Song of the Day: Travel in Music (Day One). “I Am A Traveller of Both Time and Space to Be Where I Have Been”.

Physical Graffiti was Led Zeppelin’s sixth album, released on 24th February 1975.  The band wrote eight new songs for what would become Physical Graffiti at Headley Grange recording studios.  Upon realising that due to the length of the tracks, they would not be able to fit all eight songs on one record, they decided to make Physical Graffiti a double LP by using the eight recorded tracks together with one outtake from Led Zeppelin III, three from Led Zeppelin IV and three from Houses of the Holy, including the unused title track.  The new songs written for Physical Graffiti included Kashmir, a monolithic eight minute piece which became a staple part of every Led Zeppelin concert from 1975 onwards.

The song was written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, with contributions from John Bohnam, over a period of three years.  The lyrics were written by Plant in 1973 immediately after Led Zeppelin’s 1973 US Tour in an area he has referred to “the waste lands” of Southern Morocco, whilst driving from Goulimine to Tantan in the Sahara Desert.  Despite the geographical location of the song’s conception, the song is named after Kashmir, a region in the Indian subcontinent.  In an interview with William S. Burroughs in 1975, Page mentioned that at the time of the song’s composition, none of the band had been to Kashmir.  Plant explained the reason for naming the song Kashmir to Cameron Crowe for his extended essay to accompany the Led Zeppelin boxset, The Complete Studio Recordings in 1993:

“The whole inspiration came from the fact that the road went on and on and on, it was a single-track road which neatly cut through the desert.  Two miles to the East and West were ridges of sandrock.  It basically looked like you were driving down a channel, this dilapidated road, and there was seemingly no end to it.  ‘Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dreams …’ It’s one of my favourites … that, All My Love and In the Light and two or three others were the finest moments.  But Kashmir in particular, it was so positive, lyrically”.

In an article with Triple J Broadcasting Association for an article entitled Hottest 100 of All Time, in 2010, Plant spoke of the challenges which he faced writing lyrics for such a complex piece of music:

“It was an amazing piece of music to write to, and an incredible challenge for me … Because of the time signature, the whole deal of the song is … not grandiose, but powerful:  it required some kind of epithet, or abstract lyrical setting about the whole idea of life being an adventure and being a series of illuminated moments.  But everything is not what you see.  It was quite a task, ‘cause I couldn’t sing it.  It was like the song was bigger than me.  It’s true:  I was petrified, it’s true, it was painful, I was virtually in tears”.

The song has a very distinctive musical composition featuring a rising and falling guitar riff played on a guitar tuned to DADGAD.  It was inspired by Middle-Eastern, Moroccan and Indian music.  In the 1994 book, Led Zeppelin by Chris Welch, Page explained:  “I had a sitar for some time and I was interested in modal tunings and Arabic stuff.  It started off with a riff and then employed Eastern lines underneath”.

To add to the composition’s uniqueness, Kashmir was one of the very few Led Zeppelin songs to feature outside musicians.  Session players were brought in the studio to record the string and horn sections.  As well as the original Physical Graffiti version of the song, several alternative versions exist, including one entitled Driving Through Kashmir (Kashmir Rough Orchestra Mix) with a slightly different structure.  This version was released in February 2015 as part of the remastering process of all nine albums.

Additionally, and perhaps most impressively out of the alternative versions of Kashmir, Page and Plant recorded a live 12 minute version with a Moroccan / Egyptian orchestra for their album No Quarter (1994).

As the lyrics begin with the line “Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dream”, we are introduced to the narrator, a powerful, mysterious and transcending figure.  This audible thought finds the narrator pausing from his travels to soak up the warmth and light from above, figuratively, and perhaps literally, recharging himself.  In the following line, “I am a traveller of both time and space, to be where I have been”, we are told that this is a journey of epic proportions, one which transcends the limitations of this dimension, both temporarily and in physical space.

Following this, “To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world had seldom seen” could refer to Revelation 4:4 in the Book of Revelation where John the Apostle is caught up in the heavens and sees the 24 elders seated on their thrones:  “And around the throne were twenty-four thrones and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads”.  Alternatively, this line and the next three, “They talk of days for which they sit and wait and all will be revealed, Talk and songs from lifting grace, whose sounds caress my ear, But not a word could I relate, the story was quite clear”, may refer to JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1937) and Lord of the Rings (1954).  Plant was well known to be a fan of Tolkien and often used imagery from his work.  Take for instance, the lyrics to Ramble On (Led Zeppelin II, 1969): “Mine’s a tale that can’t be told, My freedom I hold dear, How years ago in days of old, When magic filled the air, ‘Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair, But Gollum and the evil one crept up, And slipped away with her”.

