“I never took much, I never asked for your crutch, Now don’t ask for mine.”
Bob Dylan, 4th Time Around lyric.
Luke 4:23. The Bible, innit?
It’s good advice, know thyself. I suppose it’s a bit bleak in a way and I’ve already talked about Goethe’s glib response to it but I suppose you could repurpose it slightly by amending it to, “Know what you’re good at and stick to it.” Which I like a bit less because it also means, “Don’t fuck with the formula,” and I quite like it when people do fuck with formula.
As far as it goes, Bob’s quotation above was about pointing his finger at John Lennon when he wrote that. Just in case some people might have been in some doubt, he (ironically or otherwise, I don’t know) borrowed the tune he sung those words to from The Beatles’ Norwegian Wood.
As we know, John Lennon was far from the only musician whose head was turned by Bob Dylan’s Woody Guthrie impression in the early 1960s. Donovan was tarred with the Dylan brush when he was routinely described as “The British Bob Dylan“, which he took umbrage at, ‘cleverly’ replying by saying, “I’m the Scottish Woody Guthrie”. As far as passive aggressive statements go – and I quite often enjoy them on some level – it’s not bad, is it? Pointing out that Bob Dylan’s entire schtick had been lifted wholesale from Guthrie, as well as getting a couple of ‘casual racism’ points in long before other people cottoned on to such possibilities.
I’ve still not written about Donovan in any length and I’m not going to now either. All I’ll say is that Donovan would have fitted right in, in The Bee Gees in terms of being a total loon. Still, that’s to come.
The thing about Donovan being a bit of a Dylan impersonator, regardless of the Woody Guthrie thing, is that there’s an element of truth in it and Donovan certainly felt at least a little in awe of Dylan (see Don’t Look Back). However, it didn’t last very long – on really through 1964-5, at which point Donovan turned into a psychedelic troubadour while Dylan found himself incapable of relaxing his pointing finger at all. Donovan, whatever else he is or isn’t, was not a writer of finger pointing songs. The Beatles, certainly John and George, were taken by Dylan and both of them wrote their fair share of finger pointing songs (which I’m also writing about, but it’s going on rather longer than I anticipated, so I thought I’d give that a rest for a bit).
The biggest beneficiaries of the songs of Bob Dylan in the 1960s though, were The Byrds. My friend Dave’s dad told me once – on one of the few occasions he spoke to me at all – “The Byrds weren’t any good. They just did poppy versions of Dylan songs.” And I know what he meant: Mr Tambourine Man, All I Really Want To Do, My Back Pages and a lot of those early records were Dylan covers with a backbeat and a jangling 12 string electric guitar prettifying his roughhewn originals. Bearing in mind though that The Byrds were known as Dylan acolytes and what Dylan was mainly writing in 1965 were finger pointing songs, it’s slightly odd that The Byrds never had a hit with a cover of a single one of them. Later on, when they’d gone Space-Country-Rock, they covered Positively 4th Street, but it was pretty bad. In Dylan’s hands, it’s relatively restrained in its delivery, if not its message; if Like A Rolling Stone is a punch in the face of someone who’s had it coming, Positively 4th Street is laughing in their face. When The Byrds do it, it sounds like a drunk spraying you with spittle as he lurches around in front of you because he thinks you’re someone else who did something bad, somewhere else at some other time. It’s clever in its country rock execution but, like the drunk in the previous analogy, it doesn’t really wash.
I attribute the reason for their lack of finger pointing Dylan covers to Roger McGuinn’s voice, which was soft and relatively gentle. The Byrds never really rocked out and that’s one of the reasons I like their records. Which goes back to Luke 4:23 because, on the rare occasion that Roger McGuinn has decided to rock out a bit, he looks too much like a groovy vicar to really pull it off.
The prospect of Roger McGuinn singing “Like A Rolling Stone“ isn’t one that inspires me too much and I’m pleased he didn’t. Unless I’ve missed something, which we shouldn’t rule out. Ever.
Still, in terms of passing things on, like Dylan passed on his lyrical viewpoint to The Byrds they, in turn, passed on their jangly, sugar coated Dylan-lite to independent guitar bands in the 1980s. If anybody is responsible for what I label Jingly-Jangly Indie Wank on a playlist on my phone, it’s The Byrds. High, lazy singing with pretty, chiming guitars, rudimentary drums and more-or-less inaudible bass was the blueprint for such kids. That and The Velvet Underground plus the fashions to match – which weren’t a million miles away from each other.
