Monday, February 24, 2014

Five Songs That Had A Worse Day Than You

Having a bad case of the Monday Blues? Oh go on then, tell me what happened! Did you collide with some heathen on your way out of Starbucks/Vida and watch your very expensive latte tumble towards the ground and seep through your brand new shoes? Did you oversleep and have to endure five full minutes of the boss shouting at you in front of 20 co-workers who were trying their hardest to conceal their sadistic giggles? Or did you, perhaps, experience a flat tyre in peak time traffic, and almost get taken out by a wayward taxi whilst standing on the side of the road, wailing for a knight in shining armour to rescue you? Oh, I know what it was, your cat brought up a massive, technicolour hairball on the freshly-laundered rug in your living room. I get it - your life sucks. But believe me, the lives of the characters in these five songs suck even more. Happy wallowing.

5) Boomtown Rats - "I Don't Like Mondays": Let's start with the obvious, shall we. As long as you didn't shoot up anything this morning, your Monday is still going way better that this kid's. Just as soon as that silicon chip inside your head sets itself to overload, please just take a walk around the block so that you don't feel the need to teach anyone that the lesson today is how to die. [No offence intended by any of these comments, school shootings should not be taken lightly]

4) Foster the People - "Waste": Depression. The subject here clearly has some problems: 'devil on your back', 'speak or scream' and 'monsters' all evoke fear, sadness and anger. Luckily they have a supportive friend/significant other/family member (the speaker) who is willing to stick with them through all of it, and 'help [them] see it through'. Let's hope that if you're ever in a similar situation, someone does the same for you.

3) Coldplay - "The Scientist": Christ Martin at his melancholy best. I've heard a few interpretations for this song, but in my mind it is quite universal in meaning. There are many things that nobody said would be easy, but no one ever said would be this hard. The one that immediately springs to mind is leaving home for the first time, a situation in which you would often prefer to "go back to the start". But then again, any goodbye, a death, the end of a relationship, or a major life change can invoke these kinds of emotions. There's just something about this song that hits me right in the heart, and causes me to experience these awful things known to most as ... feelings 

2) The Smiths - "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now": You can always count of Morrissey to bring a little tragic comedy into your life. The lyrics of this song are so pathetically sad that it almost makes one want to laugh. Whether your loneliness makes you miserable whenever you happen across a pair of lovers, or the job which you so desperately sought leaves you in constant mental anguish, The Smiths get you, yo. I'm sure Moz and I aren't the only people in the world who have wondered why we smile at people whom we'd much rather kick in the eye...

1) The Shins - "Australia": I sense your confusion, what the hell am I on about? Whilst it is debatable as to whether or not we really are just born to multiply and gaze into night skies, I'm pretty sure we've all dreamed of just one more Saturday. When you really look deeper into this song, you'll be able to tell that it's about hating your job. Wait, back up. Yep, hating your job. Don't believe me? Let's take that deeper look then:
We're born to produce offspring and look at the pretty stars, but we're so tied into our work that all we want is one more weekend! But until that happens, some company is going to pay for the use of the hours of your life. And everytime you feel like you could really achieve something... you realise you're stuck in that same dead-end job and that you're going nowhere. The 'selfish fool' is then, of course, your boss, and you'd be damned to be just another of his employees. You've been alone since the day you started working (at 21), because you have no time for relationships. And sometimes, you feel like you'd be better off just jumping out the window. Now, if that doesn't make you feel better about your own Monday, I don't know what will. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

5 Artists Who Covered The Smiths

I'm on a little bit of a Smith/Morrissey kick at the moment. I first got into them around October 2011, simply because I was following so many Brits on Twitter, who seemed to think that this band was just the bee's knees. I had to investigate for myself, and when I did, I deemed them nothing short of awesome, if something of an acquired taste. What followed was several weeks of flipping between watching six seasons of Doctor Who and listening to 'The Very Best of The Smiths' whilst drinking my tea. Proving, once again, that I was born to be British.

