Lay lady lay

I realise that some will see this as a sacrilegious thing to say on Good Friday, but I have admitted it on this blog before, so I’ll say it again regardless of the day: I’m not a huge Dylan fan.

Yes, I’m afraid it’s true. For this sin, I expect to have a few less followers by tomorrow afternoon (when the Northern Hemisphere catches up). The reason it will only be a few is because most followers don’t actually read the blog, as far as I can gather.

But back to Dylan.

Why is it that I never really took a liking for his music? Maybe his particular brand of folk-country-rock music is a taste I still have to acquire. I do like some folk music, and a lot of rock music, but truth be told, I’m not much for country, unless it’s a little bit alt. Then again, maybe it’s the nasal quality of the younger Dylan’s singing voice that I’ve never really liked, although that has now developed into a gravelly deep voice that I have no objection to.

But maybe, and most likely, it’s because I have traced the annoying, recurring misuse of the word lay in everyday conversation back to his 1969 song Lay Lady Lay. It seems clear that Dylan is to blame for the constant and blatant misuse of the word lay that I encounter in my day-to-day life.

The situation is getting so out of hand that I have started to wonder if I’m the only person left in the English-speaking world who still believes that there is a sentence structure where the word lie is correct and where lay sounds wrong – and also ignorant, or silly.

It does make me fear for the future of the human race. From giving up on lay and lie, it’s a slippery downward slope. The next thing you know, no-one is bothering to use an indicator when they change lanes, and it’s all because they just don’t care any more. They don’t care about good grammar, and they don’t care about the risk of causing an accident, writing off their car and/or yours, and causing injury to themselves and others. From there, it’s a small step to organised crime or party politics.

Now, I realise that the English language is a constantly evolving thing, and I applaud that. As it has become so ubiquitous, I can’t say when, in the evolution of the language, the change from lie to lay took place. Was there a memo about it that I missed? Not according to the Cambridge dictionary online, which says that lay means

to put something in a flat or horizontal position, usually carefully or for a particular purpose

to prepare a plan or method of doing something

and goes on to say that the verb lay must have an object.

Thus: Lay your work out on the desk; try to lay the baby down in the cot as quietly as you can; I am laying out the clothes I plan to wear tomorrow but I can’t find any clean socks because no-one in this house has put away any laundry for about 3 weeks.*

(While researching this topic, you may be interested to know that my research team came up with a quote from another blog – but promptly forgot what blog they found it on! – suggesting that, if used correctly, in a sentence that’s in the present tense, you should be able to replace the word lay with the word put. (Use the phrases above to try it at home for free!) According to this theory, if put doesn’t work then you should use lie.

Let’s try that test now.

Put lady put,

put across my big brass bed

Hmmm. It’s actually worse than lay, isn’t it. Definitely wrong. Which tells us that lie would be grammatically correct, although I can accept that it would not have sounded quite as catchy, and would have presented some difficult obstacles for the songwriter to get over.

Lie doesn’t rhyme with stay, for a start, a word that is tripping over itself in its eagerness to be utilised in the next verse. What word could Dylan have used in verse two, if he’d used lie in verse 1? Sky? Pie? Die? You can see that there is much more at stake in writing a song, than merely grammar. Had he stuck with correct grammar in verse one, the lady in the song may well have had to be killed off in verse 2, possibly by eating a poisoned pie, leaving the protagonist singing mournfully to the empty sky.

Bob Dylan (in a harlequin costume) tries correct grammar in the early stages of writing Lay Lady Lay.

 

The other thing Dylan achieves by using lay, is to very efficiently create an image using only two words.

Instead of speedily conjuring a scene of a woman draped languidly across a bed, opening the song with the words “lie lady lie”might cause the listener to initially suppose the song was about a woman who had deceived the singer, a misconstrued notion which would take until line 2 to be cleared up. Song lyrics need to be economical, you can’t waste a whole line having the listener set out down a conceptually wrong path, just for the sake of getting the grammar right. (Although in this case, if he had used lie, as previously covered, he would now have to rhyme lie with pie and die, so I suppose he could have solved this dilemma by turning the song into a ballad about his lying female associate who ends up getting what was coming to her via a few drops of arsenic in a beef and mushroom pie.)

So of course I’m not seriously criticising Dylan for using incorrect grammar in a song. I’m a firm believer in poetic licence in song writing (and poetry!), where other things are more important than grammar. We can wonder all afternoon about how the song would have unfolded if he’d used lie instead of lay, but the point is, poetic licence does not apply in every day speech, where one’s primary aim is to communicate clearly, not to set a rhythm, create a rhyme, or evoke an image using only 2 words.

So far, we’ve talked about how lay and lie are two separate verbs with different usage, but, just to prove how confusing English can be, even to native speakers, get this: lay is also the past tense of lie! Therefore, if speaking in the past tense, you can use lay without an object. Eg, I lay back on the daybed and imagined I was holidaying in the French Riviera.

But the reason I am frothing at the mouth, and have finally succumbed to ranting about it here, is because I don’t recall ever learning these lessons in grammar – indeed, I am quite sure I never learned any rules of grammar at school beyond nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, and perhaps tenses. I don’t know what it means to conjugate a verb, as some good grammar-focussed blogs do when explaining the different uses for lie and lay. But despite the lack of formal training, I must have developed an ear for what is correct and what is not, and I am forever cringing at hearing lay used in the present tense, to replace the word lie. For example

I’ll get you all to start by laying on your mats (a yoga teacher)

She’s not feeling well so I told her to lay down (a colleague at work)

All I want to do is have a day off and lay around reading a book (overheard in a bookshop) (I find it hard to believe this person can actually read.)

