Saturday, December 09, 2017

Shovels and Rope's 'Busted Jukebox Vol 2' and it is great. Like Shovels and Rope-scale great. Which is really great. Really really great.

Shovels and Rope are husband-and-wife duo Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, based in Charleston, South Carolina, and they deliver dirty, sweaty, and insanely beautiful, in turn or all at once, country/folk/bluesy rock with more than a dash of punk attitude.

The magic of Shovels and Rope is their raw energy, combined with often soaring harmonies and wrapped in sheer joy and love for what they do. They sound like Angels from Heaven, but one's who've just escaped Hell. They're beautiful, but singed.

Playing just guitar and drums, and occasionally keyboards, swapping between the instruments mid-show, they are really a band to see live to get their full value -- their records are great, but it's hard  for a recording to fully capture the live dynamism.

That is not to say a new Shovels and Rope record is not a cause for wild celebrations coz it definitely is. There should be street parties. Public holidays should be declared. They won't be, because we are all governed by pricks, but they should be.

So what could be better than a new Shovels and Rope album? Well, it seems the second volume of their covers project, whereby they collaborate a different artist on each track., as with Busted Jukebox Volume 2, which was released on Thursday and which you can and indeed should purchase here.

In all honesty, I didn't full expect that. It follows on from Busted Jukebox Volume 1, where they also recorded a series of covers with other artists.

And that was good. I mean I doubt Shovels and Rope could do bad if they told them their lives and the lives of all their loved ones depended on it. Among other highlights, their version of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understand?" is transcendental. But it never grabbed me as hard as their original music

I'm not sure exactly why I feel Busted Jukebox 2 is different, but it is. It is not just a pretty good record done well and interestingly: every track sounds like a revelation. They take well known songs and turn them inside out, or just add fresh layers and new elements that create a different, but often profound impact.

This is a record features everything that is great about Shovels and Rope... then adds to with a different awesome singer/performer added to each song. They manage to give each track a unique feel with different singers brought it, yet their sparkling performances always makes it sound like Shovels and Rope. It sounds fresh, evocative and full of wonder.

Here, you can also listen to each track with interesting notes specifically written by Shovels and Rope at.

It is hard to know which tracks to highlight as I really like them all. Their version of Faith No More's "Epic" is one of the more interesting. Featuring Lera Lynn (possibly the only good thing about season 2 of True Detective), it is a significant re-interpretation of the song.

However, I've chosen to highlight three other tracks that give a good feel for the vibe -- including,  naturally, their glorious version of the Clash's "Death of Glory" featuring none other than Hayes Carll (who I may have mentioned on this blog once or twice). I post them below, following a playlist of each track on the album.

With a new Shovels and Rope album,t he only thing that will make this week better is if, tonight, the Western Sydney Wanderers do the unlikely and beat Sydney FC in the derby.

A cover of a song by post-rock art-rock band from Iceland, Sigur Ros, Shovels and Rope noted: “A lot of people might not know the original version of this song but it is a beautiful, floating, anthemic soundscape by Sigur Rós."

As brilliant a songwriter as Leonard Cohen was, he often lived up to his reputation as "depressing". This song, which vacillates between declarations of being determined to prove love and admission of failure, comes with more colour and life here than the beautiful but typically more downbeat original.

In their notes, Shovels ad Rope had these lovely words to say: “Hayes Carll was the first guy to take us out on the road when we had absolutely nothing going on. He taught us a lot about what’s important and what’s not in this business and on the road. He’s one of our favorite songwriters and human beings and we owe so much of what we’ve been able to build over these last six years or so to his kindness and generosity.

“We wanted to do a slinky, swung version of this song where we traded off verses and just had some fun with it; loose and raucous. It still sounds like punk rock, but with cowboy boots.”

The full playlist:

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Happy birthday Tom Waits!

On December 7, 1949, the man who was to become best story-telling songwriter ever was born "in the back seat of a Yellow Cab in a hospital loading zone and with the meter still running. I emerged needing a shave and shouted 'Time Square, and step on it!'", according to an early record company press release, which is about as likely true as anything else Tom Waits has ever told the world about his life.

To celebrate, here are six relatively randomly chosen songs!

'Hey Charlie, I'm pregnant...'

'Sane, sane, they're all insane...'

'Well with buck shot eyes and a purple heart, I rolled down the national stroll...'

Well she's up against the register with an apron and a spatula...

'Got no time for the corner boys...'

'It's dreamy weather...'

'You're the head on the spear, you're the nail on the cross...'

Monday, November 27, 2017



Hugo Chavez is speaking

To thousands of tired youths

On youth's energy

Creating a future

Without disgrace.

In contingents 

They listen

'Youth are an Atomic explosion

Greater than Hiroshima

To create,

With revolutionary power,

A new world.'

Somebody hands me a phone

I am in Caracas

My sister in Perth.

The president speaking.

And she says:

'It’s Justin.'

And I know.

I am in the future

Talking to now

Where gay men die

Aged 24

By their own hand.


Yes... a fucking poem. Not a joke poem. I usually restrict myself to joke poems out a self of basic human decency.

But I wrote this when a facebook friend specifically asked me, after I made a joke about no one paying for my poetry, to write a poem about "Utopia", coz why have a simple topic. 

So I figured, seeing as I wrote it, this Godforsaken blog might as well be subjected to it.

It is about the  2005 World Festival of Youth and Students, an annual gathering of thousands of left-wing and progressive youths from around the world, that was held in Caracas that year. I was there with a "solidarity brigade" from Australia. 

At the opening of the event in a huge stadium in Caracas, then president Hugo Chavez address probably tens of thousands of youth from all over the world, divided into contingents by country. Chavez had only recently declared the goal of the Bolivarian revolution he was leading must be "socialism of the 21st century" -- and that this should be the goal for the whole world, lest we face extinction. This was the basic tenor of his festival speeches.

As Chavez spoke, one of the brigade organisers took a phone call on their mobile and somehow my sister had gotten through. I had been very sick and in hospital. First of all, the private hospital I was taken to just milked me for travel insurance cash, putting in antibiotics that made me sicker, and I was pretty ill.

The doctors in charge were white, upper-middle class and hostile to the government. When they weren't around, the dark-skinned nurses declared themselves Chavistas. There is a photo of me somewhere, sick as a dog on an IV drip, with two nurses, all of us with our fists raised.

Eventually, the supporters of the Chavez government and the pro-poor Bolivarian revolution who were looking after our brigade brought in a couple of the Cuban doctors working in the poor communities in Venezuela due to a deal with the Chavez government, where they staffed the free health clinics. The Cuban doctors, careful not to speak in front of hospital staff so their Cuban accents didn't give them away. (they were were hated by the private health doctors). 

