Song of the Day: Education in Music (Day One). “And the Lesson Today is How to Die”.

Starting off this week’s theme of education is a song that could have also been placed in ‘Crime in Music’ a few weeks back.  That song is I Don’t Like Mondays by the Boomtown Rats, from the album The Fine Art of Surfacing (1979).  The song became the band’s second number one after previous single, Rat Trap (from the album A Tonic for the Troops, 1978).

According to singer and songwriter Bob Geldof, he wrote I Don’t Like Mondays after reading a telex report at Georgia State University’s campus radio station, WRAS, on the shooting spree of 16 year old Brenda Ann Spencer, who fired at children in a school playground at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California, USA on the 29th January 1979.  Spencer killed two adults and injured eight children and one police officer.  Spencer showed no remorse for her crime and her full explanation for her actions was “I don’t like Mondays.  This livens up the day”.  Within the next month, Geldof had written the song and it had been performed live for the first time.  In an interview with Smash Hits in 1979, Geldof explained how he had come to write the song:

“I was doing a radio interview in Atlanta with [Johnnie] Fingers and there was a telex machine beside me.  I read it as it came out.  Not liking Mondays as a reason for doing somebody in is a bit strange.  I was thinking about it on the way back to the hotel and I just said, ‘Silicon chip inside her head had switched to overload’.  I wrote that down.  And the journalists interviewing her said, “Tell me why?”  It was such a senseless act.  It was the perfect senseless act and this was the perfect senseless reason for doing it.  So perhaps I wrote the perfect senseless song to illustrate it.  It wasn’t an attempt to exploit tragedy”.

The telex machine is mentioned in the second verse with the lines, “The telex machine is kept so clean, And it types to a waking world”.  Elsewhere in the song, the chorus takes the form of a police investigation, with the backing vocals singing, “Tell me why” and Geldof singing “I don’t like Mondays … I wanna shoot the whole day down”.  Meanwhile, the verses of the song find the school and Spencer’s parents trying to find a reason for the tragedy before Geldof concludes that “… that there are no reasons” both speaking of various peoples’ shock over the senselessness of the killings and echoing Spencer’s lack of remorse.

The song was originally intended to be a B-side but Geldof changed his mind following the song’s success with audience on the Boomtown Rats’ US tour.  Spencer’s family tried unsuccessfully to prevent the song from being released in the US.  Despite it being a number one single in the United Kingdom, the song only reached number 73 on the US Billboard Hot 100.  The song was played regularly by US radio stations in the 1980s.  However, radio stations in San Diego did not play the track for years after the crime in respect to local sensitivities about the shooting and to the families of the victims.  In the UK, the song won in the Best Pop Song and Outstanding British Lyric categories at the Ivor Novello Awards.

Eight months after the shooting, Spencer pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and assault with a deadly weapon.  She was sentenced to 25 years to life.  She has been denied parole four times since 1993 and will not be considered again until 2019.

The Boomtown Rats performed the song for Live Aid at Wembley Stadium in 1985.  This performance became the band’s last final major appearance.  After singing the line, “And the lesson today is how to die”, Geldof paused for a moment.  The crowd applauded on the significance to those starving in Africa which the event had been organised to help.

Song of the Day: Space in Music (Day Two). “I Always Flirt With Death, I Look Ill But I Don’t Care About It”.

As I talked about yesterday, in songs such as David Bowie’s Space Oddity (David Bowie, 1969), whether space is a metaphor for the effects of heroin, or others drugs, is something that is often debated.  However, on other songs such as The Only Ones’ Another Girl, Another Planet, their best known single and the second track on their debut album, The Only Ones (1978), the references, whilst still being the subject of debate, are much more blatant.  Though the song is often considered something of a rock standard and various publications have named the song the greatest rock single ever recorded, Another Girl, Another Planet was not a hit when first released.  In fact, the song’s highest chart position was number 44 on the New Zealand chart in July 1981.  The song was re-released in the UK in January 1992, backed with Pretty in Pink by The Psychedelic Furs to promote the compilation album, Sound of the Suburbs.  On this release, the song reached number 57 on the UK singles chart, its highest position to date.  Another Girl, Another Planet was placed at number 18 in John Peel’s all time Festive Fifty millennium edition and when playing it as part of 1980’s Festive Fifty, in which it reached number 28, he introduced it as an “artful little caprice”.

