133: Do I love you? Indeed I do.

Waaaaay back in the 1980s I fell for an American bloke in scruffy jeans, a white t-shirt and a penchant for bandanas on stage. Duran Duran were discarded in his wake – callow youths in their flouncy shirts and frankly ridiculous trousers! Enabled by a babysitter, I discovered the albums beyond Born in the USA. That check shirted, stubble-chinned, guitar-brandishing New Jersey boy remains my favourite nearly 40 odd years later. I even managed to write a couple of essays about him in uni, and he was probably one of the main reasons I chose to do American Studies in the first place.

You know you’ve made it when Sesame Street get in on the act

I am, of course, talking about the Boss, the one and only Bruce Springsteen. He of the E-Street Band. You know. Born to Run. Dancing in the dark with Courtney Cox. Cars and girls. Impassioned odes to blue collar America. Excellent counting skills.

Like all long-term relationships, it’s had its low points – his album, Western Stars, was definitely one of those. I listened once and then resolved never to speak of it again. Generally it’s been high points, though, and that seems to be what’s coming with his latest single ‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’ which is the harbinger of a new album of soul covers called Only The Strong Survive and which is a proper joyous romp in the manner of the Seeger Sessions album from 2006. I’m very much looking forward to hearing the rest of it.

Clarence and Bruce. Sigh.

Here are my favourite Bruce albums, mostly in no particular order. With 20 studio albums, seven live albums and a stack of compilations and archival releases there are a lot to choose from.

  1. Darkness on the Edge of Town. I prefer this to The River. It’s wonderfully dark in places, with lots of excellent guitars and the E-Street Band very much on form. Highlights: ‘Candy’s Room’, ‘Racing in the Streets’. Actually, all of it. It’s my favourite.
  2. Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ. His first album. Completely different to his second, third and fourth albums. Practically jazzy in places. My favourites are ‘For You’ and ‘Lost in the Flood’
  3. Nebraska. Early solo effort. Recorded in his house – clearly a forerunner of the working at home thing. Highlights: ‘Highway Patrolman’, ‘Open All Night’
  4. Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75. The elegiac version of ‘For You’ is glorious, the rest of it is riotous. Especially ‘Rosalita’.
  5. Bruce Springsteen and the Sessions Band: Live in Dublin. Off the back of the Seeger sessions studio album (also worth a listen) this is someone having the MOST fun on stage with a bunch of his mates. Includes excellently bouncy versions of ‘Atlantic City’ and ‘Open All Night’.
  6. Born to Run. Must be listened to as a whole for the full effect. If you only have time for a couple of tracks, go with ‘Backstreets’, ‘She’s the One’ and ‘Jungleland’.
  7. Apollo Theater 3/9/12 – the first full show for Bruce and the band after losing Clarence Clemons. So good, and a warm up for the Wrecking Ball tour.
  8. The Promise More of a compilation, but basically the sessions and demos for Darkness. Different versions of things, and a great version of ‘Because the Night’.
  9. Born in the USA. Peak 1980s Bruce, and never fails to cheer me up. I want ‘No Surrender’ played at my funeral.
  10. The Wild, The Innocent and The E-Street Shuffle. From the year I was born. ‘Incident on 57th Street’ and ‘Rosalita’ – completely different, completely brilliant.

I love Springsteen’s talent for bringing the characters in his songs to life: Spanish Johnny and Puerto Rican Jane, Bobby Jean, Crazy Janey and Hazy Davy, partner-in-crimes Terry, Wayne and Eddy, Frankie and Joe Roberts, Jimmy the Saint. No one is perfect, everyone is human and fallible. Springsteen may not really be a blue collar hero but he certainly grew up around them and is a born storyteller.

I’m quite sure my Springsteen-loving friends will have their own top tens, but these are mine – let’s see if the new album can edge its way on.

Things making me happy this week (apart from Bruce):

  1. Cunk on Earth. I can’t decide whether the poor academics know it’s satire or not. Either way, it’s hilarious.
  2. A great day on Thursday focused on careers – New City College in the morning helping with mock interviews and a junior school in the afternoon for ‘Aspirations Week’.
  3. Toast with Marmite and butter. The perfect food for any time of day.
  4. New haircut.
  5. Going to Wales to see my cousins tomorrow! (I am writing this on Friday night. The magic of WordPress).

Also, these finishes…

See you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Michael Tolliver Lives – Armistead Maupin

Dishonesty is the Second Best Policy – David Mitchell

Woodston – John Lewis-Stempel

Doctor Who: Eleventh Doctor Tales (Audible)

56: We got both kinds o’music!

I am under orders to ‘write something good’ this week, as instructed by a friend in a message yesterday. No pressure then! It’s early Sunday morning, I walked 15 miles yesterday, Thing 2’s alarm woke me up at 6am (no, I have no idea why she sets a 6am alarm either) and now I have to ‘write something good’. Ha!

This particular instruction came from an old friend from home. We used to drink in the same pubs, with excellent jukeboxes and good company, so it makes sense to write about music and memory this week. There’s a lot of science-y stuff around music therapy and the benefits of music for people with dementia and acquired brain injuries, but – making a rash generalisation here – the music we listened to as teens/young adults has the greatest power to cast us back in time. (Even Radio 3 agrees, so I must be right). Followers of my Facebook page will know that I have what I call my mental jukebox: when a song pops into your head and you can’t get rid of it. I don’t know what triggers the songs and refuse to take any responsibility for them (and sometimes they are extremely random). I just share them via YouTube. The playlist has been stuck in the seventies for a while, but I’m not complaining.

