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Breakfast On The Morning Tram by Stacey Kent

‘When I was young, friends often asked me to sing to them at school. I was known for this. But they would ask me to sing in their ear, like a soft whisper. I was never attracted to big, show-stopping singing. It’s not who I am. My approach is about the quiet intensity.’

– Stacey Kent

 

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Hazel Eyes

Today I want to write about my experience of The Darkness’s ‘Hazel Eyes’ from their second album ‘One way ticket to hell and back’.

When the album came out, my college friends recommended it to me. But despite loving the band I didn’t want to listen to it. This is basically because I was terrified of what I call The Evil Train on the album cover. I didn’t want to have anything to do with The Evil Train. Call it artistic sensitivity or being an utter wuss, the end result was the same, I dodged the album like a small animal dodges hooves in a stampede. For a while.

For me trains were a symbol of fate, because they move on tracks. Forgetting that trains can switch tracks, I also saw them as a symbol of predeterminism. At the time I only believed in one possible future, in the same way that there appears to be only one past. This was an idea that gave me a smug peacefulness, and the idea that the train/fate itself could be possessed seemed to attack my philosophy. I pretended the album had not happened, and I did not listen to it.

After college I skipped off to university. Before the tidal wave of ordinary life could threaten to hit me, I ran away with a brain scientist to paddle in LSD etc. He had the impressive goal of searching for a cure for epilepsy. He weighed our recreational drugs with the same attention to detail he possessed in the lab. I felt in safe hands. Unfortunately he had an addictive personality and things slid into chaos. I stayed until he finished his Phd. It seemed that if I left before then he would have been unable to finish. My parents drove me home, and I remained quiet in the car. However once back in the house, and it was safe to do so, I screamed a lot.

One following summer I wrote to a man on a dating site. That day we bounced a few emails, and I found he was able to take some of the pressure off.  We got talking about many things, but especially music. Following my bad trips, I had the idea that I could not listen to certain things. He told me about his experiences with music in general, and recommended songs to me. He wasn’t bothered by the idea that a song could give me a flashback. And virtually holding his hand through a musical landscape, I was reassured that the songs he recommended weren’t going to hurt me.

I can’t remember how we got onto ‘One way ticket to hell and back’, but I explained my thoughts about the album cover. In his gentle way he encouraged me to listen to some of the songs. He hadn’t let me down so far, so I did as he suggested. The song I got stuck on was ‘Hazel Eyes’. I was fascinated by this song and we listened to it on repeat.

I had many questions, which my new friend helped me to explore. As a writer of detective fiction, he didn’t give me the answers, but helped me to explore my curiosity where it took me.

What were hazel eyes exactly? Are my eyes close enough to hazel to also inspire the singer? Are my mum’s eyes actually properly hazel? Does that mean he would like my mum’s eyes more? Does the song suggest that he loves pretty eyes in general, and its not so important if they are exactly hazel tone? Etc, etc. My neurotic thinking had become fun again! And the more I shared it the more fun it was. He seemed interested in everything I was interested in simply because I was interested in it. He said he always wanted to be a rock star, but couldn’t so was a writer instead. Anyway we spiralled together, and my madness found a home in him.

Listening to ‘Hazel Eyes’ again reminds me of getting to know him, and rediscovering I could still enjoy my neurotic nature and share that enjoyment with others.  I had been through a chaos and felt gloomy a lot of the time but the ‘Hazel Eyes’ song reached me through my gloom. I don’t remember much from that time, but I do remember listening to Hazel Eyes. So this means it feels like a porthole into a forgotten time, which adds to the songs fascination for me today. I also love the album as a whole.

 

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An interpretion of ‘Get your hands off of my woman’

Today I want to write about ‘Get your hands off of my woman’ by The Darkness. The song is from their first album ‘Permission to land’.

I feel like the album came out at the perfect time for me. I had left school, and was trying to conjure up a new optimism that college really would be a different world, where I would be treated better. The defiant spirit of The Darkness really worked for me, and to my delight their music had the same effect on my peers. Just that in itself helped me feel more a part of things.