Although this song, with its soaring guitars, perfect three minute pop format and front-man Peter Perrett’s elliptical lyrics could simply be read as a song about the excitement and perils of space travel and having a girl on every planet the narrator passes, something which gives the song some of its huge appeal, dig deeper into the song and the heroin references are plain for all to see.

Another Girl, Another Planet starts with the killer opening lines, “I always flirt with death, I look ill but I don’t care about it”.  To “flirt with death” is an expression normally used when talking about doing something dangerous and life-threatening for personal enjoyment.   Here, to “flirt with death” is about the dangers associated with injecting heroin. “I look ill, but I don’t don’t care about it” straightforwardly refers to the sick look which heroin users are prone to inheriting due to regular usage.  This look has in recent years, thanks to the fashion world, become known as ‘heroin chic’ and is characterised by pale skin, dark circles and angular bone structure due to weight loss.  Interestingly, in Blink 182’s cover version of Another Girl, Another Planet (Greatest Hits, 2005), they change the line to “I could kill, but I don’t care about it”, which could refer to the fact that in the process of ‘cooking’ a batch of black tar, bacterial spores can enter the drug solution.   Once the drug is injected, these spores can damage and even kill the body’s muscle, skin and organ tissues.  Alternatively, or perhaps simultaneously, perhaps the singer is telling of how he would kill to receive the drug and its hit.

In the following lines, “I can face your threats, Stand up tall and scream and shout about it”, the facing of “threats” may refer to side effects and risks associated with taking the drug.  The second of these lines, “Stand up tall and scream and shout about it”, finds the singer defiant, telling of how he does not care who knows about his heroin use because of the euphoria he receives from the drug.

The chorus of the song, “I think I’m on another world with you, I’m on another planet with you” finds the singer metaphorically on another planet following the hit of the drug.  Heroin often leads people to hallucinate, so perhaps in this context, Perrett is speaking of how heroin takes him to places that he cannot reach when not under the influence and perhaps hallucinating about women.  It is said that this is a common hallucination when taking heroin.   Alternatively, the “girl” of which Perrett speaks could be a personification of the needle used to inject the drug, with the use of the word “another” being telling of Perrett’s repeated drug use.  Perrett was often compared to Lou Reed, so much so that when listening to an Only Ones recording, the NME’s Nick Kent once believed he was listening to a new Lou Reed recording.  If we were to see the “girl” as a personification of the needle, then we could compare this line to the line, “It’s my wife and it’s my life” in the Velvet Underground’s Heroin (The Velvet Underground and Nico, 1967).

As the song’s second verse opens, we find the line, “You always get under my skin, I don’t find it irritating”, possibly the clearest heroin reference in the whole song.  Usually, if somebody gets under your skin, they are annoying you.  However, here, Perrett states “I don’t find it irritating”, meaning that he enjoys literally having the needle beneath his skin because he knows that what will follow will be a pleasurable experience.  The following line, “You always play to win” refers to heroin playing to win, i.e. claiming lives and being a very difficult addiction to beat.  The following line, “I don’t need rehabilitating” implies that he does not wish to try to kick the habit and would rather “flirt with death” and allow the drug to win.

The song’s final verse starts with the lines, “Space travel’s in my blood, And there ain’t nothing I can do about it”, Perrett’s declaration that he can’t get clean from heroin and that he doesn’t want to try to.  In the following lines, “Long journeys wear me out, Oh God we won’t live without it”, the ‘long journey’ refers to being under the influence of heroin for an extended period of time.  After coming down from his high, he is worn out.  Note the pluralisation of ‘journey’, which is telling of the repetition of injecting the drug.  The line, “Oh God we won’t live without it” is further evidence of the singer’s defiant stance against stopping taking the drug.  In the song’s coda, the line “Another planet, forever holding you down” is, once again, testament to the grip that the drug has on him.  Additionally, heroin is a downer or depressant:  hence, the repetition of injecting the drug is forever holding the singer down.

