Posts Tagged ‘ Past ’

The desire lines on a mythical map or the art of complicating simplicity.

My first band (as regular readers know) were called Mythical New Underground. As curator of our story and our ephemera it should fall to me to write this retrospective. Indulgent? Yes. Merit of said piece? Well it gives an insight into the progression of music over the last quarter of a century. So, here we go. Mythical were formed back in the summer of 1994; grunge was still on the throne, yet fading after the death of Kurt Cobain, Britpop was gathering a full head of steam and music was still a viable industry. We gathered ourselves together during the death throes of our local scene. Band such as Little Sally’s Dead, The Haggard and Genital Mishap has been and gone and it was from the ashes of  latter that MNU were formed. We were out of step with the music of the time playing a hybrid of punk/thrash/ reggae/ska with finicky rhythms and changes. The guitar player and I were from the hinterland of two bigger towns: Kildare and Newbridge and it was from Newbridge that the other members hailed. 

We were dreamers, all musicians are and our music was ambitious both in terms of scope and lyrics. We wanted to change our world. Ireland was still a drab country largely known for terrorism and Catholicism. Socially conservative but morally bankrupt. There seemed to be little hope of change. I can only speak for myself but I wanted to write music that would change things and I wanted to be a professional musician. Back then the record companies controlled the flow of information, they owned the means of production and the majority of musicians were on the outside looking in. We practiced in sheds, standing toe to toe with shovels, buckets, toolboxes and paint thinners. We had a small PA and cheap guitars. We made a glorious noise. That summer was magical. I felt like I had arrived. We managed to bag gigs. In hotels, in the back rooms of bars and we’d bundle into an old post-office van to get there and play. Booze flowed after. Life was good. We recorded in a small studio and produced our first demo: Newspeak. We were in thrall to Orwell, 1984 was a reality and the state could not be trusted. Four songs made the cut: Start a Revolution, Concrete, Proof and Confessions. Our names inside: Poggy (Vocals) Byrnie (Drums), KON (guitar) and Head (bass). It cost 60 quid. It is muddy but it is ours. 

Released in 95 we were soon to lose our singer Poggy. There was a wilderness period but we ploughed on. Songs were written which are now lost to time. Some I remember and others are gone for good. We did replace Pog at first KON took to the mic and then with a guy called Derek. I can’t remember his second name. Our friend Murf played as a second guitarist once. We could have carried on but Byrnie left for the States and KON and I wound it all down in ‘97. That was that(I’m leaving out details because somethings should remain private). How many bands have a similar story? All the dreams give way to reality. The search to be recognized gives way to a deeper love of the music. Bands of my youth flash before my minds eye: Brinskill Bomb-Beat, Cuinus, Arnheim, Scum of Toytown, Coitus, The Blue Babies, Striknein DC, SMH etc etc. bands that meant so much. There are nameless others each with their own story. 

Flash forward to 2008: we reformed for a one off gig for Pog’s 30th it is raucous and rowdy and it lifts us up and onward to the next phase of our life. It is fun and we all think that is that for a second time. 2018 roles around and we celebrate his 40th and we do it again. We are older and wiser. We can harness the energy, know when to rise and when to fall. How many times do you get to play with your first band again? To weather the storms of 24 years of history. Not often. We are lucky. The gig is modestly attended but that doesn’t really matter. It’ll be the last time…until Pog’s 50th. 

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A whisper in a storm

Did you know
that everything we ever were
was only a whisper in a storm?
A candlelight in the pouring rain?
That when you pick over it
nothing real remains
Do you know?

All those words
and all those empty pages
were only childish wishes
the ink is all gone dry,
Everything is gently stained
with all the lies we said
nothing else remains.

Thinking bout it now
ain’t it funny how we see
that you belonged to you
and I belonged to me.

Be honest
and admit it’s a game we played
let’s tell each other there will be another
and go our own way.
That means letting go
coz we can’t be the same
dragging our hearts around in the rain.

A dimming

Long the road
hard the head
you and I
share this bed
take the blame
hide these feelings.

Hardest truth
is your eyes
the rain that falls
whispered lies
little heart
beats no feeling.

