My Pop Life #107 : Desiderata – Les Crane

Featured image

Desiderata   –   Les Crane

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story…

Featured image

Whilst I am unable to find the release date for this single, it was huge in our house.   Our house being a three bedroom council estate new build on the outside edge of East Sussex market town Hailsham.   Facing north towards Herstmonceux Observatory.   A field where we played football.   A back garden which felt permanently in the shade.   We had coal delivered directly into a hole in the back wall which was the coal shed.   We’d take it in turns to fill the coal scuttle which was shaped like a cone, then carry it through to the living room where all the paraphernalia of the fireplace were present :  shovel, poker, brush and tongs.   Proper fire.   Proper chimney that got swept probably once.   If ever.   TV in the corner.   Two settees ?   Or was it one settee and two armchairs ?   Milk delivered in bottles every day onto the doorstep.  Sometimes the silver foil tops would be pecked before we took the bottles in – by blue tits famously who wanted the cream which had risen to the top of the bottle.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater
and lesser persons than yourself.

Featured image

“the front of the house, and you can just see a bit of the side”

Next door was Monique and her two kids : Tim, who was my brother Paul’s age (12 going on 13 in 1972) and Joanna who was younger, perhaps 10.    Carl, the kid’s dad was “inside”.   On the other side was an old lady whose name has been forgotten and her fully grown son.  Can’t remember his name either.   But one day we heard that he been “fiddling about” with Joanna, so we weren’t to make friends with him.   He was “a bit funny”.   And that was that.   It was, as people never seem to tire of saying “a different time”.    Sure was.    I am forever grateful that I was never “fiddled about” with, by anyone, and never put into care by the Social Workers -despite the regular family upheavals and hospital stays that mum was experiencing during this whole period.    It was a long walk into the town centre, to the bus stop, to Polegate Station to take the train, to Lewes.   I was at school in Lewes.   It was an hour’s journey at least.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble,
it’s a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

By the time I was in the 4th year, moving into the 5th year and O-levels I was buying singles regularly, and LPs on special occasions.   1972 was a major year for me as a music fan.   A brief look at the charts confirms the incredible variety of music that people were buying in vast numbers – a record needed to sell many hundreds of thousands of copies even to reach the top 20.   Desiderata by Les Crane peaked at number 8 in late March 1972 – Harry Nilsson was at #1 with a cover of Badfinger’s “Without You“, also present in the top 20 were Gilbert O’ Sullivan “Alone Again, Naturally”, Argent “Hold Your Head Up”, Paul Simon “Mother & Child Reunion”, and Michael Jackson “Got To Be There”.   There was virtually no ‘crap pop’ – The New Seekers, Middle Of The Road and Englebert Humperdinck being the blots on an otherwise pristine and glorious pop landscape:  American Pie, Bernadette, Heart Of Gold, Say You Don’t Mind, Have You Seen Her.  Yes I romanticise, I see through rose-tinted ear-plugs, and none more so than Desiderata.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Featured image

What a strange and glorious thing it is.  A man reads a poem, Desiderata (Latin : things to be desired) a series of aphorisms, epigrams and generally perspicacious observations on LIFE, THE UNIVERSE and EVERYTHING while a female choir joins him for the loosely-defined “chorus” :

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars

You have a right to be here…

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should…

And then the narrator would be off again with his pearls of wisdom, his insights into getting through it all.  Les Crane, though I didn’t know it at the time, was a radio broadcaster and one time talk-show host who was himself an interesting mover and shaker within the counter-culture during the late 1960s.  His short lived Talk Show lasted just 14 episodes in 1964 without denting The Carson Show, but the list of guests speaks for itself : Bob Dylan, who rarely appeared on TV;  Malcolm X,  Martin Luther King,  Richard Burton,  George Wallace, Robert Kennedy, Muhammed Ali.    The Rolling Stones first appearance on US TV was on his show in 1964.   Crane, who tried acting at one point and who won a Grammy for ‘Best Spoken Word’ for Desiderata, reads the prose poem with a kindly gravitas which Paul and I found hilarious.  Fred Werner provided the musical accompaniment, which was of its time, think for example of The Congregation Softly Whispering I Love You or Aquarius by the Fifth Dimension, two beautiful records.

