I Don’t Get No Christmas Cards + COOL MAN

I seem to have been going through a small distortion phase for a week or two.

These are two short and insignificant songs, each certainly made within a few hours. What do they mean to me? Not much.

COOL MAN was made with the guitarist from my school band, although strangely I played the main distorted chord sequence on guitar, and he just added those twinkly acoustic pluckings on top which don’t really work. I sing ‘yeah’ multiple times. It’s not really a song. The beginning is quite a lot like Just by Radiohead. I don’t think I really knew that song at the time – I listened to The Bends after most of the other Radiohead albums, and I was still a fledgling fanboy at this point. If you own a guitar, and your knowledge of chords is relatively basic, it’s almost impossible not to play something like COOL MAN or Just, given enough time.

This guitarist friend and I had much more success creating fake radio programmes together than we did with musical tidbits. Staying with a French family in Le Mans on a school trip, we holed ourselves up in the bedroom, too scared to socialise downstairs, and proceeded to record an hour long radio show about Pokémon. This was probably over five years after Pokémon stopped being a ‘thing’. (Not to say I didn’t indulge in it ever again, god no! There’s a time and place, and that time and place is after finals in 3rd year of university aged 23. The original gameboy games, by the way, not the actual card game. I’m not an idiot.)

We also made another infamous little recording called Fucking Paper Hats. The format is radio again, but it’s much shorter, and much, much more offensive. It has nothing to do with fucking, paper, or hats.

Like all good instrumentals, COOL MAN gets increasingly messy as it goes on, and then abruptly ends after the drumming gives up.

 

I Don’t Get No Christmas Cards is my second Christmas song which has very little to do with that special time of year. This one at least does include the word ‘Christmas’ in the lyrics, but that doesn’t really count when it’s a single line repeated over and over again. It strikes me that both my festive songs were written nowhere near December. And then it strikes me again that I constantly have songs like Last Christmas, All I Want For Christmas Is You, and the massive tune Once In Royal David’s City, stuck in my head all year round.

Am I obsessed with Christmas?

I mean, it is the most wonderful time of the year. But no, I don’t think I am. I think I’m just ‘obsessive’ in general. Give me a pen to flick with your fingers and I’ll give you a habit. Give me a song to sing, and I’ll give you a jingle for every second of the day. Give me the month of April, and you’re bound to get another song about Christmas.

From 1.22 I do a guitar solo of sorts, by sliding bar chords quickly around, paying no heed to such imprisoning contrivances like ‘key’, before my voice comes in once more with a fast drum fill. It actually works quite well, weirdly.

At one moment in the song I accidentally say ‘I get’ instead of ‘I don’t get’. There will not be a prize if you can find it, but you will have found it, and that will be enough.

 

One more thing: is it COOL MAN or COOL, MAN? I think because it’s written in capitals, I’ve never thought about it. You’ll have to ask the co-presenter of Fucking Paper Hats.

 

 

Never A Sound

This post pays homage to my least significant musical enterprise: a band called Happy Happy Fun Twins.

HHFT was comprised of myself and the bassist from my more ‘serious’ school band. Best friends since the age of 11, we had more than enough time to make some shit music together. And make some shit music together we did.

The first track, Never A Sound, is a bluesy country pastiche, including words such as ‘grain’, ‘land’, ‘wife’, ‘drink’, ‘Lord’, and ‘guitar’. Made on a summer’s afternoon in my bedroom at an age just a little bit too old to find this sort of thing funny, the song has two notable features:

  1. My voice has broken, but not completely. I am quite clearly struggling to reach the bottom notes, and my friend’s voice seems to be lower at many moments, even though we were probably trying to sing the same melody. I imagine we didn’t change the key because I wouldn’t have liked to admit defeat – at that age, a low voice is a prized possession to store in the Fabricated Masculinity Ego Cabinet© along with general strength, footballing skill, ability at Halo (check the year, this may be dated), confidence with girls, and the matter often talked about in hushed worried tones (or blasted out loudly with a false sounding bravado) – the size of your penis.
  2. I strum the chords, and my friend plays an ingenious slide guitar solo, using a glass we had in my room as the slide. This clever tactic has the unwanted side effect of sounding terrible, as you hear the rest of the glass making a scraping sound against the neck of the guitar. But it lends the song a certain air of authenticity, maybe. I don’t know, I’ve never really listened to any country music.

