Hulk Not Blog

Hulk write nothing, want to listen to reggae instead.

Download: Sock It To Me – Derrek Harriott (mp3)

A case of the Mondays

This little blogging hiatus I’m on at the moment was supposed to be so I could get some personal shit done but I’ve been so swamped at work I haven’t had any time to get to what I wanted to get to the past couple of weeks which is very frustrating.

So if you’re as cream-crackered and stressed as I am at the moment you might need a little something to perk you up. You’d have to be dead not to get a jolt from this.

Picture Post

Download: Clark County Record Fair – Saint Etienne (mp3)

I’ll try and post some actual writing soon, I’m a bit low on energy at the moment. Maybe I need to buy more records.

You can’t put your arms around an mp3

When I moved to the States I stored all my records in my Dad’s basement and it was 10 long years before I finally had them shipped over. When those battered cardboard boxes landed on my doorstep it was like being reunited with my lost self, as if someone had just dug up the dusty artifacts of a past life that had been fading into the distance after spending a decade in a dark room thousands of miles away. As I flipped through those old albums and singles for the first time again I was hit by a flood of memories which were just as much to do with the physical, tactile reality of the records themselves as it was the music they contained. These records had sat on the shelves in all the flats and houses I had lived in over the years, bought from record stores that don’t exist anymore (by a person I wasn’t anymore either), and every scuffed sleeve and worn spine, every scratch on the vinyl, was like an mark left by the past. Here was the album that got covered in beer at a party and I washed under a tap, the 12″ I bought in New York the first time I went to America, the single with a message from an old girlfriend written on the sleeve. Even the faint dark stain left on a sleeve by the peeled-off price sticker was like a ghost trace of where and when it was bought. It wasn’t just the soundtrack of my life, it was the actual concrete evidence of it.

What I felt even more strongly was a pang for what was missing, all the records I’d sold over the years, particularly at one point in the late-90s when I was temporarily back in London flat broke and flogged some of my most valuable ones. It was like several chapters in my life story were missing. Who, I wonder, now has the copy of “You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever” that my first serious girlfriend bought me? And what had happened to Queen’s “Sheer Heart Attack” album? Not the rarest record in the world by any means but it was the first album I ever bought. Surely I wouldn’t have sold that too? That one really bothered me, a big milestone in my life and the evidence is gone.

Records are vulnerable, fragile things, the way they can scratch and warp gives them a human quality that cold, perfect CDs lack, you can feel the patina of age on a vinyl album just as much as you can a human face. But now with even the CD becoming obsolete it seems like music formats are shrinking out of existence, from twelve inches of vinyl to little silver discs to… well, nothing really, a sequence of digital ones and zeroes downloaded off the web with all the tangible reality of a cloud. It’s like music stripped of all the lovely touchy-feely pleasures, there’s no there there and how can you be that emotionally invested in something that doesn’t exist? I have a whopping 45GB of mp3 files on my computer but if they all got deleted tomorrow it would be a pain in the arse but I wouldn’t be all that upset about it because I could just replace them with ones that were literally exactly the same. You can’t say the same about records, I’ve been slowly replacing some of the ones I either sold or lost over the years (the ones that aren’t too expensive anyway) but the “new” copy will never be that one, the one I bought when I was 16 with the scratch on the last track I sometimes still hear in my brain even when I listen to a pristine mp3 of the same song.

So in twenty or thirty years time will someone who is a teenager now relate to their mp3 collection the way I do my records even though it just a track name on a glowing screen, still exactly the same as the day they downloaded it with no physical substance or texture they can hold, feel or smell? Will they get all sentimental about their beaten-up old iPod instead? I have no idea, I’m just one of those sad old gits with an emotional attachment to objects, particularly the circular black plastic kind.

Of course, one drawback of vinyl is that you can’t download it off the internet, it’s too big to fit down the tubes. So an mp3 will have to do.

Download: Some Of Them Are Old – Brian Eno (mp3)
Buy: “Here Come The Warm Jets” (album)

Stiff Upper Lips

Alec: We know we really love each other. That’s true. That’s all that really matters.
Laura: It isn’t all that really matters. Other things matter too. Self-respect matters, and decency.

No one has ever asked me about the picture in the banner at the top of this page so I assume everyone knows it comes from the 1945 film Brief Encounter — and those that didn’t know couldn’t care less what it was. I grew up knowing that film by heart, it was one of those old British movies full of plummy voices, stiff upper lips and dreary tea rooms which the BBC used to show all the time on Sunday afternoons (along with Genevieve, The Way To The Stars, and The Dam Busters) and it’s atmosphere of monochrome miserablism was perfectly suited to that post-lunch rainy Sunday dead zone where there was nothing better to do than sit in front of the fire and watch a great old movie.

The picture of England these films painted was of a genteel and polite country which probably only exists today in the minds of ageing Daily Mail readers. It was a place of deference and impeccable manners where the last thing anyone wants to do is cause a scene or, God forbid, get all emotional about something. It’s a cliché about us English that we’re all a bit reserved and repressed and in Brief Encounter Alec and Laura are like the poster children for stiff English formality, living in a buttoned-up world of afternoon tea and polite chat about trains and library books. When they fall in love it threatens to tear that tidy world apart and they’re thrown into a panic by it, Laura in particular is completely discombobulated by her sudden feelings — “I’ve fallen in love. I’m an ordinary woman. I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people.” — and it’s heartbreaking to see them try to be sensible and frightfully British about something as irrational and powerful as love.

