My Pop Life #89 : Some Folks’ Lives Roll Easy – Paul Simon

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Some Folks’ Lives Roll Easy  –   Paul Simon

…some folks lives roll easy, some folks lives…never roll at all…

…most folks never catch their stars…

It’s a slight, unshowy track on Still Crazy After All These Years, Paul Simon’s masterpiece.  It’s a magnificent album chock-full of hits and flashy songs, the title track alone is the work of a genius, but then there’s My Little Town, 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Have A Good Time – for me this is the perfect LP.  Look at it this way – you’ve written the song.  You have wonderful chords, searching lyrics, you’ve done well, you’ve chosen only the creme de la creme of your work.  And then :  you arrange them.

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 I’m a sucker for a great arrangement, something with a bit of thought, a bit of TLC.   Paul Simon shares this arranging fetish with Bob Marley – rarely is a song a straight guitar strum 4×4 and drum beat with a few bvs.  No – there is a careful consideration of how to tell the story of the song musically – and this means instruments dropping out, only appearing for the turnarounds, treating pop music a little more like a classical composition.  Brian Wilson went there with Pet Sounds, Kate Bush lives there.   There is something about jazz musicians playing pop arrangements that delivers delicious music (he generalised : eg Motown) – the line-up of A-list session players on Still Crazy After All These Years is long and distinguished and includes the celebrated Steve Gadd on drums and Mike Brecker on saxophone.

This is probably the most compassionate song I know.  The concept of the piece – that some folks’ lives roll easy, while others don’t, is relatively simple, and yet not commonplace in pop at all.  There are songs which celebrate, defiantly, being working-class – Dead-End Street by The Kinks, most of The Streets output, The Clash – and there are songs celebrating or lamenting the easy life – large chunks of hip hop, Sunny Afternoon by the Kinks, disturbingly large amounts of Bryan Ferry – but there are very few songs it seems to me which put these two universes together in the same song.

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The narrator – Mr Paul Simon – contemplates the fact that “most folks never catch their stars”  – this alone is an astounding line in a pop song and the truth of it stabs you unexpectedly with its clear-eyed compassion.  Then we’re in the middle eight and the narrator suddenly becomes the self-confessed supplicant speaking directly to his “Lord” – at his place of business, despite having “no business here”.  He speaks directly to his God :

“You said if I ever got so low I was busted – you could be trusted?”

The music around this repeated middle eight is tremendously affecting. first time around a simple string section supports and leads us away from this humble prayer,  then it repeats :

here I am Lord, knocking at your place of business, and I know, I got no business here

but you said, if I ever got so low I was busted – you could be trusted…”

and this time the horns punch us back to the first verse “Some folks’ lives roll easy, some folks never roll at all, they just fall, they just fall…” but this time with a soaring three-part harmony which tears your heart open.   If you have one, naturally.

There is no chorus in this song which is unusual, but what is more unusual is the narrative that it offers.  We think we know this story, but when we hear the song, we hear it all over again on another level.  It’s pretty damn special.

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I didn’t buy solo Paul Simon until the 90s, but this song quickly became one of my wife’s favourites.   I grew up with Simon and Garfunkel, I had singles and greatest hits as a very young teen.  They were the sound of my youth.   I thought, and still think, they were totally amazing.   But I never did bother to follow up and get into Paul Simon until I was deep into my thirties.  This LP, his 4th, came out in 1975 and is perfect, as described above.  Of course there is Graceland which broke the boycott but helped make Ladysmith Black Mambazo into international stars, Here Comes Rhymin’ Simon, ah look, there’s a kind of endless tapestry of brilliant songs and LPs to be honest, right up to the present day (2011’s So Beautiful or So What), consistency applied – he never appears to write a bad song, and his taste in musicians and arrangements is impeccable.

Featured imageJenny and I went to Liverpool for the year of culture in 2008 and had an absolutely brilliant long weekend – again a subject for another post (!) but we did see Paul Simon at the new Echo Arena on the River Mersey, with his incredible band which includes South African Bakithi Kumalo (pictured right) on bass (with Simon since Graceland in 1986), and Cameroonian Vincent Nguini on guitar.   He didn’t play this song, but did sing Sound Of Silence, The Boxer, Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes, Gumboots, Boy In The Bubble, Duncan, Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard, Mrs Robinson, Still Crazy, Slip Slidin’ Away and You Can Call Me Al.  Among others.   An amazing night.

