An American Odyssey in Song: Connecticut – Ben Folds and “Kylie From Connecticut”

Welcome to this occasional series where I am attempting a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song. For anyone new to this place, I have a continuous route map where I enter and leave each state only once. Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

Last time we visited the State of Rhode Island which means this time we will be entering the southernmost state in the New England region, Connecticut (another tricky one to spell because of the silent “c”). I for one am quite glad we’ve reached this point, as when I decided to start this trip in Maine, New England I hadn’t really considered that there would be slim pickings when it came to songs associated with that region. I am starting to think that settlers to those states perhaps did not have such a rich musical heritage as those who took up residence in the Southern or Appalachian Mountain states, but we’ll find out a bit more about that when we get there.

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The whole of Connecticut’s shoreline faces Long Island so rather than looking out to the open Atlantic, the large “sound” created because of that particular geography, makes it an ideal strategic location for submarines. Long Island Sound is therefore the Submarine Capital of the World. Although fairly rural to the east of the state, the southern and western parts are very much part of the New York metropolitan area. The main industries are Finance and Insurance and the state has the highest per capita income and median household income in the country. To use UK counties as an analogy, it sounds like the Surrey of the USA.

Difficult to write anything quirky or interesting about Connecticut at all however, as it just sounds so damn affluent and respectable. Perhaps a look into figures from popular culture will inspire me. It was where spoilt little rich girl Rachel Green from the TV show Friends hailed from. It was also the setting for the satirical thriller The Stepford Wives, where a spunky young photographer mum, played by Katharine Ross, begins to suspect that the frighteningly submissive and beautiful housewives in her idyllic new Connecticut neighbourhood, may actually be robots created by their husbands (she was right). It also seems to be a state where many from the acting profession were born, or were residents, and maybe it’s just me but I can’t help thinking there is something similar about them all…….

Not much music so far and again I didn’t have any ideas of my own for this state. A thorough peruse through the various pages of the world wide web hasn’t really helped either, but fortunately last time a few suggestions came in from friends of this blog. The Swede from Unthought of, though, somehow seemed to remember that Judy Garland and Bing Crosby once recorded a song called Connecticut which turned out to be correct. Listening to the lyrics, it was apparently “the place to be”.

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Bing seems to be making a bit of a regular appearance on this journey as he also featured last time in his guise as Dexter, the (middle-aged) beau of Grace Kelly in High Society. And, this song called Connecticut immediately reminded me of a film starring Bing that I must have watched decades ago, as a child, called A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. The film was based on a book by Mark Twain who was himself a long term resident of Connecticut and at one point lived right next door to Harriet Beecher Stowe so not just a place for blonde-haired actors it seems, but also a place for authors of the “Great American Novel”. Here is a clip of the trailer for that film from 1949 – Yep, they just don’t make ’em like that any more.

When thinking about other possible musical associations with Connecticut, it was a bit of a no-brainer that I would feature something by The Carpenters who were also from this state. I featured them recently in another post (link here) but had been building up to doing so for some time, as although they became one of the best-selling acts of the 1970s producing cleverly harmonised, melodic pop of the Easy Listening persuasion, they could never have been described as “cool” or edgy, and however many times we say there should be no guilty pleasures in song, it still takes a brave man (or woman) to come out and say they are indeed fans of that genre.

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This Masquerade by The Carpenters:

Older brother Richard was the creative force behind the duo and was a gifted composer and arranger, but of course it was Karen who had that wonderful deep voice that communicated the words of whatever she sang in such a melancholy way. It is only recently that I’ve been able to start listening to Carpenters albums again, as I still find it really upsetting that she died so young from the illness anorexia nervosa.  We knew so little about that particular illness back then but it just goes to show that however perfect things look on the outside, there can also be all sorts of inner turmoil – This Masquerade that can be life.

And so this leads me on to the final featured song. It has been quite some time since I’ve written an American Odyssey post and that was partly because I really struggled to find something to write about this state at all. I do hope that any residents of Connecticut who stumble upon this blog do not take offence, but the vibe I get from this state is that it may well be the most affluent place to live, and it may have a great university and great jobs in banking and finance BUT behind closed doors, is all well with the residents of Connecticut? Throughout our fairly lengthy marriage, Mr WIAA and I have actively tried to avoid living in an area (and every town has them) where it REALLY matters what car you drive, how often you renew your kitchen and the quality of your glass and china. These superficial trappings are really not important in the grand scheme of things and we are lucky to live beside some very like-minded souls, who have no illusions of grandeur and care not a hoot about such material trappings. Just like in this blog, where I often have to reign it in a bit as I do tend to over-share at times, we have no secrets from our friends and neighbours and seem to muddle along swimmingly. I cannot say the same for the parts of town we have actively avoided living in and I suspect large swathes of Connecticut would be out of bounds for the likes of us!

