The Kinks : Waterloo Sunset – An Unfading Glory!

 

I woke up this holiday weekend to the sound of magnificent birds hosannaing the dawn.

As the coffee brewed I switched on my radio and learned that 52 years ago to the day The  Kinks released what will always be my favourite 45rpm single of all time.

The cultural historians of a thousand years hence will without question point to this Ray Davies masterpiece when they want to demonstrate the beauty those 1960s troubadours were capable of achieving.

So, today, 52 years on, The Jukebox punches once again the button and the unfading glory that is Waterloo Sunset floods the heart, mind and spirit with light and hope.

Ray Davies said :

It’s about how innocence will prevail over adversity. It starts out delicate, but by the end has become awesome in its power. Those triumphant chords come in, and the angels tell you everything is going to be OK”.

Everything is going to be OK.

And, that’s a message that will always be welcome.

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Thank you Ray and God Bless The Kinks!

 

‘The most beautiful song in the English language’ (Robert Christgau)

‘Divine … a masterpiece’ (Pete Townsend)

‘As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset I am in paradise’ (Ray Davies)

A song about : London, The River, A Lonely Man and Two Lovers by A Great Songwriter leading a great Group.

The Voice of London:

It is, of course, a song about London.

Londinium. The Capital. The Big Smoke.

Now, there are other fine cities on other great rivers in this nation.

But, but, there is only one London.

And, if you want to find out who you are, not who you’ve been told you are, and how far you can go – well then, London, London, is the place to be.

Nowhere else. Nowhere else.

Kings and Conquerors. Poets and Peasants. Saints, Sinners and Scholars.

Those looking for the limelight and others looking to hide out – they’re all drawn to London.

Thinkers and Tinkers. Songwriters and Singers.

Look around! They’re all here.

All here telling stories. Making dramas.

Tired of London, tired of life.

Come for joy, jasper of jocunditie.

Come for a mighty mass of brick and smoke and shipping.

Treasures in its depths.

Confront your counterparts – hero or villain, mountebank or mystic.

Find yourself. Get lost.

Work, work, work or lounge and idle away your days.

All around you beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics and the one, the one, just waiting for you.

For you.

Ray Davies. A watchful London boy who became a watchful London man and artist.

Alive to all the sights and sounds and atmospheres on the breeze, in the fog, in the streets and alleyways of his home town.

Watching the people. Watching the taxi lights shine so bright.

Aware of the lovers meeting on Friday night and the lonely friendless souls in the chilly, chilly, evening time.

Aware of the dirty old river flowing, flowing into the night.

Aware that the same world can be frightening and a paradise at the same time – it all depends where you are standing and what you see.

Lovers finding each other and finding themselves.

Making plans to stay. Making plans to leave.

Somewhere they’ll be safe and sound. Together.

Millions swarming round Waterloo Underground.

Every one with a story.

Every one dizzy with the possibilities of London Town.

Every one looking to be found and to be safe and sound as the chilly, chilly, evening descends.

Every one feeling London, London, all around them.

Day flows into night. Spring flows into Summer. Summer flows into Autumn and on and on, always, into Winter.

Chilly, chilly, is evening time.

But, but, look up, look around!

Gaze out on the Sunset.

The Waterloo Sunset.

Bathing London in balm.

Flooding the heart and soul with feeling.

A Feeling more powerful than all your fears.

As long as Londoners can gaze out on Waterloo Sunset they are in paradise.

Paradise. Paradise.

It is, of course, a Song about London.

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The Voice of The River:

It is, of course, a Song about The River.

The Thames. Father Thames.

Rivers make Cities. Before the City there’s always The River.

Flowing through the ages. Flowing, flowing through time.

Carving out the landscape.

Liquid History. Liquid History.

Long before London, millennia before London, the River flowed.

The dark waters of River flow by the bridges and the burial grounds.

Past the wharfs and the jetties.

Past the piers and the palaces.

The River flows on when the roads are blocked.

The River flows on as the houses crumble into dust when the bombs fall.

The River flows on as the Romans arrrve and leave.

As the Vikings arrive and leave.

As Kings build palaces to rule for evermore.

As parliaments of men and women overthrow the divine right of monarchs.

They build walls round cities.

The River flows on. Free.

When the fires burn and the earth buckles and splits turn to The River.

The River will always flow on as long as the world turns.

Come to the River. Come to the River.

Mystics and Mudllarks.

Poets and Pirates.

Novelists and Ne’er do Wells.

Songwriters and Singers.

I will flow through your heart and soul.

I will fill your imagination to the brim.

Turner and Canaletto. Monet and Whistler. Stanley Spencer.

River Painters. Haunted by waters.

Humans are haunted by waters.

Haunted.

Dickens and Kenneth Grahame. Pepys and Conrad.

Wordsworth and Eliot.

River Writers. River Writers.

The River glideth at its own sweet will.

The River sweats oil and tar.

Stand by the River.

As the chilly, chilly, evening descends.

Look around. Look at your life.

Wipe your eyes. Wipe your eyes.

Try not to notice you’ve fallen in love (or out of love).

Breathe. Breathe.

Ray Davies. Looking out on the River from the terraces of St Thomas’ Hospital when he was just 13.

Watching the River flow. Flowing on through the day into the night.

Watching the yellow fog settle over the River’s dark waters.

The River.

Always the same. Always different. Like his life.

A River he walked by waiting to become the artist he knew he was.

The River he walked by with melodies and words dancing in his head.

The River he walked by making plans for a future for himself, his wife and his family.

Walking, dreaming, by those dark waters.

Watching the River flowing, flowing, flowing.

