“Spring Forward”

I’ve been neglecting this blog again, for a lot of reasons, mostly my personal life again, but I’ve decided to make things being not so great be a starting point for me. I’ve recently had to move back home to Brighton, I’m at a point where I’ve lost touch with everyone from uni but I haven’t made any new friends yet, and I’m working a part time minimum wage job because it’s all I can get while I desperatly try to save.
However. I am going to try to focus on the good points, and I am going to try to use this blog to give me something to think about that does not involve clothes, customers, or if I’ve made lunch for tomorrow yet. Part of that is that I want to write about music more often, I think I’m appreciating music a lot at the moment, simply because we listen to commercial radio at work. I hate commercial radio. I hate the annoying adverts and the lack of range of music, I hate the dj saying the next song will be something ‘punky’ and then My Chemical Romance comes on.
So, I’ve been savouring the hour of my own music I get on my lunch break, and though I had sort of been trying to broaden my music taste, even listening to stuff that can only be described as indie and liking it, I’ve given up on that and am mostly appreciating stuff like Tiger Army, Against All Authority and Big D and the Kids Table. I’ve also been wanting to write about music again, so I’m going to try to bring my big essay on women in psychobilly music back from the dead, write lots more reviews, and generally try to interest myself with this, and maybe even some other people.

Judging women: ‘You Overdid it Doll’

(Yes, this blog is back from the dead, hopefully permanently, but that all depends on how much sleep I get, how exhausting work and teaching experience is, and, apparently, by how often something enrages me.)

I just heard You Overdid It Doll by The Courteeners on the radio, and it inspired me to resurrect this blog, something I’ve been trying to for a long time. How did it do it? By enraging me. I seem to have a very few topics that I return to again and again, and this song epitomises one of them – the way women are judged and have their behaviour dictated to by men.

You Overdid It Doll is basically about a man saying how much of a mess the ‘doll’ of the title is, she seems to be his ex-girlfriend, but now ‘Your teeth are starting to go, 5 nights a week its starting to show’, but it’s ok, because though she takes ‘it’ to an extreme he doesn’t, ‘it’ be drinking and social drugs or it could be harder drugs, suggested by the phrase ‘I shoot it like a Tommy gun’, not far from the “shooting up” of heroin.

The content of this song is essentially the same as Thrash Unreal, by Against Me!,which I have written about before. Both are from a male’s perspective, about a woman who is beginning to suffer from the effects of a party lifestyle, for lack of a better term. But there is one very big difference – the narrator of You Overdid It Doll is judging his ex, it’s obvious in the title of the song, and it is obvious the whole way through. He criticises her appearance, ‘Your teeth are starting to go’, ‘Dark shadows around your eyes’, and her personality, ‘the taming of the shrew’. Ah yes, throw in a Shakespearian comparison, which incidentally sets him up as just the man to “save” her, because shattering her spirit, just like in the play, is such a wonderful thing to do. He judges her and finds her failing, and then proceeds to dictate to her what her behaviour should be, all the while showing hypocrisy because whatever it is she is doing, drink or drugs, it is fine for him to do, in moderation or not.

This is rather different from the acknowledgment in Thrash Unreal that the woman is her own person, ‘If she wants to dance and drink all night then there’s no one that can stop her’, her situation is presented rather than judged, in fact the narrator appears to sympathise with her, ‘We do what we do to get by’, ‘they keep getting younger don’t they baby?’ Here the pet name is one of solidarity, but, of course, the use of ‘doll’ in the title of The Courteeners song grates with me, it’s patronising and a reminder that the woman is the narrator’s ex, as in not his girlfriend any more, and so nothing to do with him, and yet he still looks at her and judges her.

It really annoys me that while I was doing research for this piece all I found was people raving about how good the lyrics are. Hah, they’re sexist, prescriptivist, high and mighty and just a little bit creepy. I think I’ll stick with Against Me!, who show that men can write about women as people, to be understood and sympathised with, whether their actions are agreed with or not.

‘Got to find a reason for the lady of the night’

I’m writing a big essay about Big D and the Kid’s Table, but until that’s done I thought I’d write something shorter as a filler, and I’ve been meaning to write this piece for a while, so this seems a good time for it. Incidentally, this might be the most antagonistic thing I’ve written, at least in a while, I feel like I should have some kind of warning, ‘careful: feminism ahead’.

