Smalltown Girl (on spending 1982 with Boy George)

It was autumn 1982 when Culture Club hit the charts with “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me“ (#1 in 23 countries), the third single off their debut album “Kissing To Be Clever”. I was 10 years old and every Saturday afternoon I was listening to the weekly chart countdown from the local radio station. I remember being excited all along: which song would be #1 of the week? I always put my bets on my favorite songs and was disappointed when they moved the wrong way in the charts. I sat on my bed in my room with my cassette/radio player in front of me and recorded the songs I liked on cassette, trying to time the recording so that the talk of the DJ would not go on tape.

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I spent my allowance on music magazines that had posters on the middle pages. My father put up wooden rails on the wall in my room so that I would not damage the wallpaper with the adhesive tape. The posters I liked the most were of Michael Jackson and Boy George. Soon they were to be joined by Limahl, Madonna and Wham! on my poster wall.

I remember thinking that Boy George looked really beautiful with his long hair and colorful makeup. It was the beginning of the 80s and men/boys in showbiz wearing makeup was normal to a certain extent. At that time my friend and I had started discussing makeup and hairdos, and we found that Boy George really knew how to use dramatic eye shadow and rouge. We were both quite impressed by his skills. Not a single moment did we find it weird or over the top that a man would look like that. And that is what I love so much about children: as a basis ingenious with no prejudices.

I remember my father shaking his head with indignation at a comment I made about Boy George’s great looks. He didn’t say anything but I felt his objection. A few years later a famous female musician said on primetime national TV that she would love and sleep with men and women, that to her the sex didn’t matter. My father jumped up from his chair and turned the TV off in rage. I guess I finally got his point about Boy George.

Later I was to learn that everything off norm was not very welcome in the small town I grew up in. When I came back from London in 1989 with a mohawk hairstyle, black clothes and a tattoo, people would yell at me in the street. It really hurt my feelings but also made me furious and tremendously stubborn. These hillbilly idiots would never get the chance to dictate anything to me. How could they judge me without even knowing who I was?

Looking back I could have made the last years I spent in my home town a lot easier for myself. I put myself in the off with my looks and my attitude. But I couldn’t help it; nothing in the world could have made me leave the road I was heading for.

Let’s all go back to 1982 with this great song:

And here an homage to the former boys and girl who managed to stay true to themselves in small towns all over the world:

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I’m Bad. And it’s Spotify’s Fault!

It has just been Record Store Day. What a great event and as usual, the coolest things in the world happen in Nashville at Third Man Records. This year Elvis Presley’s first-ever recording from 1953 was re-released as a limited edition on vinyl. Jack White bought the recording anonymously at an internet auction for no less than $300,000. Master of tableaus, he staged the whole event in black and yellow for a Billboard photo shooting, his hair combed back in Elvis style. Very rock’n’roll (and, in terms of mastermind Jack White: Business as usual).

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(Photo © Billboard)

Fans and collectors camped outside Third Man Records for more than 26 hours before the sale started. Record stores all over the world have their best business on that particular day of the year. Limited editions, live bands in the stores, party on the street. It’s a celebration of what music stands for bringing music lovers and artists together. Events like these make me happy to work in the music industry.

But at the same time Record Store Day makes me feel terribly ashamed. Then: I have become a ‘streamer’. I used to love my vinyl collection (and my CD collection), the feel of the material, the packaging, the smell of the booklet or sleeve, I even loved reading the credits. I would stand in front of my rack in the living room and just feel so happy that this fantastic music was all mine. And I felt proud and excited every time I came home with a new record and played it on my stereo.

I used to buy at least 30 CDs a year. Last year the number went down to just 3: 2 for myself (Lucinda Williams’ latest album – not on Spotify + Shelby Lynne: Revelation Road – I love the album so much that I wanted to own it, but only listens to it on Spotify) and 1 for a birthday present.

I feel so ashamed to say that I prefer Spotify over any other format. I don’t even mind the sound being poor compared to a CD. I love being able to play the song I am thinking of within a few seconds, I love creating playlists, discovering new bands that I would never have found back in the old times. I use Spotify for work and – with a few exceptions – hardly ever listen to full albums anymore.

I know I should be spanked for this confession. I’m bad. And I’ve become a slave of modern times. And that for just €9.99 a month.

