The Door (original) 

Last year, when I moved into my place after having had my things in storage for a while, I fell victim to leafing through long lost books and notebooks as I was putting them away.

In one notebook, among mostly lyrics that grew up to be songs, I found a few scribbled lines that had been confined to those pages since 2008. It really wasn't many, but they were probably the most honest thing in the whole book - which, I reckon, is why they remained in there. After all, it's really hard to uphold denial with honesty.

But it was 2020 now, and I had long since moved on, and these few lines screamed at me to be given a tune, so I did.

Our reality is supposed to be just a mental construct. I don't know enough quantum mechanics to fully understand that idea - but I can honestly say, it seems like a series of dreams that one really struggles to wake up from, despite the best attempts.

Looking back, I find that eventually I always woke up, although it usually took a painfully long time.

I'm a Dreamer (Sandy Denny cover) 

I'm slowly working my way through my list of requests, and this week I find myself back in the seventies with Sandy Denny. It's a good time to travel to, musically. (And possibly the only kind of travel available to me this year...) If you've got a request, please let me know in the comments, and I'll see what I can do. (It will have to fit into a certain set of criteria, but if it does, I'm happy to accept the challenge.)

A Sorta Fairytale (Tori Amos cover) 

This one is a request. I was planning on a Tori Amos cover, but didn't know which one to pick, so I was quite pleased to have someone else make the decision for me.

Discovering Tori Amos was momentous to me. In the days before YouTube and Spotify my only ways to discover new music were my brother's cd shelf, browsing shops, and the radio... the latter of which didn't play anything I considered worth listening to. Until I discovered AFN (American Forces Network). They had a late night programme where they played alternative music.

One night they played Silent All These Years. I sat bolt upright in bed, not daring to breathe. To my complete devastation they didn't mention who the artist was. It drove me nuts. I had to find out. (Today I'd just type it into google...) It took me a year or two to figure it out. ...and guess what, turns out Tori Amos' Little Earthquakes had been on my brother's cd shelf all along.

So, in conclusion - No, I don't think the good old days were that good. I love the way things are now. I love the ease with which we can find new music and information. But Tori Amos was definitely one of the good things.

River on Fire (original) 

I wrote this song a year ago, while reading about the poet Robert Lowell. 

He is inspirational, not solely due to his extraordinary work, but  also his strength of character. Despite suffering from inevitably recurring pathological moods and numerous breakdowns - he was hospitalised 20 times - he had the courage to keep living and working, to rebuild himself each time it broke him. I’ve got no first hand experience with mania, but as a teen I watched it wrestle my Grandfather to the ground, who had neither the will nor the discipline to keep the wild fire under check. 

Lowell however, was more self-aware, and driven by purpose - to create something of value. 

“My trouble is to bring together in me the Puritanical iron hand of constraint and the gushes of pure wildness. One can’t survive or write without both but they need to come to terms. Rather narrow walking,” he wrote. And, realizing what he dealt with was outside his control, “We must bend, not break.” 

He managed this tightrope walk admirably, until he died of a heart attack at 60 - maybe that's why his story is not as widely known as those of poets and artists who died younger and by suicide. Suicide, often glamorized by the media, movies, and adverts, makes a better, more dramatic, more profitable story. 

The Fashion magazine Vice, for example,  published a spectacularly tasteless spread of female writer suicides, where models posed as said writers at the time of their death, complete with fashion credits. (Seriously, it’s revolting to advertise the stockings the writer Sanmao might have hung herself with, and I’m sure Sylvia Plath didn’t care one bit what she wore before she stuck her head in the oven.) 

But I’m digressing. To end on a more optimistic note, I shall have to quote Lowell himself: 

“Darkness honestly lived through is a place of wonder and life.” That’s a hell of a challenge, but coming from someone who achieved so much with such difficult cards to play, it’s incredibly uplifting.

You've Got Time (Regina Spektor cover) 

Regina Spektor is definitely one of my favourite artists. I saw her live in 2016, and I walked out thinking I don't ever have to see another concert - no one ever is going to top that. Several years on, and you'd still have to work incredibly hard to convince me otherwise.

I couldn't resist covering this one - Maybe it's because I've been watching too much Netflix - or maybe because after a year like the last one, a song about prison life is utterly relatable.

Queen of the Wolves (Clara Luzia cover) 

Clara Luzia is an Austrian artist and a very new discovery of mine. Her version of this song is way less introspective than this, though - in fact it’s fast paced alternative rock. But I was so taken with the song, singing it too fast felt wrong. Like eating a whole box of chocolates in one sitting. I felt bad enough singing it with my voice being rough and out of shape from coughing for weeks.

The song’s mythical beauty is the reason why this week’s song isn’t in German, as it distracted me from my new found obsession with the I band Isolation Berlin. (Might still do it one day, though…) Next week we’re back to something more widely known - but being stuck on an island bent on isolating itself (UK), I intend to make a point of including European artists. Music has no borders.