Watching the lights reflected in the River’s dark waters.

Watching Lovers crossing over the River.

Looking for somewhere to be safe and sound.

Watching the Lovers looking deep into the dark waters looking for a glimpse of their future together.

Watching Lovers seeking the River’s blessing.

Watching the friendless lonely souls gazing out over the River.

Watching the millions of souls emerging from Waterloo Underground waiting to cross The River.

Watching them turn up their collars against the chilly, chilly, evening time as the wind blows in off the River.

Watching them look deep into the dark waters looking for an answer to questions too secret to ask out loud.

Watching them watching the River flow on. Flow on.

Watching the Sunset, the Waterloo Sunset, sink over the River.

Flooding the heart and soul with golden light.

The River flows on through Spring and Summer into Autumn and on and on, always into Winter.

Chilly, Chilly, is evening time.

But, but, stand by The River.

As the dark waters flow look into the sunset.

The Waterloo Sunset.

Bathing The River in balm.

Flooding, flooding, the heart and soul with feeling.

A feeling more powerful than all your fears.

As long as you can stand by the River and those dark waters and gaze out on Waterloo Sunset you are in paradise.

Paradise. Paradise.

It is, of course, a Song about The River.

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The Voice of a Lonely Man:

It is, of course, a Song of a Lonely Man.

I’m a Londoner all my life. I’ve lived by The River all my life.

Seventy five years.

1967 now.

I was born in the 1800’s!

London and The River. Always the same. Always different.

London, The River and me. We’ve been through a lot.

We’ve seen two World Wars. I fought in the First one.

They call that The Great War. I lost a lot of pals, London pals.

Men who worked on the River with me.

It can make you lonely thinking of them.

Sometimes, as the chilly evening descends and I look into the dark waters of the River I think I can see them still, as they were, young men with bright smiles, bright smiles, making plans for after the War.

War teaches you that God laughs at your plans.

War teaches you fear and teaches you friends can lose their heartbeat in one of yours.

London was a hard old place in the 1930s.

Depression. They called it the Great Depression.

No work. For year after year after year.

Amazing we didn’t have a Revolution.

Still, somehow we got through.

I met Daisy, my wife, walking across Waterloo Bridge.

We were both looking down into the dark waters.

Watching the River flow on into the night.

Watching the taxi lights shining as the chilly evening descended.

I suppose we were both lost until we found each other.

Then, suddenly, we were safe and sound.

When we were courting (no one uses that word anymore!) we used to meet every Friday night at Waterloo Station.

There must be millions, millions, passing through there every day.

Funny though, as soon as I saw Daisy it always seemed as if they was just the two of us.

Safe and sound together.

Together, we didn’t need no friends and no matter how dark the times or chilly the evening we didn’t feel afraid.

We had each other.

Until the Second War.

A bomb can fall out of the sky and in a heartbeat your heart is broken and never the same again.

Never the same.

I did my best with the Nipper. But a girl, especially, needs a Mother.

She went out to Australia on one of those Assisted Passages.

A Tenner taking you tens of thousands of miles!

I get a card at Christmas and she says she’ll visit in a year or so.

Maybe, she’ll get married and I’ll be a Grandfather. I’d like that.

They say I’m lucky to have a flat in this block.

I preferred it when you had a garden and streets on the ground not in the sky.

Especially when the lifts break down.

One thing I will say. You get fantastic views out the window from the tenth floor.

I like listening to the radio and watching the football on the TV.

But mainly I like to look at the world from my window. From my window.

There’s a lot going on if you take the time to look.

The River keeps on flowing.

Always the same always different.

Something to do with the way it reflects to the light.

It’s a dirty old River. Oil and tar. But, it’s my River.

They say this Clean Air Act will have it sparkling again – alive with Fish.

Not sure I will be around for that day.

People are so busy these days.

They must make themselves dizzy rushing about.

Never time to stop and stare or to say hello to an old man looking into the dark waters of the River.

I like it when the chilly evening descends.

The taxi lights shine bright and somehow people look well in the dark.

I’ve noticed a couple meeting every Friday night just like me and Daisy did.

I call them Terry and Julie after that song on the radio about the Sunset.

Waterloo Sunset.

I don’t know much about this beat music but the chap who wrote that song knows a lot about London and The River and Love and Loneliness.

It’s a song that has happiness and sadness running right through it like a river.

You can tell they love each other and that they feel safe and sound when they’re together.

I stay home at night. But I don’t feel feel afraid.

I don’t need no friends anymore.

I got my memories.

And, no matter how chilly the evening there’s warmth in the Sunset.

So I am safe and sound.

And, I know that today will flow on into tomorrow and that Spring will flow into Summer and on into Autumn and always, always into Winter.

Of course the evening is chilly.

But, looking out my window I can gaze on the Sunset.

Friends or no friends.

I gaze on the Sunset.

The Waterloo Sunset.

And, somehow, that Sunset is more powerful than any fear.

As long as I can gaze out on Waterloo Sunset I am in paradise.

Paradise. Paradise.

That song. Well, of course, it’s about a Lonely Man.

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The Voice of Two Lovers:

Well, of course, it’s a Song about two Lovers. Us.

What else could it be about?

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When you’re in love the River flows and the chilly evening and dark waters are your friends.

Terry and Julie. Our names just sound right together.

We meet every Friday night at Waterloo Underground.

Sometimes we just walk across the bridge.

Have a drink by the River and watch the Sunset.

The Waterloo Sunset.

And, it seems we are in paradise.

Paradise.

We’re glad there’s a song about us.

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A Song by a great Songwriter leading a great Group:

Ray Davies is a Londoner.

