Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Young Americans

As David Bowie traversed the deep valley between the vast, self-made mountains of glam-rock apocalyptica (‘Diamond Dogs’) and the ominous Euro-alienation that beckoned (‘Station to Station’), he made his best album of all: ‘Young Americans’ – the sound of a legend passing time.

Bowie appears on the cover looking cool, calm and collected, slick and delicious, yet pensively baleful – he was at his most beautiful, and he knew how to use it. Heavily influenced by the gleaming, commercial sound of Philadelphia soul but with a deferential, elegant curtsey to Lord Lennon (‘Across the Universe’) thrown in to keep his roots intact, the blatantly mercantile ‘Young Americans’ gave Bowie his first US number one hit (the clunky, hollow ‘Fame’), yet it continues to be the album that divides his longstanding fans. But who can listen to the achingly bittersweet ‘Can You Hear Me’, the empty desperation of ‘Win’ or the soft, melodic funk of ‘Right’ and not be completely seduced by the showbiz whore who falteringly led a whole generation through their turbulent adolescence and beyond?

If I had to choose one album to define the soundtrack of my life, ‘Young Americans’ would be it: heartache, devastation, beauty, cynicism and drama contained in just eight songs; life’s rich tapestry in all its vacillating, disingenuous glory.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Let's Dance?

Further to my post yesterday regarding literary inspirations and the impulse to write, I got to thinking about song lyrics - often just as inspirational, in all kinds of ways, as books, with the added bonus that a lyric (or, more specifically, a melody) can drag a memory or an atmosphere back from the past faster than a long-forgotten name or even a photograph can. Perfume can do this too, or even a certain taste; as I’ve said in a previous ramble, a well-lived life is a synaesthetic experience ... and music provides the soundtrack.

Unusually for a girl, I have a vast collection of Hornby-esque, ever-evolving Top Ten Chart lists stored in various notebooks and in my head, divided into categories such as ‘Greatest Love Songs Ever!’, with further subheadings according to mood (for the purposes of this example, ‘sad’, ‘happy’, ‘desperate’, ‘weird’, etc). Currently riding high on my ‘Top Ten Uplifting Songs’ chart is Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya!’, which is unusual for me because the song is relatively modern (my lists are largely dominated by Queen, Marc Bolan, Meat Loaf, Shirley Bassey and the indisputable King of Everything, David Bowie, with Rufus Wainwright gamely holding his own as a young pretender to the throne).

Anyway, I’m digressing, when I’m supposed to be attempting - for once! - to be brief, largely to appease the Animal Disco fans who have asked me to provide them with convenient quick fix bulletins (yes, Anna in Padstow, this one’s for you!). However, I also want to prove to myself that I can indeed publish an Animal Disco post during a coffee break, thereby insuring that we don’t get back into the ‘long days of silence’/nerves habit that I waffled about in the ‘Hello again’ post. So, I’m going to dash off now and leave you with what I believe to be one of the All Time Greatest Ever Pop Songs EVER. If you want a quick real-time blast of it before your coffee cup empties, go to You Tube and look for The Icicle Works 'Love is a Wonderful Colour'. If you’ve got a little bit more time to browse, the lyrics are cheekily cut-and-pasted below. If you’re Ian McNabb, please don’t shout at me for posting your words onto my blog - please take it as the compliment it is intended to be, and not a breach of copyright. And whoever you are, if you don’t agree that this song is a novel, a bottle of perfume, a snapshot and a modern day madeleine, combined with the texture of pure silk, join me on the dancefloor and we’ll argue it out. Later, Animals! x


The Icicle Works: Love is a Wonderful Colour

My friend and I were talking one evening, beside some burning wood,
Trading tales of places we came upon when the times were good,
Spoke of a girl he viewed like no other, whom he had come to know,
I swallowed hard and listened intently, resigned beside the glow...

Always there, it's standing proudly, when all else falls down,
It's all around you, didn't it find you, when you said you couldn't be found?

When love calls me, I will be running swiftly to find out just what all the fuss is all about.
Unrelentless, deep in the strangest feelings, believe me -
Love is full of wonderful colour...

I insist that you pick the wrong one to preach your theories to,
Simmer down, we'll run for a reason, to see what faith can do,

Love is a beacon, on the horizon - watch when you touch down,
Reality finds you fumbling for reasons, when the chance comes 'round

When love calls me, I will be running swiftly to find out just what all the fuss is all about.
Unrelentless, deep in the strangest feelings, believe me -
Love is full of wonderful colour...

Take my confidence to guide you,
Through the fallen hope inside you,
Love is full of wonderful colour.

(Totally copyright secure; don't even think about plagiarism!).

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Inspiring stuff!

“There is a place beyond silence and it is a pale, cold shade of blue”.

That line - from Alison Jameson’s atmospheric 2006 novel ‘This Man and Me’ - jumped out at me, and has loitered at the edge of my consciousness long since I finished the book. Sometimes, a phrase, or an expression, or even just a single word has that affect on me. Most of the stories in Dan Rhodes’ ‘Anthropology’ stayed with me for a year after I read it. Scott Heim’s ‘Mysterious Skin’ was so profoundly influential on my writing life that I fully admit to attempting outright plagiarism in several short stories since. The same goes for Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’, and pretty much everything written by Dave Eggers (particularly the short story collection ‘How We Are Hungry’).

