Miscellaneous - March 2011: Words is All That I Have

  by Lisa Torem

published: 21 / 2 / 2011

Miscellaneous - March 2011: Words is All That I Have

In 'Rock Salt Row' Lisa Torem talks with another Pennyblackmusic writer about a different issue in rock each month. She chats with Fiona Hutchings about the emotions that can sometimes be heightened through music


Two Writers Season One Historic Moment LISA “Words and that is all I have to take your heart away…” is a particularly poignant line from one of my favorite Bee Gees songs. You probably have heard of this group of British brothers who penned other lovely ballads, but also got ensnarled in the disco movement and possibly got derailed by some animated rodents AKA Alvin and the Chipmunks. I loved both the honesty and simplicity of these lyrics the very first time I heard the sweet timbre of their voices. And, with February being the month in which many people think about love and how to express it, the words took on an even more explicit tone. So many people, around this time, spend their hard-earned money on greeting cards that they feel will communicate their genuine feelings. It’s almost as if we need someone else to validate what those feelings are, and if we don’t come across the right card, maybe we can find the perfect song. It’s a bit odd that we will trust a commercial greeting card company, a conglomerate of profit-seeking strangers, to expose our deepest thoughts, but, then again, don’t many of our pop songs do the same thing? It amazes me, also, that words – which any of us can manufacture or rearrange in what seem to be finite patterns - still touch us so. And, simple songs with words which explore the most primal emotions are the ones that resonate the most. Love is the theme at the top of the heap, but even that emotion has wings. Besides the many stratifications of love; romantic, platonic, the reverence to a higher being, or even the love of a discipline or instrument. Johnny Marr, for example, in a BBC documentary I have recently come across, describes the day he fell in love with a shining red Strat hanging in a music store window. While his mum went shopping, he was left alone to gaze longingly at the object of his affection. Young Taylor Swift sings, “Teardrops on my gitar” and George Harrison wrote the tearful, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’. Brenda Russell’s piano-driven ballad, ‘Piano in the Dark’, describes a woman who would let the love of her life go, but weakens when this image of his performance comes to mind: “When he plays piano in the dark/He holds me close like a thief of the heart.” Keith Richards in his autobiography, ‘Life’ describes his work as a guitarist as though he were falling in love each time he goes on stage. And, it does sound similar. There is a brief honeymoon period before one realizes that to make it work, to make the performance stand out, the everyday practice must take place. The easy part is falling in love with a shiny, brand new instrument. The tough as nails part is staying alive when the tuning heads are shot to hell or you break a bloody string during a performance. But, let’s get back to words. I love John Lennon’s ‘Jealous Guy’ . “I was dreaming of the past/And my heart was beating fast/I began to lose control, I began to lose control/ I didn’t mean to hurt you/I’m sorry that I made you cry/I didn’t mean to hurt you/I’m just a jealous guy.” I think we have become, at least in my country, a bunch of miscreants who are so worried about being politically correct that we cannot admit the most primal feelings. And, that’s how Lennon saves the day. He was not saying he was intending to stalk the lady. And, he was using an “I” statement; so he would get his therapist’s approval, too. But, hooray for Lennon, for admitting that every once in a while we’re scared, we’re not invincible and we’re damn terrified of rejection. Moreover, the line- up of artists who also appreciated the honesty is impressive, also: Casey James, Elliott Smith, and Gavin Degraw (with an ambiguous R & B twist). It’s time to get another Lennon/McCartney vintage tune out of the way, here, too. ‘If I Fell’ “If I trust in you, oh, please, don’t run and hide/If I love you, too, oh, please, don’t hurt my pride, like her/Cause I couldn’t stand the pain and I/ would be sad if our new love was in vain…” Is this not the secret terror which tugs at the heart of a new romance? And, invariably, one of the two requires more reassurance, more words, even though those words have been uttered a thousand times before by thousands of others before… I believe we hinted last time, Fiona, in our previous row, that writers like Fiona Apple and Alanis Morrisette whipped past the Motown and classic rock sentiments of vulnerability and added to the mix, feelings of rage. Of course, when the guys ranted they called it “emo” and when we ranted they called it “whining.” So, of course, I wanted your take on all those words out there and, how are those ukulele lessons coming? Have you two fallen in love? FIONA My ukulele and I have a difficult relationship, Lisa. I think we are both committed to being together but time and an ability to stay in tune seem to keep getting in our way. But we persevere together because has George Michael once said, "You gotta have faith.' Love in some form is probably the basis of almost every song ever written.nAs you have already mentioned not just the sexual