Tuesday Tunes 8: Lockdown

As the main news story here over the past few days has been the Government’s ‘new’ guidelines for what we can and cannot do at present, this seemed as good a time as any to make ‘lockdown’ the theme for Tuesday Tunes. Those of a nervous disposition may like to look away now: this piece contains some criticisms of our leaders!

I had thought I might give you a brief rundown of the new guidance but it doesn’t seem very clear: every time a government minister says something about it they are either correcting something someone else has said or are immediately contradicted themselves. Government by chaos. This bears all the hallmarks of our Prime Minister: lurking behind him is his eminence grise – Dirty Dom – who becomes ever more dictatorial, and then they trot out the Prime Clown to make the pronouncements. For those who haven’t seen them, they basically amount to ‘wiffle waffle, piffle paffle, hrmph.’ And we now have the perfectly clear ‘Stay Home’ slogan replaced by ‘Stay Alert.’ What?

A brief summary: on Sunday evening Johnson commandeered the tv screens to make a statement. Except that he didn’t: anyone hoping for a live broadcast would have been disappointed to learn that it was pre-recorded, presumably so that the producers could edit out the inevitable cock ups. Mind you, his cabinet ministers shared in that disappointment, as the whizzo 50 page booklet that they were due to discuss in Zoom cabinet had apparently already been sent to the printers. If he doesn’t even trust his own cabinet, what chance is there for us poor plebs? But good news: there was to be a slight relaxation of the lockdown rules. People who could go to work should do so. But not by public transport. We would now be allowed to meet with one family member (pick between Gran and Grandpa, folks) but only outside at two metres distance, of course. But it was ok to have a carer or cleaner in your home, just not your relatives. Oh, and he forgot to tell us that this wouldn’t all be starting until Wednesday, and one of his sidekicks had to be wheeled out for an instant correction. Asked yesterday by a teacher why it would be acceptable for her to be in a classroom full of children, but not for her to see her own grandchildren, he didn’t have an answer. And that is just the tip of the iceberg – a confusion of Titanic proportions.

At times like this there is only one thing for it: music! I’ve picked two tunes for this week which, by their titles alone, are good complements to this week’s theme. That they are both from favourite artists of mine, and that their lyrics speak of being apart from people or being restricted in what we can do, is a bonus! First up is the late, great Warren Zevon. His slightly gravelly voice may not be to everyone’s taste, but he wrote some great tunes and his lyrics are often masterful. See what I mean from this:

That was on his seventh studio album, Transverse City, and the harmonica and harmony vocals are by Neil Young – Warren may not have set the charts alight but he had a very loyal following and fellow artists knew just how good he was: there are many cover versions of his songs, a particular favourite of mine being Poor Poor Pitiful Me by Linda Ronstadt. The novelist Carl Hiaasen was a big fan, and often featured snippets of Warren’s lyrics in his books: they became good friends right until Warren’s passing in 2003. Hiaasen’s books, like Warren’s lyrics, are full of larger than life characters: I guess, in Warren’s case, that is the product of his upbringing as the son of a Mormon mother and a father who worked for a notorious LA mobster. He once wrote a song called My Shit’s Fucked Up – it’s not hard to see why!

As I said earlier, this week’s second tune is also from a favourite of mine. It’s a Bob Dylan song, but I think the Byrds did it better – as they did with many of his songs. Their version was on Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, which was the only one of their albums to feature the late, great (secondary theme here) Gram Parsons. It has since become recognised as the forerunner of what we now know as country rock, and led to Parsons and Chris Hillman leaving the Byrds to form the Flying Burrito Brothers – I still play both bands’ albums to this day. As a Tuesday Tune for lockdown, it is hard to find a better message than this:

Parsons left the Byrds during a UK tour in 1968, which gave him more time to hang out with his friends Mick Jagger and Keith Richard/s. If you’ve ever wondered where the Rolling Stones’ country influence came from, on tracks like Country Honk and Faraway Eyes, Gram’s your man!

To wrap up this week’s selection, a serious note. I don’t think I was being too disingenuous in my description of the state of guidance here in the UK, and it worries me that things are that unclear. This is vitally important, and is something that has to be got right. I’ve been critical of Johnson et al in their early complacency and lack of response to Covid, and they have to be decisive now: lives have been lost, and more depend on it. There has been a spike in infections in Germany since they eased their regulations last week, and I am fearful of that happening here.. Stay alert (whatever that is supposed to mean), be safe, and take care. Till next week….

Halloween In Song

On Tuesday, I posted my usual reminder about not using Halloween as a time to mock mental illness, even if it is unintended. To show that I’m not a fully fledged grouch – well, not yet – I thought I should show my ‘fun’ side and approach the ‘celebrations’ from the angle of my other main theme: music. There have been many songs which could be deemed to relate to the usual manifestations of this time of year, by which I mean monsters, ghosts, zombies, witches and general spookery. Most of these are tongue in cheek, and I’ve managed to avoid stretching the links too far: for example, I considered, but rejected, Time Of The Season by the Zombies. It’s a great song, but my limited abilities at quality control told me that just using the band’s name was pushing it a bit.

Instead, I chose as my starting point a song which is probably the most popular ever for this time of year. Scoring no points for originality I give you….

That is the shorter version, which just gives you the song. If you want the complete 13+ minute epic, which is the full cinematic treatment, it’s easily found on YouTube.

My second choice is one that was a hit in my childhood, way back in 1962. This is a homage to the song: watching this video brings back lots of happy memories for me, and it is great fun:

Another obvious choice next. It’s probably worth keeping in mind that you may need to rid yourself of ghosts at some point, so do you know who to call? Do you have their number? Are you afraid? I ain’t:

I went for another oldie next. Perhaps this isn’t obviously a Halloween-related song but, on the theme of monsters, who wouldn’t be frightened by a thing going around eating people? But it does only seem to have it in for purple people, though, so maybe we’re alright:

Another monster favourite of mine is next up. I know this one is stretching it a bit, but I like it and didn’t want to leave it out. And the video is fun, too:

Time to move on to witchcraft now, I think. This choice is very left-field, and is not really about Halloween at all. But it is very much of its time – late 1960s/early 70s, when prog rock was taking shape and there was a renewed interest in the occult. I had this on one of those sampler albums that some of the record companies issued: Bumpers was the album, from Island Records. It always intrigued me, and there is something about the insistent rhythm and chanted chorus that attracts me to it. I love this video that has been put together for the song – so many wonderful images!

Another ‘witch’ song now, from 1971. This was a classic one-hit wonder in the UK, and deserves to be included in my collection even if it doesn’t specifically mention Halloween, as it’s a very good depiction of how ‘witches’ can cast a spell over us: in this case with voodoo and black magic. And it’s still a Halloween favourite after all these years:

They say you should always leave the best till last, so that’s exactly what I’m doing. Another UK one-hit wonder (no.87 in 1987, on re-release), though his albums fared slightly better (two reached our top 200!). The writer of incredibly original songs – try Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner if you don’t know what I mean – and taken from us by cancer, far too soon. But his legacy lives on, and there have been countless covers of his songs. My no.1 for Halloween is the great Warren Zevon:

I was born and brought up in Kent and am happy to report that I never encountered that character! But, then again, I’m not called Jim so maybe I’d have been alright anyway?

I hope you managed to find something in this selection to enjoy. Have a great Halloween, however you spend it. I’ll be hunkered down in my flat, pretending I’m out if anyone comes trick or treating, but that’s just me showing my ‘fun’ side, isn’t it? 😉