as a wordsmith if not as a human being

I spend a considerable amount of time trying to marry the acapella of the new Eminem single with instrumental of Captain Beefheart’s Bat Chain Puller. It’s an interesting task, since I have to try to get the variable Beefheart tempo to settle down (and I speed it up slightly to match the vocal) and snip the vocal so that the right syllables land in the right places. Then I go off to the gym and MTV shows me how much better Dr Dre does it (but then he’s had more practise). Listening closely to the vocal really boosts my opinion of Eminem as a wordsmith if not as a human being.


The Lease Holder’s Chap has come back to wake everybody up early in the morning. I wonder if he’ll leave a ladder up outside my bedroom window like he did last time. That would be cool. After all, everybody wants drunks and post-club loons trying to climb into their bedroom, don’t they? It’s the stuff of life.

Joan’s for rehearsal in the afternoon. It is productive and I at least confirm that the parts I’ve worked out for her songs fit with them more or less. I will have many other opportunities to test them out and at greater volumes.

Thankfully the LH’sC takes the scaffoling down in the evening. Unthankfully there’s even more of it and he’s left it in the hallway again making getting in and out quite difficult.

Nearest thing to a source of joy

Back to Walker’s to get on with the Maisy, this time buoyed up by the Cardiacs albums on minidisk. Hugely grinworthy. At lunchtime I have a nap with the lunchtime concert on in my headphones (because I’m an old man). It appears that they have changed then end time of it, so that whereas it used to finish at 2:00, now I emerge embarrassed from the side room at quarter past. I’ll complain to the controller of Radio 3.

Cardiacs all the way home, too. Nearest thing to a source of joy I’ve stumbled across in the last few weeks.

I make up for it at the end of the day, though, and get back late. Tonight I watch the DVD of the concert performance of Follies, which also has Elaine Stritch and Stephen Sondheim and Thomas Z Shepherd in it. It is interesting to see how they have aged (Stritch not at all, the beard suits Sondheim, Shepherd still carries the same air of confused annoyance). Not as interesting as the Company thing, partly because I don’t like the show as much (I think enjoying a lot of the show relies on recognising and enjoying the vaudeville pastiches), and it’s carried out in an (understandably) congratulatory atmosphere – it’s showbiz, whereas the Pennebaker film is of work.

the sudden absence of the stuff

I seem to spend the whole day fielding telephone calls, one of which is from Zaid asking why I didn’t turn up last week. I would have told him if I’d been able to get through to him. So the phone was turned off, or I had the old number. He is about to give me the new nimber when the phone goes dead. Hmm. I get it from 1471 anyway. Later I realise that next thursday (when I had agreed to play for him) would be a very bad time and I try to call and cancel. But the phone is turned off. Hmm.

In the evening I watch the Company DVD with the commentary. Not much to add, really, but it is even more deeply fascinating, with observations from Pennebaker, Hal Prince and Elaine Stritch. It is also interesting how something like Company that exists within a certain period of time and is then lost except to the memories of the people who saw it and through artefacts like the programme, photographs, the soundtrack album and this film (the admittedly unique film of the recording of the soundtrack album), which we have to crossreference to try and get an impression of the show (a bit like the way we see a black hole by the sudden absence of the stuff that is around it). When they are performing the songs, the actors sometimes gesture and pull faces, which are presumably part of the actual performance. So we only see the show through echoes, and through later productions (which must be aware of this original, Ur-production in some way).

I need to ease myself back into it

I deliver a Glitter Girls cover to Tim at Scholastic and then go and buy a completely superfluous guitar tuner, some strings, and (from Virgin) ten blank minidisks and Cardiacs’ Sing to God Part One and Part Two, and from Selectadisk, their On Land and In the Sea as well as Tales From Topographic Oceans by Yes and Songs to Remember by Scritti Politti, these two latter being replacements for hugely loved vinyl.

Then minor tweaks to a Macmillan job and off to the Post Office to get it Special D’d to them. The disappointment of the chap-behind-the-counter is eveident when he discovers that it is not too late for Special D and that he has to do it anyway. He assuages his upset by making me lick my own stamps.

I begin to copy my newly-acquired CDs to minidisk to allow me to listen to them whilst wandering around.

