If I could only forget how I feel… love and loss with David Crosby

Not that anyone would be so interested, but, were I to be asked what is the best feeling in the world, I would say that it is to love and be loved by someone. To wake up next to that someone and know that your future is secured by that someone being beside you. Maybe even until you shuffle off the proverbial coil. That is joy. He is there and you love him and he loves you back and nothing else matters. I hate how trite and sentimental that sounds but it is a truth, maybe even THE truth, best described by Giovanni Ribisi in an episode of Friends: “being with her [in my case it was a him] is better than, like, not being with her”. 

Those of us who have experienced that level of dedication are lucky, but also potentially at risk. Of loss, of betrayal, of things not working out. Four years ago, the love of my life left me. And I have never recovered from that sadness, to the point where I feel I probably never will. And I no longer believe I got the second part of the arrangement, the being loved back part. I think I believed he loved me back, but I was delusional. And what a state that leaves you in. Love is a powerful force and when you can no longer deploy it, the resulting gulf is -or feels- insurmountable. And so one turns to the familiar. Music is familiar, and it is music that keeps me going while also preventing me from moving on. “I haven’t moved on but trust me I tried” sings Troye Sivan on ‘You’. What a mantra. 

I will not give my love’s name here, but I will mention one of the ways I tried to show him how much I loved him. He loved vinyl records, and had an exceptional collection of the things and an even more exceptional sound system to let them belt out around his room in Archway when we were just friend and then, if not as frequently as I should have liked, around the flats we shared. 

I didn’t grow up with vinyl. Which is ironic given I am seven years older than him. I guess that, although my parents had some vinyl, the advent of the CD was novel enough when I was a child to be a more dominant vessel for my family. And when I got to the age of buying my own music, vinyl was supposedly dead. We had CDs, minidiscs died a death, the Internet was many years away, vinyl was a ghost. It wasn’t until I was in my mid- to late-twenties that I learned that vinyl was making a comeback among young, Internet-savvy, erudite music fans. Such as the young man I fell in love with. It was for him that I embraced vinyl and that made me want to share in his passion. Unsurprisingly, said passion has waned since he left.

I know, I know – get to the fucking point and to David fucking Crosby. How does the now-79-year-old hippy from The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young mean jack shit to this rather maudlin story? Well, it’s all about presents. When I was ham-fistedly trying to woo my love, and later when he’d somehow succumbed to my dubious charms and become my boyfriend, my gift of choice was vinyl. Because I knew he loved and cherished it. Sometimes I’d get him vinyl editions of albums he had on other formats. But most of all I wanted to give him the music I loved that he didn’t know. Sometimes it worked and it was like I was letting him into a portion of my heart that I was thrilled to learn he liked. Sometimes, it didn’t. Starsailor by Tim Buckley, Desire by Tuxedomoon, Everybody Knows this is Nowhere by Neil Young and Crazy Horse: these were just three albums I introduced him to and felt awesome because he liked them. If I could only remember my name, David Crosby’s debut album, which I bought for my love in Brighton before we were together, was one case where my instinct of what he would like fell flat. I don’t think I ever heard him play it. 

Nearly four years after my love left me and broke my heart, however, it is If I could only remember my name that makes me think of him more than any other album. Because If I could only remember my name is an album of loss, the story of how the superstar of hippiedom, friend of the Beatles, founder of the Byrds and the first true supergroup discovered true pain and suffering. At this point I must make it clear that Crosby’s loss far eclipsed mine. His girlfriend, Christine Hinton, was tragically killed in a car accident. My boyfriend just stopped loving me. It happens, and I want to make it clear that I am not comparing the pain. But I have been in pain since 2017, as trivial or ridiculous as that might be and so, perhaps perversely (I have also subsequently experienced real grief), If I could only remember my name just keeps resonating with me. And above all I have come to associate it with the one who walked away. Four years after the fact.

That’s the crucial fact: four years. Four years in which I probably didn’t ever listen to If I could only remember my name. I struggled and failed to deal with the loss of the love, then other shit hit me in the sternum and I just kept treading water. Some music helped, such as the ever-reliably elegiac William Basinski or Troye Sivan’s unexpectedly apposite and sensual pop. Sometimes I’d play ‘I believe in you’ by Neil Young, ‘Visions of Gideon’ by Sufjan Stevens or ‘It’s too late’ by Carole King and cry. Or I’d lean towards the desolate pop of Tirzah’s ‘Basic Need’ (“oh could you blame me for wanting to move on from you?”) or the unequaled romanticism of ‘Take My Breath Away’. Each time I was wallowing in my sadness. Then I got a bit better. Not much, but I started to taste air again. And it’s been, again, four years of feeling like it could get better only for something (a text, a memory, a social media mention) to drag me back. 

And then came a documentary. A friend offered me her Now TV login and, joy of joys, I was able to watch the superlative documentary about “Cros” called Remember My Name. It’s astounding: intimate, historical, confessional and it shines a spotlight on both Crosby’s pain and his music which, for a couple of years was both beautiful and resplendent with pain. I’d just had a text from my love, just some attempt at becoming friends again, out of the blue, and then suddenly Crosby made more sense than ever. Especially If I could only remember my name. I put it on and became swallowed by memories of my relationship with my love, of Budapest, Prague and Malta; of Finland and Brittany; of life together in Islington; of his family and mine; of his smile; of music we had drowned in together. 

