Saturday, 20 June 2009


Some would say Hoagy Carmichael, others Cole Porter; people gripped, still, by the dead hand of the nineteen-sixties might propose Bob Dylan; this trio and many others have sprung from the so-called cultural melting-pot that is American Song and although Dylan, strictly speaking invented, invents his own genre, each can claim to be it’s greatest exponent. With Lenny Bernstein’s swaggering, syncopated, brassy, West Side Story; Aaron Copland’s cowboy studies, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s sentimental cinematic oeuvre, the big bands, rock bands and crooners American popular music is, largely, the Song of Empire.

The McGarridle-Wainright axis, itself, spiteful and jaundiced as any “artistic” family, has realised a handful of good tunes, pater Loudon the Third’s deceptive little rants are often deeply poignant and Ma Kate’s exceptional Talk to Me of Mendocino one of half a dozen great songs to her credit; the brat Rupert has enjoyed huge success with whatever bastard motherloding seam of Barbra Streisand, David Bowie and Tiny Tim it is that he mines.

Let alone song, much of twentieth and twenty-first century American culture is the culture of Empire; even now, buggered and broke and shamed, it’s Caesars and Senators brag and strut, in boots loaned them by the Chinks, polished by Tony Blair.

This, though, here, this ensemble, gathered around le Famille McGarrigle harmonies is altogether more humble and respectful, for Hard Times' composer, Stephen Foster is probably America’s first songwriter. An Irish-American, Foster wrote Oh Susannah, I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair, Beautul Dreamer, My Old Kentucky Home and countless others all so woven into the American Tradition as to seem timeless, traditional, authorless.

Foster wrote at a time, not so long ago, of frontiers, immigration, patchwork quilts, wagon trains and log cabins, slave plantations and a land swarming with immigrants who had come voluntarily; of a mighty industrial giant birthing itself; a time before soda- pop and ice cream sundaes gave way to acid and Quaaludes. He died in poverty aged 37, in 1864.

In the States, he is honoured, for sure, in a Constitutional sort of a way. Here, Stephen Foster would be rated way below, say, Mr Gordon Sting, Mr Phil Collins, Mr Eric Clapton or any one of the millionaire tunesters who, pampered and self-indulgent, judiciously stoke the flames of Ruin.


Brahan Seer said...

good shit mr ish!

lilith said...

I adore the McGarrigle/Wainwrights Mr Smith. Elby and I are "interlocking pieces in the jigsaw puzzle of life." Rufus is so impossibly handsome. And Louden's "I wish I was a lesbian" was my theme tune for years.

Grumpy granny said...

Just beautiful...... I wish I could sing and harmonise as effortlessly as these folks seem to do.

Dick the Prick said...

Most pleasant and virtually unheard of in this neck o' the woods. I'm a great fan of Mr Gil Scott Heron, who whilst a jazzy and remarkably ecclectic musician and chap is marginally criticized for blobbing on 5 occassions when I went to see him - hmmm... weasel.

Elby the Beserk said...

Give me that Old Time Religion,
It's good enough for me...

lilith said...

Then there is Martha with her fabulous song about her father here.

Elby the Beserk said...


Useless factoid of the day.

Did you know that Gil Scott Heron's father played for Celtic?

I don't do that new time religion thingy, but have a very soft spot for Celtic; partly Irish roots on my Father's side, but also the fact that they beat ManYoo to be the first British team to win the (real) European Cup. As a City fan, the loathing I have for United is matched only by that for the cunt Brown, of whom a journo in the Economist writes, in an article on the collapse of democracy in the West

This is well said. My only criticism is that he did not mention Gordon Brown's Labour Party, a zombie party if ever there was one, which is held together by nothing more than the perks of office and tub-thumping tribalism, and piloted by the British equivalent of Richard Nixon, an awkward, paranoid, desperate pointless zombie of a man.

I gather the cunt has relaunching himself again - on Songs Of Praise. Christ on a fucking Bicycle. Jesus my hippy boy - come back and smite that fucking moneylender Brown deaf, dumb and blind.

Here endeth the lesson for the day. Lil and me gotta walk the Pig. He's making strange noises of dissatisfaction.

Dick the Prick said...


No I didn't - that's a factoid and a half; brilliant.

call me ishmael said...

Yes, Lilith, the McGs appeal to my inner Librarian, too. When the career anarchist, however, is in the ascent, their tweeness makes me rage, career folk-singers being -Mr Bragg eg- as offensive to me as career politicians. I think, also, that whiny, spoilt unemployed brats who write nasty songs about their father are an abomination in the eyes of God and merit a good fucking punching. This feeling reflects the inescapable influnce upon me -and you and Mr eBay - of the Abrahamic God and the Oriental reverence for ancestors - both part of my Zen-Presbyterian-Marxism.

I became fed-up of nurses, admitting me to hospital, and saying Religion? Oh I'll just put CofE and so one time I explained to a young woman that I was a Z-P-M - Zen because Shit happens, Presbyterian because the Sermon on the Mount is as good a rant as has ever been delivered (you should take what you have and share it, motherfuckers) and Marxist because simply, as we see, workers of the world should unite, we have nothing to lose but our snotty chains. I suppose I should be grateful they didnt section me.

I think in Hard Times -as in Down From The Mountain, the concert - the stars are eclipsed by the simple beauty of the material, an honest tradition, none the less valid for being exclusively white, Euro-American, a bringing, so to speak, of it all back home.

This mood, of course, brings a question to our peculiar affection for the nigger blues. Is it not impertinent, at least, for so many whites to have so hi-jacked -owned- an alien music; is it not one of the great consumerist myths of the twentieth century, that white men can sing the blues ? I pose this, of course, as a lifelong afficianado and a cack-handed dilletante player.

How would it be if a bunch of bad- ass niggers stole, for instance, the entire canon of Apallachian country music and set it to rap and sold it back to them?

It is not so much a complaint about the sharing and acceptance of different musical forms as a thought about cultural imperialism, plagiarism and the Disease of Conceit.

Mr GG, Yes, we can. First we put our finger in our ear, no, honest and hum an embroidery to what we are hearing in the other ear. Honest, not invent. These harmonies are not owned by Showbusiness, they are just there, imtervals.

GG (female one) said...

Way hay!! Don't tell anybody, but courtesy of our host, I've just had a sex change. Must be all these bloody harmonics disturbing the ley lines around here.

If one puts one's finger in one's ear is that not waxing lyrical??

lilith said...

-How would it be if a bunch of bad- ass niggers stole, for instance, the entire canon of Apallachian country music and set it to rap and sold it back to them?-

The process has already started. The Grateful Dead, the biggest cover band that ever played, with their fondness for traditional folk songs have been got by Jay-Z

I rather like it.

lilith said...

And of course Martha is a very bad girl, singing about her Daddy like that. I thought she was singing about her boyfriend when I first heard it and, at the time, thought she had written it for me.

Elby the Beserk said...

Been lots of Black banjo players from North Carolina and points South. Don't think they were rappers tho'.

Elby the Beserk said...

@Dick wrote of GSH

marginally criticized for blobbing on 5 occassions when I went to see him

Dan Hicks has done that on me three times now. Bastard.

Roy Harper was the primo gag non-appearance of my youth. Usually because he'd gone for a pint before the gig and ...