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Apr. 21st, 2003

Oh dear. Nina Simone has died. She was an old cuss, contrary, angry and awkward -- but she was also brilliant, witty and an original and wrote some of the best songs ever heard.

* * *

My favourite person this week:

Angelika Wedberg of Gothenberg, a 30-year-old care worker who got tired of her life and decided to advertise in the local newspaper for a new job. She was also sick of lying at interviews.

She wrote: "I want a well-paid job. I have no imagination, I am anti-social, uncreative and untalented."

She has been inundated with replies and offered a job that improves her current salary by a third. *g*

* * *

It was difficult to get to work today; there were shootings at the fairly famous nightclub near where I work and the whole crossroads around there is sealed off.

One of the things that I loved most about driving through the middle of California at night was listening to the bizarro radio stations. I kept losing NPR, so I would hit the search button and find shows like "Gun Talk", in which the host instructed people who had shot themselves in the leg on, you know, not doing it again. So I gathered that this show was not for rocket scientists

At the time I mocked the host for saying that Britain has a terrible gun crime problem, and that the police want to be armed because (1) We don't. Mostly. and (2) Duh, of course the police want to be armed, they're the police.

I'd have mocked less if the host hadn't said such patently absurd things, but there's a grain of truth in his central point, which is that gun crime in London particularly is going up and the change is noticeable.

However, we don't have 11,000 gun-related incidents a year and for that I am glad.

* * *
Ever since I got back from my vacation I've been working. I had Saturday off, but I worked until 2am the night before so it was more of a half-day, what with the sleeping in and the going to bed early.

And the stupid plan to make mood icons.

I really am Norma No-Mates. Thank goodness this social outcast has the internet.


But tomorrow, off work for two days. Celebration! Dancing! Thinking of stuff to do in the evening! *g*

* * *

Nick Hornby's new book "31 Songs" is a series of essays about music he adores and that altered the course of his life. I haven't read it (it's a hardback) but I have read all about it. Hornby's ubiquity in the British media saw to that. Here you can find his list and a survey of songs that altered other people's lives.

I was talking to lilydale about this, about the way that hearing a song can return you to happier times or alter your mood. It's the purest drug of all. We thought we could do our own lists and, because she is not a crapweasel, she has actually begun hers.

I think it would be wonderful to read more of these, so I'd like to throw down the challenge: talk about a song or a piece of music that has changed your life. Talk about more than one, if it please you.

I want to talk about the way The Smiths changed my life when I was 11 and why I never want to hear "I Just Called To Say I love You" again as long as I live; about the way I felt when I heard the magnificent rumbling menace of "Gimme Shelter" by the Stones for the first time and why Aphex Twin's "Windowlicker" is, frankly, the most disturbing noise ever committed to vinyl.

But I want to start with something simpler. Simpler because it's a happy story and a beautiful record.

#1: "I STILL HAVEN'T FOUND WHAT I'M LOOKING FOR" U2

Most people of a certain age, a span that moves from about 25 to 35 years old, would cite The Joshua Tree as a record that informed their lives. It forms part of the holy trinity of late 80s student life: Kick by INXS, So by Peter Gabriel and The Joshua Tree

Appetite for Destruction and Hysteria may have sold more, but they're all flash, mouth and trousers, music for excitable adolescents. The Joshua Tree is thought and space and heart and feeling. For everyone.

That 1987 album is a love letter to a country: the United States. Mixed by Steve Lillywhite and sequenced by his then wife, Kirsty MacColl, when Bono and Edge couldn't make up their minds, it moves through a series of emotional songs that build to a climax that's not histrionic, like Gloria (which I love, but God it's overblown) or arch like much of the Pop album.

The producers Eno and Lanois work to create music that's layered but not overcomplicated, with the tensile strength of steel. There are spaces in that music, for us to move inside. The lyrics are personal while being universal, the sneakiest of all tricks for a musician to pull off.

It's about the universal joys and pains of being alive in an age when a lot of musicians are writing about the miseries of being rich, famous and adored. (Oh, J-Lo, Robbie Williams, Eminem, you poor dears, fancying being able to behave like an absolute twat with no consequence and getting paid for it. How do you cope?)

I think that one of the reasons that All That You Can't Leave Behind has been so successful is that it recaptures the questing spirit of The Joshua Tree. It's an older record, quieter, more resigned -- it's also much more uneven; the B side of ATYCLB isn't a patch on the B-side of Joshua Tree -- but it feels the same. It has space and a horizon.


I first remember hearing The Joshua Tree's best track, I Still... when I was 15, which must have been at the time it came out. I was in a campsite in the Lake District with a bunch of people I didn't know terribly well. Here I was in this most beautiful place, listening to a tinny radio blaring something that spoke to the questing 15-year-old searching for a place in the world. The song augured one of the best holidays of my life.

Ever since, I have *never* had a bad day when I have heard that song on the radio. Very often I have an excellent day; it's as if the song itself brings its own sunshiny sense of good karma and infuses it into the day.

You can't induce the sunshiney karma by *playing* the record, however. You have to happen upon it accidentally. That's very important.

Paul Gambaccini, the rock historian and Radio 2 smoothie, says that "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" is the greatest song on that great album; he calls it a hymn that celebrates the quest for meaning, and I think he's right.

Early on, U2 almost broke up because three of the members were deeply committed to what sounds very much like a radical evangelical Christian group. Certainly they retain a deep faith and that's one of the things that comes through very strongly on this track. Bono begins by singing about restless journeying (climbing mountains, scaling city walls) to be with "you". Then he moves to worldly love, then the pleasures of temptation and finally he explicitly refers to his beliefs. But in each case he concludes that he needs to keep searching for his truth.

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For speaks to me. It's about the constant search for meaning. I don't give a shit if I come off as pretentious in trying to explain why: I love this record.

Comments

infinitemonkeys
Apr. 22nd, 2003 08:52 am (UTC)
[subliminal messsage] Go on, write about the songs you love [/subliminal message]

:::whistles innocently:::