Never said
never tried
what is shame?
Our little lives?
Try again
keep believing

It’s a swindle…

imageFor a band that changed so much in our music and culture the Sex Pistols have, by and large, been ill-served on the movie front. Shortly after the band split The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle (directed by Julien Temple) was released. In many ways it is a fun film and offers some great footage of the band. There are classic scenes of the chaotic US tour including such highlights as Sid whacking a guy over the head with a bass and, of course, Lydon’s parting shot on the San Francisco stage where he looks out and says: ‘Ha ha ha, ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ Steve Jones plays a Philip Marlowe like character, albeit a foul-mouthed version as he fucks and blinds his away around England and Brazil. There are oddities aplenty, Ronnie Biggs (a train robber, then on the run and living in Brazil) is shoe-horned in for no apparent reason and an most bizarrely mentions of ‘who killed Bambi?’ which is never explained (it comes from an earlier script). However, it is wrapped in a narrative which creates the impression that Malcolm McLaren (their manager) was some great puppet master that pulled the strings behind the scenes. The band are reduced to a play-thing for the machinations of their malevolent manager. It becomes little more than an ego-stroking exercise. What is rather ironic is that in the fictitious telling of the story whereby McLaren wants to make the band out to be anti rock n’ roll his story makes them the most boring rock n’roll cliche. He destroys the bands power; he reduces them to a cheap carry-on farce and robs them of any real potency. All that is left is the cartoon version of the band, the one that can’t play, the one that pukes all over the place and the one that was essentially a boy band created to sell clothes for Malcom’s infamous shop, Sex.

Sid and Nancy was directed by Alex Cox and was released in 1986. Gary Oldman stars as the doomed Sid Vicious but just like the aforementioned Swindle the characters are reduced to caricatures. Oldman does a great job with the material as does Chloe Webb in her role as Nancy Spungeon alas, the rest is shocking. Lydon is portrayed as a bean-eating joke,one that is is jealous of Nancy. Steve Jones and Paul Cook are just in the background but criminally when Cook is shown he is an idiot that for some reason the band don’t like. Verisimilitude is absent from the gig scenes, punks with day-glo Mohawks are pogoing about despite the fact Mohawks weren’t to arrive on the scene until the 1980s, Poly Styrene, half Somalian lead singer of X-Ray Spex is transformed into a white woman and it all just seems off. Again, the potency of the band is neutered.

In the end maybe a fictitious telling of the Pistols story is impossible. If you are interested in their story read Lydon’s No Irish, No Blacks,No Dogs and Anger is an Energy, Glen Matlock’s I was a teenage Sex Pistol and Steve Jones’ Lonely Boy. Three films I would recommend are Don Letts The Punk Rock Movie, DOA by Lech Kowalski and The Filth and Fury by Julien Temple. Get off your arse.

They flutter behind you, your possible pasts

image

History is a strange discipline. Is it the study of the narrative of humanity or is it the study of the motivation of the individual and how said individual collides with the colossal events that press against him or her? In ways it is both (and at another level it is neither, since the past no longer exists it means history is conducted in an ever occurring present, a present in which we impose our standards and mores onto the past in an attempt to make sense of our present, but then I digress). Some people believe that history is the study of facts. Facts such as Napoleon had a height complex, Marie Antoinette said ‘ let them eat cake’ and the Duke of Wellington, embarrassed about his Irishness, claimed ‘Being born in a barn does not make one a horse’. Incontrovertible facts! Of course the three facts I have mentioned are absolute rubbish as Napoleon was of average height for a European male at the time, Marie (known affectionately by her subjects as The Austrian Whore) never said anything of the sort and it was Daniel O’ Connell that made the whole barn and horse claim. As Mr Gradgrind explained in Hard Times ‘You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them’.

Ah the Victorians, they looked for certitude in a world and universe where they felt displaced and history became about facts and facts and more facts. They were wrong mind you and the reason is simple: human beings have feelings and each and every one of us experiences this world differently. Even if two people watch the same event they do so from a different angle both in a physical and emotional sense. We can establish the fact that an event occurred on a certain date etc these things are not up for debate (or are they? Of course they are! We are forgetful creatures) but emotions and feelings get in the way. Thank God they do. What are we without them? We are a glorious mess of all we have learned. Flawed and beautiful, biased and blessed. In many ways history is a giant gossip session about the way people, as groups and individuals, behave. If we remove human agency what are we? There can be no certainty. We cannot discern the future from the past and we cannot remove our emotions from that past. Everything we have done right, everything we have done wrong remains part of us. The trick, I suppose, is not to be bound by it and not to be controlled by our story/stories. When we read about an event in history we should, I would argue, remember the very real people behind the event. There is a great moment in Oliver Stone’s biopic of Richard Nixon and it occurs just after Nixon decides he will have to stand down as president of the United States. Nixon looks up at a portrait of JFK and he says: ‘When they look at you they see what they want to be. When they look at me they see what they are.’ It isn’t a fact but when I watched that film and heard that line I was never able to look at Richard Nixon the same way again. It encapsulates history for me: humanity is one big flawed mess looking to better itself even if we often fall short of that aim. The history book on the shelf isn’t always repeating itself but we are.

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