How NOT to write about music – 104. Daniel Johnston (live)

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Reprinted from Collapse Board. This was supposed to be the introduction to my Daniel Johnston book (unpublished).


February 2010

Sydney (Monster Children)

The conversation between Loene, Millie and myself went something like this.
“Looks like it’s going to rain. Let’s go inside.”
“Might not rain.”
“Let’s stay in the courtyard. There’s more room here – and look, here are some beers.”
“It’s going to rain. Let’s go inside.”
“Have you seen the line of kids outside? It’s crazy. Let’s stay outside.”
“There’ll be more atmosphere inside. Also, Daniel’s supposed to be playing an art gallery, not a courtyard.”

So it was the three of us stood, hemmed along one side of Sydney’s Monster Children gallery, sweat dripping from every conceivable pore, no microphone except a clip-on one, Millie blowing sweet gales of sound down her saxophone, Loene wrestling tempests from the guitar, as people asked others asked others, “Is this Daniel Johnston? He looks pretty different in real life.” Meanwhile, close on 500 kids queued patiently outside to get a glimpse of some fellow who might possibly be an Englishman, might not, who cares, it’s free and it’s a happening scene.

Shortly after we finished, the gallery owner announced that as there was no room inside Daniel would be performing on the street and please could everyone keep the beers out of sight and not block the road … so Daniel and his guitarist Brett Hartenbach stepped up to the plate, steps slippery, Daniel being passed his lyric book by his brother Dick Johnston, maybe taken aback by the strangeness of the scene, maybe not, who knows with Daniel? Two songs in, and he’d reduced the audience to tears. Two songs in – ‘Life In Vain’ and ‘Silly Love’ – and then he was gone, sloped off around the corner to smoke a cigarette.

Sometimes, all you need is a massive heart and naked vulnerability.

“He can do that, you know,” remarked his brother afterwards. “Make the magic happen.”

Brisbane (Laneway Festival)
Around me stand members of Australia’s alternative rock aristocracy, watching this man called Daniel Johnston perform: the voice of a child wavering and plaintive, shaking uncontrollably. His voice is so at odds with the reality of his 49-year-old physical presence, it’s surreal. People so want to believe in Daniel Johnston – the idea that anyone can achieve their dream if they stick with it, the illusion of infatuation masquerading as love, the innocence and pain and inability to relate to the adult world …

After an exquisite handful of opening numbers performed solo, or just by himself and Brett, the set is full-on blues rock: Sydney band Old Man River supply the necessary licks and postures, as Dan sings aloud from his omnipresent lyric book – a handful of John Lennon covers, ‘Fake Records Of Rock’N’Roll’ from new album Is And Always Was. He does this everywhere he tours – someone somewhere decides on a bunch of musicians to play on his songs: he shows up, no rehearsals. They perform. At least Old Man River have paid him the courtesy of learning his songs. Many haven’t. Songs from the cult 2006 documentary The Devil And Daniel Johnston are performed. He attempts a couple of jokes. He picks up his lyric book and shuffles off without a backwards glance. Daniel Johnston doesn’t hang around.

Earlier, I’d driven the four of us – me, Dan, Dick and Brett – round the winding, leafy streets of Brisbane. Several times, Dan threw back his head and laughed. “I’m having such a fun time today,” he’d exclaim, knowing that a visit to a comic book store, his one constant in an ever-changing world of tour schedules, is soon forthcoming. He laughs. “This is fun, isn’t it Dick?” His colleagues are more enthused by the fact we’ve just visited Walkabout Creek wildlife centre – home to a real live duck-billed platypus – then picking up more comics, but they go along with the joke.

A week later, on the way to Japan, the travelling troupe is fined nearly $1,400 by Jetstar for the extra weight incurred by Daniel’s comics.

Melbourne (Speakeasy Cinema + Prince Of Wales)
“I don’t want to hear it.”
Sorry … ?
Daniel starts walking determinedly, and quickly, down the street.

I shrug, and walk back to where his brother is standing. All I’d tried to do was tell Daniel how I’d tried to show the dragons in Chinatown to my four-year-old son last time I’d visited Melbourne. “Guess you better take this back, Dick,” I say, giving him the $100 note that he’d passed to me. (He’d slipped it to me, under the pretence of me taking Daniel to dinner.)

“Sorry about that, Everett. That’s just how he gets sometimes.”

