Sunday, February 11, 2007


I think this blog will be principally about what I listen to and read, with some mention of my own modest additions to the world's mountain of words and music.

Today's words of choice belong to Margaret Drabble. "The Millstone" is her third novel (of 17 so far), published in 1965. I have read close to a dozen of her books, and the biographical blurb at the front of each always mentions that The Millstone won the Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize (a fine Welsh name, I don't need to tell you). (The description of this prize and who has won it seems as good as any other).
In any event, the frequent invocation of the prize caused me to assume (in an unexamined kind of way) that this book must be somehow slightly better than some of her others, so I started it thinking I might be dazzled. This is in general not a good way to start anything, since it tends to increase the chances of disappointment. In this instance, we know, or suspect we know, that prizes are given for all kinds of reasons other than intrinsic merit, or cannot be regiven to subsequent and possibly better works as they must be spread around to newcomers.
Also, there's something slightly jejune about the notion of "a prize" attaching itself to anything, carrying as it does connotations ranging from gold stars in kindergarten to blue ribbons for the finest pigs, plastic toys in cereal boxes and so on. In thinking about it, I free-associated my way over to Johann Gottfried Herder's 1772 essay "On The Origin of Language" ("Über den Ursprung der Sprache") which is invariably referred to in histories of linguistics and the philosophy of language as "Herder's prize-winning essay" - apparently a nod from the Berlin Academy was career-making in late 18th century Germany, as Kant was also to discover.

All of which has distracted me a bit from just reading the book - I'll get back to it and let you know how it turns out. After having recently finished her Radiant Way trilogy, which is quite grand in scope, I find returning to her 60s books, enjoyable as they are, tends to shrink the world back to the emotional lives of well-educated young mothers coping with tiny cars and grim National Health waiting rooms.

As for listening, I continue to plow through a small mountain of 90s club music 12" vinyl that came my way, discarding about 10 for each one I hold on to. Today's keepers include "The Copper Groove" by Freestyle Man (aka Morris Brown aka Sasse, real name Klas Lindblad) which is quite melodic and highly repetitive, with a sort of hushed spoken male vocal whooshing in and out, never grabbing the center of attention - pretty characteristic of late 90s German electronic dance music. The sticker on the sleeve tells me it's "House, Deep" and who am I to argue?
Also of note are six quite stylistically disparate mixes of UK soul singer Jaki Graham's version of Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody". One mix that stands out is by Dave Way (who I hadn't heard of but has worked with everyone from Michael Jackson to Macy Gray to the Spice Girls - all the big names!). His approach is comparatively sparse, with that kind of loping West Coast hiphop groove, punctuated by an angular five-note melody that is on the verge of being in the wrong key. It's a refreshing contrast to the Development Corporation remixes which are busy and entertainingly anachronistic in some ways - surely even in 1994, those synthetic horn blats that seem borrowed from a Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis Janet Jackson production sounded dated.

Finally in the CD walkman (someone looked at me holding it today and asked "what happened to your ipod") was a CD combining two (1970-71) releases by Australia's The Master's Apprentices (or The Masters Apprentices - no two sources of info, including their album covers, are in agreement about the apostrophe), called "Choice Cuts" and "A Toast to Panama Red." Most people would put these two on any short list of essential Australian rock albums of the progressive rock era and they earn their spot. Despite a few period-specific tendencies for which your tolerance may be limited (a Tull-ish flute moment here, a 7/4 time signature there, massed high vocals that almost hint at Queen), there's a lot of straightforward blistering guitar-playing that tends to carry the day more often than not.

By the way, the site linked to in the preceding paragraph appears to be the spot on the Web for Australian music info, now that Ian McFarlane's Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop is no longer online. I was slightly annoyed after having purchased the latter to find the whole thing was available online. Now that I've put the book in storage, I am double-crossed that it is no longer there!

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