Newsletter premiere

Published May 31, 2011

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Live concerts - not really for me

Published May 24, 2011

If you’re passionately interested in music, like I am, it seems to automatically follow that you’re supposed to be interested in live concerts. I have to confess that most of the time I’m not. It seems to be an unusual stance, since the “in the moment” experience of a live concert is often held up as more valid than the supposedly more sterile studio recording.

I was reminded of this when I read an interview with actor-turned-musician Hugh Laurie in the latest issue of The Word magazine. “I quite sort of believe in records, vinyl, as a form,” he states. “I don’t think of vinyl as a poor substitute for seeing something live”. Another proud non-fan of live concerts was John Lennon, who said in the mid-Seventies: “I prefer records, I always did. It’s like watching a painter paint – just give me the painting.” It strikes me that it’s very unusual to hear musicians say something like this, verging on the blasphemous. You sort of expect them to want to interact with their audience at all costs. But I have to agree with Laurie and Lennon: I’ve often been bored or uncomfortable at live shows, whereas a good record triggers my imagination, enables me to create my own pictures, and allows me to immerse myself in the music in a way that few concerts I’ve attended ever have.

 

A very beautiful place

Published May 16, 2011

I’ve just finished watching the DVD box set of season 4 of Mad Men. Like many others, I rate this as one of the best TV series around at the moment. Due to protracted contractual negotiations (now resolved), it’s going to be a long hard wait for season 5, which won’t start airing in July of this year (as per the original plan), but will premiere sometime in 2012. But that’s not really what I was going to write about.

In episode 3 of season 4, a song entitled ‘Old Cape Cod’ is featured. At first I didn’t recognise neither the song nor the performer, but I thought it sounded quite nice. I was surprised to learn on the Internet that the performer was Patti Page, and even more surprised to learn that the song was actually featured on a compilation of hers that I own. It was a big hit in the United States in 1957, peaking at number three on the Billboard Pop chart.

In the show, the song is used to contrast middle-aged main character Don Draper’s antiquated taste in music (the episode takes place in December 1964), as opposed to the more current pop stuff represented by The Beach Boys. Indeed, when The Official History Of Rock’n’Roll™ is related, Patti Page is held up as the antithesis of everything that rock stood for (along with other 1950s icons such as Doris Day and Perry Como). The somewhat simplified version of the story goes that 1950s pop music was all about very safe, suburban-friendly, anodyne songs performed by Page and similar artists until Elvis Presley came along to shake things up and free us all.

I’ve always suspected that some very nice babies were thrown out with the bath water when artists like Patti Page were suddenly branded as forever uncool, which is why I bought my compilation of her stuff in the first place. I wanted to find out whether she was really as anodyne as they say, or if there were some forgotten nuggets to be discovered. In the case of the song that’s usually held up as the reason why rock’n’roll had to be invented, ‘(How Much Is) That Doggie In The Window?’, I have to admit that, yes, it is a truly awful record. The tune is nice and hummable enough, but the performance and production does sound strained, conjuring up the cliché of a 1950s household: pretending that everything is perfectly nice while in fact many members of such families were stifling screams of frustration. The question seems to be not so much “how much is that doggie in the window?”, but rather, “how the hell do I get out of here?” And those dog barks are so annoying as to make the song virtually unlistenable – how this could stay at number one for eight weeks is, to me, incomprehensible.

But that, of course, doesn’t mean that everything Patti Page did was unlistenable – quite the contrary. If you have a corner in your heart for songs that are unashamedly romantic, there is much to be enjoyed. Patti Page herself is not the problem, it’s some of the songs she recorded.

So how did I miss out on ‘Old Cape Cod’ the first time I gave my compilation CD a spin? Well, the disc does contain a fair amount of dross, and the song in question is the next to last track on the CD, by which time I was probably losing patience. And the very last track is a completely atrocious track entitled ‘Left Right Out Of Your Heart’, which probably obliterated any lingering memories of whatever went before it.

But thanks to Mad Men I’ve now rediscovered ‘Old Cape Cod’ and keep playing it over and over. The song is beautiful, the arrangement flawless, and Page’s intimate, multi-tracked vocals are simply irresistible. As Don Draper phrases it, ‘I think it sounds like she’s inviting us to a very beautiful place’.

 

A perfect moment in sunny Stockholm

Published May 10, 2011

If you live in a country where... Well, let's just say that Sweden has plenty of cold, dark days and not so many sunny ones with temperatures more in line with what most human beings would define as comfortable. Historically, I've had an on-again-off-again relationship with the sun: as a child, no matter how lovely the weather may have been, I often preferred staying in, reading and playing my records. I found outdoors overrated, and still do sometimes. However, these days I'm more keen to get my share of the sunshine, and we're just enjoying a lovely couple of spring days here in Stockholm. The sun is out, nature is turning green, and whenever I step out on the balcony I'm enveloped by heavenly smells from trees in bloom.

Yesterday I had one of those perfect moments where everything just gels. I was sitting on the balcony, with my eyes closed, the sun on my face, and just happened to be playing my favourite album by The Byrds: The Notorious Byrd Brothers, when their wonderful version of Goffin & King's Goin' Back came on. Suddenly I was on holiday in Southern California, travelling along the Pacific Coast Highway without a care in the world. Moments like that cannot be planned, but it's lovely when they happen. It kicked me off in a sun-induced euphoria, an almost manic state.

According to the forecast, we're in for some rainy weather in a few days, and the Swedish summer is completely unpredictable so anything may happen over the next few months. But at least I had that perfect moment.