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.