Favourite bands, musicians and albums


I don’t know when I developed an interest in music per se. After all, throughout my primary and lower secondary school years, during Music classes, I had always been kept in the section called ‘offnotes’ (after being rapped across the knuckles with a heavy tuning fork) and told to ‘sing silently within my heart’ and then ignored while Mrs. Morris, my primary music teacher, got on with her job of teaching the others. Anyway, at some point my eldest sister bought something called a radiogram. This was a long rectangular pine box which practically filled our small living room. The lid, coffin-like, opened to display a built-in am / fm radio with big speakers, a storage area for L.Ps and a turntable to play the albums on. I remember something by Nat King Cole and another sister bought Bridge over Troubled Waters, while my mother used to buy discount albums at the local supermarket where the range covered Mozart’s Best Hits to Best of the Swingin’ Twenties and on through the genres.

Before, during and after the advent of the radiogram, I relied on a small blue transistor radio, in a genuine leather case with a strap. I used to listen to a pirate radio station on board a ship called Radio Caroline and Radio Luxemburg both of which broadcast modern ‘pop’ music and sometimes, instead of using headphones, I would put the tranny under my pillow and fall asleep listening to a shipping weather forecast describing end of the earth places like Finisterre, Faeroes  Malin and Fastnet.

Disc jockeys* on the BBC TV programs like Top of the Pops at 7:30 pm on a Thursday night introduced a variety of live acts into my living room and put faces and identities to the sounds and music I was used to hearing on the radio. The early sixties  were a prime time for all the big bands of the day to emerge – Herman’s Hermits, The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, of course, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Who, The Troggs, and the Tremeloes. Of course, hearing a band on the tranny was very different to seeing them perform on TV, even if it was black and white and very grainy signal. Anyway, right from the start I was a Rolling Stones man. Long used to belting out ‘this could be the last time, the last time oh yeah’ or moaning about not getting any satisfaction (something I could readily sympathise with) I was completely overwhelmed by Jagger’s swagger, Charlie’s deadbeat, emotionless face, the lead guitarist’s face hidden by long hair but his body language spoke eloquently of the force within. I disliked one of the early members of The Stones as a bit of a ‘poseur’ but I liked the path the band took after his death and influence petered out. I don’t know if it was my father’s scorn or the deliciously threatening tone of the music, lyrics, antics, on and off stage, or lifestyle (if only!) but I was definitely a fan. Compared with the Beatles, also scorned by my father – ‘Would you ever look at the head of hair on that one. Is it a man or a woman or what?’ – who sang about wanting to hold my hand, the Stones blatantly suggested speaking the night together with all that implied, thanks very much.

Then, during late high school, I started going out to dances, held at regular periods in the Tennis or the Rugby or the Yacht Club and began to really distinguish between actually live performances by local bands in contrast to a disco held, perhaps at the Golf Club, and became more aware of musicians, all home-grown, of course in the sense that they were small bands from Dublin and the rest of the country. 

I don’t actually remembering buying any L.P’s but I suppose friends lent me some. I certainly bought singles or E.P’s, I think they were called, which played at a different speed on the turntable to the larger L.P’s. Mony-Mony by Tommy James and the Chaundels was a favourite as was Ring of Fire, not by Johnny Cash but by some one-shot weirdo – The Crazy World of Arthur Brown? I’m pretty sure The Sloop John B by the Beach Boys was another one.

 However, the single which stood out the most was one I certainly did not buy. It had an orange inset label and there was a different song on each side A and B. I don’t remember which side the track Positively 4th Street was on but the voice and the power blew me away. I was used to going to, god help me, trendy Poetry Readings and sometimes the earnest poet – nearly always, bespectacled, bearded, pale, wearing drawstring pants and plaid shirts – would read their compositions with verve and even dramatic gestures. However, the scorn, the disdain and the pure venom expressed by Bob Dylan was extraordinary – ‘How I wish, for just one moment, you could stand inside my shoes / then you could see just how much I despise you’, or words to that effect. Amazing, virulent stuff.

Not having sufficient funds – or the interest – to splash out on L.P.’s or cassettes and copying to and from them was not yet feasible so I fell back on what my immediate neighbourhood had to offer. Besides the dances held at the various clubs around the area, there were also dedicated venues like The Top Hat Ballroom, whose patrons often woke me as they walked past our house late at night long after the last bus service had stopped. I never went there (my mother said they were a very rough crowd!) but instead to Stella House, in a more genteel area, which doubled as a cinema and a concert venue. Near that was The Barn, another dancehall with concert features i.e. stage, sound system and lights. These were far more professional than the rugby club venues and attracted more popular acts. Dublin was a small city and for someone to break through regular appearance had to be made at all of these clubs, concert and dance Halls and so on.

