I’m Curious To Know Exactly How You Are

I had to put a Hüsker Dü song in this list, as they are one of my all-time favourite bands, but it was hard to decide which one. In the end I went for a really obvious choice- the first song of theirs I got into.

Hüsker Dü started out as a straight-up hardcore band in 1980, and became more and more melodic as the years passed until they split up in 1987, I think hitting the point of perfect contrast between the two around 1983/4. Both guitarist Bob Mould and drummer Grant Hart sang and wrote songs- this being one of Grant Hart’s.

As well as the pure momentum and harsh joy of their music, I’m also very appreciative of the fact that Hüsker Dü were a band with two semi-out gay/bi men in, which was a pretty difficult situation to be in, in the ultra-macho world of American punk in the early 80s. (When Grant Hart sadly died recently I was however overjoyed to find out that Grant was short for Grantzberg. Grantzberg).

Candy Apple Grey was the first album I ever bought on vinyl around 99/2000, when I was fourteen to fifteen. I was a big Nirvana fan, and used to read old interviews and reviews and follow up on the references from them, discovering bands like the Pixies, Wipers and the Vaselines in that way. I had the internet at home, but it was essentially useless for actually listening to music as it was so slow and there was hardly any audio actually available, so often you could hear a lot about a band before ever hearing their music.

This was the case for me with Hüsker Dü. I had dusted off an old record player found in a cupboard at my dad’s house (contrary to many dads he has no interest in music), and started going to the excellent local second hand record shop near me- the much-missed Magic Discs in Gillingham, where I spotted Candy Apple Grey. I had already picked up the idea that Hüsker Dü and SST were important, so I had to get it. (This was before Our Band Could Be Your Life came out- a book very much worth reading, about some of my all-time favourite music)

I immediately loved it, and tried to get other people into it too. Unfortunately at that time the majority of my school friends were into Nu Metal, and they weren’t that fussed (the same story for the Pixies). You win some, you lose some. I just kind of ploughed my own furrow of loving Hüsker Dü alone. I couldn’t get hold of an actual Hüsker Dü t-shirt locally, so I made a really bad home-made one in Textiles class (see also bad handmade NIN patches made at the same time). About ten years ago I got a real Hüsker Dü shirt off of eBay, and it remains one of my most worn items. I’m feeling sad lately though as I seem to have misplaced it while moving house. I’m sure it will turn up somewhere. The only disadvantage of it however is that it makes strange men come up to you and fire Hüsker Dü trivia questions at you, like they suspect you of having bought a t-shirt of some 80s punk band you’ve never heard of because you are just so desperate to impress them. Hey guys, you ain’t that interesting. Even worse when I like to wear it with a flowery dress. This is against the rules of early 80s punk apparently and will incense them worse.

Here’s a photo of me on my 26th birthday in 2011 wearing it (and also drenched from a hailstorm- the joy of a January birthday). Yes, that is a banana fritter with a candle in it.

As a bonus, here’s a short Spotify playlist of some personal Hüsker Dü highlights. They’re just in chronological order as they appear on the albums. Metal Circus/Zen Arcade-era Hüsker Dü is probably my high-point.

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“I cried for madder music and for stronger wine”

I have Bacchae prints available again. The text says “I caught this young lion myself without a trap”. Based on the scene from Euripides’ Bacchae where Pentheus’ mother tears her own son’s head off with her bare hands while under Dionysus’ spell and parades it round the stage. Available from me as a print here for £6 or £12 depending on size. Ideal festive gift for all, look how red it is.

It’s also available here as a coffee mug. Ideal for drinking the consecrated blood of your enemies from every morning. (Please note- the mug printing people send them out direct- I only supply the artwork)

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Hobotnica

And to round off my stuff from Croatia, here’s some sketchbook notes from Zadar museum and Trogir. Hobotnica (pronounced hobotnitsa) is Croatian for octopus. It’s a good word.

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Croatia Playlist

So here’s my playlist from Croatia- it goes with the zine I wrote about the trip. I just seemed to want to listen to nothing but David Lynch type music and the Deftones the whole time I was there. Also features an honorable mention for Iron Maiden, this time not playing simultaneously with Bieber.