I’m disheartened every time I hear this kind of misuse of the word lay, but I don’t correct people. To counteract the frustration I feel when I hear these misplaced phrases, I cheer myself up by quipping a witty response like Should we lay an egg on our yoga mat? Or should we lay some bricks? Of course, I don’t say this out loud, but only in my own head. And after I’ve chuckled, and congratulated myself on my wit, I make my own small protest, by lying on my yoga mat instead.

*

*a true story

**Fans of Dylan probably stopped reading after the second line of this post, but fans of yoga mats keen to read more about the yoga mat that starred in this post, should click on the tag, yoga mat, (below) to be taken to more scintillating yoga mat-related stories. 

 

Panic on the dance floor

It’s time to solicit some crucial advice from the combined wisdom of readers.

The question is – should I go to my 30 year school reunion?

Yes, 30 years! Apparently that’s how long it’s been since I was lying around languidly in an asphalt courtyard at lunchtimes, discussing boys, or INXS, (specifically Michael Hutchence) or teachers, or who was at the nightclub last Saturday night and who’s going this Saturday.

When the time came for the 10 year reunion, I didn’t go – not through any deliberate desire to avoid it, but because I had an exhibition opening the same evening, if you don’t mind. Why yes, those were the days when I was a twenty-something artist.

When the next one (20 years) came around, I didn’t go because, well, I hadn’t been to the 10 year reunion, and by the 20 year mark I’d basically fallen out of contact with every single person I’d been friends with at high school. I’ve written about this before, but it seems that I haven’t tended to retain friends for a lifetime as some people do. Instead it seems that by mutual agreement in some cases, or not in others, I lose contact with people and move on and make new friends so that I end up having a past series of friends who are associated with specific periods of my life. This has worked ok so far, but I do hope I’ll start retaining friends for longer, because I can see that opportunities to make new friends become less as you get older.

Anyway, when the 20-year reunion came along, I was a 30-something, working in the arts. Working in the arts sounds less glamorous than being an artist, but in the end it suits me better to be doing practical tasks that contribute towards the creation of art (theatre) by a company, and for that reason, I feel satisfied. Sure I’m creative, and, oh boy, do I love ideas! – why, I can ramble on about them for hours, as this blog proves! – but it turns out I’m not very good at self promotion, or at staying focussed and motivated when left to drive myself along to develop abstract concepts into physical works of art. I’m easily overwhelmed by broad, undefined goals.  “Continue to develop a body of ideas and work that may end up being exhibited, or may simply be research and development towards your whole oeuvre” was a little too vague to help me decide what to do from day to day as I attempted to produce work in my studio.

But back to the looming 30-year reunion. This is happening in the near future, a time when I’m a 40-something, still working in the arts. (At least there has been some consolidation on the career front then.) I am still not in touch with anyone from school apart from two people that I am now Facebook Friends with. Of those two, I’ve caught up once, in person, with one of those people.

So basically, attending the reunion means attending an event where I don’t know anyone very well, but sort of know everyone just a little bit. In my opinion, for a shy, introverted extrovert (that is a self-diagnosis), this is far worse than attending an event where everyone is a complete stranger. And finally, even worse again, some are people I used to be close friends with, who dropped out of contact about 20 years ago.

Now, if you are not a massive extrovert, it’s actually hard to socialise with people you know just a little bit. An event full of strangers is preferable. If everyone is a stranger, you can wander around on your own, making it obvious that you are alone and don’t know anyone, and hope that some of those strangers will notice your plight, and converse with you out of courtesy, or pity. (As they are strangers, it doesn’t really matter which.) And, if they don’t, you can cut your losses and leave without any real loss of dignity or hurt to your feelings.

At an event where everyone knows who you are, but you are not close chums with anyone, you sidle around the outskirts of chatting groups of people, smiling and hoping someone you’ve met before will take pity on you and make eye contact so that you feel welcome to edge your way into their little group, and pretend to take an immediate and passionate interest in whatever topic they are discussing, even if it’s the renovation they are doing to the ensuite in their holiday house.

And if no-one makes any attempt to give you an opening, then you’ll probably slink away early and – YEAH YOU BET your feelings will be hurt and your dignity will sink to a new low!

(As a self-diagnosed “introverted extrovert,” by the way, I’m not a totally hopeless case socially. My self esteem in general is quite ok – certainly a hundred times healthier than when I was a high school student – and I LIKE socialising with friends – but it’s easily trampled on in a situation like this.)

Ok, it’s pretty obvious that I’m wavering on the side of not going.

But let’s get down to the real issue here. Surely the only question that matters is – will the music be good?

Because I do love dancing, as I think we’ve covered in previous posts.

So much so that, despite fear of not being able to make small-talk, and the possible humiliation of scuttling around the edges of the function room on my own all night, the possibility of dancing could, in itself, be a temptation to go! In the unlikely event that the music was good, if it turned out to be the worst case scenario where I was milling around with no-one to talk to –  I could just join the dance floor!

(That is, of course, only if at least 12 other people were already dancing, as I am too self-conscious to jump up alone, or when there are only two extraverts doing the bumpsy-daisy together out there.) But if there’s enough people dancing for me to blend somewhere into the middle of the crowd, then I can lose that self-consciousness and dance the night away, or at least until Working Class Man* comes on.

