The State We're In

john wesley harding

I have been thinking a lot about fanzines. I have been wondering about what once was the spur to pour words and words and words onto a succession of blank pages, and I have decided it was all about enthusiasm and a need to share. Yet, if that were the case, does it mean that when the fanzines are no longer there, if the words are no longer flowing, then the enthusiasms have all died and dried up? Or, simply, that there's no longer an urge to share? 'I'll do my passionate preaching in the privacy of my own home', in effect. Yes, I guess the latter's true. Yet, in so many cases, life simply distracts, and please don't underestimate life's pull.

So, when there comes a time that the old familiar feeling flickers into flame and there is a need to, metaphorically, stop strangers in the street and stop traffic and stop clocks, and share, then I would wager there is a good reason. One of the best reasons for years has been Dave Godin's Deep Soul Treasures compilation on Kent, and it has very rightly taken on legendary status.

I seem to remember writing something somewhere and was as much inspired to do so by Godin's own words as the faultless deep soul selections or by the inclusion of certain songs old friends had made a special point of including on compilation tapes which had sustained me through my darker days.

Now, volume two is with us to fan the flames. Again, beautifully packaged, painstakingly annotated. This time all but two choices are new to me, and if you have to buy any CD to boost your morale make it this. Interestingly, a number of the selections are from name names and, to invoke a theme I shall return to, show that sometimes just sometimes greats become great because they are great. And then there's Toussaint McCall's delivery of 'Nothing Takes the Place of You'. Now, forgive me if I am wrong, and this could be a blunder on a par with Nick Hornby referring to Steve McQueen being in The Hustler, but wasn't that in Hairspray, the John Waters' gem? I very rarely get to see films, but I saw that on a real It's a Wonderful Life bleak day when it all seemed so futile and I was wandering round London and just went in to an empty lower Regent Street to escape into the heat and darkness and this daft film flipped on a cartoon style light switch to lighten my mood, and I'm sure Toussaint McCall was there with 'Nothing Takes the Place of You' somewhere along the way, and if he was not then he should have been.

This time around, Dave starts by saying: 'I have this belief that given enough time, truly worthwhile cultural artefacts, even if they were totally overlooked or ignored when first created and launched, will eventually come to be recognised as valuable contributions to human understanding and enrichment.' Words which, of course, I have to stand up and wholeheartedly endorse and, from Alice Coltrane to Love to Pere Ubu to Ut to Dave Godin's Deep Soul Treasures, it's very much true to my heart and way of looking at life.

So, it is something of a surprise that most of my listening pleasures and record purchases so far in 1999 have been what I suspect Mojo magazine would have no difficulties in classing as classics. Now, I'm normally one for the underdog (well, he does some nice remixes) and the unsung heroes and the new and the now, so what am I doing running around with Van Morrison, Love, Television, James Brown, Chairman of the Board, Curtis Mayfield, Tim Buckley and Bob Dylan? Well, partly it's economics. There are some nice deals around on CDs, so why not plug a few holes in the collection and replace a few battered slices of vinyl? It's just that I feel I should have been buying the Ed Rush and optical double CD or Pole 2 or the Warp Peel sessions instead.

I did have a fairly worthy time towards the end of last year, buying the Klute and Decoder CDs, and they are great records and probably as good as any drum'n'bass collections. Yet, I suddenly got to the stage where I needed a change. I'd been listening to so much jazz, playing Albert Ayler and Pharoah Sanders all over christmas, that I needed a breather and strangely the idea of Bob Dylan singing 'Visions of Johanna' seemed so appealing all of a sudden. I think I can honestly say I have not voluntarily listened to Bob Dylan for twelve years or more, so don't take it too lightly. Yet, this year, I have hardly listened to anything else but John Wesley Harding, Blood on the Tracks, Nashville Skyline and New Morning. For a long time I've had a real problem with Bob Dylan. It was partly my righteous campaign of kicking against classics, and resisting the way they were used against us. It was partly Nik Cohn's fault, and the irresistible way he put Bob down in AwopbobaloobopÉ 'In my own life, the Monotones have meant more in one line of Book of Love than Dylan did in the whole of Blonde on Blonde - what hope could there be for me?' it was partly Phil Ochs and my ire at the way Phil was kept down when Bob was held up. It was partly that I had played Blonde on Blonde, 'Queen Jane Approximately', 'She Belongs To Me' and others to death in the really '80s, yet had never investigated further after the Debasement Tapes. It was partly anger at all the books that kept coming.

So, I never heard the austere beauty of 'John Wesley Harding', the bile of 'Idiot Wind', the (yeah! I'll say it!) deep soul of 'I Threw It All Away' and 'Tell Me that it Isn't True' and I'm still trying to remember where I knew 'New Morning' from. Now the irony is that if my palate had not become so jaded, I would never have been reinvigorated by the post-motorcycle nightmare Bob Dylan, and now I feel ready again to be inspired by new twists in pop's tale. Come on, surprise me!

© Kevin Pearce. 1999.