Then to the gym where I manage some pathetic feats of endurance (not helped by the fact that the treadmill has evidently decided that 0.9 KmPH is the perfect speed and refuses to acknowledge any other, but only after it’s been at 10.4 KmPH for ten minutes, so although the machine is going at 10.4, it thinks it’s at 0.9 and refuses to slow down, with a result similar to having your tie stuck in the doors of an underground train, although without any oncoming walls to spoil your afternoon permanently) and sit in the hot room. They have decided that fans are not the answer to overheating and so haven’t got any this year, with the result that the place is eaven more uncomfortably warm than it would have been with the fans. They may come up with an alternative solution by September, for implementation in October. They were very pleased with their air conditioning for a very long time, but have evidently come to the same conclusion as the rest of us – that it makes no difference whatsoever.

I go to the Samye Dzong for Shinay and manage about half an hour before my bladder refuses to take any more. When I get up both feet have gone to sleep and I decide that I need to ease myself back into it gently.

At home I watch the DA Pennebaker documentary about the recording of the Original Cast Album of Company, which is fascinating on a number of levels. On the one hand I get to see what the performers of an album I’ve been listening to since I was ten, on the other there are the vocal performances (Getting Married Today, for example, seems even more impossible when you can see the actress not having anywhere to breathe) and in particular (and widely spoken of) Elaine Stritch’s performance of The Ladies Who Lunch at the end of the 18-hour session. Pennebaker shows the complete first take and it’s a stunning performance as long as you can see her doing it. Sondheim and producer Thomas Z Shepherd dismiss it as flaccid, Stritch redoubles her efforts but with diminishing returns. Eventually they lay down an orchestra track and she comes in a couple of days later and overdubs a vocal. we can hear how much stronger and assured the vocal is (and obviously it’s the one I’ve been listening to all these years) but without the desperation of being a part of that mammoth session.

Another pleasure is that the film sound recordists go amongst the performers with the camera, so we can hear little details usually lost in the whole, such as that the horns are playing the Bobby-baby motif (from the opening of the show) during Another Hundred People. And there’s a commentary and interviews for another day. Hurrah.

No doubt it was all intended as Alienation Technique,

Work appears for me to do at home, and so I do it, the perfect arrangement. I’ve tried the alternative method (where work appears, but I do not do it) but find that it makes me jumpy, guilty and slightly paranoid and that ungrateful employers use it as an excuse not to pay me. And of course I end up doing the work anyway, only over an all-night period. So it’s the Doing-the-work paradigm for me in my old age.

Following a like from the Music Forum I find Cardiacs’ Website and page, from which I download all the sample mp3s. I had thought that they were a psycho-billy band, but find that they are an insane crossreferencing of different styles – an unholy marriage of Gentle Giant and the Ramones with vocals from Robyn Hitchcock perhaps – and that they are a missing band that I should have been listening to for twenty years.

Head still bubbling with Cardiacs, I go up to the South Bank to meet up with Ben for the The The gig tonight. We agree to meet up with Laura in Chez Gerard, but it appears that they are closed on account of a Private Party so we end up having sandwiches from Eat at the RFH. As Ben points out, the paper cups also carry they word "Eat" on them, which is just wrong.

The first half of the The The thing is Jim (Foetus / Clint Ruin/etc) Thirlwell and friend performing as Baby Zizanie, so extended Powerbook noodlings with astonishingly repetitive video projections. Then some films (grainy DV things) the most entertaining of which is a drunk man leaning against a wall, although there is some pleasure for me to be had in some of the other gritty videos spotting places I know (bits of South London).

For the The The set, Mr Thirlwell is back, having done sequences and electronic backings for Mr Johnson’s songs, almost all of which are new and almost all of which are astonishingly depressing even by Mr Johnson’s standards. They are both sitting behind a table, and I formulate at theory whereby if you want to be a performer, it is very important that the audience be able to see your legs, even if they are fat and hairy. I don’t not enjoy it – I mean I like the idea of that sort of thing, but he would have done himself a big favour if he’d stood up. It would have been like Blancmange or early Soft Cell then, an impression amplified by the use of film loops and video projections (though sadly the same ones we’d watched in the first half). But the thing with Johnson is that he does mean it, it won’t have been something that he threw together in the morning. No doubt it was all intended as Alienation Technique, but that was designed for preformances that were already electrifying in dramatic intensity. The combination of the projections, the newsreader-style preformance, the sequences and the choice of near-autistic material results merely in alienating the audience. In response, the ones who have not left quietly (Laura is one of them) clap politely. There is no encore despite the fact (judging by the presence of an unused mic on a stand at the left of the stage) that one may have been prepared for, with guest vocalist, even. But not even the possibility of Slow Train To Dawn will keep an audience eager for bed in their seats.