But sadly, it seems unlikely that the music would be good. I say this because my generation’s musical taste has forever, and quite erroneously, been labelled as Seventies disco in some kind of timewarp that wasn’t accurate. Although we were indeed alive in days of 1970s disco, we were in nappies, and then pre-school, and then the early years of primary school for most of that decade and were therefore more interested in what was playing on the Looney Tunes cartoon hour on TV than what was playing at Studio 54. I have never even seen Saturday Night Fever. Maybe this explains a lot about me, but to put it bluntly, I have no emotional connection with Seventies disco, which was the music most frequently played at school fundraising events I attended as a parent at my daughter’s school.

At an event where a selection of music is to be played for my personal entertainment, ideally I would request a good dose of music from the 80s, 90s, 2000s, and 2010s (or whatever the current era is known as). Anyone taking notes at home may include music from the Seventies too, by all means, but please make it punk, or folk, or rock, or Motown, just not that over-played Seventies disco.

Despite the stereotyped notion of parents as a particular breed of adults whose musical taste stays rooted in the nostalgic past, I have always enjoyed discovering new music. That includes discovering music from the past that I hadn’t listened to at the time. But official events of any sort usually opt for safe choices with music, on the premise of pleasing the majority, and safe, for my generation, seems to be to play the music that was playing on the dance floors when we were learning our multiplication tables and how to write in cursive.

Of course we all think our own musical taste is superior to everyone else’s, don’t we?**

In the end, I should thank you for your input, dear readers, because as I’ve been writing this post, I’ve come to the only conclusion that seems obvious, and will avoid the need to make small talk AND ensure the music will be good.

I won’t attend my school’s 30-year reunion unless I can DJ.

*

 

*Working Class Man is a song by well known Australian Band Cold Chisel. I’m clearly a bit of a snobby purist when it comes to what music I am willing to dance to, and it’s my personal opinion that this song should never come anywhere near a dance floor, but when I was growing up in the country, the djs were less picky, and it usually did come on at about 3am, signalling to me that it was cattle-call time at the meat market, and a good time to go home.

**(Or is that just me?)

***Update: thanks to those who said I must go and then write about it here. I didn’t see you offering to accompany me and pretend to be someone everyone else had forgotten. If only I’d thought of that earlier. Airline tickets could have been arranged.

Anyway, the reunion happened, I didn’t attend, and I don’t think there was ANY music at all. It was a daytime tour of the school that so many of us were thrilled to leave at the time, and then a luncheon. How alarmingly sedate. And how demanding of small talk!! I think I made the right choice, so I thank you all again.

A Hazy Shade of Winter (Sunday morning in Melbourne)

Time, time, time, see what’s become of me

yesterday morning it seemed I had such possibility

– where did the week go, please?

 

I look around, it makes me frown,

cos the kitchen is

still a mess from dinner

 

Hear the music of Grinderman

Blast from my stereo, I chop oregano

and marinate lamb

Carry a wine in my hand…

 

I look around, it makes me frown,

the sky is grey, it feels like it’s still winter

Hang on to your hopes my friend

It’s Melbourne 10am, might be warm by 2pm,

so simply pretend

the weekend won’t come to an end

 

I look around,

dishes piled high

they touch the sky

the dishwasher makes me cry***

 

Aaaah, the week flew by and little was achieved

Might as well be doing tapestry

Writing terrible poetry

Or just blogging to fill in time.

Funny how my memory slips,

looking over my manuscripts,

emails and silly rhymes.

Drinking my vodka and lime.

 

I look around, the internet’s down

and we need

a new cartridge for the printer

Look around, I’ve just found

cat vomit on the ground

Look around, it’s not profound

but this post’s the best I could expound.**

 

(location shown may not be Melbourne)

(Due to laziness, actual city depicted may not be Melbourne)

 

 

 

*Apologies to Simon and Garfunkle.

 

**I have cheated on a few levels with this post, as I first wrote it (or pretty much it – I’ve changed a few words) in 2011. That was back when no-one read this blog (except a handful of people who knew me). As I am short on ideas and can’t get inspired today, I’ve reblogged it – with a few alterations. Complaints may be sent to the PO box address at the top of the page.

 

***At the time that I wrote the original post, our dishwasher didn’t work. I wrote posts about that too, believe it or not.

 

The Sound of the City

Yesterday I read a post by a fellow Melbourne blogger, on her site Sampling Station, where she asked, what does your hometown sound like?

I started to write a reply in the comments section, but of course, that became too long very quickly and I realised I would have to reply via a post instead.

Perhaps I should begin by clarifying what town I’m referring to. I grew up in a small country town about 1.5 hrs away from Melbourne, so strictly speaking that small town is my “hometown”. But I’ve already written a post about the soundtrack to growing up in a country town in regional Victoria in the 1970s so there’s no need to cover that ground again. I don’t get sentimental about my hometown – my affection for Melbourne is much stronger – so on this occasion I’ll be exploring the soundtrack to the town I’ve lived in for the majority of my life now, ie, the fair city of Verona Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Before I lived in Melbourne, it was always the city that I aspired to get to. My main goal in life was to leave home, and get the hell out of the country.

Let’s face it, as a young kid, and then teenager, growing up in a small country town, in a working class family that had to pack 8 people into a mini-van in order to take a family holiday to Mildura, it was pretty unlikely my experience of cities was going to range any further than the capital of my own state, so I didn’t exactly have a wide repertoire of cities to draw on for my choice. When I was about 14, a one-off trip with a cousin to stay with some distant relative of hers enabled me to add one more city to my list: Sydney. But Sydney was a long way away, and no-one I knew lived there. Melbourne was only a few hours drive away from home, and I knew people there. As a kid, it was my relatives, then, as a teenager, a friend moved there with her family, and after finishing high school, most of my friends moved to Melbourne to attend various universities and colleges there.