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A song suggested by both C and Rol in my last American Odyssey post was Kylie From Connecticut by Ben Folds. I have to admit, as is often the case, I wasn’t familiar with this song until having it pointed out but I am now a great fan of Mr Folds so thanks guys. Although this song is about a message left by someone from Connecticut, it reeks of all I have been writing about above. Here is a marriage where there are obviously secrets and the listener is left to interpret the Kylie mystery for themselves – Behind closed doors, all is not well. Since starting this blog, and following other music blogs, I have taken a far keener interest in the lyrics to songs than I ever did in my younger days and what a joy that has been. Ben Folds is an American singer-songwriter who was originally inspired by Elton John and Billy Joel but is someone I was really not that familiar with so will definitely have to investigate further. It also seems that Mr Folds has been married many times, so there may well have been a few messages from a “Connecticut Kylie” over the years which may have muddied the waters of domestic bliss. Just sayin’.

Kylie From Connecticut by Ben Folds:

Next time we will be heading into New York City and to be honest there are probably more songs about that city than about any other place on earth so goodness knows how I’m going to handle that one. Still would be interested to hear of any personal favourites however, so don’t hold back.

But finally, this has been a bit of a dull post in many ways, so what better way to end it than with a large slice of Mystic Pizza. This is just the kind of film I loved watching back in the late ’80s whilst sporting my big, permed hair and large dangly earrings – ‘Twas the times. Mystic itself is an old fishing port on Connecticut’s easternmost shoreline and was the setting for the film but is now more of a tourist centre for visitors, with many living history museums and the like. In case you’re a little peckish, the restaurant is still in business – Anyone up for a slice of heaven?

See you in New York!

Kylie From Connecticut Lyrics
(Song by Ben Folds)

It’s just a thought, but where did it come from
What does she do with it if it comes back
A note from his assistant is there by the telephone
She wonders again as she turns out the lights

Kylie is calling from Connecticut
She says you’ve got the number
It says Kylie is calling from Connecticut
It’s back on her mind as she closes her eyes

She believes there are things you shouldn’t know about
When you’ve been married for thirty-five years
And her heart belongs to a man that she hadn’t seen
Since a magical night when the children were small

Kylie is calling from Connecticut
It’s probably nothing, yeah nothing at all
Kylie is calling from Connecticut
It’s back on her mind as she’s reading old letters
That she left in the closet with the pictures she cherished
She never told a soul for the last thirty years
Now she closes her eyes

Bicycles, Sgt. Pepper and “The One on the Right is on the Left”!

I don’t quite know what happened this week but my blogging mojo left me. First of all I had intended to write a few age-related posts ahead of my birthday next week but that old chestnut time, or the lack of it, got the better of me. I then spent a couple of hours last night looking at the screen, unable to string a coherent sentence together. My long list of “posts pending” and my American Odyssey series both require a fair bit of research and to be honest, at the moment, I’m just not in the mood. I blame the fact that this week has been especially spreadsheet-heavy at work, where the numbers side of my brain has obviously encroached on the space usually left for words. In situations like this, for the second week in a row, it will have to be a web-diary type of post.

On Wednesday evening we went along to the local college where Mr WIAA “works” in the art department (although it all sounds a bit of a lark to me). There was a year-end exhibition of the student’s work and it usually makes for an interesting evening where we also get the chance to buy some pieces at very reasonable prices – Who knows, maybe one day these young artists will become famous and their “works” will be worth something. For one group of students, yarn bombing was something that had featured heavily this year, and I did like this bicycle.

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A bicycle of the knitted variety

This week has also of course been politics-heavy ahead of next week’s “snap” election and although most bloggers steer away from such topics, I cannot deny that the issues at stake have infiltrated my thoughts a lot over the last seven days. The television debates (or non-debates actually) have not been particularly effective and as usual I end up warming most to the Green Party leaders and candidates, but they are never going to be able to form a government (can you imagine them having a special relationship with Mr Trump after his withdrawal from the Accord de Paris this week), so the best alternative it will have to be. Like the Greens, Jeremy Corbyn is against nuclear weapons of any kind but of course he is continually hectored and harangued about whether he would ever actually “press the button” if the need arose. I’m with the young lady from the Question Time studio audience who shook her head in dismay at how so many in the room seemed bent on, in effect, killing millions of people. If things get that bad, it’s curtains for us all anyway.

In the meantime, my employers, as well as creating a new paper-less environment have also created a car park-less environment. This has led to the initiation of a cycle-to-work scheme, where eco-bikes are now at our disposal – The Greens would be proud of them although it’s not always easy being of that persuasion and Andy Hallett sang all about it back in 2001!

It’s Not Easy Being Green by Andy Hallett:

Still thinking fondly of the knitted bicycle from earlier in the week, Mr WIAA and I went to a local café today where they also show you how to fix and repair your bike. It is right next to the college so a frequent pit stop for staff and students alike. Called Velocity Café, it is run by enterprising youngsters who have created a great little hub for like-minded souls right in the centre of town. We sat at one of the long tables where you can have a chat with fellow diners or catch up with the newspapers. And this is where I had a bit of an emotional moment over my butternut squash and red lentil soup. In today’s Review section of The Guardian there was an excellent piece by the author Ian McEwan (link here) which really got to me. Right at that moment in time, I wanted nothing more than to live in a land full of Velocity Cafés, and not one where people who are reluctant to launch nuclear weapons are lampooned.