What was it that made that album, one he’d never acknowledged me gifting to him, so triggering? Well, sorrow links to sorrow I guess. And for whatever reason, after watching that documentary and totally coincidentally getting a message from the man I still miss like someone took an organ from me, I turned on If I could only remember my name. ‘Music is Love’ (the opening track) passed without note, for it is slightly fluffy. But then ‘Cowboy Movie’ kicked in with its impeccably abstract narrative about dissolving friendships and I had memories of strife and arguments swimming through my mind. Remember – we were friends first and maybe, almost certainly, should have stayed thus. 

Then the album sucked me into its vortex. ‘Laughing’, ostensibly a song about the silliness of some folks’ devotion to cod spirituality, made me start crying from the line “I thought I met a man […] I was mistaken”. Crosby’s voice, often overlooked, hit me with its emotional force. Thoughts of misguided devotion were swirling through my head on the wings of exquisite slide guitar notes and Joni Mitchell’s divine harmonies and I suddenly couldn’t focus. All I felt was the overwhelming sense that I’d overcommitted back when he and I got together, that I’d believed a myth I’d cooked up for myself. Not his fault – I was selling myself the snake oil. He’d made it clear it wouldn’t last, even subconsciously, but I’d become the mythical child “laughing in the sun” that Crosby was empathising with. He was hugging me through my delusion, one that had clearly cost me my sanity in some ways.

In such context, ‘What Are Their Names’, a ferocious political diatribe, was a bit of relief, but ‘Traction in the Rain’, with its lyrics of loss, brought me back into the maelstrom of hurt. And the album closes with two wordless and one basically wordless tracks that showcase a man bereft, unable to convey what is killing him except through the odd word and many elegiac cries of pain. ‘Song with no Words (Tree with no Leaves)’ and ‘Orleans’ are powerful. But ‘I’d swear there was somebody here’ is a sucker punch to the gut. Crosby’s multi-tracked voice cries to heaven and I have yet to listen to it without shivering. Because that is his farewell to Christine. And yes, my own sadness, the loss of one man who stopped loving me (my other bereavements are different, albeit excruciating), is nothing compared to what Cros was dealing with in 1971. I know. But for whatever reason, nearly four years after [redacted] left me behind, the album swam out of the ether, unprompted, on the back of a nice message from the man I still love and a fascinating documentary about Cros. And that album burned with all the pain I still feel, every sentiment I want to convey to that beautiful, hurtful man. In some wordless way, David Crosby was sharing my pain and asking the question I can’t shake but also don’t want the answer to: “why?” The stars do align every now and then. 

What to make of all this? Essentially, there is only one conclusion: If I could only remember my name is a work of unparalleled majesty and beauty. Every song, even the slightly slight ‘Music is Love’, is superb. And as an expression of grief, it has few parallels. Maybe Berlin. Maybe Tonight’s the Night. But If I could only remember my name doesn’t get the credit it deserves as a tower of sadness equivalent to those other masterpieces. As for the rest of my meander, well, I still haven’t stopped loving [redacted]. I have a lot of friends who would scold me for that. He himself would be annoyed as he has long tried to revert to our pre-love friendship. And so this essay is a convoluted way of explaining to the love of my life and to those who have had to deal with my broken heart, that some pain just doesn’t die. I will never stop grieving the deaths of my mother and aunt. And it seems clear now that I will never stop grieving the death of the best relationship I ever had. Malta, Prague, Helsinki, Budapest, Islington will swim in my head forever. Memories of stroking his back, of wanting to make him laugh, of his body, of his smile, of his family, will never stop haunting me. And I guess my rediscovery of If I could only remember my name (not that I’d forgotten it) just reinforced my sense of loss while also reminding me that I am but a speck when it comes to said loss. Maybe I’ll get over it. Maybe I won’t. But I know David Crosby understands. Because If I could only remember my name came back into my life in 2021 and reminded me of what loss and memory feel like. And such pain is beautiful, even if it may kill me.

Ramleh – The Great Unlearning

NP30 - Ramleh - jpeg

It feels like The Great Unlearning has been coming for a while. Anthony di Franco and Gary Mundy, the two mainstays of the current incarnation(s) of Ramleh have been prolific of late, with the former releasing two striking albums as JFK in as many years (plus an excellent split with the Grey Wolves) and the latter resurrecting his Kleistwahr project to superlative effect with five albums since 2014. Hints of where Ramleh would be going with this latest release came (apart from tantalising posts on social media from the pair) in the form of 2015’s Circular Time, which saw them return to the “rock” iteration of the band, and the presence of Kleistwahr’s Music for Zeitgeist Fighters on Egyptian/French label Nashazphone, which now brings us The Great Unlearning.

