Today is the day of the nasturtiums and caterpillars from outer space. No one knew they were coming, no one knew that the innocent plants would be devoured so voraciously in such a short period of time. On Wednesday we will get a picture of their work, I only wish I had a picture of that beautiful explosion of leaves and flowers that existed before they came to conquer in small caterpillar-shaped spaceships just so you could see how quickly the devastation came. They arrived out of nowhere and swarmed into the flowerbed – it’s like they knew that the nasturtiums were vulnerable, unable to protect themselves, only their beauty as a defence. But the caterpillars showed no mercy and destruction like this hasn’t been since the last time. Today the caterpillars were even on the windows, were they trying to break in so they could arc their way through the house and ravage the plants in the back garden? The question is will these greedy fat caterpillars turn into moths or butterflies? Will these vicious marauders be of the day or of the night? Stay tuned.
Opposite the house, a large fair has taken route, just in time for the terrible weather, storms, torrential rain (or drizzle) and strong winds that make those scary rides even more death-defying. They opened at the weekend but in the day they don’t open till 5PM? Wouldn’t you want the custom throughout the day? A place for the holidaymakers to take their children during this drab weather. A place to wear them out with carousels, dodgem cars, shooting galleries and candy floss? For American readers, that’s cotton candy and for Australian readers, that’s fairy floss. Other languages see it differently, it’s why languages are so great. It seems that in French it’s called “barbe à papa”, which means daddy’s beard. In Swedish it’s “sockervadd” (sugar wadding / sugar cotton wool), in Spanish and Italian it seems to be…candy floss? In Greek, it’s candy thread. In German “Zuckerwatte”, sugar cotton wool. But what actually is it? Chemical teeth rotter! But the parents have to give in to the kids, otherwise it’s tears. All my tears came when I got to the dentist.
The wind is up again tonight, you can hear it moving objects, discarded cans, and throwing litter up in a twirl. A car alarm just went off and one hopes it’s not going to keep on being triggered. Sometimes the seagulls set the car alarms off, jumping on the roofs. The seagulls seem to like the cars, you often see them sitting comfortably or even just standing on a roof taking it all in. The other odd things about seagulls are that they don’t initially fly away if you approach them, they are more likely to walk away first, then if you persist, they run away, it’s only if you get really close that they use their wings.
There were no sessions today but we did talk to Salim in Texas where it was 91 degrees. I spent most of the day on the archive, trying to create space where there is none. Sessioneer Noel is coming down from Surrey in a couple of weeks with a collection of records of a friend who passed away, he is donating it to the archive, his friend is apparently smiling down from the great record deck in the sky. But I have to get organised so we can incorporate them into the collection down here. I don’t want to get too maudlin today but there are some people who are leaving their collections to the archive when they die for fear of partners being lumbered with them – that’s why we need to secure the archive’s future, it’s not just my collection, it’s other music lovers’ collections too, as well as people who have donated albums and CDs, books and magazines and copies of their own records from their musical projects. We’re trying to figure out a future that preserves it at least till the end of the world.
Languages were encouraging today, you have me in one room learning French and Olivia in the other learning Portuguese. I guess Brexit really knocks the idea of English people learning other languages firmly on the head. I’m having a hard time with patriotism at the moment, I simply can’t see why a people have to favour their own people more than they favour other people when after all we are all just people, humans – ask the aliens what they think, they don’t get it either.
Music today reflects on the loss of Justin Townes Earle at the age of 38. I have just one CD, his first full album, The Good Life (2008). It’s been called Urban Americana, he has one foot in Country, one foot in Blues and his third foot in Folk and that’s the place where I like what he did, songs that didn’t incorporate that basic Country sound, just songs, like Who Am I To Say and Lone Time Hill on his debut. It such a sad story, a life of addiction and leaving behind a 3-year-old daughter (as I write the cause of death hasn’t been announced). He was the son of Steve Earle who has also struggled with addiction (I read that his dad has been married 7 times, twice to the same woman, yikes!). It wasn’t an easy family to grow up in for Justin who was apparently into drugs at age 12. He was middle-named after the legend that is Townes Van Zandt who died with his demons at the age of 52.
I saw Steve Earle live once, he was the guest of Patti Smith and I really liked him. I have his first four albums and a CD collection of odds and ends called Side Tracks. He’s one of those artists that is great but I’m not really into the genre he’s put into. Like Prince, there’s tracks I really like and tracks that I’m not into in the genre. His first album was Guitar Town in 1986 which went straight to No. 1 on the US Country chart (89 on the Billboard chart). It was followed by Exit 0 in 1987, No. 15 on the Country chart (90 on the Billboard chart). He slips between the cracks somewhat. He’s a bit too Country for Rock fans and a bit too Rock for Country fans. He’s what they call Alternative Country, maybe he’s modern rebel Country? It doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a large audience, he does.
Then in 1988 came Copperhead Road, No. 7 on the Country chart (56 on the Billboard chart). The first album by him that I really liked song and singing wise. There was something different about it, I’m not quite sure what. I think it was simply rockier but like Springsteen the traditional songs aren’t that interesting to me, it’s when he breaks out of the genre that I like it. On Johnny Come Lately he has The Pogues and although Earle’s voice is powerful and expressive I’m waiting and waiting for Shane MacGowan’s voice but it never comes (he plays banjo and bodhran instead). He loses me again halfway through the album but the eighties drums pretty much ruin the whole thing. Last but not least on Side 2 there’s a duet with Maria McKee but well, it’s a Christmas song and it ain’t no Fairytale Of New York. If this record was made in the seventies or post-nineties it would be really something whether you like the genre or not.
The Hard Way (Billboard No. 100) released in 1988 suffers the same fate as Copperhead Road with drums that I just can’t ignore, I’d love to remix these albums with a different drummer or at least try and do something about the sound and where they are in the mix and then you’d actually have me liking Country Rock. I suppose I need to investigate his later albums as the people who made drums sound that way in the eighties have since been banished to a distant moon in another galaxy where intergalactic snare drums and toms are the thing.
My favourite album by Steve Earle (so far) is the compilation Sidetracks released in 2002. It’s a mix of songs which Earle explains as coming from different times and recorded for different reasons, he calls them “Stray Tracks”. There’s a crackin’ version of Lowell George’s Willin’. There’s Breed from Nirvana’s Nevermind, The Chambers Brothers’ Time Has Come Today with Sheryl Crow, The Slickers’ Johnny Too Bad (from the Jimmy Cliff soundtrack The Harder They Come) and Dylan’s My Back Pages as well as a varied selection of solo songs. It’s eclectic, avoiding genre categorisation and those horrible drums, it’s the best thing I’ve heard by him – so far.
Song Of The Day is Mama’s Eyes (Justin Townes Earle) from the 2009 album Midnight At The Movies. This video was filmed within the Marathon Motor Works complex in Nashville on February 17th, 2016: