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The Shortest Song in the World

ND

As a kid I loved playing Mum and Dad’s records on the stereogram. There was always a little zap of frisson as I dropped the needle onto the vinyl, spinning at 33 1/3 RPM, and the speakers would spit and sizzle, and provided the stylus didn’t bounce off, we’d soon hear some music. Not the cold digital tunes of today with their obedient binary code, but some warm, enveloping sounds.

A favourite record was Creedence Gold.  Its track listing is-

Side 1

1.”Proud Mary” – 3:07

2.”Down on the Corner” – 2:43

3.”Bad Moon Rising” – 2:19

4.”I Heard it Through the Grapevine” (Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong) – 11:03

Side 2

1.”The Midnight Special” (Traditional) – 4:11

2.”Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” – 2:39

3.”Born on the Bayou” – 5:14

4.”Susie Q” (Dale Hawkins, Stan Lewis, Eleanor Broadwater) – 8:34

The last track on Side 1, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” mesmerised me. It featured not one but two great guitar solos. The second of these stretched on forever and to my eight year old self was impossibly cool. It was always disappointing when the song faded out.

There was so much happening within it, it was a snaking southern boogie like the Mississippi itself, and I wondered how this huge instrumental break enlarged upon the lyrics, how it connected to the story, and of course, it didn’t. It had no textual meaning.

It just was.

It was beyond narrative, but nonetheless epic. It told me that there was much in the world about which to get excited. There was possibility and opportunities for wild, unhinged self-indulgence. And Creedence Clearwater Revival was from San Francisco, a city that fascinated me.

Long, meandering songs such as this open themselves up to connotation and interpretation; like a novel or a film, and many argue that these marathon songs often possess a cinematic quality.

But how do we locate meaning in the world’s shortest song?

“You Suffer” is a track by the British grindcore band Napalm Death, from their debut album, Scum.  It’s precisely 1.316 seconds long. It’s now over thirty years old. Its lyrics are officially listed as-

You suffer

But why?

However, I must confess, I was unable to detect these unaided. I only heard the lyrics “Raaaah.” I had to find them on the web, probably because rightly or wrongly, my ears have enjoyed limited grindcore listening experience. Like arc welding, I think lyric decipherment, when it comes to micro grindcore, is actually quite a specialised skill. There’s possibly a TAFE, or adult education course in it.

I first came across the song when teaching in Singapore (don’t tell the authorities- they might come after me) when babysitting covering a Maths class one humid, bothersome afternoon. I played the song on my MacBook at random points during the lesson when the pupils- all compliant and sweet, were silently immersed in matters algebraic and entirely unsuspecting. I made a few of them jump. It was the most fun I’ve ever had in Maths. It was decidedly un-Singaporean.

Among other places it’s located on an album called Earache: The World’s Shortest Album which has thirteen songs and clocks in at a total of ninety-two seconds. You can listen to the entire album when watching the evening news, in the advertisement break between, say, the sport and the weather. For our British friends iTunes lists the album for sale at 29 pence. There’s a walk-the-dog and put-out-the-bins pocket money incentive for the kiddies of Birmingham.

So, micro grindcore fans, it’s nice to have visited your world, but I don’t think I’ll stay long, despite it being the funniest song about human suffering I’ve ever heard.

1.316 seconds is more than enough.

 

 

 

 

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On Sunday we went to a lovely lunchtime wedding in a park

bee gees

I reckon for many of us it’s about a decade. It begins in your mid-twenties and drops away as forty looms like a stop sign. I speak, of course, of weddings.

I attended lots of great ones in little country churches surrounded by paddocks of waving wheat, on golf courses, by the beach in Victor Harbor, at large suburban places of worship.

The receptions have been in country footy clubs with the catering done by the matronly pillars of the community, no nonsense women. Pubs, backyards, function centres and more than I can count have been at Ayers House, in the middle of Adelaide which I think is somewhat compulsory if you live here.