When asked whether drugs were an aspiration for him in an interview with Classic Rock magazine in July 2014, Perret replied:

“No, it was just an accident.  I never, ever wanted to devote my life to drugs.  I’d starting smoking joints and they relaxed me.  Because I wanted the best hash, I started meeting people that had the best hash.  Gradually, over a couple of years, I met people, started doing it as a business.  I signed on at college and I used to go in at the beginning of each term, get my grant money and start up dealing, then I eventually met people, started importing it.  Then we went over to importing cocaine – it’s a fraction of the size, much easier to smuggle in, and you’re facing the same risks.  All of a sudden, I’m doing the cocaine that used to knock my head off.  That was about 1975, and after that I tried smack.  That was a big mistake because all of a sudden, that was the best feeling I’d ever felt in my life.  That’s why it’s so dangerous.  It’s silly telling people not to take it.  You’ve got to let them know that the reason it’s so dangerous is because it’s the best feeling you’ve had in your life, and it’s so hard not to want it all the time, and if you have it all the time, eventually it stops working and you need it just to be able to function”.

Song of the Day: Biography in Music (Day Six). ” … Until You Admit, You’re A Fuck Up Like the Rest of Us”.

Sometimes even the greatest, most talented artists fall by the wayside and are lost in the abyss of obscurity forever more.  And sometimes these artists are thankfully brought back into public consciousness by a song written about them.  One such artist is Bob Lind.  For Pulp’s 2001 album, We Love Life, Jarvis Cocker penned Bob Lind (The Only Way is Down).

The song, as with the rest of album was produced by Scott Walker, in his only production work carried out for a band or artist outside of his own work.  Walker, just like Lind, had also been subjected to years of obscurity following the commercial failure of his now critically acclaimed album Scott 4 (1969).  Walker spoke of his wilderness years in the 2006 documentary, Scott Walker:  30 Century Man:

“The record company called me in [following the commercial failure of Scott 4] and carpeted me and said you’ve got to make a commercial record for us … I was acting in bad faith for many years during that time … I was trying to hang on.  I should have just stopped.  I should have said, ‘OK, forget it’ and walked away.  But I thought if I keep hanging on and making these bloody awful records … this is going to turn round if I just hang in long enough, and it didn’t.  It went from bad to worse …”

Cocker even included a reference to a Walker record in the song Bad Cover Version from the album, slating the second side of 1970’s ‘Til the Band Comes In, which is often and rightfully described as being inferior to the first side:  “The second side of ‘Til the Band Comes In”.

Cocker has since stated that Bad Cover Version was written way before Walker became involved in the project.

So, there is a certain amount of irony about Walker producing a song about another artist who faced years of obscurity.  Bob Lind, born November 25th, 1942 in Baltimore, Maryland, United States is an American folk music singer-songwriter who helped to define the 1960’s folk rock movement in America and England.  Lind is best known for his transatlantic hit, Elusive Butterfly (Don’t Be Concerned, 1966), which reached number 5 in both the UK and US in 1966.  Despite the fact that many musicians have covered Lind’s songs and he still continues to write, record and perform, he still remains relatively unknown.

The Bob Lind story starts in 1965 when he signed a contract with Liberty Records’ subsidiary, World Pacific Records.  It was on this label that he recorded Elusive Butterfly.  The single might have done better on the UK Singles Chart had there not been competition from established Irish recording artist, Val Doonican, who released a cover version of the song at the same time.  In the end, both versions of Elusive Butterfly made number 5 in the UK in 1966.

The B-side of Elusive Butterfly featured Cheryl’s Goin’ Home, a song which was covered by Adam Faith, the Blues Project, Sonny & Cher, John Otway, the Cascades and others.  Other Lind songs were eventually covered by more than 200 artists including Cher, Glen Campbell, Aretha Franklin, Dolly Parton, Eric Clapton, Nancy Sinatra, The Four Tops, Richie Havens, Hoyt Axton, The Kingston Trio, Johnny Mathis and Petula Clark.

