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 pieces 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, BBC 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.

Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and “Sunday Morning Coming Down”

Last time I wrote about the song Fog on the Tyne which was actually a suggestion from one of my blogging buddies as it followed on nicely, in meteorological terms anyway, from my previous post which was about the song Misty by Ray Stevens. Lo and behold, just when I needed some inspiration, down from the “cloud” (I am restoring all my files onto a new computer) came a series of old pictures of my late father-in-law who was a Geordie by birth and who had worked as a young man, right in the centre of Newcastle, in an office overlooking the River Tyne.

The other suggestion I had received as to what song could follow on nicely from Misty was from Lynchie, a regular visitor to this place, who informed me that Ray Stevens had been the first person to record the Kris Kristofferson-penned song Sunday Morning Coming Down in 1969. I was a bit nervous about stepping on toes however as our Chain host over at Dubious Towers produces an excellent weekly country music thread with that same title – An homage to the song and its writer. As he just seems to have just found his blogging mojo again however after a surprisingly common bout of January blues, I rather hoped he’ll let me off. Lo and behold, what suddenly descended from the “cloud” yesterday afternoon but an mp3 of the Johnny Cash version of Sunday Morning Coming Down that I didn’t even remember I had – This post was meant to be!

Mr Kristofferson is someone I have long admired – Back in the ’70s he appeared in many films (Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Convoy, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, A Star Is Born) and for some reason he was one of the actors I took a real shine to. I have always had a penchant for a man with a beard (although not necessarily today’s hipster style), and he did sport a very rugged look back then. What I have now discovered is that not only did he write some of the most iconic songs from that era but he was probably one of those guys who would have succeeded in whichever path in life he chose. A top scholar, an accomplished athlete, a US Army captain, a helicopter pilot, a novelist, an actor and a singer/song-writer.

Having just checked, I find it incredible that he never once appeared in the British music charts in his own right, despite the fact that so many of his songs did make an appearance when sung by other people – For the Good Times by Perry Como and Help Me Make It Through the Night by Gladys Knight and the Pips amongst others. He definitely did make an appearance for several weeks in a row however on 1977’s TOTP as he was Barbra Streisand‘s love interest in the film A Star Is Born – Much smooching was done during the filmed recording of the song Evergreen which was a massive hit for her that year. (Yes, my 16-year-old self was definitely smitten with Mr K in that one.)

But this was supposed to be a post about the song Sunday Morning Coming Down and as we have now ascertained Kris Kristofferson wrote it and Ray Stevens was the first person to record it, but when Johnny Cash did a version in 1970 it reached No. 1 on the country chart and won the Country Music Association Award for Song of the Year. The story is that Kris, who was working as a janitor at the time for Columbia Records in Nashville mainly to get a foothold in the industry, flew his National Guard helicopter right onto Johnny’s front lawn in order to deliver the demo tape in person. That was the turning point for him however as once Johnny took the song on, and made it his own, Kris was quoted as saying that he never again “had to work for a living”.

As for how I came to have a copy of the song in my digital library – That would be because a few years ago I had not so much a mid-life crisis but all of a sudden I became besotted with country music. It started off with acquiring Glen Campbell CDs but I then progressed to compilations of Greatest Country Hits and just about anything else I could laythkq77euh3 my hands on, which of course included a Johnny Cash CD containing the song Sunday Morning Coming Down. Before then I had mainly known Johnny from his more light-hearted songs such as One Piece at a Time and A Boy Named Sue but also from the film I Walk The Line and the documentaries about his concerts held in the various state penitentiaries across America. Perhaps you have to be of a certain age to truly appreciate country music, and likewise, in order to really emote the lyrics in the songs you need to have a modicum of life experience, which by the time I came to appreciate Johnny he truly would have had.

The clip here is a great one as not only do we have Johnny but also Kris singing the song, making it a duet. The preamble is something they used to do quite a lot of on these sort of shows, and can be a bit cringifying, but it does lead in to an excellent performance.

Sunday Morning Coming Down by Johnny Cash:

So, “What’s It All About?” – It seems you should never be dismissive of any genre of music as one day you might just suddenly “get it” and you have a great new world to explore. As for Mr Cash’s voice, it was a deep calm bass-baritone which you just don’t often hear in music nowadays. I find it ironic that I always knew him best for his humorous songs, considering he built a whole persona around being “The Man in Black” – Sombre, serious and frankly quite scary.

As for Kris, unlike Johnny he is still with us, and rumours are afoot that he may even appear at Glastonbury this year which would be truly amazing. I am partly amazed by this because I know he is exactly the same age as my little mum and somehow I just can’t imagine her gracing the stage at Glastonbury. What she can do however is read this blog and it has become a feature of our Friday evenings together, when I go to visit. I really don’t think she quite understands the whole concept of “blogging” and why should she?Sharing your innermost thoughts, with complete strangers, across every corner of the globe is indeed a bizarre concept but one that can bring great enjoyment, so I for one intend to keep going!

Until next time….

Sunday Morning Coming Down Lyrics
(Song by Kris Kristofferson)

Well, I woke up Sunday morning
With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt.
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad,
So I had one more for dessert.
Then I fumbled in my closet through my clothes
And found my cleanest dirty shirt.
Then I washed my face and combed my hair
And stumbled down the stairs to meet the day.

I’d smoked my mind the night before
With cigarettes and songs I’d been picking.
But I lit my first and watched a small kid
Playing with a can that he was kicking.
Then I walked across the street
And caught the Sunday smell of someone frying chicken.
And Lord, it took me back to something that I’d lost
Somewhere, somehow along the way.

On a Sunday morning sidewalk,
I’m wishing, Lord, that I was stoned.
‘Cause there’s something in a Sunday
That makes a body feel alone.
And there’s nothing short a’ dying
That’s half as lonesome as the sound
Of the sleeping city sidewalk
And Sunday morning coming down.

In the park I saw a daddy
With a laughing little girl that he was swinging.
And I stopped beside a Sunday school
And listened to the songs they were singing.
Then I headed down the street,
And somewhere far away a lonely bell was ringing,
And it echoed through the canyon
Like the disappearing dreams of yesterday.