A band called Them fronted by Van Morrison who howled and wept and begged his way through Gloria and Mystic Eyes, while Rory Gallagher of Taste was the self (?) proclaimed best guitarist in the world.

Tin Lizzie’s Boys are Back in Town fronted by Phil Lynott while on the traditional Irish scene, modern approaches were taken with traditional instruments and bands like Horslips and Planxty produced not only beautiful love songs, stirring tales of rebellion but also evocative and lyrical descriptions of countryside. 

However, it was the album Astral Weeks by Van Morrison that made me a ‘Van the man fan’ for life – ‘I was conquered in a car seat / not a thing that I could do…’ but it was Van’s incredible use of repetition that was so amazing. He could take a line or a word – or part of a word – and just drag it out magnificently, as in the fade out on Madame George, or the incredible track, Listen to the Lion on St. Dominic’s Preview, where he grunts, growls, gibbers, stutters and wails over the lines Listen to the Lion for more than three minutes. (I just listened to it again and timed it this time!) 

From the time I finished secondary school until I was done and dusted with university, I left Ireland every summer and worked somewhere in Europe – factories, train stations, hotels – to earn enough for the next year’s fees and to treat myself the occasional luxury like a portable radio cassette player where I quickly built up a library of both bought and borrowed music. Inevitably my library was top heavy with copies of Rolling Stones albums like Hide Tide and Green Grass along with The London Years collection. Sometime during those years, late one night at party somewhere or other, most people had gone and a few of us lay sprawled around, sharing the last of the booze, cigarettes and other miscellaneous intoxicants and I became absorbed in the lines –‘You’re an idiot babe / it’s a wonder you still know how to breathe’. Wow, strong words. Dylan again and then at a much later period in my life, once again sprawled on a rooftop apartment in Sevilla, watching the pelicans build clumsy looking nests on adjacent rooftops, two of Dylan’s albums, Blood on the Tracks and Desire seemed to resonate with me. I enjoyed sitting in a sun-baked plaza, watching random dogs scuffle and play while listening to ‘Hot chilli beans in the noonday sun … shot down in the cantina..’ or ‘I helped her out of a jam I guess but maybe I used too much force’

Joni Mitchell made an appearance around that time too and again each and every song seemed to be like a Gestalt or cloze passage where I could fill in the missing bits to make it fit exactly my life or predicament or pleasure at the time. ‘Come on down to the Mermaid Cafe and I will buy you a bottle of wine / and we’ll laugh and drink and smash our empty glasses down’. 

Then, after several years in audio darkness, a friend gave me an album by The Sisters of Mercy which I immediately referenced back to a song of the same title by Leonard Cohen but this was a different kettle of fish. Pounding drums, a driving guitar and the anger of ‘I’ve nothing to say / I ain’t said before / I’ve bled all I can / I won’t bleed no more …’ led by a Goth influenced Andrew Eldritch. 

Nevertheless, the Sisters of Mercy led me back to Leonard Cohen but the album called The Future was in direct contrast to the early stuff like Suzanne – ‘and she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China / and just when you want to tell her that you have no love to give her/ she gets you on her wavelength …’ or the beautiful break-up line  – ‘It’s just the way love changes / like the shoreline with the sea …’ whereas here, in  The Future, the scorn and contempt ride high above the tenderness and love of earlier albums. ‘I have seen the future, brother and it is murder. … Take the only tree that’s left / and stick it up the hole in your culture … and now the wheels of heaven stop / you feel the devil’s riding crop / get ready for the future / it is murder’.

So, to return to the basic topic of this article – Favourite Bands, etc, let’s see if quantity is anything to go by and indicate who my favourites are – currently in my iTunes library I have the following

Bob Dylan – 24 Albums

The Rolling Stones – 20 albums (I could include the stand alone albums by Keith Richards and that would bring the Stones level with Dylan.

Van Morison – 14 Albums

Leonard Cohen – 8 albums


* Top of the Pops  D.J.’s included Pete Murray, Jimmy Saville, Alan Freeman among others.

Sunday, Bloody Monday.

I was listening to some music recently – ‘ Ever since the British burned the White House down*’ and I was reminded of the time – long ago now – when I burned the British Embassy down! That’s a pretty bold statement and i suppose I’d better backtrack and try to sketch in the situation. Even the most outlandish things can be tempered by the situation. Can’t they?

It was 1972, I think and I was repeating my first year of University in a predominantly Catholic country of the 26 counties, aka The Republic of Eire so I had plenty of time on my hands. We had Protestant neighbours of course – I can remember two different families on the square where I lived, one of which consisted of three teenage girls ranging in age from 14 – 19, while the other family were, to say the least, an odd bunch, with the son, about my age, engaged in taking apart an oily motorbike on the carpet in  the bedroom of his three story home. Needless to say, I spent more time with the girls who lived diagonally opposite my house at the time.