Fortunately I pulled myself together and we even had one of their award winning granola slices for which Mr WIAA managed to get the secret recipe last year. He has attempted to make them a few times now but they never turn out quite like in the café – Methinks they perhaps left out some of the key ingredients, as a secret recipe would no longer be secret, if given out willy-nilly to customers.

Not a lot of music so far included in this post and funnily enough, when it comes, it’s not going to be bicycle related although that does seem to have become the theme for this post. Whilst having lunch, 6 Music was playing on the radio and it was a programme about the Beatles album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” which was released 50 years ago this week. I am not remotely qualified to write knowledgably about this ground-breaking album, so I’ll stick to the facts. It was their 8th album release and spent 27 weeks at the top of the UK charts. It was “lauded by critics for its innovative approach to music production, songwriting and graphic design and was probably the first album to bridge the divide between popular music and legitimate art“. Peter Blake’s album sleeve is arguably the most famous of all time, consisting of a collage of 88 figures which included the Beatles themselves. Copyright was a major problem as Brian Epstein had to locate each person in order to get permission to use their image out of context. Looking closely at some of those figures, this can’t have been easy. Today sitting in the café I think I found a renewed affection for this album as it is one of those that has perhaps become a bit over-familiar to my ears. Time maybe for a proper re-visitation over the coming week to mark its landmark birthday.

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Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles:

So, “What’s It All About?” – We’re heading to our polling stations again next week and although I have been very good at predicting the results of the last few elections and referendums, I have tended myself to always back the losing side. I often visit Jez’s site over at A History of Dubious Taste and he has put together some very good posts on the political goings on (read shenanigans) over the past few weeks – Informative but funny too, so I would thoroughly recommend a visit. This also reminds me of a song he featured a couple of weeks ago which is perfect for tonight’s post. I’d never heard it before but it has become a guilty pleasure over the last fortnight. I will leave you with Johnny Cash and The One On The Right Is On The Left and will return next week once we all know the outcome – Politically charged times indeed!

The One On The Right Is On The Left Lyrics
(Song by Jack Clement)

There once was a musical troupe
A pickin’ singin’ folk group
They sang the mountain ballads
And the folk songs of our land
They were long on musical ability
Folks thought they would go far
But political incompatibility led to their downfall

Well, the one on the right was on the left
And the one in the middle was on the right
And the one on the left was in the middle
And the guy in the rear was a Methodist

This musical aggregation toured the entire nation
Singing the traditional ballads
And the folk songs of our land
They performed with great virtuosity
And soon they were the rage
But political animosity prevailed upon the stage

Well, the one on the right was on the left
And the one in the middle was on the right
And the one on the left was in the middle
And the guy in the rear burned his driver’s license

Well the curtain had ascended
A hush fell on the crowd
As thousands there were gathered to hear the folk songs of our land
But they took their politics seriously
And that night at the concert hall
As the audience watched deliriously
They had a free-for-all

Well, the one on the right was on the bottom
And the one in the middle was on the top
And the one on the left got a broken arm
And the guy on his rear, said, “Oh dear”

Now this should be a lesson if you plan to start a folk group
Don’t go mixin’ politics with the folk songs of our land
Just work on harmony and diction
Play your banjo well
And if you have political convictions keep them to yourself
Now, the one on the left works in a bank
And the one in the middle drives a truck
The one on the right’s an all-night deejay
And the guy in the rear got drafted

Postscript:

As this was a very bicycle-heavy post it does seems wrong to leave without sharing anything musically related to bikes. Here is a clip that I revisit often as from that impressive London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. The song Come Together was very appropriately for this post a Beatles one, but in this case was performed by the Arctic Monkeys. I loved those guys on the bicycles and from what I have just heard this morning on the news, the sentiment of the song is more relevant than ever.

Car Share, Now 48 and the Fairytale World of Kayleigh Kitson

Well, I know he’s probably not for everyone, but I have absolutely loved the recent set of Car Share episodes, written by and starring, Peter Kay. In case of inadvertently issuing a spoiler however, I thought I should wait until they had actually all been aired on the BBC before writing about them. Like most fans of the first series, I dived in a few weeks ago as soon as they first appeared on the iPlayer – By the time the closing credits came up on a very emotional final ever episode, I had already viewed it around 5 times.

In case you haven’t watched the series, the half-hour episodes could not be simpler in terms of plot-line – Supermarket assistant manager John Redmond (Peter Kay) and supermarket worker Kayleigh Kitson (Sian Gibson) have taken part in their firm’s car share scheme and inevitably over the months, get to know each other really well. They develop a kind of sympatico whilst driving back and forth to work every day, all the time listening to the fictitious Forever FM on John’s Fiat 500 digital radio. Peter Kay has an encyclopaedic knowledge of pop music, especially from the ’80s and ’90s and the third star of this show became that Forever FM soundtrack (took me right back to those days). Moments of great humour emerged when just the right track was picked for a particular scene. The very first episode started off with Martika’s Kitchen and the final episode ended with Marillion’s Kayleigh, the reason for which will become clear (SPOILER ALERT).

