A couple of weeks ago I spotted someone on social media posting this picture (in the background of the video), pointing out this intriguing "For Sale" sign, which had gone up around the corner from them. I couldn’t resist helping the estate agent out by writing a listing for it. I’m now pondering a career in real estate. Let me know if I sold it to you! (Sadly I can’t remember who posted the photo, so I can’t credit them.) I felt really ill and half-dead while filming it, hopefully that adds to it.
I’m convinced Carole King’s album Tapestry is one of the most loved albums of all times. I think about how reluctant she was to become a solo artist in the first place, and I’m so glad she did. It's not only the album that has an uplifting and reassuring effect on me, but also the story behind the album. We look at it today, 50 years after its recording, and we see it as this monumental piece of work. Back then Carole King wasn't sure she was even vaguely on the right track.
“…I had no idea way of knowing what my future held. I just wrote songs, worked hard, created each day’s blueprint from scratch, and hoped to high heaven that I was doing all the right things to give my daughters and myself a good life’, she wrote in her autobiography.
About the idea for it, she is quoted to have said, “I had started a needlepoint tapestry a few months before we did the album, and I happened to write a song called 'Tapestry,' not even connecting the two up in my mind. I was just thinking about some other kind of tapestry, the kind that hangs and is all woven, or something, and I wrote that song. And, you being the sharp fellow you are, (giggles), put the two together and came up with an excellent title, a whole concept for the album.”
Every single song on the album is amazing, but I always thought the title song the most interesting one, both musically and lyrically. She described the mood she wanted for it as “spacious and dark”, and that might be our only clue to the meaning of the song.
It seems obvious that in the last verse death is entering the story, a mere character in the play of life - but the rest of the story, despite vivid details, is left rather mysterious. Personally, I’m of the opinion that it really doesn’t matter what a writer has in mind when writing a song - it’s way more important which meaning it has for the listener. And even that can change over time. I’d be curious to know what your thoughts on the meaning are, though. Please feel free to discuss them in the comments.
Background image by instagram.com/diff.perspective
Somehow Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill was of momentous impact for me. I actually remember the moment I heard her for the first time on the radio. I was hooked. I can’t say what it was about her - her energy or attitude.
It's not the kind of writing I was usually drawn to, but for several years her music would be my constant companion. (Alongside Nick Cave, whom I probably owe more than one cover...)
I loved every song on Jagged Little Pill ( except for Head Over Heels for some reason), and I can’t possibly pick a favourite, but I’ve always felt drawn to All I Really Want. It’s a very self-absorbed song. It’s a very agitated song. It’s a very fast moving song, like thoughts racing at 100 miles per hour. It feels like the world, or time has sped up even more since the song’s release, and silence has become even more obsolete and uncomfortable.
These days the song has a soothing quality to me. Even the thought of apathy isn’t remotely as frustrating to me anymore - after all, the word derives from the Greek word “apatheia”, which describes a kind of calm equanimity, a product of the absence of irrational or extreme emotions. An idea which would somehow have horrified me back then. The song lacks it, too, which in all likelihood made it such a good match for me.
I saw Alanis perform live in 2001 (I think), and if I had to name something I’ll always remember her performance for, it’s the sheer energy and sense of humour. I remember her running around on stage, and playing pranks on her band mates. It never bothered me that she turned into a singing self-help book - who doesn’t need one. For darker delights, there was always Nick Cave. 😂
This song, although not about myself, almost feels like the most personal song I’ve ever written.
In 1888 Vincent van Gogh came to Arles to live in the yellow house his brother had rented for him, and was eventually joined by Paul Gaugin. The latter left 9 weeks later, after the famous ear incident, making haste to be gone before van Gogh would regain consciousness.
I don’t know why I picked this moment in his life. Maybe because it was a pivotal moment. The moment he realised something was incurably wrong with him. It appears to me I managed to recreate his voice pretty authentically, partly because I tried to use as many of his own words as possible, partly because when I wrote it I felt I had a deep understanding of his mind.
From the time I first heard his name mentioned I felt the urge to play detective and snoop around in his life, as if somewhere there would be a clue hidden, something important I needed to know. I don’t think I ever found anything particularly useful, although by the time I was 16, I was starting research for a novel I wanted to write about him. (To the affectionate ridicule of my family, as I rarely went on holiday without my guitar, typewriter or a several thousand page book about van Gogh. As obsessed about writing, as he was about painting.)
I eventually finished a first draft when I was in my early 20s, and it is still lying unread in a metaphorical drawer somewhere.
I much prefer writing songs to novels. Partly because I lack the patience and stamina, but also because I like having a strict limit to tell a story imposed on me. I like having to work with economical precision.
“Disturbing the waters of our lives.” What a great line.