It had started so well. When I’d arrived at Daniel Johnston’s hotel room the day before, he’d greeted me effusively, like a long-lost buddy, grabbing my hand, talking fast and enthusiastically the way he does: “Hey Everett! Come on in, buddy. I’ve got a load of new comics here! Want to go get something to eat? We could do an interview. You wanna get something to eat? Let’s go!”

So we sat outside the hotel, outside a sushi bar, Daniel scattering most of his food on the pavement for the sparrows, laughing in delight when they took the food. He smoked a few cigarettes, we talked some: about his early recordings which he only ever put on to tape as a way of a thank-you to the handful of art college friends who’d made him feel so special; about his days as a travelling carnie in the mid-80s (where he wound up living in Texas, minus his necessary medication); of the bidding war between Atlantic and Elektra Records that took place while he was institutionalised, that only happened as a result of Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain wearing his Jeremiah The Frog T-shirt; even of a weird incident in the early 00s when a Japanese girl decided she was going to marry him and moved out to Waller, Texas …

We walked back to the hotel, Daniel bubbling and excited.

“Hey, you want to talk some more? We could talk some more! Let’s sit down on the couch right here!” Sure, but shouldn’t we find Dick? Maybe we should go upstairs and find him?

And – all of a sudden – Daniel was like:

“Thank you, interview’s over.”
I know that. I was just saying…
“Thank you. Interview’s over.”
And he storms off.

It made it awkward at the Speakeasy that night. I was supposed to be conducting a live Q/A session with him between the two screenings, and performing another spoken word set. So Dick and the PR colluded to move Daniel outside while I was on stage with Brett – Dick had figured Dan didn’t like the attention being paid to me, and furthermore hadn’t liked the question about his Japanese suitor.

So Brett played some of Daniel’s songs on the guitar while I recounted the tale of my first encounter with Daniel Johnston in front of a large, scarily reverential audience: through my initial shocked, cynical laughter at hearing Hi, How Are You? through my almost immediate conversion – partly because of shared experience: the same inability to cope with girls, the same way we’d used the Beatles songbook The Compleat Beatles to learn and pound the piano, the same love for the same comic books (Jack Kirby, Marvel Comics) – through a strange visit from his ex-manager Jeff Tartakov to my house in Brighton in 1991 when he’d instructed us to hide all the knives and had passed along to me a Daniel Johnston T-shirt with a picture of Jeremiah The Frog on its front…

All this was punctuated by Brett’s beautiful guitar (including ‘The Story Of An Artist’ – a song Daniel never plays on stage anymore), and building up to the incident where I’m having a three-way argument with Kurt Cobain (referred to as “my mother” in the piece)and his wife in LA in 1992: us, mocking his taste in T-shirts and pointing out that folk take notice of what he wears on his chest, him whining that he doesn’t own any T-shirts by bands he likes (aside from the homemade Flipper one, presumably) and me saying, “Look, I have this Daniel Johnston T-shirt, but you have to promise me that you’ll wear it cos it’s my favourite shirt, and really special to me…”

“Yeah yeah , Everett. Of course I will.”

And because Kurt never liked the idea of taking anything for free, he swapped it for a Pearl Jam shirt that featured insults hurled the band’s way by music critics (both he and I despised Pearl Jam). So I wore that, and he wore the Daniel Johnston T, and the rest … well, the rest is right up here on stage next to me, almost physically pushing me aside, now he knows that it’s his turn.

“Thank you, Everett, for that introduction,” he barks.

And once again, the three songs performed – including a truly tear-jerking ‘True Love Will Find You In The End’ – Daniel performs with Brett are magical. The crowd is spellbound, rapt.

“Don’t worry too much about it, Everett,” Brett says the following day. “He sometimes gets like that. He was like that towards me for a whole tour once. And then the next time he saw me, he gave me a massive bear hug.”

Welcome to the world of Daniel Johnston.

 

How NOT to write about music – 103. Daniel Johnston

Here is something I wrote about Daniel for my International Pop Underground series on the Domino Records website several years back.

I cannot write anything else now. I am too sad.

R.I.P. Daniel. I hope you find the peace in death you struggled to find in life.


Hi, How Are You?
(Stress/Homestead, 1983 / 89)

I first heard Daniel’s plaintive, wandering voice back in the late 80’s. My old best friend from my teenage years was round at my house in Cricklewood, London; he wanted to hear something different. So we slapped on this odd-looking record with a picture of a bug-eyed frog monstrosity on its sleeve. Our first reaction: hysterical laughter. Here was a guy clearly so deranged he couldn’t sing properly, couldn’t draw properly (witness the cover art), couldn’t write songs… yet was still allowed to make records. Oh, what a grand jape.