Additionally, see the song titles, Over the Hills and Far Away (Houses of the Holy, 1973) …

… and Misty Mountain Hop (Led Zeppelin IV, 1971).

Following this, the line “But not a word I heard could I relate, the story was quite clear” is also likely to be a Tolkien reference.  In a number of Tolkien’s works, particularly The Silmarillion (1977), it is mentioned that when the elves sing in a language the listener can’t understand, they can sometimes still see the images that they are singing about.

Moving into the bridge section, the lyrics, “Oh, I been flying … mama, there ain’t no denyin’, I’ve been flyin’, ain’t no denyin’, no denyin’” could refer to the band travelling round the world before and during the composition of the song.

In the following lyrics, “All I see turns to brown, as the sun burns the ground, And my eyes fill with sand, as I scan this wasted land, Trying to find, trying to find where I’ve been”, we can clearly see the landscape which inspired Kashmir, “the wastelands” in southern Morocco.  Next, “Oh, pilot of the storm who leaves no trace”, perhaps refers to God, whilst following this, “like thoughts inside a dream” refers to the creator of the storm being as hard to visualise as the thought inside one’s dream.  The creator is elusive and mysterious but somehow very real.

The “Shangri-La” mentioned in the lines “Heed the path that led me to that place, yellow desert stream, My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon, I will return again” refers to the fictional paradise from James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon (1933).  In the novel, Shangri-La is a utopian lamasery high in the mountains of Tibet.  Shangri-La is often referred to in the same way that someone would refer to the Garden of Eden.  These lines suggest that the narrator of the song s haunted by the memories of the place which he speaks of and is attempting to return.

“Sure as the dust that floats high in June, when movin’ through Kashmir” finds the narrator once again speaking of the dusty road which inspired the song.  Following this, the “father of the four winds” mentioned in the following line possibly refers to Aeolus, the Greek god of the winds who is usually depicted as the controller of the Anemoi, the minor wind gods.  Alternatively, the “Father of the four winds” could possibly be another Tolkien reference:  Manwe, the King of the Valar, from The Silmarillion.

More travel imagery follows with “… fill my sails, across the sea of years, With no provision but an open face, along the straits of fear”.  Here, the lyrics once again compliment the utter vastness of the composition, with the narrator, the “traveller of both space and time”, travelling across “years”, unsure of what he will discover on his journey.

The song reaches its climax with Plant singing “… well I’m down so down … let me take you there”.  Kashmir speaks of a dark time of reflection, of God, of existence and Plant attempting to find his place in the midst of all of this.

One thing to note about Kashmir is its curious placing on the album.  One may expect a song of such monolithic proportions to end the album but it is instead placed, if we were to think of Physical Graffiti as a double vinyl album, at the end of side two.  In an interview with The Guardian in 2015, Page said of this:

“Each side of the vinyl was sequenced to showcase whatever was on there, so it wasn’t square pegs in round holes.  Any of the four sides could be your favourite side.  All of them have an intensity to them, but some have got more rock roots than others.  A double album was so right for Zeppelin”.

Similarly, on the vinyl versions of Physical Graffiti, the colossal 11 minute In My Time of Dying closes side one of the album.

Once again speaking to The Guardian, Page said:  “Those songs – In My Time of Dying, Kashmir – are supposed to be:  That’s it.  Nothing follows that.  You need time to catch your breath after”.

A Century of Elvis: Ten Songs About Elvis. Elvis Presley Performs His Final Concert in Indiana, Indianapolis. This Day in History, 26/06/1977.

1.  Manic Street Preachers ‘Elvis Impersonator / Blackpool Pier’

(from the album Everything Must Go, 1996).

2.  Depeche Mode ‘Personal Jesus’

(from the album Violator, 1989).

3.  Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds ‘Tupelo’

(from the album The Firstborn Is Dead, 1985).

4.  Alannah Myles ‘Black Velvet’

(from the album Alannah Myles, 1989).

5.  Kate Bush ‘King of the Mountain’

(from the album Aerial, 2005).

6.  Kirsty MacColl ‘There’s A Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis’

(from the album Desperate Character, 1981).

7.  Belle and Sebastian ‘A Century of Elvis’

(from the Lazy Line Painter Jane EP, 1997).