Despite recognition for his song writing ability and the success of Elusive Butterfly, Lind’s star was to shine very briefly.  Plagued by drug and alcohol problems, Lind gained a reputation in the music industry for being difficult to work with.  In 1969, he severed all ties with his record company.  Three years after leaving World Pacific, Capitol Records released the album Since there Were Circles, an album well-received by critics but not commercially successful.  Lind then dropped out of the record industry altogether for a number of years.  Other recognition came from writer friend Charles Bukowski, who based the character Dinky Summers in his 1978 novel, Women and Other Writings on Lind.

In 1988, Lind moved to Florida where he write five novels, an award winning play and a screenplay, Refuge, which won the Florida Screenwriters’ Competition in 1991.  He also became a staff writer for supermarket tabloids Weekly World News and Sun.  He returned to music in 2004, three years after Pulp’s Bob Lind (The Only Way is Down), when, at the request of his friend, Arlo Guthrie, son of Woody Guthrie, he performed live at the Guthrie Center in Becket, Massachusetts.  Lind began touring again and has toured ever since.

In 2006, Lind established his official website.  In the same year, RPM Records re-issued the album Since There Were Circles and Lind self-released the Live at Luna Star album featuring performances of new material.  In 2007, Elusive Butterfly: The Complete 1966 Nitzsche Sessions was released in the UK by Ace Records whilst in 2009, filmmaker Paul Surratt made the concert / documentary film about Lind entitled Bob Lind:  Perspective.  Most recently, 2012 saw the release of Lind’s first album of new material in 41 years, Finding You Again, produced by guitarist of the band The Spongetones, Jamie Hoover.  The album was once again released in Ace Records.  Additionally, as well as naming the song Bob Lind (The Only Way is Down) after Lind, Cocker and bandmate Steve Mackey included the Lind recording Cool Summer (The Elusive Bob Lind, 1966) on their 2006 compilation album The Trip:  Curated by Jarvis Cocker and Steve Mackey.

In 2013, Lind was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, along with Judy Collins, the Serendipity Singers and Chris Daniels.

In a 2001 interview with NME to accompany the release of We Love Life, Cocker said of Bob Lind (The Only Way is Down):

“There was this bloke in the late ‘60s called Bob Lind.  One of his most famous songs is Elusive Butterfly, which was one of my favourites when I was younger.  Something about the sound of this song made me think of him.  It’s about someone who is a fuck-up.  And sometimes there’s something good about admitting that.  Most people who are famous and wealthy tend to be more fucked up than everybody else.  Bob Lind, he writes quite, kind of, sweet songs but then they’ve often got quite negative words.  For instance, there’s a song of his called Remember the Rain [Photographs of Feeling, 1966] …

… which is basically saying:  “Remember the rain, when you walk in the sunshine”, it’s saying, “Oh right, you might be having a good time now, but listen, you will be having a shit time soon” – which is a pretty negative thing to write about and yet it’s quite a nice, jangly little tune.  So that song reminded me of him a bit.  So Bob Lind was just a working title, but then as sometimes happens, I couldn’t think of a better one.  So I just left it.  And he did get in touch the other day and said, “I’m gonna sue”.  No, he didn’t – he got in touch, and he seemed to be quite flattered that somebody had remembered him”.

Song of the Day: Biography in Music (Day One). “But Every Time It Rains, You’re Here in My Head …”

Right from her early days, Kate Bush was never afraid of demonstrating her literally knowledge.  For her first single, Bush had released Wuthering Heights (The Kick Inside, 1978), based on Emily Bronte’s novel of the same name (1847).

For her second album Lionheart (1978), she had referenced J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan in both Oh England My Lionheart …

… and In Search of Peter Pan.

Further to this, Get Out of My House from 1982’s The Dreaming album was inspired by Stephen King’s 1977 novel, The Shining.

For her 1985 album, Hounds of Love, Bush’s love of literature and writing about her favourite works in song took a biographical turn with the song Cloudbusting, which took its cue from Peter Reich’s 1973 book, A Book of Dreams, a biography of his father, Wilhelm Reich.

Wilhelm Reich (1897 – 1957) was an Austrian psychiatrist and philosopher who was trained in Vienna by Sigmund Freud.  Reich’s work combined Marxism and psychoanalysis in order to advocate sexual freedom.  He would often visit parents in their homes to see how they lived, and took to the streets in a mobile clinic, promoting adolescent sexuality and the availability of contraceptives, abortion and divorce, a provocative message in Catholic Austria.  His aim was to attack the neurosis by its prevention rather than treatment.

