21. Stay Positive – The Hold Steady
So this is halfway, the 21st record of the 42. Except it’s not really. It’s actually an excuse for me to cheat the initial remit of this blog and repurpose it slightly for the future.
Of all the things that I have chosen to do in the last three or four months this has been one of the most rewarding. Not the easiest – usually in the reading back and painful awareness of my limitations – but rewarding nonetheless. So I’m absolutely committed to finishing the list, chronicling another 21 records that have been important to me so far, but I’ve also found that there have been times that the original premise has been a constraint; there have been things I’ve wanted to write about that just didn’t fit. Or could only fit via an arduous process of shoe horning. I could start a different blog I guess but it seems a shame to waste any accumulated goodwill and traffic (limited though it may be) in starting something again.
So here’s the broadening of the remit. For a while I’d been playing around with the idea of 42 as an important milestone number with half an eye (not an entirely serious eye I’ll grant you) on Douglas Adams’ answer to the life, the universe, and everything in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. I’m not about to claim anything as grandiose as genuinely illuminating the question as to what it’s all about here but I think there is something in that sentiment for me personally – some of the moments captured here have touched on the things that are fundamental for me. I will try to make it less wanky than that sounds.
So that was a long winded way of saying that I’m going to carry on writing this but also write about some other things too. I imagine that music will continue to figure pretty strongly.
The rest of this post is essentially given over to a number of people who’ve been kind enough to read what I’ve written so far. A few weeks ago I had canvassed opinion on songs that were important to other people with the notion of constructing an alternative 42 compiled from friends and family. Turns out I either don’t have 42 friends or I don’t have 42 friends who were prepared to offer up a song; a mix of the two I suspect. However, I did manage to pull together a list of 21 songs (a couple of people came up with more than one) which seems fitting and, ahem, convenient as this is post number 21. Here’s the records (all with links if you want to hear them):
Hocus Pocus – Focus (link is to a live version even more bonkers than the studio recording)
Freakscene – Dinosaur Jr (dreadful video, incredible song)
There isn’t a neat and tidy way, thematically, to tie these songs together beyond the fact that what became apparent in hearing different people’s take on the importance of music to them, or the specificity of time and place inherent to them in some of these songs, was that songs can be a powerful anchor in people’s lives. So the headline song on this post – the mighty Hold Steady’s “Stay Positive” – was as close as I could come in wrapping up that sentiment, particularly with respect to the line about “these sing along songs will be our scriptures”. The Hold Steady have never run shy of declaring the redemptive, life affirming power of music – specifically for them rock and roll – and its capacity to move people in extraordinary ways and this song pretty much sums up their mission statement.
It also, in its opening lines, ties up nicely one of the great things that has come out of the experience of writing many of the posts so far: I got a lot of old friends that are getting back in touch and it’s a pretty good feeling, yeah it feels pretty good. The stats will say that I’ve had something like 1200 views of this blog over the past three or four months. Pretty small beer. But I’ve worked in market research long enough to know that stats lie or, at least, never tell the whole story. I’ve also had extremely kind comments, compliments, suggestions of other songs I might like, virtual conversations about choral pieces, and shared reminiscences. The connections have made the experience far more rewarding for me.
So, that list of 21 records. There were a few new songs here for me – Brad Paisley and Rodney Atkins bringing the country (two kinds of music, y’all), Focus bringing the frankly barking mad yodeling (track reminds me a lot of Muse), and strangely I’d never heard the Jethro Tull song despite being familiar with some of their early stuff. I didn’t know the INXS track either which was a reminder for someone of a concert experience and I can imagine the song as a great opener with its steady build; plenty of time for Michael Hutchence to make his entrance. Not so much now, obviously. We’ve got songs of childhood (or some people winding me up) from The Wombles and Rolf Harris – reminders of a more innocent time. At the time of writing Harris has been charged with twelve counts of indecent assault and, depending on how the trial goes in April, may end up being expunged from the cultural record in much the same way as Gary Glitter has been. There’s Bonnie Tyler’s power ballad par excellence, an impassioned pile-driver from Foo Fighters, the sunshine pop of Frente – very hard to listen to without smiling – and the ambient electronica of Lemon Jelly. There’s Elpheba’s anthem from Wicked about realising your potential and discovering who you are (my daughter’s pick) and Keith Urban’s country rock call to live life to its full (don’t tell my wife but I actually really like this song and Urban is a remarkable guitarist). For pure romance you won’t find many finer songs than “Rainy Night In Soho” (or, indeed, the differently romantic “Fairytale Of New York”) and you won’t find many finer songs, full stop, than “Verdi Cries” – in mine and a friend’s ever shifting list of the top 5 songs ever written this was always (only half jokingly) the only ever fixed point. There are songs attached to unhappy memories from Ken Boothe and Dire Straits, and songs attached to great memories from Pearl Jam and Paul Weller.
There’s probably only one song that I might have picked for my own list, much as I like many of the selected songs. Dinosaur Jr’s “Freakscene” is one of a handful of songs from the US alt invasion of the late 80s and early 90s that I strongly associate with a club in Bristol that a group of us frequented. Happy times and one to revisit in a future post – either with that song or one of its brethren. God I love that song though.
The stories attached to all of these songs aren’t mine to tell but a sincere thank you to those who shared them and when no story was forthcoming I had fun imagining the significance of the song. A virtual group hug would be in order if that was, you know, the sort of thing I do. As it’s not I’ll leave you with the rallying “we gotta stay positive” chorus from The Hold Steady. It’s no bad way to start the year, particularly if you’ve just had a year like mine.