Through my childhood, I associated Melbourne with a sense of freedom and a cool, sophisticated lifestyle. To my 12-year-old mind, freedom and a sophisticated lifestyle meant moving out of home and listening to rock music without parents around to switch it off and give me a lecture on its evils. This was because my own very strict, religious parents disapproved of any rock or pop music written after the mid 1960s, and would frequently remind me of this if I was ever caught listening to it on the radio. Most of my older cousins lived in Melbourne, and when I would stay with them, all they talked about was the latest record they had bought, and what bands they had seen on Countdown! that week.

300px-CountdownLogo

Pic: Wikipedia

One of the songs that sticks in my mind from those days, which I associated with Melbourne, is actually by a New Zealand band, Split Enz. They were a quirky, new-wave (sometimes described as “art rock”) band in the late 1970s and early 80s, a time when film clips were new, and you can tell when you look at them now! But I recall sitting in the lounge at my grandmother’s house in Reservoir, in the northern suburbs of Melbourne (back then, an outer suburb with a high population of first generation Greek and Italian families), surrounded by heaps of cousins of all ages, and watching the entire clip of I Got You, by Split Enz and thinking it was the coolest thing ever.

(No doubt I was probably caught by my parents and kicked out of the room shortly afterwards, missing the second half of something like Tired of Toeing the Line by Rocky Burnett. This is why I’ve never seen the clips that everyone else has seen.)

At the time, (around 1980), this clip was very arty indeed: note the billowing curtain, the mod-ish, stylised look of the band, the special effects (as witnessed at the line “Sometimes we shout” at about 32 seconds in). Now, of course, it is amusingly B-grade, and I love it all the more for that.

Fast forward to the late 80s, when I was 17, and Australian film director Richard Lowenstein released a film about musicians living in a shared house in the inner Melbourne suburb of Richmond, named Dogs In Space. My friend Jane and I managed to see the film, which was R-rated, at the cinema. Our main reason for being interested in it was because we loved Michael Hutchence, from INXS, who starred in it. (I’ve written previously on this blog about being a huge INXS fan as a teenager.) I’m glad we did see the film when it was originally out at the cinema, because it has become a cult classic. It’s centred around the “little band scene” – the thriving post-punk band scene in Melbourne in the late 70s. The soundtrack was great, although it was more about setting the scene than highlighting the local “little bands” featured in the movie, and included Iggy Pop, Brian Eno and new material written for the movie by Michael Hutchence and Ollie Olsen, along with a few bands who were actually from the scene, such as the Primitive Calculators. (Olsen was part of the original little band scene.)

Jane managed to find the soundtrack on a record in a dusty old record shop somewhere, and I taped a copy onto cassette. I still have that tape, and so far, I’ve never found that soundtrack in any other format. This soundtrack introduced me for the first time to Nick Cave, via the song Shivers, recorded with The Boys Next Door, the band that Cave fronted with Rowland S Howard, who I’ve written about previously. Howard was the one who wrote Shivers but it is the version sung by Nick Cave that most people are familiar with. In this clip Howard can be seen to the far right, barely more than a kid, playing guitar. This slow, melancholy song is not really typical of The Boys Next Door, but I’ve stuck with it because it was my introduction to Nick Cave, and also because back in the 80s, there were plenty of goths around Melbourne who idolised Cave and this song.

Around 1987, Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly released an album with a band known at the time as The Coloured Girls (later changed to The Messengers to avoid any racist connotations). The album was Gossip, and went on to have track after track of hit singles. Now, I’ve never called myself a huge fan of Paul Kelly’s, but in the same way that I’m not a huge fan of Bob Dylan or Neil Young – it’s not like these people need my endorsement. I can recognise that these singer-songwriters are hugely talented, and that their songs capture themes and imagery that resonate with many people. It’s just that I always choose other music before theirs, when I feel like listening to music. Perhaps all three are just a little too folksy for me. Whatever the reason, some Paul Kelly songs made it through my “folk” filters, and one of those, from Gossip, was Leaps and Bounds. If you lived in Melbourne at the time, which I didn’t, it must have seemed like an anthem.

I’m high on the hill

looking over the bridge 

to the MCG

and way up on high

the clock on the silo 

says eleven degrees

I picture a sunny, but frosty, winter morning, at the bridge near Punt Road in the inner suburb of Richmond. Punt Road is like Melbourne’s artery, the main road to get from the southern to the northern suburbs, and usually a traffic nightmare at peak times as it’s just a two lane road in parts. Back when this song was written, (and indeed right up until the existence of the Western Suburbs reached the general consciousness in the past 10 years or so), Richmond really felt like the centre of Melbourne as it had a major train station, and it’s easy to navigate from Richmond via road or public transport to the Northern, Eastern and Southern suburbs. The Nylex tower (with the clock on the silo) is recognised by anyone who has ever caught a train at Richmond station or driven up or down Punt Road. Even apart from the inclusion of the historic MCG, Melbourne’s cricket ground, it was an image of Melbourne that was of its time.

In the early 90’s I went to a nightclub in Prahran called IDs, and discovered a live band playing there, with the rather poetic name of Not Drowning Waving. I immediately became a fan of their melancholy sounding music that combined beautiful strings (violin and later cello) with a huge percussion section (live they usually had 3 to 4 people on percussion, or sometimes everyone!) I’ve written a post previously about Not Drowning Waving. Many of their songs and instrumental pieces were, by that time, about the landscape of Australia, and its troubled treatment of indigenous Australians, however they also wrote songs that were lyrically similar to another Aussie band, The Go-Betweens, in the sense that they captured the ordinariness of life in the suburbs and the quiet despair that is sometimes hidden from view.

