This week, I am keen to have a bleat about a few things that I will never comprehend anyone being in favour of. You can never really predict anything in this life, but I am reasonably confident that this will be fertile ground for me, which is why I’ve tagged this piece ‘Part 1’.
First of all, I will never understand why anyone would think that playing ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ in tribute to another person would be a remotely flattering thing to do. Has there ever been a more patronising song than this paean to an individual who seems never to have done anything? What kind of human would remark to another one, ‘It must have been cold there in my shadow’? The subtext of this song is essentially ‘You are the most pathetic soul who has ever lived’, yet it seems to be a popular choice at funerals. This is similar to the way there was a vogue in the early eighties (that continues to this day, for all I know) for ‘Endless Love’ to be sung at wedding receptions, even though it is the theme song from a film about a teenage boy who sets fire to his ex-girlfriend’s house. It’s as though those who feel that these songs are suitable for big occasions have in making this determination only got as far as the title. I recall that ‘Wings’ was piped through the chapel at the funeral of my paternal grandmother, sounding as though it were being played on a hurdy-gurdy and exuding one-size-fits-allness. Humanity at large needs to realise that ‘Wings’ is by its nature a beastly song, which you should only ever dedicate to someone as an act of inspired malice.
Second of all, I will never understand why anyone wants to ‘go out for tapas’. I recall a massive vogue for tapas in the early nineties, which has, unfortunately, never abated entirely. Whenever the topic of having dinner out with friends arose, someone would always want to go and eat tapas. Off you’d trot to Liverpool Street, the midgetty ‘Spanish section’ of Sydney, to debate the menu endlessly, finally to eat a solitary piece of chorizo or a lone squid, and have to hand over huge wads of cash for the privilege. Then there is my exhaustion in the face of the numerical amounts in which the filthy snacks are served: for example, there’s always going to be four pieces of whatever it is, when there, are, say, five of you, so you have to have tedious ‘Does anyone else want this?’ conversations before you can eat anything. No doubt the people to whom you’re posing this question actually do want the morsel but are too polite to say so and are wishing you were dead. Alternatively, in a less polite gathering, it can be guaranteed that some greedy member of your party will stuff down their head the one item that really appeals to you. This means that you spend the whole night either resenting the people you are with or feeling resented. Tapas. What’s so wrong with a value-for-money square meal that is all yours?
Third of all, I give you ‘scatting’ and ‘jamming’. Yes, I can see that there may be enjoyment in it for the musicians themselves, but I have never been able to grasp how there can be any pleasure for the person listening to either of these activities. Let’s start with ‘scatting’. Well, hearing a singer vocalise without the benefit of actual words is one of the most horrible things that could ever be. There you are, attempting to enjoy some jazz (something that is, in itself, difficult enough to do) when they suddenly break out into whole minutes of bah-dah-beeedy-boobah!-biddly-baddly-bum!’, up and down the scales until you want to scream for mercy. Worst of all, pretentious jazz audiences go mad for it. In the earlier part of this century, I saw American singer Kurt Elling perform live on a couple of occasions, and he really is very good, but how my spirits would dive in the face of him electing to scat. Still, there I would be, crammed like a battery hen into The Basement in Sydney, with a whole lot of people who were practically choking on their nachos at the miracle of the great man’s scatting.
So, musicians need to remember that there’s nothing worse than them going on and on in an unstructured manner, which brings me to jamming. I have spent nights in misery watching musicians veer off into endless instrumental improvisation. Why can’t they restrict proceedings to nice exhilarating three-minute pop songs that they’ve actually rehearsed and so have some idea when the end might come, instead of turning their audience into hostages? I remember my impressions of Festival Express, a documentary about such musical acts as The Grateful Dead, The Band and Janis Joplin travelling across Canada by train for carnival purposes. While I found the film enjoyable in many ways, I was struck by how, had I been on that train, I would have killed someone to get off it and away from the endless jamming. There you’d be, thinking you might finally be able to get some sleep, and then yet another guitar is produced and around they all gather once more.
So, there you are: my first three things the appeal of which I will never understand. Those benevolent enough to be reading this might be thinking to themselves that the above are all harmless activities so why don’t I shut up about them. Well, I would argue that they’re not: playing ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ in homage is a gross insult; the purveyors of tapas are robbing their customers blind; and scat singers and other musical improvisers are prepared, simply for their own self-gratification, to destroy any skerrick of pleasure that might have been being experienced by those who have paid hard-earned dollars to see them. If you stop to think about it for a moment, you will understand the degree to which the world would be a far better place if these things were stamped out with the ruthlessness of which they themselves are guilty.