Saturday, 6 June 2015

'Wild Things' - longer (unpublished) version of an article for DUPE Magazine's forthcoming Wild Issue

If there’s one thing that rock and pop have tried to teach us over the years it’s how to be uncivilised.

We’ve been shown how to grow our hair, free our restless genitals, offend the cloying sensibilities of previous generations, to frug through the night to “so-called” music composed of little more than primal rhythms, to open up our wild sides or at the very least pay saucer-eyed factotums braver or more damaged than ourselves to work the magic by proxy.

Classic, greasy-quiffed rock ’n’ roll aficionados enjoyed plastering the word about.  Jerry Lee Lewis puffed out his cockerel chest as the original “Wild One” (with plenty of biographical data and manic piano-hammering to back up his claim). Martha Reeves & The Vandellas swooned over the brooding, misunderstood, leather-jacketed “Wild One” that society just couldn’t tame.

Freedom-loving outsiders were nothing new though. Folk music staple “The Wild Rover” had been crashing boozily about since the mid-nineteenth century.  Louis Armstrong started hot-jazzing “Wild Man Blues” in the 1920s. As long as there’s been civilisation, there have been barbarians banging at the door for last orders.

The “wild man” arc reached its natural conclusion with GG Allin, a hardcore punk/performance artist whose stage shows would end with him literally covered in blood and shit (mostly his own) after assaulting his audience and stripping naked. He died of an accidental heroin overdose at a party in 1993.

“Wild” broke whichever cultural taboo needed the most urgent attention. When Nina Simone wanted to describe what happens when “you touch me“, she reached for “Wild is the Wind” to subtly get her point across. That and mandolins. Tone Loc wasn’t quite so subtle when he shared his experience of the “Wild Thing” with us in his proto-gangsta braggadocio. The Troggs were at least a little more romantic (“You make my heart sing!”).

Once the seismic sexual shift of Elvis’s pelvis began to cool, “wild” represented personal freedom, a natural state that we were all born into before the Man ruined our nice vibrations with his wars and monogamy and narcotics legislation. Enter the Steppenwolf like true nature’s children with “Born to be Wild”, running their motors off into the psychedelic frontier at the nightmarish edge of the American Dream.

Youth helps; acting like children, even better. Iggy Pop was a rather wrinkly “Real Wild Child” reboot of the Wild One model in the 1980s. Skid Row’s poodle-noodles nodded and pouted as they demonstrated the awesome power of “Youth Gone Wild” and skin-tight jeans.

The frontier is another favourite idea: a porous space between here and there, us and them, where men can be men and women can be women and Adam & The Ants can be “Kings of the Wild Frontier”. Pantomime crazies The Prodigy had a weekend break at the “Wild Frontier”. Lou Reed sketched the “Wild Side” with anthropological detachment. Bow Wow Wow suggested we “Go Wild In The Country” when the fashion-conscious restrictions of London got too much for them.

But what exactly does this frontier separate nowadays? The boards of rock and pop have been trod by so many “wild” men and women the meaning of “wild” has become flattened under the weight of their collective hooves. Duran Duran anyone? (“Wild Boys!”)

Unruly behaviour itself has become worn down by repetition, the pavements of the citadel jagged with defenestrated TV sets. There was always money to be made in selling rebellion, but marketing so cleverly slipped its virus into the DNA of rebellion when it worked out that you can sell anything to anyone if you tell them it will help them “express their individuality” that there are no restrictions. The pop/rock impulse became a distended black hole sucking the whole culture inside itself.
There is still one border to cross though.

Rock/pop is an urban phenomenon, dependent on a specific density of punters and performers, huddled around the bars, clubs, record shops and venues to stay alive. But out there, beyond the walls, lies … the countryside! There be monsters. Rock stars gape in horror out the windows of their tour bus, clutching their bottles of JD with white fingers, at the kind of unimaginable deprivation that bluesy share croppers and yodelling hillbillies invented R&B and Country & Western to escape.

But there are some for whom the countryside, the Wilderness if you will, has an irresistible allure. Some are country lasses and lads who still feel the tug of the hinterland in their shiny metropolitan hearts; others are city types who feel the need to escape and recharge their batteries. 