Guana Batz are one of the classic UK psychobilly bands, I have the best of album and I love it. It’s mostly simple, stripped down and fairly aggressive, with loads of songs that make me want to dance, and a few slower songs, with an interesting variety of subjects and themes. However, there is one song I really have a problem with, little as I want to.

I have no problems with the sound of Lady of the Night, but the more I listen to it the more the lyrics worry me. The refrain is ‘Got to find a reason for the lady of the night’, and the song essentially tells of the narrator’s struggle to understand why a woman who once turned him down is now a prostitute. It begins with a fairly typical description of a woman as admired by a man, though ‘the big old moon up above, looking lonesome and oh so cold’ is a foreshadowing of what is to come, especially as the moon is such a typically female symbol. The chorus makes it obvious that the woman being watched is a prostitute, a lady of the night, and ‘looks so different in the cold daylight’, ie when she is no longer the object of lust of the male viewer, here the typical stereotypes of the prostitute begin to creep in.

The association of the cold moon and the woman is revealed in the line ‘you know she used to have feelings’, she is being set up as the femme fatale, the hard woman who has done what she had to survive, this seems to be the ‘reason’ the narrator is searching for, but there is more. It become obvious that ‘you could have been away from all this, if you’d only said yes when I asked’, in other words, she rejected the narrators advances, ‘because of her foolish pride’. This pride seems to be the reason the narrator is searching for, though why pride would cause someone to not only reject a man but become a prostitute, after all, it ‘hurts me to see you put yourself through all this’, ie her profession is her choice, is unclear, at least to me. I can’t see the link between pride and a profession so often associated with shame and desperation.

The overall message of the song is clearly that it is the woman’s fault she is a prostitute, because she was proud and she rejected the narrator. I suppose the view is that she thought she was too good for him, but it’s ok because now he’s too good for her. Read like that the song becomes the story of some kind of karmic revenge upon the woman. Apart from the statement that she chose her profession, unless I’m reading too much into that, and ‘chose’ simply means “deserves everything she gets because she had the cheek to turn me down.” Not especially flattering to the male narrator involved, in fact I find it totally disturbing, the song takes, presumably, a strong-willed independent woman and punishes her for that independence, all too like the Victorian morality tales where vanity and pride were the start of the slippery slope to prostitution and death in the gutter.

This impression is aided by the mention of all the troubles she’s faced but no mention of what they are – is she a prostitute to support her habit? Her children? Because she has no other options? If so there is no mention of those factors, just like the Victorians who blamed prostitution on the woman’s nymphomania and vanity, not her lack of skills, job opportunities and extreme poverty. Then there’s the fact she ‘used to have feelings’, so she doesn’t have them any more, which is awful for a number of reasons. 1 – it’s contradictory, because the narrator also talks of watching her ‘put yourself through all this’, implying her situation is as distasteful to her as it is to him, but if she doesn’t have feelings then she wouldn’t care. 2 – more horrible stereotyping of prostitutes, she becomes inhuman in her lack of feelings and connection with the ‘cold’ moon, it’s a type of objectification, perhaps a way of the narrator distancing himself from the lust he still feels for her, despite how ‘different’ she looks from previously. 3 – It’s the same objection as most of my other reason for disliking this song, but seriously, dumping someone makes you emotionless? That’s just stupid.

The more I think about The Lady of the Night the more it annoys me, and though there are lots of different things about it that annoy me they all come back to the same thing – this song is basically a working illustration of the male gaze in effect. This song is not about the woman, not really, it’s totally about the male narrator, and though he may go on and on about the unnamed (of course) woman’s terrible pride, really his whole motivation seems to be revenge and wounded pride. And why does he need to find a reason for the woman being a prostitute? She dumped him, she shouldn’t be anything to do with him any more. I think he needs to find a reason so that his pride can heal, and the fact that she became a prostitute after dumping him, though there’s absolutely no proof in the song that the two are in any way related, is some kind of odd boost to his ego. Again, everything in the song is about the man, and I thinks it’s this that makes me dislike it so much, be self-obsessed if you like, but don’t pretend to be concerned about someone else to cover up that self-obsession.