Unlike The Byrds’ output though, British indie bands bought into the finger pointing aesthetic that Dylan consistently and vigorously mined in 1965.
I believe that there’s quite a lot to be said for mistakes. By which I mean that when people try to copy a thing but fail, they sometimes come out with something unintentionally original in the process. Bubble wrap was designed as wallpaper, Slinkys were meant to stabilise heavy equipment and the glue on Post-it notes was supposed to be the world’s strongest glue. Indie bands of the 1980s might well have been aiming for The Byrds play Dylan, but with a bit of a nastier tongue but what they came up with had a heart all of its own. Probably due to their relative musical incompetence, but I don’t mind a bit of musical incompetence. In fact, I tend to prefer that to things that are a bit too slick.
The Smiths, of course, are the 1980s indie scene kings and, as you might expect, with a lyricist always open to the possibility that someone had wronged him in some way, even if he wasn’t a dribbling drunkard who could neither see nor stand to any appreciable degree. They have quite a few finger pointing songs even if plenty of them are pointing the finger squarely at Morrissey himself and, let’s not pretend otherwise, he enjoys it to some degree. A little bit of self-validation without having to repair to the alley by the railway station (that’s a in joke for Smiths fans: cheers, I feel your pain). Depending on how arsed I can be at continuing this finger pointing series, I might give them their own entry. Not today though because they don’t really fit thematically with the way I’m going to approach this instalment. Actually, Morrissey solo might get a slight look in.
- The Razorcuts – I Heard You The First Time.
Like a lot of indie bands of the time – and all times, I suppose. Not even just indie bands, really – The Razorcuts’ extremely limited musical palette meant that they only really had – at best – three songs. The reason for that is because the 12 string guitar player (I don’t know who any of them are and I prefer to keep it that way) has worked out how to play one sort of riff (yack) and never really broadened his outlook. The introduction to this is so obviously indebted to The Byrds’ introductions and yet, at the same time, I’d be pretty surprised if the guitarist could actually play the introduction to Mr Tambourine Man at all. It’s ham fisted and bordering on being identical to their introduction to Snowbound from around the same time. It’s a bit like Felt (who we’ll come to next)’s guitars – thin and spindly like those pale, almost translucent spiders you find in corners of your walls and ceiling now.
I first came across The Razorcuts upstairs at Spiders where Mandy – a DJ – used to play their Flowers For Abigail, which I enjoyed because of the Hammond organ freak out at the end of it. I got their album The World Keeps Turning in Rhino Records’ closing down sale in York whilst at university and I enjoyed it. It was fey and limp, but so was I. Probably still am a bit.
The singing’s no hot shit either. I’m no singer and I’ve have fitted right in with the pair of kids singing in The Razorcuts. To be unfair, the main singer sounds a bit like an older, male version of the girl who sang lead on the St Winifred’s School Choir records. That sort of slack jawed, protruding tongued gormless dribble that people who ought to know better described as endearing. He’s not quite that bad, but it’s there alright.
As predicted, the bass doesn’t impress, even though it’s in good time. It bumbles along, like a a terminally unambitious Geography teacher in Wakefield, circa 1974. The drums aren’t that bad: indie productions of the time tried to avoid the everything-including-several-kitchen-sinks drum productions of the era. The whole rhythm section is barely better than adequate, but that was indie for you: nunty.
So far, in terms of finger pointing songs, I’ve looked at Dylan (vitriolic and judgemental), The Kinks (variable, but primarily detached and sardonic) and The Rolling Stones (plain nasty). It seems to me that The Razorcuts’ take on this sub genre aims for Dylan’s version, but ends up sounding a bit like a sixth former with arrested development sneering at primary school children’s paintings.