It did take a lot of preparation, but an audience want to see the work that they are paying for carried out before their eyes. If I’d paid to go I’d have been very annoyed.

I go with Ben for a coffee (Decaf) and to discuss the performance, which has left us bemused as much as anything else. When I’m walking home I call Laura to see if she stormed out in disgust, but she says that she just decided that after half an hour or so she realised he wasn’t going to so anything else so she might as well go home.

Less than satisfying, then.

No Walkers today, but I spend the morning finishing something that I thought I’d have finished by first thing, and then the afternoon having it collected.

In the evening I go round to the Three Stags for the jazz thing, but it’s, I don’t know, difficult. I get one solo (on Albert’s famous shifting version of Pennies From Heaven – whenever you think he’s settled down, he moves half a bar out of time), and it’s dreadful. I try playing along with other things and it’s even worse. I should just shut up, since I don’t really have a right to ruin it for anyone else. Actually, I should do what the others do – learn a tune and put my name down on the list. But my life’s a bit hectic for that at the moment.

Less than satisfying, then.

the tone of desperate rationalisation

A day when nothing much happens, save going to the supermarket, a moderate amount of gym-based exercise and some work, and I see what strange noises I can coax out of the (still un-GK2A-ed) VG-88. If I had bought all the effects pedals that are bundled up in the box seperately it would have cost even more (notice the tone of desperate rationalisation that’s crept into my voice).

many opportunities for pointless dithering

Being a weekend, I’m afforded many opportunities for pointless dithering. At 6:00, however, I go along to the RFH ballroom to see a free set by the Polyphonic Spree. Very different from the gig the other day (the RFH ballroom is more like a small club without walls) but their enthusiasm does seem to win over an initially sceptical crowd, especially after Mr DeLaughter specifies one song to be a good song to stand to, and the group of people seated on the floor like primary-school children rise and turn into a gig audience, many of whom will then go and see Coldplay and notice nothing awry.

Very loud too.

I walk home with a huge grin, which probably unnerves people on the street as my grins are pretty scary under controlled conditions. I also write an appreciative email to the band, but which mentions that I’m less than likely to listen to the long sampler track very often and that their website doesn’t work (both true, but less than tactful in retrospect, especially when I’m trying to say something nice).

This is the bus route of doom!

After the now-obligatory "work" period I wander over to Hammersmith to Polly’s studio to say hi, and a pleasant evening standing around and chatting commences mnd henceforth occurs.

To get home, I am convinced that I should catch a 211 which goes from just outside the studio to Waterloo (which is almost home) rather thn ride the underground. Polly does warn me against this, but I am fearless (and stupid, two sides of the same album), and consequently it takes me one and a half hours to get there, at least an hour of which involves standing in the rain at the bus stop and peering helplessly at approaching vehicles in the hope that one might miraculously stop being, say, a refrigerated container lorry or Nissan Sunny and turn out to be a 211. But not, obviously.

If I had been Not-Stupid I might have been home and in bed by the time the bus arrived. I walked between Hammersmith and the Elephant once and it only took me two and a half hours, not that I would walk in this rain. They have to work out – when it turns out to be easier to walk even quite large distances than to take the bus… we’d probably still stand desperately for hours hoping that a bus will turn up.

There is also a broken-down 211 sitting at the side of the road a 100 yards up it, its emergency lights flashing. It may well have been placed there by locals to warn unwary travellers like myself not to fritter their lives away – "Turn away, stranger! This is the bus route of doom!"

Successful, obviously.

Could that be a… ? No, it’s another 195 (plenty of 195s around. It might have been easier for me to move to Clapham than try to get back to Elephant).

And to add another layer of joy to an already ecstatic occasion, the shelter has been designed with fixed ("vandal-proof" I suppose, not that anything is, which I’m sure the designer and builder of the bus stop will find out soon enough) seating so that if one wants to stand and get shelter, one has to cling to the upright with one’s knees rammed against it (very uncomfortable), whereas if one sits, one’s knees get very wet (since it doesn’t afford that much protection from the rain, unless it falls perfectly vertically, which it does in the world that architects inhabit and nowhere else in the known Universe). And one doesn’t like that.