180 Degrees of 24 Years

Blisters in the Sun

2014-02-15 11.30.21” … Now it’s YOUR birthday. I’m not so insane as to commit to one of anything per week for any length of time (whole weeks go by and I don’t notice) or to 52 of any gift commodity, book, artwork, fluffy toy or what have you. No, I let the weeks pass me by so I can deal with the months. Let arctic wolves devour the fur seals, we polar bears are after the walrus. So it’s a monthly game with me, a moonlight cantata, a song for every season, or one per month. A song I say. One. Per Month. ONE SONG. And at the end of the year, ONE ALBUM!

“OK so where do the songs come from? I don’t know, I might even write one, but it’s covers I’m into, I like a model to follow. I do requests, but they might be unconventional. I might get the neighbourhood street kids to sing or play all the kitchen instruments. I might sic the dogs onto it. I might phone radio stations to play you Mantovani orchestral renditions. So be careful what you wish for!”

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21 December 2011 .. sort of  .. Romeo and Juliet (Dire Straits)

This is a cover of Dire Straits Romeo and Juliet set to some graphic art I’ve been working on for a very long time. There is no connection between the song’s lyrics and the video imagery, other than the timing of phrases and the fact that it’s me performing both the visuals and sound.

OK, so that means it’s an amateur video. This is YouTube! I might employ my cool 12 year old for the next one, he’s a professional.

And you can catch that one next month at   …   https://backlogue.wordpress.com

!!!

21 January 2012 .. Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)

This is a cover of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, set to grainy video of a total solar eclipse and footage of Pink Floyd performing with their original songwriter Syd Barrett.

There must be a million Syd Barrett tributes out there, of which the original Wish You Were Here album is the first. I have a personal back story, shared by my closest friends, of someone who died tragically young and to whom we all dedicated this song in our minds. It’s still the case with me that I think of Andrew when I sing this song. Many others who I don’t know will feel the same about someone that they once knew.

Syd Barrett is dead now, and Rick Wright (Pink Floyd keyboards and synth) too. We remember them, under the blazing light of an eclipse diamond ring, and say again with feeling, “Shine On …”

21 February 2012 .. Song to Woody (Bob Dylan)

This is a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Song to Woody”, set to some ridiculously loose hand-held video of the streets and street life of Sydney. You could argue that this is Bob Dylan’s first song, or Robert Zimmerman’s last, on the strength of the legend alone whatever the liner notes. It was Zimmerman as a 19-year old kid who wrote the song, hitch-hiking out of the American midwest on his first trip to New York. It was Zimmerman who sang the song in person to Woody Guthrie on his death bed. But it was Dylan who recorded the song 18 months later on his first album. It’s an intriguing question.

I wasn’t sure who I wanted to channel, Dylan or Zimmerman, but I think it’s an aging Woody who comes through. Dylan’s is a live take, in a very young voice. Mine is a lucky set of three first takes (two guitar tracks mixed hard left and right and vocals in the middle), full of minor accident and almost too much character, but I like it. And I hope you do too.

21 March .. Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed (David Bowie)

This is a cover of David Bowie’s Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed, or just the blues-rock second half of the song, set to jumpy abstract art over blood-red lyrics. I love the Bo-Diddley beat (who doesn’t?) the wailing harps and the mad paranoia of the words. I hate the fact that most of the lyrics, from the blood on my nose to the sick from my ears, are a reflection of my poor physical health at the moment. It’s the only song I sing that seems recently autobiographical. Really, it ain’t so. The small note of optimism at the end of the song (“happily slightly dazed”) is completely eclipsed by the enormous sense of wellness and well-being I have paradoxically discovered as a result of being sick, even while I am still sick. Anyone who has been sick will know what I mean. I have many friends and a wonderful family, a great job and career that crosses many different fields. I’m actually happier than I’ve ever been, and it’s not actually very catching. I don’t even know how it caught me!

25 April .. 4 days late! Last Great American Whale (Lou Reed)

This is a cover of Lou Reed’s Last Great American Whale, over grainy stop-motion video of whale-ocean images in blue-black watery ink. I love the political and environmental message of the song but it’s the story-telling that really gets me. I hope I haven’t added my opinions to any wheelbarrow, I want it left in the abstract for Lou to tell the story.

I’ve been busking this song for so long it’s become second nature to me, and I’ve changed it a little where it seems personal to me; people who live around me will know why.