One Saturday we had four weddings and as we’d both been given a duty, I went to the one in the Barossa and Kerry, another in the city. She was a bridesmaid and I was asked to do a reading from Corinthians 13. You know the one-

I may be able to speak the languages of men and even of angels, but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell.

Sunday’s affair was special. The boys were invited, and it was their first. The last wedding we’d been to was in Singapore over three years ago at the Fullarton overlooking the harbour and the heat.

It was in a park along the Torrens with the reception in a community hall. It was one of those great days where the sun shines and everyone enjoys it knowing it could be the last time before winter’s rain and cruel wind forces us inside.

The ceremony was lovely and people smiled and took photos on their phones but also held hands and cried when the groom choked up as he said his vows and I paused and thought of the many things for which I should be grateful.

Max sat on the grass right at the front listening intently and drinking in the language, and his special treat of a can of lemonade while Alex sat on the nearby wooden fence looking about the trees and sky but also concentrating.

After the knot was tied the new bride sang along with Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best” which will weld these two together whenever I hear this song. This is the job of a song.

Central to the catering was that most 2017 of experiences, the food truck. Parked on the fresh bitumen behind the hall, folks lined up and ordered Argentinian burgers. We had the steak, the chorizo and the chicken. They were great. Alex had some pumpkin soup, but it wasn’t as good as Nanny’s.

People sat inside or out in the sun on plastic chairs. There was music, mostly from the sixties. I’d finished my lunch and was talking with the celebrant about St Albans and London. On her second glass of Bird In Hand bubbles, from across the table my wife winked at me. They then played one of my favourite all time songs, the Bee Gees, “To Love Somebody.” I wiped a tear from the corner of my eye.

There were other kids and pregnant women and older folks too. A widower got in my ear with lots of detail about the vans and dogs he’s owned, but I didn’t mind. There were reminders everywhere of the richness of life. Max and I went for a walk along the linear path. Alex flopped his gangly self about the playground. For the last hour we sat in the sun on an ornamental rock with old friends who’d visited us when we lived in England.

Around mid-afternoon we drove home through the lazy Sunday traffic and I took the dogs down to the Old Gum Tree where there were two or three gently swirling groups also enjoying life’s landmarks.

It was a wedding. A gentle, affirming wedding.

sun

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Round 10 – Adelaide v Fremantle: The 2013 Wolf Blass Brown Label Classic Shiraz Is Dramatically Better Than The Dockers

fire bucket.png

Fire, footy and friends.

Of course, my wife’s right. She bought it about six weeks ago, from the sausage sizzle hardware emporium. It’s been a great addition to our patio and we’ve had many nights around it. As autumn descends to winter there’ll be many more.

It’s a fire bucket.

Once aflame, a chair, a cup and some company’s all that’s needed.

Among our party tonight are some of my favourite folks, including three girls with whom I shared house when at uni. As you know, there’s a lifelong attachment made when sitting cross-legged on stained carpet, in a daggy rented house in a then pre-gentrified suburb, glugging cask wine by candlelight.

Surprisingly, Josh Jenkins is better in the wet. Our warm, still autumn has not been kind to him. Tonight, the harder the Dylanesque rain falls the nimbler the monstrously-built forward plays. Maybe he’s more whale than herbivore dinosaur. Light on his feet, he finds space, and like Lennon in the Dakota Building seems happier in this dissimilar environment. I was bewildered by his sudden recall, but he does well.

Among our friends is a junior footballer. Jed’s nine. He and our boys burst about the house like joyous thunderclaps. Bedroom, backyard and back. Repeat. About four games into their 2017 season Jed’s team’s been utterly scoreless so far. Not a lonely, lazily rushed behind. Nothing. Happily, no-one’s keeping score and their competition has no cruel premiership ladder. A Sunday afternoon text tells me they scrambled four behinds today. Despite another loss, they’re on the board.

The Honourable Edward A. Betts snaps a goal square major that must be barely satisfactory for him, such is the unchallenging simplicity. Indeed, each of Betts’ majors is registered from the square, away from the boundary lines with which he enjoys a preternatural, endless affinity. Another lashing rain shower jangles on our roof and we’re unable to hear special commenter Mark Ricciuto and his monotone monosyllables.