Days later, I listened to it again. My reaction: it reduced me to tears. Taken in solitude, his voice shook with an almost unbearable loneliness and pain; his songs were naive, direct, deeply moving. Not only that, but the way his voice wavered and shook with dysfunctional desire for females he might once have met on the street, and the need to fit into regular society, reminded me of my younger self. When I was 15, 16, I used to pound the keys on my family’s piano for hours on end, playing my Beatles songbook from beginning to end, adding new meanings and words of my own, repeating phrases endlessly, trying to make sense of life and failing, dismally.

Daniel had reached a step further on from my more naive, purer self, though. He wrote his own pain.

I investigated further, and discovered that he used to wander the streets of Austin, Texas trying to sell his home-made cassette albums to anyone he met. That he had been in and out of mental institutions for most of his life. That he had once tried to push a man out a second-story window, that he was obsessed with a girl named Laura who very probably wasn’t even aware of his existence, that he thought some people to be possessed by demons. That there was something deeply disturbing about his personal life.

But hell, I didn’t care about that. It was his songs; his simple, incisive, painfully lonely songs, that I was interested in, that I couldn’t stop playing. Not the freakshow. It was his voice that moved me, his high, almost falsetto quaver that moved me as profoundly as any bluesman of old. Not the freakshow. Daniel loved The Beatles and Casper The Friendly Ghost (his alter-ego); he couldn’t communicate with girls any which way. I could certainly relate to that. I was still a virgin at the age of 23. (No. Not through choice.)

One by one, I tracked down all of his dozen or so tapes. One by one, I bought the CDs and listened to the stories and to the hipsters who had by now picked up on him. Later, I even gave Kurt Cobain my much-cherished ‘Hi, How Are You?’ t-shirt, on strict instructions that he was to wear it in photo shoots, to give Daniel a much-needed boost of publicity, so he could release more songs. This was after Kurt had complained he never had anything decent to wear for magazine interviews. He eventually swapped it for a funny anti-Pearl Jam top and I later received my shirt back. Which was kinda sad, I guess.

And still I wrote about Daniel, about how he moved me, to tears and beyond…

Once, his ex-manager stayed at my Brighton house and freaked out when I laid a knife on the table. Later, he sent me a signed copy of Richard Meltzer’s ‘The Aesthetics Of Rock’ (one of the first rock criticism books) released originally in the 60s, reissued with a Daniel Johnston cover. A few years later, I met the French A&R man who signed the poet to Atlantic and he gave me a drawing or two. A few days later, my bag got stolen from a hotel room I was lying comatose in at the time. I couldn’t believe it. Fortunately, the bag was found abandoned in a nearby bin; passport and Gameboy missing, but drawing intact. Some people just wouldn’t recognise soul even when confronted with it. The A&R man asked me if I wanted to interview Daniel, but I heard he was ill, so I declined…

And meanwhile, acts like Yo La Tengo and The Pastels and Jad Fair and Sonic Boom were covering his songs, sensitively, soulfully, but never as movingly as the original…

And always I dreamed of the day I would see Daniel live, but I was scared; scared that in the flesh he might disappoint, that the assholes who would doubtless be present with me would spoil my excitement, charge my consciousness with the wrong emotions…

And then, one weekend in 1998, I travelled down to Portland for a music conference, more by coercion than design…

Photography: Steve Gullick

How NOT to write about music – 36. Rosalía

rosalia-malamente

I have never viewed it as my task to do research for other people. If I carry out research, it is either for my own benefit – because it enables me to understand music some more: throw a light into the grey: it is amusing – or because I have been paid to do so. I like the music of Rosalía. It seems an age since I stumbled across her (it was in an end-of-the-year list; it was not an age, just a few weeks ago) and now I am content to know that I enjoy her music, and that it soothes me. And that is enough.

Flamenco and R&B.

That’s it. She’s from Catalonia in Spain, she’s 25, she has a grace and style that I find bewitching, she spends a lot of time in hotel rooms doubtless, dreaming. The music sounds steeped in tradition. Interesting it should feel like that (to me). Signals and noise. I first encountered flamenco singing on a visit to Athens, Greece in the 1980s – the heat was oppressive and the noise and fumes even more so. I was tasked with uncovering the English-speaking Greek rock music scene when all I wanted to do was listen to flamenco at open-air concerts and watch the flames flicker, the dancers shift. I know little of the tradition it encapsulates and am content to be watching on the sidelines still, the dancers shifting shape and form around me, ribbons fluttering. The music here is not overstated.