They looked at the charts next to my bed, declared I should definitely get out of there or the mistreatment could kill me, and so, still so sick I needed to be on a drip, the unhappy hospital had no choice but to discharge me.

I was taken to one of the new clinics in a poor area run by the Cubans providing free health care to the poor -- the fact that, as a journalist for Green Left Weekly, I was there in part to report on clinics like the one I was now lying in seemed to bring endless amusement to the medical staff. 

Compared to the lush private hospital room, it was austere. Just three beds on a concrete floor and the food, and I use the term loosely, was bought from some nearby streetvender. But whereas I got worse in the three days in the private hospital, here, I got better over the next three days, and, being discharged,was handed the medicines I needed, no charge.

While still recovering, I logged in to check my email for the first time in ages. My sister wanted to get in touch urgently. Someone else, with no connection to my sister, also wanted to get in touch with me urgently. I couldn't for the life of me think what possible common issue would have both desperate for me to get in touch, but I was in Venezuela for a couple more weeks. It was clearly gonna have to wait.

It waited until that stadium in Caracas when I was handed the phone while Hugo Chavez spoke of youth in the forefront of a global revolutionary transformation. Justin was my best friend. I spoke about him a little bit here a couple of weeks ago in relation to different issues. 

There is a lot that could be said on the topic. I wasn't there, I hadn't spoken to him for months, I don't really understand the circumstances. I didn't go to his funeral or memorial as I was half way around the world. I am not sure if that is better or worse.

The main thing I take away is that "Utopia" only has meaning in relation to the darkness of today. 

I promise don't intend to keep being so serious fucking thing. I've been to serious lately, what with pieces on the death of Irish comic Sean Hughes, heartfelt ruminations on homophobia and 

Justin would walk away from me in disgust if he know I'd written a fucking poem.

Regardless, here is a song by Lucinda Williams, who has something of a tendency to write about this type of thing (this is the new version she has recorded of this track, originally released in 1992). Her lyric, unshockingly, make better poetry than my effort. 

Then again, Lucinda Williams wasn't standing in the stadium in Caracas listening to Hugo Chavez urge the  a new world, so it certainly isn't the same. Still she can fucking sing this story.

See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world
The breath from your own lips, the touch of fingertips
A sweet and tender kiss
The sound of a midnight train, wearing someone's ring
Someone calling your name
Somebody so warm cradled in your arm
Didn't you think you were worth anything...

Millions of us in love, promises made good
Your own flesh and blood
Looking for some truth, dancing with no shoes
The beat, the rhythm, the blues
The pounding of your heart's drum together with another one
Didn't you think anyone loved you...

Saturday, November 25, 2017


There are definitely some bad things in this Godforsaken world, but there are some good things too.

On one hand, Donald Trump (probably inspired by Australia) is fucking over refugees, seeking to abolish Internet freedom and escalating actions causing runaway climate change. On the other, there is a reasonable chance his administration could provoke a nuclear war with North Korea and thus end our suffering.

On one hand, the Western Sydney Wanderers have scored in every single first half of their games this A-League season. On the other, they have conceded in every single second half, condemning us a seemingly endless stream of infuriating draws.

On one hand, Tom Waits has not released a new album since 2011, on the other his brilliantly remastered version of 2004's Real Gone has just been made public!

This is very exciting news from the greatest living songwriter and innovative performer. I have a soft spot for Real Gone. Coming out a year or two after I fell in love with Waits' music, it was his first album I bought when it actually came out. Original and innovative (his only album without piano and featuring beatboxing at points) it remains one of his more underrated offerings.

It is also his most political -- and sadly the brilliant anti-war tracks "The Day After Tomorrow" and the the savage "Hoist That Rag" have not got less relevant. In fact, with a landscape of permanent war  (and with the US occupation of Afghanistan now its longest overseas military conflict ever), the sheer timelessness of "The Day After Tomorrow" (written so it could be about any war in history) feels even more poignant.

And let's not even get started on the 10 minute epic of "Sins of the Father", in part a take down of the corruption, venality and incompetence of the then-Bush administration. That is a situation that has only, somehow, degenerated even further.

Announcing the release, Waits' website says of the remastered product: "Some of the new mixes are radical transformations from the original versions and the whole album crackles and steams with fuller intensity and more vivid intimacy."

JamBase says:
Utilizing the original master tapes, Waits and his longtime collaborator and wife Kathleen Brennan prepared the updated version of Real Gone. The new edition is said to be, “a rare look into the creative process of the influential artist taking an opportunity to re-investigate a pivotal work …"

You can hear it at Spotify or stream or buy it here.

And ... well... it sounds fucking amazing. The sound is universally richer, often it feels like more space s have been created the mix or in some places a bit of a jazz vibe created. Other times, entire different sections are either brought out in the mix or seemingly added in. 

The remixing varies in its impact from turning "Shake It" into significantly different (and improved) track, to adding whole new elements at crucial points to expand the sound of already strong tracks (like "Hoist That Rag", the album's stand-out song that now features a horn section that creates a great interplay with Marc Ribot's awesome guitar playing, or "The Day After Tomorrow"), through to songs that sound only lightly touched, like "How's It Gonna End" or "Dead and Lovely".

Overall, it sounds fantastic and there isn't a song made weaker by the process. An already good album has been improved.

Best of all... THIS IS JUST THE START! His 2002 albums Alice and Blood Money have also been remastered and are ready to be released. Next month, a remastered version of Mule Variations is set to come out. So keep an eye on

And OK sure, an album of all-new music would be even better. But you can't have everything BECAUSE THAT'S JUST HOW THE WORLD WORKS, KIDS.

You can have great remastered versions of entire Tom Waits' albums, but then again the world will also keep being destroyed by corporate parasites and also there is still no new Tom Waits album since 2011. So just take what you can while you can because you'll soon be dead, and by "you" I mean the entire planet.


While Australian singer Nick Cave ignores the pleas of Palestinians and plays Israel, Tom Waits has taken a different path.

Waits has re-recorded the piano to his hauntingly melancholic classic "Innocent When You Dream" for British artist Banksy to use at his art installation in the West Bank -- the "Walled Off Hotel", which has the "world's worst views" as it looks out straight onto Israel's Apartheid wall.

Consequence of Sound explains:

Waits re-recorded “Innocent When You Dream”, from his 1987’s Franks Wild Years, to be played aloud at the piano bar at Banksy’s West Bank hotel. He explained in a statement, writing, “The Irish are no strangers to strife and division, and Waits selected this Irish tinged waltz because of its lyrical and wistful mix of regret and dreams for a world without walls.” 
Watch a video of the song being played aloud here.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Margo Price's NPR show the day after Trump won. An emotional, but defiant performance by awesome, rising and political country singer

This NPR "tiny desk" features country singer Margo Price on November 9 last year -- the day after Donald Trump was elected. Yeah I know it is over a year ago now, but I've been busy! With many things! Such as drinking, living in denial at the coming destruction of the last remnants of human civilisation, and not listening to Margo Price's NPR tiny desk show from November 9, 2016. It's been fucking hectic.

