Saturday, February 22, 2020


Answering to the earlier post, oddly I think it apt we cover the event after the event. Valentines Day, or the Feast of St. Valentine, has never quite resonated for me. Yes, I have received cards over the years, nearly as many as I have sent, but it has never been a delivery that would damage the postie's back. And, as my wife pointed out this year, we seem somehow to be missing the point, babysitting the grand-daughter this year, and entertaining my brother last year. Somehow you old romantic not.

My defence is that, in restaurants, Feb 14 is a date to avoid, all pink prosecco, heart shaped salmon pieces and blood on the carpet. (Blood on the carpet? Well, there's always at least one couple whose sense of duty has overshot the tint on their spectacles.) Nope, like New Years Eve, Mothers Day and St Paddy's day, I'm staying in, ta!

The song featured is by an artist I have mentioned before, making no apology there around. Hell, I even used this same song, for which I will have to apologise, but read on, I will explain. From agit-prop spiky solo bard of Barking to the only slightly less spiky older statesman of political song commentary, Billy Bragg has always lightened my heart, both musically and intellectually. Having little time for Twitter myself, his feed is actually a presence worth following, being, variously witty, acerbic or just plain right. (Sure, it helps if you are a goddam lefty pinko as well, to keep the Valentine colour theme alive.) Coming from his 1988 LP, Worker's Playtime, it is a rancorous song of bitterness. Confession time, I always took it be allegorical: the phrase is often used to describe the bursting of any bubble, but it is a much darker piece, as I learnt from this excellent article. Gulp. 

Little more to say than that, really. And, should you not have found the above sufficiently chilling, here is a sparser still version, from a John Peel session.

Unable to leave you staring bleakly into your consciences, not all injuries being just physical, here's another favourite, two really, June Tabor and the Oysterband, from the first of their occasional collaborations, an altogether more upbeat version of the same song. But it is the same song, and I really must learn to listen harder to the lyrics.

Um, I hope you all did have a good day, if the opportunity arose. After all, the card industry can't support itself.

(Postscript: I noted the link to the earlier Tabor/Oyster piece commented on the two of my weddings. I have since had a 3rd, so maybe the old romantic after all, yes? Maybe we should go out next year...)

Friday, February 21, 2020

Valentines: Valentine

Old 97’s: Valentine

We’ve had a tough time getting this theme started, maybe because it began after Valentine’s Day. So, before we get to a weekend without any new SMM posts, I thought I’d see what I could come up with.

A song called “Valentine,” by Old 97’s, a band that I really like, and which I have written about, at length, a few other times.

But there are a couple of things that set this song apart. First, it is not sung by Rhett Miller, but by Murry Hammond, the band’s bass player, who usually sings a couple of songs on each album. Hammond’s songs often display a sense of humor, although to be fair, lots of Old 97’s songs are funny. He’d have been a good candidate to have been the subject of a post when we did the “Other Guy” theme back in 2013 (one of my faves, by the way).

Another thing that distinguishes “Valentine” is that it is not a love song. It is, in fact, a lost love song, written not to a current "valentine,” but to one who turned out to be "wrong," and about the heartbreak and despair that comes from a broken relationship, but also the relief that something that wasn’t working ended. Back in 2015 Paste did a “12 Best Old 97’s Songs” feature, and placed “Valentine” third (a ranking that I’d quibble with—I’m not even sure it’s the third best song on Fight Songs). They quoted Hammond as saying: “It was a toxic relationship and, predictably, not a good breakup. But after all the pain and emotion of tearing it apart, I felt a simple moment of compassion and empathy for both of us. I felt a kindness toward her and tried to put that into words. She was a valuable and great human being, but one I would never know again. The girl who’s moving on."

So, maybe it really is fitting for a Valentines theme that takes place wholly after the holiday.

For the most part, Fight Songs, the album that “Valentine” appears on, is filled with more upbeat, poppy songs, for which it is sometimes criticized, but it was my introduction to the band, and I loved it then and now. But ending such an album with a mellower, more introspective song really works. Of course, that assumes that the listener would actually be listening to the entire CD, in order, an assumption that was more likely to be accurate back in 1999 than today (unless you are my wife).