Anyway, the ‘troubles’ were on the rise in the six counties, aka Northern Ireland, a legal part of the United Kingdom with England, Wales and Scotland and predominantly Protestant with a sizeable Catholic population. Unbelievably, just over four decades ago, basic civil rights were not equable among the differing religious groups and the situation fermented from its much older republican roots into a civil rights / independence movement. The situation that year continued to deteriorate but I, snug in university life far to the south of the troubles, was rarely impacted by the casual but small time slaughter that was becoming a daily occurrence in ‘the North’. One of my sister’s friends was a nurse working in a hospital in Belfast but came home to discover her fiancé shot in the head while still in bed!

Interestingly, some of my fellow students here in the south were from Northern Ireland and on a better government stipend than most were in the republic but I certainly don’t ever remember discussing politics with them. They were just mates but then we were all safe in The South. As the months rolled on, it became increasingly apparent that the presence of the British Army in the Six Counties as a policing force was not working. And then, on a memorable day – to my shame I can’t remember the day or the month but I think it was around late winter, early spring 1972 – a civil rights demonstration calling for one person, one vote was stoped by the British Paratroopers. I am not sure what happened next, bu stones were thrown and immediately the Paras reacted, opening fire and killing more than a dozen at point blank range. I remember watching on the tv news  – both Irish and English channels and seeing a middle aged man, crouching forward, holding up a white handkerchief while he tried to assist someone already wounded. Was he a clergy man? I don’t remember but he was shot too. I suppose it was a taste of what daytime tv could broadcast into your living room – the front line where people fought and died.

I remember the shock we all felt and the next day, all classes were called off by the Student Representative Council (SRC) – we didn’t have a student union at that time – and a protest march was planned for lunchtime, leaving the suburban campus at Belfield and marching into the city centre to protest outside the British Embassy on Merrion Square in the heart of Georgian Dublin at the wanton killings by the Paras at the civil rights march in Derry, (not LondonDerry) 

Delighted to be released from the symbolism of something like Moby Dick, I was more than happy to dessert the lecture theatres and the library – God forbid that I’d have been caught there – and join the mob clustering around the student pub near the artificial lake. After some shuffling, griping, moaning, etc, the whole student body began to trudge off. Regular stops became part of the journey as public phone boxes were pillaged and the Yellow Pages torn out, and burnt in piles at significant crosspoints on our way into town.  Yellow Pages, apparently, were funded by the CIA who had just engineered the downfall of Salvatore Allende in Chile and that seemed like a good reason. 

I had rarely been on a protest or demonstration match before but because of my lusty voice someone from the SRC caught a glimpse of me and gave me a hastily improvised armband of ‘ steward’ and a bull horn.Obviously it was a sombre affair but I remember it as one of fun and expressionism.

There was solid line of Gardai Siochana – the local Irish police force – lined up three or four deep in front of the embassy steps up to the gracious Gerogian building, one linked in an elegant tree-lined square around a private park, reserved, I think, for the nearby Archbishop’s residence.

On arrival at the square, other groups – unions, transport, secondary and tertiary level groups and masses of others – surged around the railings while the implacable police remained impassive.

Speeches were made from the back of ha halfback truck from an emotional man and then as the early dusk and light rain began, the first serious attacks on the building started. Somehow,  someone managed to evade the police, scale the railings and climb up the front of the building to one of the first floor wrought-iron balconies.. Swinging what looked like a hammer, he struck at the window only to have it bounce back and strike him in the head, toppling him backwards.

A skinhead kid ran up to me, a dripping brown flagon in his hard.

‘Yis got a ligh’? and obediently, I flicked my lighter and lit my first ever Molotov cocktail. The kid ran forwards but the soft misty rain had slicked the pavement and he slipped as he hurled the flagon which crashed and exploded few metres in front, doing little or no damage but that may well have been a signal for a wave of molotovs which forced the police into a baton wielding charge. That probably gave others the chance to hurl more molotovs into the basement recess areas while someone else managed to scale the first floor balcony and succeed in smashing the window so more molotovs could be hurled inside.

In the swirling mess of the light rain, dusk, the smoke and acrid stench of petrol and burning, the crowds pushing and shoving one way and another, I ran like a headless chicken, calling for my friend when suddenly a burly copper loomed in front of me, his baton already on the downswing. I collapsed where I stood and the blow landed almost painlessly on my shoulder as I swerved away in search of Donal. Across the main road away, from the mayhem in front of the embassy, was my father’s hospital in Holles Street, although he always insisted that it be called The National Maternity Hospital of Dublin. I darted in there where the ambulances waited before finally venturing out, my shoulder beginning to ache now. Most of the crowd seemed to hav left although there was strong police presence again in front of the embassy while firemen forlornly tried to hose down the internal conflagration.

