Monthly Archives: January 2019

You’ve got to get this into your life

Imagine turning on a TV show and hearing a new Beatles song. Impossible, of course – unless it’s another Abbey Road crate-scaping exercise.

Or so I thought. Until I watched the final scene in the latest episode of “Crashing.” As Pete Holmes strolls into the loved-up distance with his new flame, out bursts a song so catchy, so jaunty, so 1966 Paul McCartney, that it could only be The Beatles – or so it seemed.

But I’d never heard it before. Cue a scramble for my phone, a quick Shazam, and there was the answer. It was “New“, it was McCartney, and it was released in 2013. Yet it sounds more “Got To Get You Into My Life” than, er, “Got To Get You Into My Life.”

The fact that I hadn’t heard “New” until now speaks more to my musical prejudices than the song’s impact, or brilliance. Since when have I thought: “Damn, I better drop everything and listen to that new Paul McCartney album?”

And yet McCartney keeps doing it. Half a century after he wrote “Love Me Do” with John Lennon, he still had enough creative juice to knock out “New”. Which is something of a lesson to creative folks – if you like doing something, never stop.

It’s also a lesson to those of us who give up on artists, or at least give up interest in the recent work. Don’t stop listening – there’s always something new (sorry.)

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The piano player and the perfect playlist

Elton John, Portland, 2019

It must be thrill to create a perfect piece of music, to touch or capture such a elusive thing. Some musicians do it once or twice, some a little more often – very few have achieved it repeatedly, over decades.

I’m not the biggest Elton John fan. For years – probably because of a string of cheesy ‘80s music videos – I avoided his work entirely. That’s long since changed, which is how I found myself sitting – with 20,000 other people – in Portland’s Moda Center last Saturday night, witnessing the man’s last go-round, his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour.

Perfection was in the air. I’ve attended hundreds of shows over the years, but never one with such a bulletproof setlist.  

As he moved from one classic pop song to the next, I wondered how it must feel to be the guy sitting behind the piano, knowing that you’ve written a bunch of pretty-much perfect popular songs? To play a set so tight that there’s no room for “Honky Cat” or “Sacrifice” – tunes that would be the high point of most other composers’ nights?

Having written two dozen or more great songs, where do you go next? Are you tormented by them, or are they like cash in the bank (in more ways that one), a form of artistic security to be drawn down when necessary? Are you bored? (How may times and ways can you play the piano solo on “Bennie And The Jets”?)

Maybe the burden of perfection doesn’t weigh heavy. Perhaps, like Elton John, you handle it by just playing the songs. He looked like he enjoyed his three hours on stage in Portland. The audience – including this awed listener – certainly did.

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Mrs Dalloway

Past – present – future.
The clock chimes today and I hear it in Dublin in 1999,
As it sounds in a dozen other places.

I hear it on the Broad Walk in Regent’s Park,
Days before New Year’s, and in early December.

Looking onto Dublin Bay, it sounds over the wind
As I run on the sands, and as I stand to face a furious winter storm.

“Am I alive in all these places, at all these times, at once?”
I asked myself, on the day I finished “Mrs Dalloway’.

“Traces suspended, like fog in trees.
Echoes and marks on places and people?”

Maybe we do survive death, and linger on, awhile.
Until our echoes dissolve in the air.

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London – walking in wonder and unease

There’s something beautiful and eerie about Regent’s Park – the large, green and often empty space just minutes from London’s West End.

I’ve felt this on the many occasions that I’ve been there over the years. When my wife and I frequently travelled to London some years back, we would usually stay at a nearby hotel, from whence I’d set out for 5k or 10k runs early in the morning. My route would take me around the Outer Circle and partly into the park, and more than once I felt wholly alone, my only company the statues that occasionally appeared out of the early morning fog.

Even at noon, when families and office workers throng the Broad Walk that runs through the center of the park, three minutes walking off a side path can bring you to solitude.

Last Saturday I did something I’d never done before – circumambulate the park at night. We’d just arrived off a flight from Dublin, and the previous day had been a long one. I set out alone, to take the air, and discovered that our accommodation was less than 10 minutes from Regent’s Park.

And so, in the darkness, encountering only the occasional walker and a small number of passing cars (London was empty, it was the holidays), I walked the three miles around the Outer Circle. Part of it was lit by a long row of street lamps, another part in total darkness – which made traversing the old, broken pavement that bit more difficult.

The atmosphere was what I remembered, though: an air of natural beauty, even at night, offset with an occasional start, as when an animal (or something else) would break cover in the undergrowth on the other side of the park fence.

In my mind I thought of Maurice Bendrix, the main character in Graham Greene’s “The End Of The Affair”, and his nocturnal walks in another, not too distant, London park during the blackout of The Blitz. There was something Greene-like about the quiet sense of order, the neat pathways and clipped back hedges of the park, which faced the large, authoritative faces of the expensive houses that bordered it.

It was a setting that awaited an event – a scream, a shot, running feet on the pavement, a hand on the shoulder. I turned off the music in my headphones.

Minutes later I walked back into the streetlights near Hanover Gate, and all such feelings subsided. I sped up and was home within 20 minutes, to a seat, a cup of tea and dinner plans. I quickly forgot the park feeling.

Until, leaving London three days later, I came across the picture above, which I’d taken on the lonely street of the Outer Circle. I elected to keep it, and write this piece, as a reminder that – even in the hyper-connected and hyper-surveilled heart of a 21st century city, there remain moments, stretches, of wonder and unease. We may never be quite as secure as we think we are.

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