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I felt very connected to their sound because I also use my anxiety directly as creative fuel. In 2003 The Darkness proved to me that it was possible to do as I was doing, in a way that was popular and fun. I wanted to be popular and fun! So I began to explore. I knew I could follow the current of my obsessiveness, and find humour, but previously this would be a rather private exercise.

I loved surrealism, but I saw it as something I outputted rather than was. I think after listening to The Darkness this shifted and I began to feel more that I was a surreal thing as a person. Where once I would have striven to be perfect and act perfectly, the new idea was that a paradoxical confidence could be found in celebrating my own anxieties. I was now convinced it would be not only acceptable to expose my own spiraling obsessiveness, but that it could be a lot of fun too.

Anyway, I bought the CD and loved it. However at the time I struggled with ‘Get your hands off of my woman’. Actually I’m glad I did, because remembering that, helps me to relate to the confusion some people feel about the band. As a teenager I found the song too offensive, whilst at the same time loving it. This was unsettling and I wasn’t used to feeling so conflicted. The song has a relentless transcendent playfulness which I got caught up in, whilst still being fixed, open mouthed each time ‘mother fucker’ reached my unaccustomed young ears! Did he really say that.

I now think it is a very deep song, and much more than being a literal story about a pub brawl between two men as some have suggested. I think when a crowd is immersed in this song, it is just as much about  re-experiencing our infant trauma of being born, the great separation, and how this contains an echo in all that we do. Life is always about trying to keep hold of things and people, who are taken from us. The scream of the angry toddler doesn’t leave us as we grow up. The original grief twists into new forms. The early injustice we feel, lays the foundation for how we feel about all of our adult concepts of injustice.

To help us suffer more there is the cultural expectation that we will behave and articulate ourselves like grown ups, as we are burnt by painful experiences. I think the song is strung out between these two poles. It contains logical thoughts and explanation, which inevitably burst through to their root of primitive aggression. Yet somehow despite these storms, its a very British song which remains very self aware at it’s most angry. In that way it kind of has the atmosphere of the wildest moments in a British sit com.

During the formative years, we also imagine the world to be like an extension of our mothers. This concept is found in many religions as the idea of the Earth as a mother. I think this is also relevant to the song. As well as motherfuckers of minor fuck ups, its also good to think of what it means to us collectively as a species. If we don’t want to be at the mercy of global motherfuckers, then we will have to be pioneers of a culture where we all care a bit more about our home planet.

I love it that the song can be experienced on whatever level you like, or on many levels at once. In that way it is a mythical song which reveals the changing meanings of any concept. Language can be used as consciously or unconsciously as we like, but by breaking things down and looking at how they are constructed, we can have a better understanding of how our words offend or shock us. An idea you can learn from a textbook, but this song gives the listener a direct, full on experience of meanings in flux, and it’s an absolute pleasure to experience.

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Joan of Arc’s Understanding

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtwUyDPXROQ

And then she clearly understood
If he was fire, oh then she must be wood.

When I was little and listening to this song, this was the only bit I didn’t like. I enjoyed the drama of her death, but I did not like her clear understanding that she was wood! I think I was at the age when I had just started to identify myself as a girl. I just hated the idea that she suddenly thought she was wood instead. It seemed like such a stupid thing to say. Yes, I could understand that he was fire, but it seemed to be a great, wild leap of logic to mean that made her wood.

I clearly understood she was a girl, and if I had met Joan of Arc at this time I would have told her ‘No, you are not wood. You are a girl, like me!’

I still feel a bit like that. It does seem slightly uncharacteristic that she would say she is wood – or just something to be consumed by Fire. But I think it is about her bravery in facing the very difficult reality of what is coming next. Rather than pretend she is not destined for the flames – she accepts it. I think this could be said to represent man facing his mortality head on.