Fast-forward to July 2013, when I find myself in a tent at T in the Park in Scotland, beholding none other than former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr belt out his solo work in front of my face. We're also treated to a few Smiths classics, including 'There is a Light The Never Goes Out', 'Stop Me If You Think That You've Heard This One Before' and the impossibly brilliant 'How Soon Is Now?'. It is during this performance that I make friends with none other than Ted Sablay of The Killers, who tells me all about Marr and Bernard Sumner (of Joy Division and New Order) and Las Vegas. Instant besties. And cue tiny Smiths obsession. Who cares if they were popular when my mother was my age? Truly good music is timeless. 

Moz himself released an autobiography towards the end of last year, and it took about two months for the thing to actually be released in SA - and another two for me to read the thing to completion - but I'm almost at the end, and my love for his music grows more and more every day. Although loathed by some (for being too outspoken? For fears that his seemingly outrageous statements are actually frighteningly true?) Morrissey and co are admired by many musicians, and have been covered time and time again. So here's my list of Top 5 Artists Who Covered The Smiths.

1) Noel Gallagher: To be honest, I'm just putting this on the list because I like Oasis and I like The Smiths and yayyyy 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out'.

2) Coldplay: On a dark, grim morning on my way to work (at 3am, no less), my iPod played quietly through my car radio, and when I stopped at a robot, I heard the sweet sounds of Chris Martin's voice serenading me. But... huh... why did it sound like he was singing a song that I'd heard live not two months before? I hadn't been to any Coldplay concerts recently, but... "stop me, oh oh oh stop me, stop me if you think that you've heard this one before..." Hold up, Coldplay covered The Smiths? Yes, they did, and they performed it live with Oasis. You're welcome.

3) The Killers: okay, it's a Morrissey cover, but it definitely still counts. 'Why Don't You Find Out For Yourself' was some kind of special, limited edition B-side from the Hot Fuss days. After not paying much attention to it for my 4+ years of Killers obsession, it came on shuffle on my iPod one day, and I decided that I really quite liked it. I felt like singing along, so I googled the words and my mind was blown when I found out that it was originally by Morrissey. 

2) Death Cab For Cutie: Although they got the words wrong, Ben Gibbard and his mates did a pretty interesting cover of 'This Charming Man'. I first heard it in my pre-Smiths days, leading me to believe the the lyrics were about being "on two bicycles", and being "just a country boy". But just like Leona Lewis's 'Run' (originally by Snow Patrol), I felt like the song was missing something, and a little bit of digging revealed the original, which is, of course, far better.

1) Love Spit Love: never heard of them? Neither had I (I just googled them, they were founded by the lead singer of the Psychedelic Furs and now I feel stupid), but I had been singing along to their version of 'How Soon Is Now?' for years upon years. The band recorded a cover of the song for the film 'The Craft', and it was later used as the theme song for the TV series 'Charmed', which I was a huge fan of. Too bad pre-teen me had the words down as "I am the sun... and the air...". Sigh.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Top Ten Songs: The Killers

Yesterday, an intern and friend at the office (yes, Andrew, we’re friends again… if you promise to give up RiRi) told me that he had looked up The Killers on iTunes to listen to ‘A Dustland Fairytale’ (cue me falling on the floor in spasms of joy) and had seen that their most downloaded song was none other than ‘Mr Brightside’. While I’m not at all surprised at this, it got me wondering what my top ten songs by my favourite band would be. Now, my first instinct is so sob and say that I could never choose (with the exception of ‘Dustland’, which is a head and shoulders above all the rest), because everything my little darlings do is perfect, I’m the first to admit that this is a lie. ‘Deadlines & Commitments’ for example, is about as far from perfect as the blister on my smallest toe, as is their decision to cover ‘Shadowplay’ at every freaking live show. I mean no offence to Ian Curtis, nor am in any way thanking the kitchen table (10 points if you get that reference) but if I’ve paid 70 Pounds to see my favouite band, I’d rather see their own songs. But as always, I digress.

