Yesterday I wrote about Loudon Wainwright III’s second album and playing the song “Old Friend” set me thinking. What is it that enables a friendship to flourish and strengthen? In my opinion, it’s about looking forward and finding common interests as much as maintaining respect and shared knowledge about the past. Some of the lines in “Old Friend” go “It’s been so long, things are so different. Memory Lane’s a dead end street. Your present tense is reminiscent. I can’t rehash it. I won’t repeat”. That sums it up perfectly for me. Living in the past doesn’t do it for me I’m afraid.
I also think mutual respect is also an essential part of maintaining a friendship. I can think of three people who I’ve “dropped” as friends. I still feel guilty about it but when all someone does it talk about themselves and show no interest in me, it’s time to bring a friendship to a close. Once, one of them phoned me at home and Roo answered. She handed me the phone and said “It’s … on the phone for you”. I took the phone and put the phone down (ended the call) without saying anything. She was as shocked as I’ve ever seen her, wondering how I could be so rude. I still feel guilty about doing this but also feel it was the correct thing to do. I think the phrase “what’s in it for me?” springs to mind. Ironically, I first heard that phrase from someone who later “dropped” me as a friend which was very painful. He refused to speak to me, see me, write a letter, talk to me for no apparent reason. I guess he felt he was giving more than he got. Annoyingly, I have met him three times in the last couple of years through a mutual friend and he was as good company as ever but with no interest in rekindling our friendship.
However, sometimes friendships can be rekindled. Andrew and I lost touch in the late 1970s but met again through our sorely missed mutual friend Alex in the early 2000s. Peter and I lost touch in 1974 but met up again around 2002 and the way that it happened was very lucky. What happened was this. I wrote an on line review of “Defending Ancient Springs”….
(Exciting interruption – I’ve just had an email from bobdylan.com announcing the release of a song called “I Contain Multitudes” – it’s playing now. It’s odd.)
Sorry about the interruption. Anyway, 20 years ago, I wrote an on line review of “Defending Ancient Springs” and included my email address. A few months later, I got an email from Peter and we discovered that we only lived 5 miles from each other. He had come across my review and was shocked to see his name mentioned. We have since renewed and rejuvenated our friendship. Every now and then I get a small flashback and experience an echo of the friendship we had between the ages of seven and twelve. Mutual respect and not continually travelling down Memory Lane seem to be essential. Luckily, we are both obsessed with music, sport and teaching.
What follows is an edited version of my review of “Defending Ancient Springs”. I was playing it until Bob Dylan arrived and it’s a very interesting record. Side 1 is nigh on perfect. It starts with his version of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” which is much better than you think it’s going to be.
Here’s what I wrote in 2000.
I always used to listen to Kenny Everett on the pirate station Radio London and he used to play all the new singles as they came out. “Ticket To Ride”, “Substitute”, “Carrie Anne” and that was an excellent way to hear new music. Later, my musical guru Peter helped me discover Melody Maker and Rolling Stone and I started reading reviews. For the next thirty years I took risks in my music buying by reading reviews and learning whose opinions I trusted. Richard Williams, Bud Scoppa, Allan Jones and Gavin Martin were always worth reading. Bud Scoppa’s review of the first Jackson Browne album in Rolling Stone remains the best review of any album I have ever read. It went on about “Jamaica Say You Will” for five out of the six columns describing it’s beauty and depth of feeling. It then stated that every other track on the album was equally as good! I bought it and he was right.
Anyway, thirty years after I stopped taking risks in my music buying by listening to new music, Martin showed me “Uncut”, a magazine I had never heard of, but which included a free CD every month. In the March 2000 issue, there was a song called “Fell On Hard Times” by Neal Casal which is precisely the sort of singer/songwriter good time music that I find irresistible and a song called “A Single Father” by someone called Jackie Leven. I wasn’t really sure what the song was about but those first lines “If we should meet in Glasgow by chance on a rainy day, let’s sit and drink in a damn good bar till evening comes out to play” struck a chord with me. The melody was haunting and the voice was rich, deep and sad. The arrangement was brilliant. As a long time Van Morrison fan this seemed to me to be good stuff and music that I could appreciate. I bought the album that this song came from: “Defending Ancient Springs”.
There’s a bit on “The Working Man’s Love Song which is fascinating to me. He sings “lonely and worried” but it takes about 30 seconds to sing it as he expands each syllable. Did he decide to sing it like that before the recording was made or did he just develop his art at the actual time of recording? It reminds me very much of Van Morrison on “Lonely Avenue”. What did Tim Buckley say – “The trick of writing is to make it sound like it’s all happening for the first time. It took a long time to write that album (Happy/Sad), and then to teach the people in the band, so it really was a labour of love, the way it should be.”
Anyway, back to Defending Ancient Springs. Tracks three and four are remarkable. Track three is called “Paris Blues”: “Think I’ll move to Paris/Give my pain a parting shot/Maybe meet a French girl/Maybe not. I travelled through the snowstorm/On a one horse lonesome sleigh/The snow was like a razor/Cut my mind away. I hear a wasted violin/playing in a dark café/It says your journey’s over/it’s time to sail away.” These are great lyrics to a song – defying true understanding but indicating a real depth of feeling. Most importantly the words sound good. The backing music is sparse and with hints of the industrial noises that Jackie Leven likes to populate his work with. And then, and then…..at the end of the track is some beautiful spoken poetry “And when the day arrives for the last leaving of all and the ship that never returns to port is ready to go you’ll find me on board, light, with few belongings, almost naked, like the children of the sea” Well in the month that both my parents died this plucked a few heartstrings.
Track four is the title track “Defending Ancient Springs” and it starts with ninety seconds of men at work/industrial noise/whatever you want to call it. Then drums and bass before a loud guitar chord and more evocative lyrics “And I miss the boys/And I miss the dreams they said/And I miss the men/And I miss the hopes that bled.” What is this song about? In the notes Jackie Leven thanks the “great English poet Kathleen Raine for her living idea ‘Defending Ancient Springs’ Kathleen says that she has spent her life defending ancient springs. I would add that no matter where our life takes us, there comes a moment after which we must return to the water from whence we first sprang, however this is imagined, there to be found – defending ancient springs.” The lyrics continue “And who am I/I ran away to sing….Now I’m back/Defending ancient springs” Well of course in my current state of mind this is about homecoming and belonging and family and where you grew up but I’m sure it means other things to you. More spoken poetry at the end: ” I am not I/I am this one walking beside me/Whom I do not see/Whom at times I manage to visit/And whom at other times I forget/Who remains calm and silent while I talk/And forgives gently when I hate/Who walks where I am not/Who will remain standing when I die.” When you’re vulnerable every work of art which has been borne of strong feelings has a particular resonance.
One of the things I like about Jackie Leven’s lyrics is the subtle changes he makes to clichés. “And who am I/I ran away to sing” – not “I ran away to sea.” Or “I travelled through the snowstorm/On a one horse lonesome sleigh” – not “a one horse open sleigh”.
So that was what I wrote in 2000. Let’s just reconsider that part of Jackie Leven’s sleeve notes: “I would add that no matter where our life takes us, there comes a moment after which we must return to the water from whence we first sprang, however this is imagined, there to be found – defending ancient springs.” Defending Ancient Friendships?
I’ve got to finish now – John’s about to phone and I haven’t spoken to him in 2 years…