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One of the strange outcomes from a hit series like this is that the Now That’s What I Call Music people have had to start repressing copies of Now 48. At the end of the first series, Kayleigh, who was moving house and would no longer be car-sharing with John, left him a parting gift in the form of the aforementioned CD. She also left a little note inside with the not-so-cryptic message that he should listen to Track 2 which was Hear’say’s Pure and Simple. Thinking back, this is the kind of thing I might have given my latest crush as a teenager but there is something very childlike about Kayleigh and this was her favourite CD, so it did seem apt. Not the kind of thing your average 43-year-old man would normally listen to but hey, Kayleigh had her message to get across and this was her way of doing it.

Track 3 on this CD (which became the soundtrack to the fantasy dream sequence starring John, Kayleigh and a Monster Truck!) was Never Had a Dream Come True by S Club 7 which was the official Children In Need charity single that year. This is not the kind of song that would normally be enjoyed by a lady of my age either, but I do have a soft spot for both it, and S Club 7, for the following reasons. S Club 7 were a manufactured pop act put together by ex-Spice Girls manager Simon Fuller and they starred in four really successful kids’ sitcoms. This all happened around the turn of the millennium which was just when I was having a few years off work to be a stay-at-home mum. There was big excitement in our house when Miami 7 first aired on kids’ telly and although she would be embarrassed to admit it now, darling daughter’s very first single (a cassette single actually) was Never Had a Dream Come True. If this blog was a Nostalgic Journey Through the Tracks Of Her Years, this song would most definitely feature. By default therefore, it also features in mine.

Never Had a Dream Come True by S Club 7:

But getting back to Car Share, true-life never runs quite as smoothly as in the fairy-tale world of kids’ telly and John has conveniently chosen to ignore the message offered up in the form of the lyrics to Pure and Simple. They do however reinstate their car-sharing routine and get ever closer by the day as is wont to happen when you spend so much time together.

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In the final episode there is a wonderful scene where Billy Ocean’s Red Light Spells Danger comes on the radio and as ever, our supermarket colleagues who have that whole “unspoken thing” going on, burst into song – It is one of the real high points of the whole series but also spells the end of the unspoken thing, as it finally becomes a “spoken about thing” so can only go one of two ways. Kayleigh is accused of living in a fairy-tale world (which to be honest is preferable to the one we seem to be living in at the moment) and the cautious John, who comes from a background and part of the country where such things are most definitely not spoken about, does not come up with the correct responses. Kayleigh gets out of the car and out of his life. Sadly, if she had waited just a few more minutes, she would have realised that John had engineered a message of his own via the dulcet tones of Forever FM’s drive-time presenter and the playing of that song which bears her name.

So, “What’s It All About?” – As a long-term observer of the human condition, this was an excellent piece of writing from Mr Kay and his song choices throughout were impeccable. As a lady of a certain age, Kayleigh had indeed “no time to waste” and she had to invoke what I used to call, the 3-month rule. Even with the most unlikely of partners, you can have a lot of fun for around three months, but it is highly likely that after that point the rose-coloured spectacles come off and lots of things about them really start to grate. If however all is still going well, it is wise to find out where things are “going”, as before you know it the years have rolled by and you find yourself with someone who is unwilling to commit (not that I know of anyone who has had that happen to them of course).

As for Car Share, it sounds as if that truly is the end of it, and so it should be as we are left to decide for ourselves how things turned out for our supermarket heroes. I choose to think there would have been a happy ending as to think otherwise, for me, is not an option. As for the songs, I’m off to have another wallow in that Forever FM soundtrack as it takes me right back to those days of dalliances and the invoking of the 3-month rule. As for Now 48 I might just pass on that one, but for darling daughter, however strenuously she denies it in the future, I will always know that Track 3 was her very first single!

Never Had A Dream Come True Lyrics
(Song by Cathy Dennis/Simon Ellis)

Everybody’s got something
They had to leave behind
One regret from yesterday
That just seems to grow with time
There’s no use looking back, or wondering
How it could be now or might’ve been
All this I know
But still I can’t find ways to let you go

I never had a dream come true
‘Til the day that I found you
Even though I pretend that I’ve moved on
You’ll always be my baby
I never found the words to say
You’re the one I think about each day
And I know no matter where life takes me to
A part of me will always be with you

Somewhere in my memory
I’ve lost all sense of time
And tomorrow can never be
‘Cause yesterday is all that fills my mind
There’s no use looking back, oh wondering
How it should been, now oh might’ve been
All this I know
But, still I can’t find ways to let you go

I never had a dream come true
‘Til the day that I found you
Even though I pretend that I’ve moved on
You’ll always be my baby
I never found the words to say
You’re the one I think about each day
And I know no matter where life takes me to
A part of me will always be with you

You’ll always be the dream that fills my head
Yes you will
Say you will
You know you will oh baby
You’ll always be the one I know I’ll never forget
There’s no use looking back, oh wondering
Because love is a strange and funny thing
No matter how hard I try and try
I just can’t say good bye

The Vernal Equinox, Nina Simone and Feeling Good

Today is one of my favourite days of the year. At 10.28pm tonight we reach the Vernal Equinox, one of only two points in the year when the number of hours of night and day are equal. Because it’s March, and I’m in the Northern Hemisphere, that means it’s just going to get lighter and brighter every day now for the next three months. Unlike when we reach the Autumnal Equinox, when the thought of all those extra hours of darkness makes me sad, this equinox makes me very perky – The montbretia flowers in my garden today definitely add to this perkiness!

