Thursday 31 January 2013

The Housekeeper & The Professor

The Housekeeper & The Professor - Yoko Ogawa

This is an odd little book. A housekeeper is sent by her agency to work with an ageing mathematics professor who has had an unusually  large number of housekeepers already, represented by the nine blue stars on his chart. When she finds out why this is she wonders how long she will last. "How exactly does a man live with only eighty minutes of memory? I had cared for ailing clients on more than one occasion in the past, but none of that experience would be useful here. I could just picture a tenth blue star on the  Professor's card."

The Professor was a professor of maths and still spends his time solving maths problems, often winning prizes from "the Journal of Mathematics". Maths is a safe place for him, just as it can be a safe place for anyone. The numbers always add up the same way. "Soon after I began working for the Professor, I realised that he talked about numbers whenever he was unsure of what to say or do. Numbers were also his way of reaching out to the world. They were safe, a source of comfort."

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 59. Dustbowl Ballads.

Top 102 Albums. No 59. 
Dustbowl Ballads - Woody Guthrie.

Like many people I first became fully aware of Woody Guthrie through Bob Dylan. But he'd infiltrated my mind long before that! My Daddy Rides a Ship in the Sky was on a children's compilation by skiffle stalwart Wally Whyton that was one of my real first introductions to music. This was one of my favourite songs and its vision of the links that hold society together resonated to me as a little kid and still does.

"Don't be afraid when it gets dark and rains
My Dad'll bring your daddy back home again

Monday 28 January 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 60. Colossal Youth

Top 102 Albums. No 60.
Colossal Youth - Young Marble Giants

There is something tentative and provisional about this album. It can seem at times like a blueprint for something grander, more elaborate but I can't help thinking that this is its greatest strength. It was in the air at the time, everyone seemed to know enough about deconstruction to namedrop Jacques Derrida when too drunk to remember they didn't understand it. So here we have some of the pieces of popular music, put together with sticky tape,  paper clips and precision.

Aghwee the Sky Monster

Aghwee the Sky Monster - Kenzaburo Ōe

We open this story once again with a narrator who has had violence perpetrated against him in the past. The narrator has almost lost the sight in one of his eyes. "Ten years ago I had twenty-twenty vision. Now one of my eyes is ruined. Time* shifted, launched itself from the springboard of an eyeball squashed by a stone. When I first met that sentimental madman I had only a child's understanding of time. I was yet to have the cruel awareness of time drilling its eyes into my back and time lying in wait ahead." (*'time' is in italics in original text)

It turns out that this almost sightless second eye causes him to see, when not wearing a patch "a vague and shadowy world on top of one that's bright and vivid".

Saturday 26 January 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 61. Go 2

Top 102 Albums. No 61. 
Go 2 - XTC

When I think of XTC it is usually one of their many fine singles that comes to mind. Making Plans for Nigel and Senses Working Overtime are peerless moments of pop brilliance. However the album I listen to most doesn't have any of their singles on it. Nor is it one of their albums from the period after they had passed their commercial peak. It is, in fact, their difficult second album. It is a pulsing grim meditative album full of bubbling frustration and self-hatred, Go 2 - my favourite XTC album,  remembered now more for it's Hipgnosis cover (click on the image to bring up a larger version) than for the music within.

Friday 25 January 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 62. New Day Rising

Top 102 Albums. No 62. 
New Day Rising - Hüsker Dü

As I continue to post on my favourite albums I find that I am uncoupling any pretence of objectivity or order. These are 102 of my favourite albums. I could list another 102 easily and then do the same again. And if I spent enough time I'm sure that I could come up with a new great album every day. Music is abundant but time is firmly rationed.

This is one of the albums which I listened to most back in the eighties and one that still gets pulled out now. The thrill of the wash of guitars; the stuttering, piledriving drumming and the pop nous of the melodies on offer is still potent.

Thursday 24 January 2013

Teach Us To Outgrow Our Madness

Teach Us To Outgrow Our Madness - Kenzaburo Ōe

This is the title story in this collection and it deals with the relationship between a father and his son, who has a brain defect. It opens, almost dramatically, with the father almost thrown to a polar bear, an experience which, we are told, led to him being "released from the fetters of an old obsession."

The father, who is known as "the fat man" throughout, has focussed all his energy on caring for his son. It is as if the birth of his son had created a new version of him. The doctor tells him  "Even if we operate I'm afraid the infant will either die or be an idiot, one or the other." "That instant, something inside the fat man irreparably broke. And the baby who was either to die or be an idiot quickly elbowed out the breakage, as cancer destroys and then replaces normal cells." 

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 63. I Am the Greatest.

Top 102 Albums. No 63. 
I Am the Greatest. A House

When your first single is called Kick Me Again Jesus, you become a hostage to fate. Anyway, Jesus must have worn out the toes of his Doc Martens doing just what Mr Couse asked him to. But with the release of I am the Greatest it appeared that this divine assault and battery had merely goaded A House into the greatest resurrection since Jesus' own.

