Day Three Hundred and Sixty Four: Why Bother?

(This will eventually be published on Daily Dischord, so if it vanishes in a few days you know why!)

As 2011 draws to a close we find that many of our favourite music websites or magazines publish their end of year lists, vaguely detailing in less than 100 words per record why these albums deserve to be called the best of the year. It’s an interesting procedure, to distil the reasons one feels the way they do about a record into an orderly list. There’s something very clinical and calculating about it which is the contradicts everything music is about. We don’t experience music in a top 10 or top 20 lists. Even us reviewers find it hard to say anything of any real merit in less than a hundred words, so I’m asking why bother? I’m not sure we experience music in this way and here’s why.

At the start of November I was fortunate enough to persuade some person in some PR company to let me go see Rise Against, Polar Bear Club and Tom Morello for free. All I had to do in return was do a little write up about it and since that’s primarily what I do on this Daily Dischord, as well as being something I happen to enjoy, I was more than happy to oblige.

In many ways that concert summed up the reasons why I enjoy writing about music whilst paradoxically highlighting a few of the things which make writing about music difficult. The creation of rock music comes from a primal, emotional place, providing an experience which is difficult to convey in words. Similarly, the performance of music, even those which are highly choreographed, comes from that same place and by attending gigs we are expected to identify with what’s being felt on stage, usually because the band we’re saying create music which speaks to us in some way.

The best rock music is vitriolic and passionate, soaked in a miasma of emotions that resonates with the listener in a variety of ways. That’s what makes writing about rock music so difficult; be it a good album or a bad one, a great live performance or a shambles, we’re attempting to distil the cataclysm of feeling and intent into one space, trying our very best to articulate why we do or do not identify with what we’re hearing. As I’m sure you’re aware, the best write ups on records or concerts are ones which convey a nuanced sense of excitement about what the artist has tried to achieve with their performance, subsequently judging whether or not they were successful in getting that message across. Even a highly polished rock record has an energy about it which is unquantifiable and really quite unexplainable. Almost as if you can feel the electricity on the disc or music file leap off at you before you hit play. A good write up gives you just a hint at what kind of experience you’re missing out on. That’s why we music writers enjoy doing what we do. It’s a challenging thing but my god is it one we relish.

Rock n roll music and all of its exponents, from black metal to math rock and everything in between, is an all about an emotional connection. Some reviews articulate the importance of that connection pretty well and some of them don’t but all of them try.

This is what made the aforementioned Rise Against show an interesting experience for me. Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello is responsible for not only one of my favourite records of all time, but one of the most important records of all time and that rarest of things: a perfect debut album. Rise Against on the other hand, up until recently, were probably one of my favourite bands of all time, having released four records which really got me into punk music. Polar Bear Club have also just released one of my favourite records of 2011, a record which is filled with such pure melodic goodness that it demonstrates that one need not emulate Jimmy Eat World in order to craft brilliant earnest punk rock.

Three generations of music were represented that night, demonstrating just how important that emotional connection was to their legions of fans. After the show had finished, I realised that I’d lost that connection with Rise Against and truth be told, that was pretty sad thing no matter how inevitable it was going to be.

These days my tastes are squarely of the punk rock persuasion; very much a genre of music which is raggedy, shambolic, cathartic and often messy and directionless. It spits at you, it bleeds, it’s chaotic – it’s brilliant. Of course, mere words are not enough to express exactly what it is, but that’s about as close as I can get. You’d need to listen to the records to get an understanding about what it is.

So as the end of the year rolls around music publications of all shapes and forms start to compile and publish their end of year lists (or if you’re Q magazines you’ve probably just spent the past 12 months compiling magazines of lists about any number of things) and yet there is definitely is something undeniably scientific about this. Compiling a top 5, 10 or even a top 50 list is cold, analytical, and almost surgical. It demands a ranking of artistic quality in an empirical way. It is a process which is so restrained that it is the antithesis of everything rock music (in all forms) means.