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Any regulars to this place will know that over the last six months I have been celebrating these markers in the calendar, and following some of the traditions from those days when nature dictated all that was important in life. In the pagan calendar today is Ostara, derived from the Old English goddess Eostre, later borrowed by Christians for Easter. This festival is therefore all about fertility, where seeds are blessed for planting soon after. It is traditionally the day of equilibrium, neither harsh winter or merciless summer (although never that merciless here in Scotland to be fair). Painted eggs and baskets of flowers are generally used to decorate the house so yet again I have created a little tableau of my own with eggs, spring flowers, a hare (not a real one) and a yellow candle.

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Yesterday, as it was Sunday, I went for a walk. I couldn’t seem to muster up the enthusiasm for blogging at all and thought I might find my lost mojo, which seems to have gone a-wanderin’ of late. Taking inspiration from C at Sun Dried Sparrows who took us on a walk with her recently, how about if I take you on my walk, which was up to the local duck pond. Also, will we find the missing mojo?

Right here we go, anti-clockwise or clockwise round the pond? Yesterday I chose anti-clockwise and didn’t even realise how much birdsong was in the air until I played this back. So far however, no sign of the missing mojo. Hmm… Where can it have gone?

Ok, so now we’ve got to the other side of the pond but thank goodness I went to the loo before I left or I’d be in trouble with the sound of all this running water! Loads of bikes been this way by the looks of things so a bit muddy but time perhaps for a wee sit down and another good look round for that pesky missing mojo.

No still nothing, but wait a minute, I see a few ducks out on the pond, maybe they’ve seen it.

“Hi guys, you haven’t happened to see my missing mojo have you? It was around until a couple of weeks ago but seems to have gone a-wanderin’.”

“Oh, hi Alyson, lovely day isn’t it. Yes we have seen it actually, it’s over by the Pet Cemetery.”

“Cheers guys, I’ll go and take a look.”

Got it!  It was hiding out amongst those tiny little gravestones marking the resting place of long gone, but much-loved pets.

What with the birdsong, the ducks, the blue skies and the forest, the perkiness brought on by the coming of today’s vernal equinox really hit me yesterday on the way back from my walk. What kind of song would suit a day like this I thought to myself and it turned out to be Feeling Good by Nina Simone.

Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by you know how I feel

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me yeah

Feeling Good by Nina Simone:

Feeling/Feelin’ Good (take your pick) was written back in 1964 by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for the Broadway musical The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd. Nina Simone recorded the song for her 1965 album “I Put a Spell on You” and it has kind of become a standard and been covered by many other artists including George Michael, Muse, Michael Bublé and American jazz musician John Coltrane. I would of course be lying if I said I remembered it from back then – Oh no, as often happens Nina’s version was used by a car company for a 1994 television advert, which in turn led to it re-entering the UK Singles Chart in the July of that year. Thankfully I couldn’t have been over-exposed to it at that time, as sometimes happens when song is used in that way, as I still enjoy listening to it and it is of course my very aptly chosen featured song for today, the day of the Vernal Equinox

It is not often that I revisit anything from the 21st century in this blog but I do also have a soft spot for the version by Muse which was originally recorded for their 2001 album “Origin of Symmetry” but was again used for an advert (must be good for sales), this time for an airline company. Until next time, I give you Muse with Feeling GoodHappy Ostara!

Feeling Good Lyrics
(Song by Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley)

Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by you know how I feel

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me yeah

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me
Oh
And I’m feeling good

Fish in the sea, you know how I feel
River running free, you know how I feel
Blossom on the tree, you know how I feel

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
For me
And I’m feeling good

Dragonfly out in the sun you know what I mean, don’t you know
Butterflies all havin’ fun, you know what I mean
Sleep in peace when day is done, that’s what I mean
And this old world, is a new world
And a bold world for me

Stars when you shine, you know how I feel
Scent of the pine, you know how I feel
Oh freedom is mine
And I know how I feel

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
For me

And I’m feeling good

Darling Daughter, Defying Gravity and The Day We “Cut A Record”

I mentioned last time that I now have a backlog of “posts pending” – I seem to continually add new post ideas to my blogging notebook but then write about other things instead. In order to start making inroads into this long list of ideas I have now put them on a spreadsheet, sorted them alphabetically, given each one a number and then, to make it a bit more interesting, used a random number generator to select the next “post idea”. (You can probably tell I work in finance and am by nature a very spreadsheety kind of person.)

Well, number 37 popped up and what did that correspond to on the long list of ideas? – “Musical Theatre and Wicked”. Before you start panicking that I’m about to share a whole load of show tunes with you, let me explain this little bit of self-indulgence. A couple of our good friends have been very successful on the career front (didn’t rub off on us sadly), but have not had any children. There is probably a correlation there but the upside is, when it comes to birthday presents, darling daughter is bestowed with some very nice ones. Just before her 16th birthday a rectangular padded envelope arrived and much speculation went on as to what could be inside. It turned out to be one of those Experience packages where she was given the chance to visit a recording studio and lay down some tracks. Being a keen singer, and having been in a few theatre shows up to that point, there was much excitement, and in due course the experience was booked for a Sunday in August.