Truth be told, I have often wondered at the reasons for splitting Ramleh releases between “rock” and “power electronics” versions of the band, although personnel surely plays a part as well as how the songs the duo write take shape. It’s an intriguing way to approach the ongoing evolution of noise/post-punk/industrial music, and one that draws attention to the chaotic and fragmented way those genres have developed. As elder statesmen of the craft, it feels like Mundy and di Franco are highlighting the essential confusion that seems to grip the power electronics scene, forever preventing it from coalescing into something seminal. Part of the zeitgeist even. And maybe that’s a good thing. As zeitgeist fighters, Ramleh channel the pure intensity of the music they helped shape and continue to blaze a brighter path than most, regardless of the form they use to do so.

Until we get to The Great Unlearning, that is. This is an album that shines brighter than even the majority of the band’s copious back catalogue. di Franco even told me he thinks it’s their best album and whilst I’ll need to give it a few more spins to come to that conclusion (I mean, Hole in the Heart and Valediction will take some beating) it is undoubtedly their most cohesive, even complete, simply because it takes the “rock” and “power electronics” halves of Ramleh’s personality and brings them together. Maybe this is because The Great Unlearning reunites so many stars of the extended Ramleh family: di Franco and Mundy are joined by former member Philip Best, frequent live collaborator Sarah Frölich (both of PE legends Consumer Electronics), and drummers Stuart Dennison and Martyn Watts. All have appeared with Ramleh frequently over the years, even decades, and all help shape the album along familiar lines (noise, drone, hard rock) until it coalesces into something that, while not entirely new, certainly feels pretty unique.

Anyone who has seen Consumer Electronics live -or listened to their last three albums- will know what an unsettling outfit they are and Best and Frölich here provide a lot of the mulch and noise on tracks like “Racial Violence”, “Futureworld” and “Blood Aurora”, aided and abetted by Anthony di Franco (I must remember to ask them what a virus synth is and where I can get one). By incorporating drums, alongside Mundy’s loping, circular guitar lines and di Franco’s rambunctious bass, however, what could have been straightforward noise/PE tracks take on a psychedelic life of their own, often spiralling and soaring and stretching over lengthy passages of dystopian bliss. “Futureworld” is nearly twenty minutes of seething sludge, the band’s avowed passion for Butthole Surfers on display as Gary Mundy’s open-ended guitar solos drag the band into the seventh circle of hell. The track, like the more minimalist (but no less effective) “Blood Aurora”, progresses at a leisurely pace, bringing to mind the more formless workouts by Neil Young and Crazy Horse or Les Rallizes Dénudés but with underlying throbbing gristle in the form of unhinged synth noise. “Racial Violence”, the third piece to break the ten-minute mark, is more barbaric: all squalling guitars, arhythmic percussion and mad synths.

If that all sounds a bit lengthy and intense, well, it is (and righteously so), but Ramleh can also rock out like true punks, as displayed on “The Twitch” and “No Music for these Times”. Typical of so idiosyncratic a band, these are no Sex Pistols-esque romps but rather taught, coiled blasts in the mould of a Wire or Pere Ubu, only heavier than both. “No Music for these Times” features a particularly captivating riff and a chorus that borders on catchy. On the final side of vinyl the band inches towards dark metal territory with the bluesy “Your Village has been Erased”, nod to their background in industrial music on the vicious “Procreation as an Imperialist Act” (although even here their not-so-secret love for melody becomes obvious through Gary Mundy’s shimmering guitar patterns) before closing on another heavy rock/punk rollicking in the form of “Natural Causes”. Here, the delicious subdued vocal harmonies between Mundy and di Franco evoke another of their favourite bands: early Pink Floyd and the way Gilmour and Waters’ voices also meshed so evocatively. In their reimagining of the dark psychedelia of Floyd’s era for a damaged 21st century, Ramleh carry some of the haunted grandeur of such icons.

The Great Unlearning is a hefty beast, carrying on where Circular Time left off but with even more focus on the past and the present, both Ramleh’s own as a band, and underground music’s in general. In keeping with previous releases and their respective solo outputs, di Franco and Mundy’s lyrics are morose and never shy away from trauma and despair, both personal and societal. It’s one more ingredient that makes Ramleh possibly the most essential “rock” band of our times.

As an aside, I can’t recommend Nashazphone enough as a label. Over the years, they’ve released excellent albums by Sunroof!, Sam Shalabi, Skullflower, Sister Iodine, Alvarius B and EEK. I haven’t yet had the time to give it a proper shout out, but in June they released Tqaseem mqamat el haram 2016-2019 by Egyptian electronic artist 1127 and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better noise-glitch album out there.

I also must recommend all five of the aforementioned Kleistwahr albums. No other power electronics artist currently operating is able to so seamlessly blend ferocious noise with overpowering emotion. 

The happy ghosts of Corbyn St

Corbyn st.jpg

I met someone a while back, someone who made my life more fun at a time when I needed it more than ever. It didn’t work out but my memories of that time, in a remarkable flat on Corbyn Street, north London, still glisten and gleam with possibilities, joys and smiles. Those memories inspired these words.