21 December 2012 .. 8 months later .. Into My Arms

No video … not well at around this time … not happy with the song either … must re-record and rethink video … oh time and energy …

(Years later: I rediscovered a better version of that song )

This is a cover of Nick Cave’s “Into My Arms” set to soft focus angels and love in a long, slow rising pan. I believe in love, and I know Nick does too, but he’s a dangerous mother and I just don’t go there. I sing for the angels.

My good friend Brett Coleman met the guy once, and barely survived the encounter, but I think he scared the Cave man just as bad. I wish I’d been there, it would have been a cool fight to watch.

That’s an electric piano accompaniment, or the Garage Band equivalent. The tones are sampled rather than MIDI, so it’s a real e-p you’re hearing, with all the rich bass notes that are so suited to the song. It sounds like church bells, but there’s no mistaking the Rock ‘n Roll, which I guess about sums up Nick Cave.

and (B-side same date) Van Diemen’s Land (U2)

This is a cover of U2’s “Van Diemen’s Land”, unusual in that it’s a bigger arrangement than the pared-back “just Edge and his guitar” of the original. I hope it works. Strings and a rock organ, echo on the guitar… getting the echo to work was a revelation into U2’s sound, the momentum of the Edge’s guitar work in particular. And his vocals are so dry and harsh, bleak as the theme of the song. Not easy to get that right in a cover, I mean can I say anything new with it?

It’s no wonder they couldn’t figure out how to end it, to just fade it out on the last verse or something, because it’s a song that is just unstoppable, like a big ship heading for an iceberg. With half a dozen instruments behind me I didn’t even try to end it, I just let each track end on its own beat or in two or three steps of it’s own, and hoped for the best.

As an Australian, if not actually from Tasmania, I really love this song for reinventing the folk songs that came to this country from Ireland. U2 are just the most right people to do this and they did it so well. And the Edge does have something to say.

1 April 2013 …  Careless (Paul Kelly)

This is a cover of Paul Kelly’s Careless, against a photographic record of a shared life: my wife Jody and I, who have been together for 24 years.

That’s a long time, and no 3-minute pop-song or home movie montage can do it justice. It’s hard to fathom how long, when more recent times occasionally blur with pain or anger, but we have always made our happiness out of it and here we are.

So the song is not incidental, just for once, but the video is autobiographical and only Paul Kelly can sing our life.

29 July … Tuesday Morning (The Pogues)

This is a cover of the Pogues’ Tuesday Morning, to hand held (again) video of life in Armidale on a (Sunday) morning. This is the biggest song I’ve attempted so far and definitely the fastest – a punk pogo-dance rhythm with massed wild Irish instruments, most of which I managed to record by hand although I’m definitely no instrumentalist and had to call in a few electronic tricks to help out. A few I say, so yes it’s real music you’re hearing. Apart from falling out of windows I have nothing in common with this song, but I love it like no other nevertheless. Play it loud!

22 October … Across the Universe (The Beatles)

This is a cover of The Beatles’ Across the Universe, set to a moving backdrop of images from the Hubble Space Telescope, vast objects of gas and dust with stars and stellar systems being born and dying. There’s no doubt that John Lennon is out there now, being as he is-was one of the great astral travellers of our space-time, himself a brilliant source of at times broken light and Love radiating across our sky.

The key to this song is the letter W: the Word, the World, the One, the Greek Omega or the Sanskrit Ohm. The pronunciation of the refrain Jai Guru Deva Ohm with Lennon’s Groucho Marx nasal humour on the sound of an Indian name in an Indian accent, DAY-VWA with the Sanskrit W for V. JAH-I GU-ROO DEY-VWA OHM, Jai Guru Deva Ohm, meaning “I Thank My Heavenly Teacher Guru Dev with the Vwoice of the Infinite, Ohm”, thank you John. W, the sign of starry Cassiopeia, the upside-down Queen, Lennon would have joked on lyrically if he’d had the time.

You can tell I really love John Lennon. OK he wasn’t perfect, but I bet he is now.

Musically this song is a break into synthesised sounds as I try to take the irreplaceable place of George Harrison’s sitar work, or Paul McCartney’s eternally rising sound idea. Paul did it with a simple bass line (scale through the full doh-re-mi…doh octave and back to the start, over and over), I’ve tried to bring all the synth instruments (in C# and playing actual melodies for the song) to rise along with the guitar and finish on a big D-flat major chord, the lowest possible range of the acoustic guitar, three semitones below E natural, the voice of Jupiter or as near as you can do it acoustically. I think we can call it the Lennon tuning. Oh, and Ringo (hey Ringo!) the drums are suitably stumpy but better I think than Cassius Clay could do.

