Posts Tagged 'Musical.'

Learn Your Parents’ Music

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I grew up with a Mum that taught me about David Bowie, and Marc Bolan, and a Dad that played The Smiths in the shower as loud as the stereo would go. I spent a large portion of my childhood being physically forced to transcribe James lyrics so he could learn them for the Karaoke. There was never any question in our house about what real music was. 

I did buy the Number 1 single every week, and knew the lyrics to Take That, and The Spice Girls, because I had to fit in at school, but I always knew, at the back of my mind, that that wasn’t the real music.  The real music was what my parents played at full volume when they were getting ready to go out.  The smell of hairspray, and perfume; the twist of lipstick, and the creak of leather jackets, will always be married to The Style Council, always The Style Council, and Rod Stewart.

My parents didn’t forbid me anything musically, but neither did they need to tell me that modern music was trash, because they demonstrated by example. For my sixteenth birthday, I was given a Motown compilation, not because I needed educating, but because I needed more.

 The same applied to comedy.  I was recently discussing comedy with some work colleagues between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two, who sited ‘old comedy’ as The Fresh Prince of Bell Air.  When I mentioned Blackadder, Steptoe, Fools and Horses, The Young Ones, Pete and Dud, Rising Damp, I was met with a room full of blank faces.  Similarly, when I returned from Glastonbury in the Summer, full of excitement that I had just seen The Rolling Stones, I was greeted by a room that was silent for half a beat, and the dissection of Miley Cyrus and Rhianna singles then resumed.

These blank faces of the young people, particularly the teenagers, lead me to wonder what their parents are teaching them.  I wonder, when I see one of these “Directioners”, or “Beliebers”; a new generation of technologically fuelled obsessives, why their parents aren’t teaching them that there is more to life than One Direction.  Why is no-one in their life teaching them what real music is?  Because it sure as hell isn’t Justin Bieber.

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Mania has always existed, from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones, right through to Take That.  Teenage girls have always been frighteningly obsessed by popstars.  For my Mum, before she fell irrevocably in love with Marc Bolan, it was The Bay City Rollers.  She sewed tartan into her jeans, and slashed her lip with a razor so she’d have a scar like Les McKeown.  Unfortunately, because she made the cut in the mirror, it ended up on the wrong side of her face.  However, whereas Beatlemania was on a certain level; girls screaming at airports and concerts, and then going home for their tea, happy and safe, the recent documentary about Directioners proved that this new generation of fans have taken things to a whole new level.  Aided by the internet, teenage fanatics can now devote their whole day, every day, to their chosen subject, and the hours spent online are proving extremely unhealthy.  The level of obsessiveness has already reached life-threatening depths.

Taste is very personal, and the kind of music, books, and comedy a person likes is what defines them, and what kind of person they choose to be.  These things are part of our identity, and how we signify to the world that were are angry, happy, goth, metalhead, pill-popping clubber, classically refined, jiver, swinger, crier, harmer, mod, rocker, romantic, new-wave, dubstep, rapper.  What we listen to is who we are, and there are no two people the same.  However, nowadays, that idea is already almost extinct.  The idea that no two people are the same is being rapidly extinguished by a generation of people who wear the same, listen to the same, watch the same, say the same, think the same, do the same.  Everything they do is the same, and the pictures they post of it on Instagram are the same.  What makes it dangerous is that they have no comprehension that there is an alternative.  For these young people, there is nothing else.

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Whilst recently browsing Twitter, I saw the hashtag #10songsthatmakeyoucry.  Bored, I clicked on the hashtag, hopefully expecting perhaps REM, The Smiths, Radiohead, Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash, Jeff Buckley, Jonie Mitchell, maybe Adele.  After scrolling for a good ten minutes, I didn’t see a single song listed that wasn’t by One Direction, Rhiana, Beyonce, or Justin Bieber.  No exceptions.  That was it.  There were no other artists listed, just hundreds and hundreds of people listing the same handful of songs by those four artists, perhaps with a Lady Gaga thrown in.  Where is the autonomous thought?  Where is individuality? 

I’m from a generation which, like those before us, take immense pride in the individuality of our musical taste.  When I was eighteen, at sixth form college, when questioned on your taste in music, what you listened to absolutely had to be completely different from anybody else in the group.  If you mentioned an artist or song that was mentioned by somebody else, instead of solidarity, you’d be labelled generic, and mainstream.  Your musical taste had to be eclectic, individual, authentic.  You had to actually like music for specific reasons, not just because everybody else did.  What has happened to that world?  From what I’ve seen, it’s slipping away.

If I have children, I won’t forbid them any music, but I’ll make sure I educate them well enough that they can choose intelligently, and find music that brings them to life.  Music should make you feel  so many things, and I want my children to have the power to choose from anywhere in history, rather than the top 10.