Song that goes with this:

Boring Post #1

What I can’t stand about Facebook is the self-staging. Some people can’t handle having a forum that encourages you to put yourself in focus and where “friends” can respond to your wherabouts. I sometimes surely wish my life would be more sensational. But everyday life is not like that.

A lot of people use Facebook to tell the world how great and interesting their life is, how well they are doing, how adoring their kids are, to how many fantastic places they have travelled, how interesting and/or funny their thoughts are and so on.

In Facebook sensational style my last Saturday would have looked something like this:

8:35AM
Shelby Lynne shared my blog post on Facebook and it now has more than 500 likes!

15:55PM
Hello sun. Hello blooming trees. And hello F. – thanks for cooking yummy Schnitzel in my garden house…

2:23AM
Just bruised both knees, my elbow and my head dancing to some chart song… I’m getting too old for this…

How cool I am! And funny! You can read it right there!

I would rather say that life takes place between the (head)lines. Here’s what really happened that day. If you should fall asleep, dear reader: I’m sorry. Should you wish not to follow my blog after this: I understand. But thanks for stopping by – it was nice while it lasted!

Here we go (I recommend reading in a monotonous voice):
I got up early at 8.30, boiled an egg for breakfast and made a cup of tea. During breakfast I checked my emails (mostly newsletters I never read and spam promising hot sex parties and big titted ladies) and checked what’s up on Facebook. I took a shower (was too lazy to wash my hair) and got dressed. Before I left the flat I watered the tomato and sweet pepper seeds growing on the window shelf.

I unlocked my bycicle and went on the 15 mins ride to my garden. Heard no music on the way, had a small headache from last night where I went out with some colleagues. At 11AM the general meeting of my garden society started with a minute’s silence in commemoration of a diseased ‘garden friend’ as they call us. I didn’t know him. Most members are 65+. With my 42 years I am one of the youngsters.

I then sat in the sun for an hour or two before I started the garden work, getting the garden beds ready for sowing. A friend came by and we had a late lunch together. It suddenly started raining heavily and we ran into the house. We saw a rainbow.

I went home, took a shower and went to a friend’s birthday party. Had some beers and some liquor and did a lot of foolish things on the dancefloor that do not fit with my age. Went home at 3AM and fell asleep instantly.

That’s it. Would I have written down what I did yesterday, one line would be sufficient: woke up at 7.30, had breakfast, went to work, worked all day, went home, had dinner, fell asleep in front of the TV.

I kinda like boring – it can be so liberating and satisfactory. Ahh…

Song that goes with this:

Happy Idiot on the Road

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When I sit on the tram or on the subway, a lot of people wear headphones. Now and then one of the music lovers silently sing along, tap his feet or move his head to the music. Every time I am thinking: What a FREAK! Hello, you are out in the free open my friend, act this awkward at HOME!

What I always forget is that the music I am listening to when I’m on the road makes me do exactly the same thing. I sing along, tap my feet, move around, nod, stomp, sometimes dance a bit. I love to ride my bicycle and sing along as loud as I can, thinking that the traffic swallows the noise I am making. At work I listen to music all day and I mostly sing along although I know that my boss next door can hear me through the thin wall. I don’t sing well but I love to sing along. It’s me and the music I enjoy, and I enjoy it a lot! So why should I care about what other people are thinking?

Bottom line here is very simple: I’m the freak or should we call it the ‘happy idiot’…

I’m sure most people know the feeling of being taken by a song, fighting to hold back the rapture that sizzles inside like champagne bubbles, making you wanna scream, feel crazy, in love, like a foolish puppy, young again, happy…

This is one of my favorite music experiences.

I’ve put together a playlist that would definitely get me there (Curtis Harding, Alabama Shakes, T. Rex, Mad Season, The Doors, Sturgill Simpson, The Black Keys and many more). You should try it out!

Imaginary conversation with Shelby Lynne

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Photo © Jim Marshall

I’m not sure if Shelby would agree to this, but I think that when she became independent of major record labels and just did her own thing, her music went from great to brilliant, and her songwriting and performance got even more soul- and truthful. Maybe it’s the intimacy and style of “Tears, Lies and Alibis” (2010) and “Revelation Road” (2011) – both quite stripped down and acoustic. I don’t know. It could also just be a matter of (my) taste.