Featured image

Les Crane

Although we didn’t fully admit it at the time, we were mesmerised by this song.  Paul and I in particular took the royal piss out of it, probably because it got under our skin so effectively.

Be yourself.
Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

When younger brother Andrew (who was 8 years old at the time) wanted to come into our bedroom, or made a mistake with a word, or anything stupid like that, we were merciless.  “You are a Child Of The Universe” we would pronounce, (without the solace of “you have a right to be here“), in fact I seem to recall we would deliver our own version of this judgement, as follows “You are a Child Of The Universe : You Have No Right to be Here”.   Meaning our bedroom.   Or even anywhere.   We were cruel.   It was a cycle of cruelty.  Andrew would find his way into our bedroom when we weren’t there.   He would find a plastic Airfix kit, carefully built from component parts and glued together according to the printed instructions, usually an aeroplane from the second World War, wheels that actually turned, a cockpit you could see into, decals shiny on the wings and fuselage, painted with a tiny paint brush from tiny paint pots the size of a thimble, all mounted on a stand on the chest of drawers.

Featured image

 Featured image

Andrew used to like to play with the Airfix kits and break them.   Maybe he pretended they could fly and threw them across the room.   But I’d come home from school and find pieces of plastic littering the floor, smashed aeroplane bits.   So he wasn’t allowed in our bedroom.    He was in fact a child of the universe and he had no right to be there.   I don’t think I beat him up ever.   The scars would be deeper and for life, rather than bruises for a few days.   The cycle of cruelty manifested in other areas too.    Football.   Andrew was in goal, Paul and I would fire shots at him.   Penalties mainly.   In the back field.   Forever.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit
to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

We thought Desiderata was funny because it was, but the words stuck, buried deep in the teenage brain.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

For years everyone thought it was an anonymous poem from the Middle Ages, found in a church in Baltimore by the Reverend Frederick Kates and dating from 1628.  In fact the date referred to the church’s founding.  The poem Desiderata was written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann, a lawyer from Terre Haute, Indiana who stopped working aged 40 to write.   It has been intoned by a variety of characters, notably Leonard Nimoy’s Mr Spock on a 1968 LP calling it “Spock Thoughts“.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

Featured image

Max Ehrmann

It is one of those pieces that people can recite.  The eternal truth contained in the lines makes it feel Medieval or a translation from Buddha or Confucius.   No.   A lawyer from Indiana.    Everyone is at the centre of the universe.  Clearly, the truth is all around us.   And for me, as a non-religious man who rejects the pious the righteous and the pontificating peace of religion, this is as near as I get to spirituality.   It’s like a survival manifesto, with kindness at its core.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Advertisements

My Pop Life #53 : My Girls – Animal Collective

Featured image

My Girls   –   Animal Collective

…I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things

like my social status

I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls…

Just a beautiful song – from Animal Collective’s 8th LP Merriweather Post Pavilion (named after a real place in Maryland) which has many fine moments, and was for me, the best album of 2009, although looking back at my music, it wasn’t a vintage year by any means.  Funny how that happens.  We had Cesaria Evora (see my pop life #14), Drake, Laura Marling and Duckworth Lewis Method, we had Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ ‘Empire State Of Mind’ and Dizzy Rascal’s ‘Bonkers’, we had Fever Ray, Dirty Projectors, Tinariwen and critical darlings the XX who did nothing for me.  I have got other stuff from 2009 to post, but it was thin stuff on the whole, or to be diplomatic…it was a transitional period shall we say…

Featured image

Animal Collective in 2008-9 comprised of Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), Avey Tare (David Portner), and Geologist (Brian Weitz), all on keyboards and eletronica.  Guitarist Deakin (Josh Dibb) had taken a sabbatical from the band at this point, and there is no guitar on the LP.

Featured image

This song would have stood out in any year –  the strange time signature, soulful vocals, unusual melody and honest lyrics – about the reasonable ambition of providing your family with a home .   The way the economies of America and Europe are at the moment, the way the music business has shrunk since the internet stole the music, musicians can no longer earn enough money to pay a mortgage sadly.  I’m talking about established musicians like Animal Collective or Everything Everything, people who’ve been doing it for years, been in magazines, on TV, released LPs.  They can’t afford to buy a house.