Perhaps more fundamentally though, it is not the way we experience music. We do not experience music with a cold precision; it is an art form which kicks and screams at us. We experience music in an uncompromising way yet an end of year list tries to boil down a year’s worth of records into a couple of lines, giving us no sense of the passion or feelings of the individual who’s written it. No matter how well written the list is it tells us nothing about the way the writer has experienced the music they’ve categorised. The majority of us find music and experience it in a way which is important, impassioned and energetic. To attempt to quantify that any more than we have in reviews throughout the year is unnatural. We shouldn’t do it. So why do we feel we have to?


Day Three Hundred and Thirteen: Deek IV

The conclusion of Deek’s story. You’ll be able to find part one, two and three at the links.

She grabs the pint n turns roond an starts walkin away so ah walk up behind her n grab her by the waist.

“Where ye goin hen?”
“Dancefloor. Mon.”

We hit the dancefloor and she stands there noddin her heed to a couple of good tunes, takin care no tae spill any of her drink. Priorities; ah like it. It’s at this point ah notice she’s wearin a lovely red dress wi matchin stilettos. Ah’m no intae red, but she looks pretty stunnin tae be fair. They play an AC/DC number n ah decide to dance closer tae her. When it’s done we break apart again and she motions fur me to come closer again. As ah move in she pulls ma heed doon tae her mouth n whispers in ma ear.

“You’ve got something in yer beard.”

That’s the best line ah’ve heard for a while. Usually ah go in first n kiss the burds but she’s playin it cool, takin charge. Ah grab her wee waist again and she leans back n chucks her pint in ma face.

“That’s whit ye get ya creepy dick!”

Ah’m ragin, an through ma Strongbow filled eyes I catch a glimpse of her walking away aff the dance floor. Ah woulda followed her but ah could barely see straight. After aboot a minute eh rubbin ma eyes ah could see again an ah noticed a bunch ey lassies who’re standin wi Ronnie pure guttin themselves laughin. Ah flip Ronnie aff and he just aboot falls oan his fat arse in hysterics. Cunt.

Ah make ma way through the now busy club and intae the toilet tae gie ma face a wee wash. After negotiating the bog queue ah run the tap under ma hands n splash some cold water in ma face then check ma self in the mirror. Ma brown beard has taken on a slightly sticky feelin an a weird yellowy tint since the cider incident, so ah wash it again before checkin ma self oot in the mirror one more time, suckin ma gut in for good measure. Ah pull the comb fae ma back pocket through ma hair and make ma way back oot into the night. This minor setback wisnae gonnae stop me pullin a lassie the night. No by a long shot. Ah order two more jacks and hit the dance floor. Even if I’m showin ma age a bit, the night is still young.

Day Three Hundred and Twelve: Deek III

Part three of my insight into Deek. The name of the band he and Jack are in is yet to be decided. Find parts one and two here and here.

Jack slinks aff into the night and I’m left on ma ain an am soberin up pretty fuckin sharpish. The club’s playin some decent tunes but between the sticky floors and the black as fuck walls combined wi the overpriced drinks and dodgy strobe lights, it’s a pretty grim spectacle. We seem to attract people the kind eh people who like to wear black a lot. The guys are partial to tartan trousers and coloured hair dos, but the lassies are aw the same: black hair n black clothes. It’s like a fuckin ninja disco in here. Depressed by Ronnie slinging his moves in front eh a couple of fat burds with blonde hair in skirts that are far too short and holey tights, I make my escape to the bar for an overpriced jack n coke or two. Couple of drinks later and I’m on the prowl.
The bar’s startin to fill up which is good news cause there’s mair than a few nice wee burds floatin aboot. A stand aboot at the bar for a while tryin tae look, how dae ye say it, non-che-launt. A couldnae stop thinkin aboot that chancer Jack n whit he wiz dain wi oor money right noo. It was pure guttin, but a wiznae for chasin after that sorry cunt. He’s mare n capable of findin his own way back tae the van. Four JD’s later an the world’s become blurry around the edges. Ah’m feelin like a bit of a rock star noo and, cause ah know these Aberdeen fuckers willnae be able to understand whit ah’m sayin, ah decide to change ma approach n try tae chat up this nice wee thing that’s been eyein me up aw night. Ah order ma fifth jack n slide across the bar tae introduce ma self;