A Londoner who grew up in a house filled with music and the laughter and warmth generated by loving parents and six older sisters.

Yet, a boy and a man, who needed solitude to give birth to the dreams, the melodies and words in his head.

A young man who found that he had a peculiarly English gift for expressing the bitter sweet aspects of life.

A writer who had been taken by his father to see the Festival of Britain on the South Bank of the River in 1951 where visions of a brave new world offered unlimited promise for the decades ahead.

A writer who seeing these new worlds being born could feel and express the loss as well as the gain in the new glittering times.

A writer who could evoke dreams in black and white as well as colour.

A writer who could evoke the flow of the River, the warmth of the Sunset and the chill of the evening.

A writer who could craft a song that had love and loneliness running through it like a river.

A writer who had as much in common with John Betjeman as he did with Chuck Berry.

The Laureate of English Pop Music.

A writer who could capture the light and the shadows of the world around him.

A world he watched with deep attention.

He took in the dirty old River, it’s dark waters and the glitter of the taxi lights.

The song of The River and the view from the windows above.

He gave voice to the young lovers and the lonely old man holding them in the embrace of his voice, his words and his aching melody.

A writer and performer who could make dark waters and the chilly, chilly, evening alive before us.

A writer who could tell the story of two lovers out of the millions of people emerging from Waterloo Underground.

Ray Davies was also a bandleader and producer who could capture all those elements in a record that will live as long as the dark waters flow and the sun sets over the River.

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To do this he needed the skill and commitment of his brother Dave Davies and brothers in arms Pete Quaife and Mick Avory.

He needed The Kinks.

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Together they created in the studio a great record from a great song.

The lovely bass line moves through the song like a stately barge ploughing through the tide of the River.

Dave Davies’ guitar using tape delay echo has a melancholy grace holding us in thrall throughout.

Mick Avory’s drums flow on like the River and alert us to the crescendos of feeling as the song moves to its climax.

Together The Kinks with Rsy’s first wife, Rasa, give us perhaps the most heart rending harmony vocals of the era.

So, it’s a song about London.

About The River.

About a Lonely Man.

About Two Lovers.

A song that flows on through the decades.

A song that will always flow on because Rivers always flow and evenings always get chilly.

Because, as long as we can listen to Waterloo Sunset we can, for those few minutes, be in
paradise.

In Paradise.

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Time to hear it again:

Ray Davies is reported to have said that he was sure he had written the best song of the year in 1967.

I’ll go further.

I think in Waterloo Sunset he wrote the finest English song of the entire 1960s.

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Gretchen Peters : On A Bus to St Cloud

We are all Pilgrims.

And, each of us has to make the pilgrimage in our own way loaded with our own unique blessings and burdens.

Though we may walk with no visible companions no one truly walks alone.

For shadowing your footsteps are shades and ghosts.

The shade of the wide eyed child you were staring up at the infinitely promising night sky.

The shade of the teenager who would never be so foolish as to take the wrong turns made by those who thought themselves wiser because they were older.

The ghost of the daredevil seven year old, always out in front of you, who went too far ahead one day, laughing as he ran into the road – never making it to the other side.

The ghosts of your father and mother smiling awkwardly for the wedding photographer with faith in the unknown future bright in their eyes.

The ghosts of friends and lovers who are lost to you now for reasons you can only guess at or can’t face.

The shade of the person you were yesterday and the shade of the person you are in the process of becoming.

The ghost of the one you just couldn’t save though you tried with all your might.

And, cresting a hill, drawing breath to look at the view, you might for a fleeting moment catch a glimpse of one of those shades or ghosts and find the tears, of joy or deep regret, falling unbidden.

Or lulled by the rhythm of the wheels of a Bus to St Cloud with the snow falling around like a silent prayer you might be almost sure that face in the crowd is the face that slipped out of view so long ago that’s been haunting your dreams for so many years.

A face you’d almost, almost, given up hope of ever seeing again.

Oh,I was sure it was you.

Sure it was you.

Oh, it’s strange but it’s true.

And, I hate you so.

And, I love you so.

But I miss you most.

With the snow falling all around like a silent prayer.

Standing, blinking, as the snow falls you wonder about the shades and the ghosts.

Could you have done more?

How did you let them just slip away?

We think of those who disappeared from our lives as lost but maybe they found what they were seeking and it is us who are lost.

We all live and breathe and hope in Mystery.

We all make choices we wish we could travel back in time to change.

And, for those who are lost, not least ourselves, sometimes there is nothing else but to fall on your knees and weep and hope that some stronger arm might lift you up.

Lift you up.

For the snow is sure to fall.

Sure to fall,

Sometimes bringing a gleaming light to the surrounding darkness.

Sometimes a shining manna from heaven.

Sometimes a shroud falling softly all around.

Falling softly on the dark waves.

Falling softly on the lonely churchyards.

Falling softly on the crooked crosses and headstones.

Falling softly on the barren thorns.

Falling upon all the living and the dead.

Just a face in the crowd.

And its strange but it’s true.

Strange but it’s true.

And I hate you so.

And I love you so.

But I miss you most.

I was sure, sure, it was you.

With the snow falling all around.

Notes :

Gretchen Peters writes songs distinguished by their emotional intelligence.

Her songs seem like glimpses into lives we all might have led or encountered.

She has a particular gift for writing songs featuring telling but not overloaded details so that the listener inevitably fleshes out the narratives in line with their own stories making the experience all the richer.

All her Albums have songs which will live with you.

The first version above is to be found on her 1996 debut Record, ‘The Secret of Life’.

The second version, a mature reconsideration of her signature song, is from 2011 and features Barry Walsh on Keyboards.

