Tweet My secondary school education was a potted history of instruction delivered by the brilliant, the banal and, well, the pure gobshites who I lump in my imagination in a box full of rusty sharp things, huge tropical beetles and rubbish teachers. Along with some of the best mates I ever made, there are things I carry from the leaving cert for life. These include a few poems from the English syllabus, particularly those by Kavanagh. Leaving Cert English, rather than stifling my love of the language (as it seems it did to many who were force fed dreaded 'standard answers' in those brutal hot-house schools), encouraged it. This was helped in no small part by a teacher who encouraged us to love the poems.
The title of this blog will be familiar to many, cribbed as it is from a poem on the leaving cert syllabus (well from the 1998 one, they could now be teaching scripts from channel 4's Skins for all I know). The poem is Kavanagh's Advent, and it's about how children find the sublime in ordinary things, before life experience comes along, opens a big door too wide and lets the light crowd those simple things out. I chose it because I want to do a thing about childhood, or more specifically the music that is steeped in the far-off emotional fragments of childhood memory. Now that I'm 27 my childhood memories are delicate yokes and hard to catch, like tiny floating dandelion burrs from things that were so pure and coloured with life once. They get fragmented too don't they? I think sometimes of a dust mote filled house, decorated by peeling wallpaper with a faded pattern of something beautiful. Yet, things come back sporadically to all of us from this halcyon time, whether spontaneously or evoked.
I say evoke, because, rather than deal with the sloppy quandaries of adult life, many musical artists mine the fertile seam of childhood to create songs that not only deal with this time of life, but, more importantly, evoke it in the listener. Indeed, Boards of Canada (to various levels of success) carved their entire career out of constructing a blurry world of bleached out sound from sampling old instructional TV shows for kids. I want to pick out a few songs that for me, not only describe childhood, but directly evoke it too. The scratched knees. The sunshine shattering to blinding pieces off the edge of a jam jar with a bug in it. Mud. Snow. Sour sweets. The endless late summer shadows and the microscopic thump of your own heart-beat through the glowing veins in your closed eyes as you lie in hay. Or, as old dead Irish dude Kavanagh puts it so much better himself:
'The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges.'
MP3: John Cale-Child's Christmas in Wales
This is inspired by a short story by Dylan Thomas, which in itself is a crystalline realisation of childhood memories. Cale's song bleeds similarly rich imagery. Musically, a steering piano melody melts into slow organ floes, evoking snow, the church, and surely a backwards drift through time itself to Cale's rural childhood. The organ line breaks my heart.
MP3: The Beatles-Penny Lane
MP3: The Beatles-Strawberry Fields Forever
The greatest double A Side of all time? On these two songs both McCartney and Lennon chose not to ride the psychedelic trip into outerspace like many of their stargazing American contemporaries. Instead, they retreated deep into a mental space that was a psychedelic re-contextualisation of their childhoods. Lennon always wanted to go back to the womb, to the innocence of when he was a lad, and Strawberry Fields is the most musically appealling realisation of his lad/womb wish. It's a perfect song. I'm including the Anthology demo, which, to me, is more welcoming, less complex, and therefore more childlike than the finished version with George Martin's sometimes spooksome orchestral overtones. What can I say about Penny Lane? Another strangely hallucinatory and freakishly deep reimagination of childhood by one of the two most talented popular musicians of all time. Both these songs are micro-universes. You can lose yourself in them completely. And all one single. Fuck me. But those Beatles eh?
Grab these Beatles MP3's while they're hot kids. Cos a dessicated purple-haired oldie who used to be one half of the above doesn't want people like me posting them on blogs.
I will post a few more childhood songs in the coming days. I can already think of a few less obvious ones. Any other ideas?