On vocals…

Let’s not beat about the bush, the biggest stumbling block to realizing my supergroup is the fact that I cannot sing. No false modesty here. There is, as I believe someone once said of Ian Brown, a greater chance of holding custard in an onion bag than there is of me holding a tune. But I am relying on a combination of technological tweaking and good old fashioned mumbling to get me through this. I feel no responsibility to ensure that my listening public understands the lyrics and in view of the fact that I’m not only tone deaf but also literally deaf deaf  I rarely understand them myself. I intend to rewrite, re-imagine and just plain make up anything I can’t hear but feel there is a precedent for this. REM were something of a revelation when I first heard Murmur.  Actually this is not technically true. When I first heard them I gave it 5 minutes and then cast the record across the room bellowing “bloody ‘ell it’s the Eagles”. To this day I fail to understand what it is I heard that made me think of Henley, Frey et al but the second time I listened was definitely a revelation. At last here was a band that levelled the playing field – it wasn’t just me that couldn’t understand, nobody could hear what he was singing. Perversely despite most rock’n’roll poetry being beyond me I suffer incandescent rage when it comes to bad lyrics…

and of course having introduced the notion I do have to define what I mean by bad lyrics. Nonsense and gibberish are fine. Rock’n’roll is often and in my opinion should be limited to 3, 4 minutes tops and in that brief  time you can’t fanny about with daffodils and wandering clouds or you’ve lost the audience. In this spirit I hold with the opinion  that it’s hard to improve on  Bo Diddley’s horny teen anthem My Babe, who, we are assured, “loves a lotta lovin’” because “when she gets hot she gets hot like an… ovin”. Genius. What upsets me is nonsense and gibberish masquerading as higher art. Step forward  Robert Nesta Marley. Whilst I appreciate and admire his achievements in popularizing reggae and in doing so allowing such artists as Toots Hibbert, Lee “Scratch” Perry and Peter Tosh to reach a wider audience, I do, however, continue to struggle with the messianic claims made on his behalf. Especially when considering his assertion that “I’m going to be iron, like a lion, in Zion”. I’ll just leave you to ponder that one for a moment… How exactly can one “be” iron? In what respect do lions embody this quality? How does their relocation to Zion assist in the transformation? Or was it simply the case (and I recognize the heresy in suggesting this) that he was off his tits one night and mistook the rhyming dictionary for conscious inspiration?  I mean, c’mon. Iron? Lion? Zion? Would Shakespeare have had Romeo driving a Mondeo at the rodeo? I and I thinks not Mind you it has to be said that Bohemian Rhapsody still overshadows all bad lyrics like a poodle rockin’ collosus. Bismillah? NO!

…Michael Stipe however was clearly wrestling with and articulating demons the rest of us could barely imagine and it is the glimpses of lyrics that you can hear through aural gaps in the curtain that make them so fascinating.  In much the same way that the Fast Show’s Rowley Birkin QC would mumble incoherently for a minute before grunting the word “snake!” we were left wondering what on earth could be bothering Stipe that suddenly left him bemoaning “conversation fears”. What are conversation fears anyway? Ain’t got the foggiest but you can bet your little sillouetto of a man that it’s something you and I would never think of. But this of course is the whole point. Why would we want to know? I prefer to remain in the dark about songs such as “Radio Free Europe” leaving me free to believe that he really is singing “crawling out of red trousers” and in the unlikely event that he’s not, keep it to yourselves. I was reminded off this recently whilst watching  the very lovely film “Lost in Translation”. Search the web for this film and you will be directed to a list of web sites promising to reveal exactly what Bill Murray whispers to Scarlett Johansson in the final scene. Why would anyone want to know this? It’s such a perfect scene precisely because we don’t know what’s being said and can only imagine and as I’m sure you’ll agree imagination is always better than reality. It’s also a perfect scene due to the use of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s “just like honey” which brings me neatly on to my other vocal inspiration, the pale and slightly terrifying Jim Reid. tumblr_mtwtf7ydob1sjma8mo1_500Jim and big bruv William were also clearly of the mind that imagination is preferable to reality. The reality, in their case, of living in new town East Kilbride yet with an imagination that had them witness to the recording of Phil Spector’s “little symphonies for the kids”. Just like REM it took me a while to get the JAMC. My first exposure to debut single Upside Down left me with impression, lasting to this day, that they had simply welded the Scooby Doo theme tune on to Del Shannon’s Runaway. What I shamefully missed was the hubris of four skeletal sun-dodgers with amplifiers which produced not the apocalyptic wail of the MC5 or Velvet Underground, but the suburban hum of someone turning on a Dyson. But who through sheer force of imagination transported themselves to Shea Stadium with an audience of thousands. This would naturally be laughable were they not so deadly earnest about it. Indeed they were earnest to a degree which would be laughable were it not so sincere. How can I tell? Their early releases coincided with my moving to London and for several months I suspected they were stalking me. Hours I spent trudging bedrizzled Thatcherite streets in search  of a flat. At least once a week I would see Jim and William shuffling funereally towards me, Ray-Bans in place and saying not a word. Just staring towards an imaginary rock’n’roll horizon where Brian Wilson was shaking hands with Alex Chilton.

So what have we learnt? In order to overcome my shortcomings I shall be mumbling incomprehensibly into a microphone treated with industrial strength reverb (and not a little echo) with a perfectly straight face. Think “Wandering Star” by Lee Marvin produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry and you’re getting there.

5 thoughts on “On vocals…

    • Well Mark, I’m sure you appreciate that anyone who can rhyme “on” with “gong” is going to receive the Slender seal of approval, although a man with a sicker sense of humour than me might feel compelled to point out that a roller was ultimately much kinder to the Bolan tonsils than a mini…


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