Over the past few months I've come across Margo Price and she's great. She has been making waves with music that, unlike much of what dominates country radio, is actual country music, stories of of pain and resilience filled with heart. Naturally, Nashville has little time for her, but she is part of a new wave of great women country singers outside the Nashville mainstream, along with the likes of Dori Freeman, Kristina Murphy (who I literally first heard today but already love) and Sarah Shook.

Price's NPR desk show was obviously always going to have to relate in some way to the rise of Trump, but its no real surprise she openly took it on (the notes from NPR below the clip explain the context). Price is explicitly, but not heavy-handedly, political (as an example, two of the three tracks at the NPR performance were not written as political songs, but took on political dimensions with Trump's win.)

Price is political in a way that gets label in the US as "liberal", but that label doesn't do it justice. This isn't about partisan party politics -- with the Democrats putting in a poor showing anyway of actual progressive politics -- but ordinary people and their interests in the fact of systemic inustices.

The show was recorded a few months after after her impressive debut album, Midwest Farmer's Daughter, last year. The album won many accolades and debuted at number 10 on the US country charts -- the first time a female artist has debuted in the top 10 with her first record.

She has since released her second album, All American Made, it is even more political -- filled with anger and defiance as she takes down institutionalised sexism from a working-class perspective on tracks like "Pay Gap".

It goes beyond shallow liberal anti-Trump stuff with gut-level response to systemic injustice. The title track, although it explicitly refers to and ironically inverts Trump's "make it in America" rhetoric, was written before Trump's win. It swings from general points ("everywhere I go, somebody puts e in the dirt") to references to historical events like the Iran-Contra scandal under Reagan in the 80s.

This is not about Trump dropping from the sky, but being an product of modern America -- he is, himself, very much all-American made. It is further evidence to the emptiness of prejudices that country is a reactionary genre.

And, like the debut, it also has some great country songs about pain of love gone wrong, and features a duet with Willie Nelson. It broke into the top 10 US country, folk and indie charts.

Price is the sort of artist that gives hope for popular music in general and country music in particular, as a vital creative force with some reason for its existence, that can relate to the world around it.

The clip, which features the title track for her latest album and two tracks from her debut, is below, followed by NPR's notes.

Bob Boilen | November 28, 2016 — When I greeted Margo Price in the NPR garage before her Tiny Desk performance, tears were streaming down her face. It was Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, the day after the 2016 election. For her — as for many Americans — it was a stunning and bewildering moment in time, a day when life and the everyday took on new meaning. And so when she and her band began to play "All American Made," a song she's sung many times before, those words about America's changes and failures in the 21st century seemed even more powerful. Margo Price is a Nashville-based musician, the sort of country artist that captures the hearts of those both inside and outside the country-music scene. Her debut album, Midwest Farmer's Daughter, is one of the brightest moments in country in a very strong year. As this Tiny Desk progresses, even "Four Years Of Chances," her song of a love gone wrong, feels less about a lousy husband and more about presidential politics. She dedicates her third and final song, "About To Find Out," to Donald Trump; she says it was originally written about a "musician acquaintance of mine who's a complete sociopath." When the song ends, she rips open her red cowboy shirt to reveal a T-shirt with the words "Icky Trump"— a play on the title of The White Stripes' song "Icky Thump," which criticizes the U.S.'s immigration policies. She smiles, wipes a tear away: It seems cathartic, but temporary. Midwest Farmer's Daughter is available now: iTunes: Amazon: SET LIST "All American Made" "Four Years Of Chances" "About To Find Out"

You can see also see a longer show with full band in front of live audience.


Here is an upbeat, cheery track all about exploitation and systemic sexual harassment of women in the industry and in general!

In this town everybody's trying to get a piece of everybody else
It gets hard to tell a real friend from a fake one
So many promises, favors, and lies
Most of the town wears a good disguise
And even I, too, have been known to wear one

As the saying goes, it's not who you know
But it's who you blow that'll get you in the show
And if that's not the case I hear you pay 'em
But I don't come easy and I'm flat broke
So I guess it's me who gets the joke
Maybe I'd be smarter if I played dumb

I can't count all the times I've been had
Now I know much better than to let that make me mad
I don't let none of that get me down
From what I've found this town gets around

Now the very first manager I ever had
He was old enough he could have been my dad
He took me out for drinks and talked a big talk
He said, "darling sign on the dotted line
You know, "kiss my cheek and drink this wine
But if you walk on me, then you can just walk

I can't count all the times I've been had
Now I know much better than to let that make me mad
I don't let none of that get me down
From what I've found this town gets around

When I first came here the streets were paved with gold
And you can walk that road, I've been told
But I won't put out or be controlled
I don't write the shit that gets bought and sold
Ask any man
He might know
Who used to live on Music Row
But that was then, and this is now
He told me this town gets around
From what I've found this town gets around

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Yes vote was a great win, so here's a couple of sad songs by LGBTI country singers about love gone wrong to celebrate

Celebrations in Sydney. Photo: Peter Boyle/Green Left Weekly.

They say nothing good ever happens, but events yesterday sure put paid to that! Yes, I got a ticket to Alabama's "alt-country"/Americana superstar Jason Isbell! I cannot fucking wait! You can check out this recently streamed live show of Isbell with his band the 400 Units from the famous Ryman Auditorium in Nashville to see why this is really fucking exciting news.

Also, the results were released of the non-binding survey on whether to support marriage equality in this country and it was a decisive victory for "yes" in a rare win for humanity, equality and basic fucking human decency.

(For the record, Isbell tweeted his support for Australians voting "yes" early in the campaign.)

It is a strange feeling, in this godforsaken nation, to feel positive about anything relating to the cluster fuck that passes for "politics" here. But after an unnecessary voluntary postal plebiscite (coz obviously in 2017 there is no other way to resolve an important issue than mailing out ballot papers with prepaid envelopes via a largely defunded postal service) and a fucking ugly campaign by the well-funded, Christian fundamentalist-driven no campaign...

... the vote, with a turn out of 79.5% of registered voters, was about 62% "yes", with clear majorities in all state and territories.

As a non-binding survey -- why would you spend $122 million in taxpayers money to resolve something definitively -- it does not resolve the issue in-and-of-itself. But it makes it a political certainty in some form, and a bill is expected to pass parliament by Christmas.

This has made a lot of people very happy. You can see some of them below, in the Green Left TV footage of the moment the result was announced to thousands of people in Sydney's Albert Park.