“Awright hen?”
“Noticed ye lookin over at me there, thought I’d come say hi.”
She takes a step back tae eye me up, so I stop slouchin n suck ma slight beer gut in. She probably cannae see it in the dark but ah play it safe all the same.
“Haha, it’s cool. I’m just a regular kinda guy. Ye probably recognise me as the bassist in the band that played here the night.”
“Oh really?”
Knew it. The band thing works every time.
“Do you sing as well?”
Her eyes light up an she moves in closer. For a second ah think it’d be wrong to lie but then ah realise this is all about one thing and one thing only, an that a lie will get me further. When it comes tae the endgame, morality is pretty far from yer mind. As far as I’m concerned the only morality in sex is the age of the pray and the species ey the game yer huntin.
“Aye, aye. Singer tae. Multitalented, me.”
“Whits the band called then?”

Ah tell her the band name an move a little closer, puttin ma arm around her waist. Lassies like it when ye dae that.

“Eh…whit ye dain?”
“Just getting a bit better acquainted wi ye. Hi, ma name’s Derek but ma mates call me Deek. And you are?”
“Sandra. Could ye no dae that, please?”
“Ah, dae ye no want me hen?”
Aye she does. She pure does.
“You oan something? Get yer hands aff me.”
“How, ye got a boyfriend?”
“Naw it’s just a bit…much, that’s aw.”
“Let me buy ye a drink.”
“Naw. Let go of me.”
“Just wan?”
“Ah said LIT GO EY ME.”

Ah remove ma arm from roond her waist and ease aff a bit. Some lassies aren’t into public displays of affection and that’s cool by me. It’s all good. We’ve got all night.

“So, dae ye want a drink or no?”
“Aye, a pint ey Strongbow’ll be lovely.”

That was some change eh tunes there, but ah oblige aw the same. Barman takes a while tae get tae us so I filled the space wae some innane bollocks to show her whit an interesting character ah wiz. She looks well impressed, her eyes sparklin as ah tell her aw aboot the band n that. Then the Strongbow arrives alongside ma double jack n coke. It’s time to pull oot the big guns.

“Cheers.” Ah say an we clink oor glasses together.

Day Three Hundred and Ten: Deek II

Part two of yesterday’s story. WOO!

