Thursday, December 14, 2006


There are a fair few songs out there that defy any effort to describe. I've written before about Pink Floyd's "The Great Gig in the Sky" for example, which has the power to reduce me to a quivering wreck and robs me of the ability to make sense. I also get the same way about Jean Michel Jarre's "Rendezvous".
And now this.
A friend sent me this song not too long ago. I forget exactly why it was sent to me, but I listened to it, thought it was OK, and moved on. For a start, Sigur Ros are an Icelandic band, so I haven't zeroed in on the lyric as I often do. It's also what you might call "emo-ambient," which is not something I readily dive into.
But the damn thing keeps popping up on my iPod and it's been worming its way into my head to the extent that when it comes around now, I stop everything and just drink it in.
Everyone of us carries in our brain the memory of smells that take us back to our childhood, or to a particular time or place, something that brings a lump to our throat or that makes us smile: the particular smell of the sofa in your grandparents' front room, or a baby's freshly-washed hair. Instead of smells, I have songs.
And the damnedest thing is that this song doesn't bring a particular memory to mind, but it just raises ghosts, like the godfather I really missed getting to know or the feeling of security and comfort I remember having at the age of 6, but I'm damned if I remember what house I lived in at the time.
And maybe that's the joy of songs like this: perhaps they're blank canvases that allow us to make of them what we will. They provide the key to some internal door that accesses nameless, orphaned emotions and thoughts.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"It's a Shame About Ray"

As an impressionable teenager, I revered John McEnroe; I admired his fiery determination, his unwillingness to be anything but himself and the way that he made a virtue out of what I thought was an ungainly, awkward approach to the game.
As I grew older, I began to appreciate something different: his innate, untutored, helpless talent. I don't think he really had a great deal of choice in the matter - he was born to play tennis. All the tantrums, the anger were just so much static - no matter how crappy a day he was having, his tennis was still solid gold.
I know this might be a stretch, but I reckon that Evan Dando may well be the John McEnroe of music. A sublimely talented writer, gifted with such a fantastic voice, he seemed to just sweat great tunes while he was busy doing something else.
Evan Dando had the luck to be able to knock out such fantastic tunes while struggling with addiction and distraction. A song as simple as this, you'd think, must mean it's not all that hard, this songwriting business.
We think to ourselves, "I'm sure I could do it," but the problem is, we probably couldn't. We either don't have the talent or the application, or else we'd be doing it already, wouldn't we?
And the supreme irony is that, to John McEnroe or Evan Dando playing championship tennis or writing this song was probably reasonably easy. They were used to it - they grew up with the talent, they harnessed it.
There's nothing fancy here, but then listen to any truly great pop song - "There She Goes," "Teenage Kicks," "I Saw the Light" - and the genius is in the simplicity: "If I make it through today/I'll know tomorrow not to leave my feelings out on display/I'll put the cobwebs back in place/I've never been too good with names/but I remember faces."

Monday, December 11, 2006


I really, really wish I hadn't seen the video for this song.
I happened to see it late at night and was sucked in to the simple, earthy rhythm of the song, and the images of simple enjoyment, the celebration of community and togetherness that it portrayed.
Then I went hunting for the lyrics:
"I woke up this morning/Now I understand/What it means to give your life/To just one man/Afraid of feeling nothing/No bees or butterflies/My head is full of voices/And my house is full of lies."
And I realised just how many promo videos are made that bear utterly no relationship - and in some cases a completely inappropriate one - to the song and its subject. Mind you, with a song as gorgeous as this you really would not expect a lyric like:
"I'm going crazy/A little every day/'cause everything I wanted/Is now driving me away/I woke this morning/To the sound of breaking hearts/Mine is full of questions/And it's tearing yours apart."
Watch the video and see what you think:

"Love Hurts"

If you search for this song on Google, you'll get any number of results that cite Roy Orbison, or Nazareth, or some other band as having written this song. Go to YouTube and you'll get any number of second-rate versions of this song.
I'm here to tell you that this version - a duet with Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris - is the definitive take on this song.
It was written by Boudleaux Bryant, who's just about the greatest country songwriter that lived -- his songs sold over 300 million million copies for artists like Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. He never made records himself, but is the only songwriter in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Listen to this song and find out why.
I don't think this song was meant to be a duet, but when you hear their voices entwined, mingling, it's as if the song was written with Gram and Emmylou in mind. The joy of this sad, sad song, the beauty of it, is all in the voices. They could be reciting the phonebook for all I care, and you know it would sound truly magnificent, other-worldly.