And so I shall attempt to create this list. My top three are pretty much locked down, but the other seven are sure to cause some tears as I try to decide. Here goes nothing:

10) ‘The Cowboy’s Christmas Ball’: Just for the hell of it. The 2011 charity single is by far my favourite so far. Ever since then the Christmas singles have gone downhill (in my humble opinion), and I only listened to last year’s one a grand total of twice. But what more could anyone want out of life than Brandon Flowers brandishing a gun and a few alien spaceships taking up residence in the Nevada desert? In fact, I even managed to theme my friend’s 2013 Christmas dinner after this song … without her even knowing.

9) ‘Battle Born’: Mainly for the fact that Brandon Flowers decided to hope the hell off his stage at Wembley and grab hands with his adoring fans – and I touched his sweaty arm during this very song. Oh, it’s also one of the album of the same name’s strongest tracks, but Brandon’s sweat – priorities please.

8) ‘Everything Will Be Alright’: Because whenever I go through a depressive patch, I stick this on repeat until I eventually begin to believe it. Through months of lectures and projects and homesickness, I’d return to my flat every night, make my dinner and do my dishes with this in the background to remind myself that everything really would be alright.

7) ‘This is Your Life’: Besides the super catchy tune, the thing that really gets me about this song is the crowd interaction when it is performed live. I take great pride in getting my “no one gives a damn about her haaaaaiiiir” action in perfect synch with Brandon’s, and even when I listen to the song whilst driving, I feel my arms itching to reach towards the sky and wave back and forth at just the right moment. It’s been ingrained into my head, see.

6) ‘Jenny Was A Friend of Mine’: How can you not love this song? From the opening search helicopter sounds to the synth, to the I-didn’t-murder-my-girlfriend pleas, it’s perfect for late night driving on dark highways, with no idea what might be in store. It’s also perfect in general. Now every time I write one of my never-finished short stories, I name my main character’s best friend Jenny, simply so that I can include the line “Jenny was a friend of mine”.

5) ‘Smile Like You Mean It’: Oh, the Hot Fuss days of a chubby-cheeked Brandon Flowers, and a Mark Stoermer who looked just slightly less like Jesus. A synth section so addictive that it makes you sing along to wordless parts of the song (yes, it’s possible), and lyrics so perfect that they make me want to brand them onto my skin forever more (no kidding, I’d get a ‘smile like you mean it’ tattoo) make for a phenomenal song.

4) ‘Sweet Talk’: Because B-sides deserve some love too. Included only on the B-sides compilation album Sawdust, this song is one of the band’s best, and was 15 times better than most of the songs on Sam’s Town or Day & Age. If released on an actual album, I have no doubt that it would have racked up far more fans, besides those obsessives such as myself who scoff at anyone who only listens to singles.

3) ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’: Battle Born was the first album released after I became a superfan. I saw one live version of the song on Youtube long before it was released, and at the Leeds warm-up show, I was lucky enough to see it live. Cue instant love. Seriously, it was the best thing I’d ever heard. The 30 second clip of the final recorded version that was released a few weeks later disappointed me slightly (they picked a boring part of the song to preview), but when I finally got my hands on the full album, there it was in all its glory. Definitely the best song on the album by far.

2) ‘This River is Wild’: Oddly enough, I never really bonded very well with this song when I first heard it. It was only after I really listened to the words and analysed them, that it started to resound with me. The anthem of any lonely social outcast (read: anyone like me), the line “should I just get along with myself? I never did get along with everybody else” made me stop and think. Perhaps it’s best to me my own best friend. A rarity live, they pulled this one out of the archives for Wembley, and nearly landed me on the floor in fits of tears. Luckily I don’t have a heart.