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So, cut to : at some point in 2010 I’m basically giving up every Saturday morning, sometimes the whole day to canvas on behalf of Caroline Lucas of The Green Party in the Brighton Pavilion constituency for the 2010 election.   A Party which I’d recently joined, partly due to renewed political optimism engendered by Barack Obama‘s first election victory (white Americans voted for a black man – there is hope).  The Green Party understands that some folks lives roll easy, some don’t.  Many former Labour supporters joined the Greens, myself included,  depressed by the right turn of Blairism, and the pusillanimous surrender of the Labour Left to the City – see the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) for the NHS if you doubt my words.  So:  I’m meeting Green volunteers who’ve taken the train down from all across the UK to Brighton to support the big push, and they’re getting into my 4×4 Jeep Cherokee (converted to LPG!!) and being taken out to places like Withdean and Hollingbury.   To leaflet every household.  And Radio 3 has a show being presented by Richard Curtis, with whom I’d worked the previous year on “The Boat That Rocked” his film about Radio Caroline (yes yes there will be posts about that obviously !) and really enjoyed his humourous positivity.  He’s actually not particularly English, probably because he grew up in diplomatic surroundings in dozens of different countries.  And maybe that gives him a slightly dewy-eyed view of England.  Anyway enough Freud, he was on Radio 3 this very day in 2010.   And he was playing his six most personal favourite songs.  And one of them was this one : Some Folks’ Lives Roll Easy by Paul Simon.   It made me love him even more.   The UK public are as hard on Richard as they are on Paul McCartney – big soppy rich so-and-so they appear to mutter under their breath – we prefer snarling mean people, like us.  Well sod you all, mean people.  Richard Curtis is one of the sweetest people I know, generous, funny, loves music and is genuinely supportive.  You may not like his films, or Blackadder, or Comic Relief, but if that is the case, have you actually sat down and asked yourself what is wrong with you ?

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Compassion is not to be sneered at.  It’s what makes us grow.  The best bit of ourselves.  Let’s nurture it.

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My Pop Life #48 : Photoshop Handsome – Everything Everything

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Photoshop Handsome   –   Everything Everything

My teeth dazzle like an igloo wall, I inhabit, I inhibit y’all!
Can you operate alone?
Chest pumped elegantly elephantine, southern hemisphere by Calvin Klein…

A bejewelled musical box of a song I first heard on the radio in 2009, its hyperkinetic cartoon energy, mouthfuls of words and ideas sung in choirboy falsetto, proper pop chorus and hooks, thrilling drum patterns : an extraordinary construction that made my ears sit up and beg.   Here was a band who didn’t give a shit about what everyone else sounded like, who had decided forge their own independent arrogant bloody-minded path through the pop world.…I will gain an extra life when I get the high score…you can respawn anywhere…

IFeatured image bought the LP immediately it came out a few months later in 2010 and wasn’t disappointed by my own high hopes – Man Alive is, for me the single greatest record of the 21st century so far, a record that is so breathtakingly original that to compare it with Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black – great though that is – is a pointless comparison.  The LP that comes close is Kanye West’s Yeezus for musical boldness and pointers to the future, and of course there’s been interesting electronica from Jon Hopkins and Burial, Four Tet, J. Dilla and Flying Lotus, some beautiful music from Sigur Ros, Arcade Fire, John Legend & Vampire Weekend and many more indeed, insert your favourite here, but Man Alive is head and shoulders more inventive more original and more exciting a piece of work than any of the above.  Apart from maybe Yeezus….

In early 2010 I lived in Brighton and had a comfortable, settled and engaged life.  Happily married, working regularly as an actor on TV and in films, in a great band, season-ticket holder at The Albion (my local football team), good friends nearby to have a pint of beer with, cycling across the Downs on summer’s days to stay healthy and find secret butterfly sanctuaries.  I felt connected, satisfied, but as ever, needed a challenge.   I’d joined the Green Party 18 months earlier and spent every Saturday since on Caroline Lucas‘ campaign to be elected as the first Green MP in the UK for Brighton Pavilion, the centre of the town’s three constituencies.   It was a major challenge.    It was a place I felt like putting my energy.   And the energy of my ironic LPG-converted 4-wheel drive Grand Cherokee Jeep, which carried volunteers all over Withdean, Patcham, Bevendean and Hollingbury.   People came down to Brighton from all over the UK every Saturday morning for a year.

