Episode 9 - Brothers and Sisters

Brothers and sisters. Most of us have them. We all know people who've got them. It's not a very popular subject for songs, perhaps because the writer knows they'll have to play the song to their brother or sister at some point, and realises how hard that will be. 

I hate my sister, she's such a bitch. She acts as if she doesn't even know that I exist.

Which is why many writers tend to aim off in their sibling songs. Juliana Hatfield in her classic 'My Sister' starts by proclaiming how much she hates her non-existent sister, before, on reflection, commenting...

I love my sister, she's the best. She's cooler than any other girl I have ever met. 

...adding a sad little addendum: Where'd she go? She's the one who would have taken me to my first All Ages show. Ray Davies was the shyer of the two brothers in The Kinks, and clearly envied Dave his confidence and gregariousness (the two were renowned for their fist fights). But in writing about it, Ray chose to hide behind the deflection of two suburban sisters.

St Etienne and Neko Case also deal with sororal jealousy with Sylvie, and Margaret and Pauline. Dessa and Kim Deal of This Mortal Coil are more even handed in their treatment of the complex sister-sister stand off. 

Songs about brothers are slightly harder to come by, but Fleet Foxes have two songs on their eponymous debut LP that deal with the subject of a difficult brother-brother relationship. There's Blue Ridge Mountains, but possibly in He Doesn't Know Why Robin Pecknold is channeling the tale of Christopher McCandless, and imagining him returning from his stay in Alaska (see the book and Sean Penn film Into The Wild).

Penniless and tired, let your hair grow long
I was looking at you there and your face looked wrong
Memory is a fickle siren song I didn't understand

In that last line he's managed to capture an important component of our ever changing off-on, love-hate sibling relationship. And the song's wonderful too, which helps. Also check out My Sister by Tindersticks, which was a bit too long for inclusion, but which also would not have been out of place on the Short Stories episode.

One of the very best songs on one of the very best albums is Holland, 1945 by Neutral Milk Hotel. In part (it's somewhat abstract), it deals with Anne Frank's family who had to pack up every piece of the life we used to love. And finally Anne dies with just her sister by her side, and only weeks before the guns all came and rained on everyone. It's good to remember Anne's sister Margot, and the song reminds us to read the Diary of a Young Girl again, charting the difficult journey every young teenage girl travels with her older sister.

Tracklist:-

My sister, Juliana Hatfield

My brother’s a basehead, De La Soul

Two sisters, The Kinks

Sylvie, St Etienne

Holland 1945, Neutral Milk Hotel

Children’s work, Dessa 

You and your sister, This Mortal Coil

Babies, Pulp

Margaret vs Pauline, Neko Case

Father to a sister of thought Pavement

My sister says the saddest things, Grimes

He doesn’t know why, Fleet Foxes

Idiot brother, The Auteurs

Neighbourhood #2 (Laika) / Arcade Fire

 

Episode 8 - Politics and Protest

This topic was suggested to me by Con Franzestkos, an active political figure here in Melbourne. When my wife first got wind I was planning it though, she was sceptical. She imagined a rather strident, one dimensional episode, I think. Funnily enough it’s turned out to be the most varied programme, musically at least. There’s punk, funk, bossanova, pop, chamber pieces, ballads, indie and sampling. 

I’ve avoided the usual suspects - Give Peace A Chance, This Land Is Your Land, What’s Goin’ On, Bob Marley, The Sex Pistols. Nothing wrong with any of these as such, but they’re not alternatives. You might argue that The Clash and Neil Young are hardly unknown, but I choose where to draw the line, thank you. Tempted to include Taxman by little known group The Beatles, as the locus classicus for a right wing protest song, but in the end there were plenty of other great options that squeezed it out.