1) ‘A Dustland Fairytale’: What can a person say about the song that changed their life? I don’t mean in a cheesy-Oprah-this-book-changed-my-life way, I mean in a literal sense: it changed the course of my life. Confused yet? I’d liked this band for a while, but they day I heard this song, I was really hooked. It stayed on repeat for about a month. When I found out they were coming to SA, I travelled two days across the country to see them. And so sparked the idea in my head that travelling further than South Coast to Durban for a concert was not completely nuts. At the same time, I fell in love with Cape Town, so two years later I moved here. After the concert, my obsession grew and I joined fan communities. I learned to use Twitter properly and taught myself all about social media and media in general, as well as the music industry. I wanted a career in the field. And so I moved to the town where this song had led me, and applied for a job in the field I’d taught myself, and now here I am. Plus I made friends in the UK, next I travelled there, and now I plan to move to London eventually. It’s all because of that one song: the lyrics, the images, the emotion, the sadness, the happiness and the sheer beauty. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"The Things We Lost..." (Our Minds Amongst Them): Meeting Bastille

It's always exciting when a band comes to the country. If you're anything like me, you've got a feed going with all their tweets, facebooks and instagrams, you've analysed the pics to figure out which hotel they're at, you've lurked around the stage door and equipment vans in hopes of catching a glimpse, or you've made besties with the roadies in the local Starbucks (but that's another story altogether).

But then sometimes, the band just comes straight to you, without you having to make any effort whatsoever. Yes, fellow fangirls, an international band were so within my vicinity that I had to do no more than conveniently wander across the office in order to meet them. Take away some of the fun, doesn't it? There's no feeling of victory left, is there? Ah, but there is.

So after I'd seen one whole song ("fire, fire, fire...") of Bastille's live at T in the Park this year before dashing from the Radio 1 Stage to King Tut's to grab my barrier spot for Hurts, I was very excited that they were to perform in SA. But really, I only knew who they were because I have a thing for random British music, and they had a song called 'Pompeii' which was pretty awesome because, well, because it was about Pompeii. And everything about Pompeii is pretty darn awesome (minus the death and stuff, whatever, I digress).

Sure, I'll buy tickets to see them, but there's no way they'll sell out, so I don't have to be in queue an hour before tickets get released and take my Rescue pills with me lest I stop breathing a minute before I reach the front of the online queue. Three days after tickets go on sale I decide that I might as well just buy the thing already... and to my horror the next day I find out they sold out that same night. Close call, but I'm sorted.

Cue filing e-tickets somewhere in my inbox to print out and deal with at a later date. A far later date. Tickets bought in September, show in January. In fact, it's so far away that I might as well forget about it.

Until the end of December when I hear whispers about the band coming into the studio (some background: I work for a live TV show, studio = office). Hmm. Interesting.

Fast-forward to show day, I hit Kirstenbosch Gardens (in my Reading hoodie, which says 'Bastille' in tiny writing on the back somewhere near my kidneys because they played a tiny stage the year I was there) around 7pm and have only a short wait before the opening act Bed on Bricks (featuring Dan of Bastille's cousin, apparently) and then the headliners. Opening with 'Bad Blood' and then 'Things We Lost in the Fire' and ending with 'Pompeii' (cue massive crowd reaction) they were great and everything, but this ain't a concert review. Oh, Dan also ran through the crowd at one time (cue crowd surge and influx of females vowing to marry him, ahem).

So we've already seen Bastille by the time they come to our studio, and three hours before the fact, everyone is ending every single sentence with "fire, fire, fire". Forget Pompeii. I vow to be completely free of work when the moment comes, so that I can do what I do best: watch the band. This is A-level celeb stuff here, we've got people who are still on leave coming into the office just to catch a glimpse of Dan and his cronies. I mean, not even John Black got this kind of groupie love when he paid us a visit back in 2012! We're allowed on set to watch the performance once the interview is done, and there is absolutely nothing like a toned down version of 'Pompeii' on keyboards, with at least 30 people trying to crowd into a tiny space and take as many photos are humanly possibly - because Bastille.

The band are on a super tight schedule and need to rush off to a radio interview, so we're told they can do some group photos, as long as it's really quick. I watch them take photos with the presenters, and mutter under my breath that I want a photo toooooo :(. Luckily my boss comes to my rescue and we all pile into a photo together.