I have little more to add. I wanted to post this up before the end of 2018 because then I could include it within my round-up of 2018 but now that 2019 has rolled in I find myself with little or no interest in writing same. My favourite music last year was silence. (Favourite is not an appropriate word to use here.) Silence. Always silence.

Many people have written eloquently and movingly about their own depression and isolation. I find that when isolation takes you it is easier to write nothing.

How NOT to write about music – 35. Buzzcocks

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What if you’re looking for authenticity in music, what then?

What if you’re confused, lonely, feel ostracised, can’t even begin to understand the unspoken social protocols of boy-girl, boy-boy relationships and teenage love, and you’re looking for ways to interpret and understand your own day-to-day life?

What if you understand that while music may be a performance, it is a performance that cuts far deeper and goes far closer to the heart of its audience than any similar medium (film, television, written) because often it feels like there is no separation between the performance and the performer?

What if music feeds directly into your sense of identity, gives you a reason to carry on – and not just a reason, but it also inspires you, confuses you, lifts you higher than any drug, takes you to another universe?

What if you treat music like a spurned lover?

What if the main time you encounter music is in the bedroom you share with your three brothers; sat next to your tinny, tiny Dansette mono record-player, with the coloured vinyl and beautifully designed record sleeves sprawled out on the floor next to you, hidden away in your own secret world?

What if you are so tired after battling with people and school all day, so burdened by your lack of actual human contact, that your favourite sound to listen to when you get back home early evening is soulful sensitive acerbic cutting two-minute pop songs?

What if you grew up believing there is no difference between pop and punk because of one band, and one band alone?

What if the reason you like or dislike music is not because it is “manufactured’ (what’s that?) or ‘inauthentic’ (what’s that?) or has that special half-second echo on the kick drum or the size of the marketing budget but because of the BEAUTIFUL BRUISED FUCKING GLORIOUS POP MUSIC ITSELF?

What if music is your life?

What if you are seeking diversion and understanding of the sort of fragile relationships you have no hope of entering into?

What if you have long thought that Pete Shelley is way more courageous and imaginative and talented and PUNK ROCK than any of his more feted macho male colleagues?

What if you grow up believing that stars don’t exist, just people – but simultaneously you have Secret Best Friends, people you can ride with out to the heavens?

What if you figure it’s OK to escape to reality, long as you can avoid the nastiness and incessant bullying?

What if you understood that growing up is doing nothing of the sort?

This performance feels real to me, but so the fuck what. Maybe I just love the sight of folk having a good time.

This entry is supposed to be read in conjunction with the previous day’s blog entry.

Favourite male punk band? There was no other.

Related posts: Pete Shelley R.I.P.

Pete Shelley R.I.P.

Pete Shelley Buzzcocks

News is coming in that Pete Shelley, co-founder, singer and principal songwriter in Britain’s greatest ever male pop group Buzzocks, is dead of a suspected heart attack at the age of 63.

First band I ever saw.
The initial incarnation of Buzzcocks (and yes, I’d include ‘Spiral Scratch’ in that, and the three final singles) is about the most perfect incarnation of a pop group ever.
Greatest run of seven-inch singles in the history of pop music.
Greatest run of albums ever.

God damn. Pete, you were so special.

I’m reprinting this from Collapse Board, by way of a tribute.

——————–
Your three favourite Buzzcocks songs | a thoroughly scientific survey

I’ve never properly attempted to write about Buzzcocks. I don’t want to try. I believe their first three albums (+ the three bootlegs I bought at the time, on vinyl) are peerless. I believe their initial run of singles (+ the final three which never really bothered the charts) are exemplary, manifestos to stay alive by. I believe EVERYTHING in their initial incarnation was…. man. I just love it, ok. Every year since ’78, I’ve played them with alarming regularity, continually discovering new things. I can’t decide a favourite album, nor a favourite single, nor a favourite song. The first girl I ever snogged was wearing a homemade Buzzcocks T-shirt (I didn’t snog another for six more years). Their songs… no. I don’t want to discuss their music. It’s too precious.

Here are your votes, culled from Facebook after being given an almost impossible decision – choose your favourite three Buzzcocks songs. None of the ones I voted for are in the chart. I was swamped by the response.