Not Drowning Waving’s ode to Thomastown resonated with me because I had cousins who lived in that suburb. Coming from the country, Thomastown was all that I didn’t like about the city, and probably why I’ve always been adamantly against ever moving beyond the inner suburbs. It was a depressing suburb of bright orange seventies brick houses, surrounded by cement and ashpalt, with huge electricity pylons running down the centre of the main roads. My cousins’ front yard consisted of a cement path with little white pebbles on each side of it, bordered at the front by bright orange bricks. Even as a kid I found it a bleak and disheartening environment.

Well, dear reader, as I could have guessed would happen, my word count is already too long and I should wrap this up before anyone who has actually made it this far falls asleep, yet I’m barely even into the 90s with my soundtrack of Melbourne. Oh dear. Let’s call this instalment side 1, dedicated to those who recall a time when albums had 2 sides and you had to physically get up and turn them over (or wait for the cassette to get to the end and start up on the other side) before you could hear side 2.

So stay tuned for another instalment, when I will honestly try to select only a few more tunes, for Side 2 of the soundtrack to my hometown!

Soundtrack to Melbourne:

Side 1:

Split Enz, I Got You (c1980)

The Boys Next Door, Shivers (c 1979)

Paul Kelly and the Coloured Girls, Leaps and Bounds (c 1987)

Not Drowning Waving, Thomastown (c 1989)

Unfinished Sympathy, or, more on the Track 6 Theory

Last week I wrote a post that purported to be about how to write a post.

That was really a fudge. In reality, it wasn’t a guide to writing a post, or not in a step-by-step manner, anyway. It was about how a completely trivial idea can sit with you for years, floating around in the muddle of thoughts and ideas in your brain, and then pop up one day in the form of something that you decide to try and write about. That is often true of a meaningful idea, sure, but hopefully I illustrated that it can also be true for a silly, inconsequential thought that you should have forgotten about 20 years ago.

The idea I wrote about was, that on many of my albums, track number 6 seems to be my favourite track. That thought came to me in about 1992, around the time I was listening to Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack, from their album Blue Lines.

As I said, not a meaningful thought by any stretch of the imagination. However I did my best to stretch this banal thought into an amusing piece of writing by using the model of a scientific study, although that in itself turned out to be inconclusive due to the size of the data.

But I’ve been bothered by aspects of this post, and today, I feel that I have to write a follow up post, to apologise to all the scientists that closely follow this blog, for the sloppiness of my scientific methodology.

It’s no excuse, I know, but as often happens, I’d spent a few hours on that post, it was 11.30pm as I was finishing it up, I was aware that it was becoming way too long, and I needed to round it off. My friends, in these circumstances, who among us does not occasionally wrap up a post as quickly as possible without due rigour to scientific process or any other process? But even as I was writing the final sentences in that post, all the flaws in my “scientific study” were making themselves apparent to me. At that point, though, I just wanted to publish the damn thing and go to bed, and to hell with how accurate it was, a sentiment that I’m sure investigative journalists working for the BBC can sympathise with.

Now, by “flaws,” I don’t mean the central fact that my “scientific study” was an examination into the frequency of track number 6 being my favourite track on a random selection of albums. I was aware that my “study” was of no significance to society. I was quite prepared to accept that it would NOT be written up in New Scientist magazine, or even in Smash Hits magazine, any time soon.

What I mean by “flaws,” is that I’m aware that the best creative writing is rigorous in its process – for example, if putting together a parody of a scientific study, a good writer would probably research scientific methodology  and make sure that the study followed that process as much as possible. Mine was written up lazily, without even peeking into my daughter’s year 9 science textbooks for help.

Of course one of those flaws was the tiny sample size of 16 albums, but that was a creative decision. I restricted the sample for the sake of the post, because I was presenting it as a list, and there were limits to how much interest a list of songs was going to retain if it got much longer. It was also time consuming, as, in some cases, I had to put albums on to decide between tracks that were competing for favourite.

Another flaw I became aware of was that I should have noted the number of my favourite track when it wasn’t track 6. That way, the study would have recorded whether any other track numbers were favourites more often than track 6. Mathematically, (could there be any other way?) the odds of that seem unlikely. So the study seems to suggest that track 6 could well be most often my favourite track, however with a sample size of only 16 albums I had to determine that this was inconclusive.

graph track 6

Some scientific rigour: a graph representing the instances of track 6 being favoured, or “other” track being favoured.

Another of the flaws in my study, which I only realised afterwards, was subjectivity. Of course, the question of a “favourite” track is entirely subjective. My favourite track is, of course, not necessarily your favourite track, dear reader. I am not sure what the scientific process is around accounting for, or trying to mitigate against, subjectivity, but I figure that one way to counter the subjectivity of a survey like this would be to have a much larger sample of respondents (ie,more than 1 person.)

With this intention, I have (I think) created a poll, for anyone who is interested in contributing to this important study. Select an album from your shelves, or from your iPhone – randomly or not, it doesn’t matter. Select your favourite track on that album. Check the track number. Is it number 6? Either way, please respond accordingly. The poll didn’t seem to allow me to create a field where you can write in the track number that is your favourite, so I’ve had to simply create the alternatives of Track 6, or Other, but I did also add a freeform field so you can tell me what the track number is if you’d like to. You can also tell me what the album and song were if you’d like to. I’ve never done a poll before so I have no idea in what format your answers will be revealed to me but I look forward to finding out.