Fun on Corbyn street

The crippled man went for a wander
A tired and despondent meander
Looking for answers to solitude
In the miasma of Grindr

A face appeared, angelic
Somehow, inexplicably, reaching out
To that sad relic
A chance encounter and a laugh in the dark

Such fun they had
Rolling around together
Much unclad
The tired ears of the angel’s
Flat mates driven mad
The gaze from above
Hilarious exhibitionism to drive back everything sad

Screeches and laughs
Lying on a fatigued mattress
No barrier from the prying eyes
But no care erected as a buttress
They shrieked through Drag Race
Sashayed away
Ready for another iteration
Of glorious play

His parents loved the young sparrow
Admiring his looks, his smile, his stories
Like most things it had to dissolve
But that fun, that laughter
Will remain forever.
Of happy experiences,
They serve as eternal reminder


His brief gift

Eyes somewhere between ebony and gold
Lips so soft my skin went to them
Like a magnet

A laugh: high and full of youthful mirth
And those gymnasts stared down
As sweat and tenderness collided
And we cackled at the madness of it all

It was Never meant to last
But he called me beautiful
I’m glad for that
So very grateful
And now I walk on still
Thanks to those eyes and lips

Words in the dark: a collection of writings

I don’t like to call what I write ‘poetry’. I’ll let others decide on that… But these words are important to me, especially at this stage of my life. I’m still learning how best to express myself, something not helped by periods of writer’s block. But I want to get better at painting pictures or capturing moments, as opposed merely to expressing emotions, which are generally dark and unhappy, retired goth that I am.

Writer's block

So here’s a short collection, generally written late at night. And probably often whilst being the worse for wear. Sorry if that shows. These are celebrations of friends, late night laments and pictures from other places. Hope they’re at least worth a read.

Down the road

At the close of the day
“May I have a pint of Asahi please?”
I asked
The music was too loud
But he heard and nodded
The golden flask was placed before me
And another day’s trying was swallowed away

Beside me the smiling woman leaned into the bearded man and laughed when he said he was from Guildford
Well you would, wouldn’t you?
They talked about Aldi and Lidl
Others milled about
Ordering more beer-filled vessels
Their conversations swallowed by Rihanna’s croon and general atmosphere

“There’s a form of solitude” I said
To the next untethered phantom
“That feels so good. Because everyone is everywhere”.
He/she laughed but didn’t reply
A companion in name alone

It was nearly 2am
On a Tuesday.
“I shouldn’t be here” I whispered to the wraith
As the happy woman described London to one of its inhabitants
Inside, an eye stretched towards
A flat I only glimpsed but had become a golem
Knowing it was close brought me back to my neighbour
And to another Asahi
Memories become heavy in this place

At 2am
Another man listened against all odds
To his own song
As Billy Idol blared down from above
The happy woman’s endless chat
Punctuated by “fucks” and “shits”
Turned more bitter

A man sat down beside me
Ordered a beer
I wanted to ask him “what’s up?”
But turned to glances instead and
He walked away
Such a hubbub, even so late
Words about football, lager, “that cunt” and more swirled around

As the clock ticked down
And I tried to forget that flat, that face
The happy woman stopped smiling
Rightfully angry but lost for words
The place started emptying
And then it’s just us few
And now that bell tolls
How long have I been here?
The shades have got bigger
And tomorrow’s still to come

last orders

It’s hard being an industrial-scale twat

It’s hard being an industrial-scale twat
You think you have the answers
And collapse the moment that
Reality screams upwards and bites
You on your suddenly massive arse

It’s hard being an industrial-scale twat
You believe your lover’s words
He says he loves you
You think “this is it, solution found”
And then no

It’s hard being an industrial-scale twat
The beautiful man swans through your life
Making you believe the lies you’d thought long gone
Now you’re hot, sexy, young
Oh wait, maybe not

It’s hard being an industrial-scale twat
When all you want is to not spend
Another night alone
Music is a great companion
But doesn’t deign draw breath
So as lovely as it is
The mattress remains cold on the other side

It’s hard being an industrial-scale twat
But what else can you do?
Your loves won’t take pity
And nor should you want them to
How about owning being that twat?
And then see how you go

Listening to Bernstein in Greece (for Jimmy)

Aeolus sighs a gentle caress
From Delos this way bound
It’s so late but this taverna
Perched over the water
Needs to last forever

Channel your anger
Sweet, kind, fragile nymph
And for every doubt please remember
You are loved

As the translucent azure
Winks traces of our species’ defiance
A lost American woman
Serenades us at the last
Cast off your doubts and fears
For they have no power over you here


Listening to Billy (for my beloved AA)

It’s ridiculous
Just a loop
Potentially ad infinitum
And yet so perfect
It’s our not-song

A moment frozen in time
You and me, talking so long
Yet never saying “I love you” enough

Then we’d go to sleep
Wrapped around each other
In our own little parcel of London
A haven I wish I’d recognised

Now you have someone better
But you can’t see your own reflection
Not as I do
So I reiterate that stupendous loop
Wishing time would go back
That room, those gorgeous loops
Are our jewellery forever
Please hold on to them and him
Because I still want to celebrate