"We saw you guys last night." I tell Dan bravely. Call me socially awkward, but I'm unstoppable when it comes to making buddies with bands members (besides that time I ran screaming out of Starbucks because I ran into The Killers' drum-tech, but that's another story...). "Oh yeah?" "Yeah, and then I came to work at 3am, so it was real dedication." "Whaaat, no way! How do you survive on like no sleep?" Dan wants to know. I don't know, so I change the topic while we smile for another picture. "I actually saw you guys at T in the Park last year." I tell Dan, trying to be casual. "Oh yeah! What other festivals have you been to?" "Reading... you guys played Reading, right? And V Fest in 2012...." I know full well they played Reading, 'Bastille' is written in tiny font at the bottom of my Reading 2012 hoodie, remember? "You ever been to Rocking the Daisies?" "Yep, year before last." Ha. Dan and I are having a full-on conversation!

And so we thank them and all make our way back to our desks, eagerly anticipating uploading those photos to Facebook. The band are packing up their things and heading for the lift... I was going to leave pretty soon anyway...

"Oh no, don't hold the lift for me, I'll take the next one!"
"No, there's space, come on in." Replies a band member.

Downstairs, I can't help myself... "Dan, can we have a selfie?" And so we grin at the camera together, and I click. There you have it, a casual selfie with Bastille. Just another standard day at the office.

Bruce Springsteen Live in Cape Town

A week seems like just long enough to wait before blogging about a concert. The PGD has all but faded (although I did nearly cry last night when hearing the word 'vision' reminded me of the Thunder Road lyric...), and it's time to face the facts: it's been seven days since my last Bruce fix. I haven't listened to him since, in fact I haven't even listened to my iPod or any CD much at all, preferring to rather torture myself with the radio for fear that any song may break my little bubble of Boss-happiness.

So Springsteen and co ('co' this time including Tom Morello, Jake Clemons, Nils Lofgren, Steve van Zandt, Soozie Tyrell and all the rest of the 18-piece E-Street Band) descended upon my town during the last week of January 2014. The Boss himself arrived in his private plane, and by the time I saw the Instagram of said plane I was already plotting just how I was going to take a casual drive past the One & Only, where I was pretty sure he was staying. Luckily it was a Friday afternoon, and I could assure myself that it wasn't at all creepy to do my weekly grocery shopping at the V&A Waterfront, necessitating a ride past said hotel on the way home. Luck was, unfortunately not on my side. Fail.

Fast-forward to Sunday when I receive a photograph via email from my actual boss (not Boss), who happens to be at the Bruce press conference. I don't wanna talk about it.

And so arrives Tuesday the 28th of January, a day that will go down in my history books for all time. Bruce day. Not like I haven't seen him before, but whatevs. I've managed a half-day at work to facilitate queuing and well, not being dead tired, and rush out at 8.30am sharp, already clad in my specially printed Born in the USA tour shirt, a la Courtney Cox circa 1984.

My attempts at a morning nap are thwarted by a) a neighbour knocking on my door just as my New Jersey-esque musings are threatening to take wings and become actual dreams and b) the fact that I'm just too gosh-darned excited. Besides, sleep is for those who have the time (read: those who aren't seeing a legend in just a few hours).

I manage to restrain myself and not go queue at 9am, although it goes against everything I stand for, and every fibre of my being is trying to fight its way to Bellville as I try just as desperately to hold it back. 1.30pm sounds like a fair departure time, however, and since the venue is 30 minutes away by car, 2pm is positively late for me when it comes to concerts. We're almost at the turn off to the N1 when disaster strikes: one of those nifty little Cape Town highway billboards tells us that the N1 is closed, please use alternate route. Hmm. Now I'm not willing to take any risks (the back streets of Goodwood are probably worse than the back streets of Naples - 50 points if you get that song reference), so we take a serious detour via the N2 and halfway to Kuils freaking River. Either way, our directions are pretty much spot on, and we land in a non-descript parking lot, filled with small clumps of people who don't see to be queuing at all...

I'll spare my rant about the pit system (basically, first 450 people to arrive at the show get priority standing, and despite the number of times I asked if this would be the case at this show, I was denied an answer). But I'm number 311 in line, and although I have no intention of actually going into the pit (friendship wins over fangirling any day, and miss Lauren won't make it before about 7pm), I meet the most wonderfully interesting people.