Here are the last three offerings from the mental jukebox:

Warren Zevon – Don’t Let Us Get Sick (2000)

Gordon Lightfoot – Sundown (1974)

Albert Hammond – The Free Electric Band (1973)

I wasn’t born till 1973, but I know the Hammond track from a ‘Greatest hits of 1973′ CD that someone bought me for a birthday present once, and the Lightfoot track was covered by a band called Elwood in 2000. In the year 2000 I was living in London and listening to a lot of music – I’d always choose music over turning on the TV, even now. The research says that songs that were on in the background become the soundtrack to your lives.

Warren Zevon

I discovered Warren Zevon myself, as – other than Werewolves of London – he didn’t get a lot of airplay on mainstream radio. I always loved Werewolves and went off to find the rest of his back catalogue later. The instruction to ‘write something good’ came in a message chain that started with ‘I’m listening to Warren Zevon’. Zevon is a clever, funny lyricist: I love people who can play with words and write whole stories in a few lines of a song.

Later, when I started finding my own musical taste, I discovered Bruce Springsteen with the help of Born in the USA and then a babysitter who was a huge fan. He’s another person who can pour whole worlds into a song and over the course of a live show can take you from joy to tears. He’s been in my life for the last 35 years, and probably counts as the longest soundtrack ever. U2 are up there in my lifelong soundtrack too: The Joshua Tree led me into their back catalogue

I grew up on the Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, John Denver (my mum’s all time favourite), Bill Haley and the Comets, Elvis Presley, Don Williams, Dr Hook and a host of country singers, Ray Stevens (thanks Dad), and those songs have the power to cast me back to long car journeys to West Wales and later to Spain for family holidays. These songs say summer to me: hot weather and the excitement of heading off for a couple of weeks on the beach. I can still sing along with most of them, and they always make me smile.

Often it’s individual songs that take you back in time. Bryan Adams’ Summer of ’69 takes me to a field in Tregare, The Violent Femmes’ Add it up to a dodgy student nightclub in Preston, Rage Against the Machines’ Killing in the Name to The Warehouse, Don McLean’s American Pie to the Griffin in Monmouth while Meatloaf’s Dead Ringer for Love means The Nag’s Head and playing pool in the back room. Green Day’s Basket Case whisks me off to a basement bar in Aberystwyth, Let it Go from the Frozen soundtrack to my sister’s car filled with kids, The Orb’s Little Fluffy Clouds means the Lake District to me.

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions are forever attached to my best friend, and I know that Dexys Midnight Runners Come on Eileen causes her to think of me – it’s the song that never fails to lift me out of any down moment. Joan Armatrading’s Drop the Pilot is another one. The Blues Brothers soundtrack makes me think of an old friend, as it was his favourite film. Robbie Robertson’s Somewhere Down The Crazy River is the Glen Trothy in Mitchel Troy. There are so many others that raise a wistful smile, or cause me to really really want a pint of cider and a cigarette, or to be in a car with the windows open and the volume up in the sunshine.

The lovely thing about music is that people just keep making it, and there’s always more to discover and add to your personal memory bank. Which songs take you back, and where to?

(Will that do, Nigel?)

Edit: I forgot to include Ocean Colour Scene’s The Day we Caught the Train and Frank Sinatra’s My Way, so a friend tells me – bringing the Durham Arms on Hackney Road back into sharp relief! Thanks Leddy 🙂

These boots are made for walking…

And so, luckily, were my trainers as my walking boots are now more than 20 years old and definitely on their way out.

Yesterday London sister found herself at a loose end so she headed over to Essex – I haven’t seen her since September, which is the longest time we have been apart since I was studying in Aberystwyth and she had just moved to London. She brought coffee and I brought cookies and we headed off up the hill to join the Essex Way at Toot Hill. The weather, despite a frosty start to the day, was perfect for walking – not too hot or cold, and gloriously sunny. We walked through to Ongar and back, with a rest stop at St Andrews Greensted, and plotted a longer walking break which we’ll hopefully manage in the next couple of months. I do love to walk, as you may have noticed, and I’m lucky to have some good footpaths in the area. We covered just over 10.5 miles along paths lined with blackthorn blossom and primroses, saw fish in the Cripsey Brook as well as a lot of bank erosion that must have happened over the winter, and met a friendly collie dog greeting walkers behind the church.

I’d already done a 4.5 miler in the morning, so I am more than a little creaky today! I slept well last night…

I have just had my breakfast – buttered Bara Brith warm from the oven, as my early wake up call meant that I could add the flour, egg and spices to the tea, sugar and fruit I left soaking last night and get the mix in the oven early. Usually I’d be taking it for a post-swimming treat but I have managed to double book myself today and have a life coaching session this morning. I have to think of a problem or question, but I think the problem is really that I am quite content at the moment! My Covid-19 jabs are booked at last, work is going quite well and I have enough time to read and make stuff. What’s not to be happy about?

Tunisian socks finished!

On that note I had better go and get myself organised for the day!

Kirsty x

PS – I forgot to share this V&A blog post the other week when it was finally published!

What I’ve been reading:

Angel’s Share/Rose’s Vintage – Kayte Nunn

Maskerade – Terry Pratchett

A Comedy of Terrors (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)