On an island

“How are you liking Mykonos?”
The friendly man asked
Of course, I said I liked it
And I did
Such a beautiful sea, pearlescent water lapping at the feet
Of albino towers and those windmills
The food – succulently unhealthy gyros, too little tzatziki and so much fish.
Ever that orb screaming its healthiness down at me
And I’m forced to admit – I’m glad.
I avoid the pool, but not the other liquids
So many names I can’t remember as the haze takes hold
Oh now I’m enjoying Mykonos!
And so many men, in shorts, tank-tops and designer t-shirts
Hunger drips from lascivious lips
Eyes roam each stretch of land
Potentials open like lilies blooming
I hope I’m brave to turn away
But maybe foolish
The end in sight I look for a reminder
Rembetika maybe, or a bottle of overpriced Ouzo
Or a photo, on this crap phone
That captures a fragmented cloud
A tired-eyed glimpse
I think he would have liked it here
How he loved to swim
And that’s mostly what’s all to do
At least before the drinks and men turn your brain to mush
I recommend you come here, raven
With whomever’s next
Say hi to Kostas, Kathy and Christina
Maybe some of the other guys will be back
Like every year
Either way – enjoy
Because I liked Mykonos
The beers by the piano under the windmills
The terrace laced with sass and Aperol Spritz
That food again
That luscious sea I avoided with admiration
That catwalk of strange folks parading against my cynicism
The cats, the gypsum, the cobbles, always the sun
Even though my inner words
Carried your name with me like a wretched mnemonic
I found smiles inside and laughter without
“How are you liking Mykonos?” the man -could have been a waiter, a passerby or a regular queen of the island- asked. Another man, maybe.
“Very much” I said, and it was so true
But how nice it would be with my raven’s feathers in my arms
That I couldn’t say
So I didn’t
I ate gyros, drank beer and watched the blue, blue sea instead


A night walk in Crouch End

Heads bowed, illuminated by miniature windows
A view into a world so wide, so irresistible that
The immediate path is rendered
Insignificant and unworthy
Two souls close enough to touch, passing a whisker from each other and me
A whisker from love, or friendship?
Those precious metals we so poorly mine? Or maybe from indifference and boredom,
eternal resources to plunder.

Overhead red lights scream unrelenting progress
The night pierced by emerging ziggurats and the wings of travels ending
Down this quiet hill my path keeps winding
Sliding past my bowed companions
More lights and tender destructive amber
Clamour for me

And I can’t sleep without them
Later, wrapped in dry cotton
Away from all brightness
I fly back to those two potentials
Feeling them multiply like rice on a chessboard
Climbing up and up as the night shivers with unheard voices
Stories that never unfolded tantalise my senses
They so dulled by another evening’s excesses
And remind me to prepare anew for more snatched meetings
That will never coalesce into something to hold on to

I’ve also reworked an older piece

On a village green (Dedicated to Sheila and Esther)

It’s spring
The balmy weather always threatens rain but
When the sun pierces it illuminates everything
No cricket here
Not here, Major, with your myth of England
Wrapped in colonial, aristocratic entitlement
But the grass grows green
And I think of how this warm and contradictory public house
Is open to us all, from my inevitable privilege
To those less fortunate from anywhere they’re found
This green is ours
We bask in the dwindling sunlight
In an oft-divided country, we defy and
bring the all together
Beyond our differences
A barn owl swoops over the Green
A reminder of what went before
Young Tegan and I relish its languid flight
And picture a future for this village green
That doesn’t depend on the myth of England

IMG_0898(c) Joe Burnett, 2018

Mad is the word

And so it feels like madness
A wretched grasp at forever-ness
But mad is the word

Mad is the word
That calls on all of us
To sing about the real love
And turn it into grief

Mad is the word
It dashes through the cortex
Preventing sleep
Or making it too deep

A heavy presence
At the edge of perception
Omnipresent but avoiding detection
Mad is the word

A dozen voices clamouring
Crying for attention
You can drown them in liquid
Or fire shit up into your brain
Drench it in gold and silver
Waiting for something to deliver
You from evil
Mad is the word

It knocks on your window
Vomiting memories of him or her
Or them or you
It shrieks through the night
A paralysing leichenschrei
Calling for you eternal
Mad is the word

Mad is the word
Incomprehensible to some
They question you about it
But never hold it down
You fight it alone
And try not to drown
Not for you, not anymore
For them and for the worth
Of those screamed memories
Mad is the word


My love

My love

I thought I could fight
To rekindle the light
My love

That what was lost transcended mortal form
A concept to hold on to
A reality remade in any image
But how I was wrong
He was perfect. So perfect.
But not you.
Not you.

