A few old figurines, a “punk” decor and a punky toy story.
SLIP SLIDING AWAY
Slip slidin’ away
Slip slidin’ away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin’ away
Lying flat on my back, arms spread out, staring up at the blazing sun – crucifixion position, numb with cold and rigid with fear – « nailed » to this steep freezing cold, ice-covered mountainside. What a punishment. What have I done to deserve this?
I should have read the signs. I was doing fine on the green run, lazily sliding along on my skis, on the wide and almost flat slope, and then, I took the wrong turning and ended up on the red run; a steep, near-vertical run all bumpy and lumpy and … this was my ski version of the wall of death
My ski buddies implored me to go slow, to zig zag, and above all, « Don’t look down » – but once I hit the slope – a giant whoosh, I lost my footing, fell, lost my skis and poles and went rolling 100 metres down the mountain side, first on my arse, then on my back, wondering if this was my last moment, until, miraculously I came to a halt. And in my slippery wake, I had brought down two friends, who like me slid down the mountain. They lay « intertwined » all bodies and skis a few metres away.
All the while, I could hear whoops of laughter from above – as skiers on the chair lift guffawed at our slippery antics and filmed us on their Smartphones. Just how many people are now watching my fall, slide and dented pride on social media sites?
Now you’re down, nothing to do but get up and get off this bloody mountain side, like the old song – « Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. » – but, here I am, rigid with fear. I would like to just glide off the mountain, Fred and Ginger style, after all …
Nothing’s impossible, I have found
For when my chin is on the ground.
I pick myself up,
Dust myself off
And start all over again.
Don’t lose your confidence
If you slip
Be grateful for a pleasant trip
And pick yourself up,
Dust yourself off
And start all over again.
I’ve started singing the song. I like the irony of the lyrics in my current situation. Obviously when Dorothy Fields penned these words back in 1936*, she didn’t have dorsally prostrate skiers in mind
My ski friends implore me to stand up, put my skis on and follow them down the mountain.
« NO WAY ! » I scream in the near hysterical scream of all those helpless with fear. I just want to lie hear and have someone come rescue me before I freeze
Calm down and think. Just how I’m going to get off this f***ing mountain. I certainly ain’t skiing down, besides, my skis and poles are still 100 metres up the slope. There are just two solutions: I can either try and slide down on my arse or my back , perhaps using my arms and legs as some kind on brake, or, I can just get up and walk off.
Considering the first solution … well my 100 metre arse/back slide was actually pretty fast and I’m not sure that I will be able to control my speed. I’m getting these kind of slapstick cartoon clichés, whereby rolling down the mountain, I’ll turn into a giant snowball, picking up other skiers in my wake before finally crashing into the chalet at the bottom of the ski run. The second solution, therefore seems far more achievable, except I am rigid with fear still pinned/nailed down to this mountainside by what is no more than a self-induced, advanced neurotic state that I will now refer to as Post Traumatic Ski Disorder – PTSkiD – something that I will suffer from for the rest of the holidays, to the point that putting on skis, and standing at the top of a run makes me want to be physically sick.
THESE BOOTS AIN’T MADE FOR WALKING
Fred and Ginger are one thing. I won’t be waltzing off this mountain, but now that some kind skier has retrieved my ski poles, then I’ll be walking off. I manage to stand up and now ; it is with Nancy Sinatra in my head that I precariously step and «sideways tip toe » my way down the rest of the slope. I look ridiculous. I don’t give a f***, there is nothing broken and … well a quick word on ski boots – they sure as hell ain’t made for walking.
So, I lived to tell the tale of my ski misfortune, but , unlike the song …
Don’t lose your confidence
If you slip
Be grateful for a pleasant trip
… actually getting your confidence back is one hell of a job.
The next day, I get a mild panic attack in the cable car, that disgorges a crowd of keen skiers at the very top of a mountain, all with the one sole purpose, sliding down to the bottom on two lengths of laminated wood. What is the appeal? I used to like this. I used to be a reasonable skier at my own basic level and this morning’s run is hardly the stuff of Olympian downhill difficulty. The keen kamikaze skiers have all swished off down tortuous, semi suicidal black runs, and I am about to take a long lazy meandering green run that slithers like a dead snake on Valium. Nothing to fear, besides, I’ve already done this run, but, I’m sweating and shaking as I clamp on my skis, I want to be physically sick, and as the slow run starts, I just block.