8.  Robbie Williams ‘Advertising Space’

(from the album Intensive Care, 2005).

9.  Stray Cats ‘Elvis on Velvet’

(from the album Stray Cats, 1981).

10.  U2 ‘Elvis Presley & America’

(from the album The Unforgettable Fire, 1984).

Song of the Day: Space in Music (Day Seven). “Do You Remember the Time We Knew A Girl From Mars?”

Girl from Mars was released as the second single from Ash’s first full-length album, 1977.  It became the band’s first Top 40 single in 1995, reaching number 11 on the UK singles chart and number 16 on the Irish singles chart.  It was the first single to bring the band to public attention.

The song was written in 1993, when Tim Wheeler was just 16 years old.  The band’s third demo tape, Garage Girl, funded by their school’s Young Enterprise scheme, had just topped the local charts.

At this point in time, despite their achievements, the band were beginning to become disillusioned and with GCSE exams looming they begin to wonder how they will get a record deal in a country with a non-existent music industry.  Things were looking bleak but the band’s svengali, Bill McCabe, sends the Garage Girl demo tape off to his London contacts.  The tape gained attention from publicist Paddy Davis and radio plugger Stephen Taverner who send the band £300 to go back into the studio.

The band’s first single, another space-themed classic, Jack Names the Planets, was released on Taverner’s newly formed La La Land label in February 1994 and picked up play on Radio One, impressing influential DJs Steve Lamacq, John Peel and Mark Radcliffe.  A few months later, the band signed to Infectious Records and played their first London show at the Camden Falcon whilst on Easter break from college.

The summer found the band recording with producer Marc Waterman.  From these sessions, Petrol …

… and Uncle Pat were released as the band’s second and third singles and topped the UK indie charts.  The mini-album, Trailer, was released in October of 1994.

The single Kung Fu followed in 1995, the first from the eventual 1977 album …

… before the release of Girl from Mars.  The single established Wheeler as a writer of truly great pop songs and saw the band performing on Top of the Pops for the first time, two weeks after their A-level exams.

The perfect three minute pop-rock classic tells the tale of Wheeler’s infatuation with the song’s subject matter and finds him remembering “the time I knew a girl from Mars?”, “playing cards” and smoking “Henri Winterman cigars”.

The song has two different videos.  The first, the UK promotional video, was directed by Peter Christopherson and is described by the band as a cross between the video for Give It Away by Red Hot Chili Peppers (from the album Blood Sugar Sex Majik, 1991) …

… and the Natrel Plus TV advert from the mid 1990s, depicting people camouflaged against a woodland backdrop.

The band disliked the original promotional video so much that when it came to releasing the song in America, they re-filmed it.  This time, the video was directed by Jesse Peretz, who also directed the video for the Foo Fighters single, Big Me (from the album Foo Fighters, 1995).

This video features Ash playing the song as part of an art exhibition as a small girl looks on mesmerised.

Following the release of Girl from Mars, the band signed to Warner Records in the US and NASA even began to use Girl from Mars as the hold music on their phone systems.  The future looked bright for a band that was on the verge of breaking up shortly before writing the song.

Song of the Day: Music About Other Artists (Day Five). Ian Dury on Gene Vincent: “But Your Leg Still Hurts and You Need More Shirts, You Got to Get Back on the Road”.

For his debut album New Boots and Panties!! (1977), Ian Dury looked towards his hero, rock ‘n’ roll singer Gene Vincent for inspiration, penning one of his many iconic songs, the biographical Sweet Gene Vincent.  Sweet Gene Vincent was released as the sole single from the album on the fledgling, and equally iconic, Stiff Records label in November 1977.  The song, as with New Boots and Panties!!, is credited to Ian Dury as a solo artist, as his backing band, The Blockheads, were yet to be named at this point.

As a teenager, Dury, born 12th May 1942 in Harrow, London, had lovingly bought every single that Vincent had ever produced.  On various occasions, Dury would tell of how upon hearing Vincent’s Be-Bop-A-Lula in the 1956 film The Girl Can’t Help It, he was reduced to tears.

Throughout his entire career, Dury would talk sentimentally, and on occasions poetically about Vincent and the influence that he had had on him.  Whilst Vincent’s music inspired Dury to follow the path of rock stardom, the fact that the two shared a similar disability only served to make his affinity felt towards Vincent even stronger.