During his thousand-day absence from the Crows, dual knee reconstruction survivor Andy Otten came to our island home one weekend as a guest of the Singapore Sharks footy club, and provided much curious excitement for the ex-pat urchins. Now back in the Adelaide tri-colours and sporting an Oregonian lumberjack’s beard, he’s enjoying an attractive stretch as an enigmatic forward. Four goals courtesy of his considerable footy smarts is a luminous return.

Again, the brutal rains lash our city, oval and house with a ferocity that reminds me of The Deadliest Catch, save for the Alaskan King Crabs. Instead, we’ve party pies, garlic bread and various processed Germanic meats. It’s comfort food, and I feel decidedly comfortable. Our patio blaze crackles and exerts a happy gravity onto our loose circle of friends.

Wayne Milera’s been hovering on the cusp, and presents well in this Indigenous Round match. I hope his growth continues. With Chas and Eddie, they’re a vivacious triumvirate. They’re huge fun.

At halftime, we bring out a chocolate cake with a solitary candle to acknowledge the recent major birthday of one of our guests, RS Bowden, and we share a 2013 Wolf Blass Brown Label Classic Shiraz, and we nod at our good fortune. Indeed, Wolfgang Blass, AM, is also a dedicated Rolls Royce driver and Norwood fan. I wonder if he and Garry McIntosh have met. As always, his plonk goes terrifically. It’s luscious and at once, atomic and universal, while whispering of our tremendous providence, in a lifted fruit and gorgeously brick dust and ironmongery scented way.

The fire roars on into the wintry dark. Our visitors drive off into the suburban night. The Dockers, now doubtless suffering the troubled sleep of footballers tormented by a coach with more unfathomable psychobabble than constructive game plan.

On an inhospitable night where they somehow registered forty-three scoring shots, the Crows remain top. I have leftover chocolate cake for Sunday breakfast.

wolf blass

 

 

 

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Radiohead and me

headphones

I was a tourist, but also trying to be a detective. We ambled over the bridge and looked down at the Thames, making its quiet way towards London. Naught. In the town centre St Nicolas’ Church surrendered no clues, and I wondered what influence the former MG car plant had with its suggestions of status and privilege.

Abingdon is six miles from Oxford, and we were there visiting friends. It’s the birthplace of Radiohead. Following the requisite pub lunch, we took a stroll. While our hosts knew nothing of the town’s famous sons I attempted some connections. Any signs in the market square that could further decode “Karma Police?” Would Abingdon Gaol’s architecture enlighten my reading of “Pyramid Song?”

Of course, my thinking assumed that art is chiefly autobiographical. We often want it to be. But, was mine a ridiculous quest? Having worked for a decade near Kensington in Adelaide’s east, I’d not gained much geographical insight into Paul Kelly’s back catalogue.

However, it was also a sensible quest, for music is more meaningful if we can somehow make its birthplace enchanted. Landscapes might matter, even for Radiohead, whose existential songs are devoid of setting.

Driving home from Oxfordshire I acknowledge that from a wholly unremarkable village, a remarkable band emerged, as we’d hope.

*

Indeed, it was commuting up Kensington Road past Norwood into Paul Kelly territory (I taught two of his nieces) when on Triple J I first heard “Paranoid Android.” After, Mikey Robbins and The Sandman linked it to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I devoured as a teenager. References to Douglas Adams’ cult novel are infused across the record.

I was spellbound, apprehended by the song’s circuitous, multi-part structure that also announced Radiohead’s dominant theme: the horrors of modern life. They continue to explore this with gallows humour and compelling soundscapes. Perfect through headphones.

That afternoon I bought OK Computer.

*

Arriving in Singapore my wife and I bought smartphones, onto which I uploaded my CDs. I then rambled about that hot, teeming islet, accompanied by some beloved collections, which both isolated me and somehow welded me to those equatorial streets. Now, back in Australia when I put on Exile on Main St, Belle and Sebastian’s Tigermilk or Vampire Weekend’s Contra I’m walking through the thick heat at Robertson Quay.