In the 1930’s, Reich became an increasingly controversial figure.  From 1932 until his death, all his work was self-published.  His promotion of sexual permissiveness disturbed the psychoanalytic community and his associates on the political left, and his vegetotherapy, in which he massaged his undressed patients in order to dissolve their muscular armour, violated the key taboos of psychoanalysis.  In 1939, he and his son moved to New York, in part to escape the Nazis.  Shortly afterwards, Reich proposed the concept of orgone, a physical energy contained in the atmosphere and in all living matter.  In 1940, he started building orgone accumulators, devices which his patients sat inside of in order to harness the reputed health benefits.  This led to newspaper reports about sex boxes that cured cancer.  Reich is also famed as the inventor of the Cloudbuster, a device which manipulated the orgone energy in the atmosphere, forcing clouds to form and causing rain.  This invention is what informed the concept of Bush’s Cloudbusting.

After two critical articles about Reich in The New Republic and Harper’s, the US Food and Drug Administration obtained an injunction against the interstate shipment of orgone accumulators and associated literature, believing that they were dealing with a “fraud of the first magnitude”,  In 1956, Reich was charged with contempt for having violated the injunction and was sentenced to two years in prison.  In the summer of 1956, six tons of his publications were burned by order of the court.  Reich died of heart failure whilst in prison just over a year later and days before he was due to apply for parole.

Although Bush’s Cloudbusting is the most recognised, and personally, I feel the best song based on Reich, his life and concepts, it was not the first.  Other songs about Reich include Birdland by Patti Smith, from her debut album Horses (1975), which is also based on A Book of Dreams.

Cloudbusting is about the relationship between Wilhelm Reich and Peter Reich as a young boy, told from the perspective of Peter Reich as an adult.  The song describes the boy’s memories of his life with Reich on their family farm and research centre, which Reich named Orgonon, hence the song’s first line, “I still dream of Orgonon”.  Today, Orgonon is a museum dedicated to Reich and his research.  Of the first verse of Cloudbusting, which continues, “… I wake up crying, You’re making rain, And you’re just in reach, When you and sleep escape me”, Bush told Alternative Press Magazine in 1989:

“All of us tend to live in our heads.  In Cloudbusting, the idea was of starting this song with a person waking up from this dream, “I wake up crying”.  It’s like setting a scene that immediately suggests to you that this person is no longer with someone they dearly love.  It puts a pungent note on the song.  Life is a loss, isn’t it?  It’s learning to cope with loss.  I think in a lot of ways, that’s what all of us have to cope with”.

The second verse of Cloudbusting, “You’re like my yo-yo, That glowed in the dark, What made it special, What made it dangerous, So I bury it, And forget it” refers to part of Peter Reich’s A Book of Dreams in which he tells of his father’s dislike of fluorescent light of any kind, believing that it held bad orgone energy.  Wilhelm made Peter bury his fluorescent yo-yo in the back yard in order to stop its harmful effects.  The yo-yo of which Bush speaks stood out from everything around it, thus bringing attention to itself in much the same way that Wilhelm Reich’s genius set him apart from other people and brought attention to him, leading to his demise.  Reich’s genius made him a very special person but also caused him to appear “dangerous” to the Federal Government.

In the song’s chorus, we find the lyrics “But every time it rains, You’re here in my head”, referring to the cloudbuster built by Wilhelm Reich.  In these lines, every time Peter sees the rain, he remembers his father and his experiments.  In an interview for MTV in 1985, Bush said of these lines:

“And the song is really using the rain as something that reminds the son of his father.  Every time it rains, instead of being very sad and lonely, it’s a very happy moment for him, it’s like his father is with him again”.

The chorus’s phrase of “… something good is going to happen” refers to the recurrent foreboding in A Book of Dreams that “something bad was going to happen”.