At the age of seven, Dury contracted polio.  He believed that he had contracted the disease from a swimming pool in Southend on Sea during the polio epidemic of 1949.  He spent six weeks in a full plaster cast in Truro Hospital before being moved to Black Notley Hospital in Braintree, Essex, where he remained for a year and a half. Following this, he was sent to Chailey Heritage Craft School, a boarding school for disabled children in East Sussex in 1951.  He was left permanently disfigured by the polio and wore a calliper on his withered left leg.  The disease similarly affected his left arm and hand.

Gene Vincent was born Vincent Eugene Craddock on February 11th 1935 in Norfolk, Virginia, USA.  Dury refers to Vincent’s Virginia origin in the line “I miss your sad Virginia whisper”.  The man who became the pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly had actually planned a career in the Navy, hence the line “Skinny white sailor, the chances were slender”.  He first enlisted in the Navy in 1952 after dropping out of school at the age of seventeen.  He completed boot camp and joined the fleet as a crewman aboard the fleet oiler USS Chukawan, although he spent two weeks training period in the repair ship USS Amphion before returning to the Chukawan.  He never saw combat but completed a Korean War deployment.  He sailed home from Korean waters on board the battleship USS Wisconsin but was not part of the ship’s company.

In 1955, Craddock re-enlisted in the Navy and used his $612 re-enlistment bonus to buy a new Triumph motorbike.  In July 1955, whilst in Norfolk, he crashed his motorbike and shattered his left leg.  He refused to have it amputated.  Whilst his leg was saved, the crash left him with a permanent limp and constant pain, hence the line “But your leg still hurts …”  He wore a steel sheath around the leg for the rest of his life, much like Dury wore a calliper.  In various interviews, Vincent would tell a different story of how he received his injury, claiming that he was injured whilst serving in the Navy.

Once recovered enough, Craddock became heavily involved in Norfolk’s local music scene, changed his name to Gene Vincent and formed the rockabilly band, Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps.  ‘Blue Caps’ is a term used to describe enlisted sailors in the US Navy.  The Blue Caps are mentioned in the line, “Let the Blue Caps roll tonight”, which is also a reference to Vincent’s 1958 album Gene Vincent rocks! and His Blue Caps Roll!  In 1956, he wrote the song which would secure him with a record deal with Capitol Records, Be-Bop-A-Lula.  The song became a number 5 hit on the Billboard Chart.  Although the band were unable to follow up the commercial success of Be-Bop-A-Lula, they did gain an appearance in The Girl Can’t Help It and released critically acclaimed songs such as Bluejean Bop (1956) and Race With The Devil (1956), both taken from the debut album Bluejean Bop (1956).

On April 16th 1960, whilst on tour in the UK, Vincent, fellow rock ‘n’ roll artist Eddie Cochran (who had also appeared in The Girl Can’t Help It) and songwriter Sharon Sheeley were involved in a high-speed traffic accident in a private hire taxi in Chippenham, Wiltshire.  Vincent suffered broken ribs and collarbone and further damaged his already weak left leg.  Sheeley suffered a broken pelvis whilst Cochran, who had been thrown from the vehicle, suffered serious brain injuries and died the following day.

Following the accident and overcome with grief at the death of his friend Cochran, Vincent returned to the US, where his life went into terminal decline, developing serious addictions to alcohol and painkillers.  Vincent’s alcoholism is referred to in the line “Shall I mourn your decline with some Thunderbird wine”.  Incidentally, Thunderbird wine is a particularly cheap brand of fortified wine containing 17.5% alcohol, introduced after the end of prohibition.  Despite its yellow colour, Thunderbird wine turns your lips and tongue black when consumed in large quantities, therefore linking in with the prominent theme of black in the song, “black handkerchief” and so on.

Vincent’s career never really recovered following the accident, despite several comeback attempts.  One such comeback attempt was his 1969 album I’m Back and I’m Proud, produced by Kim Fowley, later the Svengali behind The Runaways, and released on John Peel’s Dandelion Records label.

Fowley would later pay tribute to Vincent and his experiences producing I’m Back and I’m Proud on his 2004 album Adventures in Dreamland.

Vincent died on October 12th, 1971 from a ruptured stomach ulcer in his mother’s arms.  His final words were reportedly, “You can call the ambulance now, mama”.

Vincent’s death inspired Dury, who at this point in time was a member of pre-Ian Dury and the Blockheads band, Kilburn and the Highroads, to make a serious go of a career in the music industry.  Dury also began to mimic Vincent’s stage outfits for his own on stage presentation, most notably, black leather gloves.