I got a bus home and managed to avoid any questions from my parents by leaving my smelly coat out in the tool shed in the garden while I muttered something about a headache from studying and went up to bed.

* Bob Dylan, Tempest, Narrow Way 


Despite listening to my music over the last couple of decades, I can honestly put my hand on my heart and claim I do not know the words of any song in their entirety – not even my national anthem! What follows below is a jumbled collection, in no particular order, of lines from a variety of song, singers and bands that pop into my head now and then and which I am prone to bellow raucously as I drive down the freeway. Even better when I can manoeuvre a conversation around so that I can then mutter an appropriate line or two. 

Someone might comment on a sunset and I could chip in with Dylan’s line – ‘Look at that sun / sinking like a ship’. I remember back in my old student days, a lawyer friend and I would, in an attempt to entice female company(!) exchange roles in a pre-scripted dialogue (originally, I think, between Gladstone and Disraeli two British Prime Ministers.) as in

“You sirrah, will die of the pox or upon the gallows”

“That would depend, sir, if I were to embrace your mistress or your principles’.

Don’t know what all these random spurts of memory say about me. What if … these random selections mean something in the context of my life?

Anyway, welcome to my music. I know the bare words are only half the music but the technology of ‘lifting’ a few lines from my music  and then pasting or uploading or whatever still eludes me, I’m afraid. A learning curve to which I can look forward?

Apologies to Bruce Chatwin, whose novel (?) Songlines refers to the connection between the dreaming tracks across the land and sky of Australia, where the ancestral spirits created the land’s features and lore during the Dreaming, and Aboriginal songs of wandering ‘creator-beings’.

1. I like the smile in your fingertips / I like the way you move your hips

2. Lord of Mercy, I think its the cops / And Amelie drops everything she gots / down into the street below.

3. Just do the steps that you’ve been shown / by everyone you’ve ever known / until the dance becomes your very own

4. You smiled at me like I was young / it took my breath away

5. I need something strong to distract my mind / I’m going to stare at you until my eyes go blind.

6. I was raised in the country / been working in the town / I’ve been in trouble ever since I put my suitcase down

7. Two worlds and in between / Love lost, fire at will / Dum-dum bullets and shoot to kill

8. I’ve got money in my pocket and I’ve time to kill

9. Look at that sun – sinking like a ship

10. Put your make up on and fix your hair up pretty / Meet me tonight in Atlantic City.

11. House boy knows that he is doing allright / Shoulda hear him just around midnight

12. One thing I did wrong / Stayed in Mississippi a day too long

13. Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing/ I took a wrong turn and just kept going.

14. Mister I ain’t a boy/ No, I’m a man and I believe in the promised land

15. The Johnny Walker wisdom running high / she’s rubbing up the world against her thigh … /

16. Ran into a chum with a bottle of rum / and we ended up drinking all night

17. Oh, we can be heroes / just for one day

18. I went home with a waitress, like I always do / How was I to know she was with the Russians too? Send lawyers, guns and money / the shit has hit the fan.

19. You don’t need a lawyer / I’m not making a claim / You don’t need to surrender / I’m not taking aim

20. I see you standing there / doing nothin’/ Go on an’ do the work’

21. What kind of fuckery is this?

22. I got up this morning  / and had myself a beer

23. And a pair of brown eyes were looking at me.

24.Sprung from cages on Highway 9

25. We only said goodbye in words …

26. I was fighting with temptation / but I didn’t want to win /a man like me / don’t like to see temptation caving in.

27. Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes / I’m afraid it’s time for goodbye again.

28. These changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes / Nothing remains quite the same.

29. Yankee sailors dressed up nice, take the sub up / so they can get on down / to that jukebox in Siberia / If you are CIA or KGB / They might let you in for free

30. I know you’re right, you always are / you’re right about the blues / your lips on mine you’d never choose

31. We live and we die, we know not why / But I’ll be with you when the deal goes down.

32. I put my hand upon the lever / to make it rock and roll

33. I don’t need any guide / I already know the way

34. It looks like freedom but it feels like death / it’s something in between, I guess  / And I lift my glass to the awful truth / which you can’t reveal to the innocent youth /‘cept to say it isn’t worth a damn