I was a part-time musician while I lived in Brighton and all the musicians I know there work really hard for very little financial reward.  I’ve sat in a pub and played piano for £40, belting out your favourite songs while the hubbub vibrates around you.  Background music for midweek drinkers.  It’s one of the best things about Brighton, the amount of free live music there, reminding me of Boulder, Colorado or Austin, Texas, live music pouring from every bar door.  Even when my band, the mighty Brighton Beach Boys, played a “proper gig”, eg Shoreham Ropetackle or Worthing Pier, we’d get £100 each max.  That’s just how it is.  When I saw the Mingus Big Band in New York the other week and got chatting to the alto player, they were on the same money too.  A hit single used to be a way to supplement all the live income, but not any more.  It’s just not enough.  3 hit singles, 4 and 5 and an album – well maybe.   Even David Bowie’s last album only sold 700,000 copies, apparently.  The record companies ripped us off for so long though.  The CD era was the worst, they only cost $2 to make maximum, they were charging £17 at one point.  There’s a guy in the North Laine selling CDs for £5 each, clearly he’s making a profit, why were we paying so much in the 1990s?

Featured image

But plus ca change.  People don’t decide to play music, or become actors for the huge earnings.  But think twice before you rip that next song?

2009 was also the year I started to participate in Readers Recommend, part of the GuardianMusic online community.  This has been running since 2005 and was initiated by journalist and writer Dorian Lynskey.  There is a new topic every week – the first week was Songs About Change.  The idea is that readers of the column suggest songs they like for a final playlist to be compiled and printed a week later.   Dorian’s first playlist included Sam Cooke, Notorious BIG, The Who and Muse.  The column has now been running for over 14 years.  I joined in that January in 2009 when I stumbled across it online, as I guess most people do.  Songs about Anti-Love was the topic and I suggested Bessie Smith’s version of Careless Love.  By that point Maddy Costa had taken the chair and she chose Bessie for her playlist.  I was hooked.

I’ve been playing it off and on for the last six years.  The playlist compiler has become known as the “Guru” and I have taken the chair myself on a number of occasions, now that the community is democratic and volunteers from the readership are encouraged to put their names forward.  It’s quite a task, to listen to everyone’s songs, and choose a dozen that will illuminate the topic.  I have begun to prefer the more musical topics (such as songs with great middle eights, or songs with falsetto singing), over the plainly lyrical topics.  The game isn’t just about scoring A-listers, although it is competitive.  It’s about discovering new music, and being diplomatic about other people’s taste in music.  Very rare on the internet!  Which is why we keep coming back I guess.  All the information is available at The Marconium, a compendium of all of the Readers Recommend columns and playlists in handy format, compiled by one of our brethren Marconius7, who resides in British Columbia.  It’s pretty addictive, people flounce off every now and again, sometimes with no fanfare, I’ve done it myself quite a few times, but I’ve always come back, because, well I’m addicted to music, and it’s generally good fun.

This last weekend I have been the Guru again – for the seventh time I think – the topic set by Peter Kimpton, our current Guru of Gurus (ie a paid writer at The Guardian!) was Songs About Ambition.  Many many great songs were suggested, and as ever, I had to whittle them down to 12 A-listers.   My Girls made it, naturally.  The final column can be found here : Ambition Playlist!

*

January 2009 was also when Barack Obama was elected President Of The USA for the first time.   A true landmark moment.    Why?   Because white Americans had voted for a black American, that’s why.   It was the start of a healing process which is going to take longer than two terms.  As I write Baltimore is going up in flames for all the usual reasons – neglect, loss of jobs, marginalisation, leave the cops to sort it out.

*

And now I find, sitting in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn on Wednesday April 29th 2015 with my two cats Boy and Roxy, that I am missing My Girls.  My #1 girl is in Dublin tonight.  My wife has gone to see our dear friend Catherine Walker in Hedda Gabler at the Abbey Theatre before celebrating her sister Lucy’s birthday and seeing her parents.  My #2 girl Skye, daughter of Tom and Scarlett has just turned 9 months old, Jenny will get to see her on this trip but I’m missing her baby year.  My #3 girl Delilah-Rose, daughter of Millie is my god-daughter and aged 7, also lives in Brighton and I miss baby-sitting her, picking her up from school, taking her to school and everything else.  Here I am in Denver, sipping California wine, and I’ve got all night to remember them, I’m in a Lone Star state of mind.  Kind of thing.

My Girls  –  Animal Collective: