Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Songs About Cars

The wide open road, symbol of freedom and narratives just waiting to be written or sung. If you live in America that is. What could be more of a contradiction in terms than a british road movie? London to Manchester in just over two hours. To Glasgow adds just another four and a half hours. Endless vistas not of the ocean, but of oil seed rape fields and graffitied concrete bridges.

Still, I suppose rock band tour buses still have to make those journeys, so here's 10 of my fave songs about cars and the magic of the road. or not, seeing as I have never learned to drive and fail to see how there can be any attraction.

Start your engines...

1) The Clash - "Brand New Cadillac"
For a band who'd sung on their debut album "I'm So Bored With The USA" and also penned "London's Burning" opening with a whinge about the concrete flyover that dominates West London, here is a song that seems to repudiate both of these sentiments, plus Joe Strummer's voice is lilting over to embrace the American a tad. Soon enough after this album they hightailed it to live in the USA anyway.

2) Tubeway Army - "Cars"
Ah dear old human android Gary Numan with his second smash hit song that aped Ballard and all things dehumanising about technology. An effect utterly subverted by his twee shaking of a tambourine. maybe he should have blown into a melodica or something.

3) Janis Joplin - "Mercedes Benz"
A song protesting the consumerism of America, subsequently reappropriated by the brand to advertise their wares. No wonder she drank herself to death she could see what was ahead.

4) Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers - "Roadrunner"
If there's a voice you want to suggest a certain ennui and distaste behind the thrust of what the lyrics purport to be saying, then it would be our Jonathan. This is a cover of a Bo Diddley song, the man who also wrote a paean to Cadillacs.

5) Ministry - "Jesus Built My Hot Rod"
And now for a complete change of gear... This quotes lines from the very offbeat road movie "Wiseblood".

6) Buzzcocks - "Fast Cars"
See we in the UK can crank it up to well over a ton too, but the power of the engine sounds a whole lot reedier than American models. And anyway, Pete Shelley is singing his disapprobation for going over the speeding limit.

7) Dead Milkmen - "Bitchin' Camaro"
Oh my aching sides, this is cabaret rock. An ex-girlfriend of mine put this on a mix tape for me. not quite sure what it says about me. I dunno, must have seemed funny under the influence of sensi...

8) Adam & The Ants - "Car Trouble"
see now somebody had to keep it real and this song talks about the downside of motoring when the machine goes wrong. Well keeping it as real as anyone from England dressed as a Native American with warpaint and feathers while brandishing an electric guitar can...

9) Tom Robinson Band - "2,4,6,8 Motorway"
This anthemic song almost made we want to learn to drive. There's something about its appeal I can't quite put my finger on, but there you go. I sued to hate motorway journeys up to visit my grandparents in Manchester. They were so boring and predictably none of the music for the journey included top tunes like this. Yeah I know it's a trucking song not a car song, but they're all the same to me anyway. Killing machines of steel. Or sumptin'. I used to wear badges like theirs back in the day. It's what punk was all about. That and sugar soap to make your hair spiky.

10) Billy Bragg - "A13"
You might have detected I'm losing a bit of interest in the subject matter, but this song spoofing the US song "Route 66" always puts a smile back on my face. Nicely done Billy, even if you are patronising the German audience with your English as a second language patter.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Echoes - Friday Flash

The sure handed technician swished the probe across my abdomen like an air hockey disc. She was sketching my child for me, drawing her from noiseless sound waves and silent rebounds. Bouncing sonar off her budding tissue, having the echoes pulse back through the swell of me and into the machine’s imaging stick. Pixels of my little pixie as her head is fully rendered. The outline of her arms expertly plotted by passage through the shallow fathoms. Even her fingers floating like sargassum in the void are charted through the sink and swim of the sonic undulations. The topography of my daughter. That slowly burgeoning coral reef cropping out from my amniotic sea bed.

The minute motions of her heart are as yet too tiny to be picked out in electrical motes. This being only the first draft for the overlay of more detailed pentimento compositions to come. But even without a monitor I could see, feel and most significantly, hear, my own heartstrings go ping as her image became limned in light emerging from the shadows of me. The technician squeezes some more jelly on my belly. It felt similar to when you used to pull out of me on to my stomach, terrified that we might launch new life. But her reproduction up there on screen suggests you got your timing wrong. That we were arrhythmic, out of step with one another. And when I relayed my suspicions of generation within me, you were off like a torpedo. There were no returning echoes from my plaintive pleas launched in the direction of your retreating back. Even though you were a complete dog, my entreaties appeared to be shrill beyond any audible frequency. But that’s okay, I have someone real close now who is held rapt by the softly lapping waves of my body and the song they make. Our call and response established here will be for all time. 

It was the same sonographer, but this time her piloting seemed less assured. There was a sense of choppy urgency to her sweeping over my distended stomach. And I scoped on the monitor that some of the pulses were not receiving the requisite echoes back.  Her rudimentary tissues were too weak to bat them gently round. The heart was now visible, but barely fluttering. They took me from lying prone under the ultrasound and folded me in half in front of a consultant. He was speaking to me, but I couldn’t hear his words. Wrong frequency for my brain to hold I guess. A siren only I could hear was reverberating in my head. 

They depth charged her with medical bombs. And when those didn’t find their target, they brought in an abominable bombardier with a suction duct to scuttle her little half-built vessel while she was still in harbour. 
And everyday now I rub my hand over my belly, the trenches and the depressions. Yet the seabed there is still. No echoes are ever returned  to me. 

taken from the new flash fiction collection "Extra-Curricular" out now