No doubt it has made a few people sad, mostly people called Miranda, Tony or Lyle. I won't show you them because there's too much misery in the world already.

So finally, Australia can catch up with famously socially progressive nations like Ireland and that country that gave Donald Trump the keys to the White House in allowing same-sex couples to marry, if not fully resolving all issues such as legal discrimination for trans people in various fields.

It may not be perfect, it may have taken an unnecessary toll on LGBTI people, but still.... if a win like that is not worth celebrating, I don't know what is.

And I know how to celebrate!

With Guinness!

With whiskey!

And sad country songs!!!

There is no occasion I can think of in which decent country songs about love going wrong are not appropriate, least of all a situation which is, after all, a celebration of love!

Now, country music has a reputation as some sort of uniformly socially backwards form, but it isn't. There is all sorts of country music, including by LGBTI performers. The mainstream country industry can be very conservative, and many just see that as the entire genre, as though you could reduce rock music to Limp Bizkit or Billy Joel, or hip-hop to, I don't know, Vanilla Ice....

So here are a couple of good country songs by a couple of LGBTI singers. Because love is love, as they say, and it frequently fucking hurts!

'I'm drinking water tonight coz I drank all the whiskey this morning. Drank the whiskey this morning, coz my baby, she ain't coming home...'

This is a fucking sad song. You see, "last night she went up to the bar, said she met some big country star". This country star is, apparently, "like [country legend] Dwight Yoakam". Not is Dwight Yoakam, which might be easier to take, merely sounds like the guy. And she's gone having "taken every last one of my good years". God, no wonder Sarah Shook is on the whiskey in the morning.

Listed last year by Rolling Stone in a list of 10 New Country Artists You Need To Know, when she isn't spending her mornings drinking whiskey, Sarah Shook is an openly LGBTI performer and civil rights activist from North Carolina, who has won an award for her work in promoting a Safe Spaces initiative in Chapel Hill, NC.

'It took 19 years to find her, and three years to make her mine. We had four good years of loving, but it only took two words to break her heart...'

Oh God, Melbourne-based country-blues singer Cash Savage knows how to pull out a gut-wrenching vocal.

In some ways, this is less "country" country than Sarah Shook. With Savage's bluesy voice over a driving banjo, it has bit of a bluesy folk vibe more than straight up "twang". But it definitely has a country soul -- ie: misery over love gone wrong.

As to marriage equality, Cash Savage never waited for any bullshit plebiscite. She married her partner, magazine editor Amy Middleton, a while back.


And yes, OK... I guess I might as well throw a couple of "happy" and "positive" songs in the mix.

'Aint gonna reference no lonesome road, I confess my affection has grown and grown. I'm in love!'

Here, Cash Savage sings to the glories of love in a song that is almost a spiritual experience. Soulful doesn't being to describe Savage's vocal style, and on "19 Years" and "I'm In Love", she shows how perfectly capture both extremes of that crazy fucking thing called "love".

And ok, this one below is not country nor is about love, at least not in an individual sense. This is a song by Gossip, fronted by LGBTI singer Beth Ditto, about LGBTI defiance in the face of the then-Bush administration's attacks on her community. It is... well it is defiant and on point.

'Standing in the way of control, we live our lives....'

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Lest we forget... when working people had real social power and the right resorted to a coup

Protest after Gough Whitlam was sacked by the governor-general.
As November 11 is Remembrance Day, so it is worth remembering that on November 11, 1975, the elected government of Australia was removed in a coup against the only truly left-leaning reforming government this nation has had.

After media attacks and economic sabotage and blackmail from the economic elites, the means was the "reserve powers" of the unelected governor-general operating as the representative of the British monarch. Governor-General John Kerr, in conspiracy with the Liberals, overthrew Gough Whitlam's Labor government and dissolved both houses of parliament,

In many ways, what the Whitlam government did was not that radical, but it can feel that way today. After a couple of decades of conservative rule, amid the general social upheaval of "the Sixties", Labor swept into office in 1972 and introduced free education and universal health care, legislated equal pay for women and Aboriginal land rights, withdrew Australia from the Vietnam War and diplomatically recognised the People's Republic of China, among other socially progressive measures.

This feels almost revolutionary after a couple of decades of neoliberal "counter-reform", but in many ways the Whitlam government also showed no desire to serious upturn the status quo or challenge the system. A symbol of this was the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in the dying days of Whitlam's government.

A leaked document showed Australia's ambassador to Indonesia Richard Woolcott said Australia should support it as a better deal over oil in the Timor Sea could be struck if East Timor was rule by the far-right Indonesian military dictatorship, rather than by the left-wing, anti-imperialist Fretilin party who ruled the newly independent nation. 

It could be said Whitlam's government had more pressing things on its mind at the time, but Whitlam continued publicly supporting Indonesia's occupation -- as did Labor right until its the end in 1999, suggesting it wasn't just the confusion of those hectic days at play.

The "Big End of Town" eventually turned on the Whitlam government amid economic chaos. In doing so, they confronted a powerful, highly organised workers movement -- probably at the height of its powers. The threat of a general strike against this right-wing assault on democracy was in the air, and strikes and protests broke out spontaneously.

Below I have posted a great song, "The Ballad of '75", that captures the mood in those days. It is by the Sydney-based Celtic punk band from the '80s, Roaring Jack -- led by the fiery Scottish-born socialist Alistair Hulett.

The song captures the contradictory sense of anger and confusion ("Drinking in the streets gave way to doubt") , but the most striking thing from our 21st century vantage point is the description it provides of the organised power of working people in those days.

This is spelled out in the song's opening scene, in a matter-of-fact way. The song is sung from the perspective of a young worker in an oxide plant in the then-working class area of North Fitzroy. When word comes that "they've given Gough the bullet", the workers simply walk out. 

Bert Gilchrist told the gaffer because Bert Gilchrist had the clout
He said, "They've given Gough the bullet and the lads are walking out"
And we walked right off that job while the gaffer held the door
And watched it on the telly in a TV rental store

The power relationship is described clearly: A shop floor militant "had the clout" and the boss ("gaffer") is reduced to holding open the door as his workforce files out.

We could talk a lot, no doubt, about the way this social power at the time was deliberate not used, sidelined, by the Bob Hawke-led ACTU, and the way this helped shift the balance of forces towards the right and opened the way for the Liberals to defeat Labour in the elections Kerr's double dissolution brought on.

But I think it is worth noting this power, as it's so far from our reality. Today, what the song describes would be highly illegal trade union action accompanied by six figure fines on any union that dared to try it (the CFMEU have in recent years walked out over safety, and that is exactly what they got, along with threatened jail sentences for union members).

The union movement has shrunk dramatically since 1975, from over 50% coverage to less than 15% today. That is real power lost -- and not just in formal rights, but actual social power.