The third version comes from 2016 at the Celtic Connections Music Festival. Jerry Douglas, the Dobro King, provides the falling snow.

 

Allen Toussaint, Ernie K Doe : Mother-in-Law, Here Come The Girls

Where am I headed?

Well, walking the hills of old Duluth can get might cold.

So, time to head down to the source.

Down Highway 61.

Following the mighty Mississippi.

All the way down.

Thirteen Hundred miles and more.

All the way down.

Down to the Crescent City.

New Orleans.

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New Orleans, where the food and the climate and the music have a flavour that you just can’t get anywhere else.

Nowhere else has that special mix of ethnicities and rhythms that make for a perfect tasting gumbo.

So, back to the Source.

The City of Louis Armstrong and Antoine Fats Domino.

The City of Professor Longhair and Irma Thomas.

The City of Allen Toussaint.

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and Ernest Kador Jr – eternally to be remembered as Ernie K-Doe.

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In April 1961 Allen Toussaint went into the J&M Studios in New Orleans with Ernie and a hand picked crew of musicians and emerged with a multi million seller which became the first Pop Number One from the Crescent City (a feat denied to Fats Domino and Little Richard).

A record that kept Del Shannon’s ‘Runaway’, Ricky Nelson’s ‘Travelin’ Man’ and Gene McDaniels’ ‘One Hundred Pounds of Clay’ off the top of Billboard.

And that record was?

Don’t tell me you don’t know, ‘Mother-in-Law’.

As Ernie said (and I ain’t about to argue) :

”There aren’t but three songs that will last for eternity,’ ”One is ‘Amazing Grace.’ Another is ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ And the third is ‘Mother-in-Law,’ because as long as there are people on this earth, there will always be mother-in-laws.”

Once you’ve listened to it fifty times or so (in the first week you come across it!) you wont be arguing with Ernie either.

I trust you’ve got your dancing shoes on ’cause you’re sure gonna need ’em!

 

Burn, K-Doe, Burn!

You just good, Ernie, that’s all!.

Now, ain’t that good for what ails you?

If skies are grey, the mailman hasn’t called for a month and your doctor won’t even tell you what it is you got I prescribe three spins of, ‘Mother-in-Law’ and I guarantee you’re going to feel a whole lot better.

Allen Toussaint brought all his skills as a songwriter, piano player, band leader, producer and arranger to Mother-in-Law.

The tempo is just right – a relaxed shuffle that demands you sway along to it.

The pitch perfect bass answering vocal comes courtesy of Benny Spellman.

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Later on Ernie returned the favour by singing back up on Benny’s ‘Lipstick Traces (on a Cigarette) another classic from the pen of Allen Toussaint.

The riverboat setting out sax is provided by Robert Parker (previously featured on The Jukebox with, ‘Barefootin’).

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Stirring al the ingredients ’til everything was just so and providing the addictive piano throughout was Allen Toussaint himself.

And Ernie?

Well Ernie provided charm by the bucket load and sang lead with a smile so broad you can hear it in every groove.

Every groove.

And, that Ladies and Gentlemen, is how you confect an all time classic!

At this point I must issue a Formal Disclaimer.

My own Mother-in-Law, Enid (RIP), whom I miss greatly could not have been more warm and welcoming to me when I appeared as a prospective Son-in-Law.

Far from being sent from ‘Down Below’ she was clearly sent here from Above.

Ernie gloried in the success of ‘Mother-in-Law’ but though he made many fine records subsequently he was never to have another mega hit.

What he did become through the force of his personality was a bona fide New Orleans legend.

And, far away across The Atlantic, deep in the Surrey Rhythm & Blues Delta, Eric Clapton with The Yardbirds chose to record another Ernie K-Doe and Allen Toussaint song for their debut single.

Later on, the great Warren Zevon (due to feature on The Jukebox soon) brought his own lascivious lupine genius to the song.

Still and all it’s Ernie’s version that gets me on the dance floor – you just cant beat that New Orleans strut on a ‘Certain Girl’.

Tempo, Tempo, Tempo!

 

Ernie’s national and International career was cast into the doldrums by the British Invasion and the rise of Motown.

Still, Allen Toussaint remained faithful to an old friend and in 1970 brought Ernie into the Studio with New Orleans finest.The Meters, and crafted a superb album which featured a guaranteed smash hit in any sane world, ‘Here Come The Girls’.

Except, as we all know all too well, we very often live in an insane world – so Here Come The Girls came out and promptly vanished into the ether.

Just listen to the joyous funk of this track and wonder what you have to do to have a Hit!

Times were hard for Ernie from the mid 70s to the end of the 80s.

He grew far too fond of The Bottle and seemed unable to recover that winning charm.

It was the love of a good woman, Antoinette Fox, that saved him.

She convinced him to bid the booze goodbye and gave him the energy to relaunch his career as a performer and crucially for his local profile as a Radio DJ for WWOZ and WTUL.

Ernie’s outsize personality found a ready audience and he became a much loved figure once again in his Hometown.

He loved to dress up to and beyond the nines and as the host in his own, ‘Mother-in-Law’ Bar and Lounge he was entirely capable of singing ‘Mother-in-Law’  ten times in a row and having the audience roar along with every word!

Ernie died in July 2001 as a revered elder statesman of the Crescent City music scene and he was later, quite properly, inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.

Oh and as The Jukebox has told you before, and will again :

‘A true message always gets through. Sometimes it just takes a while’.

For in 2007 some bright spark in the British advertising world had the brilliant idea that the perfect song to sell Make Up products for Boots (a chain of Pharmacies long a staple of the British High Street) was none other than Ernie K-Doe’s, ‘Here Come The Girls’!