The lyrics of Cloudbusting’s third and fourth verse describe Wilhelm Reich’s abrupt arrest and imprisonment, the pain of loss felt by the young Peter and his helplessness at being unable to protect his father:  “On top of the world, Looking over the edge, You could see them coming, You looked too small, In their big, black car, To be a threat to the men in power” and “I hid my yo-yo, In the garden, I can’t hide you from the government, Oh God, Daddy, I won’t forget”.  Additionally, the lyrics “On top of the world, Looking over the edge, You could see them coming”, refers to the following passage in A Book of Dreams:

“He was like a man who was standing on top of the world looking over into a new world.  That is what Daddy was like.  He had lifted himself so he was looking the horizon to a new world, a free and happy world.  He stood there on the edge of the universe looking into the future … They pulled the ladder out from under him and killed him”.

The wonderful seven minute long music video for Cloudbusting, directed by Julian Doyle, the was an idea collaboration between Terry Gilliam and Kate Bush and features Canadian actor Donald Sutherland in the role of Wilhelm Reich, whilst Bush plays his son, Peter.  The video shows Wilhelm and Peter on top of a hill attempting to make the cloudbuster work.  Wilhelm leaves his son on the cloudbuster and returns to his laboratory, where in a flashback, he remembers the times he and Peter enjoyed working on various scientific projects.  He is then interrupted by government officials who arrest him and ransack the laboratory.  Peter senses that his father is in danger and tries to reach him to no avail, watching as his father is driven away.  Peter runs back to the cloudbuster and to his father’s delight, gets it working and begins to rain.

The video was filmed at The Vale of the White Horse in Oxfordshire, England.  Bush personally approached Sutherland to ask him to appear in the video at the hotel room in which he was staying.  She found out where he was staying from actress Julie Christie’s hairdresser.  In the UK, the music video, conceived more as a short film than a standard video, was shown at some cinemas as an accompaniment to the main feature.  Due to difficulties in obtaining a work visa for Sutherland at short notice, the actor offered to work on the video for free.  Despite the fact that the events in the story took place in Maine, the newspaper clipping in the video reads “The Oregon Times”, possibly in reference to Reich’s home and laboratory, Orgonon.

The cloudbuster depicted in the video was designed and constructed by people who worked on the alien in the film Alien (1979) and later, Aliens (1986).  The machine bears only a superficial resemblance to the original cloudbusters, which were smaller and featured multiple narrow, straight tubes and pipes and were operated whilst standing on the ground.  The video makes reference to Peter Reich’s A Book of Dreams, acknowledging the song’s inspiration, in the scene where Bush pulls a copy of the book out of Sutherland’s coat.

The video is a magnificent retelling of the song and of the life and times of Wilhelm and Peter Reich.  If the song successfully manages to convey the moment when a child first realises that adults are fallible lyrically; then the video, in which Bush, as always, uses her significant acting talents so wonderfully, is a powerful visual interpretation of that theme.  When asked about her role in the video during a 1985 interview with MTV, Bush replied:

“I think it’s something I’d obviously worried about.  When you’re not a child, there are a lot of things that could be a problem.  Like I could look old and not young.  And we were also [coughs] – excuse me – trying to take away the feminine edge so that in a way I could be a tomboy rather than a little girl.  Trying to keep the thing as innocent as possible.  And I think rather than being that worried about playing a child, I was just worried about the whole process of acting, because it’s something I’ve not really done, in a true sense.  I’ve performed in lots of ways, but not really acted.  And it was something that I was wary of and I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed it”.

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: War in Music (Day Three): “He Smoked German Cigarettes on Christmas Day”.

Indie rock music has had a longstanding fascination with the war, and particularly the World Wars.  This trend that is no small part due to the influence of Joy Division, the achingly cool and much lauded band who took their name from the prostitution wing of a Nazi concentration camp mentioned in the 1955 novel House of Dolls by Ka-tzetnik 135633.  The influence of war and the grim House of Dolls on the band can be seen on songs such as No Love Lost, from their An Ideal For Living EP (1978), which takes its spoken word section directly from the novel.