I guess she has always been the real deal – raw and tempestuous, and intense. I’ve heard people in the industry talking about her “owning the stage” back in the Nashville western swing-days 20 years ago, but also heard some people say she’s “difficult to handle“. She has a strong personality, that’s for sure.

When I do music compilations at work (or playlists on Spotify), I try to include her music whenever I can. I wish more people would see what I see in her, and that she would no longer be an insiders’ tip.  

For those of you who are not acquainted with Shelby’s music I’ve put together a “Shelby for Starters” playlist, see below.

I’ve never met Shelby in person, but her music is like a dear friend to me. The below imaginary conversation is purely fictional.

And by the way: You know you are friend of mine if I bought you a Shelby album for your birthday!

Shelby, hi! I’ve really looked forward to this!

Oh hello, aww who did you say you are again?

It’s Christina. I’m not a journalist and I promise not to ask you about your personal life!

I not happy with this conversation – what is this about?

Oh I thought we could just hang out, would like to get to know you, and maybe become friends. I think we have many things in common…

Sorry Christine, no time today, I’m kinda busy, my new album coming soon and all…

It’s Christina.

Aww right sorry.

I’m probably not supposed to say this but I’ve listened to your new album quite a few times at work. I work for a record label in Europe.

Oh I thought you were from the south?

I’m just trying to imitate your Alabama accent. Thought you’d feel more comfortable with me then.

Which label do you work for?

A major.

Sorry, I don’t talk to major labels, if you know who I am you should know that too. We have to call it off right here!

I’m not in A&R. We are music-loving people in my department, trust me on that. A colleague of mine will work „I Can’t Imagine“. The company I work for distributes Rounder in Europe…

So what do you think? Like it?

I don’t think I’m supposed to say anything in public about the album before the release. Don’t want to get myself into trouble.

Aww come on, I’d like to know what you think.

Ok, but before I say anything, I want you to know that I have a thing for melancholy in music. When it gets sad, I’m 100% in.

I guess you are sitting at the table with the right songwriter, then (laughs).

My favorite songs are “Down Here”, “Love Is Strong” and “Following You”. Killer songs. Citizen Cope’s vocals on “Down Here” give the song even more soul, what a great choice! I also really love the dirty guitars and your sense for understatement. But what else to expect? To me you are one of the best songwriters in the world.

Oh that’s a kind thing to say. Haven’t you heard of John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash?

Sure they are great and have set the bar for songwriting, I guess. Still in my opinion there is so much more soul and feeling in your music, at least when you perform yourself; your expression seems truthful and real. Is it perhaps a female thing?

Not many ladies on the All-Time Greatest Songwriters List!

Exactly! You’ll find Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and maybe Dolly Parton. That’s more or less it.

Tell me about this blog of yours “Tears, Lies and Alibis”, are you an artist too?

Oh not at all, I am not particularly creative. I used to think I was great in bed but that was just youthful overestimation (both laugh). My blog is called “Truth, Tears & Rock’n’Roll“ by the way – the name is definitely inspired by your album title, at least from the sound of it. I just like to write about things close to my heart and I am trying to understand the process of music’s impact.

Music sure is a great thing, wouldn’t know what to do without!

In one of your songs you say that singing is a necessity for you?

It definitely is. Music is more or less my life, I’ve been singing since I was a little girl. And that’s a long time ago (laughs).

Should we go for a drink?

I’m not really drinking much these days, but sure, I’ll get my stuff, then let’s hit the road!

1AM
Do you think I have an obsessive nature? Sometimes I listen to the same music over and over again, at restaurants I mostly pick the same dish every time. Your music has been on my obsession list for a long time – should you ever get any Spotify penny royalties out of Germany, you know who’s behind (both laugh).

Yeah you do seem quite obsessed to me (laughs). First I thought with me, but now I’m thinking the vodka bottle has taken my place (laughs). You’re hurting my feelings here, baby (both laugh).

3AM
The pictures you paint in your songs of childhood and where you grew up – it is so full of warm feeling and respect, I think. The fragility in your voice when you sing it. That blows me away. Anyone knowing how it feels to hurt real bad knows how difficult it is to look beside the anger and despair. I really admire that.

Well I’m all “Three Chords and The Truth“… But now is now, I try to focus on the now, on reality. We’re right here in this moment, right now. You may seem a bit drunk, but everything’s fine, isn’t it? I feel good, don’t ya?