I thought I could fight
To rekindle the light
My love

But love’s phantom isn’t ephemeral
It’s locked in your person
So beautiful
I yearn not for love
But YOUR love
Eternal companionship in the form of your graceless arms
My sullen raven
My dissatisfied dove

I thought I could fight
To rekindle the light
My love

It’s not a concept
It’s a human
One I reach for with every failed attempt
Every failed simile is a reminder of
Your lasting embrace
Now just a memory of what never was

I thought I could fight
To rekindle the light
My love

I would hold my arm out
To call back my perfectly imperfect raven
A glove to alight upon
A room to share as one
But it’s all gone
I would have built you a palace
In our own space
Are these still, after the years, false dreams?
If so, I’ll plough on, even if the love dwindles to ash

As the song goes, Bye bye love
Bye bye sweet caress
Bye bye happiness
Hello loneliness
Bye bye my love goodbye

I thought I could fight
To rekindle the light
My love1378455_10151769976598074_334348132_n

On a village green


On a village green

It’s spring
The balmy weather always threatens rain but
When the sun pierces it illuminates everything

No cricket here
Screw you, Major, with your myth of England
Wrapped in colonial, aristocratic entitlement

But the grass grows green
And I think of how this warm and contradictory public house
Is open to us all, from my inevitable privilege
To the council estate dwellers up the hill
This green is ours

We bask in the dwindling sunlight
In Brexit country, we defy and
bring the all together
Beyond our differences

A barn owl swoops over the Green
A reminder of what went before
Young Tegan and I relish its languid flight
And picture a future for this village green
That doesn’t depend on the myth of England

“The Empire Never Ended” – Thatcher and the end of democracy

Margaret Thatcher

So there it is. Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first -and so far only- female prime minister has shuffled off her mortal coil at the grand old age of 87. I’ll make something clear: unlike some, although not as many as claimed by The Daily Mail and The Telegraph, who decry any such outbursts of cynical joy as manifestations of the entire “Left”, that terrible, intangible -i.e. pretty much non-existent- social group those two newspapers seem to fear and loathe so much, I take no pleasure in the death of an old woman with dementia. Death is a grim specter that hangs over all of us, and the only significance of Thatcher’s actual demise is that it reminds us of how fragile life is. Other than that, it is a meaningless event. For those of us who rejected her politics during her tenure as PM, and who continue to do so as her legacy casts a sinister shadow over the entirety of UK politics, any celebrations of her passing are not only a bit tasteless but, more importantly, pointless.

But, let’s get something else straight: Margaret Thatcher was a hated woman. She inspires more revulsion than almost any other politician in modern British history. This is not some mean-spirited posturing by the SWP, or a reaction restricted to communist comedians on Radio 4, no matter how much the Mail would like to claim them as the sole spokespersons of the “Left”. Up and down the country there are people who despised Margaret Thatcher, not out of some sort of silly tribalism, but because her policies wrecked their lives and those of people they cared about. This is a reality, and no amount of attempted trivialisation/sensationalising (delete as applicable) on the part of the right-wing press will succeed in obfuscating that (especially not Toby Young’s juvenile suggestion that, had it not been for Maggie, someone like Mark Steel would have wound up in a gulag. Yes, Young’s paid to write such crass drivel). If the tasteless outpourings of glee signify anything, it’s that Thatcher was a divisive and traumatising figure for large numbers of this country’s populace. And guess what? Because of that, we’re not happy with talk of a sort of state funeral. We’re not happy with the sycophantic eulogies currently being proffered by our politicians and most news outlets. We’re not happy that she will get the kind of send-off usually reserved for war heroes and royalty. For a lot of us, she doesn’t deserve it. Maybe the hacks at the Mail and Telegraph should try considering that before turning on their sneer-and-outrage buttons.

Equally, however, those of us who loathed her need to remember some key facts. Margaret Thatcher stands today as the most successful and significant prime minister this country has had since Churchill. She was in office a stunning 11 years, one more than her closest rival -in modern electoral success terms- Tony Blair, and you can’t argue that she transformed this country, perhaps irrevocably. She oversaw economic upturn in several sectors, a wildly popular jingoistic war, and cemented the UK’s relationship with the USA, re-establishing it as a significant global power. This country would not be what it is without her, generally for worse, but sometimes for the better. I don’t want to hide from these facts. There is a large number of people who will, despite being part of the working class she generally scorned, forever adulate her because she allowed them to buy their council flats and injected a bit of national pride into their hearts; or who could identify and admire her rise from a lower middle class background to head of a party and then country dominated by men. We can of course discuss at length the merits of any particular policy, and many others, but that won’t deter from the fact that many people, of all backgrounds, not just Tory toffs and City boys, adored Thatcher, and always will.

Therein lies the fundamental problem for any analysis of the events of the past two days, and of the upcoming week or so: Thatcher won. She may be dead, but she won. Her policies were almost always hideous. She targeted the poorest in the country and systematically dismantled any aspects of their communities and societies that would allow them to oppose her free-market capitalism. She destroyed unions, aided and abetted by a vicious campaign against them by her allies in the press, spearheaded by -who else?- Rupert Murdoch, whose hold on Britain’s media narrative and political class was established at the height of Thatcher’s reign. Supported by the rhetoric of his and other papers, she demonised those on welfare, the working class and left-wing politics to the point that the latter became unpalatable to large sections of a middle class electorate rendered better off by her other policies and the boom of the financial sector. It was a phenomenal exercise in divide-and-rule: as the poorest plunged into unemployment, their communities -especially in the industrial North, Scotland and Wales- brushed aside, with the nouveaux riches and big corporations, benefiting from increased deregulation and the unwavering privatisation of public services, becoming her vocal cheerleaders, even as services such as transport, energy and telecommunications, supposedly ones intended to serve the people, became the playthings of the very richest, and an increasing financial burden on the rest. But, hey, so long as we could feel good about caning some Argies and owning a council flat that once could have housed a poor family, who cared -among the middle classes and above- if the train service got worse and gas and electricity prices rose? We weren’t all in it together, to coin a phrase from Thatcher’s descendents, but most of us didn’t even notice. Those that did were comprehensively deprived of a voice.