Move forward almost thirty years and a band who had obviously studied History at GCSE was GoodBooks, who penned the song Passchendaele for their 2007 debut album, Control.  Maybe it is mere coincidence that the name of GoodBooks’ album shares its name with Anton Corbijn’s film about the life of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, released in the same year.  GoodBooks continue the World War referencing trend started by Joy Division in the late 1970’s but this time, whilst with the title Passchendaele, you may expect the song to be set in the First World War, the song actually spans both World Wars and every war that Britain has fought “the cause” in since.  Despite the links that could be forged with Joy Division, Passchendaele is perhaps more akin to Jona Lewie’s anti-war behemoth Stop the Cavalry (1980), complete with lines such as “He smoked German cigarettes on Christmas day”.  GoodBooks’ Passchendaele is perhaps the Noughties indie rock equivalent of Lewie’s pop classic.

The Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, was a campaign of the First World War fought by the Allies against the German Empire.  The battle took place on the Western Front between July and November 1917 for the control of the ridges south and east of the Belgian city of Ypres in West Flanders, as part of a strategy decided by the allies at conferences in November 1916 and May 1917.  Passchendaele lay on the last ridge east of Ypres, 5 miles from the railway junction at Roulers, which was vital to the supply system of the German 4th Army.  The battle is known for its horrific bloodshed, with 325,000 Allied and 260,000 German casualties, and is one of the most talked about battles of the First World War.

In GoodBooks’ Passchendaele, the band tell the story of a First World War soldier named Jack who was “born towards the end of the 19th century”.  The song continues to tell how Jack, “married his sweetheart at the age of 23” but “Shortly before the birth of their first child, He answered the call of duty”.  And most importantly, how “he never made it past 25, he died at Passchendaele”.

The strength of Passchendaele, much like Stop the Cavalry is the plainness in which the tale is told.  Singer Max Cooke delivers the song in an almost monotone and very English manner which is also akin to the way in which Jona Lewie delivered his war story, complimented by lines such as “He carried English bayonets in an English way”.  Cooke gently tells of how the young soldier, with his wife (his “Mary Bradley” if you will) and child waiting for him at home, fights “In the war to end all wars” and loses his life in the process.

The song goes on to tell of the war’s influence on the dead soldier’s family, moving forward to the Second World War where “His son fell from a Spitfire in 1944” after following in his father’s footsteps.  In the same verse, we begin to see the anti-war element of Passchendaele, with lines such as “Well, Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?  And what did we learn the second time around?  Never again …”

Passchendaele is a song about the futility of war and effects of its seemingly endless cycle:  The First World War was supposed to be, as stated in the song’s chorus, “the war to end all wars”, yet two decades later, Britain would be involved in yet another World War and “still we keep on fighting”.

GoodBooks’ Passchendaele may have had less of a chart impact than Stop the Cavalry, and it will almost definitely never be seen to be as ‘cool’ as Joy Division’s No Love Lost, but what Goodbooks do achieve on Passchendaele is to place such an horrific scene of bloodshed to an upbeat pop backing which will keep you humming all day long.  One can only dream of how different the career of Goodbooks, who split in 2009, would have been if their war song’s success had matched that of Stop the Cavalry’s or if they had gained the same ‘cool’ status as Joy Division.  And it would have been deserved too because Passchendaele is arguably GoodBooks’ finest moment.

Song of the Day: Crime in Music (Day Five): “Lord Lucan is Missing”

Richard John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan, more commonly known as Lord Lucan was a British peer suspected of murder, who disappeared without a trace on the 8th November 1974.  Lucan was born into an Anglo-Irish aristocratic family in Marylebone.  His great-great-grandfather was the 3rd Earl of Lucan, who ordered the Charge of the Light Brigade.  He attended Eton and later served with the Coldstream Guards in West Germany between 1953 and 1955.  He developed a taste for gambling and, skilled at backgammon and bridge, became an early member of the Clermont Club.  Despite the fact his losses often exceeded his winnings, he left his job at a London-based merchant bank and became a professional gambler.  He was known by the title Lord Bingham between April 1949 and January 1964, when his father died and he became the 7th Earl of Lucan.

