Friday, April 11, 2008

Two Nuns And A Pack Mule

Actually, two songs and a puzzle.

Song one: "Life On Mars", by David Bowie.

Having spent the last week or so gazing unhealthily at the contents of several unfortunate handkerchiefs, I have just now got around to watching the final episode of the second series of the wonderful "Life On Mars". This has been almost a textbook example of the kind of television I like: action, suspense, a wicked sense of humour, attention to detail, solid characterisation (the kind that makes you actually care), well chosen and frequently not obvious music, individual weekly storylines contained inside a deeper overarching narrative. It's not Dennis Potter but it's not "Home And Away" either.

(Actually, one of my favourite aspects of the show was the pub where the officers retired after (or during) work hours, run by a cheery Jamaican who, at least in the early episodes of the first series, seemed to have a direct line to Kingston record bins of the era (1973). It is interesting to speculate whether, in real life 1973, working geezers would have been exposed to deep-rooted reggae music, and if so how that affected, or would have affected, their outlook on life. Did reggae actually permeate as far as Manchester pubs in 1973, or ever? It stands to reason: Manchester was in many ways where punk, and especially what came after, was born, three years later, and we know that Lydon (down in London) and others were heavily influenced by Lee "Scratch" Perry et al. Don Letts probably knows the answer.)

And, of course, the eponymous theme song. If the 1970s belonged to Neil Young, they also belonged to David Bowie (and perhaps Brian Eno, who was moving in vaguely concentric circles with Bowie for much of it). "Life On Mars", and what it evokes, takes you so completely back to that decade that it was an obvious scene-setting choice. But it is also a totally brilliant song. This is proved as follows: you can update it for the glowsticks, tracksuit pants and smiley badges generation (C.O.), or have it played, in Portuguese, on a boat, for the entertainment of Bill Murray and his red-knitted-capped crew (Seu Jorge, as seen in "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou"), and it still carries the same emotional weight as the original (whether that would be the case if you had never heard the song before and didn't know Portuguese is something I can't answer).

Song two: "Anarchy In The UK", by the Sex Pistols.

Those readers with long memories and nothing better to store in their brain cavities might remember that I mentioned some time ago having been provided by Darren with something over 1,000 songs, not so much songs that I don't know (although that too) as songs that I should have paid more attention to or not dismissed as knee-jerkily as I am inclined to do. These songs have now been added to a couple of hundred of a similar nature that he foisted upon me a year or two previously. I have also culled those songs that I already own (legally) on CD. The number is currently 1305. They have been stuck in a randomiser and duly scrambled. I will deal with them one at a time. I have no expectation of getting very far. What I don't want is for this to turn into some private conversation between him and me, because is there anything more boring than private conversations conducted in public?

It is somehow fitting that the first spin of the wheel landed on "Anarchy In The UK" because, for me, this song was Year Zero. To be precise, seeing the Sex Pistols on "Countdown" opened a door that could never be closed. There I was, twelve years old, having started to be interested, thanks to my crazy Melbourne cousins and some friends' older brothers (if you are somebody's older brother, please remember, your musical tastes will be taken very seriously by small children of your younger siblings' acquaintance; don't take this responsibility lightly), in music that was outside the orbit or 3UL: David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Jethro Tull, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, and other "heavy" type music. The Sex Pistols picked all of that up like a hurricane and blew it to who knows where. Suddenly the possibilities were limitless. And so it has proved. And yet.

And yet. I never owned "Never Mind The Bollocks". My twelve-year-old self somehow intuited that a best-of collection had no place outside of the world that the Sex Pistols had destroyed, and it felt like a betrayal, or a selling out. (I may have missed some notional quote marks around the enterprise, but I suspect that it was exactly what it looked like: an item of product created by a record company in order to make money for that record company.) I did (and do) own the "Pretty Vacant" seven-inch (picture sleeve), but my Pistols collection went no further (although I have always enjoyed Sid's version of "My Way"). I think it's like this: the Pistols weren't as important for the music they made as for, I dunno, blowing open a hole for scores of similarly disaffected youth to scramble through. This is not a new story. Read Jon Savage's "England's Dreaming". (Read it anyway, it's a great book.) The Sex Pistols were negative energy. ("No Future".) The Clash, Gang of Four, Wire, The Fall, they were the ones who saw a future. (Well, nobody knows precisely what Mark E Smith saw.) Nevertheless, the opening seconds of this song are always thrilling to hear, and always will be.

The puzzle.

In a weak and fevered state, I was listening to Triple J last Friday evening (something I haven't done for ages). Twice they played a promo tape advertising the Triple J Album Of The Week. It was "Consolers of the Lonely", by "The Saboteurs". Who? She said it twice. Look. There it is again. "The Saboteurs". What does this mean?

1. For legal reasons The Raconteurs can't be called The Raconteurs in Australia?

2. There happens to be a band called The Saboteurs featuring a Jack White sound-alike on vocals and guitar, who happen to have a new album with the same name as the new Raconteurs album? And Triple J chose that album as its Album Of The Week?

3. Quality control on The Js is not what it was?

I don't know on which day Triple J's "Week" starts, but given that I was listening on a Friday it's at least possible that the promo had been running for a good few days, which raises an interesting, and sad, question: is anybody listening? Triple J, back in the days before it gained the third "J", had as much, if not more, influence on my impressionable mind than seeing the Pistols on "Countdown". It would be a shame to watch it die.