He also referred to Vincent in the Kilburn and the High Roads song Upminster Kid, from their debut album Handsome (1975).  Upminster Kid can, in many ways, be seen as a forerunner to Sweet Gene Vincent and discusses Vincent’s influence on Dury.

Dury dissolved Kilburn and the Highroads in 1977 in order to form the band which would become known as Ian Dury and the Blockheads.  Whilst writing what would become New Boots and Panties!!, Dury spent six weeks researching the lyrical content for Sweet Gene Vincent, reading two biographies about his hero, before handing an initial draft to the song’s co-writer and Blockheads guitarist and keyboardist, Chaz Jankel.  Jankel joked that if the song has been kept in its original form, it would have lasted 15 minutes.

Sweet Gene Vincent makes several references to Vincent’s songs.  Firstly, the opening line, “Blue Gene baby”, is a play on the first line of Bluejean Bop, “Bluejean baby”.

Additionally, the music of Sweet Gene Vincent, which begins with a slow paced verse before moving into the rockier section of the song, is a tribute to the musical structure of Bluejean Bop.  The line “Who, who, who slapped John”, spoken as the song moves into its faster section, is a direct lift from the song Who Slapped John, the B-side of Bluejean Bop.

Later in the song, the lyric “and you lay that pistol down” is a reference to the single Pistol Packin’ Mama (1960), which includes the line “Lay that pistol down” and also refers to Vincent’s habit of waving guns around in the studio.  In one incident of ‘pistol packin’’ in 1968, Vincent is said to have scared Gary Glitter so much that he nearly left the country in fear.

“Here comes Duck-tailed Danny dragging Uncanny Annie, She’s the one with the flying feet” refers to the line “She’s the one with the flying feet” in Be-Bop-A-Lula.  The “Danny” mentioned in the line appears in Rollin’ Danny, from the album Gene Vincent Rocks! And The Blue Caps Roll (1958), whilst the name “Annie” could be a reference to Queen Anne County, now known as Virginia Beach, where Vincent lived during part of his childhood.

The line “And you jump back honey in the dungarees, Tight sweater and a ponytail” is a reference to both Jump Back, Honey, Jump Back from the Bluejean Bop album …

… and Red Blue Jeans and a Pony Tail from Vincent’s follow up album Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps (1957).

Additionally, the line “The devil drives ’til the hearse arrives” not only speaks of Vincent’s death but also refers to Race With the Devil.

Other references to Vincent’s music include the lines “At the sock hop ball at the Union Hall, Where the bop is their delight”.  “At the sock hop ball” refers to the song Ready Teddy (1958), which includes the lines “All the flat top cats and the dungaree dolls, Are headed for the gym to the sock hop ball” …

… and “Union Hall” refers to Vincent’s song Rip It Up (1958) which includes the line “Shag on down to the Union Hall, Cats are jumpin’, gonna have a ball”.

Sweet Gene Vincent also makes many references to Vincent’s typical black and white stage attire and presentation:  “White face, black shirt, White socks, black shoes, Black hair, white strat, Bled white, died black” and “Black gloves, white frost, Black crepe, white lead, White sheet, Black knight, Jet black, dead white”.

Dury would pay further tribute to Vincent when he appeared as a guest on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 1996, choosing Woman Love, the B-side of Be-Bop-A-Lula, as one of his 8 songs.

Song of the Day: Music About Other Artists (Day Four). The Go-Betweens on Patti Smith on Kurt Cobain and Others. “When She Sang About A Boy, Kurt Cobain, I Thought What A Shame It Wasn’t About Tom Verlaine”.

Patti Smith, along with her husband Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, began work on her sixth studio album, Gone Again (1996) in 1994.  Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, previously of the seminal garage band MC5, was a highly influential force on what would become Patti Smith’s first album since Dream of Life in 1988, teaching her to play acoustic guitar so she could write songs by herself and providing her with titles and concepts to develop.

The first of these songs was Summer Cannibals, the eventual single from the album, which discussed the darker side of being a rock musician.  The couple drew from Fred’s Indian ancestry in order to compose a song told from the point of view of a tribe’s shaman.  The song tells of an old woman coming down from the hills in order to tell her people of their history, informing them of, in times of strife, the cycle of life and the changing seasons. And thus began the potent theme of death on Gone Again, a theme inspired by the deaths of several people close to Smith.

Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe had died March 9th 1989, aged 42, from an AIDs-related illness …

… and Patti Smith Group pianist Richard Sohl had died on June 3rd 1990, aged 37, from heart failure.

During the writing of Gone Again, Patti Smith was devastated yet further when on November 4th 1994, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith died suddenly from heart failure, aged just 45.   The loss of her husband informs a vast majority of Gone Again but specifically the final song, Farewell Reel.  Played on the acoustic guitar which her husband taught her how to play, Farewell Reel opens with the spoken message, “This little song’s for Fred; it’s G, C, D and D minor”.

Shortly after the death of her husband, her brother, Todd, also died, aged 45.  Gone Again is also notable for featuring the last studio performance by Jeff Buckley, who added his voice to Beneath The Southern Cross.

Smith was also moved by the death of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, with whom she had sympathised.  Cobain committed suicide, aged 27, on 5th April 1994.  Smith didn’t know Cobain personally but told Seattle Weekly News in 2010:

“My reaction to Kurt Cobain was much more emotional.  I was heartbroken when he committed suicide.  I loved Nirvana.  And I knew that Kurt Cobain was very fond of my husband and the MC5.  We felt so badly.  We just wished that we would have known him, and been able to talk to him, and had some sort of positive effect on him.  Seeing Robert [Mapplethorpe] doing everything to live, and then seeing this very gifted boy kill himself was painful to factor”.

Smith’s reaction to Cobain’s death can be heard on the song About A Boy, a suitably etheral and sometimes funereal lament, the title of which is a play on Nirvana’s About A Girl, from their 1989 album Bleach.

Lyrically, About A Boy, much like many other songs on Gone Again, is spiritual and almost hymnal with lines such as “Toward another, He has gone, To breathe an air, Beyond his own, Toward a wisdom, Beyond the shelf, Toward a dream, That dreams itself”.

The verse “From the forest, from the foam, from the field, That he had, Known, Toward a river, Twice as blessed, Toward the inn of happiness” tells of Cobain’s ascendance to heaven but also refers to his hometown of Aberdeen in the US State of Washington.  The forest mentioned in the verse is most likely to be Olympic National Forest in the State of Washington, whilst the river mentioned is the Wishkah River, a tributary of the Chehalis River which flows south through Washington and empties into the Chehalis at Aberdeen.  Linking in with the Indian theme on Gone Again, the name “Wishkah” is an adaptation of the Chehalis Indian word ‘hwish-kahl’, meaning “stinking water”.  More importantly, however, the Wishkah River has a great deal of significance in the legend of Kurt Cobain, as he lived under a bridge on the river during a period of homelessness after dropping out of high school and being thrown out of his mother’s home.  The song Something In The Way from Nevermind details this time in Cobain’s life.  After his death, one third of his ashes were scattered in the river.  Additionally, the river gave its name to the Nirvana live album, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, released in 1996 and featuring live performance recorded between 1989 and 1994.

A band who had been listening to Smith’s tender tribute to Cobain was Australian band, The Go-Betweens.  For their 2000 album, The Friends of Rachel Worth, Robert Forster wrote When She Sang About Angels, in part an answer song to About A Boy.

When She Sang About Angels includes the slightly sarcastic sounding riposte to Smith choosing to pay tribute to Cobain, “When she sang About A Boy, Kurt Cobain, I thought what a shame, it wasn’t about, Tom Verlaine”.  Tom Verlaine is best known as the front man of seminal New York rock band Television, most notable for their critically acclaimed and highly influential debut album Marquee Moon (1977).  Verlaine was a stalwart of famous New York punk clubs such as CBGB and Max’s Kansas City and dated Patti Smith whilst they were both up and coming artists.  Verlaine has collaborated with Smith many times over the years, most notably adding guitar to Smith’s albums Horses (1975); Easter (1978); Gone Again (1996) and later, Gung Ho (2000) and Twelve (2007).

The song’s title and lyrics “When she sang about angels, She looked at the sky …” refers to both Smith’s songs about people who have died on Gone Again and to Smith’s song Ask The Angels, the opening track on, and third single taken from, her 1976 album Radio Ethiopia.

Additionally, When She Sang About Angels includes lines such as “When she sang about the fields, She raised up her arm, As if she was pushing back the cotton on some Midwestern farm”, a reference to Smith’s powerful stage mannerisms and the imagery of fields which inhabits some of her songs.  Take for example, in About A Boy where she sings, “From the field that he had known”; Ask the Angels, in which she sings “Across the country through the fields” and Birdland (Horses, 1975) in which she sings, “Him and his daddy used to sit inside, And circle the blue fields and grease the night”.