For instance, in 1969, when a militant left-wing transport union leader Clarrie O'Shea was jailed under anti-union laws, the largest national strike post World War II won his freedom. The unions are in no condition for a repeat of that today  -- though new ACTU secretary Sally McManus, among others, is trying to  rebuild some of this power (which is why she is such a bogey figure for the right wing).

I think this social power of working people helps explain the sacking of the Whitlam government. The "Bert Gilchrist's" of the world, and the song's narrator, were emboldened by Whitlam's government.

The Malcolm Fraser government came in with the aim of undermining this power, but the union movement was strong enough to blunt much of the attacks. A much more complex process, where by a Hawke-led Labor government in the 80s signed an "Accord" with unions, made bigger gains in opening up a process of weakening union power, followed by the direct confrontations of the Howard years in the '90s and 2000s.

But for now... lest we forget there was a time when working people were so strong in this country, they could walk out at a whim -- and the powerful forces of the status quo had to launch a coup to remove a government they identified with.

I remember the day I was no more than a boy
Working in an oxide plant at the back of North Fitzroy
Bert Gilchrist told the gaffer because Bert Gilchrist had the clout
He said, "They've given Gough the bullet and the lads are walking out"

And we walked right off that job while the gaffer held the door
And watched it on the telly in a TV rental store
It was one hell of a situation, the kind you just can't gauge
There was Gough on the steps of parliament house saying now maintain the rage

In the year of the double dissolution
Drinking in the streets gave way to doubt
Australia voted in a revolution
Then stood back and let the fat cats push it out

There was violence in the air as I walked back home that night
Everyone you'd meet was getting ready for the fight
Saying "If they're out for trouble then trouble's what they'll get
We started out a colony do they think we're a colony yet?"

But as the weeks went by the anger turned to mild relief
Locks were freed like magic and I watched in disbelief
To see a scam so blatant so jacked up and full of holes
And the people in their thousands endorsed it at the polls

Some said they had it coming some were closer to the mark
Who spoke about conspiracy sinister and dark
But history records it and the story will be read
How we let them take democracy and stand it on its head

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Hayes Carll covers Guy Clark's "Magnolia Wind" and I might have to eat my words

Well, earlier this month, unable to stop listening to John Prine and Emmylou Harris's cover of Guy Clark's classic country folk song "Magnolia Wind", I chucked it up on this very blog and opined: "If there is anything more beautifully moving than Emmylou Harris and John Prine singing Guy Clark, I don't think I want to know."

Well, little did I know that Hayes Carll, whom I may have mentioned before on this blog once or twice, was going to step up and release a special cover of the track less than two weeks after my post.

Now, I don't want to suggest the reason for this was my post. I am not saying Hayes Carll religiously reads my blog and took my comments as a challenge. Obviously, i cannot prove this.

But he did once "like" a blog post of mine on Facebook defending him from Steve Earle's stupid insult, when I tagged him in it. So, you draw your own conclusions, that is all I am saying. I am just presenting the circumstantial, some might may say damning, evidence.

The key point is Hayes Carll has just released a cover of "Magnolia Wind", which is awesome news. "Magnolia Wind" is a really amazing song, as so many of Clark's songs are. Tender, poetic and heartrendingly beautiful. And Hayes Carll has a voice raw and broken enough to invoke its tension between melancholy and wonder, a song about love and its inevitable end.

Below is Hayes Carll's version recorded live on Youtube, and you can also do the decent thing and purchase it on iTunes.

You can hear John Prine and Emmylou Harris's cover and Guy Clark's original All three versions are incredible, but I stand by my original view that the Prine/Harris duet is pretty unbeatable. Hayes, if you are reading this as no doubt you are because I am not deluded at all, I still love your version and grateful you recorded it! Keep up the awesome work!

I'd rather sleep in a box like a bum on the street
Than a fine feather bed without your little ol' cold feet
I'd rather be deaf, dumb, and stone blind
Than to know that your mornings will never be mine

I'd rather die young than to live without you
I'd rather go hungry than eat lonesome stew
It's once in a lifetime and it won't come again
It's here and it's gone on a magnolia wind

I'd rather not walk through the garden again
If I can't catch your scent on a magnolia wind

If it ever comes time that it comes time to go
Sis just pack up your fiddle Sis pack up your bow
If I can't dance with you then I won't dance at all
I'll just sit this one out with my back to the wall

I'd rather not hear pretty music again
If I can't hear your fiddle on a magnolia wind


Friday, October 20, 2017

Sit Down, Have One More (or: The Kiss Of An Alcoholic Always Tastes Minty)

Sit Down, Have One More (or: The Kiss Of An Alcoholic Always Tastes Minty)

They say too much booze can kill you
Yeah well so can not enough .
I'm fast drinking and slow thinking,
Why the hell can’t I pick up?
You sure you won’t come home with me?
I promise I won’t throw up.
Yeah sure, too much booze will kill you
But then so will not enough.

Well I kicked that drinking habit
but the goddamn thing kicked back.
You see, my love has gone away
And they won’t be coming back.
Without you I'm drinking for two
Someone must pick up the slack.
Yeah I kicked the drinking habit
Then that fucker it kicked back.

I'm at my best after three drinks
At my worst just after four.
Hey, where do you think you’re going?
Come on, sit down, have one more.
There’s nothing on TV tonight
And no one is keeping score. 
I'm at my best after three beers
At my worst just after four.

And I wish that I could love you
But I swear it don't feel right.
Now, you're call me a poseur
Coz you know that I can't fight.
Well my favourite pose is standing
But that’s harder late at night.
And you know I'd love to love you
But I swear it don't feel right.

And too much booze will kill you.
But not tonight, it won’t
Not tonight.

Posted for Sean Hughes.

* * *

Yes, I know. That thing is sort of a poem, only it has a very basic rhyming structure that surely no poem does, not these days. Not that I know much about poetry. And it is sort of a set of song lyrics, only not set to music or with a chorus or probably many other things.

It is really intended as spoken word and I wrote about 15 years ago, when I first started to listen to a lot of Tom Waits, which is probably obvious as it is more or less something I think I imagined delivered by a Waits-esque character circa-1976's alcohol-soaked Small Change.

Though I wro it so long ago and barely think about it, or the small number of other lyrical-type things I've bothered to write, I've been thinking it about since Irish comic Sean Hughes died of cirrhosis of the liver aged just 51.

Coz that the is obvious irony in that poem/song/thing, of course. Too much booze does kill you, maybe not tonight but some night, like October 16, 2017, in a hospital having a cardiac arrest while getting treated for liver disease, if you are Sean Hughes.

And I am aware I am writing about this on a blog called "An Alcoholic's Guide to Modern Life" with a tag line "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are drink". I guess I just fucking love irony.