We probably spend most of our lives desperately trying to fend off things and people that would do so. Hell, no, please don’t make any ripples. Because, irrespective of how unhappy we might actually be with our life, we don’t want change. There’s way too much of it happening all the time anyway. So, don’t even think about it.
But, unavoidably, ripples are being made. Daring someone to actually throw that pebble elicits a shocked gasp for air. Likewise, it’s way safer not to throw that pebble. You could throw it and run, but that would be defeating the purpose of the challenge.
Anyway, I made this cover in response to a request to play something by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and I hope I managed to make it a fraction as trippy as the original.
I discovered John Miles by browsing my brother’s cd collection, but never ventured much beyond “Music’. John Miles stared at me from a strange and vintage looking cover, in James Dean’s iconic pose, not quite convincingly embodying the album’s title, “Rebel”. I did borrow it however at some stage, with the genuine intention to work my way through the somewhat clunky, over the top 70s songs.
I’m embarrassed to say I never returned it in about 20 years, and a few years ago, when I needed something to listen to on an 8 hour drive, I picked up “Rebel”. (Yes, my car is still of the pre-bluetooth generation.) “When You Lose Someone So Young” took me by surprise. I ended up listening to just this one song for several hours, crying every time, without fail.
No, nothing takes away the pain, and you’ll never be the same, but somehow it feels really good to cry.
The band Supertramp was impactful enough to have a species named after them. Thankfully they were also impactful enough to be known even as far as my small village in Germany. The band name alone resonated with me. Having been born with an innate restlessness, I would have loved to be a super-tramp. But all I could do about it, was read Kerouac’s “On The Road” and listen to too much rock music. I was thrilled that they reunited in the 90s, and the year “You Win I Lose” was in the charts I was drafting chapter after restless chapter of a novel I never finished, which starred a violinist called Lorca (named after the poet…). At the time I was going for a rhythmical, stream of consciousness style and I didn’t use any capitals. Because accessibility is overrated 😅.
I have no idea how I stumbled upon K’s Choice, but fact is that their songs float to the surface when I think of my last year before I came to the UK.
There's a huge pile of memories sitting untouched. Somewhere in that pile is 2003, and I know if I don't tiptoe carefully to avoid upsetting the pile, intense details will come flooding back. Even so, what rushes towards me is a relentless summer sun and the year's soundtrack, which mostly consisted of Nick Cave, and for some random reason, K’s Choice. I see myself walking among university buildings that rise like the wrecks of huge concrete ships from the bottom of the sea. I felt similarly submerged, but coming up for air at last.
Maybe K's Choice was my Emotional Support Band that year. I absolutely loved Sam Betten’s smoky voice. I didn’t know they had toured with the Indigo Girls and Alanis Morrissette, and didn’t know of their cameo performance in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. At least 3 of their albums, however, were living on my iPod… that weird Otherworld were Pink was comfortable right next to Schoenberg, that private world that got me through my days.
I hadn't thought of "We're Gonna Make It" by Little Milton in what must be decades - until a few weeks ago. Things seemed to look very bleak, so I reached down into the farthest corners of my mind for something to keep me from falling apart, and this song appeared.
When I was 14 or 15, I bought my first blues compilation. This song was my immediate favourite. I needed that optimism. It kind of hits you right in the face. “Defiant Optimism”, Rob Jones calls it on his blog “The Delete Bin’. I love that phrase. I want “Defiant Optimist” inscribed on my gravestone! It’s not the kind of optimism that glosses over reality, it’s the f***-you-you-won’t-keep-me-down kind.
Which is why I imagine this song was considered a civil rights anthem. (“staring adversity in the face, acknowledging the reality that a community was facing systemic oppression, but with a firm belief that things would change for the better anyway.” -Rob Jones )
It completely eluded me when I was a teen, but listening to it again, without even knowing its history, I instantly understood. It was the perfect song when it was released in the 60s, and it’s still the perfect song for these times. I lie awake dreaming we’re all going to unite in defiant optimism. It’s all I’ve got.
So the week I've scheduled to post this cover, there's abuse allegations against Marilyn Manson coming to light. Since he can claim a widely known cover version of this song, I feel I don't want to post this without distancing myself. Having experienced abuse myself, I find it a sensitive topic and seriously considered posting something else instead. I decided against it, however, since me choosing to cover this song had nothing to do with the Marilyn Manson version anyway.
What I was trying to go for was more in line with what Annie Lennox said the song was about - the sense of hopelessness and the sinking feeling that the dreams you are chasing will always just be dreams. This song called out to me, because I feel we have to navigate a world in which things around us are constantly breaking. You look around, you assess the damage, you try and adjust the course. Try and keep going regardless.
This notion is one of the things at the very heart of my identity as an artist. Maybe the pandemic evoked the song for me. Especially, since, as a performer, the feeling of falling debris and demolition dust settling in my lungs feels particularly acute.
But fortunately I've learned to roll with the punches.