Wanda Jackson – The Ultimate Collection

jacksonI discovered Wanda Jackson through the rock’n’roll tag on Last.FM, where, good as it was, she was one of the few people that stuck out straight away, after only hearing one song, Fujiyama Mama, I was looking to see if I could get hold of an album. I found the ultimate collection, 48 songs, for just £5, old music is awesome.

Known as the Queen of Rockabilly, Wanda Jackson’s career started in 1954, and she’s still touring now, due to the resurgence on popularity of rockabilly. She toured with Elvis Presley among others, it was him who encouraged her to play rockabilly, and when it declined in popularity she moved to country, having a very successful career, continuing to perform after getting married, unlike some other female artists. She also moved into gospel music in the 1970’s, now she tours occasionally, playing all three genres, and was finally admitted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in April of 2009.

The songs on the Ultimate Collection span a long time, and there is quite a variety of sounds, rock’n’roll, rockabilly, country and gospel, occasionally in the same song, as on I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. Her voice is hard to describe, it’s very distinctive and powerful, on some songs sounding almost slightly masculine as it is quite low and for many of the songs she is presented as having a forceful, even aggressive persona, aided by the fact she covered many songs often associated with male artists, such as Let’s Have a Party, previously recorded by Elvis Presley.

It’s the strength of this personality I especially like, for example The Box It Came In seems to be a typical country song about being done wrong by a man, but the narrators proposed quest to find him, the ‘I’ll have peace of mind’ is because ‘the box he comes home in will be satin lined’, it is clever and slightly disturbing. My Big Iron Skillet also describes revenge on a lover, though in this case with said big iron skillet, though ‘If you live through the fight we’re gonna have when you get home/ You’ll wake up and find yourself alone’ expresses independence the female to male domestic violence is not presented as funny, as it so often is, but almost as necessary, or at least as justified. Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad describes Jackson’s persona’s manipulation of her lover, in this case he seems truly innocent, and she is playing with him for no reason, simply to annoy him. Though this is not an unusual presentation of a woman by a man it is much more unusual to see from a woman about herself, or her persona, and as such is really interesting. The narrator of Fujiyama Mama is also reckless for no reason, a rebel-without-a-cause attitude more common in the music of male artists. These songs of independent, strong, even cruel woman, presented in a positive, first-person manner, are of course only a minority of Jackson’s songs, but they seem to be a fairly significant minority. One song says ‘A hard headed woman is a thorn in the side of man’, and Jackson’s music seems to illustrate this perfectly.

This is not to say there aren’t love songs by her, there are lots, and several duets, yet several of these are atypical, an obvious example is Jackson, previously by Johnny and June Carter Cash, Wanda Jackson duets with Mike Post, this version is very different from the Cash’s. It is a song about an over-hasty marriage, and the dynamics are even more argumentative, the woman’s unconcern over the man’s declarations are enhanced by the fact Mike Post is totally outclassed by Jackson, her voice in fact makes his seem rather weak and bland.

Those that are more traditional are often country songs, rather depressing to say the least, titles such as I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, My Baby Left Me and If I Cried Every Time You Hurt signal many of the themes in these songs, which appear in many others. Other than being left or cheated on one major theme is of the importance of love over material wealth, and also of class difference, Silver Threads and Golden Needles is not only about the end of a relationship, which cannot be mended by money, but an illustration of perceived differing class attitudes to love, ‘I grew up in faded gingham where love is a sacred vow/ You grew up in silks and satins where love is a passing phase’. This is not the only time wealth and the upper classes are presented as cruel and careless, knowingly or not.

jackson2Of the ballards the song I find most affecting is You Win Again, originally written by Hank Williams, it goes from telling the tale of a cuckolded man to one of domestic violence when sung by Jackson, or at least that is how I cannot help but read it. The lyrics move from I know that I should leave, but then I just can’t go,You win again’ to the far more chilling ‘I’m sorry for your lover now, ’cause soon her head will bow like mine’, the utter dependence of the narrator on her lover, and his systematic mental abuse of her and others is is compounded by the fact the second-to-last line is ‘I love you still’. The behaviour of the lover is awful in both versions, but simply because the narrator of Jackson’s is female I find it impossible to read it as anything other than domestic abuse, with or without the intimation of physical violence, and unlike several other songs there is nothing exaggerated or amusing about it, it is stark in its simplicity, and I find it genuinely unsettling.