One thing about Sean Hughes was he also wrote poetry, like in a way I would never really dream of doing. Serious poetry, like the now-widely reported on poem "Death" that featured in 1993's Sean's Book.

I don't know almost anything about poetry, so I can't judge it, but some of it seemed alright to me, some seemed pretentious, but I don't really know. Sean Hughes could be quite earnest when he wanted.

It is not that I haven't published a lot of poetry in my time, right here on this blog! But, with titles like "I KILL YOU  NOW FUCK OFF AND GET ME A DRINK", this stuff is really too genius to even mention among poetry in general. Like it operates on a whole other level of brilliance that is beyond mere mortals (such as the Nobel Prize for Literature judges who keep ignoring me).

I am generally not interested in mortal poetry, even my own. Fuck, especially my own. the rare times I try to write it seriously, I do my hardest to seek to forget the fact.

But in honour of Sean Hughes, I will do something I have never done — and post here something poetry-related that I wrote seriously. Feel free to go to his funeral and heckle him about this point.

I will also note a piece Sean Hughes wrote a couple of years before his death on alcohol. He had quit drinking, then started up again.

The piece, entitled The fine line between drinks and 'proper' drinks, discusses the tragedy of alcohol in society, especially Irish society. Particularly noticeable is the suggestion he makes that his friends welcomed his return to drink as "the old Sean is back" — it is worth pointing out that this is his interpretation, not necessarily an accurate account, but it isn't hard to imagine.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sean Hughes changed comedy for my generation and he can't be dead, it's beyond stupid

A friend posted a link on the "Very Long thread" on Monday. This is a Facebook thread on my wall that has been going since September 20, 2013 and has generated more than 230,000 comments since, hence its name.

Friends comment on it about all sorts of things, with the sole aim to increase the comment count so we can eventually win some sort of prize. I mean, surely someone out there offers prizes for this kind of thing.

This link was a news article whose headline said Irish comic Sean Hughes had died, aged 51.

It is rare a headline that genuinely causes me to double take, then stare in shock. I am the fucking international editor of Green Left Weekly and we specialise in presenting the worst, most depressing news to the world, which, surprisingly, is largely indifferent.

I didn't even open the link. I did obvious thing and checked Twitter. Sure enough, people were tweeting that Sean Hughes was dead at just 51. Complications due to cirrhosis of the liver. I thought Hughes had quit drinking, but it seems he did for a bit, but went back on it.

Jesus, I looked hard at my beer reading that. Hell, I'm looking at the beer I'm drinking right now, thinking: "You bastard... your kind killed Sean Hughes!" (Still drinking it though, I mean it is already open and booze aint cheap.)

These are my two favourite Sean Hughes' jokes:
"I read that they've just arrested six Muslim men in Birmingham under the terror laws. Is this ringing ANY bells? I don't want to alarm anyone, but if you're Muslim and live in Guildford, don't hang out in fours."
"I had very liberal parents, they insisted I call them Bob and Marge. I don't know why, it wasn't their names or anything."
The first joke is paraphrased from when I saw Hughes' in Sydney in about 2006, and refers to the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four — Irish people tortured, then framed up and jailed for years for bombings they had nothing to do with, of which the current treatment of Muslims bears more than a passing resemblance. The second was part of his stand up in the early 90s and features in an episode on Sean's Show.

They represent the two extremes of Hughes' comedy, combining his capacity for biting social commentary with silliness —a stupid joke made funny by the cheeky, almost innocent way he'd deliver it.

It is difficult to describe what Sean Hughes meant to a certain section of people, people who were young in the early 90s and whose introduction to comedy that was raised almost to an art form came through the likes of Sean's Show, Hughes' groundbreaking anti-sitcom whose two series in 1992/93 was almost hypnotically hilarious. (A kind soul has just uploaded season 1 on youtube and Hughes himself uploaded season 2.)

Australia was blessed to have it shown latish at night on ABC TV. In my house, we somehow managed to record on VHS the final episode of season one, which to this day I rate as among the funniest half hours of comedy I've ever seen. Me and my sister watched it endlessly, over and over. I can still recall many lines.

(Sadly, one I remember is his repeated declarations, in the face of things going wrong: "I'm only 26!" In hindsight, that was already past the halfway mark of his life.)

For season 2, we were better prepared, and more was captured. He had a running joke that every time the phone rang, of quickly putting jazz on his stereo, then picking up the (toy) phone and waving it in front on the speakers before saying into it "Sorry, I'll just turn down the jazz!" As is his follow up in episode two of "What, God? I told you to stop calling!"

And there was his way of ending a phone call, seen in season one: "Bye-bye, bye-bye" offered cheerfully into his plastic toy phone.

Sean Hughes holds a slightly odd place in comedy. He exploded onto the British scene as a young Irishman, winning the much-vaunted Perrier award for his debut stand up show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1990 — at 24, he is the youngest comic ever to win it. He broke ground for Irish comics. This predates Father Ted, much less Black Books and Dylan Moran, among others who followed.

His show was different to most stand up of his day -- more conversational, with an arc. That approach is common, even the norm, these days.

Also, he made a point of bringing things outside the mainstream into his TV show, at a time when it wasn't normal. It doesn't seem unusual now that his TV show talked a lot about The Smiths (including the immortal line, "Everyone gets over their Morrissey phase... well, except Morrissey"), or that he wore a Nick Cave T-shirt in one episode, or had The Cure appear or had Pulp play in the background in a nother episode (in 1993, a full two years before "Common People" made them well-known).

This is why it can be hard to evaluate genuine trailblazers years after the fact -- looking back, what they did seems unexceptional and, without knowing the history, an observer thinks "well, that's not bad, but what is so special about it?"

Hughes was a transitional comic -- his impact was tied to a transition in comedy and he marks a sort of part-way point. He also played that role for me personally, and no doubt many others, opening the door to a different way of understanding and appreciating comedy. (He also, for better or worse, introduced me to The Smiths.)

Although it wasn't the first to do it, Sean's Show broke the rules of sitcoms, tore down the fourth wall and turned the fact that it was a sitcom into a joke itself. Playing a version of himself, Hughes would acknowledge the audience directly -- in the first episode, he is shocked to discover a crowd of more than 400 people in his living room.

But what made it work was the sheer joy of it, the way Hughes revelled in the silliness of the show, interspersing his stand up with running gags (in the first series, a sock never dried, in the second, he waged a constant war against scrabbled eggs stuck to a saucepan) and his self-deprecating commentary on life.

The books he put out in the 90s of his writings, 1993's Sean's Book and 1995's The Grey Area, stand alone as distinct works. There is the cheeky, lovable character from Sean's Show and his stand up in there, but he includes serious poems and heartfelt commentary, too.