Great albums present discovery and rediscovery as every track enjoys periods of personal high rotation in which it becomes the favourite. I like these evolutions in my explorations of an artist.

A few Octobers ago, around our Phuket pool, I played OK Computer. Horizontal on my sun lounge I became enamoured with the final song. The waltz-tempo and cathartic rhythm of “The Tourist” deliver a telling full stop to this record of splendor and portent. After a ferocious guitar solo, it closes with a single note struck on a triangle. Superb.

I also recall eating pizza by that pool when a neighbouring family leapt up and scattered. An emerald snake had appeared at their feet, and startled, it slipped hastily over the pavers and climbed a palm. We peered up at it, hanging green on a frond, fifteen feet up like reptilian tinsel. Could a frightened snake populate a Radiohead song? Feature as a symbol of contemporary alienation? Don’t be silly, I thought. Have another heat, the Chang’s getting to you.

*

In a distant Port Pirie winter, we lit a backyard fire and sat about it in black coats. The grey smoke phantomed around and through us while we drank shiraz and stories and music. It’s the year PJ Harvey released Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, but what I remember from this evening is Radiohead’s second offering, The Bends.

I remember “Fake Plastic Trees” and aside from the consciously tautological title I love the soaring atmospherics of the guitars, although now Radiohead hasn’t been a guitar band for two decades. Throughout, Thom Yorke invests his vocals with vulnerability, and this matches the dread and defiance of the lyrics.

The next afternoon I bought The Bends.

*

1993 in a forgotten pub. “So, what do you think about that British band Radiohead? You know that song, “Creep?”

I replied. “Not much. Reckon they’re a one-hit wonder.”

Oops, but who can tell? Radiohead’s debut, Pablo Honey is a turgid mess, and proposes no capacity. However, about this time a blonde leg-spinner took 1/150 in his first Test…

*

I subscribe to Spotify because I love suddenly recollecting a song, and then hearing it within seconds. As a streaming service, it’s brilliant. Nevertheless, it worries me how the artists receive miniscule royalties, such that their yearly dividend may only allow a band to huddle naked around a can of flat Fanta.

I do prefer an artefact: vinyl, CD, even a cassette, but visiting the local K-Mart with three discs by the execrable Pink isn’t worth the free parking. I remind myself to buy a turntable, and return to that dear friend, the past.

A Moon Shaped Pool is the record Radiohead promised to make all millennium. When everyone’s asleep I sometimes listen to “The Numbers” through headphones. Concerning climate change, this track exquisitely combines fragile metaphor, guitar, and tinkling piano. I love a string section, and the urgent stabs accentuate the ominous themes.

Given their form I hope Radiohead continues. The menace of neo- conservativism and dire planetary health means there’s still much for them to ponder.

hitchhiker

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Wichita Lineman and me

wl

In my mind I’ve mapped the itinerary. Of course, a massive RV will hurl us along some of Route 66’s celebrated black ribbon. All the iconic music cities: Chicago, Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans.

On my first sojourn stateside I noticed a Hotel California in Santa Barbara. Just off the handsome esplanade of palm trees and roller-bladers, it was unexpectedly modest. Of course, I didn’t go in because, as the Eagles cautioned back in 1976, the leaving gets a bit tricky.

It may surprise that Kansas is a personal musical attraction, and more particularly its largest metropolis. Why? Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” as performed by Glen Campbell.

Like many remarkable artworks; Mona Lisa and The Great Gatsby spring to mind, it’s smaller than anticipated, coming in at only 117 words, which, let’s understand, might only be part of a Dylan verse, as magnificent as the Noble Laureate is. Webb could’ve penned this song on a beer-coaster.

