mindset, unlike that of individual psychopaths. So although murderous & violating impulses are at play, they are dwarfed by their ideological motivations.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Live reading - Scriggler 5

This is the footage of one and a half of my stories which i read at Scriggler Live 5.

The first story "Echoes" starts halfway through - you can read the whole story here. The second story "Wings" is in its entirety.

Both stories are from my latest collection of flash fiction "Extra-Curricular" available from Amazon, I-Tunes and Createspace.

And yes, that IS a Taylor Swift ringtone going off towards the end of "Echoes". Here's my piece on how I battled her on stage

Many thanks to Dimitry Selemir of Scriggler for the video footage.