The Kinks got as far as “The Village Green Preservation Society”, as manicured as carefully squared cucumber sandwiches. Blur (pre-Cotswold cheeses) could only sneer at a “Country House” with no immediate intention of moving into one. But Bow Wow Wow saw the benefits.

Led Zep spent so much time at Bron-yr-Aur in Powys, recording tunes about the magic of mountains and hills, that Robert Plant spoke Welsh. Pulp gradually shifted away from overlit, lip-gloss Britpop to find somewhere green and restful on their leafy “We Love Life” album.

For actual country folk, the countryside was less a mythic escape than a daily reality to be negotiated. Lead Belly and other bluesmen had worked in it (“Cotton Fields”). “Scratch” Perry has cows bumping through his dub mixes. Super Furry Animals sang about being “Mountain People” on the margins and recorded a whole album about the slow death of rural communities before Gruff Rhys marched off solo into the American wilderness. 

The continental expanse of the US gifted Messianic types (U2, the Boss) with room for a rugged, big sky aesthetic of self-reliance and spirituality among the prairies, deserts and giant Redwoods. Smog were happy to move to “the Country”. Canned Heat packed their flutes and jaunty time signatures too. “The Woods” held little terror for Sleater-Kinney. Grandaddy spelt out a childishly simple life in their “Nature Anthem”. Even Jay-Z and Kanye seemed relieved that there was “No Church in the Wild”.

But the Romantic poets left the British a legacy of terrible awe at nature, and Northern nature at that. For The Smiths, the moors always offered gloomy escape to desolate hillsides and child graves. Wild Beasts (from the Lake District) shiver breathily about “Wanderlust” and “Nature Boy” while British Sea Power (also Cumbrian) quivered with Ted Hughes visions of “Carrion” and “Favours in the Beetroot Fields”. Southerners Bat for Lashes (“Winter Fields”) and Metronomy (“The Reservoir”) also capture an eerie sense of human life caught in moments of nature-bound panic.

The post-punk generation found the spooky wilderness inside themselves and projected out into “A Forest” (The Cure) or just “Wilderness” (Joy Division), devoid of life exactly as the countryside isn’t.

But the gold star for combining the unpredictable performance of wildness with its high-country backdrop goes to Kate Bush. “Wuthering Heights” hits the spot: bird-flutter vocals escape out the bedroom window to dark, heartless nature; internalised alienation and childish excitement paired with brooding moorlands.

The last word goes to Jeffrey Lewis, or rather to the voracious “Bugs & Flowers” whose zillions of tiny souls will mean there will be “no room for us” in heaven. The real message from nature is that our wild performances and awe-struck contemplations will mean absolutely nothing; we are “infinite dust”. 

Try frugging your way through that paper bag.

Top Ten Gone Wild

The Dubliners – The Wild Rover
Louis Armstrong – Wildman Blues
Gruff Rhys – Walk Into The Wilderness
Bow Wow Wow – Go Wild in the Country
The Troggs – Wild Thing
Jay Z/Kanye West – No Church in The Wild
Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard – Bugs & Flowers
Sleater-Kinney – Wilderness
Pulp – Wickerman
Kate Bush- Wuthering Heights

Monday, 12 January 2015

Uncle Coc's tardy 2014 round-up

Howdy, chumpsticks!

Difficult to qualify exactly why I'm doing this, as it seems that I've barely had two minutes to sit and listen to any tunes over the last twelve months (and longer). It's been 6Music, vintage vinyl and increasingly reductive Spotify playlists.

Nevertheless, some tunes have made their way through the parental membranes that have closed over my ever-more-hirsute ears. They are tunes with enough hook in their fabric to dig into my inattentive gristle-holes and lay their little eggs. On the down side, I probably haven't got any great lyrical insights to offer.

So based on the frequency on the old And in reverse order...

#13 - Young Fathers - GET UP

It's a bit like Eurovision: you remember the tunes from the beginning of the year and from the end, but the middle can get a little doughy. Also, going on the basis of what I've played the most over a year will favour tunes that have been around for longer - but those are the breakbeats.

This tune is welded to January in my head - frosty Mancunian mornings, the beginning of my Dadly career and the glorious freedom of an ersatz study with 6Music on tap and "all day" to listen to it. Living the dream. It's a woozy paranoid headrush of an anthem and it was a classy surprise when they won the Mercury Prize, even though it has become a crud-stained tankard over the years.