A complete loss of confidence, you are there and not there and cannot move. « Get me the F*** outta here ! »
« One must confront one’s fear to overcome one’s fear. » This is the line my mum’s therapist used to spin her to get her back behind the wheel after a minor car accident – it never worked. I’m not a fan of this kind of therapy – I find it more Orwellian – Winston Smith in Room 101 – well that is how I feel right now.
In the end, my friends get me down the slope – but I still fall ten times in the process, and after this hapless and hopeless run, I feel useless, incapable, surplus to requirements and a burden on my ski friends. Dented pride is one thing, this is far more.
I can blame this on my skiiing. However when I ski on real snow, I’m not such a bad once-a-year, holiday skier
I can blame this on the poor quality snow, that isn’t really snow, but the recycled, manufactured stuff, blown across the slopes by snow machines and lying in a sparse covering like frozen icing sugar on a frozen mountain side. I haven’t been skiing, I have been ice skating with skis.
I can blame this on me. I hate taking risks, I hate leaving my comfort zone. I like to navigate in calm, shallow and familiar waters. It’s always alarm bells, panic stations and abandon ship when an ice cube sized iceberg « looms » on the horizon.
Hey, I’ll just do it like to song says
Don’t lose your confidence
If you slip
Be grateful for a pleasant trip
You gotta slip once to know how not to slip again.
*Pick Yourself Up – Music by Jerome Kern and Lyrics by Dorothy Field – featuring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in he 1936 musical « Swing Time. »
« I had a teenage dream
On moonage days,
I’d be a freak out far out
In a purple haze,
Cruising electric Ladyland
I’d be silver surfin’
In a rock and roll band. »
« Teenage Moonage » by the Stone Purple Haze Band
SO YOU WANNA BE A SINGER IN A ROCK AND ROLL BAND?
First, find a band, or find a band that needs a singer or find a band that needs a singer and plays the kind of stuff that you want to sing. This narrows down the choice immensely, so first, just find a band, any band.
How do you find a band?
It started with an ad in the local paper
« ARE YOU EXPERIENCED? » read the title at the top of the ad
Sounds like Hendrix cover band. Can I sing Hendrix? Do I want to sing Hendrix covers? I’ve got to start somewhere.
« Hi, I’m ringing about your ad ….
« Can you sing? » asks the laid-back, deep-sleep voice on the other end. A voice thick with phlegmy nonchalance nurtured on years of cigarettes and alcohol. The voice reels off a long list of Hendrix numbers to learn for the audition and once the « dictation » is over I hit the local record shop looking for a Hendrix « greatest hits » compilation.
So, you have got as far as the audition phase. This is the point where you physically meet your possible, future band mates, who are not yet mates and might never become your mates. Banding is not bonding. This is about music and not friendship. The band needs a singer and not a soul mate.
It hasn’t occurred to me, but I might actually need a mike and I haven’t got one. I ring the voice again.
« I’ve got a mike » it says flatly. « I’ll see you later »
Later is late. Nine o’clock on a Sunday night, when normal folks have long finished dinner and are settled down ready to snooze off in front of the TV.
The voice lives only a few streets away. I can walk. I get to the « house » and – I’m walking down a tree lined street of neat two up, two down houses all with well tended gardens, then at the end almost out on a limb, almost in another universe is this run down, shuttered up pile of bricks set in an overgrown patch of waste ground. Surely this can’t be the place. I knock on the front door and after an eternity there is the creaking and clanking as the metal shutters are pushed slowly open. A skeletal hand appears beckoning me to the window, a gaunt and ghostly face framed by long lank strands greasy hair, emerges from the sombre depths. « Side door » rasps the voice
« Do you always rehearse this late? » I ask, entering through the kitchen and into the «rehearsal room ».
The place is a mess. It’s a f***ing mess with a huge capital F. It’s a health hazard. Already from the outside, the house only looks fit for demolition, inside … the sink piled high with dishes, the walls thick with grease and yellow with nicotine, discarded empty dog food tins lie strewn across the floor, and stomach churning stench
The place stinks of wet dog, urine and shit – like proper shit, like faeces, like someone’s had diarreah, bowel cancer or lives on a heavy vegetarian diet and they’ve systematically crapped away their insides over days and never flushed the toilet.