With only two verses and a fractional refrain, it’s also chorus-free. Each verse opens with a modest personal observation

I am a lineman for the county

And I drive the main road

And then in the second

I know I need a small vacation

But it don’t look like rain

Whilst the song is simple in structure, its meaning is complex, and following each verse’s introductory image we find an abstract idea

I hear you singin’ in the wire

I can hear you through the whine

There’s expert use of alliteration here with “wire” and “whine” as the lyricist announces our central character’s romantic yearning. As many could attest living and working away from loved ones is tough, although the narrative’s about being lonesome, but not lonely. It’s also solemn, but not melancholy.

Like so much in life my “Wichita Lineman” journey is circuitous. I’d always known the song as Mum and Dad had a Glen Campbell record or two, but was alerted again to its genius by REM, who’ve performed it occasionally.

My thinking was that if Michael Stipe liked it then it must be magnificent, and his plaintive singing invests it with quiet elegance. Sometimes we need to come to something through a third party, like overhearing a stranger remark how great your friend is, which makes us smile and remember why we liked them in the first place. From time to time we all need this reassurance.

Sparsely presented but broad in their evocations, the peak of Webb’s craft is

And I need you more than want you

And I want you for all time

Here, he arranges simple words into a profound sequence, and these are among my favourite lyrics. Have you heard anything more romantic?

Rightly called the “first existential country song,” the considered angsts of an electrical worker in Kansas are as instructive as any, but they’re also universal in their poignancy. There’s aching authenticity of voice too, and his earthly investment is real. Someone once said that it’s a song about nothing, but also a song about everything.

Is it country music or a pop song? Probably neither, probably both.

One muggy Singapore afternoon I was with friends in an Orchard Road bar, bursting with American sailors. Drowning their final hours of shore-leave before departing for Iraq, we talked with a few of them. Already some were homesick and missing their family, while others were eager for some desert adventure.

Above the throng a vast TV screen played continuous country music: awful, thoughtless fodder. Think, “Achy Breaky Heart” but without the subtle insights into the human condition, and majestic instrumentation.

Between Budweisers I said, “Hey Colin, have you noticed that every singer is wearing a Stetson?” Considering the televisual entertainment Colin took a swig, and replied, “Yep. Uncanny, isn’t it?” Indeed, the primary musical skill seemed to be the generally accurate and unaided wearing of a hat.

That night there was no “Wichita Linesman.” On the cusp of its fiftieth anniversary it transcends the dusty prairies, and remains suspended above time.

It’s the perfect distillation of hope. Play it to someone you love.

*

I am a lineman for the county

And I drive the main road Searchin’ in the sun for another overload

I hear you singin’ in the wire

I can hear you through the whine

And the Wichita lineman is still on the line

 

I know I need a small vacation

But it don’t look like rain

And if it snows that stretch down south

Won’t ever stand the strain And I need you more than want you

And I want you for all time

 

And the Wichita lineman is still on the line

And I need you more than want you

And I want you for all time

And the Wichita lineman is still on the line

line

 

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Belle and Sebastian: The State I’m In

 

B and S

 

The opening track on Belle and Sebastian’s  debut album Tigermilk is “The State I’m In” and this vignette hosts some memorable characters. I first really listened to it on Karon Beach in Thailand, and often played it walking around Singapore beneath her towering skyscape. The jangling, Byrds-like guitar adds to its sunny glow.

The initial verse contains remarkable personal and family detail, and insight into our narrator’s psychological condition. “The State I’m In” utilises language in clever and complex ways to create vivid characters. The first line’s hyperbole offers humorous, arresting insight into our narrator.