Despite the hint of sarcasm which pervades Forster’s critique of Smith, there is also a lot of tenderness expressed towards Smith in When She Sang About Angels.  Take for example the refrain, “Anybody else, anybody else, but I let it go by”, absolving Smith of her various lyrical and performance tendencies and the reminiscence of the lines “Then she threw some names, Like she always did, She threw some names, she dropped some names, Like she used to when I was a kid”.  Smith is known for writing songs about other people and in particular other artists.  Take for example, her song Frederick (Wave, 1979), written about Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith before their marriage in 1980.

Smith would pay further tribute to Kurt Cobain on her 2007 album of cover versions, Twelve, when she covered Nirvana’s 1991 mega-hit Smells Like Teen Spirit, from the album Nevermind.

Smith’s version of Smells Like Teen Spirit strips away the thundering bombast of the original, the sound which inspired a thousand other bands and almost single-handedly invented ‘Grunge’, and delivers it with a sparse country-tinged arrangement featuring a bass guitar, acoustic guitar, violin, banjo and her voice, which much like Kurt Cobain’s, has influenced whole generations.

Song of the Day: Hollywood in Music (Day Six). “It’s Your Favourite Foreign Movie”.

Hikers and Park Rangers in Griffith Park, the home of the famous Hollywood sign, have noticed some strange happenings over the years.  There have been many reported sightings of an attractive blonde, blue-eyed woman dressed in 1930’s garb.  The woman looks forlorn and lost.  Many have tried to approach her but when they do, she vanishes.  In the park, a pungent smell of gardenia perfume litters the air.  Could this be the ghost of Peg Entwistle?  ‘Who?’ I hear you ask.  Peg Entwistle isn’t known for her movies.  In fact, she only made one movie in her lifetime, Thirteen Women, which was released after her death.  Peg Entwistle is most known for finding the most novel way to use the Hollywood sign:  Her suicide.

Peg Entwistle was born Millicent Lilian Entwistle on the 5th February 1908 in Port Talbot, Glamorgan, Wales.  The exact details of the doomed actress’s early life are shady.  When she was young, her  family moved to West Kensington, London.  Her mother is said to have died when she was very young.  There are reports that she and her father were in Cincinnati, Ohio and New York City as early as 1913.  Her father Robert S. Entwistle was a theatre actor and is listed in the cast of several plays by The New York Times in 1913.  Entwistle’s father died in 1922, the victim of a hit and run accident on Park Avenue and 72nd Street in New York City.  Thereafter, Peg and her two younger half-brothers were taken in by their uncle who had moved with them to New York and was the manager of Broadway actor Walter Hampden.

By 1925, Entwistle had moved to Boston as a student of Henry Jewett’s Repertory (these days known as Huntington Theatre).  She was a member of the Henry Jewett Players, a group of theatre actors who were gaining national attention.  Walter Hampden gave Entwistle an uncredited walk on part in his Broadway production of Hamlet, with Ethel Barrymore as its main star.  In the play, she carried the King’s train and brought in the poison cup.  Other plays followed, with parts including that of Hedvig in Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck in the same year.  In the audience was a young Bette Davis who excitedly told her mother, “… I want to be exactly like Peg Entwistle”.

Peg Entwistle’s star seemed to be in the ascendant as she continued to receive praise for her theatre work.  This led to her being recruited by the New York Theatre Guild in 1926 and receiving her first credited role in The Man from Toronto, playing the role of Martha.  Entwistle appeared in 9 more Broadway productions between 1926 and 1932.

In 1927, Entwistle married actor Robert Keith but was granted a divorce in 1929.  It was an unhappy marriage with Entwistle accusing Keith of cruelty.  She also claimed that Keith neglected to tell her that he had been married previously and was father to a six year old boy, Brian Keith, who would later become an actor.  During this time, Entwistle continued to give acclaimed performances in a number of plays.  In 1927, a production of The Uninvited Guest closed after just seven performances, with New York Times critic J. Brooks Atkinson writing, “ … Peg Entwistle gave a performance considerably better than the play warranted”.