JP was left tae tear Jacks equipment doon and take it tae the van cause Jack found himself indisposed with a phone call on the porcelain phone but I felt a sorry for him so I helped him oot a bit. Ronnie’s a little particular aboot his own gear so we left him to tear his drums doon himself. The tour manager said that he found us a place to crash the night at his mate’s hoose, which was pretty fuckin sound of him, but I doubt I’ll need it. I’ll be goin hame with a lassie the night. Sleepin in a bed. Well, eventually. Maybe sleepin. I dunno. We’ll see whit happens. By half eleven we’ve finished packing up the gear and the promoter opens the club. I asked him if he had our guarantee – which’ll probably go toward petrol money – and he handed it ower to Jack. Fuck. That’s bad, bad news. I have to be honest, I didnae see him leave the toilet and when I checked he’d fucked off. He always does this when he’s had a few. Fucking cunt. That petrol money will be gone by the morning and old Deek here will have to pay for it, like the idiot I am. We didnae shift as much merch as we’d have liked either tonight, so we cannae use some eh that cash. After aboot an hour the club starts tae fill up and Ronnie hits the dancefloor, eyein up lassies and tryin to get his chat oan. Jack puts in his token appearance which gave me enough time to grab a wee word wae him. It’s a conversation which went something like this:
“Jack, Jack? JACKIE BOY!”
I had to shout cause he was sitting starin into space, with that look on his face like he never understood what wis happenin around him, but wae a big fat daft smile signifying he was enjoying his current state of mind. That’s how ye know he’s utterly pan handled – big dopey smile, and empty saucers for eyes.
“Deek maaaawnnnnnnnnnn! Whur tha hull ye been?” he says, grabbing ma neck and pullin me in close for a hug, kissin me oan the cheek. He gets pretty affectionate when he’s drunk even though his legs, his common sense and his wallet urnae worth a fuck.
“Been here the whole time, pal! Ye pished?”
“Aye man. Ah’m absholutely fu –hic- fucked, mate. Dun in. Where ur we?”
Shit. He’s goat the hiccups. That’s never a good thing.
“You got the petrol money there?”
“Eh, naw mate. I do not.”
“Ye sure? Promoter said he gave ye it.”
“Naw man. He never gied us a thing. Not a thing.”
“JP husnae goat it, neither’s Ronnie.”
Ronnie moonwalks over, smooth as ye like, leavin a trail of unsatisfied lassies in his wake.
“Awright troops. Whit’s the craic?”
“Deek wis telt by eh cunt promoter that he gied me the money.”
“And Jackie boy here says he’s no goat it.”
“Ach man, fuck it. We’ll sort it the morra. Did ah tell ye ah love you guys? Yer special tae me. Even you, Jack.”
Ronnie grabs us both together in a bear hug. He’s a big guy, is oor Ronnie, so when he hugs ye, ye know it, however this is unusually affectionate. Bet he’s fleein. Jack clocks the weirdness – a fuckin Poriot level insight, given the current state of his mental faculties – and sees it fit tae enlighten us, changin the subject as he does so.
“Here, Ronnie, ye oan somethin?”
“Jack, Jack, Jack Jackie boy. Ye’ve such a nice face, did anywan ever tell ye that?”
He pecks Jack on the cheek: shit is getting legitimately bizarre. His pupils are as big as pinballs and he’s grindin his jaw somethin fierce. A look doon and he’s produced a tiny plastic bag with a few white pills in it.
“This here’s some good, good fuckin shit here. Wan eh they lassies ower there gave us em.
“Is that so?”
“Fuck sake Deek. Ye sound like ma da when ye say that ‘Is that so?’ whit fuckin age ur ye, 45?! Any eh you two interested in poppin a couple eh these bad boys?”
Jack blindly reaches for the packet but I guarantee that if he takes one eh them, we’ll be spending the rest of the night in A and E. He’s a right sleazy bastard when he’s oan pills. Legit. I pat his hand oot the way
“Hink yer awright there, Ronnie. Mind n get some watter noo, eh?”
“It’s all good Deek. Ye might talk a bit like ma da but I love ye aw the same. Ye big beautiful bearded cunt!”
Ronnie’s pretty touchy feely when he’s oan pills, so he grabs ma hand n kisses it before moonwalkin back onto the dancefloor. I dunno how he’s no para, to be honest. Unless yer in an environment when every other cunt is pilled oot their faces, there’s always that fear that yer gonna get busted by the bouncers. Bad craic man. Bad fuckin craic.

Day Three Hundred and Nine: Deek I

A new story for ya’ll. It’s related to this. Enjoy.

That wis good. Wisnae the best, but it wis good. I’d like to open every tour like that. Couple eh bum notes but it’s no great shakes, the crowd lapped it up even though Jack wis hammered. He’s no figured oot the balance yet. I’ve been at this game for about 7 years noo and he’s still no got the balance right. If yer too pished when ye go on stage ye get thirsty really quickly, and then the fatigue kicks in as ye burn through the excess carbs in the booze, so by the halfway point in the set yer choking for a drink eh something that’s no beer and yer ready for yer bed. He took it on the chin but, and we played well. Ye have to get a wee buzz on before ye hit the stage but ye don’t want to overdo it so ye can continue later on. After a couple eh songs I’d sobered up, so I just topped it up wi mare beer, unlike Jack. At the guitar solo in “Sick of Bricks” he jumped over n told me that he wisnae feelin that great. Nae wonder, he’d already tanned a bottle eh vodka afore we hit the stage. Mad cunt.