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As the good friends live in London and we live in the Scottish Highlands, we chose the recording studio in Edinburgh, which was listed as an option, and planned a meetup. The timing coincided with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and if you’ve never been to our capital city in August I would thoroughly recommend it (although accommodation is hard to come by, granted). I’m pretty sure the locals who just want to go about their daily business during the month of August get pretty hacked off with it all but it certainly brings a colourful, carnival atmosphere to the city and many a stand-up comedian has cut his or her teeth in one of the many venues.

Darling daughter was given the choice of which show she wanted to see on the Saturday night and she chose one starring those very nifty street dancers, Flawless. I was sceptical that they would  be able to hold our attention for a whole hour and a half but you know what, they did. The audience were also all given fluorescent gloves and after a short lesson on “the moves” we had to make, we were projected on a big screen behind the dancers, so all very interactive.

And so it came to the Sunday, and we made our way to the recording studio which turned out to be in an Industrial Estate in Leith. Sadly there was no sunshine on Leith that day and Abbey Road it was most definitely not, but once we arrived, the “producers” were all really friendly and welcoming – I’m pretty sure they would have preferred to spend their afternoon laying down some tracks with a cool new rock band as opposed to a 16-year-old from the Highlands and her extended family, but if they did, they didn’t show it.

The song of choice that day was Defying Gravity from the musical Wicked, based on the alternative telling of L. Frank Baum’s classic story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Around that time the television show Glee, about an American High School glee club/show choir, was a firm favourite with darling daughter and her friends, and one of the characters in the show had performed the song in a recent episode. Of course now her musical tastes are very different and I know she would be very embarrassed about me sharing this but hey, I’m a proud mum, she never reads my blog and it’s the most anonymous place on the internet, so here is what she came up with on that day. It was a fascinating process, how you record many versions of the same song, do a bit of tweaking and then cut and paste sections together to create the best version possible. She starts off a bit tentatively but after 1:00 the confidence shines through.

Defying Gravity by “Darling Daughter”:

As I said earlier, this was always going to be a very self-indulgent post but this 2003 song by Stephen Schwartz is, for the reasons above, now very much one of the “tracks of my years” and that is exactly what this blog is all about. The lyrics of the song are about living without limits and going against the rules that others have set for you. For darling daughter’s generation I think that can-do attitude is going to be very important as they try to negotiate this brave new world we seem to find ourselves in.

Until next time….

Defying Gravity Lyrics
(Song by Stephen Schwartz)

Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes and leap!

It’s time to try
Defying gravity
I think I’ll try
Defying gravity
Kiss me goodbye
I’m defying gravity
And you won’t bring me down

I’m through accepting limits ’cause someone says they’re so
Some things I cannot change but ’til I try, I’ll never know!
Too long I’ve been afraid of losing love I guess I’ve lost
Well, if that’s love, it comes at much too high a cost!

I’d sooner buy
Defying gravity
Kiss me goodbye
I’m defying gravity
I think I’ll try
Defying gravity
And you won’t bring me down

Music from Love Actually, Part 2 – Joni Mitchell and Both Sides Now

Well, it has been known for me to partake in a bit of tipsy blogging and here we are again. Despite the lateness of the hour (with work tomorrow) I have to get this one out of the way in order to…. well, move on, as they say in psychobabble parlance.

What I hadn’t realised earlier this year when I decided to have a nostalgic revisitation of the “tracks of my years”, was that when we got to Christmas it would all get a bit emotional. Emotional partly because it has, I think we all agree, been one of those years; emotional because I am reminded of all the people who are no longer with us especially my darling dad who crops up on these pages often; emotional because this is the first year my daughter won’t be with us (I hadn’t considered that at some point we would have to share her with her boyfriend’s parents) and finally; emotional because of all the seasonal music my fellow-bloggers are posting.

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But this is only Tuesday so still time to pull myself together, once I get this effort done and dusted. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that last time, the title of my post was “Music from Love Actually, Part 1”. This then, is to be Part 2.

Since watching the film Love Actually last week I have since re-watched it (overkill maybe), just to remind myself of how significant a role today’s featured song plays in the storyline. Those of you who know the film well will also know that Emma Thompson‘s character, who is married to Harry (played by Alan Rickman RIP), has inadvertently found a beautiful gold necklace she fully expects to be given as a present for Christmas. Upon opening the square shaped box with expectant glee, she discovers that it is instead a Joni Mitchell CD, a great present as she is a big fan, but in that split second she realises that the gold necklace was for someone else, and she has to quickly extricate herself from the room. An emotional (that word again) scene then takes place where she has to pull herself together before re-emerging to join the family.