It featured in a series of Ads that everybody from 8 to 80 loved and sang along to with gusto. Soon, ‘Here Comes The Girl’ was a genuine hit and the shade of Ernie must have laughed and said, ‘I knew, I always knew, it was a Hit!’

Burn K-Doe burn!

You just good Ernie, that’s all.

Too Good.

I’m going to wrap it up today with an Easter Extravaganza for y’all.

Here’s Ernie with Allen reliving those golden days and thrilling us all.

Burn K-Doe, Burn!

Oh, and I must admit it’s been a long, long, time since I’ve spontaneously launched into a rendition of, ‘Amazing Grace’ or ‘The Star Spangled Banner’.

But, quite often, when I’m walking in the South Downs Hills, bubbling out of my subconscious comes :

’Mother-in-Law (Mother-in-Law) ….. and the miles fly by.

Notes :

Ernie was the ninth of eleven children.

His father was a Baptist Preacher so Ernie, as so many, began his singing career in the Gospel tradition – his early hero being the stupendous Archie Brownlee from the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi.

After a few years in Chicago as a teenager he returned to New Orleans and was talent spotted by Bumps Blackwell.

However, it was only when he signed to Minit Records and came under the tutelage of Allen Toussaint that his career blossomed.

Further Tracks by Ernie that I love include :

’Hello My Lover’, ‘I Cried My Last Tear’, ‘Te-Ta-Te-Ta-Ta’ and ‘Popeye Joe’.

Ben Sandmel has written a very enjoyable appreciation of Ernie in, ‘Ernie K-Doe : The R&B Emperor Of New Orleans’.

The Who : I Can’t Explain

Easter, a time for retreat, reflection and revelation.

So, I have journeyed to the ancient flatlands of the East where the winds hit heavy off the coast.

By passed and forgotten lands filled with ghosts.

The ghosts of Boudicca and the Iceni.

The ghosts of Hereward the Wake and his Fen warriors.

Seried ranks of airmen from Wichita and Warsaw and Winnipeg and Waterford and Wellington and Worcester who flew one mission too many and who now sleep under endless East Anglian skies.

I stirred a few ghosts of my own when I revisited my old Cambridge College.

Looking up at the window of my old room I was teleported back 40 years or more to walk imaginatively beside the curious (in all senses of the word) youth who seemed to have spent a whole year reading Thomas Aquinas’ ‘Summa Theologica’.

614 Questions. 3125 Articles.

Everything that could be said and explained, Explained.

Man and God and Law.

And yet, the great Thomas himself overwhelmed by a mystic insight before his death came to regard his life’s work as nothing more than Straw in comparison to the reality he was attempting to explain.

Some things you know but can’t explain.

Some things you feel in your bones.

Sometimes your heart beats fit to bust out of your chest.

Sometimes the hormones surge.

The blood sings.

If only your heart would give up its secret.

If only you could say the words you are dying to say.

You’ve got a feeling inside you can’t explain

You feel hot and cold.

You’re feeling good.

Down in your soul.

Dizzy in the head.

Ah, but, you can’t explain.

You can’t explain.

Do you think it’s love?

Do you think it’s love?

Try to say it (go on you do)

Try to say it.

I think it’s love.

Love.

Forgive me.
*
I can’t explain.
*
I think it’s love.
*
I can’t explain.
*
Love.
*

 

They had been The High Numbers.

Now and forever they were The Who.

With this record they announced themselves as a great group.

One to stand shoulder to shoulder with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Kinks.

A group bursting with talent and drive and character.

An unstoppable Force.

A group with a distinctive sound and ethos.

Modernists.

Mods.

Style and Attitude.

Attitude with a capital A.

The energy of the streets and estates.

The experimental approach of the Art School.

A sound emerging like a train from the dark tunnel of post war British History.

Specifically drawing energy from a City, London, throwing off the grey dust of the bomb sites and austerity.

London about to dazzle in thrilling colour after decades of monochrome.

The youth of London ravenous for the New, The Modern.

Purple Hearts. French Blues. Black Bombers.

The Suit. The Scooter. The Sound.

The correct number of buttons.

The barnet cut – just so.

Ravenous for clothes and music that was New.

Fashion and Sound that was Theirs!

Youthful beneficiaries of the 1944 Butler Education Act and the end of Conscription into the Armed Forces.

A generation not exhausted by a depression followed by a world war.

A generation not carrying the guilt of having survived when so many others had not.

A generation released into unlimited ambition.

A youth quake of disruptive, undeferential, talent and energy.

Ray Davies, Richard Hamilton, Mary Quant, Albert Finley, Pauline Boty, Terence Stamp, David Bailey, Julie Christie, Mick Jagger, Bridget Riley, Tom Courtney.

Leaders.

Emblems.

Faces.

Pete Townshend : A Face among Faces.

Fiercely intelligent.

Fiercely energetic.

Electric, overflowing with intelligence and energy.

Creative and destructive.

Make that guitar scream and ring like an alarm!

Smash that guitar to smithereens!

Write ringing, screaming, songs that tumble out trying to explain all that can’t be explained.

Be honest about how confused life is when you are young and the blood is singing and the hormones are raging.

Can’t explain.

Can’t explain.

Record and perform the songs with a natural front man singer.

With a bass player who holds together all the manic energy surrounding him.

With a drummer who plays the drums as the lead instrument and whose energy levels are always in the red, ’about to explode’ zone.

Absorb, contain and volcanically release all this energy through your guitar.

Attend to those funny dreams.

Again and again.

Tenderness and Terror.