Can I make it through this audition without catching something? Can I survive more than five minutes in this house without some kind of independent breathing apparatus?
So, I finally meet the voice who tells me his name is Patrick though people call him Jimmy and he bids me welcome to « Electric Ladyland » I want to laugh, but Patrick is so into Hendrix that he’s painted the name of Hendrix’s third and final studio album in big purple letters on his front door.
This is possibly the worst place that I have ever auditioned for a band, lord knows I’ve has some strange auditions. I once had to prove my vocal prowess over the phone, and another time I auditioned in a car, singing along to Highway to Hell, on a cassette player, the AC/DC classic doing it’s best to struggle out of the crappy car speakers.
NAKED WITH STRANGERS
Auditions are all the same. There you are in a room with four or five other guys you’ve never met before. You are finally all plugged in, miked up and ready to go, the drummer counts us in and you sing, but you’re not just singing, in a way you are baring your artistic soul. You are fragile, you are naked. You are stripping off in front of strangers. Try it some time, invite four of five complete strangers round to your house and stand naked in front of them. You don’t feel ridicule, you just feel vulnerable.
You sing or try to sing those three or four songs that the voice on the end of the phone has told you to « learn » and after twenty minutes … the verdict
RETURN TO ELECTRIC LADYLAND
There’s a limp, quivering, emaciated dog lying in a basket in the corner. There’s a fresh patch of (is that dog vomit?)
Patrick (AKA Jimmy) tells me that the dog is ill and for the moment he can’t afford to take him to the vet.
Patrick has red sunken eyes and a gaunt haggard face that has been ravaged by years of … Rock and Roll. (In comparison, Keith Richards is a picture of health.) He limps around the room, all quivering like his dog. He’s all lank greasy hair, torn jeans and a threadbare sweater held together more by the food stains down the front than any of the threads. He introduces me to three « clones » in similar degrees of frail decomposition. There’s Jean Paul the guitarist (AKA Mick) because he’s a Rolling Stones fan; Fabrice (AKA Chris) the drummer
« Chris? »
« Yeah he’s a big Magma fan » explains « Jimmy » so we call him Chris after the Magma drummer Christian Vander »
The last « clone » is Christophe, the keyboard player who logically should be AKA Chris but calls himself John, after his hero John Lord.
No need to ask the musical influences of this band of early fiftysomething, seventies survivors.
« What are you called? »
« Eh? » expressed by the three clones in collective grunt
« What’s the band name? »
A BAND WITH NO NAME
There are no hard and fast rules for choosing a band name, save that it should be, catchy, evocative, easy to remember easy to say and short enough to print on a T shirt. A band name doesn’t always need to reflect your musical style but it helps.
I am at present auditioning for a band with no name because at the moment there is no band.
To be continued
Thou Shall Have Fun
New Year’s Eve – party time – « Thou shall have fun » resounds the First New Year Commandment. No matter how awful you feel – you shall have fun, and as the clock strikes 12 and the new year begins, all your fears, troubles and problems will melt away like an ice cream in a micro wave oven ;
Ice Cream in the micro wave
Hey that is a rotten metaphor, who the F*** puts their ice cream in a micro wave ? Well I do folks – those small individual pots of Haggen Daz or Ben and Jerrys that I like to scoff in front of the TV – straight out of the freezer they are just too cold and I haven’t got the patience to leave them out long enough to melt just a little – so one minute on « defrost » in the microwave, just to thaw them out a little.
So, here am I trying to enter into the spirit of things for this, the last big festive hurdle of the year.
Off to the « party » shop to buy few fireworks and bangers for tonight – I know it is still thick fog outside, but I had this dream of setting of huge rockets into the night sky – make a wish on a rocket, light the blue touch paper and then send it skywards before it explodes into a mass of mulitcoloured stars that fall back to earth – each star is part of my wish or my dream that I want to share with the world.
