IN SEARCH OF SPACE

Space. The initial frontier.

Have you sometimes lost sight of your writing? There were times during the past three months when I simply forgot the existence of Lonely Keyboards. Yet as I sit here now I clearly recall the joy of beginning this second blog-that’s-not-always-about-music, and the thrill of engaging with a new audience. As it turned out the audience was not always new; some friends travelled across from Vinyl Connection, revealing different aspects of themselves from the world of music blogging. Often what was shared was more visible, more vulnerable, more human. I cherished those moments. It’s one thing to high-five when someone’s taste in music confirms your own good judgement, but it is quite another to breath deeply into another’s confusion, or struggles with creativity, or experience of grief and loss. 

Not that there has been an absence of writing: the weekly (sometimes twice-weekly) posts at Vinyl Connection keep me tapping away and spinning records most days. My fondness for connected series—currently the birth of progressive music—means I regularly feel impelled by a sense of completion to push out another missive. Sometimes that internal pressure squeezes the enjoyment a little, but I do it anyway. It has become a habit. And habits take up space.

A new writing gig began recently. Paid work. Writing album reviews for an on-line retailer. Someone said, ‘Bruce, that’s your dream job!’. Maybe it is; still too early to tell. But one thing is certain, adding another track of music writing onto the weekly playlist of activities has led to an increase in output. And a corresponding decrease in space.

Little time for reflection, then. 

Reflection. The the space where creativity swirls and ideas puff into existence.

What brought this into focus was happening across a newspaper column by a writer I knew, years ago. I enjoyed the piece (which was about celebrating the moment) and looked her up on social media. In no time an electronic connection snapped ‘on’, we’d exchanged email addresses and I had located her blog. Wondered whether she would find my blog. What’s that about? Establishing credentials? Sending a selfie? Found myself reflecting that Vinyl Connection is mostly straight music writing these days. The river of memoir-music stories may not have run dry, but it has slowed to a trickle. I kind of shrugged to myself. ‘It is what it is’. Then I remembered Lonely Keyboards, recalled the intoxicating (but scary) high after Goodbye Piper was picked up; the steady, inevitable decline of interest as I steadfastly avoided most return-follows, the settling in with a small but engaged readership who seemed interested in the inner experiences of writing and life… 

We reveal different personas in different settings. Both blogs are ‘me’, and neither.

Sometimes if you put yourself into a certain context, that will close a circuit inside you. Lenny Kaye once said, ‘Pick up a guitar and see who you become’. Maybe writers could say, ‘Start a blog and see who you are’. Who you are today, at least. Conduct an assay of your inner mineral deposits via qwerty. Test the quality of the interior air with a canary keyboard. Could be methane, could be gold.

But first you have to make the space, and be in the moment. Maybe even turn off the music for a bit, and listen.

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RECORDS

It is not uncommon to hear the acronym OCD* and my name in close proximity. The remark is invariably linked to the music collection. Its sheer volume. The rituals of care to protect it. The order. The tension between delight, comfort and satisfaction and the almost unbearable millstone it sometimes represents.

I once asked a fellow music-nut about his recorded music holding and he promptly slapped me down. ”Let’s not get into a dick-swinging competition,” he said. No, let’s not. So we’ll leave it at ‘big’. 

Big enough that if I took one LP or CD per day (to keep the doctor away, you understand), I wouldn’t need to visit said physician for a couple of decades. 

I blame affluence and greed. There are the resources to acquire goodies, so goodies are acquired. It’s a shameful admission and one I much prefer to avoid thinking about. Sometimes I hide the indulgence via deflection: a minuscule donation to a worthy cause, support for this or that. Kind of like attempting to hide a used car lot under a handkerchief. There is no deception like self-deception.

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The protection of the asset involves several ceremonies. A treating professional’s diagnosis would allow that cleaning secondhand records before playing is a sensible and logical process; sound is improved and condition maintained. But cleaning new records? And what about the brand new inner sleeves? Writing that makes me laugh; I want to tell you about audiophiles who pay big bucks for top-end inner sleeves boasting all kinds of protective virtues. If I compare myself to them, how normal am I? So instead I’ll note that I purchase those (inexpensive, not-at-all lavish or obsessive) inner sleeves by the hundred. Or at least in fifties. Same with outer covers. A transparent square raincoat to shield the corruptible cardboard sleeves and precious vinyl from harm. They are vulnerable; need protection. The shepherd cares for his flock.