Throughout this scene in the bedroom, we hear the plaintive sounds of a more mature Joni Mitchell sing Both Sides Now from the album of the same name, released in the year 2000. Maybe it’s just because I’m a lady of a certain age, but it gets me every time. Like Emma’s character in the film, my life for many years was one of putting family first. I ran the school board, organised fund-raisers, took my daughter (and all the kids whose parents worked full-time) to after-school activities, completed courses with the OU and was chief cook and bottle-washer. If I had a pound for every time someone told me I was lucky that I “didn’t work” and was a lady of leisure, I would be a very rich woman! Anyway my point is that poor Emma found herself in the situation where Harry had made, she felt, a fool of her, and the life she had chosen. Fortunately for me, Mr WIAA is self-employed and I have been his (unpaid) secretary for years, so if anyone was going to get a gold necklace it was going to be me (but I didn’t, because I perhaps stupidly keep a tight control on the finances).

Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell:

But of course most people will know the song Both Sides Now from the 1967 Judy Collins version (there it is again, my favourite year). Joni had written the song earlier that year inspired by a passage from a novel by Saul Bellow. A quote from her goes as follows:

“I was reading Saul Bellow’s “Henderson the Rain King” on a plane and early in the book Henderson the Rain King is also up in a plane. He’s on his way to Africa and he looks down and sees these clouds. I put down the book, looked out the window and saw clouds too, and I immediately started writing the song. I had no idea that the song would become as popular as it did.”

Judy Collins won a Grammy Award for Best Folk Performance in 1969 and it has become one of her signature songs. What I find remarkable is that I wrote very recently about how Judy Collins recorded Leonard Cohen’s song Suzanne in 1966 and that it was she who persuaded the reluctant poet Cohen, to get out on stage to perform his own songs. Here we are again with Judy being the catalyst who perhaps made a couple of Canadian songwriters, international artists of great renown in their own right.

Before I go I just want to revisit the passage from my Leonard Cohen post, about how I discovered Joni Mitchell. It was 1979 and I had just started going out with someone whose older brother had been Head Boy at our school a few years earlier – I’d had a massive crush on him back then but of course once into adulthood things change and in this new situation we became good friends.

“Also, the great thing about having a boyfriend who flat-shared with an older brother, was that you immediately had access to their record collection as well. Being of the opposite sex and having a few more years’ worth of vinyl, his collection was vastly different to my own and so it came about, that in late 1979 I fell in love with the music of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Carole King and last but not least, Leonard Cohen.”

As this post is a kind of exorcism in getting all the emotional baggage out of the way before Christmas, here is anther bit of baggage – Despite the fact we had great times back in 1979, the former Head Boy had such a weight of expectation on him that it all became too much. The smartest, most capable and high-achieving boy of his generation spent his nights walking the streets unable to sleep. His subject at University was a very scientific one and he just couldn’t switch off. He turned to alcohol and never did finish his degree. I sadly lost touch a few years later but the awful thing was that the very same thing happened to the Head Boy from my year. In 1978 my lovely friend Craig headed off to Glasgow to study Law but addiction issues got in the way and after a very difficult life he died at the age of 40. This has been an awful year for loss in music and entertainment circles but perhaps because of that it has really focussed my mind on all the people from my life who are no longer with us.

Very few of my real-live friends know about this “place” but one who does told me that she liked it, because it wasn’t one of those depressing blogs – Oh dear, I think I may have just disappointed! Hopefully got it all out of my system now but oh my, listening to the mature Joni Mitchell again, really tugs at the heartstrings.

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I have decided that on Christmas Day, as darling daughter will not be with us, we will have a festive lunch and then take food out for the homeless. Mr WIAA is not convinced we will find them, as they will probably already be well catered for, but I have my doubts – Even up here in The Highlands, last weekend we had girls my daughter’s age sleeping in doorways, and in 2016, that just can’t be right. Tomorrow is the winter solstice however, where the day is the shortest of the year and the night the longest – We are at the cusp of something astronomical, looking at both sides now, one side has been getting darker and one will be getting lighter. Very apt song therefore for this post.

I will return in a cheerier mood before the big day. Merry Christmas!

Both Sides Now Lyrics
(Song by Joni Mitchell)

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere,
I’ve looked at clouds that way.

But now they only block the sun,
They rain and they snow on everyone
So many things I would have done,
But clouds got in my way.

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels,
The dizzy dancing way that you feel
As every fairy tale comes real,
I’ve looked at love that way.

But now it’s just another show,
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know,
Don’t give yourself away.

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud,
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds,
I’ve looked at life that way.

Oh but now old friends they’re acting strange,
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day.

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life
I really don’t know life at all

Ewan McGregor, Elton John and “Your Song”

Before I got side-tracked by other things, like writing my landmark 100th post (still basking in the afterglow of having reached that momentous number), I had revisited the Randy Crawford song One Day I’ll Fly Away which is featured in this year’s John Lewis Christmas ad. It led me to share the version performed by Nicole Kidman in Baz Luhrmann’s lavish movie Moulin Rouge!. Her male co-star and love interest in that movie was Ewan McGregor, my favourite Scottish actor, in fact no, my favourite actor full stop. I am currently eagerly awaiting the sequel to the 1996 film Trainspotting which is due to come out early next year where he very memorably played the character Renton, a young man caught up in a world of addiction and squalor in, ironically, “culturally rich” Edinburgh – Harrowing scenes but also scenes of great humour and on some lists, it is ranked Best Scottish Film of all time.

