We are ugly but we have the music

Of course, a tip of the old homburg to Leonard Cohen for one of my favourite lines from one of my favourite songs (And clenching your fist for the ones like us who are oppressed by the figures of beauty, you fixed yourself, you said, “Well never mind, we are ugly but we have the music.) Chelsea Hotel #2.

Anyway, this is about popular music in Europe excepting Britain and maybe Scandinavia. I thought on this trip that it would be great fun to bring back some music. I don’t know exactly why I had great hopes given that I wasn’t really listening already to any European rock and roll despite the complete global access we now enjoy. And here I was in places with incomparable food, art, architecture, an aesthetic paradise, why not music as well?

One night after the usual late supper and wine and an interesting encounter with a large snifter of brandy….well this is how it played out. We’d had the great supper and the 3 glasses of thick red wine each (small glasses but still) and just before the inevitable and absolutely indispensable con leches, we espied high on the shelf in front of us a comely display of liqueurs. Neither of us had had brandy in a while and thought why not, a little shot, might just be the thing. Our genial man behind the bar brought down the Torres and asked if we wanted the 5 or 10 year. We said the 10. He placed two warmed snifters in front of us and started to pour into one. I expected him to stop after a couple of ounces and then ask if that was good but that point came and went and the next and soon I realized there might be no end till I said something. We had already started giggling nervously at the thought of having to drink it and also at this attitude that just kept pouring. It was a little frightening to see that glass fill and fill and I have no doubt he would have gone to the brim if I wouldn’t have blurted out “si, si, bueno”. There was no expresssion on his face as he stopped and then filled the other to the same level. Well, we ended up well and goodly plotzed by the time we turbled out of the establishment and into the warm night streets.

On the way back to our place was a cd shop. It was on the second floor of a department type store and was huge. We felt like browsing through the music and unbeknownst to us, this was a browsers dream. What the Spaniards had that we don’t was that you could take any wrapped cd up to a listening station, scan the barcode, and then listen to as much as you wanted from the cd. Brilliant.

It was packed. This was about 11 at night and you brushed against someone everytime you turned. The listening was great but I had little luck in finding any good Spanish music. But I was thinking that this was the one place where our culture blew theirs out of the water. We (the English speaking world) had a virtual monopoly on great music. Everywhere we went in Europe people were listening to it, not their own. It was our contribution. And just as they might look at our fumbling attempts at living well, this at least was one and possibly the only area in which they are the children (and not particularly gifted children) and we are the adults.

(The one other thing I found intriguing was the use of English phrases in almost all advertising on television. It seemed to be there to add both authority and cachet but it was like when we wear Japanese script on our shirts and have no idea what it says. Most of them had no idea what the English meant. And somehow I don’t see the English operating as a design element the way the Japanese does.)

6 comments on “We are ugly but we have the music

  1. Have you ever noticed how many of our ads in the states feature people with British accents? Like it adds distinction, refinement, or class — or in the case of that gecko, a touch of cockney working class.

  2. I have and I agree but the equivilant would be if we had little Japanese phrases tagging along with our English text. Though the Britishness adds that touch of class, we still lose no information in the process.

  3. Also, re English-speaking, certainly there was a lot of worldwide popularity to American jazz, and then to Elvis and 50s rock’n’roll.

    But the British invasion added a whole new dimension. As if some of the coarseness of the blues, filtered then through little Richard and Berry and American musicians, found a whole new dimension via McCartney, Lennon et al. and the English music hall tradition. The Brit invasion added a certain polish, right before it all went psychedelic, and then we had Hendrix, Cream, and so much more.

    Certainly American pop, rock’n’roll, would have been popular. But I think that English dimension has affected American musicians, and made the whole genre stronger and thus even more overwhelming, worldwide.

    Btw, I went to a jazz concert in Switzerland once. The music was ok, but the Swiss stood ramrod straight and listened politely. They *get* the music in their heads, but not in their butts and feet and really, that’s where so much of it swings.

    Seems to me that those on the continent have to overcome generations of cultural conditioning to absorb the music. Maybe they should all go to classes teaching Little Richard impressions. Loosen up. Wiggle and scream a little. They kind of get hard rock, it seems, but they seem to have difficulty dialing it back and making it supple and melodic and fresh.

  4. You might be right about the physical response to jazz. I do know that the little non-English European music I have liked was jazz (that cold cerebral Scandinavian stuff so well represented on ECM, and various Eastern European loose blatty gypsy jazz, and performances that take place in Europe…ie. Swiss Movement which though maybe the audience wasn’t in the aisles they were vocal and the tunes swung). And I think we have to thank those folks for keeping a lot of the old blues guys alive when their own country started considering them too old school.

    Recently saw a documentary on television which showed when the Stones came to America they wanted to see the blues legends and ran up against the “who?” everywhere.

    And you are right it is that historical back and forth between America and Britain that really got this going. America had that unbelievable growth of jazz, blues, soul and early rock n roll; when blues was discounted it showed up in Britain and influenced that remarkable early 60s scene which then both energized the already healthy scene back in the States as well as contributed to the blues resurgence.

    On a recent post we were discussing collaborative energy…where a scene ups the number of standout talents and I wonder if that might help explain the British explosion despite the relatively small population maybe came about because that population was squeezed into small dense centers (Liverpool, London, etc..)

  5. lol. I pressed ‘Iron Rump’ on your blogroll list, Ben, because I was curious… and look where it brought me.

  6. […] We are ugly but we have the music What I’m listening to and what I saw (Nathan Wiley; Joel Plaskett) Will get fooled again Worst album covers ever […]

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