Reading them at the time, you could feel Hughes' attempts to break out of attempts to pigeonhole him within the persona he played on TV. I remember it often felt a little too self-conscious, almost forced. But it was hard not to admire his determined refusal to be turned into a commercialised "easy-to-sell" product. It also revealed a dark side to his character, and a sensitivity that has been widely commented on (most comments in the media after his death refer to him as "gentle" and "kind").

He deliberately chose to express all aspects of his creativity and humanity -- no doubt against publishers and agents advice to stick to the grinning, floppy haired, cardigan wearing lovable loser as-seen-on-telly.

This dual nature, being in the public eye, but refusing the constraints of celebrity, marked his subsequent career. He was a team captain on Never Mind the Buzzcocks from 1996-2002, but walked away from what was no doubt a lucrative gig because he was bored with its formulaic format. Around that time, he also quit stand up. He wrote well-received novels and took acting gigs, like his criminally underrated role as "Mod" in The Last Detective series with Peter Davison. Yes, he played another lovable loser, but an even gentler one, marked by developing middle-age.

He returned to stand up again, on his own terms. He didn't earn the commercial success or operate in the public eye like in the 90s, but he did what he wanted. And he never wanted to be Michael McIntyre or tour stadiums.

A great moment from Hughes' later career that I'd never seen until now was an appearance he made on Celebrity Come Dine With Me -- in which he chose to serve stew to the judges for all three courses. With, as Hughes defiantly insisted when criticised, actual variations! But still, as the judges kept noting, nonetheless the same stew.

A stung Hughes defended his culinary creations by declaring: "With Da Vinci did they go, ‘I really like that painting, but it’s really like the other one you did with Jesus in it'? Jesus is in them all! It’s just disrespectful to a craftsman like myself."

A clip from the show can be seen here, featuring the judge's reactions, with a highlight being Hughes' contribution to "Christmas cheer" (for it was a Christmas special) being getting in a Smiths cover band to perform "Meat is Murder" and the ever OTT-sad "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out".

It is a cliche to say "we'll never see the likes of him again", but fucking honestly.

I saw Sean Hughes in Australia three times -- from my rather loose memory, in Perth twice in 1996 and 98 and in Sydney in about 2006. I was too young to have seen him when he came out in the early 90s, but short of that, I took all the opportunities to see him live I've had and there is no other comic I can say that about. If he'd toured again, I'd have seen him again. Now I won't.

In recent years, I have only thought sporadically about Sean Hughes, occasionally checking out what he was up to and enjoying what meagre offerings the Internet threw my way. Richard Herring's live podcast with Sean Hughes from 2015 is great.

Since 2011, I've been performing stand up, to varying degrees of constancy. Thinking about it, I realise now that in my performances, there are some distinct mannerisms or ways of delivering a joke that are... well, let's be polite and say "inspired" by Sean Hughes. That were clearly borrowed from him. It's never been conscious, but it's real.

The simple fact is I wouldn't be doing stand up comedy if not for Sean Hughes. I love sketch comedy and that love has obvious sources -- Monty Python, Fry and Laurie, even Australia's Full Frontal, among others. But stand up, and that style of gag telling... Sean Hughes made me think it was worth doing. Whether that's to his credit or not... others can be the judge. Feel free to go to his funeral and heckle over this point.

Here are some lovely offerings from comics who knew and loved Sean Hughes:

Mark Steel and Rhona Cameron remember a friend who was a 'gentle soul, a proper comic'

Richard Herring's blog pays a wonderful tribute.

Matt Lucas interrupting an interview to pay respects to 'an icon of my generation'

And my personal favourite, this beautiful, heartwarming tweet from his Never Mind the Bollocks co-star Phil Jupitus about finding Hughes' Grey Area in a bookstore and the teller refusing to charge him for it.... I'm not crying, you're crying and somehow your tears have projected themselves onto my eyes, you fucking bastard!

(That story was actually quite appropriate, seeing as the introduction to Sean's Book includes a detailed guide on "How to steal this book", or otherwise get away with reading it for free -- and Jupitus came up with the ultimate trick, have him die unexpectedly.)

There are many more, from fellow comics and others, that can be read from Twitter or just googling. They all combine shock with respect and awe for a man who blazed a path so many others followed, and whose influence was far greater than he probably ever know. The only way to end this is with Sean Hughes himself:

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Poem! (three poems)

Here are three poems that form part of a... well a "trilogy", as I believe the kids call it. They are very important and I present them to you for your intellectual gratification and, most importantly, development.

A Poem!

This is a poem!
May it give you strength!
Although some say it is not very good!
Because it uses exclamation marks too often!
And awkwardly!
But exclamation marks!

A Poem! (II)

A poem! 
With marks of exclamation! 
For they indicate great points!
Are being made! 
In this great poem!


A Poem! (III)

A poem but
This time 
Without explanation marks 
The point 
Speaks for itself 
Without Them 
Ah fuck it
 I love exclamation marks!
A lot!!!
BUY ME A BEER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


(Copyright Carlo Sands 2017 like seriously do not even THINK of trying to steal these poems for your own commercial gain coz I I will fucking hunt you down.)

There they are! All three! About a topic very close to my heart! The exclamation mark! I know right? The Nobel Prize for LIterature is fucking rigged

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

It's not all bad, well OK a lot of it is, but still here is audio of me ranting on a stage

Well, a lot sure seems to be happening in the world.

I am sure like me, when you saw Donald Trump in Puerto Rico cheerfully lobbing paper towels at a crowd of people in that devastated Caribbean island, your first thought was: "Holy fuck, I'm also out of paper towels, what kinda natural disaster worsened into an extreme humanitarian crisis by a combination of climate change and extreme ongoing colonial exploitation do I have to organise to get the US commander in chief to chuck a few of them my way?"

Looking into the matter, it turns out the answer is "a pretty fucking bad one". Like we are talking a Category Five Hurricane so bad it caused Trump to stop golfing and actually visit after just two weeks, which is the highest level of severity meteorologists recognise.

Of course, Trump did more than that in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. He also wagged his finger at the Puerto Ricans, largely without electricity, clean drinking water ad with a gutted health care system already weakened by the savage austerity forced on the island by their US colonial masters that is unable to deal with potential disease outbreaks, and declared, as only Trump could:
“I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack ..."
This is a bit like if you've been stabbed by some random bloke, and your mate, who is driving you to the emergency department before the last of your life leaks out into the growing bloody pool on the passenger's seat, points out that the cost of the petrol for this trip is really stretching his fortnightly pay check, despite you knowing for a fact he has more than half-trillion worth of high-tech weaponry in his backyard.