At the beginning of the song she was in a state of unknowing – as suggested by her dull armour. Now she has met Fire, she enters a state of knowing – ‘clearly understood’. In order to keep the multiple meanings of Fire open, Cohen suggests that what she understands is simply – that she will meet the Fire, and whatever Fire may be, it will be able to burn her very well.

We are forced to combine the imagery of the effect of fire on wood, and it’s effect on our heroine. This is a powerful way to tell the listener what will happen, because it means we use our own experience of what burning looks like – and apply it to a scene we can only imagine.

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Leonard Cohen’s ‘Joan of Arc’ – Joan’s Reply to Fire

‘Well then fire, make your body cold

I’m going to give you mine to hold,

Saying this she climbed inside

To be his one, to be his only bride.’

Leonard Cohen utilises imprecise and abstract statements rather than particular and specific ones. This is true of the character of Fire in ‘Joan of Arc, because it or he could be said to represent many ideas –

– Death/Mortality

– All consuming sexual or spiritual love

– The ghost of Nico’s rapist who was sentenced to death

– Cohen himself, and his attraction to Nico

– Temptation

– Pain and suffering

– Fear

– Something else

Whatever the Fire is, Joan of Arc talks directly to it and tells it what to do! I think this is about preparing the mind for any struggle. We have to get into the mindset where what we hope to achieve seems really possible. As she was heading for the flames, Joan of Arc acts as if she still has control, and it is this which makes her so eternally brave.

Rather than be dragged towards the flames, Joan of Arc decides to give herself to them. It is about staying brave even when things seem as bad as they can be. If she has to enter the flames, then she will stay in control, by acting as though it was always her decision to do so. This stops the experience being so humiliating and therefore reduces her pain.

Fire concludes with ‘Myself I long for love and light, but must it come so cruel and oh so bright?’

There is a healing quality in this. Fire is a powerful element, but even he is in awe of the uncompromising and determined woman he has wedded. In the song Cohen is careful not to say that Fire actually kills her. He adapts it to ‘He took the dust of Joan of Arc.’ 

Dust shining in light, is one of the smallest things we can see – without the help of a microscope. So by saying that Fire took the dust of her, it draws attention to the physical but reduces its significance. Only her dust was taken.

Through the song we learn about her heroic nature, and it doesn’t seem that Fire’s action is able to alter her nature at all. The story is very dramatic, and Cohen tells us that it is Fire who was altered because of the meeting! He had longed for her, but he didn’t get what he was expecting – the experience was ‘cruel’ and ‘bright’. He reflects on this, and wonders if there could have been another way. Joan of Arc is immortalised into legend as a woman who stood up for what she believed in and never relented. Fire continues to be an element that relies on fuel to survive. Joan of Arc’s heart was a self sufficient fire all of it’s own, and the physical flames of human suffering were powerless to reduce her mythical spirit.

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Fire’s Introduction in Leonard Cohen’s ‘Joan of Arc’

Well, I’m glad to hear you talk this way,
You know I’ve watched you riding every day
And something in me yearns to win
Such a cold and lonesome heroine.
And who are you? she sternly spoke
To the one beneath the smoke.
Why, I’m fire, he replied,
And I love your solitude, I love your pride.

Previously in the song Joan of Arc said ‘I’m tired of the war. I want the kind of work I had before.’.

I believe this refers to the way that Nico sings, with a world weary, matter of fact, and very beautiful voice.

Like many other great musicians at the time, Leonard Cohen was infatuated with her. In real life it is difficult to say the right thing at the right time. In the song he is able to imagine a conversation with Nico where he says exactly what he wants to say. He also flatters her in casting her as his mythical version of the historical Joan of Arc.

At age 15 Nico was working as a temp for the U.S. Air Force. A black American Sergeant raped her. She kept quiet about it, but he was found out and sent to court. She had to testify for the prosecution at his trial. He was sentenced to death and shot.