The second song was our first in the Happy Happy Fun Twins outfit, recorded, according to my computer, in 1970. I rechecked my birth certificate just to make sure, and have concluded that I can’t possibly have recorded HEavy Shit then. It’s more likely to have been created some 33 years later. We sat at night (when his mum had already told us to go to bed!!) and recorded this vocal performance by picking out random phrases we found written around his bedroom. I remember us being distinctly impressed with ourselves, sitting there in our pyjamas. It features some of my early attempts at beatboxing. They aren’t good, but unlike most musical skills, my beatboxing has not improved over the years, so I shouldn’t be too condescending.

‘Soak in a pile of soap’ and ‘heavily-laden dishwasher’ are undoubtedly good lines however, as any poet will tell you. I won’t even scrape the surface of their potential interpretations here, but my god, tomes could be written.

There were two HHFT songs that didn’t make the cut here. One was some variations on the Happy Birthday song, made for my first girlfriend. She was pleased. The other was an improvised story telling/singing attempt called Revenger of the Peace, which sounds a lot like we were high at the time. We weren’t. We just had the giggles. Spend enough time with one person in a house and you begin to find anything funny. They have been omitted mainly because I can’t be bothered to write about them.

Another two will come later, as the years wind on.

 

For All My Time

I’ll begin with a tangent:

At university I read ‘The Circus Animals’ Desertion‘, a poem by Yeats, and it had such a big effect on me that most of my lyrics since then have been influenced in some way by it. There’s a good reason for that – Yeats’ poem is one of the best examples of a piece of writing about not knowing what to write:

‘I sought a theme and sought for it in vain… What can I but enumerate old themes’?

To an aspiring young writer, whose thoughts never seem to quite manage the creation of a world famous poem, it’s comforting to read about other people’s dissatisfaction with their own mind. ‘Oh’, I’d think. ‘Yeats also fails to come up with anything occasionally. We have something in common.’ ‘But, oh’, I’d think again. ‘He seems to have turned his own dead-end thinking into yet another brilliant poem. I never seem to do that. Perhaps I should go to the shop and buy a chocolate, maybe stop in at a friend’s room on the way back to eat the chocolate, with a cup of tea, we could chat about our days so far, yes I think I should probably have a break, I’ll return a fresh person with fresh ideas.’

But the poem is about more than just not knowing what to write, obviously. The way Yeats looked back at his life and saw his whole work as just flashes of memory, images and symbols made me think a lot about the way we live life in general. Our experience is recorded in our minds as memories. And the word ‘memory’ tells us how much we lose to the past. The fact that we have a word for things we remember, and everything else that we lived through is just an indistinct blur. Which is not to say that those moments we can’t remember don’t have an effect on the way we grow or who we are or what we like, but when we are old and have finished our life’s work, whatever that might be, we will look back and see a tiny number of memories against the vast number of moments we lived through and forgot. The sum of our experience will seem to be smaller than it was.

So maybe the best thing to do in life is to create memories as often as possible. Even bad memories can become good with enough time. A terrible day when you lost your phone, got drenched in the rain, broke up with your partner, tripped when walking up some stairs, ordered some food and it arrived cold, told a joke and no-one laughed, and ended up in hospital with appendicitis – that day may with enough time be one of your best stories, may be one of the distinct memory blocks that make up your life.

 

Anyway, back to this eminently forgettable piece of music.

For All My Time was written two years before I got to university, and four years before I read that Yeats poem. But its lyrics are similar to the sort of things I would write much later. Well, some of them are. The song suffers from the inconsistency and lack of editing that we’re all used to by now in these early songs, and so what starts quite promisingly as a wistful song about ‘wasted hours’ and things that ‘disappear with time’ begins to be invaded by murmurings of a boring break-up song:

‘Just turn the other cheek,
You’ll be gone in a week’

and the very strange:

‘Hey, I think it’s very rude
For you to ask for more than shelter and food’

For All My Time is also ridiculously long for a country-ish blues-ish song of a reasonable tempo. If it was simply halved, it might have been one of my best songs from its year of composition (2008). It might also have needed some better vocal takes, although even mentioning my terrible singing seems pointless this far in.

 

At 3.57, I attempt a linear drumming fill, with poor to moderate success. Linear drumming is when you don’t hit any drums at the same time. This is, I’m certain, the only moment of linear drumming in my entire output. So soak it in. I’d had a few drum lessons on it in the weeks leading up the recording. Clearly not as many as I needed.