1. What Do I Get?
The Buzzcocks are the perfect mesh of punk and pop, a cleaned up version of the grittier Sex Pistols, but still pretty bratty themselves. Pete Shelley’s voice has a melodic, high-register flair. He sounds downright desperate and pleading on songs like “What do I Get?” and “Ever Fallen in Love?,” but it’s OK because the chunky music that surrounds him is so easy on the ears.
(Amazon.com reader review)

2. Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)
Sometime during November 1977, the band watched the musical Guys and Dolls in the TV lounge of a guesthouse in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was the dialogue “Have you ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have” from the film which inspired the song. The following day Shelley wrote the lyrics of the song, in a van outside a post office, with the music following soon after. The music and lyrics, as well as the singing, belong to Pete Shelley. The song uses the verse-chorus formal pattern and is in the key of E major. Both the verse and the chorus start with C# minor chords (sixth degree in E major), which “give [the song] a distinctly downbeat, edgy feel.” The minor chords and the D-major-to-B-major move in the chorus are unusual for a 1970s punk song, yet they contribute to its ear-catching nature, along with the vocal melody. The verses feature a guitar riff and a double stroke tom-tom drum pattern over the E chord. The vocal melody ranges from G#3 to baritone F#4 in the verses and chorus; in the ending, Shelley hits a tenor G4 and then a G#4. The lyrics consist of two verses (of which one is repeated) and a chorus. According to music critic Mark Deming, “the lyrics owe less to adolescent self-pity than the more adult realization of how much being in love can hurt – and how little one can really do about it”.
(Wikipedia)

3. Boredom
EC: At 16, I liked punk rock. Especially the Buzzcocks. That’s when I started playing guitar, too. I remember the UK fanzine Sniffin’ Glue by Mark Perry. It showed you how to go out there.
GM: By 1979, Edwyn thought punk rock had all gone to shit. It was all idiots. By that point, there was an elitist element about punk, like it was only for those in the know. He was very, very, very strict. The Clash? No. The Stranglers? Absolutely not a chance. The Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks, yes. It was important to take a position.
(Edwyn Collins and Grace Maxwell)

4. I Don’t Mind
Reality’s a dream, a game in which I seem
To never find out just what I am
I don’t know if I’m an actor or ham, a shamen or sham
But if you don’t mind and I don’t mind
I’m lost without a clue so how can I undo
The tangle of these webs I keep weaving
I don’t know if I should be believing, deceptive perceiving
But if you don’t mind and I don’t mind
I used to bet that you didn’t care
But gambling never got me anywhere
Each time I used to feel so sure
Something about you made me doubt you more
How can you convince me, when everything I see
Just makes me feel you’re putting me down
And if it’s true, this pathetic clown’ll keep hanging around
That’s if you don’t mind and I don’t mind
I used to bet that you didn’t care
But gambling never got me anywhere
Each time I used to be so sure
Something about you made me doubt you more
I even think you hate me when you call me on the phone
And sometimes when we go out, then I wish, I’d stayed at home
And when I’m dreaming or just lying in my bed
I think you’ve got it in for me, is it all in my head? Is it in my head?
How can you convince me, when everything I see
Just makes me feel you’re putting me down
And if it’s true this pathetic clown’ll keep hanging around
That’s if you don’t mind and I don’t mind, I don’t mind

5. Orgasm Addict

6. Why Can’t I Touch It?
Buzzcocks were a genius art-punk band from Manchester who mixed lovelorn, spiteful lyrics with jagged guitar riffs and rampantly incestuous pop hooks as they stormed the British charts during the late 1970s. They split up following three, wonderful albums…
(Nirvana: The True Story)

7. Everybody’s Happy Nowadays
“Don’t you wish you were free, Lenina?”
“I don’t know what you mean, I am free. Free to have the most wonderful time. Everybody’s happy nowadays.”
He laughed. “Yes. ‘Everybody’s happy nowadays.’ We begin giving the children that at five. But wouldn’t you like to be free to be happy in some other way, Lenina? In your own way, for example; not in everybody else’s way.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” she repeated.
(Aldous Huxley, Brave New World)

8. You Say You Don’t Love Me
Buzzcocks is a punk band, but the songs on A Different Kind Of Tension embody that titular tension—the group’s desire since its inception to play simple, stupid songs that were neither simple nor stupid. That paradox is central to Buzzcocks, and it’s never as strongly as evident as on this album. The Ramones may have created the idea of bubblegum-plus-chainsaw pop-punk, but instead of feeding ’60s garage rock into a ’70s punk meat grinder, Buzzcocks used the chirpier, harmonically rich songcraft of The Beatles and The Zombies as raw material. The record’s most tuneful example of this is “You Say You Don’t Love Me,” a forlorn, bitterly witty love song on par with Singles Going Steady classics like “What Do I Get?” and “I Don’t Mind.”
(A.V. Club)