Monday 21 January 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 64. The Chocolate Biscuit Conspiracy

Top 102 Albums. No 64.
The Chocolate Biscuit Conspiracy - The Golden Horde & Robert Anton Wilson

Some music is so closely bundled with the time you heard it that the experience of listening and remembering is inseperable. This is one of the reasons why a list like this becomes personal. I remember watching the original incarnation of the Horde, sitting amoung cider cans in park beside St Patricks Cathedral in Dublin; going to afternoon gigs in McGonagles; the Trinity Ball. The band had go-go dancers onstage, laughed and jumped and played with the idea of being a rock 'n' roll band.

Saturday 19 January 2013

Taster for the new/old Wire album.

Wire in 1977, 35 years ago!

Taster for the new/old Wire album.
Wire have retooled songs, many just sketches from the period after 154 which can be heard on Document and Eyewitness.

The new album, called Change Becomes Us hits the shelves in March. Here's a taster.

Prize Stock

Prize Stock - Kenzaburo Ōe
(from Teach Us To Outgrow Our Madness, a collection of "Four Short Novels by Kenzaburo Ōe".)

The second story in this collection, Prize Stock, is shorter than the first, only sixty pages long. It is narrated by a young boy, or should I say his older self, remembering. It is set in a small village in the woods, somewhat isolated from the nearest town. An american bomber crashes in the woods and the villagers capture the survivor, something that causes great excitement amoung the village children.
""He's black, you see that! I thought he would be all along." Harelip's voice trembled with excitement. "He's a real black man, you see.""

Thursday 17 January 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 65. Hot Buttered Soul

Top 102 Albums. No 65.
Hot Buttered Soul - Isaac Hayes

My No 67 included Isaac Hayes on piano. Today I thought I'd give the man his own slot. A while back Trevor at Hissyfit (also choosing his top albums) included the collaboration between Richard Harris and Jimmy Webb, an extravagant confection, often left out in the rain. It made me think of this album which includes an 18 minute version of Webb's By The Time I Get To Phoenix. Even the spoken intro is around eight minutes long. I can see how scientology looked a pretty sane proposition to the man who made this...

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 66. Otis Blue

Top 102 Albums. No 66.
Otis Blue - Otis Redding

Famously recorded in 24 hours this is possibly the fastest recorded classic album apart from live concerts. No surprise that Redding's live recordings are amoung the very best. This is pretty much the dream team, the MG's with Isaac Hayes replacing Booker T, the Mar-Keys, The Memphis Horns and engineering genius Tom Dowd helping out on the desk.

The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away

The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away - Kenzaburo Ōe
(from Teach Us To Outgrow Our Madness, a collection of "Four Short Novels by Kenzaburo Ōe".)

"partly I was afraid that, eaten in a valley surrounded by a forest, and early in the morning besides, the smell of a thing like that would draw down upon us all those ghostly creatures that had dwelled for years in the forest's depths."

This is the first, and longest, of the four 'short novels' that make up this volume of Ōe. Even from this one short novel it's easy to see why Kenzaburo Ōe won the Nobel Prize. The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away is an emotionally powerful excavation of the tensions at play between the members of a Japanese family in the aftermath of WW2.

The narrator lies dying (or maybe not) from liver cancer in hospital, dictating his story to a a person known as the "acting executor of the will" who comments from time to time on the details of the story or of the narrator's current situation. The author also refers to his father as 'a certain party' throughout. These abstractions seem to indicate that the characters they refer to may be read in many ways.

Monday 14 January 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 67. I Just Can't Stop It

Top 102 Albums. No 67. 
I Just Can't Stop It - The Beat

Monday morning. Time for something 'up' to listen too, Back to the music of my teens, then. Maybe a Two Tone band. Danceable and 'conscious' surely the ska revival was one of the great moments in pop and whenever it is played many men of my age wind up red faced and breathless as they try to recreate the steps of their youth. The Beat's own label was called Go-Feet and, as the ad's say, it did what it said on the tin. Still does. Go Feet!

Saturday 12 January 2013

Brideshead Revisited

Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh


"I asked the second in command, 'What's this place called?'
He told me and, on the instant, it was as though someone had switched off the wireless, and a voice that had been bawling in my ears, incessantly, fatuously, for days beyond number, had been suddenly cut short; an immense silence followed, empty at first, but gradually, as my outraged sense regained authority, full of a multitude of sweet and natural and long forgotten sounds: for he had spoken a name that was so familiar to me, a conjuror's name of such ancient power, that, at its mere sound, the phantom's of those haunted late years began to take flight."
This passage is the gateway from the mess of wartime England into the narrator's youth between the wars, bathed in nostalgia. The prologue and epilogue are set in the narrator's (Charles Ryder's) present but we spend the majority of the time in the past, a past that is in danger of disappearing altogether.

Friday 11 January 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 68. Down By the Jetty

Top 102 Albums. No 68. 
Down By the Jetty - Dr Feelgood.

The bad news has just circulated over the net that one of the most distinctive guitarists in rock is playing his final outro. Wilko Johnson, guitarist with the first incarnation of Dr Feelgood and a charismatic eccentric has been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and is, rather than pursue treatment, going out with a farewell tour and recording a final album.

