December 9th, 2004


Some Of That Which Pør:g Has Taught Me - Part One Of A Most Occasional Series

In the last journal entry, I made a comment about arriving back at the point at which I'd go out and buy a Jethro Tull album.

I think I learned a fair amount from Jethro Tull. I first encountered them through Bursting Out, a recording of a 1978 live performance, that I watched on TV one evening at home. Now, what was it I liked about them? The temptation to filter memory presents itself here. Make one's excuses ("I was fairly young at the time") and leave. I liked the acoustic guitar playing, I enjoyed the flute, the theatrics of the performance, most of the tunes. I ordered a copy of the album by mail order. I still have it somewhere. Actually it's in an attic in Oxford with hundred of other records. Which may just have been sold by now... Oh dear.

I then started buying other records by them. The first was Stand Up, I think I bought This Was next and then Aqualung. After that it was Living in The Past, Benefit, Heavy Horses, Passion Play, Minstrel in the Gallery. That's it I think, hang on, Songs From The Wood.

LESSON ONE: Musicians have a back catalogue and the band members and sound change over the time. The earlier stuff often sounds fresher.

LESSON TWO: I like the folky stuff more than the rock numbers. I'd like to learn how to play guitar like that.

LESSON THREE: Popular music can be complex.

LESSON FOUR: There's nowt wrong with making a fool of yourself on stage. It doesn't have to be so earnest all the time.

I was probably pre-disposed to like Tull, after all, I had played in a medieval consort for a year. I'm sure many of us self-censor our choice of music over the years. Yes, the first album I ever bought myself in a shop out of choice was a collection of Elvis' 40 Greatest on Ronco. The second album I bought was a recording of the Sun Sessions. I had a bedroom with pictures of Marc Bolan and David Bowie on the wall. This is retrospective cool. But I had no sense of a canon as such. There was just music I liked and music I didn't. I think it was only at 13 that I realised that your musical taste was not supposed to be so cross-genre. I didn't know what genre was. You learn the hard way. I decided that the punk-loving people were far more intriguing than the classic rock crowd. The Tull albums began to gather dust back home as my tastes began to follow a more predictable NME-dictated stream of artists.

LESSON FIVE: Your old records can be deeply embarassing.

LESSON SIX: Learn to laugh derisively whenever pør:g is mentioned.

A few years pass, the flush of pubescent testosterone is supplemented with something as distantly exotic as red leb. Spacing out becomes an option. Well, dub, obviously, but there's other avenues. Spacing out is fine, as long as the music cannot be directly connected with the hippy coffee-drinking crowd and seems more to do with the avant-garde. So, Eno is fine, as is Bowie (again), Velvets, Krautrock makes its appearance. Punk, to New Wave softening with English whimsy. Those Crass records are gathering a little dust themselves. I start listening to Mahler (Virginia Astley! I remembered her on Saturday) alongside Heaven 17, I might even just concede that early Pink Floyd are worth a listen. But please no Wall, Dark Side... Blah, blah, blah...

LESSON SEVEN: Remembering one's record collection and previous tastes is a constant exercise in historical revisionism.

LESSON EIGHT: Smoking dope can improve some dreadful records.

I did once listen to the Tull albums again (at home!) and recorded the ones I still liked onto cassette, which were almost all from the early period. The thought of them hasn't really occurred since then. I suspect self-censorship of a sort. I don't know much about pør:g apart from the party line I swallowed those years ago. It's easy to like the German experimental wing as I can also make a point for King Crimson, they had Robert Fripp for a start. Roger Dean album covers prevent me from appreciating Yes and similar groups. My feelings on Rick Wakeman are available on some past entries. When I find playful experiment in music, I'm happy these days. Formula bores me outside of tradition. I have grown to love folk music over the years and I do think that's from that liking Jethro Tull. As to what folk music is, well, that's a question for another time. I streamed various Tull songs on Saturday. I still like them. The ones I like that is. Those others, oh no, sir, no, no, no...

LESSON NINE: There's nothing wrong with capos.

LESSON TEN: Keep going.

I've never been at all embarassed by liking Kate Bush. Had Jethro Tull been a unattainable object of sexual desire, it might have been a different story all together. I look at myself in the morning mirror. Aaargh! J'accuse...

Cold Mountain

I was reading a copy of the Evening Standard yesterday afternoon in the Blue Posts. Not this one in Soho, this one on the edge of Chinatown. It's nice and quiet in the afternoon and, most joyously, it's where the barman and some other staff from the much-missed King's Head on Gerrard Street . I'll make it my West End pre/post cinema regular for its unassuming atmosphere, let's hope the clientele becomes as curiously random.

I was a little taken back by the news of Nigel Ockenden's murder in Tbilisi. Early in the morning, he was shot in the back at home. Nothing stolen, no apparent reason for his shooting. It's perhaps selfish to think of oneself at such times, but if Georgia is to escape from its possible fate of just being a US-protected cash-cow oil corridor with some decaying Soviet-era factory towns attached, it needs to address this issue of real terrorism in Georgia. The everyday threat and not the imagined exotic. I've already made it clear just how much I liked the country and I'm tempted to travel back for Easter in place of Syria if that makes entry into America easier. I can understand this sort of thing happening in Svaneti or similar [although on reflection I suspect that the Svans are fiercely protective once they know you], I'm a bit taken back that it's in Tbilisi. I guess that's not so surprising, these sort of idiots are drawn towards the money, except this doesn't seem to have been about money. Then it must be honour, machismo, feiskontrol at the barrel of a gun.

Ockenden had previously taught in both Poland and Mongolia and his reading list is still up at Amazon. He seems an intelligent sort and not the type to have trodden on cultural sensitivities. I can see myself here in this list of his. Perhaps he had a drink somewhere, someone didn't like the look of him or his friends, someone almost certainly in the requisite black leather jacket and too fast to anger. Some in Georgia, I know, might be looking to blame some Chechen or Ossetian. It's unlikely, who knows. The war in Abkhazia certainly did nothing to lessen trauma in Georgia. For all the wonderfully cultured and intelligent people there, for all the tradition of hospitality, I guess there will always be unpredictable psychotic men (and it will be men, you can be assured). It's sad. Ockenden strikes me as the type of foreigner I'd have been glad to have met in Georgia, rather than some of more zealous Peace Corps people I encountered.

I've been meaning to stitch together this picture [click to enlarge] of Mtatsminda Zamemba [or is it Gergeti?], a church above Kazbegi up towards the Russian border in the Caucasus for a while and I now have the technology. Yes, I certainly could fiddle more with various contrast and masking options to make it a more seamless and dramatic picture, but it reminds me of the experience rather than creates it. I wonder if he ever managed to make it there.