Sometimes, though, my creative heroes du jour are much closer to home. Me fella started his blog at roughly the same time as I started scribbling here, and - while the themes that he’s driven to offer an opinion on may have caused the odd spot of domestic turbulence at the Animal Disco - he’s already proved himself to be, to me, the thoughtful, considered, intelligent journalistic firecracker I saw the initial flickers of when we first met (proud of him? You bet I am!). My best friend says he’s exhausted and fresh out of inspiration or motivation to do anything, let alone write. Then, while the rest of the city sleeps, he writes a review of a Rufus Wainwright gig for publication in a national broadsheet; when it appears in print just a few short hours later, the piece is so effervescent it practically leaps off the page. At a time when the whole of the world’s ‘lifestyle’ media seems to be saturated with jaded, know-it-all food critics who try to out-ponce each other on a regular basis, Doc - the food editor at the magazine I work for - writes restaurant reviews that are fresher than Hugh Fearney-Whittingstall’s supper.

And beyond what others have already written, ‘writerly inspirations’ are everywhere. The one and only time I bought a copy of Bath’s local newspaper, the chronic Chronicle, I noticed that the vendor’s dog - a terrier cross not too far removed from the traditional Punch and Judy dog - was suffering from severe, cloudy cataracts; that sad little dog became the inspiration for an essay (‘Today’s Smile’) that I intend to publish here soon. I wrote ‘Charity’ (also set to join the fun at the Animal Disco any day now) after finding an original copy of the late, great Divine’s single ‘Walk Like a Man’ in my local Oxfam shop. The sentence that sparked off the whole theme for a collection of short stories that I’ve set myself up for derision for already by grouping them together under the title ‘Perfect’ (which won’t be appearing here unless - or until? - they’ve returned from their latest trip around the desktops of various literary agents) was uttered over 25 years ago by my then best friend, the late, great Brian (Brenda) King. Weather, taste, a TV advert, a delayed bus, a throwaway comment made by a school kid in the corner shop - everything and anything that grabs my attention makes me want to grab my notebook and start creating a whole new world.

I write, therefore I am? No, I’m fine with why I am who I am. I write because I have to.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Hello again!

It’s a funny old thing, this blogging business. But then again, so am I. I opened the Animal Disco over a month ago, when surfing on a big wave of enthusiasm and excitement. All the (largely previously-published) blah-blah that I was so keen to share with the world were thrown, with wild abandon and not much consideration, into the party, and there I was: immortalised on the World Wide Web forever.

It was my full intention that this blog would be the start of something big - big in my little world anyway, where opportunities to freely ‘publish’ all the stuff that I really want to write about are few and far between. Loads of short stories, several chapters from various novels, even diary entries - I intended to post them here in rapid succession, if only to satisfy my niece’s curiosity regarding exactly what Aunty M does all day (and what she did in previous days, when she herself was merely an eye-twinkle). But then. ho hum, life happened - a life that seriously got in the way of my Animal Disco dreams.

As you may have gathered, I’m a freelance journalist - an occupation with a workload that, though extremely fulfilling and tons of fun, ebbs and flows to no particular rhyme, reason or rhythm. Suddenly, there was a Student Guide to write, and loads of restaurants, books and theatre to review (somebody’s got to do it, etc). There were several Home Interiors features to rattle through - and, as all those who have seen my lovely home will know, I’m just the person for such jobs (“Yeah, right” , says Thumper the Lizard). I had family visiting, and meals to cook, and fake tan to apply, and ... excuses, excuses? Well, yes and no. The workload has been very real. But beyond such restraints, there’s been another little niggle nagging at me every time I sat down to contribute some tunes to my own party.

Actually externalising the internal rambles that, so far, lie hidden away in notebooks, diaries and password-protected documents on a computer - or writing fresh, uncommissioned truths from the heart - is a very different process to rattling off supposedly caustic commentaries (see, ‘Mouthing Off’) or racing through bouncy, optimistic ‘lifestyle’ pieces (see, most of what I get paid to do). It’s downright scary, actually! I know, I know - millions upon millions of people are, to various degrees of success, bravely (or perhaps unthinkingly) stuffing their own blogs full of doo-dah all day long. Do they give a toss about who is - or, more likely, who isn’t - reading anything that they self-publish? Ah yes, the good ones are - that’s why, dear reader, they’re good. And those who are kind enough to read the results of our work take us very seriously indeed.

When I started this project, I thought it unlikely that many people would come and dance with me. And yet, from Day One, I attracted reaction - most of it positive, too. I can’t say that the Animal Disco has legions of loyal fans, but, despite a total lack of publicity, there are a few. So, for them, I’m going to bite the bullet and start this ball rolling properly.

I’m sorry for the lack of music that followed the initial fanfare, but I’m sorting the band out as I write. And write I will - right here. Thank you for sticking with me so far; I hope you continue to make full use of the Access All Areas pass that this blog gives you to my life so far. And hey! Don’t be a stranger ... no matter how strange things get ...