I want to grab these teenagers by the shoulders, each and every one of them, and scream into their faces that Lady Gaga is not the most inspirational artist ever to have lived, and play them some David Bowie, or T-Rex.  I want them to lose their breath as Nina Simone ends Feeling Good.  I want their throat to catch, as Bowie’s does, I want them to feel their heart quicken as Marc Bolan takes a sharp intake of breath, and they hear his words; ‘Take me.’  I want them to know what’s out there.  There is so much out there.  I want them to hear Bowie cry ‘Oh no, Love, you’re not alone’ in Rock and Roll Suicide, and feel a far greater solidarity than the one they get from having the Twitter Username ‘1DirectionFan32545223’.

Please, know that there is so much out there.  Your life can be enriched.  You can be so moved by people who play instruments, write their heart and blood into the words, and sing their entire soul out into the microphone.  Listen to somebody singing their own words, and you won’t even call Justin Bieber music. 

Listen to Alex Turner, if you want to be modern.  Music sung and performed by the people that wrote and lived it is completely different to the plastic, mas-produced, computer-produced pulp and trash that floods the world as music nowadays.  Listen to Mick Jagger.  Listen to Bob Dylan.  For God’s sake, listen to David Bowie.

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Can You Feel It?

We were told at Michael Jackson’s memorial service that his favourite song was Smile. Personally, I find it difficult to believe that a man with the undeniable musical ingenuity, the passion and soul that Michael Jackson exuded in every note and every movement, a man so inherently connected by some primal, inner force to the music he devoted his life to creating, held above all other music a song written by Charlie Chaplin, a song whose only really remarkable merit is the admirable and touching sentiment;

When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you.

But, what can one believe? We are flooded daily with a deluge of conflicting and tenuous information based on the most spurious sources and motives. Was Michael Jackson, one of the most prolific, talented and influential artists of all time, so struck by the sanguine candyfloss of the song’s lyrics, which are admittedly very sweet , that this cheerful little number replaced every other song in history as his favourite? All the soul and technical achievement of musical history, the great artists and number one hits? Are all the dancefloor fillers, poetic lyrics and bone-shaking beats discounted in favour of Smile? It’s possible. However, perhaps this is all part of the myth and image that we are supposed to believe, a sort of Father Christmas figure and we’re not supposed to lift the beard. Does someone want us to see Michael Jackson as a sweet, childlike elf, dancing around Neverland to Smile and being moved by the chipper motivation? Why would it be inconceivable for the public to believe that this musical giant, genius and god, this man who created Billie Jean, Smooth Criminal and so many others, might have had a more mature and frankly musical taste in music.
Watching the footage of Michael performing at the 1995 MTV Awards, for a few seconds I thought the screen was showing stilted frames or somehow distorting the recording. I then realised that I what was seeing was a human being in full reality. Many people have performed what is known as ‘the robot’. Some have done it well, some less so, some have been outstanding, but they have always looked like a person performing as a robot. Watching Michael Jackson feels like watching a machine. It feels more than human, too perfect to be human, and yet somehow merging clean precision with dirty, animal imperfection and magnetic sexuality, polished and raw at the same time. His performance was flawless but the man and powerful humanity glimmered through in the hint of stubble on his chin and the wildness of his hair, something in his hips, something immaculately mechanic and simultaneously deeply human.

I find it so hard to believe that the music he listened to and was influenced by wasn’t something with more substance and soul than Smile. The song is very nice but surely the person who created the songs Michael did would need a stronger fuel to feed his fire. It would be like filling a Land Rover with extremely watered-down petrol, it wouldn’t be strong enough. Surely someone with so much music and beat running in their blood and bones, someone who could dance like Michael did, would need something stronger?

Futile conjecture is indeed futile, but illustrates something greater. Do we accept what we are told too easily? Shouldn’t we question information with discernment and less susceptibility? If we learn to be more sceptical and less easily manipulated by the media and those controlling it then perhaps people higher up and people running the country will have less power over us as a nation.
If we accept manipulation of the consumer in music, we accept it elsewhere, and manipulation can come in the form of substandard. I, for example, forgive Amy Winehouse her shambolic breakdowns on stage because of her proven talent. Artists like Amy Winehouse are genuine and real. They write the songs they sing, about their own experiences, and when they sing those emotions are vivid in their voice. Bands that play their own instruments are able to create something; completeness and a sincerity which is missing from bands that sit on stools and sing somebody else’s lyrics. Why do so many people, young and old, proudly state their musical preference as, for example, Westlife; a group of admittedly good looking young men who wear either identical or co-ordinating outfits (usually suits), mine to their own plastic, inoffensive, anodyne voices singing songs that have been covered by every band to come along for the past thirty (or more) years? The only word to encapsulate bands like this is ‘nice’. They look very nice and have very nice voices and are certainly very nice themselves. I can half-forgive (though reluctantly) the teenage girls who swoon and daydream over the polished, chiselled features and squeaky clean image, but I cannot understand the appeal for grown adults and wonder seriously whether the appeal is musical or simply matinee idol infatuation. Music should not be perfect or polished but raw, sensual and unafraid. For me, music is a human voice which demonstrates the life it’s lived in its imperfection and inimitability, a voice that doesn’t hide pain and the exertion of life. Lyrics that tell their story poetically and beautifully, and rhythm and beat that make you want to move, that speak to the body.