Whereas Dylan, The Kinks and The Stones pointed their fingers at poor little rich kids, The Razorcuts’ chubby little fingers point effetely at somebody who’s a bit boring but in doing so, unwittingly (I presume, but maybe not) end up pointing the finger right back in their own befringed, pouting and sullen faces. The first verse paints the picture of the classic outsider who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere and ends up just drifting to someplace where the person who bores them latches onto them and tells them their (apparently uninteresting and unrequested) life story. The chorus implies that the boring person interprets The Razorcuts’ silence in the face of their life story as indication that they didn’t hear them the first time, so they repeat it, leading to the title’s somewhat snide rejoinder that they did hear them the first time, but they didn’t respond because it was too fucking boring. “I heard you the first time. You act like you’ve got something worth saying, but I’m still waiting for that day,” The second sentence has too many syllables in it and adds to the drawling, superior sneer that the first verse set up.
And it’s not the biggest complaint in the world, is it? My friend Bren can be a bit like that. I love Bren, who is as rough as arseholes, to bits: he’s clever, articulate and funny. Well, he is when he’s sober; you can tell when he’s pissed because he starts repeating the same anecdote interminably which, in itself, is a precursor to ‘Cunt Bren’ turning up. My perspective is that Bren is enormously sensitive and his brash, rough and ready exterior is noting more than a protective shield he’s set up to defend himself from the cruel world. He’s also about as far from a fey indie kid as you could find anywhere. He once told me that, “If I haven’t had my head kicked in for six months, I start getting twitchy.” Not something I can get on board with, myself but it takes all sorts, doesn’t it?
Second verse, he’s trying to leave but can’t seem to bring himself to, then the chorus again, then a truly half arsed middle eight that doesn’t make very much sense but, I guess, is supposed to be a bit more impressionistic than the rest of it.
As far as Dylan’s blueprint – biting guitars, niggling drums and crowing Hammond organs – goes, there’s absolutely none of that here. Maybe that’s why The Byrds never really got on with finger pointing songs: musically, it doesn’t really suit the jangle.
Which all makes it sound like I don’t like it at all, but I do. I don’t love it, but part of me seems to be drawn to whining sixth formers who bleat about nothing much.
2. Felt – The Ballad Of The Band.
“Maurice (Deebank) was on ‘Ballad Of The Band’ when we used to practise that song, and he used to do an amazing guitar part on it, country style, it was beautiful. And I used to sing it in rehearsals, at him, and I thought he cares so little about this band that he doesn’t even know what I’m singing. That was one of the reasons why I did it, so that I could sing it at him, and see if he noticed. And he didn’t.”
The 1980’s indie scene, as I’ve said, was dominated by The Smiths. There were always those who looked like they might somehow join them in their troubling of the proper charts.
Felt, along with everything else that Lawrence (no surname, even though it’s Hayward) produced failed to set the world on fire, even in a minor fashion. Without going into too much of a potted history of the band, Lawrence brought Deebank into Felt because he was such an original guitar player. Deebank was, in no way, remotely as interested in Felt as Lawrence was which meant that he kept walking out and Lawrence had to keep persuading him to come back. Even though I don’t really like Deebank’s playing as much as I’d like to, even I can tell that he was an awful lot better a guitar player than 99% of your common-or-garden-variety indie bands.
Lawrence gave up on Deebank when he found Martin Duffy (later of Primal Scream) who was a 16 year old keyboard genius – also a player who lacked any comprehension of indie incompetence and it’s Duffy who appears on the single of this song, playing very Like A Rolling Stone-esque Hammond organ lines all over it. (There’s a live version of it featuring Deebank but no Duffy which provides no evidence whatsoever for my assertion that Deebank was in any way competent). Deebank, as far as I can gather, wasn’t overly bothered because he was never that fussed in the first place.
Morrissey’s abandonment by Johnny Marr was a far bigger deal, at least in the media and, while Lawrence found Duffy very quickly, Morrissey’s never found anyone with whom he could work, like he had with Marr. Morrissey’s first solo album – which gets short shrift although it’s my favourite solo album of his, the daft herbert – was pored over for cues about The Smiths’ split and there was plenty to go on. Not that I’m going to pore over it here, maybe later. The biggest, most straightforward finger pointing song on Viva Hate was “I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me”.
It starts off with stabbed guitar chords that sound a bit like someone taking in breath before going off on one before a whining electric guitar fully immersed in feedback picks up from something similar that Johnny Marr put on The Queen Is Dead, but this one moves more; it’s frustrated and fractious, like a partially swatted wasp harrying everything around it. Full of its rights and not that interested in its responsibilities. It was interpreted as a pointed finger looming down on Johnny Marr’s nice side parting.
