In 1964, Simon & Garfunkel released their first album, called “Wednesday Morning 3 a.m.”, which was the title of the last song on the album. Another song on the album is “Bleecker Street”, in which the singer standing in the middle of New York experiences the fog rolling in from the East River, some voices “leaking from a cafe“, a poet reading his work and a church bell chiming. The road is named after Anthony Lispenard Bleecker, a banker who owned a farm on the site of the present street. As New York expanded and Greenwich Village became the centre of the folk universe in the late 50’s and early 60’s, Bleecker Street was the location of some of the most important clubs. The Bitter End, at 147 Bleecker Street, was one of the first clubs to feature Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. The Cafe Au Go Go, at 152 Bleecker Street, hosted gigs by Richie Havens, Van Morrison, Tim Buckley, Tim Hardin, The Youngbloods and Joni Mitchell as well as numerous rock bands. The nearby Cafe Wha? and Gaslight Cafe were the venues for notable performances by Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton and Phil Ochs amongst others. The concentration of superb folk musicians congregating in the Greenwich Village clubs acted as an inspiration to a growing number of singer/songwriters and some of the best-known songs of the 60’s were written and performed in this small area. Paul Simon celebrated the influence of this area in “Bleecker Street”.
“Bleecker Street. Greenwich Village In The 60s” was recorded in 1999 and comprises 16 great songs, re-recorded by a variety of artists, some of whom are well known, and some who are less so. For example, Jonatha Brooke’s version of “Bleecker Street” is the opening song. Having released two albums as part of a duo called The Story, she went solo in 1994 and signed to MCA. After two further albums, she was dropped by her record label. “One second you’re a princess on the throne, and the next week no one will return your phone calls. I realized nothing had changed. I didn’t have a contract with MCA Records, and I didn’t have tour support, and I wasn’t going to get to make a video, which they had promised. The shows were still sold out, my audience was still there, and they didn’t care whether or not I was part of the Universal conglomerate. That was a really empowering and reassuring time.” She was one of the first artists to use the internet to communicate directly with her fans and having recorded “Jonatha Brooke Live” in 1999, she packaged and mailed about 2,500 copies of the album, autographing each one for a personal touch.
The fourth track on the album is “No Regrets” which was written by Tom Rush and was the final song on his sixth album, “The Circle Game”, released in 1968 (one of the famous Elektra 4 albums). The Walker Brothers’ version of the song reached Number Seven in the U.K. charts in 1976. Whereas their version of the song was soulful and desperately sad, Tom Rush’s version seems slightly more dispassionate. When he sings the song, it sounds like he is genuinely pleased to end the relationship. He doesn’t want her back; there’s no point in more tears; he’s ready to move on. When Scott Walker sings exactly the same song, it sounds like he’s in denial and lifetime regrets are just one single memory away from engulfing him.
Curtis Stigers sings the version on “Bleecker Street. Greenwich Village In The 60s”. He is a jazz singer who had a Top Ten single in both the U.K. and the U.S.A. with “I Wonder Why” in 1991. His version is beautifully orchestrated, and his delivery gives a slightly annoyed feeling to the song. “No regrets now. No tears goodbye. Don’t want you back. We’d only cry again. Say goodbye again.”
On Wednesday morning at 2 a.m. my 104-year-old Aunt Joyce died. All my memories of her came flooding back to me as I journeyed back home, after a fabulous couple of days with Paddy in Norwich: the holidays that she came on with Roo and I to Norway and to Ypres; the journey to the top of The Shard; the lunches in St Martin’s In The Field; the trawls around London art galleries. A few months ago, she had said to me that she hoped that one day she could go to sleep and not wake up and she got her wish on Tuesday night. 104 is a good age and, although I am very sad that she has passed away, I’m not in shock and have no regrets about my relationship with her which has been for the whole of my life. A day later, a privileged member of the aristocracy died, aged 96. The nation is in mourning after the death of the only monarch that a majority of people have ever lived under. The editorial in The Guardian put it rather well. “The monarchy, built on a system of hereditary privilege, is an anachronism in the modern age. However, the day of the Queen’s passing is not the right one for the contentious reflection on the continuing place, if any, of the monarchy.” My feelings are not the personal loss that I feel with Joyce’s passing, but rather the wonderment of how shocking it feels when aspects of the life, that I considered were never ending, suddenly terminate.
Paddy and I had been to see The Weather Station on Monday evening and the death of Joyce, and the Queen, exemplify the feelings of the song “Endless Times”, from “How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars“. The conceit of this song is that we are coming towards the end of what we had all considered to be an endless time. The “normal” has gone forever. There’s no going back and there’s absolutely no point in expressing regret.
A week ago, when writing about “John B. Sebastian“, I wrote “everyone loves a trilogy”. How foolish. Three seismic events in my life in two days is too much. One death, personal to my family. Another death, for which the whole world feels a need to mourn. The third event is not a death, as such, but for which I feel the most regret. Here’s an extract from Jonathan Wilson’s great article today.
“Poor Brighton. You’re one of the very few clubs not owned by a hedge fund, a public investment fund, a sheikh, an oligarch or a tax exile. You’re owned by a local boy made good, a childhood fan. You graft for years. You put plans in place. You establish an astute recruitment department. You find an innovative and understated manager, Graham Potter, who fits your model. You impress but for one thing: you don’t convert your chances. Then suddenly you crack it. You win at Old Trafford for the first time in your history. You’re compact and well-organised. You put five past Leicester. You sit fourth in the table. You’re two points off the top. You know it probably won’t happen, but this is a strange season. The calendar is absurdly compressed. You’re not involved in European competition. Not that many of your players will be involved in the World Cup that will interrupt the season. It’s not likely but maybe … maybe there’s a chance of reaching the Europa League, the Champions League, perhaps even a tiny possibility of repeating the glorious freak of Leicester …
Down comes the meaty fist of capital. Never bother dreaming. This is not the 60s, when Alf Ramsey could lead Ipswich to the title. It’s not the 70s, when Brian Clough could win the league with Derby and Nottingham Forest. It’s not even the 80s, when Graham Taylor could take Watford to second. It’s modernity, when the slightest sign of promise must be gobbled up by the super-rich. You can’t blame Graham Potter for joining Chelsea. There is a clear ladder and if you want to win trophies you have to climb it; just as Potter climbed the ladder by leaving Swansea for Brighton. But it is depressing when the moral of the story is that no matter how smart you are, football is a world in which money will always trump cleverness.”
I love going to watch Premier League football. The quality of the play and the individual skills on display are often breathtaking. But the truth is that The Premier League is the epitome of savage and uncaring capitalism. As Jonatha Brooke put it, the audience “didn’t care whether or not I was part of the Universal conglomerate.” How short term is the thinking in the Premier League? Brighton had exactly the same start last year – 13 points from 6 games. They then acquired 9 points from the next 11 games. Later in the season they lost 6 successive games. Yet due to a good start (against Man U + no other “top” teams), suddenly Graham Potter is the next Alf Ramsay. Good luck to him but all the plaudits coming his way are based on short sightedness. The Premier League is the premier example of rampant capitalism. Short term greed trumps long term vision. Farewell Graham Potter. “No regrets now. No tears goodbye. Don’t want you back. We’d only cry again. Say goodbye again.“
The album contains some other wonderful songs. Chrissie Hynde sings a lovely version of Tim Buckley’s “Morning Glory” from “Goodbye And Hello“. John Gorka gives a very good rendition of Eric Andersen’s “Thirsty Boots”, which was released on Bob Dylan’s “Another Self Portrait (1969-1971) The Bootleg Series Vol. 10“, recorded in 1970 but not released until 2013. John Cale and Suzanne Vega team up for an unbelievable version of Leonard Cohen’s “So Long Marianne”. Marshall Crenshaw’s take on “My Back Pages” is more akin to The Byrds’ version which appeared on “Younger Than Yesterday” than Bob Dylan’s original from “Another Side Of Bob Dylan”. “Everybody’s Talkin'” by Fred Neil (included on “Other Side To This Life“) is sung by Patty Larkin. Best of all is Ron Sexsmith’s wonderful singing of Tim Hardin’s “Reason To Believe”, a song that Rickie Lee Jones covered on “The Devil You Know“.
In my current emotional state of mind, the wonder, the beauty, the simplicity and the depth of feelings contained within these amazing songs are a blessed conduit.