Denial and Declaration.

Can’t explain.

Keep silent or speak out.

Tenderness and Terror.

Dizzy in the Head.

Can’t explain.

Can’t explain.

I think it’s love.

Love.

The Immortal Jukebox’s Greatest Hit : Mary Gauthier (I Drink), Iris Dement (Easy Getting Harder) Ordinary/Extraordinary Stories

I was downing a couple of bottles of Mr Whitehead’s excellent cider at the, ‘Pub With No Name’ the other evening and fell into conversation with one of the hostelry’s regulars who commented (approvingly) on my most recent post on, ‘The Third Man’.

He told me that he’d been following The Jukebox since 2017 and must have by now read more than a hundred posts.

I asked him did he have any favourites and he replied :

‘Well, I’m a major Van Morrison fan and can see he is your specialist subject so I always look out for those. And, I always think there’s never enough written about The Blues so I especially enjoyed your Post on Little Walter.

Still, I would also have to say some of the Posts I’ve found most intriguing have been about artists I had never heard of previously like Arthur Alexander, Toussaint McCall and Paul Brady’.

He added, ‘How many Posts have you written since you started?’

I quickly looked up my Stats and said to my own astonishment, ‘I can hardly believe it but it seems I’ve published more than 320 Posts since March 2014’.

As he ordered up another round of drinks Declan mused, ‘I suppose your most popular Post must be one about one of the classic Baby Boomer artists like Van or Dylan or Carole King?’

‘Actually, you’d be surprised’ I said.

‘The most popular Post ever, by a significant margin, is the Post I wrote on Mary Gauthier and Iris Dement – who are not exactly household names!’

‘And, its a Post that every week, in countries all over the globe is being discovered by new readers’.

He immediately looked it up on his iPad (other tablets are available) and when he had finished reading said:

‘Well, those are two great songs and I like the way you’ve introduced the theme of the ordinariness and extraordinariness of all our lives. How many followers did you have when you wrote this?’

‘ A couple of hundred then and more than 10,000 now’ I replied.

‘That’s a lot of people who probably haven’t read your most popular post – you ought to ReBlog it!’.

So for Declan and all of you who haven’t yet read it here’s my Greatest Hit!

‘It’s just an ordinary story about the way things go … Round and round nobody knows but the highway goes on forever’ (Rodney Crowell)

‘It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous dialogue and have it send a chill along the reader’s spine.’ (Raymond Carver)

I live an ordinary life.

So do you.

Yet, I guarantee that if we sat down and talked honestly about the lives we have led, the people we have met, the narrative arc of our lives; including the successes, the mis-steps, the fulfilled and broken dreams, the regrets and the wonders, that we would each think the other has led a truly extraordinary life.

All our lives contain experiences we struggle to understand and come to terms with: unresolved longings, fault lines, tender wounds, hidden scars. In a very real sense we will always remain mysteries to ourselves.

I believe that our attraction to art – to stories and songs – is because the best of them resonate with and go some way to help explain the eternal mystery of why we exist and why we have turned out the way we have.

A great song can be our pilgrim’s companion and staff as we navigate through life’s slalom ride of fate and happenstance while attempting to fashion a connected, meaningful life.

The singer-songwriters featured on the Jukebox today; Iris Dement and Mary Gauthier, share the ability to look compassionately, honestly and unflinchingly at ‘everyday lives’ illuminating them with sharp eyed, flinty, observations and heart rending detail.

These are songs about the dignity and indignities of real lives not adverts for ‘lifestyles’. Popular culture, as these artists demonstrate, can offer far more than mere consumer branding: it can offer us the insights and balm of art we yearn for as we struggle to make it through, or knock off, another ordinary day.

Iris Dement’s early childhood was spent, as the youngest of fourteen children on a tiny island in rural north eastern Arkansas before her father moved the family to California, as millions had done before, in search of work and a better future.

Crucially, she was also raised in the bosom of the Pentecostal Church with a mother who daily sang its sweet consoling hymns as she went about her domestic tasks – a process Iris recreates with tender love in her song, ‘Mama’s Opry’.

The influence of those hymns pervades all of Iris’ songs though her own relationship with faith has been troubled.

Her songs seem to me always to be charged with a sense of the sublime, a conviction that every life, however small, burdened and disregarded, carries a light that shines through the darkest hours.

Above all, the gospel influence is felt by the listener through her voice: a gloriously cracked country voice that throbs with yearning passion. It’s a voice made to embody intense emotions, a voice that cannot and will not be denied.

At the end of an Iris Dement song I always feel both uplifted and exhausted no matter what the subject of the song because her vocals are freighted with a humanity of heart, flesh, blood, bone and spirit that hits you like a punch to the solar plexus.

A punch that takes away the breath while reawakening you to the miracle of every breath you take.

‘Easy’s Getting Harder Every Day’ is Iris Dement’s finest song and one of the best songs ever written about the passions, dreads and torments involved in living a seemingly ‘everyday’ life’.

The song steadily, plainly and without hysteria or pity presents us with a portrait of a mature, self aware woman struggling to come to terms with the sense of strangled entrapment she feels in her marriage, her job and her community.

The beauty and art of the song lies in the dry eyed simplicity with which the weight of accumulating straws on the back of the protagonist are evoked: the rain, the buzzing alarm clock, the marital conversations and lovemaking reduced to mechanical routine.

The radio mast lights blink on simultaneously highlighting and mocking her dreams of another life with a different name in another town. She knows she will never make it to Couer d’Alene. And yet, though Easy’s getting harder every day she carries on.

She carries on.

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Mary Gauthier writes songs of bright boned shocking intensity.