Morrissey notes, with spite, the subtle signs that a relationship has moved from intimate – at least mentally – to casual. He’s good at the small things, “So now you send me your hardened ‘regards‘/ When once you’d send me ‘love‘/ Sincerely I must tell you/ Your mild ‘best wishes‘/ They make me suspicious…” It’s No Milk Today with added suppressed rage.
We’ll come back to Morrissey though…
Lawrence despite being in his own words, “…a failure…” is nothing of the sort. Yeah, if you’re looking for a traditionally great singer, there’s nothing for you here; he’s not even as good as George Harrison. But for his songs, his voice is perfect. I don’t know if he realises what’s going on – he might well – but his lyrics are the total embodiment of pathos. I struggle with pathos and bathos, in terms of differentiating between the two and the reason for that might be because Lawrence is both.
I get on less well with Felt than I do the band he formed afterwards, Denim, but there’s still plenty for me to enjoy, even if his interviews might slightly edge it for me…
Diversion – Meeting Heroes.
‘Heroes’ might be pushing it slightly when I’m talking about Felt and Denim – and I’ve never met Lawrence – but I did meet the guitarist on the Denim records. Woo! Eh?
Before I tell you the (non) story of my introduction to Neil Scott, I ought to add that I’ve met a couple of (relatively) famous people with varying results. I met Johnny Vegas at a Lucy Beaumont gig (I’ve known her for a while and she’s genuinely lovely with rather more going on upstairs than some have suggested – she’s a secret misery, which I at least can get behind) and he was dead normal and pleasant, if obviously floundering in a sea of people who wanted to tell him how great he was when he didn’t want to hear it. I’ve spent quite a few hours with Bez out of Happy Mondays (who also presents a public front completely at odds with how he appears to be in private: extremely well-mannered, funny and, most shockingly, pretty sharp mentally). And a few others here and there, but I was never struck dumb until I found myself sitting with Neil Scott who, it turns out, works as a child protection officer in Hornsea (East coast seaside resort, not a suburb of London).
It was at some training course which I fully expected to go very much the same way as almost all training courses go – rambling dullards conducting an enduring love affair with the sound of their own voices through the medium PowerPoint presentations that they read out to an audience who are just grateful for one day when they don’t have to listen themselves repeating the the same, tired old thing forever until it stops meaning anything – in fact, that one might have gone the same way but I’ll never know because I was too excited due to the conversation we’d had prior to the speaker beginning.
I was the only person from my school in attendance and, when the time came to move into the auditorium, I sat myself down next to the person who looked least likely to want to make ‘clever’ comments all the way through it. I asked if anyone was occupying the seat next to him and he told me to help myself. I introduced myself, “Cheers. I’m Middlerabbit, pleased to meet you,”
He shook my hand and we had a conversation about our places of work and how mental the head teacher was and the usual sort of, “Pfff, education, eh?” conversation that teachers sometimes have.
We were interrupted by another chap who said, “Neil Scott!” and they had a bit of a catch up, but his name pricked up my ears. When his mate had wandered off to find a seat, I turned to him and said, “I’m not being funny or anything, but you’re not Neil Scott the guitarist on the Denim records, are you?”
He leaned sideways and looked at me. I thought, “Of course he’s not Neil Scott from Denim. What would he be doing at a course on ‘Every Child Matters’?”
But he was. He was surprised that anybody would have made the connection, especially at an ‘Every Child Matters’ presentation. Which began practically the moment he expressed his surprise so I had to shut up. I couldn’t bring myself to listen to what was being said because my brain filled up with questions I could ask him about being in Denim, and Lawrence and was he as mad as the media implied?
By the time the speakers had finished and there was opportunity for me to grill him about failed indie musicians, I’d managed to reduce myself to a twitching mute who wouldn’t have been capable of asking if he took sugar in his tea. I had to sit in the carpark for about half an hour after I’d said, “Good to meet you,” to him and staggered off to decompress.
Later that night, while I was busy kicking myself for not having had the wit to continue the conversation and maybe get his phone number so I could ask him about a million questions about Denim, Lawrence and guitars, I gave mild consideration to looking for a job in Hornsea school so I could make friends with him and maybe get an introduction to Lawrence, but I decided I couldn’t be arsed with the commute, so then I thought about getting myself on child protection courses in the East Yorkshire region in the hope of being able to speak next time, but I didn’t do that either – probably for the best. I’ve managed to avoid getting a restraining order so far and I’d like to keep it that way.
