Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Song Is The Story

Some meanderings about the idea of songs that embody moments or periods in history rather than report on them, here are a few takes on the eyewitness testimony.

Civil Rights: "Black In A White World" - The Watts Prophets
Because my iTunes seems not to allow me to convert m4a files into mp3, this one isn't in the player below so I'm hoping this link will take you to where you can find it (about four tracks down).

World War One: "And When They Ask Us (They'll Never Believe Me)" - Oh! What A Lovely War original cast recording
A faux-eyewitness account within a work of ironical fiction, but in terms of emotional truth, it's spot-on. Of course, it's utterly a product of the hindsight with which we now view the war. But the construction of that hindsight - whether through the ritual of Remembrance Day, the establishment or adoption of monuments like the fields of white crosses used at the end of Richard Attenborough's film while this song played, or in the way the political theatre pioneered by O!WALW's original director Joan Littlewood created a language with which to revise the Empire's glorious history - is the product of still more historical moments, movements and phases.

Watergate: "Impeach The President" - The Honey Drippers
What I like about this is the innocence and immediacy of the experience it conveys. There's not a whole load of analysis going on - "Some people say that he's guilty/ Some people say give him a chance" - just a huge buzz that a constitutional Unthinkable was in the offing. The protest chant of "Impeach the President" becomes a call to party (and not the jackass or the elephant) in the Honey Drippers' hands and it reminds me of the whoosh of liberation I remember from hearing "God Save The Queen and her fascist regime" in the midst of the silver jubilee celebrations.

Liverpool 8: "Children Of The Ghetto / Stanhope Street" - The Real Thing
Not concurrent with the '81 uprising, or Toxteth Riots as the world outside the L8 postcode knows them, but (like the Watts Prophets' lament) this is a beautiful articulation of the soul of a community living in a pressure cooker. We had some discussion about Liverpool's Capital of Culture activities on the mothership blog week and one of the interesting things about living in a city busy reinventing itself is how it gussies up its history to sell to newcomers and future visitors. Well, I certainly wouldn't say The Real Thing are being airbrushed out of the city's musical legacy, but you wonder what they'd have needed to do to be ranked up there with Atomic Kitten - and that's a crime when you consider the timelessness of their big hits but also when you hear this segment of their conceptual Liverpool 8 medley.


goneforeign said...

Thank you for including 'Oh What a Lovely War', in the early 60's I was visiting London and saw the Joan Littlewood production, emotionally shattering.
Then in the 70's I picked up the cast recording at a library sale for $1, it brings tears to my eyes, particularly the last cut. My wife teaches world history so I turned her onto it and it became a staple in her classes every year and the 16 year old Californians love it. I did a google search and found a company in Canada that had the Attenborough film on DVD so I bought her that. When I was on radio I also did a 2 hour program devoted to it and the poetry and music of WW1.
We're on the same page.

steenbeck said...

ANother thoughtful piece, May1366. I loved the Honeydrippers and the Real Thing. And did you try burning the M4a file onto a disc and then reimporting? That usually works for me.

steenbeck said...

Oh wait--your link worked. Very moving song.

May1366 said...

I did think burning and reimporting a CD might be the way to do it - now you say that, steenbeck, I'll definitely try it.

gf, glad to have made that connection with you. I wonder why WW1 and the art it produced and has inspired has such emotional resonance - maybe (just casting a line out here, this isn't a long-maintained premise) because it can be seen as the crucible of modernism: the crumbling away of the old classical certainties and a moment when the need to grasp new aesthetics and be driven by new sensibilities started to make sense?

saneshane said...

may 1366
if you do have to burn.. make sure you have a re-recordable cd to hand for the job (don't waste loads of cd-r)
I've burnt quite a few that afterwards I have a useless cd-r with two t-shirt designs that'll never be used again except as coasters. Slow thinker that I am.

ToffeeBoy said...

@ gf - 'doing' Oh What A Lovely War at secondary school in the 70s was one of the main things that got me thinking as a political animal - that, and the first time I saw Lindsay Anderson's If.

treefrogdemon said...

Shane - you can also hang them in trees to scare deer away.

ejaydee said...

May: If you mean m4a (not m4p), go into your iTunes preferences, and look for the import options, there you can choose between a variety of formats, in a variety of bit rates.

goneforeign said...

I just listened to 'lovely War' again, such a touching song and anyone who hasn't heard the entire album should get it, it's well worth several listens.
Over on my blog I have my memories of WW2 as a kid growing up during it, the title 'Oh what a lovely war' seemed very appropriate from a different perspective so I used it.