Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Thank you, Wilko

Dr Feelgood

Yes, yes, I know 1975 was the year of the last great EU referendum, but that same Summer my good friend Graham Ball (himself a scion of Southend-on-Sea) barged into my house clutching a vinyl LP called Down by the Jetty and pushed past me to the record player (a Pioneer PL-12D wired to  a pair of Wharfedale Dentons) crying “listen to this, listen to this,” and introduced me to Dr Feelgood.

So in the week when Wilko Johnson (Feelgood guitarist, nearest to you) announced his farewell tour – farewell because he also announced, with dignity, wisdom, and measured wit that he was dying - I find I don’t really care much about Mr Cameron’s forthcoming referendum; or only insofar as the event might fulfil the promise of an entertainment suggested in these lines from Marx:

“Hegel says somewhere that  great historic events occur twice. He forgot to add: 'once as tragedy, and again as farce'.”

I do care about Wilko, though, who was also a philosopher and historian, and I care, of course, about times past, sweet and irretrievable.

Cheque Book is a great song, still thrilling to hear after nearly forty years. How’s this for a masterclass in getting on with the narrative? -

“Well my mum and pop told me they had some words to say
They said get out, I said I'm leaving anyway
I made some money playing this here guitar
Filled in a form and went and bought myself a car
I got my cheque book baby
Got my bags all packed
You come with me, get in the motor
Throw your suitcase in the back

“I've been here for so long, sick of this whole town
Ain't getting younger and it's time I got around
Wanna go some places I ain't never been before
When I turn that corner mamma you won't see me no more
I got my cheque book baby …”


What’s high art? what’s low art? Roy Campbell made a stunning translation of Baudelaire’s Invitation to a Voyage, a poem which seems to me to be bowling along on the same kind of journey as Cheque Book -

“My daughter, my sister,
Consider the vista
Of living out there, you and I,
To love at our leisure,
Then, ending our pleasure,
In climes you resemble to die.
There the suns, rainy-wet,
Through clouds rise and set
With the selfsame enchantment to charm me
That my senses receive
From your eyes, that deceive,
When they shine through your tears to disarm me.

“There'll be nothing but beauty, wealth, pleasure,
With all things in order and measure.”

Here’s to the great Wilko Johnson, whose music (for me, at least) retrospectively made the great Charles Baudelaire rock and roll.


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