Everett, Moz once asked me why I thought ‘You Say Don’t Love Me’ wasn’t a hit (a tune he, later, did live.) I could’ve said it dates from the time when BCs were a dusty file at the back of some EMI filing cabinet in a room to which no-one could find the key. Sadly, that was a couple of years before I could’ve rejoindered: ‘Why wasn’t “Shakespeare’s Sister” a hit?’ Obvs, the former beats the latter. This has been a fun thread to observe, esp. as ‘Ever Fallen…’ is cited only occasionally, while obscured gems are being polished.
(Richard Boon, Facebook)

9. Fast Cars
Ralph Nader came to prominence in 1965 with the publication of his book Unsafe at Any Speed, a critique of the safety record of American automobile manufacturers in general, and most famously the Chevrolet Corvair. In 1999, a New York University panel of journalists ranked Unsafe at Any Speed 38th among the top 100 pieces of journalism of the 20th century. Nader is a five-time candidate for President of the United States, having run as a write-in candidate in the 1992 New Hampshire Democratic primary, as the Green Party nominee in 1996 and 2000, and as an independent candidate in 2004 and 2008.
(Wikipedia)

10. Harmony In My Head
Buzzcocks were the first band I ever saw – Chelmsford Odeon ’78. I was so naive, I thought that the support band Subway Sect were the main band and couldn’t figure out a) why I didn’t recognise any of their songs (I explained that away to myself by surmising that bands live must sound different to bands recorded) and b) why everyone didn’t leave after they’d finished. I was in the front row, smoking a crafty fag: and yes, I did go out and buy a Subway Sect single the following day (‘Nobody’s Scared’). It wasn’t as tuneful as I wanted, but immediately I was loving the lyrics and thunderous drums. Plus, it was half-price.
(Song Of The Day – 336: Subway Sect)

11. I Believe
In these times of contention it’s not my intention to make things plain
I’m looking through mirrors to catch the reflection that can’t be mine
I’m losing control now I’ll just have to slow down a thought or two
I can’t feel the future and I’m not even certain that there is a past

I believe in the worker’s revolution
And I believe in the final solution
I believe in
I believe in
I believe in the shape of things to come
And I believe in I’m not the only one
Yes I believe in
I believe in

When I poison my system I take thoughts and twist them into shapes
I’m reaching my nadir and I haven’t an idea of what to do
I’m painting by numbers but can’t find the colours that fill you in
I’m not even knowing if I’m coming or going if to end or begin

I believe in the immaculate conception
And I believe in the resurrection
And I believe in
I believe in
I believe in the elixir of youth
And I believe in the absolute truth
Yes I believe in
I believe in

There is no love in this world anymore
There is no love in this world anymore

I’ve fallen from favour while trying to savour experience
I’m seeing things clearly but it has quite nearly blown my mind
It’s the aim of existence to offer resistance to the flow of time
Everything is and that is why it is will be the line

I believe in perpetual motion
And I believe in perfect devotion
I believe in
I believe in
I believe in the things I’ve never had
I believe in my Mum and my Dad
And I believe in
I believe in

There is no love in this world anymore
There is no love in this world anymore

I’m skippin’ the pages of a book that takes ages for the foreword to end
Triangular cover concealing another aspect from view
My relative motion is just an illusion from stopping too fast
The essence of being these feelings I’m feeling I just want them to last

I believe in original sin
And I believe what I believe in
Yes I believe in
I believe in
I believe in the web of fate
And I believe in I’m going to be late
So I’ll be leavin’
What I believe in

There is no love in this world anymore
There is no love in this world anymore
There is no love in this world anymore
There is no love in this world anymore
There is no love in this world anymore
There is no love in this world anymore
There is no love in this world anymore
There is no love in this world anymore

I still believe the first three Buzzcocks albums to be the most perfect run of albums I have ever heard. Even now I can’t bring myself to start describing their music – a genius amalgam of Krautrock, sardonic punk attitude, lovelorn lyrics and unstoppable hooks – for fear of dispelling even a tiniest fraction of the magic. Every year, without fail, I listen to those three albums (and all the assorted add-ons) time and time again. And every year, without fail, I feel cleansed for doing so, invigorated, far more able to cope with the detritus and flotsam of life than I had been before.
(Buzzcocks live @ The Zoo, 19.11.09)