Watching Michael Jackson in 1995 was to watch a demonstration of physical transcendence. The music in that instance served more as a backdrop to the dancing but was in any case outstanding, but that performance was a master at their very best. Billie Jean is one of a small collection of songs which have this elusive power I have been attempting to define. The beat makes the body pulse and urge to move. You can’t help but want to dance. Do people really feel this when they hear a Westlife song? Two songs by Dusty Springfield, for example; Son of Preacher Man and Take Another Little Piece of My Heart are among the songs which urge me to sing, though none of the notes will be right, but they have this power.

Whether it’s live performance or listening to a cd, music has to make you feel, even change. If Westlife is what elicits that experience then who am I to argue?

Music to Feed The Soul

Music to Feed the Soul

Vikki Littlemore

Watching the footage of Michael Jackson performing at the 1995 MTV Awards, for a few seconds I thought the camera was showing stilted frames or somehow distorting the recording. I then realised that what I was watching was a human being in full reality. Many people have performed what is known as ‘the robot’. Some have done it well, some not so well, some have been outstanding, but they have always looked like a person performing as a robot. Watching Michael Jackson feels like watching a machine. It feels more than human, too perfect to be human, and yet somehow merging clean precision with dirty, animal imperfection and magnetic sexuality, polished and raw at the same time. His performance was flawless but the man and powerful humanity glimmered through in the hint of stubble on his chin and the wildness of his hair, the knowledge and experience in his hips, something simultaneously immaculately mechanic and deeply human.

There are artists who create the trends that others follow and true originality rarely occurs, even when it seems to. Even when people appear to be unique and original their originality can often be traced to somewhere far back, to someone who did it first. There are however rare artists who change how people feel about music, how people perform music and what music means. To all the ten year olds buying Justin Timberlake’s albums and concert tickets, he is almost certainly original. To them his style of dancing and the titled trilby hat are no doubt trendsetting and cutting edge. I remember only too well being told by my parents (both music lovers) that they’d seen it all before whenever I enthused in raptures about the latest one hit wonder in the number one slot.

Music is something powerfully personal, something we dance to in our bedroom when no-one can see us and one of the few things in life that we are able to choose for ourselves. When we are begging our parents for the latest trainers so that we fit in with our friends at school and struggling with the dilemma ‘all my friends are smoking so I should’, no-one tells us what song to listen to when we go home after school or what album to spend our last ten pounds on. Music is one of life’s rare choices. We form our decisions based on how specific music makes us feel. It’s one of the only things in life that one can make ‘my thing’, to have ‘my band’ and ‘my song’. It is profoundly our own. The songs of Oasis and Liam Gallagher’s voice for example, though I don’t particularly rate them as technically extraordinary, will never lose an almost mystic quality able to transport me instantaneously back to the 90’s and my teenage years like a sepia photograph, and will always ‘do something’ to me which I will never succeed in confining to words. Cold breath on the spine doesn’t begin do it justice. The last few seconds of Feeling Good by Nina Simone, no matter how many times I hear them, will never cease to take my breath away, and the way I feel about these pieces of music is something personal and unique. It may be similar to the experiences of other people, but never quite the same.

As someone who forgives Amy Winehouse her shambolic breakdowns on stage because of her talent, I find it impossible to understand the appeal that manufactured music has for so many people. Whether you enjoy her music or not, artists like Amy Winehouse are genuine and real. They wrote the songs they sing, the words are written about their own experiences and emotions and when they sing those emotions are vivid in their voice. Bands who play their own instruments are able to create something; a completeness and a sincerity which is completely missing from bands who simply sit on stools. Why do so many people, young and old, proudly state their musical preference as, for example, Westlife; a group of admittedly good looking young men who wear either identical or co-ordinating outfits (usually suits), mine plastically to their own pre-recorded, inoffensive, anodyne voices singing songs that have been covered by every band to come along for the past thirty (or more) years? The only word to encapsulate bands like this is ‘nice’. They look very nice and have very nice voices and are certainly very nice men. I can half-forgive (though reluctantly) the teenage girls who swoon and daydream over the polished, chiselled features and squeaky clean image, but I cannot understand the appeal for grown adults. True music should not be perfect or polished. It should be raw, sensual and unafraid. Another story altogether is the reason for people stating their musical preference as ‘dance music’, that I cannot understand.