I didn’t miss the chance to use some vocal echo and reverb, usually a big no-no but so evocative of space!

Thanks BTW to Sunshine Audio and the Magellan synthesiser developers, synth sounds Jupiter Orbit, Starz, awesome musical instruments of the 21st century. Thanks also to the Hubble Space Telescope for the most incredible views of interstellar space ever seen.

20 December … The Pretty Bird Tree (L.J. Hill)

This is a cover of L.J. Hill’s masterpiece The Pretty Bird Tree, set to a background of images of the Namoi River in Northwest NSW. This river and his hometown on the river are L.J.’s dreaming, the place where the deepest straits of his very deep heart still lie. He has told me the story many times, or rather I’ve played in his bands and listened to the stories he tells the audience between songs, cracking jokes and then amazing us with the broader landscapes of his soul, like the story of that tree, and how it came to be the Pretty Bird Tree to him.

You’ll have to come and listen to hear the story, I won’t tell it, it goes beyond the song. Anyone who has been lost and finds themself in a place like that will know the story. I have places that I still want to return to even now, nothing special maybe, a beach, a rocky hillside, where parts of me found each other and could then find others. A river, a tree. These home places, our dreamings, are what this song is about.

The low vocal harmonies you can hear if you’re that into it are the bit I usually hum under my breath to keep time with the song (he says I play it too fast) only approaching mike volume in the chorus where even L.J.’s powerful sustain tenor can’t plumb the depths of the river alone. It’s just my trick to throw some shadow in the water and hope that little Darby who I could never have met is happy someplace.

L.J. Hill is also the only original artist of the whole Blisters in the Sun project from whom I have actually asked permission to cover his song. Please allow me now, before my finale (and encore if you wish it) to truly and deeply thank all of these great artists for their music and the wise decision not to sue me for royalties. I’m singing your songs with you, not at you, and definitely not for you, so don’t even think about it. Except Paul (Kelly), I do owe him one. Sorry Paul, I spent it all on a new guitar pick.

Thank You!! I love you!!

 

Blisters in the Sun?

I don’t see why I should finish one project before going on to the next. If I never finish any of them, I never die, right? Well no I don’t take that seriously as a philosophical absolute, but it’s a funny saying to have above your desk.

There’s more to this backlogue than I’m prepared to properly introduce just yet, but I must hurry on to the next chapter so here it is. I should give full credit this time, to my great friend and fellow eclect Brett Coleman, whose almost impossible recent feat of sending me one album every week for the last 52 weeks running, over the whole of this last year, was given to me just quite casually as a birthday present! (Go see his excellent blog Goodbye Albatross if you don’t believe me)

This “modest sample” (a selection of his favourite music and a vivid slashing cross section through mine) has been a stimulus par excellence to work in reply, go enormous, and really pull elephants out of hats. And also to think very hard, what can I get him this year? So I sent him a letter:

” … Now it’s YOUR birthday. I’m not so insane as to commit to one of anything per week for any length of time (Jesus whole weeks go by and I don’t notice) or to 52 of any gift commodity, book, artwork, fluffy toy or what have you. No, I let the weeks pass me by so I can deal with the months. Let arctic wolves devour the fur seals, we polar bears are after the walrus. So it’s a monthly game with me, a moonlight cantata, a song for every season, or one per month. A song I say. One. Per Month. ONE SONG. And at the end of the year, ONE ALBUM!

“OK so where do the songs come from? I don’t know, I might even write one, but it’s covers I’m into, I like a model to follow. I do requests, but they might be unconventional. I might get the neighbourhood street kids to sing or play all the kitchen instruments. I might sic the dogs onto it. I might phone radio stations to play you Mantovani orchestral renditions. So be careful what you wish for!”

Once again I don’t have all the pieces ready to go, but I’ve got enough to get me through a bad patch so it must be time to launch. If you’re like me then you probably haven’t just clicked the first link on the page, you’ve read down a bit and hear you are. So once again, listen/watch to Romeo and Juliet.

PS: Don’t try too hard to connect the video with the song. I hope you get the idea, but that’s not it.

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7 responses

  1. I’m loving Blisters In the Sun – The Violent Femmes – No?

    I’ve been watching the footage of ‘Wish You Were’ quite a bit since you sent it down/over the telephone lines/ through the ether 🙂
    Unfortunately listening to it through crappy computer monitors which doesnt do it any justice.