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Trogir

So here’s the last of my pictures from Croatia. This time of Trogir, a town up the coast from Split. I went there on the bus, on a whim really, and was glad I did. I wrote about it a bit more in the zine I made recently about Croatia and Slovenia. There’s a harbour, a Venetian castle, and an island with a nature reserve (that I didn’t really have time or motivation to explore in the heat).

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That Cat’s Something I Can’t Explain

I would describe this as essentially a Bond theme about a Siamese cat. I’m a big fan of Syd Barrett, but have a deep pool of loathing for Roger Waters. I would call it an irrational hatred, but I feel like I could come up with plenty of reasons for my loathing. My mother is a big Pink Floyd fan, so I’ve had plenty of exposure over my lifetime to fuel it.

I also find a lot of the discourse about Syd’s withdrawal from fame quite irritating. Like he’s clearly a man who was plagued with a lot of mental and physical health problems, but a lot of the things you see written about him act like he was extra crazy for backing off from rock star fame and going back to his modest little house in Cambridge (I have seen it, it’s not exciting at all). Like “you lived the dream, you must have something really wrong with you to not want to do it any more”. Maybe that wasn’t his dream at all, even in the modest stages of Pink Floyd’s fame before they became a giant business colossus after he left. His songs are full of joy and spontaneity and just the pleasure of being creative, and I imagine that level of money focus would have totally crushed that.

Also, in terms of joy-crushing, I spent far too long in London around people who thought Hardcore Was the One True Music and anything too far from HxC was weak, suspect and uncool. Liking Syd Barrett was something I did that was apparently particularly uncool (also-see Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley, Shirley Collins). Imagine having that little joy in life.

On a more cheerful note, my MA supervisor, George Hardie, drew the cover for Dark Side of the Moon. At the time he did it for a lump sum of I think about £50 (he did a lot of other album covers too at that time). Imagine the riches if he’d got a royalty percentage. I don’t think he really cares though, he has had a successful and happy life as an artist. Of course the best gift to get him is the worst bad knockoff Dark Side of the Moon merch you can find. Someone gave him some hideous boxer shorts of his own artwork and he thought they were hilarious. He also collects rulers, especially useless ones that have something wrong with them. I got him a silicone one from a Salvador Dali exhibition that was too flexible to actually rule a line with, but the holy grail I was looking for was a really bad Dark Side of the Moon ruler. I never did find one. A+ MA supervisor, even if my scruffy lines and love of scribbling sometimes made him despair.

I also used to have a beautiful Siamese cat called Oscar. Or perhaps I should say he decided I was his person. He was actually my mum’s cat and lived with her, but was very clear on the fact that he considered himself to be my cat, and was really quite annoyed that I didn’t live in the house. He tried his best to be haughty, aloof and magnificent, but was really just a big fluff who lived for belly rubs (and had a very plush velvety belly). Sadly he died last year of a tumour, which Siamese cats are prone to.

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Marjan

If you keep walking out of Split you end up on the Marjan peninsula. The first time I visited I made the mistake of climbing up to the peak in 35c heat. After that I sensibly took the coast road. I’ve written about it in my Croatia/Slovenia zine as well.

It’s dotted with little chapels and memorials.

Here’s the view of Split from the top.

Lots of pine and cedar trees.

If you walk up the top way, you have to climb through these steep, narrow streets first, which remind me of Naples.

Forest roads.

The rocky coast.

 

 

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I just wait, I just think

I debated which Codeine song to use, the competition was strong. Codeine are often described as Slow-core. Slow songs in Stephen Immerwahr’s (a fitting name- his surname is German for “Always True”) clear voice with vivid images about the small despairs of everyday life and relationships. A long evening alone in the Winter. I imagine a lot of people will hate this and find it dreary, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s anything but.

