That Sound

I was thinking about music, trying to find something I’d like to listen to that I hadn’t heard before but I’d like. The impossible challenge. Impossible until you find it anyway.

That Sound

I was thinking about music, the way you do.

That feeling that you’d really like to hear something different,

Something new but when you do, it really isn’t.

I was thinking about music, the way you do

What is it about that sound?

It’s like buying a car or a guitar

Made before you were even born.

Louis Jordan said it the first time:

You cain’t get that no more.

It’s sort of ok to mourn the past if you’ve lived it

But really, what is it that you’re looking for there?

What is it about machine heads going slack,

Ivory grooves worn by strings you can’t buy anymore

All to get that authentic tone that half the guitarists

Back in the day cursed because you can’t play

That way now and they didn’t plan to then?

You can’t do that. You can’t hear that.

You can’t get that sound on a modern guitar

Because the strings don’t stretch.

Because the pickups are wound on a machine

Because smaller Oriental hands fit inside a hollow body

And yours don’t, or not so well.

Because so many things changed

When they made it in Mexico or Korea or China

And all the time you thought it was about the music

When really it was about the bottom line.

What is it about that sound?

The jangly guitar in Tom Petty songs

That echoes something from the sixties

The decade Tom’s living now. When did that happen? Exactly how?

Remember that boy with the thin face

And a bullet bandolier? singing about how it don’t really matter

If she don’t or if she do?

Long time since Tom’s wallet let that happen, probably.

That sweet whine of Clapton’s SG or Knopfler’s Strat when he sang

About the Sultans of Swing, and Swing that swung back when

There was nobody here but us chickens.

This is what we’ve always done, it’s what we do,

We idolise a past we never knew.

The Stratocaster name came from the stratosphere

Back when they’d just started going there

Back when a guy from Leiston airfield broke the sound barrier.

Hey, give me a major chord, Marketing’s got something here.

So Tom Petty played the ‘60s jangly guitar he grew up with

Or his guitarist did. It wasn’t Tom who played that speed riff

In American Girl. Knopfler had to have a guitar

Built back when blaggers robbed steam trains without a shooter.

Jay Kay played kitsch disco back in ’92, chilling out

To the bump and grind he’d heard in the womb.

But it was mind-filler then, back when Noddy Holder shouted out

‘It’s Christmas’ and every wannabe bad girl copied his spelling,

When cool kids knew the Blue Oyster Cult

Was nothing to do with Greenpeace or Jonestown

Which was nothing to do with

The massacre at Alice’s Restaurant

Or even Greenpeace.


Is this all there is? One big circle

Holding hands like the von Trapp kids?

But maybe better that than saying

If it happened before me

Then it didn’t really happen at all.

So let’s hear it for the Platters and the Ramones,

Mozart and Miller, Abba and Patti Smith,

The Beatles, Bach and Bartok.

Augustus Pablo, Sid and Nancy

Even Jay Zee and Haysi Fantaysi,

And the Mighty Diamonds. Maybe it’s true.

‘This is 1976, we don’t want no more war.’

That one didn’t quite pan out.

But you can’t hear it fresh any more.

Share Button

Welcome to The Forgotten Works.

See what I did there? For reasons that were never explained, as Hunter Thompson used to say before he shot himself, I seem to have a radio show going on air very soon. It’s going to be on Radio Castle.

I’m going to learn how to work the machines on Friday. Frankly, I’m scared.

It’s Dee Time

Heeeeeere's Simon Dee!
Heeeeeere’s Simon Dee!

For about ooh, most of my life I’ve wanted a radio show. I could be cool and witty and sort of like a cross between Simon Dee and Alistair Cooke. Except funnier, obviously. And please no-one say about as cool as Austin Powers. I’ve always liked him but it seems to be a singular taste.

The thing is, now it’s happened I can’t think of a single interesting thing to say. Obviously there are legions of more or less bitter women who’d say that’s not a new thing at all but it’s a real issue for me now, at least.

I’m going with an hour-long magazine format and maybe you can begin to see the problem. When you’re sitting talking to someone you can chat about all kinds of things, get up, sit down, make a cup of tea, wonder about going out later, talk about a film they saw, debate whether sardines on toast are ethically caught (yes, no-one seems too worried about sardines on toast, do they? No Greenpeace campaign I’ve ever seen about that. Oh no!). And like most things worth doing in life, it depends on another person being there. It’s a conversation. A two-way thing.

And sitting in a room on your own with a microphone isn’t. I can get some guests in, but probably logistically, only really one per programme. So it’s me. On my own. And I can’t think of anything I want to talk about.

I tried scripting it yesterday. It was a rubbish day yesterday and it got more rubbish as the day went on until it peaked at the very rubbishy summit of an incredible mountain of rubbish that’s left me feeling rubbish. But hey listeners, enough about me. Otherwise I’ll sound like Tony Blackburn.

Richard Brautigan

In Watermelon Sugar
In Watermelon Sugar

It’ll be ok. The radio thing, anyway. It’s called the Forgotten Works because of the utterly wonderful book In Watermelon Sugar, which I naturally enough can’t find now I need it.

The Forgotten Works was the opposite of the green, self-sustaining rural paradise where the nameless hero of the book lived, lit by lamps fuelled by watermelon oil, eating trout and avoiding the tigers who ate his parents. As they said, they’re tigers. That’s what they do.

It was a magical book by Richard Brautigan, another American writer who killed himself. I read it when I was seventeen and like any book then if it was half-way well written, it’s stuck with me. Those ten years have just flown past, really.

There was a time when everyone you wanted to know wanted to look like this. I sort of still do.
There was a time when everyone you wanted to know wanted to look like this. I sort of still do.

He wrote Trout Fishing In America, which is only a bit about trout fishing in America, Willard and the Bowling Trophies, which really sort of is, which is easier to understand when you realise Willard is a stuffed bird on a mantelpiece and A Confederate General In Big Sur. Where oddly enough, Hunter Thompson also lived at one time.

I just read the end of the piece in the Daily Mail about Simon Dee, which isn’t something I often say.

Although he had been married three times, and had four children and four grandchildren, Patricia Houlihan believes the last years of his life were very lonely. He continued to pursue women, that was in his DNA, but he became increasingly reclusive and eventually left London for Hampshire. 

‘He would often call me for phone numbers of people he knew a long time ago, some of them now dead – he continued to treat me as his PA. It never occurred to him that life had moved on.’

It isn’t looking that promising, is it?


Share Button
Follow on Feedly