Before she meets Alec, Laura’s life has all the flavour and excitement of a stale British Rail ham sandwich, with a house in the suburbs and a dull husband who looks like he probably goes to bed in the pinstriped suit he wears while doing The Times’ crossword puzzle in front of the fire every night. It’s the sort of dreary suburban trap that would later be made out to be a soul-destroying hellhole to be escaped at all costs, but Laura is a sensible middle-class housewife and people like her just don’t run off with a handsome doctor. Passion and romance might be alright for the French, but she’s British! So she does the “decent” thing and gives up Alec even though it tears her apart. At the end of the film it looks like she’ll never be happy again, but you know that she’ll pull herself together, keep it all bottled up and soldier on making the best of things, hiding her misery behind a polite English exterior. Order must be preserved, emotions must be kept in check, or England and the Empire will crumble.

It’s easy to mock (and parody) their frightfully proper manners and old-fashioned English reserve in general, especially in this post-1960s era when we’re told it’s bad to bottle your feelings up and to let it all hang out, man. But really, don’t you wish more people these days would resist the urge to share the almost pornographic details of their inner selves in public and keep the lid on a bit more? And just because the “stuffy” Brit isn’t inclined to swing naked from the emotional chandelier doesn’t mean they have no feelings, we just find it a little vulgar and juvenile to advertise them to the world in great big neon letters* which is why we get embarrassed in the presence of loud Americans who will insist on talking about their bloody feelings and hugging you all the time. That’s when we start looking at our shoes and talking about the weather.

Download: Love Hurts – The Everly Brothers (mp3)
Download: I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You – Tom Waits (mp3)
Download: Show Some Emotion – Joan Armatrading (mp3)

*Or we used to, I’m sure I’m not the only one who found the national crying jag that took place after the death of Princess Diana a little unseemly at times, especially when people started demanding that the Queen open her heart and let us all cry on her shoulder too as if she was bloody Oprah Winfrey.

Lucky Dip

Download: Man of The World – Fleetwood Mac (mp3)

These days one doesn’t usually associate Fleetwood Mac with mopey existential angst but way back when they were led by troubled acid casualty/genius guitarist Peter Green they produced this achingly sad and lonely gem which it isn’t too difficult to imagine Morrissey singing (I have a lot of songs like that here), especially the line: “there’s no one I’d rather be, but I just wish that I’d never been born”

PS: Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Like the corners of my mind

I was going to include this song in the bike post I wrote the other week but it didn’t fit in with the tone of the piece, being rather more wistful and melancholy than that was and it’s such a lovely tune I wanted to ramble on about it a bit longer.

The Clientele always remind me of London, not just because they’re from there (though curiously I think they’re more popular in the States) but their records sound drenched in fog and drizzle with a blurry, impressionistic quality which evokes those fleeting moments that are so hazy and intangible they barely qualify as memories but still give you a nostalgic ache. Listening to them makes me think of shimmering reflections in the inky black pavement after a rainstorm, the half-light inside a smoky pub during the day, steamed-up cafe windows, clouds hanging low in a slate gray sky, a beautiful girl seen for only a second on a crowded tube train who you’ll think about all day, the musty smell of a tiny second-hand bookstore, a neon sign flickering above a doorway in a dark alley, dust particles dancing in shafts of sunlight streaming through net curtains, long shadows cast by the trees in Hyde Park at the end of a languid summers day, Chelsea Bridge all lit up at night seen from inside a train crossing the Thames into Victoria Station.

The lyrics of “Bicycles” alone are enough to set me adrift on memory bliss:

Bicycles have drifted through these leaves still wet
with rain
August now has faded in the silence of the rain
I remember one Sunday, riding in through the gate
Three balloons in a white sky, 1978

Playgrounds where we spent our days
Return within our dreams
What it is, it isn’t up to me
I’ve been driving in my car
On Sunday in the rain
And my life is slipping so away

But they sound even better when they sing them…

Download: Bicycles – The Clientele (mp3)
Buy: “Suburban Light” (album)

My brain hurts

I can’t write my way out of a paper bag at the moment. I must have half a dozen new posts on the go but I’m incapable of finishing any of them off. Either it’s because:

1) I’m too busy
2) I’m too lazy
3) What I’m writing is a load of bollocks anyway
4) I’m having an existential blogging crisis and can’t see the point
5) I’ve lost my mojo

What do you think, Graham?

Download: Don’t Ask Me Questions – Graham Parker & The Rumour (mp3)

You don’t hear this track much these days, do you? Not that I listen to the radio anymore, just a feeling I have that it’s sort of slipped off the radar. Whatever, a really great single from 1978.

In the meantime I’ve done some blog housekeeping and added a whole bunch of new links at the right. I especially like Another Nickel In The Machine which is the sort of blog I’d give my left nut to be able to write if I only could find the time, wasn’t so lazy etc. etc.

What’s it all about?

The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com