I was never very good at football. I loved it because I was a boy growing up in the Sixties but I was much better at cricket than football. As it happens, because I could catch, I was wasn’t too bad at rugby, playing full back; I was scared to tackle which is a bit of a disadvantage when you’re the last line of defence, but I played for school, University and club for seven years. But I wasn’t very good at football. At St. Paul’s Primary School, we didn’t win a game in the two years that I played. When I got to Minchenden, aged eleven, there was a trial game when, for some reason I started at left wing. Twenty two boys playing each other to determine who would get into the First Year (Year 7) team. These were the days with five forwards of course, it being 1965. I think I was put there because nobody else wanted to go there. With most boys being right footed, playing left wing was a terrible place to play. It never occurred to me that I could cut inside and cross with my right foot. I just assumed I had to try and cross with my left foot. Anyway, at some point, our side let in a goal and we kicked off. The ball was immediately passed to me and I started running and kicking the ball ahead of me. I was desperately wondering who to pass to but my ability to look up and see what was available was non existent so I kept toe punting the ball ahead and chasing after it. Although I was a bit over weight at that age, I wasn’t a slow runner – not that I was Bob Hayes but I could run a bit. For whatever reasons that I still can’t fathom, my toe punting was timed perfectly to avoid the opposition defence and I suddenly found myself approaching the penalty area at which point I took a wild swing of the ball, half connected with it and watched as the opposition goalie dived over the ball which trickled between the posts into the non existent net. I can clearly remember the teacher smiling at me and saying that he knew where I should play. At St. Paul’s I had played at Right Half – I was Nobby Stiles – but suddenly I was the new Tom Finney. Obviously, when I got picked for a real game I was worse than useless and after a few embarrassing games got dropped. It was just a thirty second moment of sheer flukiness that got me picked in the first place.
I was reminded of this in the last week when there was a complete fiasco with the A level results. With exams being cancelled, teachers had to submit a rank order of their students along with a predicted grade. In order to preserve the integrity of the exams, OFQUAl, the government department that regulates qualifications, would apply an algorithm to ensure that schools/colleges were not over estimating the grades. When the results came out last Thursday, there was an outcry because many students received results lower than they expected. It’s been irritating to me that most media coverage has been focused on high achieving students in low achieving schools. Whilst this is an important issue, it doesn’t effect a huge number of students. What was much more significant is centres with large cohorts also had their grades lowered. BHASVIC, where I worked had their results lowered by 5% compared with last year. Other large Sixth Form Colleges showed a similar pattern of disappointments. Not that I really care but Eton College also had much worse results than they should have. It appears that schools with relatively small cohorts did better than expected at the expense of larger schools. The algorithm was designed to ensure that there was no grade inflation. The education minister, Gavin Williamson, was interviewed by The Daily Telegraph on the day that the results came out and he said that giving results based only on the predicted grades of teachers would mean results were considerably higher this year, which he said would “devalue the results for the class of 2020″. As a joke, Philip Coggan, a journalist for The Economist, summarised his interview by tweeting that “the danger is that pupils will be overpromoted into jobs that are beyond their competence.” This was funny, obviously implying that this is exactly what had happened to Gavin Williamson, but it was, in fact, not a genuine quote but a highly successful piece of widely circulated fake news.
Two further points. 1) The algorithm was abandoned and teachers’ predicted grades were used, thus ensuring a 13% increase on top grades compared to last year. 2) I was overpromoted into a position at left wing in 1965 that was beyond my competence.
Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, more commonly known as Erasmus, was a Dutch philosopher and he lived from1466 to 1536. As well as preparing editions of the New testament in Latin and Greek, he also produced a collection of Greek and Latin proverbs, called “Adagia”. One of these was “It is not one swalowe that bryngeth in somer. It is not one good qualitie that maketh a man good“. This is more commonly known today as “One swallow doesn’t make a Summer” or, in my case, one lucky shot doesn’t make a good footballer. Or, in Gavin Willaimson’s case, one good maiden speech about business doesn’t make for a good decision maker.