Lyrics:
First a kiss, then a fall
Some pale shade takes it all
Tangled up in a knot
One foot free, one foot caught

Light the stove with a match
I just wait, I just think
I’m so sad, I can’t stand
I can’t stand, I can’t stand

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Split

Here’s some photos from my trip to Croatia this summer. It was a real last minute thing, I suddenly had a week free in a packed summer of teaching engagements and still didn’t actually live anywhere yet, so I bought a cheap flight to Croatia and did some sightseeing (before returning to Slovenia ten days later for work). Here’s some pictures of Split. I wrote more about the trip in a zine- available here, so I’ll leave the longer writing in there and just show the photos.

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Ponder this to get nearer to nothing

When I wrote the 50 Things About Me entry a little while ago, I started creating a playlist of 50 favourite songs. It got unwieldy and didn’t flow well though, so I gave up. Instead I’ll write a little bit every so often about songs from the list.

The Van Pelt are not famous or well-known outside a small niche. The singer/song-writer  Chris Leo’s brother Ted Leo is much more well-known, and bass player Toko Yasuda has had success over the years playing with Enon, Blonde Redhead and St Vincent, but they never hit the big time. Instead they released two quietly treasured albums in the mid-90s (Sultans of Sentiment and Stealing From Our Favourite Thieves) and then disbanded- they’ve released a collection of sessions that were intended for a third album (Imaginary Third) and done the odd reunion tour (I was lucky enough to catch one in London-it was a very special evening) but I’m guessing only a small selection of my readers will know them.

They can be loosely classed in the post-hardcore genre, but they used the sound to create something with space, sparseness and a sort of philosophical intensity as well as emotional. I guess you could compare them to Modest Mouse but less frantic, or Slint but less searing.

The song references the Zen Buddhist story of Nansen killing a cat- from sweepingzen.com 

“One day at Nansen’s temple in old China, the monks of the eastern and western halls were arguing over a cat. Maybe they were arguing about which residence the cat gets to live in. The eastern people wanted it with them, or the western people wanted it with them, or neither of them actually wanted it, since the cat demanded a lot of attention and during zazen it would curl up on their laps which disturbed their concentration. Or maybe they were just arguing about whether the cat had buddha nature or not, or debating what is a cat anyway? Zen monks can come up with an argument about anything! You’d think they would have better things to do in a Zen temple than argue over cats, but that’s what they were doing on this particular occasion. And when Nansen, their teacher, saw this he held up the cat and said, “If you can express something, it won’t be killed.” The group had no reply so Nansen cut the cat in two.

Later in the day, Nansen’s great disciple Chaochou, who liked to talk about dogs, came back to the temple. Nanchuan brought up the incident and asked for his response. Chaochou immediately took off his sandals, put them on his head and left. Nanchuan said, “If you had been here you could have saved that cat.” Chaochou brought forth a true expression and his teacher seems to have approved it”.

One interpretation of the story it that it’s supposed to illustrate the dangers of being too detached, too enlightened, unable to actually engage with the world, too attached to rhetoric and theory rather than action. Another interpretation is the opposite- that you need to detach cause and effect and action on the world, and stop trying to analyse and intellectualise to achieve true enlightenment.

Chris Leo was brought up Catholic, and rejected it, but he doesn’t seem to have taken to Zen Buddhism or detaching from the world at an intellectual distance either. Ponder this to get nearer to Nothing. Nothing stinks. I guess I can relate. It’s easy to be an observer until you wonder if you exist, but it probably doesn’t do you any good.

Here are the lyrics:
There it is, plain and simple.
It destroyed itself without any of my slander.
This is the lunacy by which we kneel.
This is the doublespeak by which we kill.
This is the inertia that keeps tradition feared.
This is the absurdity by which we walk barefoot with shoes on our heads.
Ponder this to get nearer to Nothing.
On top of the world, think about it, there’s Nothing.
An unseasoned meal, monotone spirits, routine homily.
Nothing has never been clearer.
So kill a cat to keep logic at bay, then eat my body’s finest and fell me how it tastes.
Is it Nothing too?
Does it stink like Nothing?
Does it poison like Nothing?
(copyright Chris Leo)

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