Anyway, noo that the business is oot the way it’s time tae get doon tae the pleasure. Aberdeen’s club scene is pretty shite to be honest, but since we’re kicking this tour aff on a Saturday night we’re hitting the clubs. The promoter has set up a bit of an after party for us in the venue, so hopefully the drink will be flowing an hopefully there’ll be plenty eh burds tae. Unlike any other singer I’ve ever met, Jack’s no in tae that kind eh thing. He’d rather just get pished in a corner and dance until he vomits, so it’ll likely be me and the walking woman repellent Ronnie who’re left to party on to the bitter end like true rock stars. JP’s like me in that he’s got a missus, but unlike me he’s devoted tae her. I’ll never understand that; I’m in this band purely for the wummin; he’s in it for something else entirely. Lead guitarists n singers are supposed to be the hell raisers yet it’s the bassist and the drummer eh this band who do the real demonic shit. JP’ll be back in the van reading afore half one, sober as a fuckin judge, and Jack’ll be in away with it by half twelve. Don’t think that’s a complaint, by the way; less for them, more for me. I’ll just need to see if I can ditch Ronnie at some point. It’s been a wee while since I goat a good ride on tour, and if I’m honest with ye I’m glad we arranged this tour after Christmas. I was sick of stickin to the one woman. Been far too long. Far, far too long.

Day Three Hundred and Eight: The Day the Music Died

For me at least, anyway.

I went to see Rise Against tonight for Daily Dischord. The performance was good and the review will follow very soon. Something else happened, however. I apologise for any typos; it’s late and I’m tired.

Since the age of 12 I’ve let music define my life. I’ve let it define who I am, what I do and the kind of person I should be. Over the years my desire to want to be involved with music never waned, but for a while I was set in my ways. Content with the music I had, liked and enjoyed. Probably a bad thing if you’re in a band, really, because influence should be a process. It’s a process that’s not just tied to aging, but tied to the kind of music you like as you age. In the past year or so that changed and I can honestly say that 2011 has been the year when I’ve been involved with music more than any other year of my life.

This is beside the point. Tonight, Jennifer and I saw Rise Against play for the seventh time (I think, might be more). The performance was adequate. More than adequate, in fact it was pretty good. A review will follow shortly, actually. Despite favouring their latest two records they put on a typically good show. The show was basically sold out, which is always pretty good for a punk rock show even if it’s a bigger venue. Anyway, something interesting happened. As I looked at the people around me I could see just how much this music meant to them. This might seem like a strange observation given my opening lines, but I don’t think I’ve ever truly paid attention to this in others because I, like those people, go to gigs to let it all out to music I identify with.

The crowd were pretty young (at least, the majority of those down the front were; the myth about older people standing at the back continues to contain a large element of truth) and all around us people were screaming their lungs out, hugging their friends, dancing around, crowd surfing and just generally engaging on the kind of catharsis only a punk rock show brings. For a long, long time I was one of these people. I would go see Rise Against, a band I think are probably my favourite band ever, and add my voice to theirs, pouring my heart out, engaging completely with what was unfolding on stage.

Tonight, however, all I felt was profound sadness. As I looked upon those emptying their emotions to their favourite songs it dawned on me that I had lost that connection with the band, with their music and, I guess most importantly of all, with that part of my youth. Maybe I’ve grown cynical but the music they’re producing now just doesn’t have the same effect on me as it used to and because of that, it’s difficult to really bring myself to engage with it the way I used too.

A part of my youth has vanished. A band that once meant so much to me, a band that inspired me to create my own band, write my own music and to get involved with music as much as possible have ceased to matter to me anymore.

As I sit here writing this I now realise that tonight was not the moment the connection was severed. No, on reflection it seems it’s been a gradual process. It’s not because they’re more popular now. It’s not because their message has changed over the years. It isn’t because they’re playing bigger venues. The fact that they’re on a major label hasn’t got anything to do with it. Their music has changed. Their intentions haven’t changed, the message remains the same, but the method of delivery is different from what it used to be. They’ve become a hard rock band – a very bloody good one, as things go – and they are no longer create music I feel that I can hold close to my heart any more.

Other bands fill that void for me now.

It was great to see such passion from others tonight; however it just reminded about how much things have changed. Those first four records will always be dear to me, though.
Tonight, their music died for me. It’s time to mourn it.

Day Two Hundred and Sixty Six: I Lied

I said I was going to stop writing fiction for a bit. Well that “bit” is over and what follows is my first attempt at fiction for a while.

I figured I should start writing some stuff now that I’m studying Creative Writing at uni.

Also it’s written entirely in Glaswegian/lallans/synthetic Scots.

December 26th, 2010

EDIT 27/06/2012 – I’ve removed this story because it has now been published in an anthology. You can check it out here.