On a side note, I love wolves. The song made me think of the novel The Wolf Wilder. It's about a girl who lives in the woods of Russia with her mother and a pack of wolves who had been tamed to spend their lives as pets of aristocrats - retraining them to be wild again. That's literally my dream job.

Sweet Louisiana Sound (Billy Pilgrim cover) 

This is probably every escape artist's anthem. Billy Pilgrim were a folk rock duo, and "Sweet Louisiana Sound" is the opening track of their 1995 album "Bloom". I probably discovered it by reading the album reviews in magazines. (I always had a dislike to what was being played on the radio.) I would buy albums without ever having heard a single note beforehand, and got quite adept at tracking down gems. This definitely was one of them. Admittedly my decision making was probably influenced by the name - Billy Pilgrim is the time travelling hero in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five.

The album didn't allow me to time travel, but I felt each song as vividly, as if I was in it - that's plenty of reason for me to declare it a great album.

Sorry about me looking like a ghost on Beale Street - no amount of makeup or colour grading could hide the fact that I was ill that day. I almost didn't post this, as I also felt my voice was compromised, but I've committed to posting a weekly video, come hell or high water.

For Sale (Not Haunted) 

A couple of weeks ago I spotted someone on social media posting this picture (in the background of the video), pointing out this intriguing "For Sale" sign, which had gone up around the corner from them. I couldn’t resist helping the estate agent out by writing a listing for it. I’m now pondering a career in real estate. Let me know if I sold it to you! (Sadly I can’t remember who posted the photo, so I can’t credit them.) I felt really ill and half-dead while filming it, hopefully that adds to it.

Tapestry (Carole King) 

I’m convinced Carole King’s album Tapestry is one of the most loved albums of all times. I think about how reluctant she was to become a solo artist in the first place, and I’m so glad she did. It's not only the album that has an uplifting and reassuring effect on me, but also the story behind the album. We look at it today, 50 years after its recording, and we see it as this monumental piece of work. Back then Carole King wasn't sure she was even vaguely on the right track.

“…I had no idea way of knowing what my future held. I just wrote songs, worked hard, created each day’s blueprint from scratch, and hoped to high heaven that I was doing all the right things to give my daughters and myself a good life’, she wrote in her autobiography.

About the idea for it, she is quoted to have said, “I had started a needlepoint tapestry a few months before we did the album, and I happened to write a song called 'Tapestry,' not even connecting the two up in my mind. I was just thinking about some other kind of tapestry, the kind that hangs and is all woven, or something, and I wrote that song. And, you being the sharp fellow you are, (giggles), put the two together and came up with an excellent title, a whole concept for the album.”

Every single song on the album is amazing, but I always thought the title song the most interesting one, both musically and lyrically. She described the mood she wanted for it as “spacious and dark”, and that might be our only clue to the meaning of the song.

It seems obvious that in the last verse death is entering the story, a mere character in the play of life - but the rest of the story, despite vivid details, is left rather mysterious. Personally, I’m of the opinion that it really doesn’t matter what a writer has in mind when writing a song - it’s way more important which meaning it has for the listener. And even that can change over time. I’d be curious to know what your thoughts on the meaning are, though. Please feel free to discuss them in the comments.

Background image by instagram.com/diff.perspective

All I Really Want (Alanis Morissette) 

Somehow Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill was of momentous impact for me. I actually remember the moment I heard her for the first time on the radio. I was hooked. I can’t say what it was about her - her energy or attitude.

It's not the kind of writing I was usually drawn to, but for several years her music would be my constant companion. (Alongside Nick Cave, whom I probably owe more than one cover...)

I loved every song on Jagged Little Pill ( except for Head Over Heels for some reason), and I can’t possibly pick a favourite, but I’ve always felt drawn to All I Really Want. It’s a very self-absorbed song. It’s a very agitated song. It’s a very fast moving song, like thoughts racing at 100 miles per hour. It feels like the world, or time has sped up even more since the song’s release, and silence has become even more obsolete and uncomfortable.

These days the song has a soothing quality to me. Even the thought of apathy isn’t remotely as frustrating to me anymore - after all, the word derives from the Greek word “apatheia”, which describes a kind of calm equanimity, a product of the absence of irrational or extreme emotions. An idea which would somehow have horrified me back then. The song lacks it, too, which in all likelihood made it such a good match for me.

I saw Alanis perform live in 2001 (I think), and if I had to name something I’ll always remember her performance for, it’s the sheer energy and sense of humour. I remember her running around on stage, and playing pranks on her band mates. It never bothered me that she turned into a singing self-help book - who doesn’t need one. For darker delights, there was always Nick Cave. 😂

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