‘Not only does she have to carry the horror of the rape but the secret guilt of somehow being complicit, by her testimony, in his execution. Sex for Nico is irrevocably associated with punishment.’ – James Young in Songs They Don’t Play On the Radio

I think perhaps Leonard Cohen had heard of the trauma she had suffered. He related it to the suffering of Joan of Arc who was put on trial as well as being burnt alive.

I think he casts himself as Fire in the poem, because of the complications of desiring a woman who associates sex with punishment. It seems that he wants to seduce her. However he also fears that the experience, if he got that far, would be damaging or distance them. I think it is this conflict of deep drives – the drive to protect and love, versus the drive to seduce and possess, which inspired the song. Perhaps he hoped that by showing his recognition of her great suffering, and recognising her bravery he could help her heal. Nico remained deeply unimpressed by Leonard Cohen, but the song has inspired lots of other people.

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Here is Nico speaking about her own work in 1985 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOeU-BF78gM 

In the interview she recalls that was Jim Morrison who told her to write songs.

She appreciated his directness, and says brightly –

 ‘Sometimes somebody has to tell you what to do!’

Her father suffered brain damage, so perhaps she was seeking guidance to replace what she had lost.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkEylc1-18M

At the very end of this interview she says she has just one regret –

‘That I was born a woman, instead of a man. That is my one regret.’

The historical Joan of Arc dressed as a man for practical reasons – to lead her troops into battle. Nico, the inspiration for Cohen’s mythical Joan of Arc, wishes she actually was a man, presumably so that she never had to suffer being sexually abused. She was always disconnected from the world, and perhaps she feels that this early trauma caused her to separate herself. She found her place in Andy Warhol’ inner circle, and was interested in the philosophical ideas being bounced around there. She comes across as someone who finds it easier to talk about ideas, than her own history. Here she is with her close friend Andy Warhol –

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Nico of the Velvet Underground, and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Joan of Arc’

Leonard Cohen said that his song Joan of Arc ‘came through’ Nico of the Velvet Underground. I think these lines are about her-

She said, I’m tired of the war,
I want the kind of work I had before,

Listening to Nico, I hear a tired or world weary quality in her voice – but it isn’t sentimental. Also her voice has an unusually matter of fact tone, which contrasts in the songs with Lou Reed’s strange and emotional lyrics.

Typically a wedding would be an emotional time – so Cohen draws attention to her lack of sentimentality in the lines –

A wedding dress or something white
To wear upon my swollen appetite.

suggesting that the wedding dress is a practical item to her, a covering. Her focus is on the whiteness, and not so much on the wedding or the dress. Nico said she felt very disconnected from the world – and these lyrics seem to describe that.

‘Swollen appetite’ sounds unsentimental and erotic. I think it suits her. Nico is turned on by music but she doesn’t let it alter the coolness of her voice. Her bands name ‘The Velvet Underground’ is similarly erotic and unsentimental.

Here she is carefully cutting her fringe and smiling, as captured by Andy Warhol. The song on the video is Nico’s beautiful version of ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sKzMEQ6MUo

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If you have any ideas about how Nico inspired this great Cohen song, then I would like to hear from you. It is possible that he said that the song was about her merely as flirtation after she said he was ‘completely unnecessary’. However I like the idea that she really did inspire the initial writing of the song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjjDmX9Tkss – Nico singing Lou Reed’s Femme Fatale

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPf5Ki9ygVY – Leonard Cohen’s Joan of Arc

Wikipedia supports the idea that Nico was the inspiration for the song. The encyclopedia also notes that the structure in which the song is both sung and recited on parallel tracks – most obvious in the first and last four lines was inspired by Medieval music.

Nico first met Jim Morrison when he was tripping and naked and curious about her hair. She thought he was trying to kill her. Later they became good friends and she said he was her ‘soul brother’. I think perhaps she was harsh on Leonard Cohen out of loyalty to Jim Morrison. She used to light a candle for Jim Morrison every night, although he was alive at that time.