Strange but true

Paul Burgin, whose impressive Mars Hill blog has run a series of interviews with bloggers of various sorts, recently interviewed me — you can, if that way inclined, read the result here.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Strange but true

  1. Trust you to list “Sunday Morning” by the Velvet Underground after Bach and Handel.

    I can see how that might work though.

  2. Choosing three favourite songs — not even favourite albums, but just single songs — is always going to produce nonsense, though, isn’t it?

    In the end it started to matter that the three made a sort of sense together, which these three do — to me, anyway, if possibly to no one else. As does that rather embarassing imperative, the need to entertain, because otherwise, Paul would almost certainly have been given a list of three ‘songs’ from J.S. Bach’s sacred cantatas — which would be fun of such a wilfully specialised kind that even I would hesitate to bore the rest of you with it!

  3. I’ve found, if I respect someone, I don’t want to know what kind of music they like. The corollary to this is I shouldn’t tell anyone what music I like. Because, really, we all listen to some embarrassing crap, don’t we?

    Lovely, loverly photo. And Barendina? Really? Where did that come from?

  4. ‘Barendina’ is the legacy of having a great-grandfather who came from the Netherlands — although it’s not a particularly mainstream name even there.

    Anyway thanks, Chris, for being kind about the photo — like all self-portraits executed in a hurry with a cheap camera held at arm’s length and vaguely pointed in the right direction, it throws my nose into rather spectacular prominence, and makes me look a bit like a camel wearing a frock, but I’ve decided it would be shallow to care too much about that.

    And finally, isn’t other people’s taste in pretty much everything always a bit distressing?

  5. Speaking of something in the water in Raleigh in the mid -1960s…

    “Sunday Morning” would have to be somewhere near the top of my song pantheon (along with “Perfect Day”) –

    There are two other songs featuring Sunday that speak to me strongly. Both of them are country and western gems, as it happens:

    Lucinda Williams’s “I Can’t Seem To Make It Through Sunday” (a rarity from an early, hard-to-find album; let me know if you want a copy of the track) and Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” (as interpreted by J. Cash, preferably – widely available.)

    And: British Sea Power, eh? Coincidentally, I just purchased my first recording (Man of Aran) the other day. Will investigate further. 🙂

  6. I think music is especially bad, maybe because we set so much store by it these days, or maybe because pop music is, by and large, so disposable, we can all have wildly divergent tastes for it. I mean, when it comes to art, people like different things, but as a culture we’ve all settled on some solid stuff. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like Van Gogh, for instance, and I’ve never met anyone who actually likes Jeff Koons. Classical music is similar — some people prefer Beethoven over Mozart, or vice versa, but hardly anyone thinks either of them were complete twits.

    But pop music — it’s so easy to find people who really love stuff others find completely awful. I think it’s because the word “love” here is too strong: I think our feelings for pop music are mostly very shallow, ultimately.

    That may be, now that I’m thinking about it, one of the reasons great art has been so devalued: We’ve lost our perspective on the difference between like and love, between pleasing curves and true beauty, between edibility and sublimity.

    Oh dear, I’ve gone and gotten too serious.

    Anyway, in that photo you don’t look like a camel in a frock. You can hardly see the frock. Ba-dum-bum!

  7. Chris, I’m reminded of that Noel Coward line ‘extraordinary how potent cheap music is’ … I know there’s a lot of music that appeals to me far more strongly through association than anything to do with intrinsic quality. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Well, that, and the obvious total subjectivity of ‘favourite’ …

    Your serious points are well-taken, though.

    And Barry — what an astonishing coincidence! I’d point out that earlier this year I was lucky enough to attend a screening of ‘Man of Aran’ at the BFI, with BSP playing their soundtrack live — an amazing experience — except that might sound like showing off. 😉 Do let me know how you get on with it though.

  8. Perhaps I should explain my amusement.

    The three choices are entirely consistent, on reflection, though I wouldn’t have thought of it beforehand, so thanks for the insight, Bunny.

    Thinking about the first Velvet Underground album (of which Sunday Morning is the opening track), there’s a touch of a David Lynch/Blue Velvet opening about this song: it sounds sweet and wholesome but it leads the listener into the darker “I’m Waiting for the Man,” to say nothing of the following “Femme Fatale” and “Venus in Furs.” The first of this trio would certainly get onto my top 10.

  9. Antoine, if I had to make a case for coherence amongst the three ‘songs’ I chose, the case would probably rest on a common juxtaposition of human fragility with forces far beyond human comprehension.

    In Harnoncourt’s recording of ‘Erfreute Zeit’, the first aria is sung by a boy soprano with the most astonishingly pure and unreliable of voices. His youth gives adds an unexpected sharpness to the words, which in effect celebrate death as the moment wherein Christ’s promise to us approaches fulfillment: ‘Glad time of the New Covenant / When our Faith holds Jesus: / How Joyfully at the last hour / will our resting-place, the grave, be disposed!’ (translation in Dürr, 1992). But so does the marvellous imperfection of that voice — evanescent as boy soprano’s voices necessarily are — shimmering across the orderly surface of the orchestration, dipping here and soaring briefly there, so evidently weak when compared with the power of what it attempts to describe.

    Once upon a time, when I was younger and more innocent, I used to rather dislike J. S. Bach for his ‘perfection’, the mathematical tidiness of some of his writing. Whereas, although Taruskin in particular opened my eyes to many of the paradoxes of ‘historically informed performance’, I’m now willing to believe that there are places where Bach actually built the qualities of weakness, unreliability and failure into parts of his music. This is one of them, I think. In dark moments, there is no piece of music that consoles me more. Man, Word and God have rarely drawn so close together.

    As for the Handel piece, anyone who has heard this played on a trumpet without ‘modern’ valves will see that the result is, in a sense, similar. Even if mistakes aren’t made — and they usually are — it’s simply impossible not to spend the performance listening out for them. Thus it is that the near-inevitably failed quality of human endeavour is brought right up against the message of divine redemption. ‘This corruptible must put on incorruption’. Again, on those days when one’s a bit overwhelmed by a sense of failure, what could be more consoling?

    You may be wondering how on earth Lou Reed is going to fit into this. He does, though. ‘Sunday Morning’ does indeed sound, as you put it, Antoine, ‘sweet and wholesome’ — although there’s also quite a lot of doubt and regret, sketched in very lightly, don’t you think? ‘I’ve got a feeling / I don’t want to know’. But inescapably, one ends up hearing it in the context of the rest of the album. A song like ‘Heroin’ is, in a way, a recognisable response to the bleakness of human existence in a world without meaning, without order, without God. What can we do but escape — not that escape ever helps for very long? So at that level, I find it easy to see ‘Sunday Morning’ as a sort of mirror image of the two earlier songs. ‘Sweet’ is exactly the right word for it — but it’s damaged, too. The two qualities co-exist in a precarious, fragile balance. I’m not about to try to argue that Lou Reed’s achievement is somehow on par with J. S. Bach’s, but, well, it speaks of our times, and to some of our more thoughtful moments, all the same.

    And yes, it’s just as well that Private Eye‘s ‘Pseuds Corner’ still largely concerns itself with ‘real’ journalism rather than the sort of nonsense that crops up on blogs …. !