35. I’ve got the pork chop, she’s got the pie / She ain’t no angel and neither am I

36. Sad to say, I must be on my way / so buy me beer and whiskey / ‘cause I’m going far away 

37. Even though she sleeps upon your satin / even though she wakes you with a kiss / do not say the moment was imagined / do not stoop to strategies like this

38. Everybody’s going and I want to go too / Don’t want to take a chance with somebody new

39. Why do you have to be so undemanding? / I need more / and I need all the love that I can get

40. ‘Cos I’m an anyway the wind blows rider / with a grin like a river getting wider

41. it’s just another tequila sunrise

42. Let nothing come between / a simple man, simple dreams

43. I turned my back on the devil / turned my back on the angel too

They ought to give my heart a medal / for lettin’ go of you

44 Why try to change me now?

Joni Mitchell Blue 1971

I was talking with sone friends recently, looking back at best times in our lives in comparison to the dread, exasperation and frustration that Covid-19 has engendered world-wide. Mind you, here in Perth, we have so far eluded the virus in Fortress WA, closed off from the world and most of the rest of Australia. Count our blessings! Anyway, we each recalled a different place or time in our lives when we were ‘happy’ whatever that means now. I remember a line from Dylan’s Workingman Blues – ‘ the place I love best is a sweet memort.’ We all came up with answers – places, cities, towns here, there and everywhere and Spain, specifically, sprang into my mind and then someone else bet that all our recollections of that best time were linked to an age range of between 22 – 25 years of age.

And then, just recently a friend send me a cutting from The Guardian* Joni Mitchell’s Blue: celebrating the albums’s 50 years and I fished out the cd, dusted it off and listened to it this morning while I lay on a mat and attempted hip flexion exercises!


in 1975, I was half-way to twenty-three when I finished my BA (Old & Middle English, Language and Literature) and left Ireland to work in steel factory and a jam and fruit processing plant. Then the following year, manual labour over for a while, money in my pocket and the vague possibility of teaching English somewhere, I took a long overland trip to the south of Spain – hard, slatted wooden seats on a train to or from, I can’t remember, Irun in northern Spain. Of places and cities I have no memory from that time but for my arrival in the early morning in Seville where I mistakenly thought the laden orange trees were electrified, their colour so vivid in that grey dawn.

My life changed then because, among many other new and wonderful experiences and discoveries that spring time in a fascinating ‘barrios’ with tangled streets in the old quarter of Seville, I remember most, almost, the music! Sadly perhaps, not Spanish or flamenco but instead Blue by Joni Mitchell, Blood on the Tracks and Desire both by BoyDylan.

I have no doubt that time and places can imprint a song in the mind far more so than the occasional ‘ear-worm’ where snatches of song echo continually in your head without you intending it. I distinctly remember the three cassettes and the bulky boom-box I dragged around Europe with me – (no disc or walkman then, of course) then much later buying them again on CDs, which I still have. At the time I could listen to any one of those albums and feel that they were directly speaking to me and directly relevant to my particular situation at that time. The amazing thing is that, fifty years later, I can still listen to them and feel that unerring truth and relevance in each and every song.

So with Blue, right now and off the top of my head, I remember sleeping out on the flat roof in the barrio of Santa Cruz, under the stars and listening to Joni Mitchell ‘The wind was in from Africa / last night I couldn’t sleep’ and I felt like I was there, with Africa just across the straits.


Unlike Leonard Cohen (in a previous post where I was perhaps a touch harsh on his vocal skill and guitar ability) Joni Mitchel  has a voice which sweeps all before it, rising and dipping, swooping into all areas and covering a gamut of emotions and feelings, evocative images forming, tangible. Her voice trembles, surges, chances so mercurially and yet I can’t resist her insistence

‘Come on down to the Mermaid Café and I will / Buy you a bottle of wine

And we’ll laugh and toast to nothing / And smash our empty glasses down’

and I thought of all the nights spent in late night basement bars and cafes, the tally chalked nonchalantly on the plain wooden  counter top.

‘Born with the moon in Cancer …’ summed me up, I felt, and was enticed by the promise of adventure and love and silver.

‘So I bought me a ticket / I got on a plane to Spain’ even though I had arrived by train, I still felt the whole album was speaking to me.

And there in Seville and later in LaRache in Morocco, everything was awaiting, adventure, fun, love, danger and excitement and further travel was no escape from love and a broken heart.

‘Turn this crazy bird around / Shouldn’t have got on this flight tonight.’ was the mildest of comparisons to how I felt when I finally left Spain with a newfound love for fine Spanish wines and sherries.

‘Maybe I’ll go to Amsterdam / or maybe I’ll go to Rome’ seemed to sum up my devil-may-care attitude at the time when I had both the leisure and the funds to afford it but I was deeply aware of what I had found and lost.

