Nick Cave and the Airbed Conundrum


Posted by in January's Magazine

Prize to be won (with conditions)

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Health warning: This article may x4contain traces of Marvin Gaye, Buffalo Springfield and Barbra Streisand/Barbara Windsor.

Adam Ant: Friend or Foe? Not a pressing question since 1982 for most of us, but a recent 7-inch snatched from the charity shop for fifty pence and bound for eBay (Blancmange, Champaign, Gordon Lightfoot, Ottawan and Tears For Fears share a similar fate). In my world if it spins it sells.

You can keep tape thanks … And CDs? You’re having a giraffe mate, perhaps good as a coaster or a bird scarer. If bass response is your thing or you fancy that crackle denied to you by digital, then you may have noticed a record revival going on. Whilst sitting in Pilrig Park, a dog walker noticed me flicking through my latest vinyl stash (25p a pop) and piped up.

“I hear records are back and some are quite valuable.”  

“Indeed they are – you can own The Beatles’ Indian released 78 Love Me Do for six grand.” Her jaw dropped as I passed it to her, astonished mouth fixed in a permanent O. Vinyl’s back baby – but why? “Oh, what’s going on, what’s going on, ya, what’s going on, ah, what’s going on.”

Is it merely the Hi-Fi nerd or is there something in us that hungers for the medium – the touch-me hold-me tactile feel of a musty book, a sleeve that only reveals its magic when we drop the needle? Despite hiss, dog-eared sleeves, cracked spines and coffee stains, does it matter if we read The Bible or Barbara Windsor’s All of Me in print or on screen? Does Bob Dylan sound better on iPod or on some piece-of-shit forty-year-old piece of plastic Fat Terry sold us for 50p at the car boot sale? Digital is better obviously (duh!) and if you’re over twenty-five – your hearing’s gone amidst higher frequencies. “Something’s happening here – what it is ain’t exactly clear?” 

Think of the object as a marker, a staging post in our popular culture, a place to make our own presence felt. Even if it’s as trivial as a postcard marking a page in a hardback, a thumbprint on a CBS label, a ballpoint inscription signifying this record belongs to “Barry Wishaw” (#26 in his Northern Soul collection). Or more meaningfully in feeling and… “Memories, misty water-coloured memories of the way we were.”

Barry may have died in 1995 and had his house cleared by ingrate offspring, but the markers of his taste live on. Time halts for a moment in the relentless clutter of everyday life/work and sets itself against feeling (public heart-break – the artist), an industrial process (distribution), purchase (retail) allied with consumption (the public – you lot). 

What do most great writers have in common? Well they’re mostly stiffs, but is their writing less relevant if read from paper or a screen? No. Unless of course you can’t stop your attention drifting when you are on a Kindle or iPad. Suddenly drifting into playing with the contrast, brightness, checking email, taunting NetMums about the best methods of beating an errant child, or endlessly fussing at anything that doesn’t involve concentration.

We live in an age of continuous partial attention (…) that pause was a sudden need to finish some partially consumed peanuts, make up a playlist of The Firm novelty tunes, and put a bid on that Scottish football legends ceramic plate. You get the idea. We need to learn how not to disturb our mood when consuming recorded culture – that little mediation often arrests attention to distraction in a half-heartbeat or a single click – we must feel obliged to direct and train our will to listen. 

I usually write in complete silence, at other times with Motorhead at 120 decibels, dependant on the subject matter. If writing advice on how to operate a blow-up airbed or a new toaster I prefer Nick Cave or Clive Dunn, while drafting a funding application to the Arts Council brings me out all The Scottish Sound of Bert Shorthouse, obviously. While I’m in love with the intoxicating idea of being in rapture to the emotional moment – ears wrapped in headphones, sipping an espresso on the Left Bank while attempting Ulysses, yet again. Life seems somehow too short for the long haul when an artist simply doesn’t connect. You yearn for the one who doesn’t punish you with the hunger for being with them, in your now.

Great work still leads us to painful/joyous moments regardless of the plastic or the bits that make you cry. In the end – you’re dead – but just before that, consider a career being really good at something.  When asked if he had any regrets in life Chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov replied: “I can’t do anything very well (pause) but I can play Chess.”

NB. Those able to identify song lyrics herein (hidden with subtlety) will receive a signed copy of Jim MacLeod’s, Come By The Hills, if you buy mine on eBay.

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