love between romantic partners but also platonic attachments too. Recently my eldest daughter celebrated her 5th birthday. To commemorate this milestone I blogged a top 5 for her. At number one was 'Precious' by Annie Lennox because the lyrics have always made me think of her. Lennox sings, "Precious little angel/Take a look at what you've done/Well I thought my time was over/But it's only just begun/Precious little angel/Don't you worry don't you cry/When this bad old world has crumbled/ I'll be standing by your side." To me this sums up so much about my maternal love, the idea that I willingly sacrificed my old life to start a new one when she was born and the realisation that I would stand by her side to face any adversity. (Disclaimer – I may not feel exactly this way at all times, especially not when woken at 4 a.m.). In terms of love expressed in songs such as 'Jealous Guy' by John Lennon, it also reminds me of 'Hurt' by Johnny Cash which we have previously discussed. Lisa, you say, "of course, when the guys ranted they called it “emo” and when we ranted they called it “whining.” This is spot on. Cash and Lennon are seen as almost noble in their acceptance of his own shortcomings. The trouble is neither seem to intend to do anything to address these short comings; rather they glorify their own failures. Meanwhile Alanis Morrisette gets dumped on and spat out, gets angry about it and is treated with disdain for being neurotic! Always good to see the patriarchy is as strong in music as everywhere else in the world. Thinking about this subject edspecially in February, led me to consider the phenomenon of 'our song'. Surely any artist knows they have reached the pinnacle of conveying love when their song becomes 'our song' to be played at weddings and funerals to express the feelings we can't quite put in to words? Well maybe and maybe not. Take for example my friend John. John is serious about his music; he likes amongst others the Stiff Little Fingers, the Human League (he once sported an asymmetrical Oakey fringe apparently but refuses to produce photographic evidence) and the Smiths. I love John, but he is pretty sarcastic and deadpan. For his first dance at his wedding he wanted 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now'. His wife insisted and got 'their' song which was Glenn Medeiros warbling 'Nothing's Gonna Change My Love for You'. The only sign this song in anyway evidences his love for her in his eyes is that he still wanted to marry her! On the other hand you have me and Mr Hutchings. February is also the month of our wedding anniversary and for our wedding music took a staring roll. Having walked down the aisle to 'It Must Be Love' by Madness we walked out to 'our song' which is 'The You and Me Song' by the Wannadies. It's one of those songs that people take at face value and while I agree with 'It's always you and me/And we'll be together/You and me always/And forever" people seem to totally miss the fact that it is mostly a song about the boring domesticity and petty rows that are the hallmarks of most long term relationships: "Always when we fight/I try to make you laugh/Till everything’s forgotten/I know you hate that" or "Now we watch TV/Till we fall asleep/Not very exciting," So I accept that sometimes we use music, like those tacky Valentine's cards, to express sentiments we can't put in to words ourselves. But I think it is also true that love and music are often misunderstood and misused too. We all bring our own subjective reading to the party. My first ever boyfriend made me a mix tape featuring 'Frigging in the Rigging' by the Sex Pistols because at 16 he thought it was so out there and hard core. I thought it was immature. Thinking about it, our song was Queen's ode to miscommunication 'Breakthru' so the writing was on the wall before we even got close to the inevitable implosion and broken hearts! So what about you, Lisa? I think we both accept that music can express our deepest feelings. That when a song resonates with us it is because we instinctively feel its truth for us somewhere deep inside. It is more than the words the Bee Gees offered us. It is the whole package and sometimes we struggle to articulate what it is exactly that touches us. What about when love songs go wrong? LISA While I’m glad to comment on that question, Fiona, I can’t let you and your ukulele off the hook quite yet. Why? Because that same dreamy, honeymoon feeling that drew you to your instrument is most likely still there; yearning to be expressed openly, given time. Here is how Jimi Hendrix used his guitar as a communicative bridge that connected him to his father Al, according to author David Henderson in the Hendrix biography, ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky.’ “Now his father would find him at his guitar. And, as if he had found him communing with a priest, he would often soften his movements in respect. The quiet was pierced only by vibrating contralto sounds. The better he became with the sounds, the more his father respected his space and solitude. Al began to treat him better. His son now had a world of his own.” Blues guitarist, B.B.King also found a surrogate lover. He performs the song ‘Lucille’ as a spoken soliloquy to which he adds piercing electric blues passages. “Lucille is real, when I play her it’s almost like hearing words, and of course, naturally I hear cries. Lucille took me from the plantation, brought me fame. She’s just like a woman and that’s the only one I’ve had that seemed I could really depend on. It seems that it loves to be petted and played with,” he says, so persuasively, you want to hold his guitar closely yourself. In the 40s King played at a dance hall, in Twist, Arkansas, in which a barrel of burning kerosene tipped over causing a fire after two men broke into a fight. King raced back into the burning building to save his guitar, nearly risking his life. He later found out that those two men had been fighting over a woman named Lucille and he decided to name that guitar and every one after it by that same name. It seems that the love King and Hendrix felt transcended human love; love that is so often fraught with conditions that exist, half the time. because of a wing and a prayer. It’s no wonder that many musicians have referred to their relationship with their band members, as a “marriage” or a “divorce” depending on their stage on the continuum. But, back to words. Hendrix, not fond of his own voice, performed as a sideman before singing his own lyrics; but when the words came, they were effusive and dramatic, as in ‘Purple Haze’. King used narrative freely as a way of bantering back and forth with his loquacious Lucille. The punk group, the Smoking Popes, wrote a song called: ‘Pretty Pathetic’ that goes like this: “You should have heard me sobbing/As I drove home that night/Got into bed and sat there for days./I just laid there having been permanently changed." These are words which grabbed me the minute I heard them; yes, love gone wrong. Yes, it does so permanently change us and the wedding song examples you mentioned illustrate how dramatically different our perceptions can be. Sometimes the most simple feelings feel good because those words are ground into our consciousness: “Girl, I want to be with you all of the time/All day and all of the night/All day and all of the night, all day and all of the night…” This Kinks tune is one of their most simply constructed, but how could you not love it? And, doesn’t it feel great to know that someone out there wants to be with you every waking second, even if it seems, half the time, you bore them to tears? I swear, though, that if I were a classroom teacher and heard a kid repeating a phrase over and over, I’d break into a sweat, but in rock, it’s contagious. Those words are nearly as satisfying as: “You really got me, you really got me, you really got me…” FIONA I think I am still in the lead up to the wedding never mind the honeymoon stage with my ukulele, Lisa. I am not sure what either of us is waiting for. The intent is there but the execution never seems to progress beyond some ham fisted caresses and more than the odd discordant yelp of indignation. I feel like I am 15 again.... What I am certain of is that when we finally 'make it' our song will be 'Shaft' because it was seeing the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain perform that which made me want to play it in the first place. I am going to do it. Furthermore I will have it videoed and put on YouRube as proof.. assuming either still exist by then. While I don't feel the same connection to my instrument as displayed by Hendrix or King (or even Brian May who famously made the original red special himself from a fireplace and some mother of pearl buttons) I can see that such a bond between man and axe is both real and powerful. I'd suggest there is something in the idea of the guitar being a sort of protective barrier between the artist baring their soul and the public. As you have said for Hendrix his guitar created a sort of protective shield around him. The guitar is seen as sexy. We talk about it weeping or singing. Some like May's or King's have names and become entities in their own right. When bestowed with these almost mythical powers by the owner it isn't hard to see how a very true and lasting love could also develop. People request copies of famous guitars as if they will come already impregnated with the power and talent of the original. To my knowledge it never works. It’s almost inevitable then that sometimes it is the instrument rather than the lyric that expresses the sentiments more clearly. The shrieking and heart wrenching lick in 'Layla' is one example and the sinister, threatening bass hook of 'Chains' by Fleetwood Mac is another. I guess this was what I meant when I said sometimes we respond to the emotion in a song beyond the words. We might even hate the words and the music is saying something quite different. I have debated admitting this in public, but honestly I can't abide the lyrics to 'Stairway to Heaven', but I adore the tune, not the whole bloated eight minutes but the quiet folky start. I try and block out Plant's whining and concentrate instead on the wistful and quite spare composition which makes me think of two people laid in a row boat on a summer’s afternoon, riding a slow river as it ebbs and flows. Hell, I have dissed Led Zeppelin and what is often voted in the top 5 greatest songs of all time, I have nothing left to lose now... LISA You can’t quit now, Fi. Just compose an electric ukulele rendition, tidy up those lyrics and hit up Maurice Gibbs for the vocals. I wouldn’t recommend pouring lighter fluid over your dainty ukulele, and torching it, as Hendrix did with his guitar, though. It’s just not very lady like to smoke on stage, is it?

Post A Comment

Check box to submit