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How can I possibly know all these uncountable albums? Put simply, I don’t. A tiny fraction—mostly those of my youth—are very well-known; played into my psyche like ink into a water glass, permanently colouring the way I hear music. 

As the interest in different styles developed, these core albums were like stones in a lake, sending ripples out into previously unknown sonic worlds. Early on I noticed how an album that, on first listen, confounded with its complexity (or simplicity) or repelled with its intensity (or passivity) became, on subsequent listens, a trusted guide in unfamiliar territory.

But this romanticising is disingenuous. If I played every album sufficiently to really get to know it, the listening time would stretch to several lifetimes. Yet I still buy records. And I still listen to each new acquisition at least twice before filing.

Filing. Another source of jests. I’ve written about this at Vinyl Connection, so will not wander down that muddy path again, other than to observe that if you have a great many of something and want to find anything, you need order. The alphabet is very handy in this regard. 

One of the most pleasurable parts of the process is carefully placing the new item, still warm and drowsy from its initial listens, into the correct place on the shelves. There’s a kind of release, an exhalation. And a sense of increasing the heft of the collection with this one-leaf addition. Sometimes I think it’s the weight of the record shelves that prevents me drifting off into space. Vinyl gravity.

Then there’s mastery: knowing stuff others don’t, being a repository of arcane information. 

Custodianship, self-reward, addiction, blog-powering. We’re far from done, but we’re done for now. Anyway, I’m about to second-listen a lovely re-issue of the Dali’s Car album. 

After which I’ll file it between Daddy Cool and Roger Daltry.

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* Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: An anxiety condition characterised by repetitive thoughts or actions. Many people have set habits or know the experience of double-checking the front door; OCD is considered a diagnosis when it significantly interferes with everyday life. More here:

https://www.sane.org/mental-health-and-illness/facts-and-guides/obsessive-compulsive-disorder

Do you collect something? Or perhaps live with a collector? Do share…

FRENCH OPEN – DAY ONE

Excitement is a word often associated with Paris, as is love. Both are present in abundance as the French Grand Slam approaches like a fully laden 747.

Most of the main contenders have settled into their accommodation and have familiarised themselves with the facilities which are, as usual, outstanding.

Around the practice courts casual observers have been delighted to see legends of the game Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli having a gentle trundle round the clay, the guitarist with an ever-present cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth while the dapper violinist has had the small band of watchers in stitches by miming playing his racquet with a bow. They are not here to compete, of course, but to play an exhibition match for invited guests. It was a lovely moment when jazz-fusion pioneer Jean-Luc Ponty—much fancied to go deep into the second week of the tournament—was seen chatting with Master Grappelli after the practice session. Ponty exudes a quiet confidence, having taken home the trophy twice already in his career, most recently with his brilliant use of sequencers on the enduringly fresh jazz-fusion-electronica LP Individual Choice.

Also on a practice court, though behind some hastily arranged hessian curtains, was number one seed Jean-Michel Jarre receiving last-minute coaching from his father. It was rumoured that raised voices were heard, though it is likely this was only a result of Jean-Michel whacking tennis balls at lurking paparazzi who demanded to see Charlotte Rampling. ‘We’re divorced,’ muttered Jean-Michel sulkily. ‘Concentrate!’ bellowed his father.

Other magic moments occurred during the closing stages of the qualification rounds, when two of the most colourful entrants played an inconsistent yet wildly entertaining match that lasted well into the evening. No-one gave Moving Gelatine Plates much of a chance against the internationally admired Gong, but the lesser known outfit put in a terrific effort across three fluctuating sets. What a treat for the small but enthusiastic crowd to see such musical madness on display. The Plates, as they are known to their fans, certainly have the musical chops to make it in the big time, though their wilful eccentricity—breaking into a weird version of ‘Three Blind Mice’ during feature piece ‘London Cab’, for instance—sometimes causes them to come unstuck.

Unstuck is a word sometimes associated with Gong too. Unhinged is another. The pot-head pixies were all over the court, dancing, singing and generally taking the piss, though some of the match’s most exciting moments came when the saxophones of Didier Malherbe dueled and danced with the woodwinds of MGP’s Maurice Helminger.

In the end, the deeper experience of Gong got them across the line. After all, MGP only made two albums and Gong are almost immortal. Still, the Plates made many new friends and vowed to return with more Gallic Zappa-ish shenanigans next year.

Let’s hope they do.

The contrast between the mad good-humour of the above match with the scandal that followed could not be more marked. Less than an hour after the two teams downed racquets and opened a magnum of champagne, Gong were disqualified for being insufficiently French. In the subsequent press conference, David Allen, his normally cheerful Australian dialect noticeably strained, expressed disbelief in the tournament referee’s decision.