End of Diversion.
Anyway, The Ballad Of The Band is in my top three Felt songs* and it’s probably because Lawrence is a total original.
In contrast to The Razorcuts but like Morrissey, Lawrence gets some of the Dylan bile in there, even though here it’s mainly in terms of Duffy’s eddying Hammond organ. The guitar, played by Lawrence himself, bears no resemblance to anything on any Bob Dylan records being, as it is, heavily reliant on a chorus pedal and distortion as opposed to a twanging, snarling bite.
Vocally though, I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that Lawrence nails Dylan’s sneer because, well, why would he? He’s from the suburbs of Birmingham which don’t quite have the sense of the exotic that American voices sometimes conjure up. Lawrence, as Lawrence always has, ladles pathos (and bathos) liberally on it.
As his opening quote tells us, Lawrence wrote this to specifically take a swipe at the guitarist in his own band who, unlike Johnny Marr, hadn’t left at that point – to see if he’d notice. And there’s your pathos right there, eh? The fact that he didn’t gives us even more bathos than we already had. Like The Razorcuts’ take – and Morrissey’s – on the finger pointing song, it ends up being less about the subject of the writer’s vitriol than a lament about the singer’s own comparatively wretched life. This was a staple of indie in the 1980s, probably largely influenced by Morrissey, but also by the feeling of helplessness that the times engendered. Notably, by the time The Stone Roses started pointing their fingers, the slip into self pity was far less pronounced and, at least in terms of them, the only clue that it was still there was in terms of the level of hurt they felt was comparable to Jesus. Or Lazarus, depending on the depth of your biblical knowledge. Another nail in the indie coffin, hammered home by The Stone Roses.
The opening couplet is as good as any example of Lawrence’s unfailing ability to miss out on delivering a perfect sucker punch which would leave the subject reeling – like Like A Rolling Stone must’ve left Joan Baez punch drunk – instead managing only to draw attention to his own sense of desolation because Maurice doesn’t really care.
Morrissey as we saw earlier, noted on I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me that, “…Rejection is one thing/ But rejection from a fool is cruel…” Lawrence exemplifies the difference between his and Morrissey’s lyrical approach with the opening couplet, “Where you been? Ain’t seen you for weeks/ You been hanging out with all those jesus freaks,” Jesus freaks, eh? Both Lawrence’s and Morrissey’s take on the subject clearly come from feeling hurt but if Morrissey’s line is Harold Pinter, Lawrence’s is Rik from The Young Ones. While you might expect a bit of pathos from people such as Alan Bennett, I can’t see him writing a line like Lawrence’s because Lawrence’s gives us bathos too. He’s been dumped and it’s not for a fool, it’s for something with comedy value. I do enjoy the ridiculous and, while you sometimes get it from Morrissey (Shy, bald buddhists reflecting… I left my bag in Newport Pagnell… I got confused, I killed a horse…) generally you don’t. And, like you generally get quite maudlin sentiments from Morrissey, you don’t with Lawrence, probably because of the bathos.
There’s no chorus as such, just a repeated refrain of “And I feel like giving in,” We’re left in no doubt as to why he feels like giving in because he later explicitly states, “Ain’t got no money, ain’t got no fame/ And that’s why, I feel like giving in,” You don’t get much more direct than that. And no wonder, if anyone had reason to feel misunderstood, it was (is) Lawrence.
In fact, there’s virtually no imagery here at all: “And where were you, when I wanted to work? You were still in bed: you’re a total jerk,” Lawrence is/was a literate unpopstar who uses some quite original imagery in quite a lot of his records, but not here. Felt’s album around this time – of which this single was not part – was called, ‘Forever Breathes The Lonely Word’. Lawrence is being literal here because, like a neglected spouse whose partner only ever answers, “Yes darling,” without listening, he was pushing it to see if he was correct.