Yeah I do. Can you teach me how to write a song? I can’t play the guitar and I can’t sing, but I could come up with a few lines…

Let me know what you’ve come up with.

How about:
Well I’ve been down so goddamn long that it looks like up to me

(Shelby laughs) I know that line, hang on; it’s The Doors from the L.A. Woman album!

Yes, great album, it was recorded in 1971. How about this one:
I’m not sure if I’m mad or mean, these tears I cry could mean anything

Great lines (laughs). Wait, I think I’ve heard them before (laughs). Are you testing me? I don’t remember every word I’ve said, but I remember every line I’ve written (both laugh).

Ok, got one more:
I am passing through the green flat fields
and the small red brick houses
this is my land with its rains and misty air
still waiting for someone to take me out of here

So you’re a country girl? Where you’re from kinda sticks throughout life, doesn’t it?

Oh it does. So you’re up to putting a melody to it? In minor?

(Shelby starts jamming and plays some chords on the guitar. She changes the lyrics a bit and ads a few more lines, writes something down on a wet napkin on the table. She is in her element now, very concentrated although it’s late at night. I just sit and watch her; now and then she looks up and smiles. Her blue eyes have a passionate glow).

4AM
Shelby, it’s been so much fun! But I really have to head home, have to go to work in a few hours.

It has, Christina. Let’s do this again sometime. I’ll be touring Europe later this year. And work some more on them lyrics, gal! (both laugh).

We are standing on the street outside the bar. I feel tipsy, she’s not. She gets into a cab, puts the guitar case on her lap, it looks like she is holding it tight. She looks up, blows me a kiss and disappears into the night.

The (obstinate) Birds and I

I took a long walk this morning before heading to work. The sun wasn’t shining but the light was beautiful. Spring has come to Berlin and all the trees starting to blossom give the city a whole other light. I felt a bit low and listened to some sad songs on my headphones. All the way birds were chatting and making noise in the hedges. They sounded happy, like they were laughing and having a good time. It’s fun to observe birds. I always imagine they have human characters and try to find out which bird is alike me and which ones are alike my friends. I once observed a group of noisy little birds flying around as a posse. They stuck together all along and reminded me of the gang I used to hang out with back in the days.

When I was a 5 or 6 I had a friend called Jacob. We strolled around all summer. I had short blond hair and was wearing blue 70s overalls and red clogs. I was always too lazy to go home to pee, so I just disappeared behind a tree or a bush like a boy would do. Every single time I peed on the overall straps. But that didn’t matter as I had business to attend to: Jacob and I were trying to catch wild birds with traps we had built ourselves. Hours were passing lying in the grass waiting, ready to pull the string of the trap, if a bird came close.

We didn’t catch a single bird all summer, not even got close. I had this dream to tame a wild bird, to teach it to trust and depend on me, to become my friend. I imagined walking around with the bird on my shoulder, getting a lot of attention from other people.

That summer a wild bird by mistake flew into our house. My mother tried to catch it, which was difficult. I was amazed how wild the bird was, and how scared it was of us. It flattered around and flew against the windows. When she finally caught it, I begged her to keep it, but of course I wasn’t allowed. I didn’t believe her when she said that a wild bird cannot be tamed. I just thought that she as always wouldn’t let me do or have anything, that she was not on my side.

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(me at 5 or so wearing the favorite blue overalls…)

A few years back the bird thing started again. In cold winters I bought birdseeds and hung bird cakes on my balcony, hoping that my favorite bird, the tiny red breasted robin, would come by. But no birds ever came to eat, they didn’t want my seeds. I asked a lot of people for advise and we came to the conclusion that my recessed balcony made them feel unsafe. It hurt my feelings a bit though. I really wanted to do the birds something good.

Last year I bought a small garden close to where I live. At a neighbour’s garden, sweet little blue tits would make noise above us in the tree to get some nuts. The neighbours told me that they would even tap on the window in the morning when they felt it was time for breakfast. They would come and sit on your hand to eat. Even on my hand. That was cute. But the birds don’t come to my garden much. And they don’t really eat the food I’ve put out for them.

My friends laugh at me me when I talk about how the birds don’t like me and my food, how they reject me. I laugh too, there is an irony to it because I’ve always wanted it so much. I guess the little girl inside me would still like to become best friends with a wild bird. And please, could it be a robin…