Featured imageIt was a great collective effort which culminated in election day – I spent time outside three different polling booths, then knocked people up, getting our vote out, then once the polls closed fielding some calls as local Press Officer – one from ITN News –  and I was at home.  I said “we’re quietly confident”  – I just made it up – and that became the tag-line for the night on the TV.   We had no idea if we’d won.  I went down to the count at The Brighton Centre at around midnight, place was buzzing, I had a Press Pass and talked to all the journalists there about IF Caroline wins, who she willFeatured image talk to and for how long, then a Press Conference on the top floor, then we waited and watched.  It took forever – til dawn, but then, the count, the result, the release of tension, victory at 7am in the morning.   I ran down to meet Caroline at the door of the counting room and three of us with passes escorted her up the stairs, through the throng of media, cameras in our faces, flashbulbs popping, it was the most rock-star moment I’ve ever had frankly and it was a political victory.   Extraordinary.  Upstairs the press interviews, the TV excitement, then afterwards the Green gang on the pavement outside, the celebration and then the real work began.

The end of 2009 was also when I first visited Galway on the west coast of Ireland, filming a show called The Guards with old sparring partners Stuart Orme and Iain Glen and Irish beauty Tara Breathnach.   What a town though.  Featured image I was staying in the swish elegance of the G Hotel.   A 15-minute walk took me into the pubs, the pubs the pubs of Galway.   Are there better pubs than these?   Can it be true?   One after another they suck you in with their brightly coloured exteriors, their fiddle music and soft southern voices, their velvety pints of Guinness and piles of triangular cut sandwiches, free for drinkers.   Dear Frank O Sullivan gave me the guided tour.  More than once Galway reminded me of Brighton – the music scene is thriving, the people are laid-back and friendly, it’s artistically alive, racially and sexually mixed and international yet small and manageable.  Brighton has more pubs per square mile than anywhere in the UK and more than once I heard it said that “Galway is the graveyard of ambition, the place is full of dreamers and drinkers…”

I think it’s good to listen to the universe if possible and hear what it is saying to you.   Featured imagePerhaps I should mention too, that Brighton and Galway are places where people actually choose to live because they are great places, and The Graveyard Of Ambition is always said in Galway with an undercurrent of pride – they don’t want to be anywhere else.   Balls to ambition.    This is of course hugely tempting, but perhaps not quite yet.    I did hear the universe nattering away eventually, for here I am in New York City having decided to shake things up a bit and escape from the satisfied life for a new experience.   To seek out new life, new civilisations. To boldly go to where people are allowed to split an infinitive.   Everything Everything spoke to that part of me that is always agitating, looking for change both without and within. They still speak to me.

I was on Twitter in 2012 and being a Follower of the band I read a tweet one day which said “watching Wayne’s World 2 on the tour bus…”   Hey guys – I answered (though they weren’t following me) “you made my favourite LP of the century so far !!”

This led to a Mcflurry of DMs and a date four days later in the Waggon & Horses, Brighton, by the Dome…Featured image

where Everything Everything were due to play in The Great Escape Music Festival.  We had pints, we chatted music, TV, ideas, mutual likes and dislikes, as you do.  Then I went to see them play a set, their new LP “Arc” was just out, and is also a fantastic listen.  They were, of course, tremendous.   I’d seen them before at Concorde 2 in 2010.   They’re a fairly ridiculous band live, unfeasibly brilliant.   The 3rd LP is about to be released as I speak here in April 2015, trademark crossword puzzle falsetto art pop that forges its own eclectic inspired path I’m happy to report.  The moral of the story?     Don’t settle.   Not yet.

I have to just add me and the boys outside the pub –

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Alex (guitar), Michael (drums), Me (fanboy), Jeremy (bass), Jonathan (vocals, everything)

well c’mon it is my blog.   And that as well as all the hype I’ve heaped onto the chaps, I’ll have to add that this is perhaps the best pop video of the 21st century too….a ridiculous level of detail and fun therein, both alarming and hilarious.   Enjoy!

This has been a three-pub posting.