‘Oh I could drink a case of you, darling / and I would still be on my feet’. Somehow every single song on the album seem to resonate with my soul at that time and still managed to produce a twang when I listened again to it recently and saw the truth of it in myself now!

‘Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café’

* The Guardian


Leonard Cohen

I remember, back in the seventies, my father thought one or other of my sisters must have been particularly depressing / depressive because they had either bought or borrowed an album, a  vinyl LP, by Leonard Cohen, who was part but separate from, a growing band of musicians like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Jackson Browne and of course, Bob Dylan, who wrote their own primal ballads instead of pandering to the masses. In common, they could all perform as soloists, using either piano or guitar (in Cohen’s case) for accompaniment but this trimmed back, spare notion of their music also served to accentuate an aura of directness and to distinguish them from the more mainline rock and rollers of that time.Certainly, Leonard Cohen’s appeal had far less to do with his guitar playing or (limited) vocal range but more to do with his personality and that is probably true for the other singer / songwriters mentioned above.Document_2021-06-24_173108 (3)

So taken was I at the time back in the seventies that I bought Cohen’s novel, Beautiful Losers, but in all honesty, I have to say that I didn’t understand or appreciate anything in it. All I can remember now is that the paperback had a plain red cover!  Whatever mournful aura my father perceived hanging around Cohen at that time was balanced by superb songs and lyrics of love and regret on the 1975 album Greatest Hits in songs like Suzanne

And she feeds you tea and oranges / that come all the way from China / 

and just when you mean to tell her that you have no love to give her / 

Then she gets you on her wavelength …

or the beautiful break-up line from Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye

its just the way love changes / like the shoreline and the sea…’

I have to admit using that line or a variation in my clumsy attempts at immature breakups!Handwritten_2021-06-24_173211

Cohen’s personality and distinct variations as artist, poet, novelist, singer, author and songwriter was compelling  and his voice was so subtle in his own versions of his songs that no other artiste attempting to cover his material could convey the same emotions and depths of feelings and the sense of urgency and impending doom. Nevertheless he then kind of drifted away from my mindset until a friend insisted that I listen to The Future (1992) and I was blown away by songs like the title track with raw anger and despair expressed so blatantly in lines like –

‘Take the only tree that’s left / And stuff it up the hole / In your culture / 

Give me back the Berlin wall /Give me Stalin and St. Paul / 

I’ve seen the future, brother / It is murder’

or the harsh honesty in songs like Be for Real

‘Are you back in my life to stay / Or is it just for today? 

So don’t give me the world today / And tomorrow take it away. / 

Don’t do that to me, darling.’

While the final track, the instrumental Tacoma Trailer soothes and calms the anger and hurt expressed in the other songs. His seeming passivity towards love and relationships and the helplessness he expresses through both humour and a mature insight perhaps stem from the fact that he was already an established poet and author before he released his first studio album when he was already in his thirties.

The Essential Leonard Cohen (2002) is full of the frustration and bliss of love as in Closing Time

‘And I just don’t care what happens next / Looks like freedom but it feels like death  / 

It’s something in between, I guess… /

And I lift my glass to the Awful Truth /

Which you can’t reveal to the Ears of Youth / 

Except to say it isn’t worth a dime…

The sadness and recognition of loss is beautifully captured in Alexandra Leaving with lines like 

Even though she sleeps upon your satin / Even though she wakes you with a kiss

Do not say the moment was imagined / Do not stoop to strategies like this …

Do not choose a coward’s explanation / That hides behind the cause and the effect …

Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving / Then say goodbye to Alexandra lost

Document_2021-06-24_172958 (2)Recently, on a whim one afternoon in a Perth Mall, I bought Cohen’s last studio album You Want it Darker (2016) made before he died. The title track is both accusatory yet suffused with a dull acceptance

‘A million candles burning / For the love that never came

You want it darker / We kill the flame

If you are the dealer, let me out of the game

If you are the healer, I’m broken and lame

If thine is the glory, mine must be the shame’

Treaty, the second track, mourns the barrenness of his relationship, despairing of the inability to connect with his love

‘I’m angry and I’m tired all the time

I wish there was a treaty,

I wish there was a treaty

Between your love and mine’

and the same wish is repeated in the last, semi-instrumental, track, String Reprise / Treaty.Document_2021-06-24_172806

An unhappy man, Cohen seems constantly torn in On the Level between love and the rejection of both gratification and temptation

‘You smiled at me like I was young / it took my breath away’

yet, nevertheless,

‘They ought to give my heart a medal / For letting go of you

When I turned my back on the devil / I turned my back on the angel too’


‘I was fighting with temptation / But I didn’t want to win

A man like me don’t like to see / Temptation caving in’