‘More than half the band are, or at some point will be, French,’ he said. ‘Some individuals are already half-French and others are becoming so as they share in the band’s tea-rituals. It’s silly and we are going back to England where Richard Branson understands us. Or did, at some point.’

Moving Gelatine Plates were awarded the now-vacant place in the main draw, but politely declined.

‘We’ve had a great time playing with Gong,’ they said, ‘But that’s enough tennis for now. We’re going back to bed because no-one understands us.’

Officials, panicking a little at the gap in the draw, made a hasty phone-call Jacques Loussier. The jazz pianist had been eliminated during the quals and was in the act of checking out of his hotel when he took the call. Reluctant at first—‘This is no place for a serious musician,’ he is reported to have said—the chamber jazz maestro was lured back with the promise of the #3 seeding, placing him in what many consider to be the most volatile quadrant of the draw.

The top seeds, then, are as follows:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre
  2. Jean-Luc Ponty
  3. Jacques Loussier
  4. Heldon

The entire draw appears below.

*

Further posts in this series can be found at VINYL CONNECTION

*

The French Open series was inspired by, and is a tribute to, much-loved and greatly missed writer/comedian John Clarke [29 July 1948—9 April 2017].

The Tournament by John Clarke (Text Publishing Company, Melbourne, Australia, 2002)

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ZONES

Exhausted, but not yet ready for bed. This hour after partner and child have retired has become a treasured space. Sometimes I write, sometimes spin a record. Often both. 

Right now, Tangerine Dream are soothing me with Stratosfear for the hundredth time.

If I can raise the energy I’ll go for a walk. Takes effort, this deep into autumn. There is a feeling of ‘should’—for mind and heart and to get back into the body after being in others’ lives all day. But I probably won’t, tonight. Bed beckons.

Waking, inevitably, I lift my head and see the green numerals of the old clock radio on Cal’s side. I always hope it will be later than it is. The dream of longer sleep. Perchance to have a wee. The delights of middle-age, wherein restful slumber becomes a mythic quest. Unending, never fulfilled. Imagine a time when your bladder made it through the night. Is there a country song about that?

There’s an app on the computer dashboard for clocks. Pick a location, anywhere, and  it shows you their time. I have a few set up. A local one for reference and one for the UK, where Cal is from. I know the time difference, but always get confused when daylight-saving cycles shift gear.

Much harder for North America. Different zones. For simplicity’s sake I have two, east and west. The calculation is trickier and not self-evident. My American friend told me she subtracts a day then adds eight hours. But is that east or west? Sometimes I delete the clock and re-install it so that when I pick the city the hands spin backwards to the intercontinental time. Right now, it’s coming up to 7:00am in San Francisco, ten in DC. Time zones to represent my blogging friends. Do I presume too much? Some feel like friends, for sure. Others are more cautious acquaintances. I’d like more, and more depth, but I don’t want any more. Friendships require work, energy, input. Tonight I’m depleted, headachey, chardonnayed.

Sometimes I post a comment and get an immediate response from Portland or Boston. It always feels pretty cool to have this little dialogue across the world in real time. My grandparents used to mail three-inch reel-to-reel tapes to family in the old country. A conversation measured out in months. I remember a bunch of aunts and uncles, the men in suits, standing round a microphone my grandfather had plugged into his open reel deck. He positioned them around the homemade mic stand and did a practice run before the real recording. Bess, take those beads off, they sound like static. I always thought they became more English when they were compiling these stilted messages to their un-migrated brethren. Thinking about the destination of the magnetic tape erased years of Australian twang. Or maybe it was that tot of sherry. Sweet.

Tonight, I could suggest skyping or face-timing to one of my blog friends. What would they sound like? Would I suddenly become more Aussie? G’day mate. Just so they weren’t in any doubt.

I won’t be suggesting a link-up though. They might be disappointed in me or I in them. And we’d have the same laboured conversations about the seasons or differences in word usage and secretly snigger at each others dialects.

Almost out of tape, so signing off now. Love to all of you over there. Hope to plan a trip soon. Enjoy the warm weather!

Time to go clean my teeth. Maybe there’ll be a little orange dot on the bell by the time the ablutions are done. Instant like-ification. Maybe even a comment. But I won’t engage now. I’ll be in better form in the morning, with a coffee, though my respondent will probably be at lunch or dinner or asleep.

Tssssss…

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