So dear readers, let’s rally together in the interests of solving a very significant question that has kept the entire scientific world, or at the very least, me, busy for something akin to 3 full hours now. Let’s see if track 6 really is, overall, the most popular track on albums across the board, or whether there is no pattern at all to favourite tracks. As part of the same research, we may even find out if I can squeeze a third post out of this topic!!?

And finally, thank you all for your contribution to science.

 

 

Four and Three and Two and One

Here is one way to write a post.

Make a small observation to yourself. I don’t mean a momentous observation, a significant observation, or a worthy observation of any sort. I’m talking about an observation so insignificant that you consider it unworthy even of recording in your personal diary, where you note all kinds of trivial minutae. Oh, also – and this is critical – make this observation back in 1992. (at which time, your journal was a hardbound notebook that you wrote in with an actual pen. I get writer’s cramp just thinking about it).

My friends, the kind of observation I’m talking about is the sort of trivial observation that skits through your brain in a millisecond and is gone, and usually never troubles you again. But in this case, this ridiculously inconsequential observation continues to pop up occasionally, when you observe that your original idea is reinforced. Despite it being reinforced, it is still without doubt, an idea so utterly trivial that is not worthy of noting anywhere, for any reason. Declaring your observation to the world will make no impact, lasting or otherwise, on the history of humankind. No-one will, upon reading of your pronouncement, sit down and reconsider the choices they’ve made in their lives, and vow to make a change. No breakthroughs in medicine will be made, no children will be saved, in fact I’d go so far as to say that not even a single reality TV show will be created around your theory.

In the time since you originally made this trivial observation, the world continues to turn with regularity, the seasons come and go, the universe continues to slowly expand, you get older, perhaps you finish a visual arts degree and get a job answering the phone at a bank.

Soon, people who are not computer boffins are talking about the world wide web. More time passes, and you create an email account and start writing electronic communications to people, increasingly in place of phoning or speaking to them in person. You eventually lash out and buy a second hand laptop with a dial-up internet connection. At times, when the connection does not drop out, you perceive with some excitement that the internet appears to open up new avenues for writing. You learn about about web logs. You start to read other people’s web logs – or, blogs – and toy with the idea of writing one yourself.  But what can you write about?

You procrastinate. Instead of starting a blog, you read other people’s blogs, and notice that people are writing engaging blogs about food, about parenting, about books, or about building their own house out of egg cartons, but you are not a food expert, don’t wish to write about parenting, don’t have the confidence to write book reviews, and don’t have a lot of egg cartons lying around.

You read more blogs, and try to hone in on some that you really like. Based on these blogs you decide that your blog is not going to be “about” anything. It will be a blog of observations, reflections, ramblings about anything. (Later on, you will wish you had thought more carefully about the name and url because if you had, it would be, in an homage to Waiting for Godot, located at blatheringaboutnothing.wordpress.com, but changing the address once the blog is established sounds too fraught with difficulty to contemplate.)

So, you start to write a blog. Writing the first few posts is fun but then you realise that you have to come up with observations, reflections, ideas and ramblings worth writing about with some kind of regularity. Oh dear. What a predicament you have put yourself in!

Lacking the time to work on ideas for blog topics other than when you sit down to write, you find it difficult to post frequently and consistently about highbrow ideas such as the nature of human existence, whether there is life after death, or whether painting really is dead. Your blog rapidly begins to be filled with writing about eyeballs, moustaches, rhinos, and the weather. In your credit, you do manage a few posts about Nietzsche, but unfortunately you are no scholar of existentialism and your explorations of the philosopher’s ideas remain sadly inept and superficial, and focussed mostly on his repugnant facial hair. Time goes by, and you reach a point where one day, that trivial observation from 20 years ago pokes its head up and says, just like the Labour Party did in 1972, It’s time.

You decide to accept the challenge and write a post about your frivolous observation, made 20 years earlier. Thinking about how to turn such a trivial idea into an entire post, you decide the best approach will be to write an amusing piece, covering the lengthy research undertaken to come up with your theory, and then present the evidence for and against. It seems possible that you might be able to cobble together something amusing. You sit down to write it.

Cue the present, and a first person narrative.

Here is my observation, made some 2 decades ago: I notice that on many of my albums, my favourite track is track number 6.

Trivial? Certainly. Banal? Exquisitely. Not worthy of being recorded in writing? Undoubtedly.

In the real world, the one that exists outside the world wide web, would I attempt to craft an interesting piece of writing based on such a completely trivial thought? Probably not. But this is the blogosphere, so let’s press on, sticking to the challenge at hand.

The Hypothesis: that on a random selection of albums, Track 6 will most often be a “favourite” track.

Definitions: For the purposes of this experiment, I have defined “favourite” as the outstanding favourite. If there are many tracks on an album considered to be equal favourites, then the answer to whether the song is a favourite is “no”. For the purposes of scientific rigour, I am being very tough on myself! (Eeek!)

Method: my research, conducted over the past 20 years on this topic, has consisted of listening to a lot of albums. Data has been inconsistent, and record keeping has been poor, to say the least. Analysis of anecdotal data indicates that on some albums, track 6 was my favourite track and on others, it was not.

Today, in the interests of proving or refuting the original hypothesis once and for all, I have selected a sample of albums to check. This sample consists of two sub categories: albums I was listening to in 1992, at the time that I developed this theory, as well as a random selection of more recent albums, for comparison, in case for some reason 1992 had a strong bias towards putting the best track at number 6.

