I read a brilliant post on Facebook today from a guy in his fifties who I taught in 1978. He always claims that my encouragement inspired him to success but a throwaway comment is easy – he has worked hard to become highly successful. He lived in Harlow but, as he writes, “I couldn’t get certain jobs in London due to either not going to grammar school, not having nice clothes or not having the right accent.” Thirty years ago, today, he first went to the USA and has subsequently raised a family there and built up his own business.
The USA is a dreadful place, right? Guns, extreme religions, deprivation and a strange form of democracy. The U.K. is a much more civilised place where we laugh at the concept of “The American Dream”. The writer James Truslow Adams wrote in 1931 that “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.” That’s a joke, right, with so much crime and civil rights abominations.
In my post about “Nebraska” by Bruce Springsteen, I wrote about while only 7% of children attend a fee paying school in the U.K., about 50% of musical acts in the charts went to an “independent” school. Yesterday, I finished watching a great TV series called “Summer Of Rockets” which was aired by the BBC in 2019 and is currently available on Netflix. It was written by Stephen Poliakoff and is a semi-autobiographical account of his upbringing in the Fifties with The Cold War looming. It’s a family drama and a spy mystery rolled into one. There’s a very good performance by a small boy called Toby Woolf who was 7 years old when the show was recorded. I have come across an article in The Chiswick Herald about how the Headmaster of the Independent Prep School that Toby Woolf attended is very proud of his achievements. In 2016, Frances Ryan wrote an article in The New Statesman which claims that 42% of British BAFTA winners went to fee paying schools. “The class hierarchy in the British acting industry doesn’t exist in a vacuum: it’s reflective – perhaps an exaggeration – of the rigged opportunities shutting the working class out of most positions of power, status, and wealth in this country.”
The U.K. is possibly one of the most class ridden corrupt democracies in the world where privilege, power and influence is handed down through wealthy families. Career advancement through excellence and hard work is harder to achieve in this country than anywhere else in “The West”. Discuss.
Yesterday, I wrote about Ryan Adams. What I didn’t mention was that he was married to Mandy Moore for six years and she accused him of being “emotionally abusive”, a claim he denies. Mandy Moore had a successful musical career before moving into acting. She is the star of a sentimental twee US drama series called “This Is Us” which is now in its sixth season. I love it for lots of reasons, one of which is how it tells the story in a non-linear fashion switching backwards and forwards over the lifetime of Mandy Moore’s character. Mandy Moore went to a “public” school in Orlando. Confusingly, a public school in the USA means that you don’t pay to go there whereas a public school in the UK means you do pay.
By contrast to Mandy Moore, Tamara Lindeman had a successful acting career before she moved into music and her films include “Stepsister From Planet Weird”, a Disney movie about an evil stepsister, “The Deep End”, a thriller which starred Tilda Swinton and “The Royal Diaries: Elizabeth I” which was, er, about the diaries of Elizabeth I in which Tamara Hope played the title character. Tamara Lindeman went to a State School in Canada and, like Mandy Moore, her father was an airline pilot.
The simple answer is that there are no simple answers. Anyone making a judgement about another country is likely to be bombarded with counter examples. It annoys me when so many successful British musicians and actors come from a privileged background. It often impresses me to read the back story of many well known American and Canadian musicians and actors who seem to have attained their success by living in a more meritocritious society. But to try to draw conclusions from these examples is going to be a flawed process.
It seems to be increasingly common for female artists to record under a name which implies that they are a band. Annie Clark records as St. Vincent. Natasha Khan records as Bat For Lashes. Alecia Beth Moore records as P!nk. Ashley Frangipane records as Halsey. Stefani Germanotta records as Lady Gaga. Tamara Lindeman records as The Weather Station. “Ignorance” is her fifth album. Confusingly, she is sometimes known as Tamara Hope.
The Weather Station’s first four albums were in the conventional singer-songwriter genre but “Ignorance” has a different sound, largely due to the involvement of Marcus Paquin who has worked with Arcade Fire and The National. The instruments on this album include two drummers, a saxophonist, a synthesiser, strings, flute, bass, and electric guitar. She explains the progression of the new sound by saying “I saw how the less emotion there was in the rhythm, the more room there was for emotion in the rest of the music, the more freedom I had vocally.” In other words, the fact that you can dance to most of these tracks doesn’t act as a restriction on the intensity of her singing – it’s the opposite – the repetitive nature of the drumming gives her room to explore what she can add in her voice.
“Tried To Tell You” is a mid tempo song with wurlitzers and strings offering a subtle accompaniment to Tamara Lindeman’s restrained but heartfelt singing. She is talking to a friend who is turning away from someone he is still in love with. She is trying to tell him to reconsider and embrace what he has before he throws happiness away. “You know you break what you treasure. Would it kill you to believe in your pleasure?” An alternative interpretation of this song is that we are all turning our backs on the planet and destroying it, knowing what we are doing.
The chorus of “Loss” is simply “Loss is loss is loss“. Tamara Lindeman has said that the song is about how it is often more painful to avoid pain than to endure pain itself. In other words, we need to face up to the truth and embrace it, whatever the consequences. The song was inspired by a friend of hers who once said that “At some point, you have to live as if the truth is true” and Tara Lindeman sings this line in the song. Is this another song about the climate crisis? Do we need to face up to what humans are doing to the planet? Is it more painful to avoid the truth than to embrace it? The album is called “Ignorance”. Are we pretending that we don’t know the damage we are doing?
In “Parking Lot”, she watches a bird flying into the air and the beauty and loneliness of this action fills her with despair. Although she is booked to perform at a gig, she suffers a temporary paralysis and is unable to sing. “Is it alright if I don’t want to sing tonight?”.
The opening song is “Robber” and includes Tamara Lindeman’s distorted guitar and Brodie West’s tenor saxophone which give a slightly misleading impression of the nature of the music on the rest of the album. It’s a great song but the jazz influences are not developed later. Although the song initially sounds like her house has been burgled, the robbing refers to those institutions responsible for climate change. “The robber don’t hate you, he had permission. Permission by words, permission of thanks. Permission by laws, permission of banks.”
This is a hugely interesting album worthy of repeated listening and further exploration. I had never heard of Tamara Lindeman or The Weather Station until a few days ago. I am now full of admiration for her achievements.
Here’s a link to an interesting interview in which she further explores how the album links to her love of nature and worry about climate change. My only gripe is the classification of her music as “folk” music. It’s not folk music, it’s
pop, rock, jazz, um, er, it’s a great album.