The only genuine love song on the whole album – If I Didn’t Have Your Love – where the world appears dark, cold, sterile and bare without a sustaining and creative love

‘Well that’s how broken I would be / What my life would seem to me

If I didn’t have your love to make it real’

but almost immediately he swings back into loss, accepting it and acknowledging both his own and his lover’s faults in Travelling Light

‘It’s au revoir / My once so bright, my fallen star…/

I guess I’m just somebody who / Has given up, on the me and you … /

I’m just a fool, a dreamer who / Forgot to dream of the me and you

I’m not alone, I’ve met a few / Traveling light like we used to do’

Old age and the increasing futility of chasing something so ephemeral as love strikes a resigned note of acceptance of the finality of relationships in Leaving the Table 

‘You don’t need a lawyer / I’m not making a claim.

You don’t need to surrender / i’m not taking aim … /

I don’t need a lover, no, no, no / The wretched beast is tame

I don’t need a lover / So blow out the flame’

Throughout all of Cohen’s songs, the overriding theme seems to be one of loss, rejection, and a love that fulfils yet torments but this last studio album, You Want it Darker seems to be the bleakest of all his albums (with the exception of the love song mentioned earlier), and yet somehow transcends despair and hopelessness and speaks to all those who have ever loved and lost. True poetry can never be nihilistic and Cohen brought poetry into mainstream music, not just through the beauty of the words but thought the inflection and the subtle variations in tone, his voice, so low and husky, so close and intimate in one’s headphones.

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Time Changes Everything

I wrote a blog a while ago about the pleasure of music in the most general sense when I actually sat down and did nothing else except listen to an entire album – The Rolling Stones Let it Bleed (1969) in a deserted tropical beach-front bar rather than just listening to a random selection from Music – Songs – Shuffle in the library on my phone or desktop which is what I usually do. I don’t know when I last listened to the full album but the same eerie memory of dread from that time remained. I’ve always enjoyed the Rolling Stones but gradually became more attuned, I think, to Keith Richards, lead guitarist, some writer and half of the writing duo the Glimmer Twins with his lifelong friend and musician Mick Jagger. So when Richards produced his first solo album Talk is Cheap back in 1988 or thereabouts, I bought it as a cassette, long since lost of course. Main Offender (1992) was next and I bought that on CD – and still have it! Vintage Vinos (2010) was next and somebody gave me a copy and I have just come across Richards’ latest and third solo studio album, Crosseyed Heart (2015).

So it was with some expectation when I recently bought – actually bought – among other things*, – both his Talk is Cheap and Crosseyed Heart albums which I listened to on an actual physical CD player.  Of course I have already transferred them into iTunes on my phone and desktop but I enjoy looking at the cd insert and, the first few times anyway, reading the lyrics and details of backup vocalists and session musicians while listening to the words. I don’t know, is it weird to actually sit down and listen to an entire and specific music CD? I mean, you sit down, usually, to read a book or newspaper or to watch a movie, for example. You do these things attentively in that you don’t read a book while exercising or watch a movie while driving a car! 

So, why does listening to music feel different?  Or does it? Is it me? Whether it is or not doesn’t matter because that is what I have started doing recently! {Is it an old man thing, like The Father?}

A big contrast to the way I usually consume music – on my headphones, any time of the day or night and usually while I am doing something else, like walking or cooking or listening to the radio while driving. 

I don’t have Spotify nor do I buy music on the App Store so, rather than some abstract stream, download or view of music, the physical items are anticipated and their arrival is always welcomed with surprise or excitement. I must be reverting to the teenage years when hip kids would walk around with collections of artistically covered LPs under their arms. 

Similar to the two other CD’s I bought recently (more about them later, maybe**), the two most recent acquisitions are the first and the most recent (or last?) album of a singer, in the twilight, as it were, of his 78 years or so.

Anyway, I thought I’d look for a common theme – love, lost, or just get on with it? – in Talk is Cheap (1988) conveys the Richards philosophy of sure, life is hard so toughen up!


Not a great man for a soft heart, his take no prisoners approach to his world fending off unwanted advances but in Make no Mistake along with the featured vocalist, Sarah Dash, my heart was swept away be by lyrics like ‘No words can convey your lips melting into mine /… I’ve made up my mind about you’/. I sensed, nevertheless, an implied threat lurked there for whoever not to screw up this time in ‘I’m talking to ya baby / Make no mistake.’

The cynical anger in You Don’t Move Me ‘It’s better that you kill the light / You’re giving us all a fright’ is picked up later in Crosseyed Heart’s Blues in the Morning ‘Got a picture of your face and I hold it up to the light / But on a good day, baby, it sure gives me a fright.’

