Is there a word for that thing the Church does where they re-write the life of a Saint retrospectively? As in, St. Patrick probably was actually a really great guy, but he probably didn’t drive all the snakes out of Ireland. St. David (my namesake) probably did actually love leeks, but probably didn’t raise a hill out of the ground so that more people could hear him preach. Wikipedia says St. George probably didn’t actually exist, but if he did he definitely didn’t fight a dragon.
Perspective is an important thing. I’m at the front of Gorilla with my friend Eve, waiting for the support act to come on for tonight’s GoGo Penguin gig, and am trying to take my notepad out of my bag so I can remember things for this review (which you’re reading now, bloody hell I’m sorry I didn’t mean to get this self-referential so early on). I apologise to her for having to be seen in public at a gig with such an obvious nerd. But then I remember that the last time I saw GoGo Penguin, just across the road at the Manchester Ritz, was the day Trump was announced as US President, and in the grand scheme of things my notepad doesn’t seem so important. Nonetheless it’s hard not to feel a little self-conscious looking around the crowd – tonight’s gig is sold out, and I can’t see anyone else in the crowd with a notepad. Their loss if you ask me.
Annie Clark (stage name St. Vincent) told Pitchfork earlier this month: “All human beings create their own mythologies, and I’m in the somewhat bizarre circumstance of creating a big mythology that gets shared with a lot of people. In some ways, doing the work that I do is about reinventing a value system. More or less, there’s a ubiquitous value system in America, these markers that signify your rite of passage into adulthood or into validity: getting married and having kids and having mortgages. But I always felt a little bit like an alien cocking my head to the side at various cultural milestones, going, “I would never aspire to that.” Last night I went to watch Blade Runner 2049. I know this isn’t a film review website, but bear with me (if you don’t want Blade Runner spoilers, or don’t want to read about violence against women on film, I’d skip forward four paragraphs).
There’s a part near the beginning of the recent Nick Cave documentary, which charts the making of Skeleton Tree, his latest album with the Bad Seeds, in which he says: “Isn’t it the invisible things, the lost things, that have so much mass? And are as big as the universe?” Cave has recently suffered a terrible loss – his son died in a tragic accident during the recording of the album. He later said of the film, “it gave Arthur’s absence, his silence, a voice”. The accident itself is rarely mentioned directly in the film, but it has so much mass. I’m on my way to see Nick Cave play at the Manchester Arena, listening to the album as I walk, and so much of the recording is heartbreaking. I know that when I leave the gig, I will have to write about what I see there, and I think to myself – is it appropriate to mention this loss? Is that tabloid and crass, or is there a respectful way to do this? But then, the opposite question comes to me – is it possible to experience this concert without thinking about this loss when it does have so much mass? An elephant in the room as big as the universe? I recently read an article about emotion in opera performance, in which the writer says:
Last week, this picture popped up on my Facebook feed. In short, it recycles an old and often repeated claim about what the very highest level of musical taste is – that is, to like “everything except rap and country”. I’m going to have to leave that extremely dodgy sweeping generalisation about rap aside for now, because it’s country music, not rap, that I’m here to listen to tonight. But this is not just any country music. We are, after all, at the RNCM, distinguished Conservatoire, and host to high art luminaries from around the world. This is fancy country music. I’m here to see Brett and Rennie Sparks, husband and wife alternative country music duo, who release music under the name The Handsome Family. While I wait for my uncle Mark (the most handsome family member I could convince to come with me) to get here , I ask the two friendly women who have asked to share my table in the RNCM café how they heard of The Handsome Family. Their first encounter with the music was through creepy American crime drama series True Detective. The Handsome Family song ‘Far From Any Road’ was the theme tune to series one, and was a perfect fit – sinister, swampy, gothic Americana. I suspect this story is the same for many people here, although the band had had a cult following long before this. Looking around the café, there are plenty of typical “country music fan” signifiers about – flannel shirts, indulgent beards, and, pleasingly, both trucker and cowboy hats. I think back to the Facebook meme and wonder what it is about The Handsome Family that sets them apart from your typical country band.