#12 - Cate le Bon - I Can't Help You

Even though you'd imagine a move to Los Angeles would've taken the edges off her Welsh accent, Cate le Bon still sounds so foreign. Like a re-imagined Nico at the middle of a re-configured Velvet Underground, re-written from distant, hazy memories. Quirky, bird-twitchy pop and very cool. This track aside, I haven't listened to her stuff nearly enough.

#11 - Mungo's Hi-Fi - Bike Rider

Carries the smack of a novelty single, this track. But then what is a pop hook without novelty. I kept waiting for this tune to annoy me, but it never did. I kept expecting to hear it around and about, but it never seemed to happen. I love a song that takes a tangent in its teeth and runs it down to its illogical conclusion.

#10 - Metronomy - Reservoir

My favourite track from one of my favourite albums of the year, even if it didn't quite reach the shimmering heights of The English Riviera. Icy and alienated and oddly suburban, this could have been the soundtrack to a time-travelling summer of teenage heartbreak - tiny obsessions stretched out over long, languid months. And at the bottom of their black heart, sweet seething resentment.

#9 - The Kooks - Down

A bit embarrassing this one. They are a bit of an embarrassment as a band, aren't they? And it was almost a surprise to hear they were still making tunes. It's also a bit of a stupid song, lyrically; do we need another woman-done-done-me-wrong tune? No, we don't. But it nagged its way into my head and I'd feel dishonest if I didn't include it. After all, pop music can be as dumb as rocks and still soar, can't it?

#8 - White Fence - Before He Met Her (Decomposing Lime)

Mossy, doomy fanfare to kick things off and then off it drifts in a softly zig-zagging fractal pattern with vocals pleasingly sliding about, buried in the mix. Trebly guitars scribble in the margins and, like a Spike Milligan sketch, it warbles off into a slow-motion exit when it runs out of ideas. It might be psyche-by-numbers; it might be available by the yard from any respectable psychemongers - but it tucked itself into a niche in my memory banks and made itself at home.

#7 - Warpaint - Disco//Very

I was surprised that this got listened to as much as it did - although maybe I wasn't listening as closely as I should've been. A dubby, yelping excursion into half-asleep menace. Like a Starbucks version of The Slits in ways I can't quite explain: slick but propulsive. And who wouldn't warm to a video of people dicking about in slow motion in irony-faded t-shirts. (They know they're dicking about, right?)

#6 - Lizzo - Batches & Cookies

This might be from 2013, but the album is definitely 2014 and I certainly didn't know anything about Lizzo before then. You'd think after listening to it for a few months, I'd have an idea of what it's about; I very don't. Oddly self-conscious about having such a "street" tune in my year's listening, feels a little too anthropological on my part. But the whistling hook drove into my lazy ears and I think I sniff a touch of the Missy Elliotts, which covers two senses in one short phrase. Synaesthetic.

#5 - Colourmusic - Dreamgirl '82

It felt like there was a lot of moody, reverby music hanging around my noggin this year and oftentimes it was this track that was rattling my mental furniture. Slight pinch of 80s metallic dirge (although that might be the title coluring my perceptions) and a nagging Cure-like guitar line. Not sure I would actually want this tune soundtracking my dreams, whether they featured girls or not, but it soundttracked a chunk of my 2014.

#4 - Aphex Twin - minipops 67 [120.2] [source code mix]

Like David Bowie's Titanic emergence from the murky depths in 2013, the Man Dem Aphex got me feeling trepiditious about his return to the world of albums. This lead track did a whole heap of reassuring before I got the chance to listen to the whole thing. It's a blinder, an envelope-licker and paradigm-tweaker. It's Aphex's Dayvan Cowboy in that it is recognisable but has moved away from the obvious markers. Nothing made me want to dance more all year this tune. I don't think I've been able to stop myself listening to it at least twice each time.

#3 - Flyying Colours - Not Today

Guilty pleasure/pain, this one. So much like the snippets of Ride, etc. that used to pop up on the Indie Top Ten on the ITV Chart Show that it actually hurts. I feel all of the 25 years that divide here from there, but they are blurry with youthful velocity and hurtle. They are Australian, I think, so they've got catching up to do, but I have no excuse for such warm-bath wallowing. It simply pushes too many of my buttons. Their tune "Wavy Gravy" is also a belter with a far superior title.