« Sorry » says the gum-chewing trainee down the party shop. We’re not allowed the sell fireworks this year. »
« Why ? » I ask
« It’s ‘cos it’s the law » she limply explains and chews
The manager comes over and explains that due to the current state of emergency in France, the sale of fireworks has been forbidden and under the state of emergency it is forbidden to let fireworks off from 26th December to 2nd January.
“I don’t want to blow anyone up” I persist.
We had all this last year – gangs of youths buying massive rockets and firing them at the police.
New Year’s Playlist
No matter, my contribution to the party will be musical – my new year’s playlist.
Looking for « old » songs with a new year’s theme. That U2 classic « New Year’s Day » , so when the adults are all drunk in the wee small hours, they can cavort around again pretending they are teenagers – much to the embarassment and disgust of their kids. I know there was also an ABBA song entitled « Happy New Year » – Oh dear, I’m not doing very well on this am I. What about a few tracks from those we have lost ? Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen … why not a blast of Debbie Reynolds ?
« Good morning, good morning – we’ve drunk the whole night through, good morning hangover to you…. » (revised lyrics)
Nostalgia – something else I have resolved to give up – Living in the past. (Jethro Tull ?) I had a nostalgia-driven pre-Christmas trip to London. I had promised myself to visit all those places from my past that had some kind of meaning. Too depressing, the past is dead and those places will never be the same. Talking about old times makes me acutely aware that I have more life behind me than I do in front of me. This year will be living in the present and the future. Go on, let’s have one nostalgia-driven track, that Bruce Springsteen classic « Glory Days. »
Something new ????? I’l leave that for the kids. I can’t think of any one single song this year that has made a lasting impression on me – come to think of it, I can’t really remeber any of this year’s songs. The first signs of dementia ? Well here’s one that got in the charts and I sing with the band – « Counting Stars » by One Republic .
Something borowed ? Guess I can find a decent cover version of an old song that is suitable for a New Year’s party (I’ can’t think of anything for the moment)
Forget the « blues » – I swore that this would be the year I stopped singing the blues. Yeah, one or two blues tunes in the band répertoire, but no more. The blues is just so boring to listen to. I defy anyone to listen to more than three Robert Johnson songs without wanting to slit their wrists. I supose at relaunched the blues for my generation was when Eric Clapton went unplugged in 1992 and of course there was always the nostalgia around the Blues Brothers. I guess we all need somone to love, so I’ll at least have that one.
I would like to add some songs of hope to this. « Stairway to Heaven » is just too cheesy now, so I’ll opt for a song by Oasis entitled « Stay Young »
Hey! stay young and invincible
Cos we know just what we are
And come what may we’re unstoppable
Cos we know just what we are
Even at 51, I’ve got to stay young. Strange though, as I get older, I feel younger and it’s all those younger than me who tell me what to do. So to this play list I will also add. « My Generation » by the Who.
Of course we need fireworks, (even if they are against the law this year ) – so we’ll have some courtesy of Katie Perry – the lyrics are what I would wish for you all next year
« Ignite the light and let it shine. »
So, here is my playlist
New Year’s day U2
Happy New Year Abba
« Good Morning » Debbie Reynolds (from Singing in the Rain)
Diamond Dogs David Bowie
Glory Days Bruce Springsteen
Counting Stars One Republic
Somebody to Love Blues Brothers Version
Stay Young Oasis
My Generation The Who
Firework Katy Perry
« Auld Lang syne » – and I don’t know what the words mean, but it is traditional.
Happy new year folks.
Dear Blog ….
I still ain’t told the wife (but someone will, but please don’t) – Doctor’s analysis – (severe depression.) Best way off Tranx, is sport and writing, so, 2017, I will write myself out of depression and make music. 2017 will be a musical year – hence this first post. All those gigs that I am happy to be not doing – life on the dance band circuit. (Though I still have to get through New Year’s Eve with a smile when all I wanna do is stay home with a good book)
Here we go.
« ‘Tis cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey » – a strange English colloquialism that aptly resumes weather conditions on this day in my corner of deepest rural France. Current outside température : -6°c and a frost so thick on the ground that every step feels like walking on cornflakes. Any self respecting primates, brass or otherwise, are all at home, warming their testes in front of the fire. Of course, were there any monkeys out and about, the thick fog would probably make it impossible to see them. Yes, it’s a real « pea souper » out there. Oh dear , more obscure English colloquialisms – pea soup used originally to describe the great London smog of 1952 – a, noxious green and yellow smog so thick that poor pedestrians could barely see a few yards in front of them. The 1952 London smog was reckoned to have killed around 12000 people.