What else Lawrence has a tendency to do is accept responsibility for himself – unusually in the pop world, but he’s not part of that, is he? – “It’s all my fault, yes I’m to blame,” Even though he doesn’t mean it. Morrissey, from time to time, would also blame himself for things going wrong but when he does it, you suspect it’s just another glorious stick he’s found to beat himself with. When Lawrence does it, you know that it’s probably sarcasm, but the bathos of the rest of it seems to provide this most banal and straightforward of explanations with a ring of acceptance and truth.
The last verse hammers home the fact that it’s not really anger or bile or spite that he feels towards Maurice Deebank. What he feels is exactly the same thing that most people feel when they’ve just been dumped by someone who they actually really liked: initially, yes, he might be waving his arms around, telling the world that, actually, he’s pleased that he’s finally fucked off because the ex-partner is a nobhead. By the end of the record though, he’s changed his tune and the initial indignation at being dumped is replaced by something bordering on a plea for them to come home. It is a plea, too. He sounds on the verge of tears and, yet again, I love him for it: “And all those songs, like Crystal Ball, Dismantled King/ You know I love them all /But oh, I still feel like giving in.” The equivalent for dumped lovers is when you think back to all the good times you had and you’re shocked and appalled that your partner leaving you means that that’s it. You know, enjoy your memories because there aren’t going to be any more and that’s what you’re going to have to make do with. Lawrence and Morrissey were both hurt by their respective guitarists leaving them and their responses to it are quite telling.
So, The Ballad Of The Band starts off as a finger pointing song but, eternal loser that he is, Lawrence can’t help but drown himself in a maudlin bath of regretful sentiment. Pathos, you see. Lawrence might know himself, but I think he’s a bit disappointed by what he found.
3. I Am The Resurrection – The Stone Roses.
The Stone Roses’ imperial phase, like all imperial phases, didn’t last very long. I’m talking about late 1988 – mid 1990. On the other hand, even though it only really lasted for about eighteen months, it was one hell of an eighteen month period for kids like me.
Bob Dylan, as I’ve said, in 1965 found himself bordering on incapable of writing anything but finger pointing songs and The Stone Roses found themselves in a similar predicament in 88/89. Sort of.
I say ‘sort of,’ because The Stone Roses’ attitude towards women appeared to exist on the extremes of such feelings. Either they were elevated to pedestals or they were the worst people in the world. Not much going on in the middle which, I suppose, is relatively normal for pop songs. You don’t get many records about how some girl/boy is sort of alright but they’re not that arsed. It’d be a bit knowing, wouldn’t it? I suppose Inbetweener by Britpop also-rans Sleeper fits into that category. Sometimes an original idea isn’t necessarily such a great idea, I suppose…
Of those imperial phase songs, She Bangs The Drums, Waterfall, (Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister, This Is The One, Standing Here and – possibly – Where Angels Play are the “Let’s put someone on a pedestal” songs and Bye Bye Badman, Elizabeth My Dear, Made Of Stone, Shoot You Down, I Am The Resurrection, Elephant Stone, Going Down (to an extent), Mersey Paradise, Fool’s Gold and Something’s Burning are the “Let’s kick the bastards” songs. Obviously, there are a couple missing, but that’s a lot of songs to be exploring the extremes of relationships with – even if a couple of them are about men.
Like Felt, The Stone Roses had musicians who were streets ahead of most indie bands. Even John Squire, who was pretty far from virtuosic in 1989, set himself apart from the multitudinous indie janglers of the time, and not just because he had a wah-wah pedal he wasn’t afraid to do Shaft impressions with.
I’ve read that the main riff (bleurgh) on IATR (Do, doo, doo-do-do-doo) was lifted from Tim Buckley’s Buzzin’ Fly – or possibly Big Star’s In The Street (later changed around a bit for the theme to the unexpectedly pretty good American sitcom That 70s Show) but I’m not really convinced that it’s anything other than a bit of fairly straightforward picking around a fairly straightforward chord. I mean, maybe – I wouldn’t rule it out. As it goes, it’s also almost exactly the same notes (in a different key) to Waterfall on the same album. Squire was working from a very limited palette – not dissimilar to The Razorcuts, but far enough ahead to make them a lot more interesting. Either way, it’s not a Dylanesque guitar figure, unlike the lyrics, which are very much influenced by Bob Dylan in 1965.