Data:

Albums I was listening to in 1992:

Massive Attack, Blue Lines. Track 6: Unfinished Sympathy. Favourite track? Yes.

Not Drowning Waving, The Cold and The Crackle. Track 6: Little King. Favourite Track? No.

The Velvet Underground, V.U. Track 6: Foggy Notion. Favourite track? Yes.

Primal Scream, Screamadelica. Track 6: Come Together. Favourite track? No

Tom Waits, Bone Machine. Track 6: The Ocean Doesn’t Want Me Today. Favourite Track? No

The Clouds, Penny Century. Track 6: Too Cool. Favourite Track? No

R.E.M.  Automatic For The People. Track 6: Sweetness Follows. Favourite track? Yes

Leonard Cohen, So Long Marianne. Track 6: Bird On A Wire. Favourite track? No

 

Random* selection of other albums :

 

Sonic Youth, Goo. Track 6: My Friend Goo. Favourite track? No

Kim Salmon and The Surrealists, Sin Factory. Track 6: Come On Baby. Favourite Track? No

Beastie Boys, Ill Communication. Track 6: Sabotage. Favourite Track? No

Radiohead, Kid A. Track 6: Optimistic. Favourite Track? No

The Rapture, Echoes. Track 6: House of Jealous Lovers. Favourite Track? Yes

LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver. Track 6: Us V Them. Favourite Track? No

Grinderman, Grinderman 2. Track 6: Evil. Favourite Track? Yes.

The National, High Violet. Track 6: Bloodbuzz Ohio. Favourite Track? Yes

 

Analysis:

Out of 16 albums, track number 6 is my favourite track on 6. Track 6 does not rate significantly higher on albums from 1992, so I can’t even try to claim that there was a conspiracy in 1992 to always put the best track at number 6.

Conclusion:

Analysis proves that track 6 is not always my favourite track. However, what this analysis does not prove, is, whether track 6 is my favourite track more often than any other number? Track 6 has come up strongly, but in a sample of only 16 albums, I can only conclude that the sample is too small and therefore the data is inconclusive. Damn.

*

So finally, dear reader,  you reach the end of your post. You have learned how to let an idea, first thought of as completely insignificant 20 years earlier, stew away in the back of your mind for 2 decades. You’ve learned how to take that totally frivolous thought, and milk it for all it’s worth when you need a topic to write about on your blog 20 years later. Here we can see the end product of this creative process: a post that is an odd mixture of a “how-to” style guide to writing a post, combined with a research experiment into whether or not track 6 is always the best track on an album. This is what the internet has done to us.

 *

*As this is a personal blog, and not a scientific journal, I will admit that there was some licence taken with the “randomness” of albums selected in the second section. The prompt for this post was in fact when I put on Ill Communication today, and noted that Sabotage, the biggest hit from that album, but not my clear favourite on the album, was track number 6. I decided to get my “track 6” theory sorted out for once and for all, however in that endeavour I have dismally failed. Research continues.

 

Life Isn’t Everything

Back in the day, I had piano lessons for a few years.

I started lessons when I was in Grade 5 at school, walking approximately 50 steps each week, across the road in front of my primary school to reach a little house that smelled of cooked cabbage and mothballs, where my piano teacher lived. She looked as if she had stepped out of a British sitcom from the same period – a middle-aged, saggy-jowled, possibly widowed woman, wearing her hair in a scratchy looking bouffant that was probably, in hindsight, a wig, her look completed with an abundance of chunky, tacky, jewellery, and and flouncy, swishy, acrylic blouses and skirts. There were lace doilies everywhere, and I seem to remember a fluffy dog as well, but that could be my imagination helpfully filling in any gaps in the stereotype.

My piano teacher - almost.  Picture longer hair and a fluffy dog.

My piano teacher – almost. Picture longer hair and a fluffy dog.

 

I attended for about 4 years, and quit at about the end of year 8, which means I got as far as Grade 3 in the Australian Music Examination Board curriculum.

The reason I gave up lessons at that point was not the teacher (by then my lessons were at high school) but because I was tired of learning the – to my 14 year-old mind – obscure classical pieces required by the Examination Board. No-one (other than piano students) recognised Fur Elise. I had a secret desire to be able to entertain a room (and ideally, the people in it) with my ability to leap onto the piano stool and whack out a “hit” that everyone recognised. (The way they did back in mid 18th Century). (This desire existed rather incongruously alongside my extreme self-consciousness and shyness that, even putting aside my inability to read music or play a “hit,” made that forever an impossible dream.)

Consequently, I quit piano lessons, spent a large portion of my measley pocket money on some sheet music, and defiantly taught myself to play 3 pieces of contemporary music. As this was the Christmas holidays of 1983 and I was about 14, the pieces I chose were: Song For Guy by Elton John, Theme from Chariots of Fire, by Vangelis, and The Rose, made famous around that time by Bette Middler because of the movie by the same name (which, thankfully, I’ve never seen). Over the next few months, or probably, years, I played those three pieces to death, much to the despair of my long-suffering family.

(Sidebar: A word of encouragement to those out there who fear they may never reach the giddy heights of being able to teach themselves “hits” at home from sheet music. I must confess that I could never actually read music without stopping to say slowly, Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit or All Cows Eat Grass, as learned in my very first music lesson, while working my way up the corresponding lines of the Treble or Bass Clef, to work out the notes. Sheet music was never anything more than a loose guide to what note to start on, or how the chords worked, as I worked out the tune and timing by ear and then just memorised how to play the piece. If I can do it, anyone can.)