She may be dead, but the “reforms” Thatcher used to cut a swathe across British life in the eighties have had a lasting, maybe even permanent effect, so much so that when the supposedly left-wing Labour party came to power in 1997, they themselves had been corrupted by free-market capitalism, to the point that Thatcher saw Tony Blair as part of her legacy. She had effectively destroyed her opposition by forcing it to transform into a slightly more socially progressive clone of her Conservative party. Deregulation of banks continued unabated, corporations continued to harvest more and more of the UK’s wealth into the hands of a select group of privileged individuals, and inequality deepened to a catastrophic degree. We only have ourselves to blame. The media narrative  depicted any views to the left of Blair as “loony” or even dangerous, to the point that ideas such as nationalisation or unionisation have become political minefields. What unions we have only subsist in the public sector, such as among teachers and nurses, as well as  in the rail industry which, whilst privatised, still relies on public funding. This might be the greatest sour joke of all: Thatcher and her ilk have implemented a system in many industries where corporations take over public services only to be bolstered by the supposedly unwanted state, the main effect being that state subsidies line shareholders’ pockets, even as the services the latter are supposed to have taken off the hands of the inefficient state get worse. It’s a gigantic catch-22, and a tunnel from which little -if any- light appears to be shining, because any talk of reclaiming public services for the people is even derided by said people’s supposed party, Labour, let alone the right-wing press or the Tories. The very principles that Labour was founded on have been discarded as part of Blair’s -and therefore Thatcher’s- legacy.

If Blair was bad, what has come along since he and then Gordon Brown were shown the door is even worse, probably even worse than anything Margaret Thatcher could have dreamed up. Riding on flimsy narratives about the budget deficit and a right-wing press campaign against people on benefits, David Cameron’s Tories have taken Thatcherism to a new level, one where those most vulnerable are demonised as somehow responsible for the country’s economic woes whilst the mega-rich, who, if they are big bankers or millionaire tax avoiders, actually are part of the problem, get given tax breaks. Most terrifyingly and frustratingly, the aforementioned narrative fails to be broken, even when exposed as false. Tax evasion and avoidance cost the treasury far more than benefit fraud, yet no matter how often this is repeated, the Tories’ “skivers vs strivers” rhetoric wins out, even among those they’re hitting with bedroom taxes and disability benefit “reforms”. The power of Thatcher’s divide-and-rule technique has never been stronger, turning fellow members of the working class against each other whilst the mega-rich reap the rewards of what little growth the country garners. With the welfare state getting vitriolically undermined, so the way is cleared for even the bastions of public service, such as the NHS and education, to feel the cold blade of privatisation press against their necks. It doesn’t matter that inequality is continuing to separate the richest from their fellow citizens to an unprecedented degree, and clear for all to see. If the Royal Wedding and Elizabeth II’s Jubilee showed anything, is that the presumed right of the elites to lord over Britain’s underclasses has never been never been so profoundly established in our minds. The Queen is set to get a £6 million pay-rise and few will bat an eyelid.

This is why so many of us will feel such rage today, as Thatcher is fawned over by her supine idolators. In her wake, Britain has become a more unequal, less fair and more precarious place to live for too many people. And, call me cynical but I am certain that things will never change. Any alternative progressive vision is systematically and vocally undermined by both the corporate press and the uniformly similar LibLabCon political class, to the point where progressive parties can’t even get more than the odd parliamentary seat. It’s a world where the chattering classes -and, by extension, the people- would rather give airtime and space to the vacuous and noisy xenophobia of UKip rather than look at systems that could actually redress the balance. Thatcher won. The 99% of us who don’t belong to the privileged few will slowly but surely get left behind in the race towards some sort of quality of life.

The line “The Empire Never Ended” has been trotting around my head for some time now, and I’ve even used it in another article. I stumbled across it in Philip K Dick’s Valis, where it’s used in his bizarre gnostic philosophy to describe the sociopolitical system established by a mad god, one that gave us the Roman Empire and supposedly ended with Nixon’s resignation, the latter orchestrated by a “good” and “wise” god, who is some reflection of Jesus Christ. I’m an atheist, so this vision means little to me, for all its interest. And Dick died three years into Margaret Thatcher’s time as prime minister (and a year into Reagan’s presidency), so he missed the way the militaristic empires of old have been replaced, in the wake of the end of the Cold War, by a convoluted regime guided by the monetary interests of a few wealthy individuals, backed loudly by a media dominated by vested interests and supported by an opportunistic political class that, of course, can still turn to a bit of military muscle when needed to further the free-market cause, as Tony Blair, Thatcher’s child, so ably (and, thankfully, to his detriment) demonstrated. The Empire never ended. It just got clever. And, by being clever, through the vision of Thatcher, Reagan and their followers, it’s more powerful than ever. I don’t see it ending anytime soon, and that’s to our eternal shame. I won’t join in with the crude celebrations over Margaret Thatcher’s, no matter how much I hate the fawning she’s getting, mainly because they’re pointless. She won.