The drums play that Brainless Motown beat that has resulted in television audiences being incapable of clapping along to a song unless they clap every single beat instead of the offbeats (2 and 4). When I used to go and see them in the early days, I was surprised that a drummer as sublime as Reni appeared incapable of playing such a gormless beat – because he almost never played it as it eventually turned out on the record. Later, I realised that it was probably because it was so brainless and he probably complicated it a bit in order to entertain himself. Mani mainly plays the same riff that Squire probably didn’t nick from either Tim Buckley or Big Star.
I’m not going to go into any depth about Ian Brown’s singing here because I’ve written about it in some length elsewhere. What I will say is that his high and lazy, indelibly Northern (capital intended) non-macho mumblings work really well against the more explosive instrumental backing here.
The indie finger points again here but, unlike The Razorcuts or Felt, there is no indication here that the singer is going to slip into anything even remotely approaching self-pity. The closest that you could claim is that he might be laying on the I Will Survive attitude a bit thick. I Am The Resurrection, you know? In fairness, it is the indie I Will Survive, isn’t it? Still, the fact that the music is so joyous and swaggering pushes any thoughts the listener might have about protesting too much to the back of their minds as they dig the spite and fury and wait until they can dance like lunatics to the triumphant instrumental coda. In terms of that, what greater example could there be of someone being the resurrection when the end of the song is an aural representation of that resuscitation?
As is made abundantly clear from the title to anybody who’s ever walked past a church billboard, The Bible is obviously the lyrical inspiration for this. Specifically the gospel of St. John (the baptist) who’s talking about Lazarus, not Jesus.
“On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this ?”
“Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
John 11: 17 – 27
Brown sings, “Your face it has no place/ No room for you inside my house/ I need to be alone…” which suggests Jesus again, who was always naffing off for a bit of solitary contemplation.
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
Luke 5: 16
In fact, the entire lyric of IATR relates to various parts of The Bible: “Turn, turn, I wish you’d learn” from the Book of Ecclesiastes, already harvested by Pete Seeger; “Stone me, why can’t you see…” from John 11: 8 – 10 (“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?“) there are references to the garden of Eden (as are there in Where Angels Play) and the three temptations of Christ in there too.
These lifts from The Bible bear no resemblance to the sort of thing that Dylan got up to during his 1970s born again phase – these are nasty lyrics, not celebratory – but there are some very (1965) Dylanesque lyrics too: “You’re a no-one, nowhere washed up baby
Who’d look better dead/ Your tongue is far too long/ I don’t like the way it sucks and slurps upon my every word…” And people loved singing along to that bit live and at indie discos. Everybody’s been wronged at some point, haven’t they?
Still, back to the guitar: these might not bear any resemblance to the sound or notes played by Mike Bloomfield on his barbed-wire-whip guitar on Like A Rolling Stone, and I’ve said, I don’t think they’re directly lifted from either Tim Buckley or Big Star, but what I do think is that they are, at heart, Byrds inspired guitar lines, like quite a lot of the 1988-90 material was. Squire’s genius – and I believe it was genius – was that he wasn’t trying to be Roger McGuinn or George Harrison. Or Hendrix, or anybody else in particular. His genius was how he brought together elements of all of those great guitarists style and feel and it didn’t sound incongruous in the slightest. He slipped from one to the next with, apparently, no effort whatsoever. We know now, of course, that there was a tremendous amount of effort put into his playing choices but that’s the thing about sounding effortless, isn’t it?
“It takes effort, sounding effortless,”
Ian Brown, 1989.
Certainly The Byrds never managed it – sounding convincingly finger pointing – and nor did the indie bands of the 1980s who were in thrall to McGuinn and co, but The Stone Roses did. Even the instrumental coda, which was largely redolent of 1970s television car chase music, still retained elements of McGuinn’s Byrdsian jangle and, as what went before amply demonstrates, that’s no mean feat.
So, while I don’t think that I can state with any conviction that The Stone Roses knew thyselves, I think it’s probably fair to suggest that John Squire and Ian Brown knew everybody else pretty well and also knew how to mix them all up and make something fresh and appealing out of a gnarled, old, pointing finger. If they did take up Dylan’s crutch, they weren’t about to lean on it so much as wrap it around some poor bugger’s (who’d previously found themselves perched on a pedestal) pitiful head.
*The other two? Space Blues and All The People I Like Are Those That Are Dead (for the title alone, to be honest).
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