Say what you will about Trump, but he has a brutal honesty that is almost refreshing. No hypocritical tears for the dead or pretence that the US state and or its corporate masters give a flying fuck for the half-drowned, already-screwed people of the US's "I Can't Believe It's Not a Colony" colony of Puerto Rico, which has been a "not-colony" colony since the US won control over the Caribbean island from the Spanish in the 1898 Spanish-American War.

In all-too-predictable news, almost two weeks after Puerto Rico was hit by the super-storm, the US was hit by another mass shooting, one of the deadliest in recent decades (though not in US history, as the Lakota could point out).

Such a tragedy has many repercussions, one of which is Australians enter a new round of smug self-congratulation about how, unlike those nutty Yanks, we solved our gun problem after the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre when automatic and semiautomatic weapons were banned and we've not see a repeat of that horrific event.

No doubt this is to Australia's credit, so perhaps while we are on a roll having successfully managed one single positive  reform of note since 1996 about we may take some pride, perhaps we might, I don't know, consider not torturing innocent people in isolated prison camps, then abandoning them to their fate in impoverished Third World countries that cannot deal with them?

I know sometimes change is slow, and we're all a bit exhausted from spending the past 21 years patting ourselves on the back for the unprecedented (if you exclude large chunks of the world) wisdom in not letting nutcases have access to major weapons of death except when they serve in the SAS in Afghanistan,

But in the act of congratulating ourselves, we by-and-large missed yet another Black Death in Custody. Tan Chatfield, a 22-year-old Aboriginal man, died in custody at the Tamworth Correctional Centre on September 20 under what may politely be called "suspicious circumstances". This is only one of hundreds since the 1991 Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody laid down more than 300 recommendations to stop more Black Deaths in Custody — which have gone ignored and unimplemented.  In 2013, a review of deaths in custody by the Australian Institute of Criminology found that the number of Aboriginal deaths in custody had increased over the previous five years.

Still, how wacky are hose Yanks with their automatic rifles and paper-towel throwing presidents eh?

Meanwhile, Tony Abbott, the ex-and-wannabe prime minister of the nation one of the highest per capita carbon emissions in the world,  gave an absurd speech in Britain, questioning whether climate change was real before suggesting that possibly it might be a good thing regardless, because more people die in cold than heatwaves (yes he fucking said that).

Abbott clearly sees himself as "Australia's Trump", so it is just as well he's not, I dunno, heading a government in Queensland greenlighting and providing taxpayer funds for a large corporation's planned mega-coal mine that will condemn the great Barrier Reef to death and drastically worsen the global warming crisis, which, just to prove I know how to shoe in a callback, contributed to the strength of Hurricane Maria that devastated Puerto Rico.

No, that would be Queensland's Labor government, a government of a party that actually accepts global warming, but presumably just figures this planet is screwed so let Adani hasten our fate.

But it is not all bad! Not only is their push back on protests on these things (such as the growing campaign against Adani), no, even better! Here is some dodgy audio of me ranting on a stage, recorded on the first night of my solo show Inspired? at the Sydney Fringe Comedy festival! (Warning: it starts abruptly, as I had forgotten to turn it on, so just begins with me yelling about something...)

I am very kindly providing this to you all for free, coz that is the kinda guy I am. Just a decent guy and not at all desperate to get my angry voice out there for some sort of deeply disturbed personal reasons I have never investigated for fear of what might surface. However, the show was a fundraiser for Green Left Weekly, so if you wish you can make a donation to the publication, which relies entirely on supporter donations to survive.

Friday, October 06, 2017

If there is anything more beautifully moving than Emmylou Harris and John Prine singing Guy Clark, I don't think I want to know

I'd rather sleep in a box like a bum on the street
Than a fine feather bed without your little ol' cold feet
I'd rather be deaf, dumb, and stone blind
Than to know that your mornings will never be mine

I'd rather die young than to live without you
I'd rather go hungry than eat lonesome stew
It's once in a lifetime and it won't come again
It's here and it's gone on a magnolia wind

I'd rather not walk through the garden again
If I can't catch your scent on a magnolia wind

If it ever comes time that it comes time to go
Sis just pack up your fiddle Sis pack up your bow
If I can't dance with you then I won't dance at all
I'll just sit this one out with my back to the wall

I'd rather not hear pretty music again
If I can't hear your fiddle on a magnolia wind

There is a lot wrong with this world, but there are some compensations, at least, for the seemingly never-ending horror show. Emmylou Harris and John Prine singing this beautiful song by Guy Clark is one of the best.

Clark's original is great, but this version —from a Guy Clark tribute album — raises it to new heights. The song works brilliantly as a duet, with the melodic voice of Harris contrasting with Prine's soft gruff-yet-breaking voice, which is close in its effect to Clark's original vocal. This contrast draws out the interplay between the sweet romance and melancholy at the song's heart — where the beauty of a genuine love is contrasted with the prospect of its inevitable end.

Country music can get a bad wrap, but it is a serious form and, like all genres of popular music, it can be  done well, badly and everything in between. The likes of Clark (who died last year aged 74), Harris and Prine are, without question, among its finest exponents.

From the same generation (Harris and Prine are both 70), all three were leading figures in the serious and artistic wing of country music, operating in the grey area between general "folk" music and country, committed to the craft of storytelling.

And if any of the three were to start their careers now, they would no doubt be labelled, not as "country", but "alt-country" or the ever-vague "americana". And maybe that doesn't really matter — labels are just words and can never capture any artists contribution, and does more the box them in than anything,.

But still... I cannot help feel sad that so much unspeakable shit gets to take the label of "country" these days, when the stuff that comes from the heart, from the roots, gets shunted off to some other, sidelined genre or subgenre.

BONUS TRACK: Clark's friend and talented country singer and songwriter Rodney Crowell, on the same tribute album, sings Clark's extraordinarily poetic song "Old time Feeling".

And that old time feelin' goes sneakin' down the hall,
Like an old gray cat in winter, keepin' close to the wall.
And that old time feelin' comes stumblin' up the street,
Like an old salesman kickin' the papers from his feet.

And that old time feelin' draws circles around the block,
Like old women with no children, holdin' hands with the clock.
And that old time feelin' fall on it's face in the park,
Like and old wino prayin' he can make it 'till it's dark.

And that old time feelin' comes and goes in the rain,
Like an old man with his checkers, dyin' to find a game.
And that old time feelin' plays for beer in bars,
Like and old blues-time picker who don't recall who you are.

And that old time feelin' limps through the night on a crutch,
Like an old soldier wonderin' if he's paid too much.
And that old time feelin' rocks and spits and cries,
Like and old lover rememberin' the girl with the clear blue eyes.

And that old time feelin' goes sneakin' down the hall,
Like an old gray cat in winter, keepin' close to the wall.
And that old time feelin' comes stumblin' up the street,
Like an old salesman kickin' the papers from his feet.