* As a footnote to the above, I am startled and dismayed to see that so many gay people have lamented Thatcher’s passing, to the point that these individuals are overlooking -perhaps caught up in the euphoric wave of Thatcher sanctification- that she oversaw the introduction of the most homophobic law the UK has seen since 1967, by which I of course mean Section 28, which prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” in schools and had a hugely detrimental effect on gay kids all over Britain, one that is still being felt today. I can just about get that Gay Times and many of the LGBT community got a bit doe-eyed over The Iron Lady, I assume because of gay icon Meryl Streep, but if we’ve got to the point where, as a community that has had to fight for our rights, we have become so imbued with the attitude of sheer selfishness and greed she promoted that we forget, disregard or neglect our own past, then this world is even more screwed than I thought.

Photo (c) of Don Mcphee. I hope he won’t mind me using it.

A Liminal Review: Day of the Demons by Charlema

Moody, muted tolls of a remote bell creepily welcome you into Day of the Demons, accompanied by circular synth drones that seep out of the speakers like aural slime, coating every surface around you with their grim, insistent repetition. From out of the murk comes Charlemagne Palestine with a mewling, overwrought chant, his voice so distant amidst the omnipresent buzz of the synth as to seemingly be recorded at the bottom of the well in Hideo Nakata’s Ring. This is the malevolent atmosphere that presides over Day of the Demons, and it doesn’t relent at any moment across its 40-odd minutes.

Thing is though, the opening track I’m writing about is called ‘Raga de L’apres-midi pour Aude’, and suddenly the massed, sonically pungent tones and the intertwined vocal laments on show don’t seem quite so creepy. There is a fashion at the moment for music that supposedly trawls the darkest depths of human history, resurrecting old gods and violent rituals via drones, noises and overt nods to the traditions of “Eastern” musics, as if the combination of all these factors somehow automatically confers a mixture of spiritual gravitas and horror movie atmosphere. It’s something Desire Path Recordings were obviously keen to capitalise on with Day of the Demons, but it would seem Janek Schaefer and Charlemagne Palestine are far too intelligent and cheeky for such simplifications, and the latter’s lopsided sense of humour shines out of a title like ‘Raga de L’apres-midi pour Aude’, which then reflects it into the man’s unsettling ululations, so that even as the music seems unsettling, and Desire Path try to advocate the album’s terrors, one can’t help but break into a smile. The patient, hypnotic drones coupled with Palestine’s pained voice may be simple, in a way, but the undertones of humour and even aggression lend the piece a certain uncertainty, elevating above the platitudes the label describes.

‘Fables from a Far Away Future’ is less immediate, but perhaps altogether more potent. As what sounds like the world’s most decrepit accordion wheezes away consumptively, Palestine and Schaefer drop mysterious field recordings from around the globe into the mix, like dollops of mud decanted into a grimy mojito. Voices in English, Japanese, Arabic, even a pair of French people woozily trying to tune a xylophone, stagger and stumble out of the persistent, elegiac drones, like recordings from a black box retrieved amongst the ruins of the Tower of Babel. Talking in voices? Are Schaefer and Palestine thinking of The Exorcist? Part of the sinister appeal of Day of the Demons is its mystery. It doesn’t feel like the duo is channeling coherent nightmares, but rather that they’re probing at, laughing with, and deliberately standing back from the intrinsic demons of human nature. The album’s greatest strength, contrary to what the blurb may try to suggest, is its elusiveness. These two are far too canny, world-weary and musically adept to simply dump a load of evident sinisteria on their listeners. Instead, especially on ‘Fables from a Far Away Future’, they hint, tease and cast sly glances at whatever lies just over the horizon and behind our shoulders.

Frayed Expression I: Grey Rose (February 2012)


Grey Rose is a noise release in four parts from FRAYED, centred around the poem of the same name.

“Grey Rose.

I stood apart from the tulips in the sun/growing so tall/all of a sudden/as I smiled in the rain/so fleeting before sparkling scythes/cut me down.

I writhed in sodden attempts at speech/Soaking teardrops away from appearance/To beat prose and peer pressure/Clumsy/I dropped friends and attention/Like Gregory/So awkward/But without ever dancing on my back/In the end

Grey Rose.

I stole kisses and understanding/Stretched out on my tiny bed/Took them down to my level/And then hid my gaze in jest/I grew food on my face and squinted through aches and gnashed at bitter metal/To no effect

I was perpetually there/Court jester with an audience of thousands or tens/I courted and won/Only to turn and find/No-one

Metal, pus, glass and doubt/Melted down/Now thirty and rising/A warm bed and more rain at the window/Making history out of personal nothings/A life unfinished/A rose untended/In the damp

Grey Rose.”

All devices actioned by FRAYED.

The album can be listened to and downloaded here