I was surprised, I was happy for a day in 1975

I was puzzled by a dream, stayed with me all day in 1995

These simple, matter-of-fact, year-specific declarations engage the audience by provoking many questions, and the revelations continue through the following verse

I got married in a rush to save a kid from being deported

Now she’s in love

With this we learn that he’s compassionate, and even self-sacrificial, but then wonder who the girl’s now in love with: is it our narrator, or another? He then recounts another relationship in which he has been vulnerable: that with the priest whom takes his admissions, breaks confidentiality and the Seal of the Confessional, and turns these into art

He took all of my sins and he wrote a pocket novel called

“The State I Am In”

By the finish of the opening stanza’s confessional intimacy we’ve learnt of the family’s dynamics, challenges and history courtesy

He stood up with a sailor friend

Made it known upon my sister’s wedding day

We then hear the final affront where his highest authority hesitates before belatedly accepting our narrator; no wonder he’s in a despondent state

So I gave myself to God

There was a pregnant pause before he said ok

His self-loathing finds pathetic and final expression in the song’s last verse

            Now I’m feeling dangerous, riding on city buses for a hobby is sad

The language used in the lyrics is deceptively simplistic, but depicts vivid characters.

With this complex domestic context established our protagonist, or possibly antagonist, reveals in a striking act that shocks

I was so touched, I was moved to kick the crutches

From my crippled friend

Is this truth, or is it a comedic device; a strange metaphor? Certainly its oxymoronic nature invites deeper thought. Should we be horrified, amused, or both? Subsequently the narrator confesses this act of violence, and events take another unexpected turn with the priest acting immorally.

We find dark humour in the idea that a religious figure would steal a story and publicise it in a novel. Little wonder that our main character is disturbed! With this development the song title is invested with wicked irony that generates sympathy.

This powerful vignette catalogues key moments in the narrator’s life as he seeks purpose and meaning. The final image offers a positive picture of one, troubled as he is, wanting to do earthly good. There’s poignant use of circularity with the repetition of previous detail

Lead me to a living end

I promised that I’d entertain my crippled friend

My crippled friend

Expertly using first person perspective, the lyricist provides understated descriptions to provoke us, and our reactions encompass the witty, the sad, and the frightening. Belle and Sebastian have created some vivid characters, and this song invites deep contemplation.

 

karon

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global revolutions

globe

 

I love a globe. There’s simple joy in being hypnotised by the cascading sweep of the Americas, contemplating the distant familiarity of England, and contending with innumerable Stans where once was the muscular bulk of the USSR.

Ah, seduced by a sphere.

For my birthday Mum and Dad bought me a standing floor globe, and Sunday morning Max and I assembled its dark wooden frame before slotting in the tilted ball. Max gave it a spin.

Ocean. Land. Giddy revolutions. Ocean. Land.

Like the best gifts it’s made me reflect.

Alex and Max often chat about the wider world, and as they engage with the possibilities, their curiosity is comforting. Globes encourage this.

“Alex, how deep is the Marianas Trench?”

“Really deep. You couldn’t even touch the bottom.”

And last year, walking by the Singapore River-

“Max, when we’re older, like probably thirteen, Joseph and I are climbing Mt Everest. We won’t even need any oxygen tanks.”

“No oxygen tanks! Really?”

As a kid I had enchanted possessions. The tape recorder and accompanying best of Little River Band cassette I received one Christmas; my first cricket bat- Polyarmoured, and now resting in a cupboard at Mum and Dad’s, and a yellow, wooden skateboard. But, in our house in Kapunda the globe of my childhood held quiet and enduring power over me, like a mystic. Globes conjure memories, and are gateways into our future.

From his Nanna and Poppa Alex also got one for his eighth birthday. With eyes widening he ripped the wrapping paper from the box then hopped about the room with delight. His globe came with a touch-activated light, and when the boys are in bed, it cloaks their room with a snug glow. Living in a corner, it watches over them, a silent sentry as they sleep.

As an adult how did I survive so long without a globe? For too many years my homes were without one; emptier dwellings surely dulled by their absence, and now we’ve three, offering buzzing invitations to our planet’s mysteries and marvels, and voyages and stories. Our imaginative power is enhanced. They’re as essential as milk and I love turning them gently like a monk, fingers on the thermoplastic joy, meditating on unknown places, and the promise of drenching wonder.

Globes urge consideration of yourself, and the bustling world, waiting for you, just outside.

For our boys, I hope as much.

Thanks to Mum and Dad for their gifts of globes, over many decades.

 

tape recorder