The American in Americana

When asked these days, as I was just last weekend, what kind if music I’m into generally, I often say “Americana”. And by that I always meant just about any blues-based rock, tempered by a more recent education of the breadth of what that can mean during our 3 years stint in the southern US. Anything  from folk, blue-grass, country, blues and on up … eventually to heavier rock / metal / punk / grunge whatever the fashion. The distinguishing feature is then always a matter of quality of the people, the playing, and of course the songs themselves – intelligent wit always helps, but the beat goes on.

RIP Levon Helm.

The sole American in the mostly Canadian The Band responsible for originating the Americana term. It’s the drummer’s voice on The Weight – as opposed to front-man Robbie Robertson who wrote it – a favourite, and one of the few such songs I can make a passable stab at on the guitar.

The Weight

I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ about half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head
“Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?”
He just grinned and shook my hand, “no” was all he said

Take a load off, Annie
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Annie
And (and) (and) you put the load right on me
(You put the load right on me)

I picked up my bag, I went lookin’ for a place to hide
When I saw Carmen and the Devil walkin’ side by side
I said, “Hey, Carmen, come on let’s go downtown”
She said, “I gotta go but my friend can stick around”


Go down, Miss Moses, there’s nothin’ you can say
It’s just ol’ Luke and Luke’s waitin’ on the Judgment Day
“Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Anna Lee?”
He said, “Do me a favor, son, won’tcha stay and keep Anna Lee company?”


Crazy Chester followed me and he caught me in the fog
He said, “I will fix your rack if you’ll take Jack, my dog”
I said, “Wait a minute, Chester, you know I’m a peaceful man”
He said, “That’s okay, boy, won’t you feed him when you can”


Catch a cannon ball now to take me down the line
My bag is sinkin’ low and I do believe it’s time
To get back to Miss Fanny, you know she’s the only one
Who sent me here with her regards for everyone


(Sad I know, but I did once pull into the Nazareth in question, on the strength of the lyric – with opportunity presented by several working visits to Bethlehem / Allentown … where the chain is picked-up by Springsteen’s lyric. More Americana.

Ah yes, of course, … (a recent Christmas present) …

“At the end of the documentary It Might Get Loud Jack WhiteJimmy Page and The Edge play The Weight acoustically while The Edge and White swap vocals”.)

Never Again ?

Muse excellent headlining performance only just about made up for an excruciating day on Friday 26th at Leeds 2011 Festival. It’s a while since I’ve been to a major festival and someone did warn me the big festivals (‘cept maybe Glasto has it’s own culture) were not worth it these days. It was only Muse that drew me there.

I did get to see Frank Turner at last, and I think I finally do get Elbow’s attraction, but almost everything else about Leeds was a descent into cliches. The audience participation routines, the look-at-me attention-seeking in front of the cameras turned on the audience, the throwing of food and drink and …. mud. Do me a favour.

OK, so I can’t blame the organizers for the rain, but rain it did – almost non-stop all day. It didn’t occur to me to take along a folding seat – more fool me – unable to take the weight off me pegs for 14 hours. No chance of sitting on the ground with all that mud – I did manage to stay close to the main stage action for most of the day without getting too covered in the stuff.

By the time of Elbow and Muse I was up against the secondary barrier with a good view (thanks to the slope in the Leeds arena). Muse’s set was notable for the full 10th anniversary rendition of Origin of Symmetry complete with physical set and backscreen of imagery from that album. That and for the fire / flame-throwing (at the climax of Hysteria IIRC, no Megalomania in fact) amongst the varied pyrotechnics … I could feel the heat on my face at the secondary barrier …. must have fried and startled the security posse between the stage and the primary barrier ! I hear it was toned down for the Reading Sunday set. (Incidentally, apart from the opening to New Born, played from behind a stage curtain, none of Matt’s piano pieces were included in the BBC showing of the Sunday gig at Reading – A very unrepresentative view of Muse, but apparently the band held most of the Origin of Symmetry back for public broadcast quality reasons, not having played most of it for years. But in the flesh it was excellent on Friday.)

Guy Garvey (of Elbow) did indulge in a fair bit of the audience participation cliches – … how you doin’ Leeds? I say, louder … show me you hands, clap, wave, conduct, call & response set-ups, etc …. even his “Bono moment” contrasting the positive crowd togetherness in a muddy field with the negative city rioting and looting earlier this month. And the audience duly obliged. Still you got the impression Guy felt is was the “festival thing to do” so he had to do it – written into the terms or something like that. Pity, since some of their choruses naturally generate spontaneous singalongs, without the need for detailed instructions. Notable that both Elbow and Muse both acknowledged each other from first touring together when Muse came to prominence 10 years ago with Origin of Symmetry. No doubt the “joint headline” billing had something to do with that mutual appreciation.

