Archive for November, 2010

The Prince of Aquitaine

14 November 2010

I don’t fly that often, but I did last week, and when I come back into London after dark it always reminds me of ‘The Prince of Aquitaine‘, a song written by Pete Atkin and Clive James (yes, that Clive James) which I must have first heard thirty years ago.

It captures two things: both the ‘thrill of fear’ of the landing, and the privilege of the flying classes. The anticipation first:

I flew home into the city after dark and in the clear
With a seat beside the window and the usual thrill of fear
When the spoilers send you sliding down the drain.

Spoilers? They reduce lift.

Flying, even now, is the prerogative of the better off, and in the 1970s, when the song was written, this was more true. This theme runs through the song, well, like whisperlines. For example:

The highway lights of sodium are cut and set like gems
They run like this in whisperlines until they reach the Thames
Their afterimage wealthy in the brain
Beneath the bridge’s footway in the shelter of the stair
A cripple plays harmonica for pennies from the air
While the river proffers answers to his pain.

And, of course, it’s exemplified by the chorus: “And to the ruined tower came the Prince of Aquitaine”.

The line comes initially from El Desdichado, a poem by Gerard de Nerval (“Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie”) though Clive James says he borrowed it from an extract that T.S Eliot included in The Wasteland. We know this because the record that The Prince of Aquitaine is on, Driving Through Mythical America, having been out of print for a while, was rescued last year by Demon, those fine curators of mislaid music, and reissued with notes by James and Atkin. (He used the previous line of Nerval’s quoted by Eliot as the inspiration for another song, The Shadow and the Widower).

I think that Driving Through Mythical America is probably their best record. On the vinyl version the second side is one of those rare “perfect sides”, one of those pleasures that has disappeared with the advent of CDs and downloads. But that’s a post for another day.

The picture is an engraving by Henri-Georges Adam, featured in a post on Adventures In The Print Trade, which includes a series of seven variations of English translations of The Prince of Aquitaine. There’s also an interesting essay by Richard Sieburth on the difficulties of translating Nerval’s dense allusive poetry.

Getting requests

12 November 2010

I’m sure there are people who are not fond of Christy Moore, who I’ve blogged about here before, but he is hard to dislike. I saw him at the Royal Festival Hall, with Declan Sinnott, last weekend, and a bit into the set someone in the front stalls was hollering for a request.

Moore has this thing he does to deflect this – you can hear it on the live recording at The Point in Dublin – where he says that he’s got the next few songs planned out in his head, but he might do a ‘jukebox’ later on. On Saturday, he did this, and seemed about to go into the next song, before he paused:

‘I was playing for nine years before anyone asked me for a request’, he said. ‘Don’t think I’m not grateful that you ask.’

Later on he played Delerium Tremens, perhaps best described as an Irish version of a talking blues, in which the singer’s drunk so much he starts imagining strange (and satirical) things, with new verses written in response to changing events.

‘I was going to play this last night, but a guy in the audience kept on asking for it, and he really fecked me off. So I didn’t. If you see him, I want you to tell him I played it tonight’.

Finally, for someone of my generation, for whom the CIA-sponsored coup in Chile was a decisive event (the other 11th September) I liked it that he got to the end of a song (by the Moving Hearts, in which Moore and Sinnott were leading lights) and announced that it was to have been the last song in the set.

But during the day he’d seen a picture of Pinochet with Thatcher, and so closed instead with Arlo Guthrie’s song about the Chilean singer Victor Jara. Pinochet died a frightened man dogged by lawsuits and unable to leave Chile for fear of arrest, thanks to the courage of the Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzon, and a display of backbone by Jack Straw. Victor Jara, who was tortured and shot in Santiago’s Estadio Nacional during the coup that brought Pinochet to power, will live while we can still make recordings of songs.

The picture, which shows Christy Moore and Declan Sinnott playing at the Royal Festival Hall last year, is from the photostream of Rebecca19804, and it is used with thanks.

Wealth and happiness

7 November 2010

Near the end of Hammer and Tickle, which I blogged about a while back, there’s a fine modern Russian political joke:

Vladimir Putin wants people to be rich and happy. (List of people attached here).

The picture is from the Topcultured blog, and is used here with thanks.