By May 1932, America was in the grips of the Great Depression.  Entwistle was in Los Angeles, having got a small part in the Romney Brent play The Mad Hopes alongside Billie Burke and Humphrey Bogart.  The play ran from the 23rd May to the 4th June at the Belasco Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.  Once again, Entwistle garnered much praise for her performance.  Her part in The Mad Hopes led to Entwistle’s first and only movie role, playing the small but credited part of Hazel Cousins in Thirteen Women for Radio Pictures (later RKO).  The film would be released a month after Entwistle’s death to neither critical or commercial success.

On the morning of 18th September 1932, an anonymous woman made a shocking discovery.  The anonymous woman called the Los Angeles police to report that whilst she was hiking, she had found a woman’s shoe, purse and jacket below the famous Hollywood sign.  The woman told the police that she had looked in the purse and found a suicide note.  She had then looked down the mountain and saw a body.  According to the police transcript of the call, the woman said she “wrapped a jacket, shoes and purse in a bundle and laid them on the steps of the Hollywood police station”.  The anonymous woman never identified herself.

Later that day, a detective and two radio car officers found the body of a well dressed, blonde haired, blue eyed woman in a ravine below the sign.  Entwistle’s body was not identified until her uncle, with whom she had been living in Beachwood Canyon, connected her two day absence with the description and the initials “P.E.” on the suicide note which was found in the purse and published by the newspapers.  Her uncle said that on Friday, September 16th, Entwistle had told him that she was going for a walk to the drugstore and to see some friends.  Instead, it appears that she made her way to the southern slope of Mount Lee to the foot of the Hollywood sign, climbed a workman’s ladder to the top of the “H” and jumped.  She was just 24 years old.  Her suicide note read:

“I am afraid, I am a coward.  I am sorry for everything.  If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain.  P.E.”

When people talk of Hollywood history, Peg Entwistle is for the most part forgotten about.  You won’t see her name in many cinema history books because she only ever made one film during her short lifetime.  Instead, if anything, Peg Entwistle has come to symbolise the dark side of Hollywood:  The aspiring movie actress who’s hopes and dreams were smashed by the Hollywood system.  So next time you visit Hollywood, look out for the ghost of poor Peg and breathe in the pungent smell of the gardenia perfume, reportedly the actress’s favourite perfume.

Somebody who the ghost of Peg Entwistle has obviously had an effect on is Donald Fagen, who along with co-songwriter Walter Becker, wrote the song Peg for his band Steely Dan’s 1977 album Aja.  Released as a successful single from the album, Peg tells the tale of Peg Entwistle’s attempted big break through the eyes of the film’s director, George Archainbaud.

“I’ve seen your picture, Your name in lights above it, This is your big debut, It’s like a dream come true, And when you smile for the camera, I know they’ll love it” sings Fagen in the guise of Archainbaud telling Entwistle that this is her big break.  Despite the uplifting and vibrant nature of the song, there is underlying darkness when one thinks of the subject matter.

There is even a slight sleaziness about the way in which the director tells Entwistle, “I got your pin shot [meaning pin-up photograph], I kept it with your letter [the one the actress perhaps sent in the hope of breaking into the movies], Done up in blueprint blue, It sure looks good on you, So won’t you smile for the camera, I know I’ll love you better”.  Add to this, the fact that the name Steely Dan derives from the name of a strap-on dildo in William Burroughs’s novel Naked Lunch (1959) and reading into the lyrical content of the song becomes quite a disconcerting affair.

The line “Your favourite foreign movie” could be alluding to pornography, suggesting a sexual advance from the director.  This could in fact be a song about the casting couch as opposed to the filming of the movie.  The line “You’ve seen it all before” is suggestive of a struggling actress who is weary of attempting to break into the movies and knows all the tricks of the industry.  The song could therefore could be representing the dark side of Hollywood, the one that exists but it is rarely presented to those living outside it’s glittery bubble.  In Peg, Steely Dan could be suggesting that it was the reason for Peg Entwistle’s suicide.

The final verse could refer to disturbing memories of an act on the casting prompting Entwistle’s suicide:  “Peg, It will come back to you … Then the shutter falls, You see it all in 3-D, It’s your favourite foreign movie”.  These lines are poignant as Peg Entwistle would never actually get to see her only film appearance, instead the shutter fell on her short life as Peg fell from Hollywood’s “H” on that fateful day in 1932.

As a footnote, Peg Entwistle’s ghost lives on in music as Peg by Steely Dan was sampled for De La Soul’s song Eye Know from their classic 1989 debut album 3 Feet High and Rising.