#2 - Automat - THF

This is a big, brooding Teutonic beast of a tune that I've conscientiously failed to find out much about. This is but a 40-second taster of what keeps leaping up on my randomised Spotify playlists and gets turned up every time. It reminds me more than a little of the infra-dark dub of Meat Beat Manifesto, millenial miasmic malcontent with room for dented cowbells. Could've been released anytime in the last twenty years but it choose to make 2014 its home.

#1 - Gruff Rhys - American Interior

I'm a fully-paid up member of the cult of this remarkable personality, so this can't be much of a surprise choice. But, head and shoulders the most listened to track of the year, this song about the heartbreak and hallucinatory isolation of exploration also became the quasi-official soundtrack for our move to Leeds due to a combination of heavy airplay at the beginning of April and its melancholic tone. It carried us to a new world and any time I listen to it in future will carry me back to that old future once more. Beautiful stuff.

I even managed to scrape together an idea of five albums that managed to make an impression on my mind over the course of the year. I've no great analytical insights to bring, as per usual, but in reverse order of impact...

#5 - Jane Weaver - The Silver Globe

Creeping in under the wire but making its presence felt very keenly as the year faded away, this was an album I'd meant to listen to for a while - due to various psychedelic buzzwords and good reviews that Twitter had thrown my way. It is packed with cool surprises, and not as out there as I'd expected, which turned out to be a strength.

#4 - Fuyija & Miyagi - Artificial Sweeteners

I tried to get into Todd Terje for months - with some progress - but this was my ageing synth-electronica album of choice of the year. A bit more bite, both sonically and lyrically, than the Nordic maestro while still sounding (artificially) sweet and a bit playful. Partially filled the gap that waits hungrily for another album from The Chap.

#3 - Aphex Twin - Syro

Already said much of what I can summon up for now about this album, but the rest of it matched up nicely to the invention and class of minipops. This track was another highlight.

#2 - Gruff Rhys - American Interior

Close call between the top two, which Gruff almost edged on the basis of the painfully weighty American Interior film. A truckload of steel guitar, noble sentiment and his clear, warm voice performing its usual low-key pop wonders. The album never strayed more than two feet from our turntable for months until it was usurped by the #1 choice.

#1 - Metronomy - Love Letters

A beautiful, sligthtly twisted pop machine with all the right noises in all the right places. Metronomy were the only band to play intelligbly through the muddy, muddy sound at the 6Music Festival in Trafford because of their crystalline sound. Devon knows how they make it so dreamy.

And with that, I shall melt into the 2015 night...

Your pal,

Coc x

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

The Hairy Dad Chronicles #4: One Year Progress Report

So, a year ago today, I completed my final day of work in my customer service contact centre job and joined the long-term self-employed: full-time Daddyhood. I've been meaning to blog again for a while - there seems a lot going on in my little head - and this seems a good occasion/excuse.

After Dadding it up, there was another big change three months later: a move from Manchester (where I'd lived for twelve years) to Leeds (where we knew no-one). This meant the first three months from January until 1 April were a kind of Phoney War, a ghostly sketch of how our life together was going to be. There was no real point joining any playgroups for such a short amount of time, and I would've felt strange signing up to a shiny new social life when I thought I already had one. However, I did discover something of a new daytime city, a city of parents and young children that I'd only glimpsed in the non-shadows. Parks became cultural hotspots; museums morphed into lifelines, places where hanging around felt permitted and where there was even something to ruffle the embers where my imagination once glowed.

Once we had moved to Leeds, the game changed and Jasper and I were faced with an intimidatignly blank social canvas. I actually lost some weight from walking up and down hills all around our corner of North Leeds* - the hills being a considerable change to flat, rambling Mancunia. I "threw" myself (relative to my sedate standards) into SureStart centres, singing groups for toddlers at Opera North, and eventually a local playgroup (run by parents). I decided to put myself forward as an organiser to try and get involved and get to know people. There was still the awkwardness of effectively asking people out, albeit on playdates in the park: I'd never been too hot at making the first move, so a few nerves were wracked. My previous method of striking up friendships had been sitting next to people in the pub and drinking. I was pleased with myself for the efforts I made though, and Jasper and I do have a few budding friendships on the go now.

When we were alone in Leeds, however, things got harder and darker.  The days seemed longer and a sense of desperation often swelled in my belly a couple of seconds after waking up in the morning. It's hard to understand exactly why this was - but my mental health was thrown into sharp focus. When Jasper was a very recent arrival (and with exhaustion ramping up the fears and tensions), there was depression, there were panic attacks and a lot of anxiety and dread jangling our nervous systems and weary minds - but as a routine and a sense of capability slowly formed, the angst eased and a sense of normality pinked up once again.

This was different though: I felt thorough alienation - a natural result of moving to an area without any friends. But on top of that was the dread of being unable to "do it", of not coping - which steepled up into a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. Loving Jasper but also despairing at being stranded with him, and feeling terrible guilt about any resentments or panicky anger that would bubble up. My strategy was to try and break through the anger to tears as quickly as possible, to expose the raw nerve underneath my behaviour. Jabber came and cuddled me on several occasions when I was in tears - still does when I get upset now - and while I was partly delighted that he was so caring and would see his father as a human being, I worried that he would inherit some emotional instability from my example. I hate the idea of such a small person having to absorb so many huge emotions.

And the worst thing, the most horrible to try and deal with, was getting angry with the little human that was just trying to work out what life was about. This is what has brought things to a head - my head has brought things to itself. The anger came (comes) most likely from the sense of not being able to cope - depression, anixety and anger swilling around together - hormones narrowing my vision, overriding my furry nurturing mammalian instincts. Mealtimes were a flashpoint - related as much to issues I have about feeding myself as to any worries about Jasper's diet; when Lou came home from work, I felt compelled to report on how the day had been, and if I felt that I hadn't done enough (a very easy feeling to allow to take hold) then that would become another source of tension. Barriers are thrown up exactly where and when togetherness is most sorely needed by both of us.

I'm aware how absent Jasper is from this account. Of course, he can't blog about it; he can't really tell me how he feels about things, probably can't know himself. But I'm barely mentioning the object of all this fathering. This seems to illustrate just how far up my arse my head is - how much things are still about me, and not him. However, the feelings are so powerful that it's hard to break out from them, perspective is dizzyingly out of kilter. One critical voice chimes in with the shouty chorus that has berated me since forever.

And the emotions feel very old. I look back to when I was a kid and trace my sense of inadequacy and frustration to impatience from my Dad and I think the anger too. And I have wondered whether my Dad picked up these same frustrations from his childhood - the way he described his relationship with his Mum - a single parent, a wartime widow with two children to look after, a keenly intelligent woman who may have resented the lack of opportunity to express herself. I never met her, as she died just after my parents married, and my Dad has also been dead since I was 24 - so a lot of this is guesswork. But it feels intuitive. And I want to break this chain: I don't want Jasper to be trying to figure this same stuff out for himself in 40 years' time. I can't be sure that I'll be around to talk through it with him either.

So, I have been using cognitive behavioural therapy to try and re-programme myself, to try and take this anger out of the equation, to turn the depression inside out and focus on the many positive points of light in my everyday life as a Dad. And aside from the techniques to help me focus on the moment and not fret about the past and future, I've been instructed to challenge myself to provide evidence for my fears: focus on how well Jasper is doing, on how well I am doing. Instructed to reject the assumption that I am doing something wrong. Then I can relax and not assume that Jasper is doing something wrong. And the adrenaline will melt away and Jasper will continue to smile and grow into a happy(ish) human being. That's the plan.

I'm determined to make this fatherhood deal work - and if I squint a bit, I feel I am doing a good job, a job that I'm very lucky to be able to do. And I feel very lucky that Jabber is such a lovely lad. I'm still having to count to ten a couple of times a day when he feels less than co-operative, but I've tried to make a bit of a game of it and count with him. If he learns that trick at least, that'll be worthwhile.

This has been written largely in the past tense, which is inaccurate. A lot of these struggles are still very present, very immediate. But I think it helps me not to become overwhelmed if I can draw a line between Coc then and Coc now. And I need a lot of help at times - it's all big stuff.

Another frustratingly inarticulate post. I will have another crack at it, but it's taken so long for me to say this much that I need to get it out.

Yours in paternalia

Coc x

* The walking was less to get to places we needed to be than to fill hours that I needed to fill. Walking often helps to calm me down, although it can develop a bit of a manic aspect at times.