“I think some people are uncomfortable with silence because the negative or hostile voices in their head become unavoidable. Some people keep themselves busy or listen to music or other things to fill in otherwise quiet spots to cover up the emotional cries and sounds of other painful or fearful issues they carry in their hearts. Sooner or later the cover-up tactics will no longer be effective, and the people will be compelled to address their issues. I think sooner would be better.”
So says Steven Griffin, author of “The Victim’s Cry – Hope and Healing Thru Forgiveness”, not a book that I intend to read but I find this quote interesting. Why is it that as soon as I wake up, I want the radio on? Why is it that as soon as I get up, I want some music on? Why is it that when I’m doing the puzzles in the paper or eating my breakfast, I need more music on? This gets complex when Roo is up at the same time as I need to find something that she likes too – Alexi Murdoch, Nick Drake or The War On Drugs normally seem to be acceptable. When I am embarking on a car journey, I will plan what music I’m going to listen to – even for the short trip to Newick this morning to meet Peter for a walk. (We are not allowed to meet in his garden but we are allowed to take exercise together under the new lockdown rules). When I used to have some exam marking to do, I enjoyed putting some music on and seeing how my students had fared. I would often start marking in a sunny optimistic mood and play some Beach Boys or Hackensaw Boys but by the end, of course, I was suicidal about how I hadn’t taught these students anything and I would reach for the drug of choice to take the pain away: Nico or Damien Jurado.
Silence is, apparently, golden and there are only two situations when I am comfortable with silence. One of these doesn’t apply any more and it was when I was struggling to understand a new mathematical concept, such as moments about a hinge or the work/energy equation. I needed to concentrate one hundred percent on a new concept and any background noise was distracting. The other time is when I get into a bath – this is the only time that I can properly ruminate. I was going to write meditate but I’ve never been shown how to meditate properly. When I was fifteen I would stare at the diagram inside the fold out cover of “In Search Of The Lost Chord” and chant “Om” to myself but I never reached enlightenment. So I don’t mediate in the bath but I can sit for twenty or thirty minutes just thinking about stuff in silence. Otherwise, silence is torturous.
It may well be that my constant need for music is a solution to the compulsive and obsessive thinking that I am prone towards. It’s certainly true that when I have “something on my mind” that I am worried about, I find it hard to get to sleep. When the same imagined conversation plays out in my head for what seems like hours at a time, having something to help me switch off is a help. At three in the morning, I reach for a book and a torch. During the day, in order to stop thinking what I am going to say to someone who has (in my fevered imagination) slighted me, music is a great comfort. I don’t think I suffer clinically from OCD but I do believe that there is a spectrum and I am on it, if only marginally. It might well explain my extreme pedantry. Or that might be utter rubbish.
As I said, when I wake up in the morning, I like to put some music on. When I was looking through my CDs yesterday, I saw “Canoworms” by Dan Stuart and remembered what a brilliant album it is to put on in the morning. It’s “early morning music” – there, a new genre I’ve just invented.
Dan Stuart was the lead singer with Green On Red who made some of the best albums of the Eighties. Some of the best gigs I’ve ever been to have been to see Green On Red. Dan Stuart was never one to love a sanitised, lovely nice life. Here he is in 2018, talking to Dave Griffiths of “No Depression” about life on the road in the Eighties. “Whatever didn’t kill you should have… that said we had it much easier in the days of rock n roll versus today’s austere and humorless Americana. I miss playing with rhythm sections, I had to learn to do the folkie thing because that’s where the gigs are, but when I walk into a place and it’s set up like a church recital or AA meeting I just feel nauseous. I would love to open for young bands who dig punk and 80’s rock, sticky floor venues, bathrooms without toilet seats. Everything is so sanitized now, so safe, so predictable.“
Here’s another insight into Dan Stuart. In 2013, he was interviewed by Dave Griffiths, also from the No Depression magazine. Dave: “What made you choose Oaxaca, Mexico, as the place to reside these days?” Dan: “I came here to finish a book and then kill myself. The book is done but I’m still around so I was only half successful. Really I’m in no hurry but still stockpiling Nembutal which I buy from veterinary supply stores in rural areas. I tell them I have a sick cow at home…“
After the demise of Green On Red in 1992, Dan Stuart moved to Arizona to record two albums, “Retronueovo” in 1993 and “Canoworms” in 1995. He formed the Slummers and then made no new music until a trilogy of “Marlowe Billings” albums released in 2012, 2016 and 2018. I haven’t listened to these properly but I know Martin is a fan. I should pay more attention to them. Watch this space.
“Canoworms” is in complete contrast to the hard rocking electric guitar music that made Green On Red so exciting. In the opening song, “Panhandler”, he is begging for money and sounds close to exhaustion and despair, singing in a whisper rather than the manic whine that made songs like “Keep On Moving” so exciting. This song could be called “Keep On Sitting”.
In “Home After Dark”, he is feeling very sorry for himself and apologising for past misdeeds. He begs for the listener to point the gun a little straighter and pull the trigger. Again, the tempo is funereal and the tone of his voice is weary and resigned.
“La Pasionaria” features some lovely violin and seems slightly more upbeat until he sings that he has owed money that he can’t repay and as a result has been shot full of holes.
“Who Needs More” is more like a classic Green On Red song with a great guitar hook and a typical sneering vocal. In the past he has not considered love to be anything but painful but now he feels that he has found his one true love and who needs more?
The tempo and feel of “What A Day” is like the first three songs and is enhanced by the lap steel guitar of Jon Dee Graham who was a member of The True Believers who were forerunners in the cowpunk movement. I’m not making that up. In this song, Dan Stuart has been running from his past. Looking back, he’d change everything about himself if he could.
JD Foster produced this album and he plays wild saxophone on “Expat. Blues”. He has worked with a multitude of artists including Lucinda Williams. Dan Stuart and JD Foster went on to form a short lived band called The Slummers.
Dan Stuart plays tremelo guitar on “Waterfall” and with JD Foster’s lead electric guitar, the song has more of a rock feel than most other tracks. The roles are reversed in this song as Dan Stuart offers to help someone who is sliding down a waterfall and needs his love. Dan Stuart’s vocals are less whispered and he sounds more alive in this song.
“In Madrid” is very slow and sombre. In Madrid, there’s a pond, an old woman and a town square. No one is happy, no one has any future.
“Filipina Stripper” is more uptempo with some great blues guitar from Jon Dee Graham. If “Can’t Get Through” was any slower in tempo, we’d hear it play backwards.
Finally, it’s not just me who can’t sleep. In “The Greatest”, Dan Stuart sings about how, in order to get to sleep, he would dream of Muhammad Ali’s great fights. Some might say that Elvis was King but Dan Stuart used to imagine he was Muhammad Ali.
Some of these songs are so slow and understated, they are almost silent. In the Eighties, Dan Stuart was in-your-face and confrontational. On this album, possibly due to drug abuse, he has lost self esteem and confidence. Lyrically it makes for grim listening. Sonically, it’s a perfect album to greet the new day.