Or, in Damien Jurado’s case, one good album doesn’t make a good artist. That sounds a bit harsh but I have just realised today that I have thirteen albums by Damien Jurado and I only like one of them. “Ghost Of David” is magnificent and I’m going to enthuse about that but I really can’t recall a single song off any of the other albums.
That’s not quite true because I can clearly remember an album called “Postcards And Audio letters” which is simply a collection of messages left on answer phones which he found on old answer machines in junk shops (thrift stores). Damien Jurado doesn’t make an appearance on the album. The first track is a 29 minute monologue from a Dutch bloke, going on and on about how he loves but doesn’t really like a girl named Angel. It’s fascinatingly annoying. There are no instruments. If all of this sounds unbelievable, here’s an example of Phil phoning Dawn.
“Ghost Of David” is, I’ve said, a magnificent album. It’s very bleak and many of the songs deal with death, deception, despair and desolation. The instrumentation on Side One is sparse, mainly an acoustic guitar with an occasional sound of percussion. Damien Jurado’s voice is sad, serious and sombre. “Desert”, “Johnny Go Riding” and “Great Today” are oblique and indicate great loss and thoughts of revenge if he can’t find happiness. “Tonight I Will Retire” has a great piano hook played by former bandmate David Bazan and sounds very pretty until the lyrics make it clear that these are the last few minutes before the singer commits suicide. “Oh tonight I will retire/To these hands with revolver/And I don’t fear death/I will commit/Like an old friend I’ve known forever.” The title track was inspired by a dream that Damien Jurado had where David Bazan had died. The lyrics are the words that Damien Jurado spoke to David’s wife. “Ann, I’ve seen the ghost of David/In the house of his childhood/Forget him not, still he loves you/Life is short, but love’s eternal” “Parking Lot” is sung by Rosie Thomas who has a lovely voice (and who made a fantastic song called “Farewell” which was played at the end of series four of “Bosch”). She is waiting in a parking lot for a lover who will never return.
Side Two of the album is more weird musically. “Rearview” features long drawn out notes on a keyboard and a hysterical Damien Jurado singing lines like “She wants presents you can’t give her”. “Walk With Me” features sampled voices and a gentle piano before he sings “Walk with me to Water Street” This was the perfect soundtrack to my video of snow falling on a postbox in Hassocks.
“December” is meant to invoke feelings of coldness as a wind whistles around his singing such lines as “December, you killed a man/Trapped in his car for hours”. It’s a story of a man who has frozen to death in a car. “Rosewood Casket” has a pretty tune and a nice piano line played by Rose Wheeler – I must ask Roo about this (Wheeler being her maiden name). It appears that the singer is singing from a casket at his own funeral. “When at last I’m gone forever/And my friends are gathered round/And my narrow grave is ready/In some lonesome church yard ground.” The final song is a bleak instrumental “Ghost In The Snow”.
The song that first brought Damien Jurado to my attention is the first song on the album and it’s called “Medication”. I can never tire of hearing this song. The singer has two people who need him. He has a lover who is married to a police officer and he can only see her when she can leave the house without her husband noticing. His brother has mental health problems and is always phoning the singer to ask for support. When his brother attempts suicide, the singer visits him in hospital. To calm him down, the hospital gives his brother Electroconvulsive therapy at which point his brother shouts at him “Save me – the doctors will kill me.” The singer is at his wits end and doesn’t know what to do. “The TV is blaring with some preacher saying that God is among us and he hears our cries. Lord, do me a favor. It’s wrong but I ask you: take my brother’s life.”
This is not a fun album. I hadn’t listened to it for a few years and had forgotten how bleak it is. There are many times when listening to something so miserable channels all my negativity away from me. I subsequently tried a further twelve times to find a similar depth of experience from listening to other Damien Jurado albums but failed. “Ghost Of David” is Damien Jurado toe punting his way through a massed rank of defence and firing a shot into the corner. I’m glad that the one swallow existed even if, in my opinion, Summer didn’t materialise.