Oh, and the mud had the last laugh. After 2 hours of Muse, it took over an hour to trudge with the departing masses, back across the arena, across the festival site, across the campsites, across the fields to the car park, and another hour and a half to get out of the car park. (Nil signage,  negligible lighting and non-existent / uninterested stewarding …. didn’t help.) As well as being shin-deep in the quagmire the whole way, the hilly Leeds site meant I slithered over and fell twice between the arena and the car-park, and I wasn’t the only one. Good job my arrival at the car and changing out of the mud-caked clothes wasn’t captured on film – yeuch – not a pretty sight.

  1. New Born (What’s he building ? intro / Origin of Symmetry set projection / behind curtain.)
  2.  Bliss (synth intro, extended outro)
  3. Space Dementia (First performance since 2008)
  4. Hyper Music (First performance since 2003)
  5. Micro Cuts (First performance since 2007)
  6. Screenager (First performance since 2002)
  7. Darkshines (First performance since 2001)
  8. Megalomania (Siren/We Are The Universe intro)
  9. Uprising (riff version)
  10. Hysteria (Interlude intro, Back in Black outro)
  11. Time Is Running Out (House of the Rising Sun intro)
  12. Stockholm Syndrome (Township Rebellion & Endless nameless riffs)
  13. Knights of Cydonia (Chris with  harmonica intro)

Set List – courtesy of SetList. One of the great things about Muse sets, is the improvised intros and fillers, not to mention the thrown-in piano virtuosity of a little Chopin, Saint-Saëns or Rachmaninov – Matt’s not great at conversing with his audience, … except with his fingers. And eg Starlight and TIRO choruses provide genuine audience participation without the need for choreographed prompting.

Time In

I’ve become rather lazy with blogging recently, a whole month since I last posted and a low rate of posting for several months now. Partly because the day-job work-load has become focussed and intense, so I feel more guilty just browsing and commenting in the blogosphere, partly because the smaller trivial titbits fit more directly into Facebook bypassing the blog entirely, and partly because even when I see interesting things to comment on, they seem to be repeating messages I’ve already done to death (in my mind at least).

As, I’ve said before I need to switch from browse and comment mode into new creative writing mode, it’s just that the day-job-project is consuming most brain cells for the foreseeable year or two, and needs must.

I keep an eye on Johnny Moore, who links most of his blog posts via Twitter to Facebook and /or LinkedIn. Johnny is moving the core of his business-consulting subject area closer to psychology, and even taking in Buddhism and “non-rational” thinking sources. I identify with so much of his link-collecting and commentary. In that sense, he’s part of the “repetition” – the nothing new under the sun – that’s caused me to tire of posting such things, but he is maintaining a great and growing collection of relevant links and anecdotes. Someone has to do it. Thanks Johnnie.

Talking of balancing time between day-job and other “projects” here is one example link from Johnny. I think I may be stuck with “Time In”.

And this creepy “I am not a number” plea, is a reaction to the relentless objectification of quality. So well established – nothing new under the sun – that the old Oscar Wilde quote “a cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing” remains hard to improve upon as a distinction between (objective/rational) price and (subjective/psychological) value. Graven images – religiously cast in stone tablets – the epitome of mis-placed objectification.

Even this link to Susan Weinschenk leads to the conclusion that even serious academic psychology basically reinforces folk-psychology. The science of brain functioning will be complete when we can agree reality IS folk psychology. Reality is already clear, it’s just the rationalizing process of evidence and argumentation that lags behind. Qu’elle surprise.

Real life’s a game and the game is called psychology – game theory in practice.

Anyway, talking of Johnnies, to change the subject, saw John (Johnny Rotten) Lydon last week with PIL at Rockefeller in Oslo. Greatly exceeded expectations – keeping it real with real passion, a real eccentric connection with the audience and real quality musicians in the band. Best gig for a couple of years, and I’ve seen quite a few – busy obtaining the overlooked back collection in MP3’s.

Go Johnny Go. Go, Johnny B Goode.

PS – Also read Mark Radcliffe’s “Reeling in the Years“. Mark’s 2 years younger than me, but his musical journey through life hits so many of the same spots as mine – the full text that is, not just the chapter head-liners. Mark (he’s a drummer as well as a DJ / Musicographer) told the same Coldplay drummer anecdote back-stage at Glastonbury that appears in his book.

Q. Since you don’t actually own a drumkit, how do you practice drumming ?
A. With 200 gigs a year, how hard can it be ?