Marxism and music are not traditional bedfellows. But the Gang of Four, parodically named in tribute to a ruling junta in China, delivered a radical punk-funk masterpiece in Entertainment!, while Stereolab, who started as McCarthy with songs like Use A Bank? I’d Rather Die, treat us to a Marxist interpretation of economics in Ping Pong which doubles as a retro-futuristic pop song:-

It's alright recovery always comes 'round again
There's nothing to worry about if things can only get better

There's only millions that lose their jobs and homes and sometimes accents
There's only millions that die in their bloody wars, it's alright

It's only their lives and the lives of their next of kin that they are losing     

California Uber Alles imagines a hippy-fascist state, run by a ‘suede denim secret police’. But hang around long enough and reality mirrors art. Benignly, The Dead Kennedies scoff at a world where ‘your kids will meditate in school’, but that’s exactly what some kids are taught these days. But they also smile “Close your eyes, can’t happen here”. Which is exactly what most of us said all through 2016. And how does ‘America First’ almost translate into German? “USA Uber Alles”, that’s what.

Fiona Apple’s ‘Tiny Hands’ is one minute of feminist fun, while Mac McCaughan summed up the world at the end of 2016 as well as anyone:-

"Happy New Year, everything ends; Happy New Year, the South won't rise again"

"No, Happy New Year, gotta work to make that arc bend; yeah, Happy New Year, away from these old white men"

"Yeah, Happy New Year, at least Prince can't die again; Happy New Year, it can't be this one again"

Tracklist:-

Gil Scott Heron / The Revolution Will Not Be Televised 

The Specials / Ghost Town 

Manic Street Preachers / A Design For Life 

The Clash / Straight to Hell 

MIA / Paper Planes

Stereolab / Ping Pong

Dead Kennedies / California Uber Alles 

Shipbuilding / Robert Wyatt

Billy Bragg / Between the Wars 

Steel Pulse / Handsworth Revolution

Gang of Four / At Home He’s A Tourist  

McCarthy / Frans Hals 

Mac McCaughan / Happy 2016 (Prince Can't Die Again)

Fiona Apple / Tiny Hands

Campaigner / Neil Young

 

Episode 7 - 1978: The Year Post Punk Broke

I’d never felt at home with punk. Went down the Youth Club Disco, and it was all very pleasant, was chatting to a girl called Trudy, making a tiny bit of headway, arm furtively creeping around her shoulder when on came God Save The Queen by The Pistols. From nowhere the quiet kids from the back of the history class were transformed into whirling dervishes, pogoing across the highly varnished floorboards. I think one of them may have even spat.

Hard to know how to react. Join in? My heart wasn’t into ripping up my clothes. It was the middle of a typical English winter and I was susceptible to the cold. Anyway, what would my mother say? But what were the alternative listening options in 1977?  Bowie, yes, can’t go wrong there. Art rock I liked - 10cc, Sparks. Hadn’t heard of Krautrock, and was not yet tuned into what was happening in CBGBs. Not much going on.

So post punk (with or without the hyphen) was a godsend to a bookish 16 year old in 1978. If I’m completely honest I didn’t really get into post punk proper that year. The Jam, Blondie, yes, but still chart-friendly rebellion. It was only in 1979 that it all started making sense and I became a devotee of John Peel’s 10-12 slot on Radio One.

But let’s pretend I was the first kid at school to get into the Swell Maps and Wire. That it was me who held forth in the sixth form centre that autumn about how The Buzzcocks would never be the same now Howard Devoto had left, and what did you think about the Gang of Four EP. That I was the first to buy a Factory Sampler on its Christmas Eve release, and play Cabaret Voltaire, Joy Division and the Durutti Column in my room the next night instead of watching The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special.

So we all know about 1977: The Year Punk Broke. The safety pins, the swearing, the outraged tabloid headlines. Let’s hear it instead for an avant-garde movement, inspired by punk's energy and DIY ethic but diversifying into electronics, jazz, funk, disco and dub, experimenting with novel recording and production techniques, and taking in ideas from art and politics, including critical theory, modernist art and literature. 

Let’s hear it for 1978: The Year Post Punk Broke. Tracklist:-

Buzzcocks / Ever fallen in love

Gang of Four / Damaged Goods

Magazine / Shot from both sides

Wire / Outdoor Miner

Blondie / Picture This

Talking Heads / Stay Hungry

Keith Hudson / Felt We Felt the Strain

The Clash / White Man in Hammersmith Palais

PIL / Public Image

Subway Sect / Ambition

Swell Maps / Read About Seymour

The Cure / 10.15 Saturday Night

The Only Ones / The Whole of the Law

The Mekons / Where Were You?

Joy Division / Digital