Category: poetry

"Are you talking to me?"

Say cheese!


There’s a quiet menace about Mark Kozelek. His songs reveal he’s a sensitive guy but his highly personal, story songs never stray into sentimentalism.

The lyrics are full of the humdrum details from his life at home or on the road yet are delivered with such intensity that they seem positively revelatory.

He sings of being unable to shake his melancholy nature, a condition that I imagine is exacerbated by touring on his own and having time to brood in lonely hotel rooms.

On stage during this two-hour solo performance he’s not ice cold but not warm either. There’s no charm offensive. He seems pissed off that the audience don’t talk to him but doesn’t do much to meet us half way. He doesn’t even know what city he’s playing in so you get the impression that part of him doesn’t give a damn who’s listening and why.

He wonders why there is so much graffiti in Rome but nobody dares venture an opinion as to why Italians are so into street art. In the US, Kozelek says, kids have better things to do; they’re too busy mugging and stabbing people. This is a topic he also touches on in song form in Richard Ramirez Died Of Natural Causes.

Having a few rows of seating and playing under dimmed lighting efficiently communicates the fact that you take pictures or videos at your own peril. And amazingly, no-one does. I can’t remember the last show I went to when there was so little chatter and so few pulling out smart phones. “You are a nice, respectful audience”, Kozelek acknowledges near the end and he was not wrong. Continue reading

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREThe 7″ single Carnival/Canter on the DIY imprint ITLAN based in Edinburgh, Scotland marks the welcome, and long overdue, return of Tissø Lake, the recording project of Ian Humberstone.

I blogged about his album Song Of The Black Dog in 2008 but since early 2010 he has gone off the radar.

Now he’s back and the good news is that the single will be closely followed (on April 14th) by a re-release of ‘The Hollow Wood And Wondrous Cold’ which was recorded in 2005. Unless you live in America and snapped up a copy of this on the now defunct Banazan Records label, the ten tracks on this mini album will also be new to you.

Both records are highly recommended for lovers of quiet, introspective folk music. I love ghostly yet intimate quality of his songs which, to borrow a line from the song I Am A Lake, leaves you with the feeling of being “breathless and alive”.

Ian very kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his song writing and the background to these releases:

How come The Hollow Wood And Wondrous Cold was only released in the U.S and why has it taken 8 years to reach Europe?

Ian Humberstone

The Hollow Wood and Wondrous Cold was recorded when I was still in my teens, making music with whichever instruments fell to my hands, borrowed microphones and a reel-to-reel recorder salvaged from a local sixth-form college (it was headed for the skip, though with some care it’s served me well since). There were few people interested in releasing the album at the time and the best offer came from a U.S. label who wanted exclusive rights to the album. Those rights only recently expired, freeing up the record for re-release. Continue reading

STONER by John Williams (Vintage Books, 2003)

First published in 1965 and then largely forgotten, this remarkable novel is nothing short of a masterpiece. I want to press into the hands of everyone I know and tell them ‘you absolutely must read this’. The book’s belated word of mouth success illustrates I am not alone.

The opening page gives fair warning that this will not be a story of heroism or valiant deeds. Instead, it charts the life and death of William Stoner, a professor at the University of Missouri who achieved no high rank and was not generally regarded with any great affection. “Stoner’s colleagues, who held him in no particular esteem when he was alive, speak of him rarely now; to the older ones, his name is a reminder of the end that awaits them all, and to the younger ones it is merely a sound which evokes no sense of the past and no identity with which they can associate themselves or their careers”.

This introduction might make you think this will be a bleak, even depressing read but I came away from it profoundly moved by its humanity and compassion. I have read reviews that describe Stoner as a failure but this also gives a false impression. It’s true that he did not fulfill all his ambitions but his life was not without achievement nor devoid of meaning. Continue reading

SIGNIFYING RAPPERS by David Foster Wallace & Mark Costello

(Back Bay Books, 2013 – originally published 1990).

“Can blue men sing the whites, or are they hypocrites?” was the surreal and satirical question posed by the Bonzo Dog Band in 1968. In Signifying Rappers, David Foster Wallace (DFW) and Mark Costello are more in earnest when they ask themselves “What business do two white yuppies have trying to do a sampler on rap?”

In both instances, the question could be reframed as ‘What do privileged white people know about the music of disenfranchised blacks?’

Section one of the DFW & Costello’s book is called ‘Entitlement’ and, in it, they seek to convince the readers that they are qualified to analyse rap music despite being of the ‘wrong’ class and color. We learn of their frustration with Punk and other supposedly anti-establishment music which has been appropriated by the mainstream as the acceptable (i.e. unthreatening) face of rebellion. Continue reading

THE SWERVE by Stephen Greenblatt (Vintage, 2012)

This Pulitzer Prize winning book is “the story of how the world swerved in a new direction” when  enlightened thinkers began to reject religious delusions in favor of humanist principles. The book’s subtitle is , according to which edition you read, either ‘how the Renaissance began’ or ‘how the world became modern’.

Harvard professor, Stephen Greenblatt argues persuasively that the foundation for much of the meaningful progress we take for granted  stems from the epic poem ‘De rerum natura’ (On the Nature of Things) by Lucretius which was written in the 1st century BC and rediscovered by an Italian book hunter named Poggio in 1417.

Greenblatt shows that Lucretius’ radical beliefs provided a vital alternative to the dark, deluded dogma which decreed curiosity to be a mortal sin and viewed pleasure as a vice.

Lucretius’ totally rejected the assertion that redemption would only come through abasement.

The inherently random swerve of the title is thus defined as “an unforeseen deviation from the direct trajectory” and “a source of free will”. Lucretius is portrayed as a key agent of change in the human pursuit of beauty that reached a peak during the Renaissance. Continue reading


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