Though most of the songs on the album have to do with romantic love in some way there are very few that are at all positive about it, A Woman Lives For Love is the only obvious example, a touching portrayal of married love, even that implies that the narrator married beneath her, and though happy the couple are struggling financially. Brown Eyed Handsome Man celebrates male beauty, in several of the case studies praising it over the sensible choice, it is an amusing but not a terribly optimistic view of romantic love.

All this would make the Ultimate Collection just a little depressing, if it were not for the presence of several rockabilly songs which celebrate good times, drinking and partying, such as Let’s Have A Party and Jambalaya (On The Bayou). Several of these are songs associated with Little Richard, such as Long Tall Sally, and Jackson’s voice is perfect for them, the strength and range make are not typically feminine, just as Little Richard’s voice is not typically masculine, they are both slightly liminal, in a way that works wonderfully. They’re fun songs, a welcome antidote to the country, good as it is, though my favourite of the rockabilly songs is another song associated with Elvis Presley, Riot In Cell Block Nine. The narrator of course becomes female when sung by Jackson, so that I can’t help but think of all the lesbian pulp fiction tales set in prison, with titles such as Born Innocent, The Wayward Ones and Reformatory Girls, certainly in my mind there is a slight sapphic tinge to the song, intended or not, and I wonder how it could not be.

All this combines so that The Ultimate Collection is a varied, interesting and above all very listenable double album, of all my new found obsession with rockabilly and country this is by far the best album I have bought recently, I’d go so far to say I might prefer Wanda Jackson to Johnny Cash, which hopefully will illustrate just how amazing I think she is, and this album is. It’s cheap and easy to get hold of, and and a perfect way to remember that rockabilly was not just dominated by male artists.

The Invasion of ‘That Guy’

I think perhaps I’m out of touch with the scene – I always thought it was really bad form to wear the tshirt of the band you’re going to see to their gig, and even worse to wear the tshirt of the band that you’re seeing and that you’ve only just bought. I know I’m not the only one, for instance there is this Nothing Nice to Say strip.

However, recently I’ve noticed people doing it more and more, when I saw Streetlight Manifesto there was a veritable sea of Streetlight tshirts, including lots of the new one for that tour, obviously bought at the gig. Now, yes, I do live in my many band tshirts, but I’d never wear one of the band I was going to see, it just makes you look really, really unoriginal.

In my opinion the way to do it is to wear a witty or related top – for example I wear my Bomb the Music Industry tshirt to see Streetlight, both awesome American ska-punk bands, or I wore my Ska-Gal and the Hands of Ra top to see The Meow Meows, who contain ex-members of Ska-Gal. Of course this too has its problems, as shown by this 21 Dead Monkeys comics. Or you avoid the whole situation by not wearing a band tshirt at all, which is normally where my Pokemon tshirt comes in.

Ok, so it’s not like smoking in the mosh pit (those were the days…), or touching people up while they’re crowd surfing, but I do think it is kind of lame. So, either this is proof that at 21 I’m out of touch with the scene, and old and past it, or I’m hugely elitist, or there are a lot of other people going to gigs and wondering what on earth is going on.

Streetlight Manifesto at ULU

I only saw Streetlight last pretty recently, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t very, very excited to be seeing them again, and in London as well, which had sold out last time they toured so I’d had to go to Portsmouth. ULU is a venue I really like, in Bloomsbury right next to lovely Senate House library, and it’s just nice inside. However, on going into the main hall I got ID’d, (and told by the security guy I look about 17, not cool when I’m nearly 22), and it seemed like they were making under-18’s go on the balcony upstairs because of the bars in the main hall, totally unfair because of course that would mean no dancing. It’d be so easy to have different stamps for people under 18 or something, most venues manage it without excluding people from the best part of the venue, not impressive. Also, the ULU’s website said Dan Potthast was supporting, so I made sure I was there on time to see him, and he wasn’t, which was a shame because he’s always so good.