Lucan was a highly charismatic man who was once even considered for the role of James Bond.  He had expensive tastes, with his hobbies including power boats and driving his Aston Martin.  In 1963, he married Veronica Duncan, with whom he had three children.  When the marriage collapsed in late 1972, he moved out of the family home at 46 Lower Belgrave Street, in London’s Belgravia, to a property nearby.  A bitter battle for custody of his children ensued and Lucan lost.  He began to spy on his wife and record their telephone conversations, apparently obsessed with regaining custody of their children.  This fixation, combined with his gambling losses, had a dramatic effect on his life and personal finances.

The murder of Sandra Rivett, the children’s nanny took place on the evening of 7th November 1974.  On Thursday nights, Rivett usually went out with her boyfriend, John Hawkins but had tragically decided to change her night off and had seen him the previous day.  Rivett and Hawkins spoke on the telephone at about 8pm.  At about 8.55pm, she put the Lucans’ youngest child to bed and asked Lady Lucan if she would like a cup of tea.  She headed downstairs to the basement kitchen to make the cup of tea.  As she entered the room, she was bludgeoned to death with a piece of bandaged lead pipe.  Her body was then placed in a canvas mail sack.  Upon wondering what had delayed Rivett, Lady Lucan walked down the stairs into the basement kitchen and was also attacked.  She later identified Lord Lucan as her assailant.

When questioned by the police, Lady Lucan said that as she screamed for her life, her attacker had told her to “shut up”.  At this moment, said Lady Lucan, she recognised her husband’s voice.  The two had continued to fight.  In an attempt to get Lord Lucan to loosen his grip, she bit his fingers.  He threw her down on the carpet.  She managed to turn around and squeeze his testicles, causing him to give up the fight.  Lady Lucan asked where Sandra Rivett was.  Lord Lucan was evasive but eventually admitted to having killed her.  Lady Lucan told him that she could help him escape on the provision that he remained at the house for a few days to allow her injuries to heal.  Lucan walked upstairs and sent his daughter to bed before going into one of the bedrooms.  Lady Lucan followed him into the bedroom, placing towels down on the bed to avoid staining the bedding, on the instruction of Lord Lucan.  Lucan asked her if she had any barbiturates and went into the bathroom to get a wet towel, supposedly to clean Lady Lucan’s face.  Realising that her husband would not be able to hear her from the bathroom, she made her escape, running outside to a nearby public house, the Plumber’s Arms.

As the police began their murder investigation, Lucan telephoned his mother, asking her to collect the children, and then drove a borrowed Ford Corsair to the home of friend Susan Maxwell-Scott in Uckfield, East Sussex.  Hours later, he left the property and was never seen again.   The Ford Corsair was later found abandoned in Newhaven.  The interior of the car was stained with blood and its boot contained a piece of bandaged lead pipe similar to the one found at the crime scene.  A few days later, a warrant for Lucan’s arrest was issued and in his absence, the inquest into Rivett’s death named him as her murderer.  With the passage of the Criminal Law Act of 1977, the inquest into Rivett’s death marked the last occasion in Britain on which a coroner’s court was allowed to make such a determination.  The whereabouts of Lord Lucan and whether he is dead or alive remains a fascinating mystery for the British public.  Since the murder of Sandra Rivett, there have been hundreds of reported sightings of Lucan all over the world, although none have been substantiated.  Despite a police investigation and huge press interest, Lucan has never been found and has now been presumed dead.

In 1978, Brighton punk band The Dodgems released the single Lord Lucan is Missing on the appropriately titled Criminal Records.  Interestingly, the song was produced by Jonathan King, the self-confessed vile pervert who 22 years later would become as infamous as Lord Lucan when he was convicted of a string of sexual offences against young boys since the early 70s.  Originally part of the Vaultage 78 compilation album, Lord Lucan is Missing was championed by John Peel, who invited the band to record a session for his Radio 1 show.  The session became a Peel favourite and was repeated several times before the show ended with Peel’s death in 2004.  The Peel session helped the song to become an iconic song of the punk era.

The song takes its title from newspaper headlines at the time of Lord Lucan’s disappearance, hence the opening line of the song, “It seems like years ago that the headlines read, ‘Lord Lucan is Missing’”.  The song makes several references to Lord Lucan’s interests and ponders upon his potential whereabouts, with lines including “Is he in the Clermont Club or in the South of France, Playing on a roulette wheel in another game of chance, I don’t know …”