    How much time did you put into recording that? I have no idea how the recording process works but it sounds like a lot of work.That electronic squeaking at the start, what is that? What sounds like a Doppler kind of effect of a passing car? That guitar intro that initially sounds like it’s coming from another room and it seems saturated with reverb.

    I hope you’re proud of it. It really is very good and I can’t wait for the 3rd of my 12 Birthdays this year (I feel like Bilbo Baggins with all these Birthday presents!)

    – B

    February 2, 2012 at 5:30 am

    • I’ve been recording this on and off since about 2004, when we still had the dial-up modem you can hear at the start. I added some white noise to it and then put it through a phaser to create the aircraft takeoff noise, and really fuzzed up the intro guitar to make it sound as though its emerging from the “boing .. boing” of the modem. The idea is to create an aural version of the robot handshake on the Wish You Were Here album cover. It’s great fun creating Pink Floyd-type sound effects but after that it all started getting harder. Dissatisfied with my first attempts at the vocals, and then losing the recorded guitar parts, and then finding my keyboard skills weren’t equal to the song, I let it slide, only coming back to it years later in several stages to rebuild one piece at a time. I can’t remember when I re-recorded the lyrics but I’m OK with them now. The last effort was to try to recreate Rick Wright’s celtic keyboard style from the early Pink Floyd, so it’s a mixed Syd-Rick tribute for the two earliest band members. In the end I used the classic swirly rock organ from Garage Band on iPod with four tracks in two registers, thus proving that Rick must have had at AT LEAST two pairs of hands. Lastly I fade with two phase swirls going in different directions to create a wind effect. SO yes, can I say a fair bit of time and effort went into what is undoubtedly THE song closest to my heart.

      February 6, 2012 at 10:14 pm

  2. Hey Michael,

    “The Last Great American Whale” ?

    I thought i was a Lou Reed fan but despite the fact that I have Lou on Mp3, C.D, Vinyl and Cassette (so we’re talking a fair stretch of time), you’ve covered a song of his that i wasn’t familiar with. So a big bonus with this song. Firstly your wonderful interpretation and then the fact It’s new (to me) makes it a double bonus.
    You mention that you’ve ‘personalized’ it. Not being familiar with the original I had to go hunting for Lou’s version. The first that came up was a live performance at ‘Farm- Aid’ back in 1990.
    He’s a cantankerous old bastard is Lou. I watched it and thought how provocative is the choice of that song at that venue:

    … “Americans don’t care for much for anything, Land & water are the least and Animal life is low on the totem pole and Human life’s not worth much more then infected yeast” …

    All that and more to a stadium full of Red, White and Blue flag wearing (and probably gun -toting) good ole boys/gals in the heart of mid-west America!

    Anyway, Love the unexpected and looking forward to next month.

    – B

    April 27, 2012 at 12:51 am

    • Hi Brett,

      Sorry I didn’t get this earlier … I haven’t really touched the blog for a few months … too busy, then too tired … getting back into it now though.

      Last Great American Whale is on Lou Reed “New York”, a great album, I’m amazed you don’t know it, it’s one of his best. I’ll copy it for you. Also Mumford and Sons as promised.

      Love Michael

      June 30, 2012 at 5:40 am

  3. Michael,

    “CARELESS”

    This is just beautiful,
    I’d say too beautiful for words but Paul Kelly’s words are what makes it beautiful.
    That and you’re deft touch on the guitar & vocals.
    I know it’s part of the 12 Birthdays Project but I think all 3 of us also know it’s Jody’s gift.
    Thank you nonetheless for letting me share.

    Lv Brett.

    April 5, 2013 at 3:27 am

  4. Hey Michael,
    Getting close to an Albums worth now eh?.
    Did you realize that Blisters … is spread across two accounts on YouTube.
    ‘Van Diemens Land’ and ‘Into My Arms’ being the errant children.
    Maybe merging the accounts will make it easier to follow you through all the songs.
    Cheers & Thx,
    Brett.

    December 27, 2013 at 12:24 am

    • Hi Brett, I know; VDL and IMA were recorded at a very bad time. I could barely hear the music and You can hear the joints creaking. I did a very nice video for IMA but could not hold it together in post editing. I rushed it and botched it and hope to re-do it. Nearly finished though, only a year late! Sorry! Mike

      Sent from my iPad

      December 27, 2013 at 8:50 pm

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