The first band were Advantage, a six piece from the Midlands with ex-members of Grown At Home. They played pretty good, fast ska, but did have a tendancy to waffle between songs, I maintain the best way to get a crowd going is to just play good songs, banter is hard to do well. They were at their best when they played a roots-influenced song, it really impressed me, and then they played Blaggin’ It, one of my favourite Grown At Home songs, and it was just like old times, everyone dancing, I think a few people would have been happy for them to just carry on with Grown At Home songs, despite the reminder ‘that’s a different band’ after a request for How We Roll.

Second on were Crazy Arm, a punk band from Plymouth,a slightly odd choice for the bill, and while I don’t think they were actually a bad band they didn’t really get any reaction from the crowd at all, and they seemed a bit uncomfortable though their music was technically good. I’d be interested to see them in a more punk-oriented show, because I wasn’t really able to get a proper impression of them.

Next, among considerable excitement from the crowd, were The JB Conspiracy. Until now I’d seen them play maybe four or five times, but never really got it, just thought that they were ok, but I finally understood what all the excitement is about, they’re really, really good. They played a fast, solid set, large parts of the crowd were obviously dedicated fans, which is always nice to be among, and there was lots of dancing and shouting along. The only song I really knew was This Machine, the last song of course, but it was actually the earlier parts of the set that convinced me I need that album, and now I’m really looking forward to seeing them supporting Catch 22.

Streetlight Manifesto were obviously the reason most people were there, me included, and the calls of ‘fuck you, Catch 22!’ were pretty amusing, and a nice show of band loyalty, especially considering how soon  Catch 22 will also be touring in the UK.

To be honest bits of Streetlight’s set are a bit blurry, I ended up right in the middle, surrounded by big men twice my size, I even went in the circle pit, which is a rarity for me, so I have a lot more memories of dancing while smiling like a fool, shouting along, and somehow not falling over than what songs they actually played. It did seem a well put together mix of songs though, lots of songs off both albums, but a slightly slower set than usual, which was odd. This did mean they played A Moment of Silence though, followed of course by A Moment of Violence, which lived up to it’s name in a very fun way.

Other highlights were the usual mix of Point Counterpoint-Keasby Nights-Point Counterpoint, and Failing, Flailing, but the best bit by far was the encore, Tomas Kalnoky came back on stage alone and played Sick and Sad, into Somewhere in the Between, then was joined by the rest of the band for the normal version of the song, and it just worked perfectly. It’s the first time I’d seen them do that, and everyone singing along was so nice, a great way to end the gig.

All in all, a great night, and as it was the first gig I’d been to on my own for a very long time it couldn’t have been better, the crowd were friendly and Streetlight Manifesto and The JB Conspiracy were on top form, though it was a shame about no Dan Potthast. Even better, Streetlight announced they’ll be back in the UK in August, excellent news!

Change of Plan

I’ve recently come to the horrible realisation I have no idea what I want to do with my life. I’m going along the route to become a teacher, but it’s actually a relief that I didn’t get into uni to do a PGCE this year, and that seems a pretty big sign that maybe I don’t want to be a teacher. I’m at least back to enjoying my degree, but even if I could get the financing to do an MA, and stay in education, I don’t think I could be a lecturer, it’s all speaking in public and talking to people. My mum thinks I should be a librarian, I don’t know, at least I could do. Really I want to write book reviews for The Guardian, and have my zine take off, neither of those will happen, this year at least I’m going to end up in a dead-end retail job.

None of this is helping my life be less shit. I am having to actually work to be happy, but it’s not so bad, at least I have lots to do, I’m loving the Jung I’m reading, and all the Sappho stuff, and yesterday I wrote a manifesto for my zine, God, it’s so pretentious, I seriously have this vision of the zine being something like one of the tiny magazines the Modernists published. I’ll be just like T.S. Eliot!

Music is helping so much at the moment,it’s a chliche but it’s true, especially loud shouty stuff, Against All Authority, Capdown, Random Hand, Propagandhi, and I have tickets for Propagandhi and Catch 22 now, as well as Streetlight Manifesto. I’m holding these out in front of me as little rewards for writing Chapter 1, or getting through my Virginia Woolf essay, or whatever.

This has been a pretty pointless entry, next time expect musing on Tiger Army and the figure of the beautiful dead woman in Victorian poetry to make up for it.