You have by now ascertained that my corner of France is fog bound – a fog so thick it feels like the world has been wrapped in cotton wool. Visibility on the road is down to around ten metres – unless you car is equipped with a full set of runway lights – as opposed to feeble fog lamps, drinig is nigh on impossible – only the most foolhardy motorist , or one with a life and death mission would venture out.
It is on this, the most unpleasant of days that my heart goes out thise musicians, who are loading up their cars and heading off to play for new year dinners and dances. Weare the 30th of December 2016 and New Year’s Eve is within temporal spitting distance and those musicians booked in for New Year’s Eve gigs ,are loading their gear into their vans and cars, ready to drive to those places where the punters are expecting a musical entertainment.
The New Year’s Eve gig – the biggest date in the year for many dance bands – yes, we still have dancebands in France – collectives of professional musicians who eke out a hand-to-mouth existance, giving music lessons or doing occasional session work and augment their meagre income by playing in several dance bands. The bands all have exotic names from another age ; Marcel and his Maestros, the Starlight Orchestra, The Swing Kings … this isn’t Radio City Music hall or the Hammersmith Palais, this is rural France – and on this, fogbound freezing day, the musicians will be hitting the road for far away gigs in down-at heel provincial discothèques, draughty village halls and community centre, or bars and restaurants. Anywhere offering decent money.
I phone my mate Michel – 68 years young, fifty years on the dance hall circuit and still playing – a great drummer, a great musician. Great musicians never die, they can’t afford to, they just got to keep on playing until they can play no more.
Michel is nursing something nasty – could be the start of flu. Aching joints, ge’s struggling to get the drum kit in the back of his car.
« I’ve got two gigs over the weekend – a new tear’s Eve down near Lyons and a New Year’s day Tea dance at Clermont Ferrand. »
Quick calculation – a 600 mile round trip over the New Year weekend. He can do it, he does it pretty much every weekend.
« The lengths you go to for a few lousy Euros » he sniffles before letting loose with a hacking cough like he mokes twenty a day. Michel’s never smoked though, he hardly drinks and his only drug problem at the moment is he can’t get any aspirin because the pharmacy is closed.
New Year’s Evev gig with the Swing Kings – mostly Glenn Miller with a spot of Rock and Roll shoved in to the musical mix. Standard dance gig, Michel will paly for six hours. Bed for the night – the band leader’s camper van or a rented caravan at a local trailer park. Next day, up to Clermont Ferrand – same band but different name – The Teatime Orchestra – popular French inter war dance classics, tin pan alley stuff.
« Why are you phoning ? » he finally asks, still wheezing and gruniting as he lift his drumkit into the car.
« Wish you happy new year you silly sod, and invite you and your better half round for dinner one night. »
« Not until February » he replies – booked chock-a-block with new year tea dances mostly round olfd folks homes.
Another mate on the musical radar is Larry – late fifties guitarist, I used to sing with him in a cover band, mostly seventies stuff – Deep Purple, Toto, Free – all the stuff I just won’t sing anymore because I’m sick of it.
When he’s not doing the danceband thing, Larry plays in a local Pink Floyd tribute band and fills in on his banjo with a local Breton folk group, mostly doing sea shanties.
Tonight, he’s off on the New Year weekend cicrcuit – a dinner dance near Bordeaux with Fabulous Fred and his Mambo Kings, then New Year’s Day tea dance up in La Rochelle with the same band.
Fabulous Fred and his Mambo Kings – a lot of sassa and tango and anything else that the punters want – it is a standard dance band set up – two guitaritsts, a bass player, a keyboard who doubles as accordion when required, drummer/percussionist (standard kit with a couple of congas thrown in for good measure) – a poncey singer (hairy chest in a in a frilly shirt) and two female backing vocalists – fabulous Fred’s wife and sister in law – both ladies famous for their pot plant like stage présence but not their vocal prowess) and never forget the horn section.