I'm not really a member of the Bruce fan community, but I can liken it to my own Victims. A crowd of people from all corners of the globe coming together in support of just one mutual passion - and becoming the best of friends. One guy is from Turkey, one from Sweden, and we strike up the conversations of old friends - it's almost magic. They're all dressed in previous tour shirts and are more than eager to tell anyone who will listen that they've seen the Boss 156 times. What a privilege it must be to have followed him since the early days of his career: when Big Man and Danny Federici were still around, when the Stone Pony was the biggest venue the band had played, ahhhh.

So we're led in before gates officially open (around 5.30pm) and herded into seats marked with each of our numbers, despite my protests of "I am not a cattle!" The two fans who seem to be in charge are not amused by me, and become more like a cross between drill-sergeants and retired headmasters with every loud exclamation. Nonetheless, it is fantastic fun.

A few minutes later I've secured a barrier spot between pit and general, and the security guard assures me that I want to stay just where I am. I don't really dare to believe that the little arrows on the floor near my feet are to mark where Bruce is going to run if he jumps off the stage...

Cue dimming of the lights and an immense roar from the crowd as the E-Street band troop onto the stage. The roar grows as Nils and his top hat take up their position, and squeals ensue for Jake Clemons (clearly as popular as his uncle once was), but it's the arrival of Steve van Zandt that nearly blows the roof off the Bellville Velodrome. Oh, and then there's Springsteen.

It's really almost all too much for me, and I stare in awe as my hero kicks his show off with a tribute to Nelson Mandela, followed by a little walk around the front of the stage to gather sign requests. We get 'No Surrender', 'Two Hearts' and 'The Ties That Bind' before being treated to the brand new cover of 'High Hopes', which yes, I knew all the words to after listening to the album non-stop for a solid week.

"Can you feeeeeeel it?" Bruce asks. "Can you feel the spirit?" and I die a little inside, knowing what's coming. 'Spirit in the Night' is done justice by the horn section, but I'll admit to losing concentration on the song when Mr Springsteen casually jumps from the stage and runs down a little path that ends right in front of my face. Oh. He's standing on a tiny platform ten centimeters from me and I am touching him. Oh. He's singing one of my favourite of his songs into my face. Oh. Then he runs away, and what am I supposed to do? Scream? Cry? Faint? I settle for gripping the barrier as if my life depends on it, and trying not to let my shaking legs deposit me flat on the floor. I've touched Bruce Springsteen.

'41 Shots' is an emotional highlight, and as much as I love it, I find myself unable to cheer for it. I can sing, yes, and clap, but cheering and shouting just doesn't seem right. Regardless, it's beautiful. 'The Promised Land' (my favourite Springsteen song) nearly sends me over the edge, 'Shackled and Drawn' makes me want to dance my face off, and clearly even the local audience know the drill of passing Bruce a kid for 'Waiting on a Sunny Day'. Then we're onto 'Lonesome Day', 'Badlands' (during which I make besties with the girl next to me) and a rare full version of 'Born in the USA'. It's not usually one of my favourites, but tonight it sure it. 'Born to Run' sees Lauren and myself fangirling so much we may actually injure ourselves, and 'Dancing in the Dark' has me on another high. Setlist-wise, my main disappointments are the lack of 'Thunder Road' and 'Hungry Heart', but I've seen them at Wembley, so I'll survive.

It's over far too quickly, and peeling myself away from the barrier I can barely move my legs to walk to the car. But I'd do it all again. I'd do it right there and then. If the band had played another 27 songs, I'd have been there, front and center.

A 64-year-old man effortlessly entertains a crowd of 12000 for 3 hours (and yes, I touched him two more times), never losing the attention for even a split second. He commands the stage like something from another world, and indeed, maybe he is. There's something magic about this guy, something unexplainable, something that can only be felt by those who witness his performance in person. How can one person possess a talent and an emotion so strong that he can captivate three generations of people all at the same time? He's a legend, a musician so enduring that I have no doubt about whether my generation's grandchildren will still be worshipping the ground he once walked upon. In 50 years time, I can look back and say "You know, I saw Springsteen live"... and they'll all dance to his music like spirits in the night.