How I wish is the only love song on the entire cd with lyrics like ‘If I could see you, Oh just now and then / If I could feel you, I’d do my time again / Oh Honey, honey, honey, Yeah’.

In my stiffened and arthritic form, the slow, hypnotism of songs like Rockawile with Sarah Dash again and Locked Away with Waddy Wachtel on guitars welcomes me into an entranced gentle swaying exercise!

A justification of his hard-nosed attitude to society in general is Richards’ determination to live and enjoy the little things in life and if that is not good enough, too bad!


Mocking society nearly three decades later with Crosseyed Heart, the third studio album in 2015 with the X-Pensive Winos, ambiguously named, I feel, Richards’ devil-may-care attitude soars for a while with short bursts like the title track Crosseyed Heart ‘Oh, she’s a sweetheart but she drives me round the bend / I go round the corner and find another friend’ and Nothing on Me  I’m walking out the door / Cause you got nothing on me, nothing on me.but begins to waver between not caring at unsatisfactory love to a sneering disdain in Trouble ‘Even though you are still inside I can get you off the hook / But I know when I get you out I won’t get a second look … Too much trouble’.

Old Age has brought doubts and fears too and wild swings between desperation in Love Overdue ‘And now I am a prisoner of loneliness … I don’t know just what to do, honey, yeah’ to an accusatory tone in SuspiciousNo matter what you do I’m still a part of you / You will never be free of me / … I told you from the start you better barricade that heart’.

As Sarah Dash took featured vocals in  Make No Mistake so too does Norah Jones takes lead vocals in a sublime duet with Richards in Illusions on this latest album.

Resignation in later years sinks in too  as in ‘I’m here if you want me’ sort of thing in Just a Gift. One of the most extraordinary things though about both the first and most recent albums is Richards’ ability to code switch, not just with his guitar skill but with his vocal range so much so that in Goodnight Irene, the old Ledbelly song from 1936, he transforms himself  into a southern Blues singer rather than the Londoner he was born.

The last two tracks, Substantial Damage and Lover’s Plea seemed amazed at the inappropriateness of the relationship along with a puzzled annoyance as to why his love is not trusted.

Superb guitar, vocals and backing from a host of wonders among the X-Pensive Winos, together on all three studio albums, with contrasting views expressed on the same topic  in his youth through the eyes of a contemporary songwriter, poet, guitar riff player and connsumate survivor. Well done Keef!

* IMG_4032

** You Want It Darker – Leonard Cohen 2016

** Rough and Rowdy Ways & Murder Most Foul – Bob Dylan 2020

Chords – A New Category !

I seem to have run out of steam recently – and it is certainly not because I have been too busy! The pandemic powers on worldwide and where hope looms in a few places, disasters surge elsewhere. So, along with a slow recovery from several self-inflicted injuries (I still have no clear idea how I ruptured my Achilles tendon so badly) and quarantine restrictions I have been, for the most part, cooped up in my back yard – thank god for glorious WA weather – and I have just dried up in all creativity areas and hit a block with my scribblings, readings, cooking, celtic stuff, curiosity and, of course, travel.

So it is almost the last month of a beautiful Perth autumn and I have decided to jump start things by adding a new page,or whatever it is called, Chords in this blog thingy. It is going to be about music in the most general sense and only referenced by music I actually have accumulated over the last … Well, when did CD’s become commonplace and eliminate cassettes?

I probably acquired a CD player in Brunei Darussalam back in the mid 1980’s or so and since then my music collection swelled and sank as I moved here and there around the world. Certainly CDs – and later iTunes of course and MP3 players dominated during the early 2000’s – making music mobility much easier but when I just went through the remnants of my former CD collection, I was disappointed to find so many of the iconic cd art lost – think of the cover of Sticky Fingers (1971) or Blood on the Tracks (1975) – while their spectral remains still somewhere in the depths of a hard disk.

I lay no claim to be a music critic nor can I read, write or play any form of music whatever and my taste is mostly plebeian popular so I make no excuse for including or ignoring giants of the music age and I may occasionally ramble on about a particular piece of music or some quirk about a musician or singer or look for connections between common themes or styles. Please feel free to disagree or comment as you will.

The banner photo for this page is just a random selection of actual CDs spread out on my kitchen table and my rambles might encourage me to actually buy more CD’s despite the fact that the age of the CD is over and acquisition is a waste of world resources! Here goes anyway, my meagre effort to spread wealth!

PS. Just saw the movie The Father with Anthony Hopkins. Wow! Cuts a bit close to the bone at times. I’m just thinking of the opening scene of the movie and the basic premise of my next post, already begun and 90% finished.  Is it just an old man thing or just a dream?