I am very scathing of local dance bands, mind you most of them are not local. The Sing Kings rope in musicians from the four corners of France. They rehearse on an internet video link once a month. As for the répertoire – a catalogue of over three hundred songs – all codified. They don’t even give each other tittles on stage ; « Play 1A or 1B or 3C »
So, I hang up on Larry as he laods his gear in to his aging Mercedes – no he’s not rich, he’s got a late 70s breakdown diesel Merc because it is cheap and comfortable and had enough boot space to take all his gear.
So, why am I telling you all this
Because 2017 will be the year that I stop the draughty village hall gig circuit. I’m not a Professional musician, but with my band we do the local « Saturday night, dead gig, benefit gig, don’t give a fuck » circuit, and I’m sick of doind Deep Purple covers in local Church halls, and I admire all those unsung, gifted musicians, forced to travel the length and breadth of provincial France for a fistful of Euros and playing music they hate. No family life, no wage slips, living hand-to-mouth, because they wanted to be professional musicians . This is the reality. A six hour gig on a New Year’s night s far from home. Waking up to no breakfast in a trailer park far from your loved ones on New Year’s day with still yet another gig to do.
For all jobbing musicians all over the world. forced to pay what you hate far from home- I love you all.
Punk Rock – forty years young this week – the release of Anarchy in the UK by the Sex Pistols. This being a French things blog, here is a Anarchy in the Uk sung in a rather good French translation by Mr Rotten himself. Watch the video for the reaction of the French to Mr Vicious in his errant ramblings round Paris. I guess punk was designed to shock – anarchy and swastikas – no real political statement, just a confused desire to be different, to shock, to break the existing musical codes. – A much quoted start from Mr Lydon himself – he walked down that very fashionable “Swinging London” street The King’s Road in 1975, wearing a T shirt bearing the words “I hate Pink Floyd” he was spat on by hippies (perish the thought). Punk, still as fresh now as it was then. Some music is timeless because it is too technical and immensely boring (Pink Floyd, The Eagles, Boston) etc. Some music is actual like Mr Springsteen because he addresses issues (via a gritty and traditional style). A lot f music is throwaway and expendable, but Punk is just simply eternal. Enjoy the vid. Just to say that the French never really had a rock movement equivalent to punk – French punk was just noisy new wave pop with groups like Telephone. In Rock terms (though many will disagree) France has always been very conservative – Hey we still venerate Johnny Halliday. I guess the real French musical revolution came with Electro – daft Punk, David Guetta, Lost Cities and now (oh shit) the world’s best known French artist “Christine and the Queens” WTF is that about. So dear readers, long live punk, thanks to the Pistols – I know you are all screaming “what about Joey and the guys???” well they weren’t truly punk and neither was Patty Smith – best American punk band ever, the MC5. Like the Pistols, they are not yet and will never be past their “Sell By” date. Listen to the original Sex Pistols, as good today as ever it was.
It’s that Saturday morning thing – catching up on neglected household chores,the dirty washing piling up and festering away in the laundry basket , that broken light bulb I’ve been meaning to change for weeks – the plates in the sink that I couldn’t be bothered to wash last night and the kitchen floor could do with a good mopping it looks more like pavement than a floor
Breakfast first, life begins with breakfast – yes, a good breakfast – no matter what happens today, no matter how bad this day can be – at least if I’ve had a decent breakfast … like the mantra of the condemned man about to walk out on to the scaffold – at least I won’t die on an empty stomach.
This is France so, Fresh croissants, delicious baguette, a good strong coffee – Don’t kid yourself, the baguette is rock hard, and I’ve run out of coffee, so I’ll just microwave the ominous brown dregs lurking at the bottom of the cafetière. Eggs, I’ll make scrambled eggs! I think there’s still a a couple of eggs sitting in a box at the back of the fridge, where they have been for weeks on end and are well past their «use by date» and so I can’t use them and were I a condemned man, I’d just give this breakfast a miss hoping that there might be something better for lunch. Microwaved coffee, hard bread and I begin to write a shopping list.
No point listening to the radio, I don’t fancy breakfast with Donald. Yeah, even three days after the event, it’s just all non-stop post mortem on the US election results. Experts and more experts until there are no more experts left, all giving the same expert analysis that … they got it wrong and now no one knows what the Donald is going to happen.
To be continued (perhaps)