At high school, two years of compulsory Music Theory instilled me with the confident assurance that Carmen is an opera about a woman called Carmen. I recall nothing more. Consequently, although I love music, I can’t really write about it because I don’t have a sophisticated musical vocabulary that enables me to discuss the intricacies of the beat, the melody, the arrangements or the instrumentation (which could be the same thing for all I know.)

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In Australia, Carmen and Mr Ed The Talking Horse are our two favourite celebrities and often host the Logie Awards Ceremonies together.

Pic: ABC

I can read, and write, however, so I’m on slightly more comfortable ground talking about lyrics. For one thing, lyrics are composed of words. I’ve written a few of those, so that is a good start. So occasionally, as in today, I delve into a post about lyrics that I like.

So, dear reader, just to keep us on track, although this post appeared at first to be about my childhood piano lessons, it is actually a post about lyrics. Do try and keep up. It’s my second post about lyrics – the first one can be found here. Perhaps one day my mediocre musings on other people’s lyrics will be syndicated as a weekly column in a dying major newspaper that senses it’s about to go bankrupt, but until that day, we can only dream, and then weep when the wine runs out.

Now, if you say “lyrics,” I say “tomato,” but straight after that momentary lapse, the word “lyrics” makes me think of revered singer-songwriters such as Leonard Cohen, John Lennon, Joanie Mitchell, Patti Smith, Tom Waits, etc. (sorry, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, but I think you’ll do fine without me.)  There is nothing I could say about these songwriters’ lyrics that hasn’t already been said by people far more qualified than myself, but here are a few favourite lines from some of those mentioned above:

You said love is touching souls;

surely you touched mine

cos a part of you pours out of me

in these lines, from time to time. (Joanie Mitchell – A Case Of You)

Lyrics can be funny, sad, nonsensical, quirky, bleak, clever, poetic, insightful, vulnerable, beautiful, or some combination of the above, and when the music fits perfectly with what’s being conveyed in the lyrics, it’s a match made in heaven.  Joanie Mitchell’s lyrics above capture a beautiful idea – love that melds souls – but the beauty in those lines is also the vulnerability revealed by the singer. The love she is thinking of is past, the relationship has now ended, and the extent to which that love has left its mark in her is apparently beyond her control. It sometimes “pours” out of her – a word that suggests tears as well as a stream-of-consciousness in her writing.

 

They say there was a secret chord

that David played and it pleased the Lord

But you don’t really care for music, do you? (Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah)

 

It’s probably the most well-known three lines from Cohen’s prolific songwriting career to date, but I decided to go with it because it’s classic Cohen. The first two lines begin as though a story is being told, evoking imagery from the Old Testament, but then, in a signature Cohen-like device, another dimension is added to the song. The singer cuts off the poetry with a prosaic question directed intimately at an imagined listener, revealing the artifice of the preceding lines, and making it sound like the story was part of some intimate conversation. But You don’t really care for music, do you? I like that twist in the perspective.

 

How do your pistol and your bible and your sleeping pills go?

Are you still jumping out windows in expensive clothes? (Tom Waits – Who Are You?)

I mentioned this line from Who Are You? in my previous post about lyrics, but as I’m attempting to write about favourite lines from well-known singer-songwriters, it deserves another whirl. It’s beautiful because it paints a visual picture, and in the context of the rest of the song, Waits seems to ask this question with gentle, tender sympathy for the desperate, lonely beings driven to such behaviour.

I’d like to go on, but I spent so much time talking about my piano lessons at the beginning of this post, that I’m going to have to wind up. I guess there are a few posts ahead on this topic (- editors of dying newspapers, take note.) But before I end, I’ll share one last lot of lyrics.

As I began writing this post, I looked up “Song For Guy” on Youtube, to make sure I was referring to the correct Elton John song, and after listening to 2 seconds of it, long enough to establish that it was indeed the right one, I let it keep playing while I wrote. As it played right through,  I discovered – or rediscovered if I ever knew this before – that there are lyrics at the end of what I had thought was an instrumental piece.

 

Perhaps I’m the only person who was not aware of this, but just in case anyone else out there was not, the lyrics are as follows:

Life isn’t everything

isn’t everything

isn’t everything

Life isn’t everything

isn’t everything

isn’t everything

Life

Life

 

It’s a strange phrase, isn’t it? After hearing those unusual lyrics, hidden at the end of nearly 4 minutes of music, curiosity led me to delve a bit further. According to Wikipedia, which describes the song as a ‘mainly instrumental piece of music,’ while Elton John was writing the piece, he found himself imagining that he was looking down on his own body, as if he had died. The next day, he found that his 17 year old messenger boy, Guy, had been killed in a motorbike accident the previous day. It’s not quite clear when he added those words in to the piece, but when someone has just died, the idea that life isn’t everything is a tempting one to grasp on to. At the same time, you feel that nothing can ever again be everything. Certainly not for the person who has died, but also, not for you.

*

In conclusion, for those who got lost along the way, here is a brief roadmap of this post.

It started with a fairly smooth drive through my childhood piano lessons, segued rather clumsily to a bumpy section about lyrics, and then came skidding to an awkward end, focusing on a song that I learned on the piano as a teen, which I had mistakenly believed all these years was a purely instrumental piece. Clearly the lyrics did not resonate with me previously, if I’d ever even realised they existed, but the serendipity of discovering the piece had lyrics, while writing this particular post, meant I had to write about it. Why? Because that is the rule*.

 

*There is no rule.

 

 

 

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