I suppose it would be hypocritical to claim that music is a choice and then condemn those with different opinions to my own, but the clue (as they say) is in the question. How does one define music? For me, music is a real, human voice which demonstrates the life it has lived in its imperfection and inimitability, a voice that doesn’t hide pain and the exertion of life. Lyrics that tell their story poetically and beautifully, and rhythm and beat which makes me want to move, which vibrates and speaks to the body. Whether it’s live performance or listening to a cd, music has to ‘do something’ to you, has to make you feel, even change. If Westlife is what elicits that experience then who am I to argue?

Watching Michael Jackson in 1995 was to watch a demonstration of physical transcendence. The music in that instance served more as a backdrop to the dancing but was in any case outstanding, but that performance was a master at their very best. Billie Jean is one of a small collection of songs which have this elusive power I have been attempting to define, the power to ‘do something’. The beat makes the body pulse and urge to move. You can’t help but want to dance. Do people really feel this when they hear a Westlife song? Two songs by Dusty Springfield; Son of Preacher Man and Take Another Little Piece of My Heart are among the songs which urge me to sing, though none of the notes will be right. Certain songs make me want to sing and sing loud and have a power to fill me up from head to toe with an energy, a power, something indefinable. This is what music should do. It shouldn’t be ‘nice’ and safe, it should challenge the listener to a fight and win.

Music should have power, whether it’s the words, the beat, the voice or the instrumental performance, music should make you want to talk about it, to dance, to sing, even cry. I find it difficult to understand why there is such a place in society and in the music business for the manufactured music and android ‘bands’ which are evidently popular but in my opinion definitely not music.


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Sylvia Plath said; "Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences". My aim in life is to find things and people to love, so that I can write about them. Putting words together is the only thing I can see myself doing. This blog is an outlet, and I hope you enjoy reading it. Please feel free to comment on posts, or contact me by the special e-mail I've set up (vikki.littlemore@live.co.uk) with your thoughts.


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The New Remorse, Oscar Wilde.

The sin was mine; I did not understand.
So now is music prisoned in her cave,
Save where some ebbing desultory wave
Frets with its restless whirls this meagre strand.
And in the withered hollow of this land
Hath Summer dug herself so deep a grave,
That hardly can the leaden willow crave
One silver blossom from keen Winter's hand.

But who is this who cometh by the shore?
(Nay, love, look up and wonder!) Who is this
Who cometh in dyed garments from the South?
It is thy new-found Lord, and he shall kiss
The yet unravished roses of thy mouth,
And I shall weep and worship, as before.

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Music I Love (In no particular order, except that The Smiths are first)

The Smiths,
The Libertines,
The Courteeners,
Nina Simone,
Oasis,
Pete Doherty,
Gossip,
The Kills,
Amy Winehouse,
Arctic Monkeys,
Rod Stewart,
The Doors,
The Rolling Stones,
Etta James,
Babyshambles,
T. Rex,
The Jam,
Morrissey,
Guillemots,
The Kinks,
Jack White,
The Deadweather,
David Bowie,
The Winchesters,
The Cure,
Kaiser Chiefs,
The Kooks,
The Twang,
Kings Of Leon,
Pulp,
Blur,
The Housemartins,
The Ramones,
James,
Robots in Disguise,
The Klaxons,
Kate Nash,
The Raconteurs,
Regina Spektor,
Aretha Franklin,
Stereophonics,
The Contours,
Dirty Pretty Things,
The White Stripes,
New York Dolls,
Yeah Yeah Yeahs,
The Clash,
Style Council,
Velvet Underground,
The Horrors,
The Cribs,
Reverend and The Makers,
The Subways,
The Wombats,
Foals,
Elle S'appelle,
The Troggs,
The Beatles,
Echo and the Bunnymen,
Florence and the Machine.

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

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Vikki's bookshelf: read

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
1984
Twilight
Of Mice and Men
Pride and Prejudice
The Hobbit
The Da Vinci Code
Lolita
Tipping the Velvet
Wuthering Heights
The Picture of Dorian Grey and Other Works by Oscar Wilde
Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde
The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman
Moab Is My Washpot
The Bell Jar
The Other Boleyn Girl
On the Road
Brideshead Revisited
Revolutionary Road



Vikki Littlemore's favorite books »

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