12. Moving Away From The Pulsebeat
The big secret is Shelley’s worship of Krautrock’s obsessive focus on repetition and rhythm, which transforms what would be “simply” basic punk songs into at-times monstrous epics. The ghost of Can particular hovers even on some of the shorter songs — unsurprising, given Shelley’s worship of that band’s guitarist Michael Karoli. “Moving Away From the Pulsebeat” is the best instance of this, with a rumbling Maher rhythm supporting some trancelike guitar lines.
(Ned Raggett, All Music)

Also mentioned:
Love You More, Autonomy, Promises

Breakdown, Noise Annoys, Friends Of Mine, Are Everything, Late For The Train

Lipstick, Sixteen Again, Something’s Gone Wrong Again, Hollow Inside

A Different Kind Of Tension, Fiction Romance, Love Battery, Nostalgia, Real World, Time’s Up, ESP

Drop In The Ocean, Just Lust, Mad Mad Judy, Sitting Round At Home, Walking Distance, What Do You Know, I Look Alone, Whatever Happened To, Why She’s The Girl From The Chainstore, You Tear Me Up, Strange Thing, Oh Shit, I Don’t Know What To Do With My Life, Airwaves Dream

AND, AFTER THE FALL

I read a while ago that the major label Buzzcocks guitar sound was arrived at by layering chords which were all slightly out of tune with each other, resulting in a kind of woozy ‘chorus’. That was why they had such a unique sound. The guitars on the new stuff sound like meticulously in-tune indie rock thrashes, and therein lies the problem (the lyrics are too direct, too).
(David Callahan, Facebook)

Wish I Never Loved You

Totally From The Heart

Jerk

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2 Responses to Your three favourite Buzzcocks songs

Chris
April 12, 2015 at 1:15 pm Edit
Why is “Breakdown” not in the top 3? Has to be the catchiest/nastiest thing they ever coughed up.

Geoff
November 5, 2018 at 10:52 pm Edit
Really enoyed this – thanks for posting. Made me think, everyone has their favourite Buzzcocks track but which one actually single sold the most copies? I’m sure I read or heard somewhere that even though ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ was their highest ever chart position, ‘Promises’ sold the most copies over time?

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The most (im)perfect pop band. Ever.

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Bonus tracks

Related posts: How NOT to write about music – 35. Buzzcocks

How NOT to write about music – 34. Little Mix

little mix

What if you’re not looking for authenticity in your music, what then?

What if you’re not looking for ways to interpret and understand your own day-to-day life?

What if you understand that all music is a performance?

What if music does not feed into your sense of identity, but instead serves to distract away from it?

What if the main time you encounter music is during the Radio One Breakfast Show?

What if you are so tired after travelling and working all day, so overburdened with a surfeit of human contact, that your favourite sound to listen to when you get back home late at night to a well cold and empty house is silence?

What if the reason you like or dislike music is not because it is “manufactured’ (what’s that?) or ‘inauthentic’ (what’s that?) or gender-specific or imaginative or has that special half-second echo on the kick drum or the size of the marketing budget but whether it measures up to Bey, to Ariana, to Chicago (the musical), to Mary Poppins?

What if you view music on the same terms as television, as film, as video games?

What if you are just seeking diversion and lip service to the sort of fragile relationships you turned your back on decades ago?

What if you have long thought that Nicki Minaj is way more entertaining and imaginative and creates (I dunno) way more adventurous noise pollution than anything the more feted rock and avant-rock and doom metal and whatever genres have thrown up in decades?

What if you started believing in stars like Lauren Bacall or Katherine Hepburn again?

What if you figure it’s OK to escape to an aspiration dreamworld, long as you avoid the aspiration?

What if you understood that growing up is doing nothing of the sort?

This performance feels false to me, but so the fuck what. Maybe I just resent folk having a good time.

10 Least Read Entries on How NOT To Write About Music

Robyn

1. How NOT to write about music – 2. Mango
By any interpretation you choose to take, Mango rock. It ain’t the kind of rock I sometimes throw your way, no denying – no heavy kick-ass metallic chundering guitars or chundering kick-ass heavy drums or that shit: but the words are enunciated and stretched out at volume with a velocity and fierceness that offsets the jazz-tinged funk with a pleasing counter. (See the way there I smartly separated the two genres?) I don’t really understand the quiet bits but I never really understand the quiet bits, although I do like the way they sound tentative, nervous, concerned they may be out of order.