Before she took up songwriting in her thirties she had lived a life filled with more drama and incident than Dickens himself would have dared invented in a multi volume novel.

She has been; an orphaned foundling, a teenage runaway and a street and college student of philosophy. She has known the degredation of addiction and the unremitting daily struggles of recovery. She has been arrested and jailed and also triumphed as a highly successful Cajun Cook and Restaurateur.

All the while with her keen intelligence and moral rigour she was storing away these experiences so that when she came to write her own songs she could have no truck with dishonesty or glib sentimentality.

There is an almost brutal matter-of-factness in many of her songs.

She is able to honestly describe desperate lives lived the gutter because she has been there. There is respect but no romance in her descriptions of such lives.

It is the test of a true artist to be able to present recognisable living characters but not to idly judge them.

The reader or listener can do that if they feel comfortable casting a stone.

‘I Drink’ was played by Bob Dylan on one of his Theme Time Radio Hour radio programmes – an accolade given to very few contemporary songwriters.

Bob, the Keeper of American Song, would have recognised the spare elegance of the song and the craft involved in creating a wholly believable genealogy of alcoholism.

This is not the testament of someone who has won through.

It is the confession of someone anchored in addiction unblinkingly reporting on the history and daily realities of that condition.

The slowly dropping hours and self absorption of the habitual drinker are superbly evoked as the narrator relates the banal details of how he cooks his TV dinner and the flatly acknowledged realisation that the face in the mirror is the same as that of the father silhouetted in the lighter flame a generation earlier.

Mary Gauthier’s words, sung carefully with a court reporters calm and measured clarity, move beyond prose into the realm of folk poetry especially in the nursery rhyme chorus which hits home with the keening knell of pure truth.

As the silence descends at the end of the song you are left bereft and sadly aware of the terrible imprisoning and yet alluring power, for the prisoner, of such cycles of defeat and pain.

Iris Dement and Mary Gauthier with immense skill show us lives that but for fortune any one of us might have led or might be on the way to leading.

Their visions are not comfortable to confront but to avoid such visions is to impoverish our humanity and our moral imaginations.

So Pilgrim, as you listen remember that everyone you meet today and tomorrow is almost certainly in the middle of a much harder battle than you can see.

I don’t know about you but I’m sure that, wherever it comes from, I need a little mercy now.

Further Listening:

You can’t go wrong with these artists. All their CDs will repay your time with compound interest.

With Iris Dement I would start with, ‘My Life’ before moving on to, ‘Infamous Angel’, ‘Lifeline’ (a deeply moving gospel set), ‘The Way I Should’ and her comeback classic, ‘Sings The Delta’.

I was both impressed and moved by her CD, ‘The Trackless Woods’ from 2015 which Takes the Poems of the great Anna Akhamatova as the foundation for a  series of engrossing Songs.

With Mary Gauthier I would start with, ‘Drag Queens in Limousines’ and then move on to, ‘Mercy Now’, ‘The Foundling’, ‘Filth and Fire’ and ‘Trouble and Love’.

Mary’s latest project from 2018 is the very powerful, ‘Rifles & Rosary Beads’ which she wrote in collaboration with US Veterans and their families.

They are both well represented on YouTube and other sharing sites.

 

The Band, Martin Carthy, Anton Karas : The Third Man Theme

You listen to a piece of music; a song or a symphony and by some miracle of neuro-chemistry it is encoded into your memory.

It may lie dormant there forever more.

Or, it may be a recurring theme in your mind – a faithful companion as you navigate life’s crooked highway.

There is no predicting when a certain piece of music will leave the draughty halls of memory and voila! suddenly be right there playing at the forefront of your mind.

Sometimes the trigger is a person you suddenly think of decades after you last met.

Sometimes the trigger is a return to a place you once lived in when you were young and carefree or young and anguished.

Sometimes you have to accept that the recurrence of this piece of music in your life is like so much else – a mystery.

Why I should have woken up last night with, ‘The Third Man Theme’ dancing through my consciousness is beyond my understanding.

But, there indubitably, it was.

So, nothing for it but to patrol the shelves in my music library (adorned with a framed photograph of Bernard Herrmann) labelled, ‘Movie Soundtracks’ and seek out The Third Man and match my drowsy remembrance with the real thing.

The valves warm up, the stylus caresses the vinyl and …

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I think the dance listening to this tune inspired me to perform must have a long Germanic tongue twisting name but whatever it’s called it sure sets the limbs a twirl and gets the blood singing at 6 o’clock in the morning!

The Homeric Anton Karas and his magic Zither.

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Now, obviously having played the record four or five times without in anyway exhausting it’s charm and effervescent brilliance there was nothing to do but to ascend the spiral staircase to the Film Library and make my way to the, ‘Film Noir’ shelves (adorned with a framed photograph of Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer) and pull out my Blu Ray copy of Carol Reed’s 1949 masterpiece and settle down to breakfast in war torn Vienna with Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli and Trevor Howard.

Of course, scanning the credits (and I’m the kind of person who always scans the credits) I was reminded that a very important contribution to the film’s moral complexity and fluidity of tone and character was supplied by novelist and screenwriter Graham Greene.

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Graham Greene had a cinematic imagination and a compulsion to test how real men and women wrestled agonisingly with the moral and philosophical dilemmas of living through the personal, social and cultural catastrophe of War.

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What made some people behave heroically while others plumbed depths of depravity?

Was survival the supreme value in such times?

What hope is there for love and loyalty and friendship amid the falling bombs, the machine gun fire and the starvation?

Greene had been a film critic and knew that there was only one British Film Director with the eye and the empathy to bring such a story to haunting life on the screen – Carol Reed.