His role in Moulin Rouge! could not have been more different as in this one he plays a writer/poet who has come to live amongst the Bohemians of Montmartre during the period of La Belle Époque. It is not long before he falls in love with Satine, the star courtesan of the Moulin Rouge nightclub played by Nicole Kidman and for me, the whole film was an absolute spectacle, with fantastic music throughout.

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Ewan and Nicole sing their Love Medley

I hadn’t realised until going to see that film in 2001 that both Nicole and Ewan were such great singers, but they were, and one of their very memorable duets, Elephant Love Medley, was compiled from 13 different Love Songs – If you are around my age, you will recognise all of them. They came just too thick and fast when I watched this song being performed first time around but once home, and with the newly purchased CD in the player (it was 15 years ago now), it was easier to identify and remember all of them. Here is the clip followed by the list, in the correct running order, of all 13 songs from which snippets were plucked. Very aptly for this year, I think my favourite segment is when they sang a few lines from the David Bowie song Heroes.

Elephant Love Medley by Ewan MacGregor and Nicole Kidman:

Medley compiled from:
Love Is Like Oxygen – Sweet
Love is a Many-Splendored Thing – The Four Aces
Up Where We Belong – Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes
All You Need Is Love – The Beatles
Lover’s Game – Chris Isaak
I Was Made For Lovin’ You – Kiss
One More Night – Phil Collins
Pride (In The Name Of Love) – U2
Don’t Leave Me This Way – Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes
Silly Love Songs – Paul McCartney and Wings
(Repeated) Up Where We Belong – Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes
Heroes – David Bowie
I Will Always Love You – Dolly Parton
Your Song – Elton John

The final song used for the medley was Your Song by Elton John. It was originally released back in 1970 and although I knew it well, I had been too young back then to really appreciate those great lyrics by Elton’s long-time collaborator, Bernie Taupin. By the time I was a teenager in 1973, Elton John was one of the biggest singer/composer/musicians on the planet, his albums “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” receiving massive critical acclaim. But, at that time my focus was very much on my oh so good-looking teen idols, the Donnys and the Davids. Elton by this time had embraced the full glam-rock persona with ever more outrageous outfits, glasses and footwear, but not someone I saw as a potential teen idol.

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One of Elton’s outrageous outfits!

This is a roundabout way of saying that it was not until going to see Moulin Rouge! in 2001 that I truly appreciated the sentiment of Your Song, and actually dug out a really old cassette tape from the loft that, amongst others, contained my new favourite song. Again maybe it’s the old romantic in me, but what a wonderful thing I thought, to have a song written specially for you which includes the line: How wonderful life is, while you’re in the world”. Unlike Pattie Boyd, who seems to have had oh so many songs written about how wonderful it was to have her in the world, I am pretty sure no-one has ever written a song for me. At best there may have been a limerick or rhyme (of the non-smutty nature) in a Valentine card at some point, but still perhaps time if Mr WIAA decides to take up the art of song-writing in later life. The really ironic thing is that hubby’s real-life profession is actually mentioned in the song, but in a bit of a derogatory fashion. Yes it is a great source of mirth in our house that one of the lines from Your Song goes as follows: “If I were a sculptor (bit of aside laughter at the ridiculousness of the suggestion), but then again, no”. It turns out that Bernie Taupin decided that it would be preferable being “a man who makes potions in a traveling show” than to be a sculptor. I beg to differ as although I haven’t yet had a song written for me, I have had a few really nice pieces of jewellery, as the sculpture around here is of the miniature, rather than of the monumental variety.

Your Song by Elton John:

So, “What’s It All About?” – It’s good in later life to revisit songs you may not have truly appreciated first time around because you were just far too busy swooning over your latest teen idol, who happened to have great hair, teeth, waistcoats and headwear. (That would be Donny Osmond in his trademark purple cap then!) I sadly did not appreciate Your Song first time around so was glad to rediscover it properly when watching Baz Luhrmann’s lavish film. Yet again, the subject matter for both the above songs is that old chestnut love but as I have mentioned here before (just a few times), that is indeed what it’s all about. We seem to be living in a bit of a troubled world at the moment but I will remain positive and hope that love will win out in the end.

Until next time here is the Moulin Rouge! version of the song, Baz Luhrmann style. Both have their merits but it’s the simple pared down version by Elton for me now – Unlike Pattie Boyd I may never have any songs written for me, or about me, but in the meantime a nice piece of sculptural jewellery will do nicely. The man who makes potions in a travelling show is not the one for me!

Your Song Lyrics
(Song by Elton John/Bernie Taupin)

It’s a little bit funny this feeling inside
I’m not one of those who can easily hide
I don’t have much money but boy if I did
I’d buy a big house where we both could live

If I was a sculptor, but then again, no
Or a man who makes potions in a traveling show
I know it’s not much but it’s the best I can do
My gift is my song and this one’s for you

And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind
I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world

I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss
Well a few of the verses well they’ve got me quite cross
But the sun’s been quite kind while I wrote this song
It’s for people like you that keep it turned on

So excuse me forgetting but these things I do
You see I’ve forgotten if they’re green or they’re blue
Anyway the thing is what I really mean
Yours are the sweetest eyes I’ve ever seen

And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind
I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world