2. How NOT to write about music – 22. (reprinted from 2015)
I wanted to give something back. So I started writing about music, trying to convert everyone to my cause. Even early on – especially early on – I knew that was a futile quest, but that made it all the more fun. If I didn’t think I could change the world through my writing I wouldn’t be doing it, even now. Especially now. I want to communicate the emotion, the rampant emotions that lead me to dance. I want to make everyone else dance. I barely go out to concerts these days – perhaps one every couple of months – but that’s still the case. I still want to make everyone dance. I still want to change the world. These years, I’m whistling in a wind tunnel, pissing in the billowing ocean.

3. How NOT to write about music – 21: Robyn
Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn.

4. How NOT to write about music – 20. Snail Mail
I got banned from the Crocodile Cafe in Seattle after a Hatfield gig. A few years earlier, I engaged in a Manhattan street spat with Matador Records founder Gerard Cosloy (who know who was chasing who?). Handbags at dawn. Matador, being the home of Snail Mail. Bittersweet with the emphasis on… nah. Let’s not go down that path. Everything is perfect in our imperfect world. Heaven, heaven is a place where nothing ever happens. Something to do with a distrust of the outside world. This music resonates the way this music has always resonated in my world. Makes me think of late night/early morning Sydney taverns.

5. How NOT to write about music – 5. Eminem
Shortly as I was coming up the final approach to Haywards Heath, a new track started up. Didn’t pay too much attention, then I started getting into the nasty-ass lyrics and obstructionist worldview, the steady flow of invective, the aggressive double-speed rap and… damn, I was just loving the flow. I sat there in the car outside my house, engine running, lights on, neighbours beginning to peer out their windows, while the track built inexorably to its cussed climax. I wanted to know who it was (although it was clearly Eminem). I wanted to know what it was. The volume kept building. The invective kept flowing. Damn, it shook my late Thursday evening up.

6. How NOT to write about music – 13. Kate Nash (part two)
If  I was to write a review of the 2018 Kate Nash album Yesterday Was Forever – and it seems unlikely at this stage, I mean why would I? – this is what I would do. Brainstorm, take notes. Collect my scattered impressions of the music and its surrounding context into some form of list which I would then check off as I start to write the piece. Usually I do not even do this as the list forms and takes shape as I am writing… but I am trying to document the process here.

7. How NOT to write about music – 23: Johnny Cash
This Johnny Cash song… oh fuck. This Johnny Cash song I heard a few nights back when I was watching the tail-end of an OK if somewhat overdone (in terms of violence and its own self-importance) movie about a tired mutant nearing the end of his life. I do not know which inspired genius decided to place it right there, at the film’s end: it did not complement the film content – instead it threw the entire movie into stark relief, showed it up for what it was, storytelling that resonates for only as long as the flickering images are there in front of your eyes (like life itself, I guess). You think generations of male filmmakers and storytellers, from Tarantino and Eastwood onward, through Peaky Blinders and the rest of the Game Of Thrones shebang, have not been trying (and failing) to duplicate what Johnny Cash does with such ease here, over the course of a few sparse lines and inflections…

8. How NOT to write about music – 16: Porridge Radio
Three exhibits today. Three examples of an old man railing at clouds. Three shows of weakness, of the reason why music criticism can be such a futile occupation sometimes. (Are Porridge Radio Adele? Are Porridge Radio Sam Smith? Are Porridge Radio Jess Glynne? Am I Piers Morgan?) This is self-evident, except the final exhibit got repeated at several different points in time (named “the greatest band in the world” by Everett True on the strength of half a song) in Brighton and London and Amsterdam to help keep a few bedraggled punters away doubtless.

9. How NOT to write about music – 15: Ed Sheeran
It isn’t so much that Ed Sheeran is shit, when it comes down to it – but the culture that enables him, and through constant use of repetition and reinforcement encourages the general population to believe that his music has some worth or value… You can still buy the book if you want. I have plenty of copies left. Paypal £13 (UK)/£16 (EU)/£20 (rotw) to ramonesfan79@yahoo.co.uk

10. How NOT to write about music – 3. Marianne Faithfull
OK. Here’s a fast pop quiz for anyone interested. Keep a track of the news stories and first reviews running around ‘The Gypsy Faerie Queen’ and Negative Capability – see how many quote word-for-word from the press release in the paragraph above. That is not music criticism or evaluation. That is simple laziness, plagiarism. Yet this is what gets called music criticism the world over.