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Reed had been a Film Maker since the mid 1930s and he had diligently learned his trade.

The two films preceding, ‘The Third Man’ –  ‘Odd Man Out’ and, ‘The Fallen Idol’ were both highly atmospheric and technically impeccable productions.

Reed knew how to make the camera tell the story, how to frame actors and action, how to plant suggestion in the mind of the audience, how to build and release tension, how to reveal and obscure character and how to thread humour and surprise through a narrative.

He knew that music, underscoring or prefiguring image, made a film burn itself into the imagination of an audience.

Reed knew that you had to conjure up some scenes which would stay forever in the dreams of the audience and that the key to those scenes was rarely plot but lighting, dialogue, scenery and atmosphere.

Some people, and I’m in that company, will tell you that 90% of ensuring success for a film is casting.

So, your film is set in Post War Vienna where the buildings lie in ruins and where every shade of human virtue and vice is present in public or in the shadows.

You need a, larger than life ‘Villain’ who has enigmatic charm as well as a sulphurous lack of scruples.

Someone who knows exactly what he’s doing and who is always able to convince himself (and most of the audience) that whatever he chooses to do is entirely reasonable in all the circumstances.

These are not normal times – you cant expect me to be bound by those rules we followed before (if we ever did) can you?

You need an actor who has presence, who fills the screen, seducing your attention.

You need an actor who can be a Con Man who believes his own Con.

You need an actor who can deliver oracular dialogue while expertly balancing deadly seriousness with black humour.

You need Orson Welles.

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Now, your, ‘Hero’ is not going to be a charismatic match for Orson Welles (who could be!).

No, you’re going to need an actor who in perilous times is more than tempted by the charms of an old friend.

An actor who struggles to know what’s the right thing to do in all the circumstances.

An actor who is weary and reluctant to act until he’s forced by events to act.

An event like falling in love.

An event like seeing, being unable not to see once seen, how terrible the results of a sulphurous lack of scruples can be for the innocent who didn’t know enough to get out of the way.

You need a Hero who is troubled and who will remain troubled whatever course of action he chooses in the end.

The sound of the bullet dies in the air but it will echo in your soul forever more.

The woman walks past you and keeps on walking and all you can do is draw on your cigarette and start your own lonely walk into the future,

You need Joseph Cotton.

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Every Film Noir has to have a role for an actress who can believably drive or accompany a seemingly rational man as he commits terrible acts which will lead almost inevitably to self destruction.

The camera has to love her.

The ghost of electricity has to howl in the bones of her face.

You’d do anything for her.

Anything.

You’ll never really know her and though that drives you mad it spurs you on too.

She can lead you to the gallows or walk away from you without a backward glance but you know, you know, she’ll never leave your dreams.

Never.

This film is set in Austria after a World War so you’re going to need an enigmatic European beauty.

You’re going to need Alida Valli.

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Assemble all those elements – the script, the location, the cast and the music – and all you have to do now is ensure all the elements cohere perfectly into a work which once seen can never be forgotten.

Begin at the beginning with a title sequence which introduces the mysterious theme tune and the expectant audience, breathless in the dark, is yours – Roll ‘em Carol!

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The Third Man was an enormous box office and critical success and was immediately recognised as a haunting work of art.

And, everyone recognised that Anton Karas’ music was absolutely integral to the triumph of the film as a whole.

Carol Reed had showed astonishing perception in realising that the musician he chanced upon when out for a night carousing in Vienna had a sound that would enchant tne world.

And, it was surely this enchantment that The Band saught to invoke when they recorded their own version for their homage to the music of their youth with the Album, ‘Moondog Matinee’.

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There’s something of the ‘There’s no one watching let’s play what we like’ sound of The Basement Tapes recreated here.

Kick your shoes off, set your rocker rockin’ and light up your biggest grin!

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The Third Man Theme has a hypnotic quality that calls out a cross the decades.

Certainly it called out to Folk Maestro Martin Carthy who tends to not be recognised enough for his distinctively brilliant guitar playing.

Remedied right here Martin!

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To ensure you end up with a great film you’ve got to have a great ending.

The audience leaves the cinema with the ending burned into their minds and looking at the film as a whole in the light of the ending.

Great Films have great endings.

Think of, ‘Le Quatre Cent Coups’, ‘Ikiru’ or, The Searchers’.

Think, above all of the devastating final scene of The Third Man.

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For Ramon – a true man of Film and a true Friend.

Mothers Day – Bing Crosby : Did your Mother come from Ireland?

Well, the answer to Bing’s question is a resounding Yes!

Did she kiss The Blarney? Not literally, but if I have any gift for words, for telling a tale, it comes from her.

There were some stories of her youth in Kerry she must have told me a thousand times or more and yet every time they came up fresh and left me asking for more.

Did she dance to the Kerry Pipers?

She sure did – at Duffy’s in her best dress with her hair dressed up pretty.

Now she wasn’t from Killarney but Killorglin just a few miles down the road – a town she never left in her heart and her memory.

She has been dead these twenty years but not a day passes when I don’t think of her with love and profound gratitude.

On her headstone we carved, ‘All we laughed’ as that was the punchline to so many of her stories and thinking of her joyous laughter still bubbles up.

Joan O’ Sullivan (cracked Joanie) cracked because she was so alive to the humour and crazy joy of the world became Joan Hickey and day after day, year after year, transmitted that joy in living wrapped up in unconditional love to Thom and Ger and Julie.

It’s the most precious gift a Mother can give to her children and she gave it to us unstintingly.

And, as we remember her today she still does.

For Joan Hickey.