Thursday 10 January 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 69 Violent Femmes

Top 102 Albums. No 69 
Violent Femmes - Violent Femmes

I was inspired to select this by its selection over at The Vinyl Villain's  as part of his Top 50. This was a huge album in the circles I moved in. It seemed that everybody had it and the songs were huge crowd pleasers at student discos.

The band were a kind of skeletal country folk punk, so danceable as to be an inspiration for Gnarls Barkley - who cover Gone Daddy Gone from this album. Think the Velvet Underground playing Hank Williams Ramblin' Man, on the viagra of puberty. But the icing on the cake of this musical stew (Who the f*** puts icing on a stew? Listen, just listen and you'll hear) were the anguished vocals of Gordon Gano, son of an evangelical preacher. It was illegal for a long time to talk about Gano without mentioning this fact.

Wednesday 9 January 2013


Hopscotch - Julio Cortazar

"Or rather, there had been something like a great burst of laughter and that's what they called History."

This is my first post on Hopscotch, having finished the first of the 'books' within this book. In his introduction Cortazar suggests two ways of reading the book. The first is to simply read chapters 1-56 and ignore chapters 57 to 155 which are called the expendable chapters.

The second way is to read the book out of numerical order but in a specific order which is indicated in the introduction. Each chapter ends with the number of the chapter to be read next. I am going to read a book or two before returning for my second bite at the apple.

I would like to thank Richard at Caravana de Recuerdos for bringing this book to my attention. I read it with the intention of contributing to his Argentinian Literature of Doom reading event but as seems to be the case continually, I am late.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 70 Dare

Top 102 Albums. No 70
Dare - The Human League

When David Bowie called The Human League 'the future of pop music' I don't think he envisaged Dare. At the time the League were at the arty side of the music spectrum and included Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, who created their own slices of pop history with Heaven 17 and the British Electric Foundation.
Indeed Ware and Craig Marsh were seen as the creative core of the band and my memory is that there was a lot more excitement about what they would do than about what Phil Oakey and Philip Adrian Wright would do. Wright's role in the original League had been as director of visuals rather than musician. And much was made of Phil Oakey's own visuals, mainly his haircuts. But determination and ambition can take you a long way, if you dare.

Monday 7 January 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 71. Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five & Hot Seven

Top 102 Albums. No 71. 
Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five & Hot Seven

One of the first records I bought was an album by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five & His Hot Seven. I was aware of Wonderful World and Mack the Knife but what really attracted me to this album was the dates on the cover. 1926 and 1927 sounded impossibly early for recorded music. (I was young and naive - the fifties were ancient history.)

I am including this period of Louis' work in honour of the lesson I learned from these recordings. Music changes, like all art, but change ain't progress and some of the songs here, despite the primitive recordings are as good as anything else in my collection.

Saturday 5 January 2013

Resolutions 20.13

Resolutions 20.13

My resolution for 2012 was to get through À la recherche du temps perdu and a shelf of books that I had set aside. After reading 85 books in 2011 I set a target of around 50, thinking that that would be realisable and taking the size of the Proust into account, and the fact that I was targeting a number of the longer books on my shelves. However I ended up only reading about thirty one books and apart from the Proust, skirting the longer books. (See my edited Resolutions 2012 post) I guess having a slightly crazed two year old (& four & ten year olds) in the house allowed less reading time. She will be slightly more self reliant this year but I'm not going to take it for granted. I've also found myself dozing off in the evenings and spending more time writing, on blog and off.

Thursday 3 January 2013

Top 102 Albums. No. 72 Nancy & Lee

Top 102 Albums. No. 72 
Nancy & Lee - Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood

Some velvet morning when I'm straight
I'm gonna open up your gate

Lee Hazlewood has one of the most recognisable voices in popular music. We enter this album, with Lee singing You've Lost That Loving Feeling from somewhere lower than the Mariana Trench. He also has one of the most skewed visions. On this album his deep baritone is perfectly counterpointed by Nancy Sinatra's breathy, innocent yet knowing voice.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 73. Sweetheart of the Rodeo

Top 102 Albums. No 73. 
Sweetheart of the Rodeo - The Byrds

Here we have the first but certainly not the last appearance of Mr Gram Parsons, who, in his brief life, was responsible for an inordinate amount of the music that soundtracks my life.

Many years ago I used to go to The Johnny Cash Appreciation Society, a monthly open mike session where members of various alternative bands in Dublin played hommage to country music. I learnt The Christian Life off this record with a view to singing it but it was already taken. I always thought it was dripping with irony. Such an event, the hipsters acknowledging the rooted vitality of country music owes a debt to this album, where Gram Parsons' brief membership of The Byrds pulled the psychedelic torchbearers down a country road.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

Some Limericks


Some Limericks

I've been having a stab at writing Limericks elsewhere in my virtual universe and I thought I'd share them here.

They're not as absurd nor transgressive as really good limericks but clearly I've got a compulsion to share (cf this whole blog). I find that once I start thinking of limericks it can be hard to stop. Hopefully this post will put an end to that habit before I start talking in limericks.

Comments in limerick form particularly welcomed!